Friday, October 10, 2014

Della Rocca on PSR


The principle of sufficient reason (PSR), in a typical Neo-Scholastic formulation, states that “there is a sufficient reason or adequate necessary objective explanation for the being of whatever is and for all attributes of any being” (Bernard Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, p. 15).  I discuss and defend PSR at some length in Scholastic Metaphysics (see especially pp. 107-8 and 137-46).  Prof. Michael Della Rocca defends the principle in his excellent article “PSR,” which appeared in Philosopher’s Imprint in 2010 but which (I’m embarrassed to say) I only came across the other day.

Among the arguments for PSR I put forward in Scholastic Metaphysics are a retorsion argument to the effect that if PSR were false, we could have no reason to trust the deliverances of our cognitive faculties, including any grounds we might have for doubting or denying PSR; and an argument to the effect that a critic of PSR cannot coherently accept even the scientific explanations he does accept, unless he acknowledges that there are no brute facts and thus that PSR is true.  Della Rocca’s argument bears a family resemblance to this second line of argument.

Della Rocca notes, first, that even among philosophers who reject PSR, philosophical theses are often defended by recourse to what he calls “explicability arguments.”  An explicability argument (I’ll use the abbreviation EA from here on out) is an argument to the effect that we have grounds for denying that a certain state of affairs obtains if it would be inexplicable or a “brute fact.”  Della Rocca offers a number of examples of this strategy.  When physicalist philosophers of mind defend some reductionist account of consciousness on the grounds that consciousness would (they say) otherwise be inexplicable, they are deploying an EA.  When early modern advocates of the “mechanical philosophy” rejected (their caricature of) the Aristotelian notion of substantial forms, they did so on the grounds that the notion was insufficiently explanatory.  When philosophers employ inductive reasoning they are essentially rejecting the claim that the future will not be relevantly like the past nor the unobserved like the observed, on the grounds that this would make future and otherwise unobserved phenomena inexplicable.  And so forth.  (Della Rocca cites several other specific examples from contemporary philosophy -- in discussions about the metaphysics of dispositions, personal identity, causation, and modality -- wherein EAs are deployed.)

Now, Della Rocca allows that to appeal to an EA does not by itself commit one to PSR.  But suppose we apply the EA approach to the question of why things exist.  Whatever we end up thinking the correct answer to this question is -- it doesn’t matter for purposes of Della Rocca’s argument -- if we deploy an EA in defense of it we will implicitly be committing ourselves to PSR, he says, because PSR just is the claim that the existence of anything must have an explanation.

In responding to these different examples of EAs, one could, says Della Rocca, take one of three options:

(1) Hold that some EAs are legitimate kinds of argument, while others -- in particular, any EA for some claim about why things exist at all -- are not legitimate.

(2) Hold that no EA for any conclusion is legitimate.

(3) Hold that all EAs, including any EA for a claim about the sheer existence of things, are legitimate kinds of argument.

Now, the critic of PSR cannot take option (3), because that would, in effect, be to accept PSR.  Nor could any critic of PSR who applies EAs in defense of other claims -- and the EA approach is, as Della Rocca notes, a standard move in contemporary philosophy (and indeed, in science) -- take option (2).

So that leaves (1).  The trouble, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be any non-question-begging way of defending option (1).  For why should we believe that EAs are legitimate in other cases, but not when giving some account of the sheer existence of things?  It seems arbitrary to allow the one sort of EA but not the other sort.  The critic of PSR cannot respond by saying that it is just a brute fact that some kinds of EAs are legitimate and others are not, because this would beg the question against PSR, which denies that there are any brute facts.  Nor would it do for the critic to say that it is just intuitively plausible to hold that EAs are illegitimate in the case of explaining the sheer existence of things, since Della Rocca’s point is that the critic’s acceptance of EAs in other domains casts doubt on the reliability of this particular intuition.  Hence an appeal to intuition would also beg the question.

So, Della Rocca’s argument is that there seems no cogent way to accept EAs at all without accepting PSR.  The implication seems to be that we can have no good reason to think anything is explicable unless we also admit that everything is.

Naturally, I agree with this.  Indeed, I think Della Rocca, if anything, concedes too much to the critic of PSR.  In particular, he allows that while it would be “extremely problematic” for someone to bite the bullet and take option (2), it may not be “logically incoherent” to do so.  But this doesn’t seem correct to me.  Even if the critic of PSR decides to reject the various specific examples of EAs cited by Della Rocca -- EAs concerning various claims about consciousness, modality, personal identity, etc. -- the critic will still make use of various patterns of reasoning he considers formally valid or inductively strong, will reject patterns of reasoning he considers fallacious, etc.  And he will do so precisely because these principles of logic embody standards of intelligibility or explanatory adequacy.

To be sure, it is a commonplace in logic that not all explanations are arguments, and it is also sometimes claimed (less plausibly, I think) that not all arguments are explanations.  However, certainly many arguments are explanations.  What Aristotelians call “explanatory demonstrations” (e.g. a syllogism like All rational animals are capable of language, all men are rational animals, so all men are capable of language) are explanations.  Arguments to the best explanation are explanations, and as Della Rocca notes, inductive reasoning in general seems to presuppose that things have explanations.

So, to give up EAs of any sort (option (2)) would seem to be to give up the very practice of argumentation itself, or at least much of it.  Needless to say, it is hard to see how that could fail to be logically incoherent, at least if one tries to defend one’s rejection of PSR with arguments.  Hence, to accept the general practice of giving arguments while nevertheless rejecting EAs of the specific sorts Della Rocca gives as examples would really be to take Della Rocca’s option (1) rather than option (2).

Della Rocca also considers some common objections to PSR.  In response to the claim that PSR is incompatible with quantum mechanics, Della Rocca refers the reader to Alex Pruss’s response to such objections in his book The Principle of Sufficient Reason, but also makes the point that appealing to QM by itself simply does nothing to rebut his own argument for PSR.  For even if a critic of PSR thinks it incompatible with QM, he still owes us an answer to the question of where we are supposed to draw the line between legitimate EA arguments and illegitimate ones, and why we should draw it precisely where the critic says we should.  (For my own response to QM-based objections, see pp. 122-27 and 142 of Scholastic Metaphysics.)

Della Rocca also considers an objection raised by philosophers like Peter van Inwagen and Jonathan Bennett to the effect that PSR entails necessitarianism, the bizarre claim that all truths, including apparently contingent ones, are really necessary truths.  Della Rocca thinks van Inwagen and Bennett are probably right, but suggests that the defender of PSR could simply bite the bullet and accept necessitarianism, as Spinoza notoriously did.  And in that case, to reject Della Rocca’s argument for PSR on the grounds that necessitarianism is false would just be to beg the question.

Here again I think Della Rocca concedes too much.  As I argue in Scholastic Metaphysics (pp. 140-41), objections like the one raised by van Inwagen and Bennett presuppose that propositions are among the things PSR says require an explanation, and that for an explanans to be a sufficient reason for an explanandum involves its logically entailing the explanandum.  But while rationalist versions of PSR might endorse these assumptions, the Thomist understanding of PSR does not.

Della Rocca also remarks: 

I suspect that many of you simply will not see the force of the challenge that I am issuing to the non-rationalist. (I speak here from long experience, experience that prompted me to call my endeavor here quixotic.)  Philosophers tend to be pretty cavalier in their use of explicability arguments -- using them when doing so suits their purposes, refusing to use them otherwise, and more generally, failing to investigate how their various attitudes toward explicability arguments hang together, if they hang together at all.  We philosophers -- in our slouching fashion! -- are comfortable with a certain degree of unexamined arbitrariness in our use of explicability arguments.  But my point is that a broader perspective on our practices with regard to explicability arguments reveals that there is a genuine tension in the prevalent willingness to use some explicability arguments and to reject others. 

Amen to that.  As with the urban legend about First Cause arguments resting on the premise that “everything has a cause,” the notion that the PSR is a relic, long ago refuted, is a mere prejudice that a certain kind of academic philosopher stubbornly refuses to examine.  It doesn’t matter how strong is an argument you give for PSR; he will remain unmoved.  He “already knows” there must be something wrong with it, because, after all, don’t most members of “the profession” think so? 

Why, it’s almost as if such philosophers don’t want the PSR to be true, and thus would rather not have their prejudice against it disturbed.  Can’t imagine why that might be, can you?

Some related posts: 

Marmodoro on PSR and PC

Nagel and his critics, Part VI [on rationalism, PSR, and the principle of causality]

596 comments:

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Scott said...

"…which (I’m embarrassed to say) I only came across the other day."

Don't be embarrassed. I'm sure there's a perfectly sufficient explanation.

Robot said...

Why would any atheist argue against PSR?
I can't think of an atheist who would say "there is no sufficient reason why X happened".

Scientific empiricism embraces there being a sufficient reason for some event.

Also, I can see very little difference between 'explicability arguments' (as you call them) and a 'principle of sufficient reason'.

If one is going to say X is explicable why would they not agree that X has a sufficient reason.

Things that have sufficient reasons are explicable.

And what atheist would even try to say the opposite of this?

Scott said...

@Robot:

George H. Smith, for example, explicitly rejects PSR in Atheism: The Case Against God for precisely the reasons Ed suggests.

Robot said...

Hi Scott.
I'll read Ed's article over.
But I just can't, right now, imagine a materialist who uses the scientific method and empiricism signing on to the idea that "things don't need a sufficient reason for their being such and such".

That would seem to me to throw the entire scientific method into disarray.

Scott said...

@Robot:

"That would seem to me to throw the entire scientific method into disarray."

Well, yeah; that's pretty much Ed's (and to an extent Della Rocca's) point. But it's just a fact that at least some atheists have rejected PSR and have seen this rejection as a consequence of their atheism. William Rowe is the exception, not the rule.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

There still seems to me to be a lot of room for an EA advocate to remain unpersuaded by PSR.

It's one thing to say that, all else being equal, a theory is more credible if it explains more. It's another thing to say that there must be a theory that explains everything, which is what I take PSR to entail.

The user of EAs concedes that any theory takes an evidential hit when it leaves some things unexplained — when it says that there are "brute facts". But the EA-user need not concede that even just one "brute fact" does so much damage to the theory's credibility that it must be rejected. That is, the EA-user need not agree with the claim that any theory in which some facts are brute must be wrong.

In Bayesian epistemology, theories compete for probability. The more probability that a theory wins, the more credible it is. Probability is a limited resource, because the total amount of probability distributed among all theories equals at most 1. Moreover, theories gain probability precisely by explaining facts, so a theory will be in pretty bad shape if it leaves a lot of facts "brute", especially if other theories do a good job of explaining those same facts.

Nonetheless, in principle, a theory could have such strong evidential support that it fends off all competing theories even while it leaves a few facts "brute", especially if all of the competing theories have their own credibility-straining problems. Or, at least, it is not obvious that this is impossible.

In particular, this might happen to theories about why things exist. A theory might say that some beings exist as brute facts. And, yes, this will "hurt" the theory: The theory would have been more credible, all else being equal, if it hadn't asserted that these beings existed as brute facts. But the "hurt" might not be enough to justify rejecting the theory, especially if no better alternative theory is in the offing.

This kind of EA-advocacy seems to avoid all three horns in Della Rocca's "trilemma".

It's not (1) — "Hold that some EAs are legitimate kinds of argument, while others -- in particular, any EA for some claim about why things exist at all -- are not legitimate" — because the argument is not that EAs are illegitimate in certain domains (e.g., in inquiries into why things exist). Rather, the argument is that a valid EA always does some damage to a theory's credibility, but that, even with that damage, the theory might still be the most plausible alternative, better than all competitors. Whether a particular EA is fatal to a particular theory depends on the overall strength of that theory vis-a-vis all of the alternatives, known and unknown.

The argument is certainly not an example of (2) — "Hold that no EA for any conclusion is legitimate" — because, as I said, a valid EA always does some damage to a theory's credibility.

Maybe the argument is closest to (3) — "Hold that all EAs, including any EA for a claim about the sheer existence of things, are legitimate kinds of argument" — because it does hold that EAs are legitimate kinds of arguments in all domains, including claims about the sheer existence of things. But I don't see how this commits the EA-user to PSR, because EAs aren't obviously necessarily fatal, as PSR would require. A particular EA could be fatal. And maybe, in fact, all EAs are fatal (i.e., maybe PSR is true). But seeing that EAs always do damage isn't enough to see that they are always fatal.

Daniel said...

This post touches on something I have been wondered about for a while. Is there anywhere that states categorically the A-T view on certain entities of modern logic i.e. States-of-Affairs and Propositions? They are both treated as abstracta qua the Aristotelian sense one assumes*. At I'm reading Alexander Pfänder's Logic which is interesting in as much as he defends a full blooded Real Essentialist variation of Organon Logic and makes heavy use of States-Of-Affairs to expose the incoherence of all attempts to interpret logic away psychologisticaly. Being an early phenomenologist he takes a Soft-Platonic view towards Species/Universal Essences though follows Husserl in treating States as founded on the concrete situation.

This is a fairly basic question but I think there would be a place for a layman's answer as it were since many non-philosophical Catholics coming to Thomas for the first time will approach him through the lens of a logic and account of Judgement slightly different from that employed by modern Thomists (I'm not even talking Formal Logic stuff)

*Ed quotes Plantinga's statements to the effect that Propositions can never be identified with anything purely mental or physical with approval in Philosophy of Mind I recall. In his discussion of the PSR in GSM he argues against Propositions being freestanding Abstract objects.

Daniel said...

Tyrrell McAllister said...

‘It's another thing to say that there must be a theory that explains everything, which is what I take PSR to entail.’

No, it would only be an extremely ‘strong’ version of the PSR that makes that assertion. The PSR comes in various shapes and sizes many of which are more modest in their claims. Ed has mentioned this before on this blog and in The Last Superstition.

There are as a far as I know philosophers who endorse realism about the PSR but explicitly reject the possibility of there being a single theory which explains everything on the basis that a single theory extending univocally over all spheres of Being would involve a Category Mistake.

Robot said...

I have to be missing something. I'm not the most familiar with this issue. I've read the article, links, and thought over this issue.... But I'm stuck.

Could someone spell out why an atheist supposedly would have an issue with psr

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Daniel: "No, it would only be an extremely ‘strong’ version of the PSR that makes that assertion."

Fair enough. The validity of my comment doesn't turn on this point. My argument goes through if you replace that sentence of mine that you quoted with "It's another thing to say that a theory loses all credibility if it asserts that something has no explanation."

Alternatively, you can keep my original wording, with the following clarifications:

First, by "explains everything", I mean just "explains the being and attributes of all that is", in the sense of the Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy entry that Feser quoted.

Second, the "theory of everything" that I mention is just the aggregate of all the true explanations that PSR says exist. This aggregate might lack a certain unity, so maybe it can be called "a theory" in only an analogical sense. And the aggregate itself might "exist" in only the attenuated or analogical sense in which any aggregate exists. Granted.

Nonetheless, as I said, I don't think that my main point turns on this issue.

Brandon said...

It's not 'supposedly'; it's easy to find those who do, although there are also those who don't. The reasons vary, but a common view is that it is trumped by empiricism: i.e., it can only be true so far as is already established by experience. (For an instance of explicitly arguing this, see here.) Quite a few argue that it makes perfect sense to say that the universe itself is a brute fact requiring no reason. And, as noted in the post and by Della Rocca, you find people arguing that quantum mechanics shows that it is false.

Brandon said...

It's another thing to say that a theory loses all credibility if it asserts that something has no explanation.

I'm not sure why you are treating 'theory' and 'reason' as interchangeable, but if we make that assumption, a theory that asserts that something has no explanation (as opposed to a theory that just doesn't explain it) is not a theory about things itself, but a theory about theories; it is a claim that there is no possible theory that can explain something that exists. Obviously no empirical evidence could establish that kind of claim, so it would have to follow from an argument that the existence of such a theory is contradictory. But it's unclear why we would say a contradictory can't exist unless we did so on the ground that nothing could possibly be a reason for its existence -- which is an explicability argument and seems to require PSR (and in a form that is much stronger than merely probabilistic).

It's perhaps also worth noting that for any theory that takes X to be brute there would have to be an otherwise indistinguishable modest theory that merely takes X to be still in need of explanation; brute-factness, as such, doesn't seem to have any implications beyond itself that would give different actual results when compared to a theory that was just modest about the same thing.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Robot

Feser makes the argument here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/can-we-make-sense-of-world.html

"[I]t is very likely that an atheist has to hold that the operation of at least the fundamental laws that govern the universe is an 'unintelligible brute fact'; as I have noted before, that was precisely the view taken by J. L. Mackie and Bertrand Russell. The reason an atheist (arguably) has to hold this is that to allow that the world is not ultimately a brute fact -- that it is intelligible through and through -- seems to entail that there is some level of reality which is radically non-contingent or necessary in an absolute sense. And that would in turn be to allow (so the traditional metaphysician will argue) that there is something which, as the Thomist would put it, is pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens or 'subsistent being itself' -- and thus something which has the divine attributes which inexorably flow from being pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens. Hence it would be to give up atheism."

Scott said...

@Robot:

…and, again, on p. 252 of Atheism: The Case Against God, you will find George H. Smith rejecting PSR just as Ed describes in the post from which Tyrrell has quoted, after specifically noting that "[m]any theists" treat it as axiomatic.

Robot said...

Okay, I think I see what you're saying now.

An atheist would have an issue with PSR as it accounts for things like existence in general. One would ask, "but what is the reason for the universe existing?" an atheist would possibly reply, "What do you mean 'what is the reason'? There is no reason for its existence."

I know of very few that would say that we don't need sufficient reason to believe something like, "why does the sky appear blue?"....
We'd laugh at one saying, "It just is blue, there is no reason for it."

But, Ed and Rocca are saying something like, "but then why arbitrarily not think the universe (or anything's existence) doesn't need a similar explanation or reason?"

Is this right??

That's interesting. I've never really thought of it like this before.

I'd imagine that would could offer some reason that might make it not seem that arbitrary of a drawing of the line.... but even this sentence that I just wrote shows that at some fundamental level we look for sufficient reasons why certain things obtain.

Are there any atheists who post here that can please address this??

Daniel said...

@Robot,

A good deal of professional atheist (not to mention a few theist) philosophers would claim that such a strong PSR leads to contradictions in other areas – for instance that of Propositions. Ed discusses this in General Scholastic Metaphysics where he makes the reasonable case that such criticsms contain a hidden presumption on the ontological nature of Propositions

Some atheist philosophers i.e. Graham Oppy essentially do as Ed half-jokingly implies, that is, claim the PSR should be rejected because it leads to Theism. Unlike a lot of the individuals Ed refers to they do attempt to give independent reasons why Theism is to be considered false. So their claim against the PSR is:

1. We have independent reasons to believe Theism false.

2.It is at least highly likely that the PSR implies Theism

3. Since the PSR implies Theism and we have reason to think Theism false then by Modus tollens we have reason to think the PSR false.

As has been pointed out this is not a standalone argument but depends on other considerations. The theist can do exactly the same and claim: ‘On the contrary ! We have independent reasons for thinking Theism true and thus by Modus ponens reason to think the PSR true’.

That latter is in fact slightly more controversial since as I said there are a number of theists who reject the PSR but very few atheists who accept it.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

Not that it matters significantly to your point, but strictly speaking the hypothetical theist's argument in your second syllogism (Theism; if PSR, then theism; therefore PSR) isn't a modus ponens but a fallacy of affirming the consequent!

(However, if the argument is offered not a syllogism but as a Bayesian hypothesis test, it can perhaps be read as an argument that evidence for the truth of theism also raises the probability of the truth of PSR. That may be closer to what you had in mind, although it's not modus ponens reasoning.)

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Brandon: I'm not sure why you are treating 'theory' and 'reason' as interchangeable, but if we make that assumption, a theory that asserts that something has no explanation (as opposed to a theory that just doesn't explain it) is not a theory about things itself, but a theory about theories; it is a claim that there is no possible theory that can explain something that exists.

Granted. I should have written "It's another thing to say that a theory loses all credibility if it asserts that something has no reason for its being or for being as it is."

I don't see that I made that slip-up (writing "explanation" or "theory" where I should have written "reason") anywhere else. Does something in my argument seem to rest on missing this distinction?

Santi Tafarella said...

In terms of a sufficient reason for consciousness, Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano has an article in The New York Times (posted October 10th, 2014) outlining his theory of consciousness. I brought Graziano up in a previous thread, and thought some of you might like to see the theory outlined straight out of the horse's mouth. If these comboxes enable links, here it is: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/12/opinion/sunday/are-we-really-conscious.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region&_r=0

Brandon said...

Does something in my argument seem to rest on missing this distinction?

The issue in my comment was not about the distinction; it accepted the assumption, for the sake of argument, that the distinction could be set aside as unimportant, and so just put the point in those words. Since we're still talking about "a theory [that] asserts that something has no reason for its being or for being as it is" we are still talking about a theory that has to rule out the truth of any possible theory that proposes a reason: it is still a very strong claim, one that could not possibly be established by empirical evidence alone (in part because there will always necessarily be a theory that is equivalent in every way except in that it does not commit to the brute-factness), so we're back at proving it by reduction to a contradiction, which again seems to require an explicability argument, which seems to presuppose a more-than-probabilistic PSR.

Anonymous said...

Santi,

You unraveled and came across a bit unhinged in that thread, don't you think?

You got pretty worked up that people didn't start cheering you on immediately in that thread.

One moment you're being helpful and considerate enough to mention the book to Feser.
And less than 2 posts later you're saying things like "Feser walls himself off from empiricism" or something like that.

I was a bit embarrassing to watch.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

My apologies for the slackness with the logic terms. For some reason I'm struck by a particular mental blindness in such situations, a fact made all the more irritating considering I’m reading a book on the subject at present (and what’s worse I confessed that to the world above!).

I agree about it committing the fallacy in question (something of the kind was implied in the last line in that it is by no means so clear there is a necessary transposition sic in the Theist's case) though in the hypothetical PSR Theist's defense that what they're really getting at is if the only objection against the PRS is that it implies Theism and we have independent reason for thinking Theism true then probably the PSR is too. In other words Atheism would be the only Necessary and Sufficient Condition for the falsity of the PSR.

Scott said...

@Santi Tafarella:

You're also not repairing your damaged credibility by tacking nonsense like "In terms of a sufficient reason for consciousness"[?!] in front of a transparent attempt to hijack a thread with the URL of an obviously off-topic (and sophomoric) article.

@Daniel:

I see what you mean and I agree; I figured you must have had something like that in mind.

By the way, my copy of Brian Leftow's Time and Eternity arrived a few days ago, and you were right; it's quite good. Thanks again for the recommendation.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I have a question about your Thomistic version of PSR, which basically boils down to the claim that any actualization of a potency requires a sufficient explanation. The human will is actualized whenever it makes a choice. Are you claiming, then, that there is a sufficient explanation for each of the choices that we make?

If this is what you are claiming, then it appears that you are endorsing the Bannezian account of free will which Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange defended in Volume II of his work, "God: His Existence and Nature." That is, God knows our free choices by determining them.

In a previous post titled, "Are you for real?", you argued that while the world is not a mere story, and we are not fictional characters, it would be fair to say that God is "like the writer who decides that the characters will interact in such-and-such a way. And so His being the ultimate source of all causality is no more incompatible with human freedom than the fact that an author decides that, as part of a mystery story, a character will freely choose to commit a murder, is incompatible with the claim that the character in question really committed the murder freely."

Is this in fact your view, Ed? Do you think God decides what choices I will make (including all my bad choices)? I ask this question because if your version of PSR entails this conclusion, then many people (theists included) might take that as a good reason to reject your Thomistic version of PSR as too strong. Here"s why: if my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control (Divine fiat) then there is a very real sense in which I am not free. But since common sense, law and ethics all presuppose that we are free, then my choices cannot be determined by God.

Perhaps we need a modified version of PSR: any actualization of a potency that occurs in an entity which is incapable of actualizing itself requires an explanation. That would make more sense.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"[I]t appears that you are endorsing the Bannezian account of free will which Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange defended in Volume II of his work, 'God: His Existence and Nature.' That is, God knows our free choices by determining them.…[I]f my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control (Divine fiat) then there is a very real sense in which I am not free."

It appears that you've understood neither Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's view nor the crucial difference between primary and secondary causation.

Fr. G-L's view was that God's "determination" (as primary cause) of our choices doesn't make those choices occur by necessity (at the level of secondary causation) but in fact ensures that they take place contingently and freely. (He also very explicitly rejected the view that human choices were determined by "circumstance"; that rejection was in fact a key point in his critique of Molinism.) If that's a mystery, he said, so be it.

You may disagree that this view makes sense, but there's no denying that it was Fr. G-L's view (or that Ed shares it). It was most certainly not his view that divine sovereignty in any way limited or interfered with human freedom, and your quotations from Ed indicate that he agrees with Fr. G-L in this regard.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"[Y]our Thomistic version of PSR…basically boils down to the claim that any actualization of a potency requires a sufficient explanation.…Perhaps we need a modified version of PSR: any actualization of a potency that occurs in an entity which is incapable of actualizing itself requires an explanation. That would make more sense."

Only on the view that potencies can actualize themselves. If that's not your claim, then what's your objection to the principle that any actualization of a potency requires an explanation?

(The Thomistic PSR is more general than that principle anyway, but that's not my point here. I'm asking, in effect, whether you're denying that the actualization of any potency has a sufficient explanation.)

Anonymous said...

I hate to be "that guy", but at the risk of moving OT can I ask why Scholastic Metaphysics is out-of-print again on Amazon? I'd much like to read the arguments about the PSR advanced in the book, does anyone know when it will be back in stock? (To paraphrase the wise words of Jaden Smith, if a book is out of print constantly is that because nobody is reading it, or everyone is reading it?)

ccmnxc said...

I hate to be "that guy", but at the risk of moving OT can I ask why Scholastic Metaphysics is out-of-print again on Amazon? I'd much like to read the arguments about the PSR advanced in the book, does anyone know when it will be back in stock? (To paraphrase the wise words of Jaden Smith, if a book is out of print constantly is that because nobody is reading it, or everyone is reading it?)

I'd say it is just out of stock. The same thing happened a few months ago when that happened and it was listed as out of print for several weeks before a new shipment arrived. It may be awhile, but it should definitely be back.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Scott,

I'm somewhat mystified by your response. At no point did I accuse Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange or Ed of holding that human choices occur by necessity. What I wrote was that according to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange (and apparently according to Ed), our choices are determined. I then added that if they are determined, then they are not truly free. They may be contingent, but that does not make them free.

As Elizabeth Anscombe put it in her 1971 lecture, Causality and Determination: "My actions are mostly physical movements; if these physical movements are physically predetermined by processes which I do not control, then my freedom is perfectly illusory." Anscombe's target in her lecture was the compatibilist claim that one can believe in both physical determinism and 'ethical' freedom, but it seems to me that her argument works against theological determinism as well. If God determines my choices then I am not free: it's as simple as that.

You object to the notion that potencies can actualize themselves. While I agree that it makes no sense to suppose that a passive potency could actualize itself, this does not necessarily follow for an active potency. Ed disagrees: in his Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, p. 105) he writes that even an active power (such as a hammer's power to shatter glass) "is incomplete relative to the activity it underlies" and thus needs actualization. But a hammer is an instrument; a free agent is not. There is not reason in principle why a free human agent needs to be determined by God, in order to make a choice. I might add that Feser's "author" metaphor for God's ultimate causation of human choices would make God the author of every foul thought, word and deed hatched by the mind of man. I think that constitutes a reductio ad absurdum for his version of the PSR. You are of course perfectly free to disagree :)

Edward Feser said...

if a book is out of print constantly is that because nobody is reading it, or everyone is reading it?)

It's never been "out of print" -- it only came out last April, after all -- but it's been out of stock twice. The first time was soon after it came out, when the first print run sold out right away. The second time was a few weeks ago, in the wake of three back to back reviews -- at Public Discourse, then Catholic World Report, then at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews -- after which it sold out again at Amazon. I don't know about "everybody," but somebody's reading it.

The publisher informed me a week or so ago that a couple new shipments have gone out, so it should be back in stock again at Amazon soon. Meanwhile the U.S. distributor (Transaction Publishers) might have it in stock right now -- try their website -- or you could try the Barnes and Noble website (which also carries an e-version for the Nook).

Brandon said...

At no point did I accuse Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange or Ed of holding that human choices occur by necessity. What I wrote was that according to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange (and apparently according to Ed), our choices are determined. I then added that if they are determined, then they are not truly free. They may be contingent, but that does not make them free.

This doesn't address the issue, given that Garrigou-Lagrange consistently uses the word 'determined' to mean 'made determinate' (as indeed it has to mean if we are deliberately not understanding it as implying necessity). You can hardly mean that making determinate choices, in and of itself, is inconsistent with human freedom. In addition, his usual characterization of human choices is that they are self-determined, with God making our self-determination effective by primary causality; you can also hardly mean that human beings are incapable of free choice unless they do not determine their own choices. And as Scott explicitly noted, you explicitly mischaracterized it by saying, "if my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control (Divine fiat) then there is a very real sense in which I am not free." As Scott noted, Garrigou-Lagrange doesn't think choices are determined by circumstances beyond our control; his entire view is inconsistent with it.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"I'm somewhat mystified by your response."

That sort of thing seems to happen to you a lot.

"I might add that Feser's 'author' metaphor for God's ultimate causation of human choices would make God the author of every foul thought, word and deed hatched by the mind of man. I think that constitutes a reductio ad absurdum for his version of the PSR."

Only of your misunderstanding of it. As for the rest, I'm happy to be able simply to refer you to Brandon's post.

@Brandon:

Exactly. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"It appears that you've understood neither Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's view nor the crucial difference between primary and secondary causation.

Fr. G-L's view was that God's "determination" (as primary cause) of our choices doesn't make those choices occur by necessity (at the level of secondary causation) but in fact ensures that they take place contingently and freely. (He also very explicitly rejected the view that human choices were determined by "circumstance"; that rejection was in fact a key point in his critique of Molinism.) If that's a mystery, he said, so be it."






Oh great. More seedy attempts to prop up religious fairy stories under the turgid banner of "philosophy." That is the end goal of all this pompous talk, and it is contemptible in its dishonesty. You know full well that you'd drop philosophy like a hot potato as soon as it couldn't serve as a cozy crutch for Christianity.

Look, the first man to invent religion obviously looked up at the sky and said “I have no idea how all this got here. I made this hut, and this fire, and this wagon, and I tamed this wild dog, and so whatever made the sky must be something very similar to me, only much more powerful.” Obviously. God was made in man’s image, not the other way around. He was a creation of humanity from when we couldn't figure out any better explanation for the difficult questions of existence.

In that vein, I prefer to devote my time to the study of things like quantum mechanics, quantum cosmology, and differential geometry, not spend precious time pondering over vacuous cant like "primary causation," "secondary causation," "actuality," "potentiality," etc. This is just bombast. Philosophizing in the dirt. Trying to impose our preconceived categories onto a world that has no need to exemplify them whatsoever. The great thing about science is that it lets the world speak for itself -- this brand of "philosophizing" does just the opposite.

Edward Feser said...

Moron.

MrMosis said...

Someone posting as anonymous again for entertainment purposes. Surely.

Edward Feser said...

Let me add a little commentary to my response to Anonymous at 1:36, though he isn't worth the time.

There is, of course, nothing vacuous about the notions that ignorant bigots like Anonymous dismiss. Take primary vs. secondary causation. It isn't at all difficult to get a handle on what is meant. Simple illustrations like Aquinas's example of the hand moving the stick make the basic point simple enough to grasp. A stick can move a stone, but not by itself. Its power to do so is derived from the hand that uses it. The person whose hand it is, though, does not in the same way have to derive his power to move the stick. No one has to pick him up and use him as an instrument in the way he uses the stick as an instrument.

Like an idea or argument in natural science, the distinction between primary versus secondary causality gets refined and technical and goes well beyond the simple illustrations used as first approximations to introduce the idea. But, again as in natural science, each step of the development is carefully thought through and argued for, as anyone who has bothered to acquaint himself with the actual arguments knows.

Any undergrad can see the basic point in five seconds, but people like Anonymous cannot -- or rather, pretend they cannot -- because they have a vested interest in maintaining the myth that all theology is irrational, that it has been made obsolete by science, etc. And the essentially emotion-based nature of their atheism is demonstrated by their coming into comboxes like this one and pointlessly tossing out comments which are manifestly question-begging and ill-informed. People like Anonymous are in fact neither rational nor well-informed. they are rather simply in love with the idea of their being rational and well-informed. It's pure sentimentality.

Like I said: Moron.

Daniel said...

The trouble is the entire account of history said individual gives could be true and it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference to the truth or falsity of the arguments involved. We need a Lolcatz with 'Can I haz Genetic Fallacy plox'

A point which amuses me: a good number of the core points of Classical Theism were worked out centuries before Christianity and without any connection with the Semitic religions. Likewise someone could except virtually all of the Natural Theology propounded here and maintain a ‘New Atheist’ type approach to Christianity and religion in general. I can only assume the ‘God=Christianity=Sexual Repression=Flee’ reaction one often sees is due to a deeply ingrained neurotic paranoia.

Daniel said...

@Ed,

Ever care to comment on the observation that very few atheist seem at all interested in what professional atheist philosophers of Religion actually say? In the 19th century people could at least muster a vague appeal to the authority of Hume or Kant; nowadays though I can't imagine many doing the same with Oppy or Sobel.

Craig Payne said...

Robot, you wrote: "But I just can't, right now, imagine a materialist who uses the scientific method and empiricism signing on to the idea that "things don't need a sufficient reason for their being such and such".
That would seem to me to throw the entire scientific method into disarray."

Dear Robot: This particular point is actually what ticks me off about the frequent popular use of QM. To say that something just "occurs" or "comes into existence" without requiring a cause just seems so unscientific--and lazy--even apart from the philosophical problems with it.

Dear Anonymous (I think this was the first Anonymous posting, not the second), you wrote, "I was a bit embarrassing to watch."

Not to worry. I myself have been a bit embarrassing to watch at times.

taylormweaver said...

I hardly post, though I frequent this blog and make sure to read the combox. I am so thankful that fellows similar to the 2nd Anonymous rarely show up here.

But, when it happens it is hilarious! Perhaps it is wrong of me to enjoy it, but I seem to be unable to help myself.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I agree with Mr. Mosis. I'd bet that anon is someone parodying a New Atheist. Not only is it better written than most Gnu screeds, but there is something in the style that makes it look fake.

ccmnxc said...

Still cannot tell if this is a Poe or not, but I'll roll with the assumption that it really is a clueless gnu:

...so whatever made the sky must be something very similar to me, only much more powerful.” Obviously. God was made in man’s image, not the other way around. He was a creation of humanity from when we couldn't figure out any better explanation for the difficult questions of existence.

And this is exactly the picture of God that theists here reject. God is not simply some human but with all the limitations and tangible parts abstracted away. He is literally the ground of being, who is completely simple (as in, no parts, physical or metaphysical) and can only be referred to using the Scholastic notion of analogy. Not at all like you and me, though you'd know that if you bothered to inform yourself. But alas, your atheistic myth is too precious to challenge, so I doubt we'll be seeing any increase in your knowledge of classical theism.

In that vein, I prefer to devote my time to the study of things like quantum mechanics, quantum cosmology, and differential geometry

This kind of transparent groveling for admiration is really pathetic to be honest. Do you expect a medal or something?

Scott said...

I'm inclined to agree with Messrs. Mosis and Taylor that we're probably being Poed. But just in case, I feel that as the party accused of Attempted Dishonest Propping Under a Turgid Banner, I should say a word on my own behalf. So…

@Anonymous:

Moron.

Santi Tafarella said...

Edward Feser to Anonymous at 1:36 was "Moron." Darwin had his bulldog in Huxley, and I suppose Aquinas has his in Feser, but I wish I was as certain of anything as Feser is of everything.

ccmnxc said...

That whole anon issue aside, I was wondering if I might be able to indulge in a brief derail (since we seem to have derailed already).
I've seen it addressed before, and I cannot remember the response for the life of me. What is the response if one argues:
a. That there is no essentially ordered chain terminating in a first mover because it terminates in an accidentally ordered chain (or into a point on that accidentally ordered chain), and similarly
b. how we can assert that the prime mover does not simply sustain one single essentially ordered chain but must sustain all of existence in being?

Thanks guys. I own Scholastic Metaphysics, so if there is any relevant area off the top of your head, feel free to refer me to that.

Edward Feser said...

Santi,

Well, you seem pretty certain that I'm certain. So there's that.

Anyway, the reason I called Anon a moron is that he said something extremely moronic. I also explained why it was moronic, and no one needs to agree with me about Thomism or much of anything else to see that he was being moronic.

But if he wasn't really being moronic, I'm happy to be proved wrong. So, please do explain to us why his remark was non-moronic, if that's what you think.

Edward Feser said...

Scott and guys,

Well, Anon's comment might be a gag, but he seems both earnest enough without being too earnest, if you know what I mean. Struck me more as the kind of guy who swooped in to the blog for the first time via a link somewhere, got his panties in a bunch when he saw some jargon he wasn't familiar with, regurgitated his usual combox script, and then clicked "publish" before moving on to his favorite Atheist Singles site to scope out the new prospects.

Y'know, the kinda thing I should've just ignored. My bad, as the kids say. But hey, I need some way to kill time in between grading exams, and Ebola's got us all on edge...

Greg said...

@ ccmnxc

a. That there is no essentially ordered chain terminating in a first mover because it terminates in an accidentally ordered chain (or into a point on that accidentally ordered chain)

The principle of causality requires a cause per se. It is the present instrumentality of the causes that would remain unexplained. The elements of an accidentally ordered series would not constitute a sufficient explanation for the final item in a per se causal series. (Other considerations are worth keeping in mind. I think the post I am thinking of is this. Ultimately the question is not of a finite series which terminates in some thing. A per se causal series strictly speaking might be infinite or circular, if in that case a primary mover were outside of it. It is not the infinity that causes the problem. Although someone who also worries about actual infinities might add that to the list of concerns, it's not required on Aquinas's principles.)

b. how we can assert that the prime mover does not simply sustain one single essentially ordered chain but must sustain all of existence in being?

I am not sure which of two senses of this question you intend.

If the question is about why the prime mover sustains all causal series rather than just the one to which a Thomist appealed to argue for its existence, then the response is that all change requires a prime mover, and one can argue for the uniqueness of any prime mover (ie. it would have to differ from any other prime mover in some way to be distinct, but neither of two prime movers could lack any potency relative to the other; or, in subsistent existence there is no individuation; etc.).

If the question is about how one gets from the change in a particular causal series to a cause of the existence of the universe, then one asks the question about what causes the actualizations of thing's existence.

If you're asking something else... you'll have to clarify. ;)

Greg said...

@ Santi

Yeah, Feser is Aquinas's bulldog because. Anon's post really called for a dignified response. I mean, he did mention two fields with the word 'quantum' in them.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Feser:

No worries, we all get testy at times. But I would ask you to hear the impatience embedded in Anonymous' complaint about Thomism. It's hardly moronic to conclude that medieval Thomism is an ill fit with 21st century science. Thomistic metaphysics is not mathematics, nor is it empirical, and so there's a sense that Thomism is not really fruitful. Anything science discovers can be made to fit it, and it makes no predictions that would help us determine whether it's actually true. Nothing refutes it. Not the Holocaust. Not split brain experiments. Nothing. You can make it fit anything (and you do).

Like the multiverse hypothesis, Thomism is not a subject on which confidence is warranted. Yet you regularly express a seemingly unbounded confidence in it. You appear to be 100% certain that Thomism is true. If you were a physicist or mathematician, that would be one thing. You could point and people could see. But philosophers appealing to Thomistic metaphysics can't do that, and this means that Bayes' Rule should be kept in mind. When it comes to metaphysics, one false move and you can find yourself way, way off (and not even know it).

This is what I think Anonymous is reacting to--the energies of unwarranted confidence. It's not enough to reason about what ought to be seen through Galileo's telescope. At some point you've got to have a look (and keep looking). But you seem to move too easily from treating something as logically possible to treating it as actual (such as God's existence). But Cuba Gooding would say to you (as he said to Tom Cruise): "Show me the money!" Those that can, do. Those that can't, mystify.

Edward Feser said...

Santi,

I have, of course, responded to such objections many, many times over the years, in blog posts, books, and articles, with detailed arguments. I notice that you, like Anon, don't reply to any of that, but instead simply make sweeping, unsupported, question-begging assertions.

While accusing me of dogmatism!

What's up with that?

Mr. Green said...

Santi Tafarella: But I would ask you to hear the impatience embedded in Anonymous' complaint about Thomism.

We heard it: he’s doesn’t have the patience to bother getting the slightest clue to what he’s talking about, so he comes off sounding like the moron he is.

It's hardly moronic to conclude that medieval Thomism is an ill fit with 21st century science.

You kinda have a point there — it’s not really fair to the morons, is it?

Thomistic metaphysics is not mathematics, nor is it empirical, and so there's a sense that Thomism is not really fruitful.

Do you mean “not fruitful” in the way that your ridiculously ignorant comments are not fruitful, or “not fruitful” as in “I don’t like it, therefore there must not be any value to it”?

You appear to be 100% certain that Thomism is true.

You really have a bizarre hang-up about certainty, don’t you? Apart from the fact that you have made absolutely no attempt to distinguish which levels of certainty apply to which beliefs Ed may or may not have, the only way to show a problem is to understand what the arguments actually say and challenge them accordingly. But you are clearly one of those people who would rather wallow in pique and envy than put the effort into actually learning something about the topic that irks you so.

This is what I think Anonymous is reacting to--the energies of unwarranted confidence.

Rubbish. Even if Feser were wrong about everything, Anon’s comment still shows a (mis)understanding of philosophy, history — even science — that is, well, moronic.

Daniel said...

This should probably the last time I go over this…

It's hardly moronic to conclude that medieval Thomism is an ill fit with 21st century science.

That many of the examples taken from the natural sciences of his time are in fact wrong given what we now know and that there are whole fields such as Evolutionary Biology and Quantum Mechanics the relationship of his metaphysics towards which the Saint could never have worked out are points we gladly admit. However modern Thomists such as David Oderberg, William Wallace, Benedict M. Ashley, Stephen Boulter not to mention Ed himself have done just that. Nor is this a new thing since Thomists over the centuries have been expanding his philosophy of Nature and relating to further discoveries. You may reject their interpretations or argue that Thomism fails in other ways but to claim Thomists are not interested in the natural sciences is just historically false.

Santi Tafarella: Thomistic metaphysics is not mathematics, nor is it empirical, and so there's a sense that Thomism is not really fruitful.

Thomist metaphysics is neither mathematics nor empirical hypothesis though it is empirical in that it takes its starting point from experience. It is in that respect like a number of the statements Michael Graziano makes in the article you link to. Few philosophers would accept the implicit Logical Positivist assumption that only empirical hypothesis or Analytic statements possess truth value.

Irish Thomist said...

@Ed

Not sure if anyone posted this;
QM and EA/PSR

Santi Tafarella said...

@Feser:

If you think I've overgeneralized concerning your public expressions of confidence surrounding Thomism, I apologize, but for clarity, could you please answer this question. On a scale of 1-100 (no confidence to full confidence), how sure are you that the following COMBINATION of propositions are true: A transcendent and good mind or spirit (God) with a personality sustains the cosmos, human beings have souls that go on after death, God answers prayers, angels and demons exist, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, God disapproves of homosexual behavior, and the dead will one day be raised, judged, and assigned individually to heaven or hell?

My own take is that the first proposition has a very low probability (less than 10%), and that the combination of these propositions being true is vanishingly low (far less than 1%). I see few good reasons to believe any of these propositions, individually or together. I know of no credible direct evidence offered for any of them. Bayes Rule would suggest that, at minimum, I should withhold judgment and say, "I doubt these things. Their probability is low. I certainly don't claim to know any of these things. I think people who take them seriously and express great confidence that they're true are largely deluding themselves."

How about you?

Daniel said...

Qua philosophers why should we be at all interested in contingent details of your belief-states? As people of course we might be but that get's us no closer to deciding on the truth or falsity of the various propositions which make up A-T Metaphysics.

Brandon said...

As others have noted, it is simply irrelevant how sure or confident anyone is in these things; this is a purely psychological question. The question is: what reasoning is behind them or against them? Nothing else is of any serious rational importance.

Matt Sheean said...

There seems to be a mystic cult of Bayes emerging as of late... maybe it's not that recent, and it's just my awareness of it that is recent

Georgy Mancz said...

I'm curious.
Does anybody know when exactly people started to put mathematical values to their beliefs qua psychological en mass? When did this nonsense become a fashion?

I mean, it happens all around us.
People pretend to assign probability values to the principle of non-contradiction... PSR...
People assign mathematical values to there being change in reality... (this happens in discussions of God's existence, so perhaps I shouldn't be suprised)

To take Mr. Tafarella's example. How does one come up with a useful probability value of God condemning homosexual behaviour?..

I'm bewildered by all of this.

Jonathan Lewis said...

I do wonder why New Atheist Fundamentalists who think that discussion of religious philosophy is a huge waste of time spend SO MUCH TIME reading and writing in this kind of religious philosophy blog.

grodrigues said...

@Georgy Mancz:

"Does anybody know when exactly people started to put mathematical values to their beliefs qua psychological en mass? When did this nonsense become a fashion?"

I have no answer to the historical question, but maybe some light could be shed on this profound mystery if we payed attention to the rhetorical uses the gambit serves. One of the ideas behind it seems to be that there is no proportion between the evidence adduced and the degree of certainty which one has, and further back still, the skeptic doubt that there is no method by which we could gather such an evidence proportional to the degree of belief. But as noted, this is not only quite irrelevant but self-defeating.

grodrigues said...

@All:

And while I am at it, and somewhat more on-topic, maybe someone can enlighten me on one aspect of Della Rocca's paper. He seems to identify explanation with conceptual reduction. For example, here he is on pg. 4 on causation:

"Causation provides the occasion for another controversial explicability argument that nonetheless enjoys significant support within philosophy. For a reductionist about causation, there must be some- thing in virtue of which a causal relation obtains. Why is it that these events are causally related and those are not? What is it that makes them causally related? To deny that there is any deeper fact that can explain why a causal relation obtains in a given situation is to treat causation as primitive or inexplicable, and such inexplicability does seem rather unpalatable. It would seem odd for causation to be a primitive fact, for there to be nothing one could say in answer to the question: what is it in virtue of which these events are causally related and those not?"

Here he seems to be equating "primitive" with "inexplicable", but this cannot be quite right, for if nothing is explanatory (?? Is this the correct word? Does not sound quite right to my internal ear) primitive, then it seems we have an explanatory infinite regress in our hands (which, uncoincidentally, is one of the usual charges against the PSR) and nothing ends up being explained. And if Della Rocca wants to draw a line somewhere then exactly the same arguments he hurls against the anti-PSR-ists can be hurled against him. So what gives?

edit: sigh; typo correction.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Santi

You seem to be adamantly opposed to being confident about one's beliefs.

But do you not have confidence in your own beliefs? Do you believe that everything real is physical? If so, how confident are you that this is true?

Do you have good reason to believe it? What is that reason? It cannot be "science" because no scientific research shows that everything is physical. Science examines that physical aspects of things, but such study does not in itself prove that nothing non-physical exists.

Do you believe that nature is completely without purpose or value? If so, how confident are you that is true? Where do you get this overwhelming assurance?

Do you believe that good and evil do not really exist? If so, what makes you so sure that this is true?

Do you think the mind is nothing but neurons? Are you sure of that? Are you quite convinced that the third person external view of the mind is more real that the internal first person view of the mind? Why are you so convinced of this?

Do you not have strong convictions yourself? Are you not extremely confident in your materialist worldview?

ccmnxc said...

*Note, mostly sloppiness on my part, but I'm using causal series per se and essentially ordered series in the same sense, even though I move between the two a lot.

Hi Greg, thanks for the response:

The principle of causality requires a cause per se. It is the present instrumentality of the causes that would remain unexplained. The elements of an accidentally ordered series would not constitute a sufficient explanation for the final item in a per se causal series. (Other considerations are worth keeping in mind. I think the post I am thinking of is this. Ultimately the question is not of a finite series which terminates in some thing. A per se causal series strictly speaking might be infinite or circular, if in that case a primary mover were outside of it. It is not the infinity that causes the problem. Although someone who also worries about actual infinities might add that to the list of concerns, it's not required on Aquinas's principles.)

For me, it is even less the problem of infinity in per se causes (I think noting that causality in such a series is instrumental suffices to lay that problem to rest). If anything my worry more has to do with why we cannot have finite per se series that terminate somewhere in a causally ordered series. Why can't the cause in that accidentally ordered chain have all relevant powers to instrumentally cause the per se series that proceeds from it?
Hope that question made sense, though I'm struggling a bit to adequately communicate the issue.

If the question is about how one gets from the change in a particular causal series to a cause of the existence of the universe, then one asks the question about what causes the actualizations of thing's existence.

I'd say this is more in line with my question. It seems that one essentially ordered series is enough to prove the existence of an unmoved mover, but why should we think that there are enough causal series per se to account for the existence and sustaining of the universe via the unmoved mover? Or, in other words, we might be able to say that essentially ordered series X and everything dependent on it would cease to exist. However, what argument is there to conclude that the entire universe and everything in it is dependent upon at least on per se causal series?

Thanks.

Greg said...

@ ccmnxc

Note, mostly sloppiness on my part, but I'm using causal series per se and essentially ordered series in the same sense, even though I move between the two a lot.

Those are the same. Essentialliy ordered is per se. Accidentally ordered is per accidens.

If anything my worry more has to do with why we cannot have finite per se series that terminate somewhere in a causally ordered series. Why can't the cause in that accidentally ordered chain have all relevant powers to instrumentally cause the per se series that proceeds from it?

I assume you mean 'an accidentally ordered series' in the bolded portion.

So what I take you to be asking what is inconsistent in this picture: There is an essentially ordered series s1, s2, s3, ..., sn such that s1 is caused per se by s2 and so on. There is an accidentally ordered seriies a1, a2, a3, ... stretching on infinitely. In addition, a1 causes sn per se.

That would require that a1 be unactualized, however. a1's acting instrumentally on sn is not sufficiently explained by a1's being caused accidentally by a2. a1 cannot act "by virtue" of a2's acting on it, because insofar as it acts on sn, it is not acted on by a2.

I think the general way to put the claim is that there are no merely accidentally ordered series. There is a series consisting of me, my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, and so on, and we are all accidentally related; my present existence doesn't depend on them. But my present existence still depends on something. The elements of an accidentally ordered series are not free-standing by virtue of being members of an accidentally ordered series, and the necessity of them having some cause per se is not thereby eliminated.

Greg said...

It seems that one essentially ordered series is enough to prove the existence of an unmoved mover, but why should we think that there are enough causal series per se to account for the existence and sustaining of the universe via the unmoved mover? Or, in other words, we might be able to say that essentially ordered series X and everything dependent on it would cease to exist. However, what argument is there to conclude that the entire universe and everything in it is dependent upon at least on per se causal series?

For every contingent thing, the question can be asked, Why is its existence actualized? So there would be an essentially ordered series for each contingent thing. (Of course the series might converge at some point or be messy in various ways.) Each time we ask the question of what is the cause of this partiulcar contingent thing, we find that there must be some unmoved mover; we then argue that 'those' unmoved movers must be the same.

(I realize I should avoid the use of indefinite articles with 'unmoved mover,' but it's difficult to do so.)

Scott said...

@ccmnxc:

"[W]hat argument is there to conclude that the entire universe and everything in it is dependent upon at least on per se causal series?"

Perhaps the simplest is that such a series is needed in order to account for the continued existence of anything that can come into and go out of being. A short version goes like this: Everything that has being has it either from itself or from another; anything that comes into or goes out of existence doesn't have its being from itself (otherwise it would never fail to exist); therefore (here I'm omitting a couple of steps) no such beings would exist without a being that does have its existence of itself, i.e., a being whose essence is existence.

(It may help to recall here that for Thomism, essence stands in potency to existence, so that the existence of anything with a specific essence requires that essence to be actualized. So this argument can be understood to be part of both the First and Second Ways.)

Scott said...

@Greg:

Jinx!

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jonathan Lewis:

You ask exactly the right sorts of questions of me. Thank you. It's where I wish the general conversation between atheists, agnostics, and theists would trend. Ask people to grayscale their beliefs rather than treating their conclusions as 100% certain. Ask them why they think their current hypothesis is better than others, and what sorts of information would reduce their existing certainty, etc.

So you wrote (and I like this): ""Do you believe that everything real is physical? If so, how confident are you that this is true?"

I'm not at all confident that everything can be reduced to physical causes. I lean, probability-wise, toward that belief (80%). If you forced me to bet a thousand dollars on it, I'd vote physical. One reason is an analogy: the phenomenon of water emerges from H20 molecules, and that's quite different from the individual molecules themselves. Likewise, mind in relation to neurons might be like that, but I don't know. Maybe there's something to dualism.

And here's an important point: it's okay not to know. I've always liked Thoreau's quoting of Confucius in Walden: "To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge."

I have other reasons for thinking mind might emerge from matter, but I also see good reasons for thinking otherwise. This is a question that has stumped much brighter people than me.

I like the scene (I believe it's in Annie Hall) where Woody Allen asks his father whether he believes in God, and his father says, "I don't know how my toaster works!"

So I don't know if, at bottom, it's all just atoms and void. I want to know. But I realize that epistemic humility is wise here.

And I've picked stocks I thought were reasonably good bets that went south, so I'm not at all confident on a question like this. I've known myself to be mistaken so very many times in my life. That has to be taken into account in my own present expressions of confidence. I need more evidence, I await the deliverances of neuroscientists, and I continue to weigh whatever new arguments or evidence come my way. What more can I reasonably do?

One key here is to keep Galileo's telescope active (metaphorically). There are people who reach a conclusion and never revisit it, or they don't feel any need to seek out additional evidence. Or they become very entrenched in their commitment to it. I think it's always an error to stop looking. Confirmation bias (counting the hits for your pet theory and not the misses) is one way to self deception.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jonathan Lewis:

To answer a few more of your questions ...

You also ask: "Do you believe that nature is completely without purpose or value? If so, how confident are you that is true?"

I'm considerably more confident about this question (say 99%). I think the vast extent and age of the cosmos, combined with the discovery that biological machines increase their complexity, not by design, but by eating one another in competition--and the fact that we are late-comers on the cosmic scene--strongly suggest (at minimum) that God did not make the cosmos for human beings.

The Holocaust is another good reason to doubt the cosmos has a humanly recognizable purpose with an intervening God at the helm. And the death of Darwin's ten year-old daughter pretty much killed Darwin's belief in a higher purpose, and I must say I think such absurdities make it hard to think that whatever happens is somehow for the best.

You also ask: "Do you believe that good and evil do not really exist? If so, what makes you so sure that this is true?"

I believe there is evil in the world (earthquakes, violence, etc.) and good (art, love, beauty, etc.). In relation to humans, there are things we take to be good and evil. But if you mean, "Does God want us to be pro-social, loving toward our children, etc," then I'm inclined to think no, this has to do more with evolutionary survival strategies. Along a spectrum, sharks have an evolutionary strategy toward selfishness, hippie bonobos toward cooperation. Each of us is born along this selfishness-cooperation spectrum, and survival dictates whether it's a good or bad strategy. God, by making evolution as the mechanism for the production of diversity, doesn't seem to be encouraging or discouraging human moral behavior. It just seems to be going where it's going. I hope we continue to evolve in cooperative ways.

You also ask: "Do you not have strong convictions yourself?"

Of course I do, and where my convictions are strongest is where I have both good reasons and evidence.

Nemesis said...


I am curious to know what is this ‘evil’ of which you speak? By which of the five senses do we perceive it? Is it to be associated with frustration of our will? If so then as is obvious here and everywhere two wills may oppose one another yet both hold the carrying out of their will to be good. Or perhaps going by the examples you give we should associate evil with pain? Yet we have good cause to deny we have such qualia experiences.

‘The Holocaust is another good reason to doubt the cosmos has a humanly recognizable purpose with an intervening God at the helm.’

This carries the markedly ‘queer’ suggestion that there is something innately evil about the Holocaust, more so than say the desire to scratch one’s finger or take a brief stroll in the woods. How pray tell do we intuit this objective wrongness? It seems laughable to talk blithely of objective wrongness after Hume and Nietzsche. In fact I call Queer fact on the whole business.

Greg said...

@ Santi

I'm considerably more confident about this question (say 99%).

I am not sure I understand the point of this exercise. For instance, Thomas Nagel would probably rate the question of value in the universe at a lower rate than you, given his recent work. Despite being an atheist, he would probably rate the questions about religion higher than you. What does this tell us, given that he has given arguments for his positions?

(Though part of the problem is that you've interpreted the question about purpose and value as a question about God's ordering of the universe.)

Though you have also rated the possibility that there is a transcendent and good God at 10%, while rating the probability that there is no purpose and value at 99%. Those events are disjoint (since if there is a 'good' God then there is value in the universe, and probably purpose), so even in the comments you've made here, on somewhat related issues (the existence of the God of classical theism versus value in the universe) you have not managed to keep the probabilities of your respective beliefs consistent. And this particular inconsistency is pretty substantial; it's not just an "approximation error."

I really doubt that anyone is going to get very far applying Bayesian probability to entire theories. One does not have the proper intuitions. It's like arguments over fine tuning; when a Christian scientist does the calculations, he low-balls all the probabilities, and when an atheist does them, he high-balls all of them. So you find Christian fine tuners claiming that it's basically a statistical impossibility that there is life anywhere else, and life on earth is nigh a miracle, while occasionally you'll see atheists claiming that it is basically certain that there is life on tons of other planets in other galaxies.

Scott said...

@Georgy Mancz:

"Does anybody know when exactly people started to put mathematical values to their beliefs qua psychological en mass? When did this nonsense become a fashion?"

I can't say when it became sufficiently widespread to be regarded as a "fashion," but within the field of mathematics it was set off by the publication in 1954 of this book.

I don't think it's nonsense in and of itself; as with other "fashionable mathematics" (or for that matter "science"), the problems arise when it's applied outside its scope or taken to show something it doesn't. For example, Bayes' Theorem is mathematically unexceptionable, but that doesn't mean we can base an entire epistemology on it.

"People pretend to assign probability values to the principle of non-contradiction..."

Well, that doesn't seem hard. Surely it's 1.

Daniel said...

Apologies to Ed and co for the sock-puppetry - I lost my temper over seeing the same old rubbish once more.

Why are people still talking to this moron though? It should have been clear from the other thread that he's not even remotely interested in knowing what the hell he's criticizing. Even Allan Fox does better. Sobel, Gale, Oppy, Schellenberg, even Kenny - any one of these would make a more interesting person to argue about than some troll whose stuck in a Logical Positivist time-warp.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Mr. Santi Tafarella

I can see that you have confidence in what you believe. You think this confidence is justified by reasons. Now do you think that theists have reasons for their beliefs also, or do you think that they just believe on blind faith?

If you have read the books of Edward Feser, or followed the philosophy of William Lane Craig then surely you must have noticed that theists like this do have reasons for what they believe. Their confidence comes from reasons just like yours does.
It is not fideism. It's not just "I believe because I believe"
or anything like that.

Are you of the opinion that no one could possibly have good reasons for their theistic world view?

Georgy Mancz said...

@Scott

It must be the language barrier. Sorry.
This "qua" thingy let me down.

"I don't think it's nonsense in and of itself; as with other "fashionable mathematics" (or for that matter "science"), the problems arise when it's applied outside its scope or taken to show something it doesn't."

Naturally. No disagreement there.

"Well, that doesn't seem hard. Surely it's 1."

That's what I'd say.. But perhaps you'll see the cause of my despair if you note the plural in 'values'.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Santi

You wrote that you are “not at all confident that everything can be reduced to physical causes”
Yet you also said that you “lean, probability-wise, toward that belief (80%)”
That sounds rather inconsistent. If you think something is 80% likely, then you are pretty confident in it I’d say.
But you are also saying there could be something to dualism, and this makes it appear that you aren’t really so sure at all.
With all those “I don’t know” statements, you seem more agnostic on the question. If there is so much doubt and uncertainty in your mind on this issue, then I do not see how you could arrive at an 80% probability. You would seem to be in state that is more like 50%.
Have you considered all the arguments about qualia and the argument from reason? Do you see, for instance, how the term “Rational” doesn’t refer to anything physical? Do you see that Truth isn’t a description of a physical state? If we have theories that are rational and their rationality isn’t a physical feature, then surely not everything is physical.
I realise you are awaiting “the deliverances of neuroscientists,” but I hope you don’t think that the only information about the mind is going to come from outside observation of the brain. First-person states have to be just as real as the third- person observations because those third person observations are actually someone’s first person states. Since all third-person observations are actually first-person observations then there is no way there third person experiences can be superior, because something cannot be superior to itself.
Physical sciences usually describe only the quantitative aspects of the world: the numerical measurements of how much, how fast, how many, etc. But the world cannot literally be made of nothing but quantities. They have to be quantities “of ” something. Bare measurements couldn’t be a full description of anything.
There are also the qualia aspects of experience that are present at all times: the actual feelings of what something is like. Physics may not study these experiences, but that doesn’t make them unreal. You can’t make something cease to exist by ignoring it.



Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Apologies to Ed and co for the sock-puppetry - I lost my temper over seeing the same old rubbish once more."

Are we to understand from this that you were the Anonymous who submitted the post that MrMosis, Jeremy Taylor, and I thought was probably an example of Poe's Law? I actually suspected as much, but of course I didn't want to name you as the author without being sure.

"Why are people still talking to this moron though?"

Which poster do you have in mind here? Santi?

@Georgy Mancz:

"[P]erhaps you'll see the cause of my despair if you note the plural in 'values'."

Indeed I do; I find it odd that anyone would regard the principle of non-contradiction as anything less than 100% certain. But surely people were doing that long before the practice of assigning numerical degrees to their beliefs became commonplace; the latter isn't the cause of the former.

Santi Tafarella said...

Nemesis:

You ask about objective evil, but I don't think there is such a thing if a good God doesn't exist. So I agree with Nietzsche on this. We're existentially without a net, or so it appears.

I would love for God to exist, and this is one reason I'm cautious about jumping to the conclusion that She does. I don't want to indulge in self deception. If God exists, I want more than merely plausible reasons and evidence for it.

I don't want to reach a conclusion on this matter that is born of desire or fear.

Think of how cautious physicists were before declaring the existence of the Higgs boson. The standard of proof was set very high because to build an edifice of theory on a faulty conclusion would be fatal to subsequent advances in physics.

Greg said...

Well, I'm 100% sure that the law of non-contradiction is true, but I'm 50% sure that it isn't.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I took two things away from Santi's recent posts, apart from the fact they are moronic.

One, he is one of those many Gnus for whom seeing really is believing: only what can be seen or touched counts as real knowledge.

Two, again like many of the irreligious, he is inordinately interested in what theism's truth might say about homosexual acts. He even managed to explicitly refer to homosexuality in his basic propositions about religion.

Jeremy Taylor said...

It is also interesting that so many of those who reject objective morality are so moralistic on the subject of homosexuality and its acceptance.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Greg:

You make fair comments about the (in)coherence of my probabilities, and it suggests that they should tug at each other until they fall closer in line.

Put another way, each new datum one takes into account surrounding a thesis should answer the question: "Does this make more or less sense in relation to what I currently believe? Is there a hypothesis that better accounts for all the data?"

In short, this would be Baysian reasoning in process, and it suggests that I have ongoing thinking to do.

As to the value of grayscaling intuitions, I don't agree with you that they are without value for broad theorizing. I think that when you ask a person to set a probability on a matter, there's fast bodily "thinking" that answers--a lot of intuitive processing--and that information is valuable.

Example: imagine that someone put a million dollars in a bank account and said, "It's all yours ten years from now if you answer this question correctly: will humans find bacterial life on Mars before 2024?"

My guess is that you would listen very intently, not just to your slow thinking, but your gut thinking. It would be a bet you would not want to get wrong, and something would be on the line. You would listen to yourself closely.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Greg and Scott:

Applying Bayes Rule to Aristotle's laws of logic (the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle) is straw-manning my position. I obviously don't apply Bayes' Rule to issues surrounding logic or deduction, but induction.

Greg said...

I just have substantial doubts about the possibility of assigning numerical probabilities to entire philosophical theses. Maybe I'm closed-minded, but I don't really see how it can be done. The interrelations within theories and between theories are quite vast.

There is also the issue that the difference between probabilities and conditional probabilities probably becomes obscured in philosophy. You assign certain aspects of theism rather low probabilities. But are those judgments of the probability of theism, or the probability given your background beliefs? You might weight your background beliefs a little more substantially in a conditional probability, but when you try to judge the actual probability on a philosophical topic, it strikes me as quite unlikely that there will be anything you can say. And Bayesian reasoning depends on having both conditional and actual (though subjective) probabilities.

Of course, one should attend to how one's commitments interrelate. The mathematical aspiration is, in my view, misguided. Philosophy is too messy.

It is also plausible that some belief will have to be willed belief. A mathematician may be attempting to prove a theorem that he does not yet know is true. In doing so, it will be of great utility to him to believe that it is true, and reason as though it were--so he can see how things should "fall together" if it is true. That may yield a counterexample or a theorem--he doesn't know. For similar reasons, I find some cool skepticism a bit overrated. There need not be anything intellectually dishonest in committing to an idea and trying to work it out by defending it, and in the long run, that may get one closer to the truth. (Though one should carefully avoid intellectual vice as well.)

Greg said...

@ Santi

I wasn't implying that you were doing that, I was just joking. (Though some people countenance the 'possibility' that the law of non-contradiction is false.)

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jonathan:

You ask, "[D]o you think that theists have reasons for their beliefs also, or do you think that they just believe on blind faith?"

I think they have reasons, some of them good. My issue is with what I would call "confidence theists" and "confidence atheists." I think that both sides too often focus on confirmation bias and the pleasures they take in huddling with their favored side (they read mostly the books of their own side, and in public they posture as certain and derisive of those outside their tribe).

It's human nature to behave this way, but Bayes Rule, in my view, helps cut through some of this static. It's a put up or shut series of questions: "What probability do you place on x being true, and why? Why do you think it's the best hypothesis among the options? Is there one that you take to at least be competitive with your thesis? Which one? What would cause you to have less confidence in your thesis?" It tamps down unwarranted posturing and confidence--this impulse to act as if you're 100% certain.

Bayes, in my view, is healthy for everyone to practice (theist, agnostic, and atheist). It tones down the hostile energy (or ought to). It makes the conversation more honest and measured.

It's why I hope Feser at some point answers my Bayes' Rule question that I put to him (which is located in this thread at October 13, 6:28 AM).

Scott said...

@Santi Tafarella:

"Applying Bayes Rule to Aristotle's laws of logic (the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle) is straw-manning my position."

Where in the world do you imagine that I said or implied that you were applying Bayes' Theorem to the principle of non-contradiction? And even if you did, why would Bayes' Theorem make any difference if you assigned the PNC a prior probability of 1?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi writes,


"It's human nature to behave this way, but Bayes Rule, in my view, helps cut through some of this static. It's a put up or shut series of questions: "What probability do you place on x being true, and why? Why do you think it's the best hypothesis among the options? Is there one that you take to at least be competitive with your thesis? "

So, in other words, you treat all knowledge like it is scientific knowledge.

Your comments would be improved by knowing the first thing about that which you spout off.

"It tamps down unwarranted posturing and confidence--this impulse to act as if you're 100% certain. "

Like the knowledge that homosexual acts are definitely acceptable and moral (despite not believing in objective morality)?

Brandon said...

It's a put up or shut series of questions: "What probability do you place on x being true, and why? Why do you think it's the best hypothesis among the options? Is there one that you take to at least be competitive with your thesis? Which one? What would cause you to have less confidence in your thesis?"

None of this has much to do with Bayes' Theorem, though; nor, except for the last question, much to do with confidence or certainty.

Matt Sheean said...

"Bayes, in my view, is healthy for everyone to practice"

Is "Bayes" something like dianetics?

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jonathan:

I'm persuadable on the issue of qualia. It's a real mystery how so vivid an inner life and outer experience can come of matter, so I'm sure I could be tugged from 80% toward 50% on the issue of materialism v. dualism. I very much would love for God to exist. I don't want death to be the end.

But such a question as one world or two is (for me) akin to speculating about bacterial life on Mars (there are intriguing hints both ways). It's not easy to be in the position of withholding judgement on a matter, but it's sometimes best to muddle along rather than jump to a hasty conclusion.

I certainly do not see any compelling reason to decide this matter one way or the other, or to be 100% certain one way or the other, but people place urgency and evaluate you morally based on your ability to leap in one direction or another. This is what I think is unwise. Racing ahead of the evidence.

I think that when religion had more of a grip on the human imagination in terms of threats of hell, this whole question had more urgency. But if hell doesn't exist, why get out ahead of the evidence on this matter?

I read a super great book last week, and I'll recommend it to you. It's short, can be read in a day, and is extremely well written. It's by Daniel Garber (I believe he is chair of philosophy at Princeton). His book is titled, "What Happens After Pascal's Wager? Living Faith and Rational Belief." It's based on his Aquinas Lecture in 2009 at Marquette University. Feser probably knows this philosopher (or knows of him).

In any case, he makes the argument that taking Pascal's Wager doesn't actually settle anything in terms of the need to go on wrestling with probabilities. It's very interesting, and essentially a Bayesian critique of Pascal, and how one can commit to self-deception.

If you Google the author's name, you'll also find that he was recently interviewed by another philosopher for The New York Times. The interview is quite good. It's what prompted me to locate one of his books and read him. I'm glad I did. He's very, very smart, measured, and sensible.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon (and Scott),

I'm back again after a typhoon passed through my neck of the woods. You write:

"... Garrigou-Lagrange consistently uses the word 'determined' to mean 'made determinate' (as indeed it has to mean if we are deliberately not understanding it as implying necessity). You can hardly mean that making determinate choices, in and of itself, is inconsistent with human freedom. In addition, his usual characterization of human choices is that they are self-determined, with God making our self-determination effective by primary causality; you can also hardly mean that human beings are incapable of free choice unless they do not determine their own choices. And as Scott explicitly noted, you explicitly mischaracterized it by saying, "if my choices are determined by circumstances beyond my control (Divine fiat) then there is a very real sense in which I am not free." As Scott noted, Garrigou-Lagrange doesn't think choices are determined by circumstances beyond our control; his entire view is inconsistent with it."

I use the word "determined" in precisely the same way Garrigou-Lagrange uses it: "made determinate" - i.e. made to be specifically X, rather than Y or Z. I also realize perfectly well that Garrigou-Lagrange held that we determine our choices. He also held, however, that we determine our choices as secondary causes, and that God determines them as the primary cause. In other words, according to Garrigou-Lagrange, God ultimately determines everything that I think, say or do; and that fact that he also says that God makes me determine my choices in no way alters that simple fact. Since Divine Fiat is beyond my control, it follows that my choices are ultimately determined by circumstances beyond my control, if Garrigou-Lagrange is correct. And it is precisely this, I maintain, which makes my choices un-free. If he is right, then every foul thought, word or deed of mine has God as its Ultimate Author.

I might add that Garrigou-Lagrange's theory also entails that God negatively reprobates many souls, by an absolute decree and without regard to any future supernatural merits. Concerning this theory, the Catholic Encyclopedia declares in its article on Predestination:

"Whatever view one may take regarding the internal probability of negative reprobation, it cannot be harmonized with the dogmatically certain universality and sincerity of God's salvific will... He who has been reprobated negatively, may exhaust all his efforts to attain salvation: it avail's him nothing. Moreover, in order to realize infallibly his decree, God is compelled to frustrate the eternal welfare of all excluded a priori from heaven, and to take care that they die in their sins. Is this the language in which Holy Writ speaks to us? No; there we meet an anxious, loving father, who wills not 'that any should perish, but that all should return to penance' (2 Peter 3:9)... Generally speaking, the Greeks are the chief authorities for conditional predestination dependent on foreseen merits. The Latins, too, are so unanimous on this question that St. Augustine is practically the only adversary in the Occident."

I might add that Jacques Maritain also condemned the Bannezian theory of predestination championed by Garrigou-Lagrange in his 1963 work, Dieu et la permission du mal. You can laugh at me if you like, but if you laught at Maritain, you will look silly.


Christopher said...

Santi, would you describe your position as that of Scientism?

Santi Tafarella said...

@Greg:

You said: "There need not be anything intellectually dishonest in committing to an idea and trying to work it out by defending it, and in the long run, that may get one closer to the truth. (Though one should carefully avoid intellectual vice as well.)"

That's an excellent way of putting it. It's one way of coming at the world and being in the world. I wouldn't necessarily say to someone, "Don't ever behave this way." You can learn a lot defending a position as if you believed it with greater certainty than you know it warrants. You can go through the world not grayscaling, ignoring Bayes' Rule.

But that's the problem. You can start to succumb to self-persuasion. If you really jump into something (a religious community, for example), there are lots of seductions tempting you to never, ever change your mind again (you make friends, you take on an identity, you practice a ritual that gives comfort, discipline, structure, and habit to your life, etc.).

And confirmation bias can really impact your emotional functioning. Little private "miracles" and coincidences start accompanying your new life, subjectively confirming your choice. You can get lots of rewards for adopting a belief and joining a group.

But here's the cost: "Get with the program, stay with the program, don't doubt the program." Doubt and you're out. That's the danger. Suddenly love and threat are coming from the same group. And if you leave, it means no more autopilot. You've got to rethink matters afresh.

Thus young earth creationists and climate change denialists provide a living caution here. You very rarely encounter one who, though far more proficient in science issues than the average person, actually discovers the errors of their ways. They just keep digging themselves ever deeper and deeper into a fight-to-the-end with scientific expertise and consensus. They imagine themselves as "independent thinkers" fighting the blind conformity of the scientific community, and this is emotionally rewarding in itself.

And it's not just religious fundamentalists and cultural conservatives who behave this way.

I'll give an atheist example: If you go from being a Christian to an atheist, one of the deepest emotional rewards is realizing every single day, perhaps for years on end, that God isn't punishing you for it. You say things about God that frighten believers, and you don't get struck by lightening or anything. Ergo, God must not exist or doesn't mind being sassed!

You wouldn't make this sort of crude argument aloud, but your body feels it as intuitively correct. It's as rewarding as believing that angels swerve you out of danger occasionally.

If you become an atheist, the whole artifice of fear that gripped you as a Christian starts to drop like scales from your eyes. (I know because when I was a teen I went from a Christian to an atheist phase.) It's deeply, deeply rewarding emotionally. You can read forbidden books and nothing happens. This is something not usually talked about, but that most agnostics and atheists who were once religious know.

So as human beings, it's very hard to come to any issue without distortions of judgment grounded in subtle emotional rewards and reinforcements. They can drive our rationality in a deeper way than our outward explanations for why we say we believe this or that.

It's thus arguable that you should maintain your neutrality on an ambiguous matter for as long as you can manage it emotionally, because once you choose a path, a whole ecosystem of rewards and punishments starts to gather around your choice.

Brandon said...

Vince,

In other words, according to Garrigou-Lagrange, God ultimately determines everything that I think, say or do; and that fact that he also says that God makes me determine my choices in no way alters that simple fact. Since Divine Fiat is beyond my control, it follows that my choices are ultimately determined by circumstances beyond my control, if Garrigou-Lagrange is correct.

Again, this is simply incorrect, and inconsistent with Garrigou-Lagrange's actual view. On Garrigou-Lagrange's account, as indeed every Banezian account, determination of choices is cooperative; the determination of the choice is from God as principal cause and us as subordinate cause. Given this, your conclusion is a non sequitur; the choice is not made determinate "by circumstances beyond my control". In fact, Garrigou-Lagrange explicitly says, in more than one place, exactly the opposite: the determination of the choice is in our control. Any interpretation of Garrigou-Lagrange that denies this is simply wrong as an interpretation; he could hardly be more clear about the point.

Greg said...

@ Santi

I agree that is a risk. I had similar (though probably milder) feelings upon becoming an atheist, and my return to Christianity wasn't free of cognitive bias.

It's thus arguable that you should maintain your neutrality on an ambiguous matter for as long as you can manage it emotionally, because once you choose a path, a whole ecosystem of rewards and punishments starts to gather around your choice.

There are risks with either approach, but I still do not see how the Bayesian approach is possible.

Greg said...

More on the Bayesian approach: I can't see that it properly appraises the way people believe philosophical theses. What would it mean for me to ascribe a probability to Kripke's interpretation of Wittgenstein? To preference utilitarianism? To David Lewis's extreme modal realism?

Anonymous said...

I find it is vastly more logical and reasonable when I apply arbitrary numbers that may as well have been pulled out of my rectum and apply those to the probability that my beliefs are true. This method has a 87.7% chance of being the best method around, and those are the best odds yet.

I know this may seem absurd, but I can assure you, if you give me some evidence I have yet to consider that would go against my view, I promise to apply an arbitrary number to weight the percentage in another direction and react accordingly.

I would also appreciate it if you do not ask me for the odds that my odds are accurate.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Anon has pretty much summed up this idiocy of yours, but can I just say that this routine of yours would work better if you approached it more humbly and without clear indications you are spouting off about that which you know little. I mean, what is the point of attacking people for jumping to hasty conclusions when you manage to throw in begged questions and the clear impression of knowing nothing about the arguments which they make.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon, you write:

"On Garrigou-Lagrange's account, as indeed every Banezian account, determination of choices is cooperative; the determination of the choice is from God as principal cause and us as subordinate cause. Given this, your conclusion is a non sequitur; the choice is not made determinate 'by circumstances beyond my control'. In fact, Garrigou-Lagrange explicitly says, in more than one place, exactly the opposite: the determination of the choice is in our control. Any interpretation of Garrigou-Lagrange that denies this is simply wrong as an interpretation; he could hardly be more clear about the point."

I read Garrigou-Lagrange about 30 years ago, and until you can cite chapter and verse to prove that I am mis-representing him, I refuse to be corrected.

Let me ask simple question. According to Garragou-Lagrange, if God has determined that I shall do X, then is it possible that I shall not do X? You know what Garrigou-Lagrange would say: an emphatic no. The ultimate determination of my choice, then, is an event beyond my control, on his view, no matter how "willingly" I may do it. G-L's rationalization of my choice as still being "free" is much the same as the Calvinistic one: if I'm still doing it willingly and while using my reason, that is enough to make it free. Not so. That's a Pickwickian freedom, and it remains true that on G-L7s account, whatever choice I make, and however willingly I make it, there is a very real sense in which I couldn't help but make it.

Santi Tafarella said...

Christopher asked, "Santi, would you describe your position as that of Scientism?"

I don't embrace that term in the way that Alexander Rosenberg does. It's pejorative.

I admire the down-to-earth secular common sense of David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Steven Pinker, and Daniel Garber. And I would define critical thinking as the attempt to get, as objectively as possible, at the truth of matters.

This translates into three ideas: (1) be courageous (don't be like Oedipus and pluck out your eyes); (2) attempt to mitigate your biases (seek out disconfirming evidence, etc.); and (3) attend patiently and thoughtfully to metaphor, rhetoric, framing gestures, experience, testimony, evidence, logic, deduction, induction, abduction, and grayscale reasoning (Bayes' Rule).

As for alternative forms of knowledge, I think of them as akin to alternative forms of medicine (which are, of course, not actual forms of medicine at all).

So I don't believe that religious experience, revelation, tradition, theology, or authority should be treated as sources of knowledge. But I do think that scientific consensus can cautiously be treated in this way.

And unlike Feser, I don't believe in walling off metaphysics from being informed by empiricism. To my mind, for example, split brain experiments shoot down Descartes's notion that the mind is not divisible into parts and is simple.

I wouldn't call any of these general principles "scientism," but basic Enlightenment Baconianism, or simply "being empirically responsible."



Daniel said...

@Scott,

No sadly Anonymous is not my doing (come on, please tell me the Scarecrow was more interesting than that!). Mine was Nemesis - I expected people would just finger me for it anyway since that particular point about Atheists having a 'Taxi-Cab' problem when it comes to Objective Evil is something I've brought up before (along with the connection to Mackie's Argument from Queerness).

Which poster do you have in mind here? Santi?

Yes, it was clear from the other thread he was never going to ask anything in good faith or even interesting. Plus like Allan Fox he's as good as admitted he's working on a Verificationist criterion and thus should pretty much be ignored on his own lines.

Arthur said...

'unlike Feser, I don't believe in walling off metaphysics from being informed by empiricism.'

Eh? Where does Feser say that metaphysics is 'walled off' from empiricism? Last I heard, metaphysics is based on empirical evidence, albeit of a very basic sort that science must presume. The notions of act and potency, for example, are based on change, and we know that change happens empirically.

Daniel said...

@Jeremy Taylor,

The point you make is interesting as it highlights a fundamental oddity in such positions. If one holds that Homosexuality in itself is objectively Not-Immoral then it follows by definition that this is objectively true ergo and thus it cannot be altered by Divine fiat (in fact being grounded in human nature it derives from the Divine Nature). If such position is true then they have no need to fear the existence of God would contradict it. That at least a good number of popular proponents of said position do not appear to realise or care about this gives the impression they are not so much interested in Truth as they are in Will, they are in other words atheist Voluntarists.

Regarding Evil it is as a number of such persons want to operate with a concept we might call 'As-if Morality' e.g. 'if there was Objective Evil then the Holocaust would be an example of it'. The trouble is in admitting morality isn't objective they appear to have also tacitly admitted the impossible of giving any rational criterion for it, in which case one could give a sort of Atheist variation on Stephen Law’s ‘Evil God Challenge’ claiming that we have no more reason to treat propositions like 'if there was Objective Good then the Holocaust would be an example of it' and 'if there was Objective Evil then the Abolition of Slavery would be an example of it' as false than their inverse.

So just yet another confirmation truth of that old dictum about Nominalism being the enemy of all rational thought.

Brandon said...

According to Garragou-Lagrange, if God has determined that I shall do X, then is it possible that I shall not do X? You know what Garrigou-Lagrange would say: an emphatic no. The ultimate determination of my choice, then, is an event beyond my control, on his view, no matter how "willingly" I may do it.

Again, this is simply incorrect, and is in addition muddled about the modalities. If X is the choice that God and I make determinate (since both God and I are the determiners), then it is only conditionally necessary that I do X: it is necessary that I do X given that I do X in exactly the same sense that it is necessary that Socrates be sitting if he is sitting, and in no stronger sense. And again, since Banezian premotion is an asymmetric cooperation, one can simply see the problem with your line of reasoning by simply focusing on the subordinate cause rather than the principal one: If I have determined that I shall do X, then is it possible that I shall not do X? And the blatantly obvious answer (and the logically necessary answer on any view) is: Not given that assumption. But this is irrelevant to questions of free will.

In addition the modalities are muddled. Garrigou-Lagrange, and all Banezians, are quite clear that the only relevant modality here is infallibility, not necessity. You can't arbitrarily change the modality without mis-stating what Garrigou-Lagrange said.

These are the kinds of points Garrigou-Lagrange makes literally every time he discusses premotion: Man's free and self-determined choice, which comes entirely from man as second cause, comes likewise entirely from God as first cause; the divine motion obtains infallibly its effect, i. e.: man's act of actual choice, but without forcing, necessitating, that choice; since our will can choose indifferently among various possibilities, its act remains, not necessary, but free. These are all standard ways he puts it, because they are all standard Banezian tropes. You can pick up any of his discussions and find claims like them. Your interpretation is simply wrong, and inconsistent with any actual textual evidence from Garrigou-Lagrange.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

As for alternative forms of knowledge, I think of them as akin to alternative forms of medicine (which are, of course, not actual forms of medicine at all).


So please tell us a good argument against philosophy? [yes you know where I am going with that Scott, Ed etc.]

So I don't believe that religious experience, revelation, tradition, theology, or authority should be treated as sources of knowledge. But I do think that scientific consensus can cautiously be treated in this way.
Question begging at best.

And unlike Feser, I don't believe in walling off metaphysics from being informed by empiricism. To my mind, for example, split brain experiments shoot down Descartes's notion that the mind is not divisible into parts and is simple.
Have you actually ever read Edward Feser's work? You might be suprised at how wrong you are here! You make a claim that is false by the way in case you can't be bothered to read his work.

I wouldn't call any of these general principles "scientism," but basic Enlightenment Baconianism, or simply "being empirically responsible."
That's right, you wouldn't. Why? ...because it is scientism.

That may confuse you. It won't confuse other readers however.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

Three times you brought up homosexuality in relation to my posts.

Do you disagree with me that "homosexual acts are definitely acceptable and moral"? On what basis?

Craig Payne said...

Let's see--I know I've read something here about arguments for and against the Principle of Sufficient Reason; but where? Oh, yes; there it is in the original article.

If I am dealing with an inquirer who appears to be honestly questioning, I will take all the time in the world to provide answers and clarifications, in the effort to help those who honestly desire help. I think everyone in this thread needs to step back and realize: That's not happening here.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Irish Thomist:

You wrote to me the following: "Please tell us a good argument against philosophy."

In other words, you want me to walk you through Wittgenstein. Hmm. I guess I'll take this Pepsi Challenge, but I assume you'll pounce if I get the least detail of Wittgenstein wrong (even as you ignore the broader point). Or if you don't like the conclusion I draw from Wittgenstein, you'll just claim I don't understand Wittgenstein. But I'll reluctantly take the bait.

To get a handle on Wittgenstein, one can start with a simple question: what does the scientist (as opposed to the philosopher) do and accomplish?

The answer seems pretty straightforward. The scientist reasons and experiments her way to very definite discoveries. She achieves these discoveries because her matter is, well, matter. Matter, unlike mind or a concept like the good, is subject to such things as observation, controlled manipulation, modeling in space and time, and public verification.

Science is a very powerful method for reducing complex material things to simpler material things and general principles. In science, it makes sense to say that the truth about your body is that it consists of cells and those cells consist of atoms. Scientists know this. They have discovered these things.

And for Wittgenstein that’s the problem with the philosopher and philosophy. Like the scientist, her ambition is discovery, to get at the truth of matters either by reduction (analysis) or generalization (synthesis). But she applies methods (Occam’s razor, etc.) to things for which no material and therefore no objective properties actually exist.

Wittgenstein's solution: philosophers should wisely maintain silence concerning metaphysics and focus on noticing and describing how language works.

Arthur said...

I wonder what you make of Occam's Razor itself, Santi? It doesn't seem to be 'matter', yet I presume you don't think it can't be known about.

Anonymous said...

The scientist reasons and experiments her way to very definite discoveries.

No, he doesn't. The scientist reasons and experiments their way to a variety of conclusions, some of them more supported than others, all of them provisional. They arrive at theories, possible explanations, and sometimes views they state with near certainty and have to be retracted later.

She achieves these discoveries because her matter is, well, matter. Matter, unlike mind or a concept like the good, is subject to such things as observation, controlled manipulation, modeling in space and time, and public verification.

No, he arrives at these discoveries with the experience of matter. An experience that has changed radically, for which observation and controlled manipulation and modelling has resulted in conflicting "verifications" over time, and will likely result in conflicting verifications in the future.

No metaphysics, no matter. What you have is experience, that may or may not refer to some "material" thing, or which may be nothing but Berkeleyan experience, or more.

So already, in your argument against philosophy and metaphysics, you begin by importing it. Poorly.

Science is a very powerful method for reducing complex material things to simpler material things and general principles. In science, it makes sense to say that the truth about your body is that it consists of cells and those cells consist of atoms. Scientists know this. They have discovered these things.

And whether those things are actually "reduced" to such things, rather than if they are irreducible entities which are composed of such things, is beyond science's capabilities.

See, Santi, that's the problem with your view. You try to hold up the idol of Wittgenstein and lecture people that they should leave metaphysics alone. But then you throw the idol out the window, because you demand to at least be able to retain the metaphysics you like.

Give up naturalism, materialism and atheism, all of which are metaphysical views, and try again. But I have a feeling that once you recognize you have to give those up to maintain your view, you won't try again: you'll just give the view up and look for something, anything, which lets you maintain your (bad) metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

Do you disagree with me that "homosexual acts are definitely acceptable and moral"? On what basis?

And here it is again.

Science has no capability to talk about the moral and immoral. But that simply won't do, because anal sex is a sacrament for some people. Therefore, anal sex is definitely acceptable and moral.

It is extraordinarily rare for the people to call for the sacrifice of philosophy and metaphysics to actually remain consistent with that call when it comes to their own view. Admittedly, you can't have science without philosophy or metaphysics, but you'd think they'd realize as much, or at least admit to the obvious when pointed out to them.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Irish Thomas:

Feser is an example of what happens to philosophy in the 21st century when people pretend that Wittgenstein never happened, and he simply gets ignored. One ends up saying things like the following (from Feser's "Philosophy of Mind" book, p. 28):

"The 'indivisibility' argument remains controversial, but since the evidence of the mind's divisibility is inconclusive, it seems the argument hasn't been decisively refuted."

In other words, if one can maintain a logically possible route around neuroscience's split brain experiments and phenomena like multiple personality disorder by positing the existence of demonic possession or calling into question the very consensus of experts on split brain experimentation itself, then Descartes's thesis that mind is simple and cannot be divided into parts is still available for serious consideration.

It doesn't matter what science discovers. If it's not logically impossible, Descartes can live.

Put another way, you can be epistemically irresponsible and maintain any position you desire, however strained your route to arriving there. You can reason your way to whatever you want.

And this is why Wittgenstein says: better to be silent.

Maybe St. Thomas himself came to Wittgenstein's conclusion near the end of his life (accounting for his own silence). That would be ironic. Two geniuses seeing philosophy in checkmate, one early on in life, the other at the end, and Feser meanwhile feverishly writing his books and blogs, maintaining the good Scholastic fight. "I've thought of yet another logically possible move that protects our King, the indivisibility argument, from neuroscience ..."

If you think I'm being unfair to the way Feser discusses the indivisibility argument, read pages 25-28 in his "Philosophy of Mind" book.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

"But I'll reluctantly take the bait."

Drop the 'but' in the above and you are right. You took the bait.

I'll also add my point has very little to do with Wittgenstein or his ideas i.e. nothing.

Tell me is your position really rational or logical?

I'm only getting started (and will put in what my time allows to finish).

Greg said...

People have been 'disregarding' Wittgenstein for 50 years, if that means engaging in systematic philosophy. And it has nothing to do with theism or dualism.

Anonymous said...

Feser is an example of what happens to philosophy in the 21st century when people pretend that Wittgenstein never happened, and he simply gets ignored.

Statements like these are what happen when people pretend to know what metaphysicians, Thomists and (in this case) Feser are talking about, when in reality Wittgenstein is mentioned repeatedly on this site.

And this is why Wittgenstein says: better to be silent.

He said to the holders of strained, deseperate metaphysical views he rejected... never.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

I'm suprised you quoted a book of Feser's (did you just download it on your Kindle?).

You still really don't know his position on observation and so forth. Do you think Edward is saying that the brain doesn't have a real function???

You do strike me as being a little confused at least in as far as the consequences of your own views are concerned. You also lack understanding of Thomist position.

While we are on the topic of split brain experiences I wouldn't mind (pun intended) reading the articles and papers to which you allude (not because I don't believe you or the results of said experiments as it happens).

Irish Thomist said...

split brain experiences
Pardon my spelling blips. Fitting this in within a tight time frame.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Anonymous:

Your critique of my summary of Wittgenstein displays such bad faith that I'm not sure whether I should respond. Perhaps that's why you posted as Anonymous?

But hear the signal through your static. It's Wittgenstein's argument, not mine. I didn't think of it. Your dismissiveness of me is not of me, but of Wittgenstein.

Anonymous said...

Your critique of my summary of Wittgenstein displays such bad faith that I'm not sure whether I should respond.

Whereas I'm not sure that you're capable.

But hear the signal through your static. It's Wittgenstein's argument, not mine. I didn't think of it. Your dismissiveness of me is not of me, but of Wittgenstein.

Actually, it is of you. As I've said, all evidence is that you can't even remain consistent with Wittgenstein's own view: you dismiss metaphysics and philosophy, but you repeatedly cling to the metaphysics and philosophy you favor.

If you cry, "But so did Wittgenstein!", then if that is the case... so much the worse for Wittgenstein.

Dismiss naturalism, atheism and materialism, Santi. They are metaphysical views as well. If you cannot bear to bring yourself to do this, your argument dies before it even gets out of the gates. Yet I suspect you realize that eschewing those would lead to a pyrrhic victory, without the victory.

Sorry, Santi. Saying "But Wittgenstein!" gives you no authority here. You are presenting the arguments, you are making the claims, and the inconsistencies and problems are yours to acknowledge, accept or defend.

And you're coming up short.

Daniel Joachim said...

I'm presently reading Alasdair MacIntyre on morals, where he accuses much contemporary moral debate to have fallen victim of emotivism, where we've actually lost all rights to appeal to reason in these matters. In the end, we have to choose between Nietzsche or Aristotle.

After reading this conversation, and responding to Santi's nonsense on the last thread, I'm fairly convinced (or at least 81,2% convinced), that I cannot see any other rationale behind such assignment of probability than emotivism.

What would it even mean? I could just as well recite poems by Lewis Carroll.

I can also think of any philosophical proposition, and articulate the first number that comes to mind when suggesting how I feel about it. (Any others that are getting associations to some Pentecostal schools of "prophecy"?)

That would be to act without any intellectual integrity whatsoever though, so I left that behind in junior high.

Santi Tafarella said...

Irish Thomist:

A summary of the split brain material is in the neuroscientist Sam Harris's new book, and Feser summarizes it on pages 25-28 of his Mind book (and tries to dismiss it). Perhaps you haven't read the Mind book.

It's also the part of Feser's book where he ludicrously allows that demon possession might be a way of "saving" Descartes's indivisibility argument.

If you ignore Wittgenstein, grayscaling, and Bayes' Rule, well, it's Peter Pan for philosophy ("We can fly, we can fly, we can fly. ...").

Arthur said...

'If you ignore Wittgenstein, grayscaling, and Bayes' Rule, well, it's Peter Pan for philosophy...'

Surely that's what they all say. 'Without my chosen epistemology, it's all arbitrary!'

That leaves ignored the possibility that someone else might actually have a better epistemology than yours.

Anonymous said...

That leaves ignored the possibility that someone else might actually have a better epistemology than yours.

The problem Santi is having here is that he is deeply emotionally invested in his love of magic, mysticism and superstition. Reason and contemplation allow for deviations from the dogma he clings to, and thus he has to say what he believes are magic words ("Wittgenstein!") that ward off all encroachment on the fantasy territory he defends.

Again I note, Santi goes from endorsing Wittgenstein's admonition to be silent about metaphysics and philosophy... unless it's his own metaphysics and philosophy we're talking about. But Wittgenstein would say to Santi about his naturalism, his materialism, his atheism: better to remain silent.

Consistency is the enemy of magical thinkers.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Daniel:

You wrote: "I could just as well recite poems by Lewis Carroll."

But that's the point. Thomism is also a language game, like Lewis Carroll's poetry. It is a language game directed at the ontological mystery.

Here's Wittgenstein in his Tractatus:

"The inexpressible indeed exists. This shows itself. It is the mystical. The right method in philosophy would be to say nothing except what can be said using sentences such as those of natural science–which of course has nothing to do with philosophy–and then, to show those wishing to say something metaphysical that they failed to give any meaning to certain signs in their sentences. [...] Of what we cannot speak we must be silent."

In other words, what you accuse me of doing with math (assigning probabilities to propositions that are inherently non-quantifiable), Wittgenstein accuses philosophy of doing with words, applying methods such as Occam’s razor, etc. to things for which no material and therefore no objective properties actually exist.

So what you are attacking in dismissing the application of probability to philosophical propositions is your own doppelganger. You're making Wittgenstein's point, just running it in reverse.

You're like that guy in the 1970s film Zardoz who guns down his own image in a house of mirrors.

Greg said...

That leaves ignored the possibility that someone else might actually have a better epistemology than yours.

As I've pressed, the Bayesian epistemology applied on this scale doesn't even make sense. How would one apply a probability to most philosophical theses? "I'm 85% sure that preference utilitarian is incoherent." "In my considered judgment, there is a 22% chance that objective moral values are queer." "The idea of a private language makes no sense at a probability of 60%."

Greg said...

@ Santi

In other words, what you accuse me of doing with math (assigning probabilities to propositions that are inherently non-quantifiable), Wittgenstein accuses philosophy of doing with words, applying methods such as Occam’s razor, etc. to things for which no material and therefore no objective properties actually exist.

You are making the stronger claim here. For the Bayesian approach to work, it must be possible to ascribe a probability to a given philosophical thesis. (Or else the Bayesian approach rules out a priori a large class of philosophical claims, which would make it pretty unattractive.)

But the systematic philosopher does not claim that coherent senses can be ascribed to every word, especially not those in theories he does not accept. He attempts to construct a theory that is sensible, and he is willing to try to meet direct challenges to the coherence of his theory. If he reifies an abstraction or a vestige of language, then he is in trouble--but someone can show that the term is empty.

Glenn said...

Santi,

@Anonymous:

Your critique of my summary of Wittgenstein displays such bad faith that I'm not sure whether I should respond[.]

But hear the signal through your static. It's Wittgenstein's argument, not mine. I didn't think of it. Your dismissiveness of me is not of me, but of Wittgenstein.


Suppose three things (which in fact have occurred):

1. Two atheists named Coyne and Rosen 'outsource' their arguments against the cosmological argument to the likes of Mackie and Le Poidevin;

2. Coyne and Rosen are taken to task, by a theist named Feser, for their confusing, e.g., Mackie's and Le Poidevin's refutations of straw men with refutations of the cosmological argument; and,

3. a third atheist named Tafarella, while blogging about the theist's critique of the atheists' mistake, writes, "I’m inclined to agree with Feser here. If you’re going to argue for (or against) something important, avoid the blue pipe smoke of logical fallacies and other distractions, and make your arguments (don’t outsource them)."

Now suppose a fourth thing (which in fact has not occurred):

4. The two atheists (Coyne and Rosen) take their cue from a third atheist (Tafarella) and (somewhat belatedly) respond to the theist (Feser) by saying, "Your critique displays such bad faith that we're not sure whether we should respond. But hear the signal through your static. They're, e.g., Mackie's and Le Poidevin's arguments, not ours. We didn't think of it. Your critique is not of us, but of, e.g., Mackie and Le Poidevin."

Had the fourth thing occurred, would you have admired the atheists' 'blue pipe smoke'? Or would you have thought it weak, pathetic and sophistical?

Arthur said...

I still wonder what Santi makes of Occam Razor itself. Is our belief that "Occam's Razor is rational" supposed to be real knowledge?

If yes, then we have a counter-example to the view that only 'matter' is knowable.

If no, why be a scientist?

Santi Tafarella said...

@Arthur:

Here's an outline of my epistemic method:

(1) be courageous (don't be like Oedipus and pluck out your eyes; keep Galileo's telescope pointing to the sky; don't look away); (2) attempt to mitigate your biases (seek out disconfirming evidence, dialogue with people who don't share your beliefs, be self-aware of when you are speaking from a place of anxiety, etc.); and (3) attend patiently and thoughtfully to metaphor, rhetoric, framing gestures, experience, testimony, evidence, expert consensus, logic, deduction, induction, abduction, and grayscale reasoning (Bayes' Rule).

But you write that I have "ignored the possibility that someone else might actually have a better epistemology than yours."

What, exactly, would you add to the epistemic method I've outlined above? Or what would you replace it with?

Arthur said...

Santi, I've already repeated myself twice. I suggest that our knowledge of abstract principles like Occam's Razor is a clear counter-example to your belief that only 'matter' is knowable.

Indeed, almost everything you've said in this debate doesn't directly refer to matter, does it?

I don't pretend to have epistemology all figured out, but I know that yours could use some work and I've given you an argument why.

Matt Sheean said...

Concerning the PSR and Bayesian thinking, cuz I'm trying to understand something here...

It seems to me that a person could employ a Bayesian approach when assessing theories as a way to avoid referring to the PSR (I think this is what Tyrrell was saying back toward the beginning of the comments, "In Bayesian epistemology, theories compete for probability..."). Thus some facts could be left brute so long as the theory performed well enough. I do not see how this in any way tells against the PSR, though, since this approach treats theories as instrumental anyways. It also seems to me, after only a little reflection, to beg the question against the PSR. At best, on that approach, we seem to only be able to say that some theories that leave some facts brute work just fine for such and such a purpose.

I hope I am understanding the issue, and that my response makes sense.

Anonymous said...

What, exactly, would you add to the epistemic method I've outlined above? Or what would you replace it with?

That's not your epistemic method. That's an idealization of your epistemic method.

"Be courageous", "be aware of your biases", and "make use of all kinds of reasoning as appropriate" would likely be the stated "epistemic method" of everyone here, and quite possibly most people who discuss such things.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Matt

Actually, I think you hit the crux of the issue. It's just two separate categories, no matter how much we try to blur the distinctions or avoid the three horns mentioned in the OP.

Matt Sheean said...

with respect to Santi and material properties being objective properties.

I've never thought of properties as being material, rather, (some) properties have material instances - like 'being pale' or 'being a hominid'. I don't know that it makes sense at all to say that properties themselves are material. I think your hero Wittgenstein would treat properties as useful fictions, and say that there was really only resemblance between this thing and that, but it's hard to see how "resemblance" could be entirely accounted for materially, either - since it depends, to some extent, on the intentions of the thing that spots the resemblance.

Also, as Arthur, Greg and others pointed out, "violates Occam's razor" doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that could be predicated of anything material.

Matt Sheean said...

@Daniel Joachim

thanks, man.

Greg said...

@ Arthur

I suggest that our knowledge of abstract principles like Occam's Razor is a clear counter-example to your belief that only 'matter' is knowable.

In fairness to Santi here, we don't "know" Occam's razor. Occam's razor is a methodological principle. It is prudential not to commit to more than we need to commit to. That doesn't mean that when we judge that we lack evidence to commit to some additional entity, that that entity doesn't exist. It is just more prudent to believe that it does not exist than that it does.

Greg said...

To put it differently, it's not as though Occam's razor is true.

Greg said...

It's kind of interesting (though apparently of little import) that Occam's razor is like the epistemological PSR. Do not believe when you do not have a sufficient reason to believe.

Scott said...

@Greg:

"In fairness to Santi here, we don't 'know' Occam's razor."

True, but in fairness to Arthur, we do know what Occam's Razor is. I take Arthur's point to be that on Santi's view, we shouldn't be able to know what any abstract principles are, not that we merely can't know whether they're true.

Daniel said...

Hmm this touches on something which came to mind when I first discovered the Argument from Queerness. Is the Principle of Economy normative? If so it's hard to see how Mackie's argument can fail to undercut itself (likewise it would seem impossible to state the principle without reference to mathematical objects).

All this talk of Wittgenstein is amusing since it neglects to mention his later views towards the inadequacy of scientific as opposed to Ordinary Language. Not that even that matters particularly since Plain Language Philosophy is about as dead as Logical Positivism. If anything Analytical Thomists are too keen on Wittgenstein.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Greg:

You write: "For the Bayesian approach to work, it must be possible to ascribe a probability to a given philosophical thesis. (Or else the Bayesian approach rules out a priori a large class of philosophical claims, which would make it pretty unattractive.)"

What's unattractive here are the philosophical claims, not Bayes' Rule.

In other words, you're now addressing the issue that Daniel keeps getting confused about. Bayes' Rule is not readily applicable to metaphysical language games, and that should tell you something important.

Bayes' Rule naturally assigns to language games a low probability of being true because, while they are always logically possible, and perhaps even internally coherent, they nevertheless lack evidence, are impervious to new data, and make no predictions. You can't compare them to anything because, once you enter a language game, it's akin to being dropped like Alice into Wonderland.

Put another way, new data can never inform Thomism (for example) because it is a hermetic system. Like Freudianism, it's incapable of falsification. You can never say (for instance) "The neuroscience discoveries surrounding split brain patients and multiple personality disorder reduce the probability of Thomism being true." You can't say this because Thomism can just absorb the new data as the product of demonic possession. A Thomist could even claim that Thomism predicts split brain possession and multipersonality disorder because it has posited devils all along. Nothing gets in, nothing gets out.

If Thomistic demonology sounds complicated from an outsider's perspective, and therefore highly unlikely, it's because (the Thomist can triumphantly declare) the outsider has a biased commitment to a competing worldview--scientism, Hinduism, whatever--that forbids her from seeing the plausibility, beauty, coherence, and truth of the Thomistic system.

Feser, for example, deflects any suggestion that neuroscience, even in principle, could ever disprove the Thomistic-Aristotelian soul hypothesis (hylomorphism). So how could you ever bring in a data point to reduce hylomorphism's probability of being true? This isn't the fault of Bayes' Rule, but of Thomism's power to lock its own gates; to achieve epistemic closure.

So this is the point where Bayes' Rule gives way to Wittgenstein's language description (describing the language games that people play). Once you can't ascribe probabilities to competing hypotheses because one or more of them are impervious to new data or prediction, you've moved into the realm of a language game; into the realm of Thomism (for instance), and then all you can do is describe it.

(That is, of course, if you're not going to commit to it, becoming Alice in Wonderland, accepting Pascal's wager and adopting Catholicism as a practice until Thomism makes sense to you, and you believe it. "Fake it till you become it.")

Brandon said...

Bayes' Rule naturally assigns to language games a low probability of being true

This a category error; language games, being language-in-practices, are not the sort of thing that can possibly be either true or false. It's like saying Bayes' Theorem assigns cheerleading a low probability of being true; it's a gibberish claim.

In addition, it misses Wittgenstein's point to treat language games as something you can ever not be in -- that would be equivalent to saying you could have a language divorced from any practice and without any rules -- if you speak a language, you are in a language game.

Scott said...

It's not only a category error, it's an error even strictly within mathematics. Bayes' Rule doesn't assign probabilities; it can't even be applied until prior probabilities are already assigned.

Generally speaking, Anti-say is alking-tay through his at-hay.

Scott said...

This, for example:

"This isn't the fault of Bayes' Rule, but of Thomism's power to lock its own gates; to achieve epistemic closure."

…is utter and unmitigated nonsense. If immunity to having its probability updated via Bayes' Theorem were sufficient to discredit a proposition, we'd have to conclude that any proposition of which we were 100% certain (the principle of non-contradiction, say) had a low probability of being true.

I agree with Daniel's evaluation of this critter.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Santi

A question for you: what are you doing here, if not gambling at the table of metaphysical language games?.. You know, the "improbable" ones?..
This is what people who previously responded tried to make you see: you're philosophising (and doing metaphysics) in the act of denouncing it.
That's the reason you're accused of being committed to scientism.
Because scientism just is the incoherent self-undermining claim that all real knowledge is provided by science.

You mentioning Freudianism is very telling: for Freudianism is usually cited as a non-science. And that's right. Trouble is, Freudians (at least some) certainly pretended to be scientists.
Whereas Thomists do not pretend to be scientists. And see no need to. Because science is not all there's is. For metaphysics is logically (and chronologically, heh) prior to the scientific method. You can't coherently banish the former and keep the latter.

Pray tell me: how is your demand for all knowledge to be falsifiable not question-begging?..
What reason do you have for demanding all knowledge to consist of hyphotheses?
Does bravery and freedom from bias necessitate begging the question all the time, in your view?..

Dr. Feser does deny the ability of neuroscience to falsify Thomism. He also tells you why. And explains why. With arguments.

The bit about Pascal's wager is competing for the title of one of the most intellectually dishonest things I've read in the comboxes on this blog.
Guess what: just because you've read a book about it doesn't mean you have to talk about it everytime something connected to religion is discussed.

Daniel said...

Stray thoughts:

These forms of scienticism would seem to have little way of justifying themselves against sceptical criticism. If the 'Critical Problem' is 'How do we have knowledge' or 'How does the knowing Subject come into contact with the known Object' then merely appealing to considerations from empirical scientific hypothesis will get one nowhere since they are precisely what is being called into question. With all their talk of ‘pseudo-problems’ Logical Positivism and Wittgenstein dealt with most of the pain questions of modern philosophy by ignoring them.

Daniel said...

Freudian slip (how ironic): 'pain questions' should of course read 'main questions'.

Christopher said...

Santi (12:31 am)

1) 'critical thinking as the attempt to get, as objectively as possible, at the truth of matters.'

Objectively, and in reality, there can be no small t truth without the big T Truth. Thus naturally that which is objectively truthful must related to an ultimate Truth which is in relation to PSR.

2) 'three ideas: (1) be courageous (don't be like Oedipus and pluck out your eyes); (2) attempt to mitigate your biases (seek out disconfirming evidence, etc.); and (3) attend patiently and thoughtfully to metaphor, rhetoric, framing gestures, experience, testimony, evidence, logic, deduction, induction, abduction, and grayscale reasoning (Bayes' Rule).'

Which all are based upon Philosophical axioms that you adhere to without sufficient reason to do so. What is the basis of adhering to those three ideas? Do you not violate them by sticking to those ideas since you approach religious experience, revelation, tradition, theology and authority as a concept that lacks knowledge? In fact, you violate the first principle, to be courageous, for fundamentally assuming that any form of knowledge that is revelation is invalid as knowledge, because it does not fit into the Scientific Method (which is the error of Scientism). Thus you automatically dismiss revelation without potentially having value, while at the same time affirming Scientism without any potentially of disregard. Demonstrably, you are Oedipus. Thus in effect, (2) you cannot mitigate your own biases when (3) those interpretations are already being subject to a predisposition to metaphysical concept that is Naturalism which is naturally aligned to Scientism. Thus, you are subject to an unprovable philosophy.

3) 'As for alternative forms of knowledge, I think of them as akin to alternative forms of medicine (which are, of course, not actual forms of medicine at all).'

Does Shakespeare's demonstration of Human Tragedy not grant the knowledge to his readers of Human Tragedy? What is knowledge?

4) 'And unlike Feser, I don't believe in walling off metaphysics from being informed by empiricism.'

Feser does no such thing.

5) '"being empirically responsible."'

At the expense of that which transcends empirical testing, which you dismiss.

Irish Thomist said...

Brace yourselves... this is a big one.

@Santi

A summary of the split brain material is in the neuroscientist Sam Harris's new book,

I haven't read his book, I thought it was something more scholarly than the New Atheist's Pop Science/Rhetoric books. Mind you I like Sam (from what I've seen) more so than Dawkin's. Can you point me to a peer reviewed article instead?

and Feser summarizes it on pages 25-28 of his Mind book (and tries to dismiss it). Perhaps you haven't read the Mind book.

I have read it. Sadly unlike Aquinas my mind isn't like a library when it comes to memory (like most people). That being said, thank you it was helpful for you to point this out for me.

It's also the part of Feser's book where he ludicrously allows that demon possession might be a way of "saving" Descartes's indivisibility argument.

Then give a counter argument. I'm open minded, so convince me he was wrong – you have the burden of proof.

If you ignore Wittgenstein, grayscaling, and Bayes' Rule, well, it's Peter Pan for philosophy ("We can fly, we can fly, we can fly. ...").

You rejected philosophy earlier so please answer the following challenges I have already put forward;

So please tell us a good argument against philosophy?

And

Tell me is your position really rational or logical?

I also noticed you said;
“Wittgenstein accuses philosophy of doing with words, applying methods such as Occam’s razor, etc. to things for which no material and therefore no objective properties actually exist.”

So the pendulum wouldn't swing the other way if this is what he was arguing then?


By the way I'm 0.3678955% certain there is an alien living in your head controlling your every action... just sayin.

I feel 78.3% certain I exist and 64.32% that I like mint ice cream. You could say Ice cream, there for I am.

I'm 100% certain the last three sentences were not serious.

@Matt

since it depends, to some extent, on the intentions of the thing that spots the resemblance.

Good point. Resemblance can indeed be mind dependent but... I might add that is only in an epistemological context. However metaphysically speaking we can apply notions such as final causation, forms and so forth and talk of how something instantiates a form imperfectly or whatever (so it might look like such and such of the same form etc.).

to be continued...

Irish Thomist said...

continued...

@Greg and Scott...

Greg said...

In fairness to Santi here, we don't "know" Occam's razor. Occam's razor is a methodological principle.

True.

Scott said... (I think this one was Scott)

True, but in fairness to Arthur, we do know what Occam's Razor is. I take Arthur's point to be that on Santi's view, we shouldn't be able to know what any abstract principles are, not that we merely can't know whether they're true.

Equally so.

@Daniel...

If anything Analytical Thomists are too keen on Wittgenstein.

The real problem is they are too keen on Analytical Philosophy.

@Santi [again]

What makes for a language game? To me this seems subjective (in the worst sense of the word). So for the sake of argument Bayes and Wittgenstein are playing the same game. You see the problems surely with your argument?

it's incapable of falsification.

The claim that something needs to be falsifiable is a philosophical one, ya know, one that itself is being refuted by the argument that preceded it and comes after it (if it works).

The rest of that post soooo misunderstood everything and it seems you have actually read some of that book yet understood about nothing in it. Or at the very least you gave it the most uncharitable scan reading you possibly could.

That being said I feel like continuing because I find this combox discussion rather amusing. :)

(That is, of course, if you're not going to commit to it, becoming Alice in Wonderland, accepting Pascal's wager and adopting Catholicism as a practice until Thomism makes sense to you, and you believe it. "Fake it till you become it.")

That made zero sense but I could just feel your frustration oozing out of the (mild) snark. Sadly my friend you seem not to understand what you are attacking. For a start Pascal's Wager sucks as an argument 'for God's existence'(I'm open to discussing that some other time with those that disagree) and for a second Edward was convinced enough by Thomism to convert from Atheism to Catholicism. Also there are non-Catholic Thomists.

Phew.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

I may stop replying if Santi does not engage any arguments, questions or challenges to his position. I know I have asked several questions as above and have not received a reply. Several times Santi has restated and reformulated what he has already said without directly engaging the problems that have been raised about his position.

Look man (or woman), maybe you now just want to 'win' an argument but can you not see that there might really be serious problems in your position?

Greg said...

@ Daniel

Hmm this touches on something which came to mind when I first discovered the Argument from Queerness. Is the Principle of Economy normative?

This, I do think is a bit of a problem with the argument from queerness. It's not just Occam's razor, but almost any epistemological principle, that is normative. Most epistemologists will talk about what one "ought" to hold in certain circumstances or what is "epistemically responsible."

Greg said...

@ Santi

What's unattractive here are the philosophical claims, not Bayes' Rule.

I insist that you are incorrect here. My examples of philosophical claims that your Bayesian approach rules out a priori are much more extensive than Thomism. I can repeat: Kripke's interpretation of Wittgenstein, preference utilitarianism, extreme modal realism. As someone else mentioned: emotivism. Many other 'gems' of analytic philosophy. People simply will not ascribe sensible probabilities to such theses. Generally they will accept or reject them wholesale. They may focus on a particular argument or proposition and say that they find it plausible or implausible, but any estimate of probability of the whole theory is quite literally a shot from the hip and a farce.

Greg said...

Not to mention the other (in my view decisive) reason why the Bayesian approach should be hopeless intuition-pumping: As Scott said, Bayes rule does not assign probabilities. Some of the probabilities have to be given. But when you're analyzing philosophical theses, it will be impossible for you to dispassionately rate probabilities and conditional probabilities. For philosophical theses, there is simply not much of a difference.

When I ascribe a low probability to preference utilitarianism, it's because I don't really see any way it can be coherently worked out, because I think 'the greatest good for the greatest number' is indeterminate, because I think philosophy of action is inextricably relevant to moral philosophy. It would be sheer sophistry for me to pretend that that has nothing to do with my other philosophical positions; Peter Singer would rate it much more highly on the basis of some of his philosophical commitments. So we both have a conditional probability for preference utilitarianism, given our views. But where does the probability of preference utilitarianism come from? That is impossible to assess independently.

What are we to do? You suggest an answer:

If Thomistic demonology sounds complicated from an outsider's perspective, and therefore highly unlikely, it's because (the Thomist can triumphantly declare) the outsider has a biased commitment to a competing worldview--scientism, Hinduism, whatever--that forbids her from seeing the plausibility, beauty, coherence, and truth of the Thomistic system.

You suggest that the probability of the theory should be judged by how likely it seems 'from an outsider's perspective.' But given that an outsider to a philosophical theory typically knows nothing about it, that is a pretty worthless judgment. (Or perhaps the outsider is supposed to be a philosophical outsider, someone who is familiar with the theory but doesn't hold it. In which case every such person will rate every theory they disagree with lowly, no matter what it is, on any philosophical matter. Especially including philosophical theories to which you have appealed--early Wittgenstein, later Wittgenstein, Bayesian epistemology.)

Santi Tafarella said...

@Scott,

Would you say that the thesis that a good and personal God exists is more or less probable given that the Holocaust happened?

Put another way, nearly 1000 years ago, when Thomas made his arguments for God's existence, he didn't know that the Holocaust would happen.

And if Thomas could have been raised from the dead in 1944, and taken on a tour of Auschwitz by, say, Virgil, should that have brought Thomas's belief in a good God's existence down? Or should it have stayed the same? Or should it have gone up?

Let's put it yet another way. 100 years ago, there were theists who, after reading Thomas, expressed a high degree of confidence that God exists, but didn't know the Holocaust was just a few decades away.

Then the Holocaust happened.

After the Holocaust, should their belief that God exists have come down, stayed the same, or gone up?

And should they have asked this question: "Is there an alternative hypothesis to a good God's existence that better fits the Holocaust data point?"

How much weight should they have given to the Holocaust as a data point when deciding whether or not God exists? And how much weight should we give that data point now?

Anonymous said...

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Daniel said...

Is it me or does it strike as stupid to give such prescient to the Holocaust as an example of the hypothetical ‘evil’ we admit doesn’t exist but have to keep make-believing ‘as-if’. The Middle Ages and the range of Western History which preceded them saw numerous wars, massacres, epidemics and natural disasters so aside from volume of numbers (which isn’t even applicable if we count historically) what is so special about the Holocaust? It just sounds like another example of what the Earl Russell once called 'temporal parochialism'.

@The Irish Thomist,

The real problem is they are too keen on Analytical Philosophy.

I used to think this but now looking at it I think Modern Analytical thought is probably one of the richest metaphysical fields philosophy has seen for the last four hundred plus years. The period from between Frege and the rise of overt materialists like Quine was largely pointless obscurationism (interesting it's also the period in which the major movements inspired by Wittgenstein were in force) but Kripke and Chisholm jolted the majority of philosophers out of their linguistic slumbers and got them to focus on perennial metaphysical questions of Essences, Universals, Substance, Intentionality and Modality.

For a start Pascal's Wager sucks as an argument 'for God's existence'(I'm open to discussing that some other time with those that disagree) and for a second Edward was convinced enough by Thomism to convert from Atheism to Catholicism.

Thoroughly concur about Pascal’s Wager (dislike Pascal nearly as much as Wittgenstein – of course the two meet their Hegelian synthesis in Anthony Kenny). Not that it detracts from your argument but for a couple of years Ed endorsed A-T metaphysics without embracing any particular religion.

Also there are non-Catholic Thomists.

As a non-Catholic and non-Christian Thomist I will put my hand up at this point.

taylormweaver said...

Re: Santi


Good God. The misunderstanding of "language games" is quite sad, really.

I expect this came from quickly reading wiki, or some black nether-world of the net?

Either way, all of the reliance on da Wittgenstein really needs to wrestle with what later Witty said (as someone already mentioned above...).

Scott said...

@Santi:

"Would you say that the thesis that a good and personal God exists is more or less probable given that the Holocaust happened?"

No.

Bill said...

Then the holocaust happened.

You've got to be kidding me. Why is anybody taking to this guy?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

I see you are trolling worse than ever. It was you who first mentioned homosexuality, including as part of the basic propositions of theism you find questionable.

I simply noted it was interesting you are so certain about homosexuality's morality and goodness despite attacking both certainty and objective morality.

Anyway, enough of your rubbish. Every position a man can take, including one of scepticism and doubt, can elicit emotions and biases. All we can do, and all we have to do, is be aware of this and try to come to our conclusions based on their truth and not our emotions or biases.

And again, it is hard to see how your position of humility has lead you to make all sorts of quite assured assertions on everything from Wittgenstein to dualism, despite clearly not knowing what you are talking about.

Matt Sheean said...

For a start Pascal's Wager sucks as an argument 'for God's existence'

As someone who likes Pascal, I feel the need to chime in here.

Pascal's Wager isn't an argument for God's existence.

I think that the Wager makes more sense when considering other musings from the Pensees, like this one:

"But what is nature? For is custom not natural? I am much afraid that nature is itself only a first custom, as custom is a second nature."

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

You write: "If X is the choice that God and I make determinate (since both God and I are the determiners), then it is only conditionally necessary that I do X: it is necessary that I do X given that I do X in exactly the same sense that it is necessary that Socrates be sitting if he is sitting, and in no stronger sense."

Central to the notion of freedom is the power to do otherwise. On a libertarian view, if I choose to sit, I retain the power to choose not to sit. Of course, I cannot choose to sit-and-not-sit at the same time. But I can retain the power to choose to not-sit, even while choosing to sit. If, however, God determines my choice as a primary cause and me as a secondary cause, then it God chooses that I (as a secondary cause) will choose to sit, then I no longer have the power to choose to not-sit. And in that sense I am not free.

You also write: "Man's free and self-determined choice, which comes entirely from man as second cause, comes likewise entirely from God as first cause; the divine motion obtains infallibly its effect, i. e.: man's act of actual choice, but without forcing, necessitating, that choice; since our will can choose indifferently among various possibilities, its act remains, not necessary, but free. These are all standard ways he puts it, because they are all standard Banezian tropes."

The issue here is not one of forcing, but instrumentality. By definition, an instrument is not free. It does what the agent moving it wants it to do. And even if that instrument possesses a will of its own, it is still not a free will: whatever it may decide, it will do whatever its primary agent wanted it to do, because that is what the primary agent originally wanted. Such an instrument is not able to "choose indifferently among various possibilities"; it can choose only what its primary agent wants.

Timotheos said...

"For a start Pascal's Wager sucks as an argument 'for God's existence'"

Good thing it wasn't an argument for God's existence then; it was an argument against the idea that Agnosticism is more rational even if you allow, for the sake of argument, that there are no positive reasons for God's existence. (In fact, one could actually construct an Atheistic version of the wager if one wanted to; it's target is Agnosticism)

And just for the record, Pascal is not a fideist; he says in Pensees 555, "Therefore I shall not undertake here to prove by natural reasons either the existence of God, or the Trinity, or the immortality of the soul, or anything of that nature; not only because I should not feel myself sufficiently able to find in nature arguments to convince hardened atheists, but also because such knowledge without Jesus Christ is useless and barren. Though a man should be convinced that numerical proportions are immaterial truths, eternal and dependent on a first truth, in which they subsist, and which is called God, I should not think him far advanced towards his own salvation. (emphasis added)"

Timotheos said...

"Would you say that the thesis that a good and personal God exists is more or less probable given that the Holocaust happened?"

I say yes; the probability of God's existence would be equal to 1! (via cosmological argument and the existence of some finite being)

But that's probably not what you had in mind...

Santi Tafarella said...

@Georgy M:

You said that "Science is not all that is," but how do you know that there's a second world? Obviously you don't know anything for certain concerning this matter, and if you are to hope to know anything at all you've got to engage in straightforward and responsible epistemic practices, which are basically the following:

(1) be courageous (don't be like Oedipus and pluck out your eyes; keep Galileo's telescope pointing to the sky; don't look away); (2) attempt to mitigate your biases (seek out disconfirming evidence, dialogue with people who don't share your beliefs, be self-aware of when you are speaking from a place of anxiety, etc.); and (3) attend patiently and thoughtfully to metaphor, rhetoric, framing gestures, experience, testimony, evidence, expert consensus, logic, deduction, induction, abduction, and grayscale reasoning (Bayes' Rule).

What else is there, and how would you know it apart from the above?

Critical thinking, though it seeks to reach the truth in as objective a manner as humanly possible, is an art, not a science. So you're in the same problematic existential situation as I am.

Being limited creatures on a planet adrift in a vast and ancient cosmos, we've both got to decide what to do about it, what's probable in our estimation, and how we'll weigh things. There's simply nobody who can tell us how to do that.

Example: Do three pretty good deductive arguments in favor of God's existence, weighed against the Holocaust and no obvious physical evidence that God exists, tip the scales toward atheism or theism? Does the fact that most Nobel Prize winning scientists don't believe in God mean that I'm missing arguments (if I'm a theist) that Earth's smartest people can see right through? We have to weigh these things. We have to think in terms of probabilities.

Life is more about bet making than achieving certainties. Reasoning about metaphysics (or anything) is not like the sort of mathematics that can bring one to a definite answer.

And that's why we need to take seriously Bayes' Rule. Bayes' Rule is a mathematical way to work with grayscale probabilities, and to think about them--how we're weighing things. It's not something we can do with precision. We have to make judgments. It's a matter of art, of learning from failure and experience.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"On a libertarian view, if I choose to sit, I retain the power to choose not to sit."

And on Fr. G-L's view, that's true as well. I thought you said you'd read him.

@Timotheos:

"I say yes; the probability of God's existence would be equal to 1!"

That's exactly why I said no: the probability is 1, and thus not "more or less probable given that the Holocaust happened." And yeah, I'm pretty sure that's not what Santi had in mind.

Speaking of Santi, here's some more nonsense:

"Bayes' Rule is a mathematical way to work with grayscale probabilities, and to think about them--how we're weighing things. It's not something we can do with precision."

Rubbish. Bayes' Theorem gives precise results when it's given precise prior probabilities.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Georgy M:

You also said that I am "philosophising (and doing metaphysics) in the act of denouncing it." But that's too easy. It's the type of dismissal that encourages people to stop there and go back to sleep.

I like language games of the metaphysical sort. I'm not attacking them. I'm just pointing out the obvious: when a metaphysical claim makes itself impervious to new data, makes no predictions, and can appeal to no evidence, you've moved from Bayes' Rule to Wittgensteinian description (to an imaginative language game where reality testing is blocked, and all you can do is describe the system).

It's not just Thomists who play in the fields of no evidence, no testable predictions, and utter imperviousness to new data points and falsification. Multiverse physicists right now are playing a similar game.

But there may come a time when the play of the physicist's imagination will yield to testing. The physicist wouldn't play the game if it wasn't hoped that, say, a century from now, when technologies are more powerful, that the theories imaginatively generated might yield to testing.

But I don't know of any context where Thomism actually aspires to do a Tom Cruise before Cuba Gooding and finally "show us the money." Perhaps the Second Coming?

"Blessed are those who have not seen, but believed" (I suppose).

taylormweaver said...

@Santi

"Does the fact that most Nobel Prize winning scientists don't believe in God mean that I'm missing arguments (if I'm a theist) that Earth's smartest people can see right through? We have to weigh these things. We have to think in terms of probabilities."

Because, obviously, being a Nobel Prize winning scientist qualifies one to make any sort of reasonable guesses as to whether or not God exists *sarcasm*.

Not only is that a silly argument from authority, but it hardly qualifies at that! We can of course look at a test case of such reasoning in regards to, say, Dawkins. Brilliant scientist though he may be, he proves himself to be an awful philosopher, and a woeful theologian. To expect a reasoned and articulate discussion from someone trained in a different area is a puerile expectation. Even worse is expecting expertise about that subject area to come from such a person.

David T said...

We have to weigh these things. We have to think in terms of probabilities

Do we have to think in terms of probabilities, or is the requirement to think in terms of probabilities itself only a probable conclusion?

How about your three principles of being courageous, correcting for biases, and attending to rhetoric? Are they only probably things to be followed or are they certainly things to be followed? Is there a chance that we should rather be cowardly, indulge our biases, and be oblivious to rhetoric?

David T said...

Rubbish. Bayes' Theorem gives precise results when it's given precise prior probabilities.

Exactly right. Where is The OFloinn when you need him?

Bayesian statistical analysis is merely a way to update your beliefs based on new information. It says nothing about what you might or might not be certain about in the first place, or how and why you might be certain of something. The only way to get there is to misconstrue a useful statistical technique (Bayesian analysis) for a full-fledged philosophy of knowledge.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

"And on Fr. G-L's view, that's true as well. I thought you said you'd read him."

Well, in fairness to Vincent, what he did say was "I read Garrigou-Lagrange about 30 years ago, and until you can cite chapter and verse to prove that I am mis-representing him, I refuse to be corrected."

Now I'm no expert on these matters, but it seems like sometimes people forget things after 30 years; It's almost like he hasn't read him since...

"That's exactly why I said no: the probability is 1, and thus not "more or less probable given that the Holocaust happened.""

Well, with people like Santi, we have to allow that there might be nothing at all, which puts the probability at 0, but since he's kindly admitted he's not a mere vegetable...

"And yeah, I'm pretty sure that's not what Santi had in mind."

Hey, can't resist jazzing him a little. =P

Georgy Mancz said...

@Santi

And how does denying scientism entail maintaing the existence of a second world?..

You really don't see it, do you?..

Metaphysics (including epistemology), logic, mathematics, philosophy of nature, ethics etc. - all of these are not empirical science. And all of these study reality.

And empirical science simply is not empiricism, not is it logical positivism or scientism.
You do realise there's a difference between propositions "Science gives us knowledge" and "Only science gives us knowledge"?.. I really hope you do.

Nor does your pathetic (in the sense of appealing to pathos) code of epistemological entail the latter absurd

You really seem to miss the point of what, say, Greg's saying.

If the argument is valid, it's premises cannot be coherently denied, then the conclusion simply follows. The probability is 1. That's it.
God exists, even if a Holocaust happened every year with ever-increasing casualties.
The latter simply has nothing to do with God existing, as He does. You seem to see a connection where there is none: nothing we know about God tells us of His duty to intervene, quite the contrary: the God of classical theism and that of Catholicism owes us absolutely nothing apart from that which Has promised.
Did He promise to prevent the Holocaust?..
Your whole line of reasoning on this point is, again, question-begging.


This is rather silly: if you propose to doubt the conclusion of such an argument (like the Five ways, say), this suggestion is becoming self-undermining: if you can't do that, what are you doing in the business of weighing probabilities? Or reasoning about the whole matter?

Or do maintain propose that this kind of operations are much more accessible than first principles and undeniable experience?

Concerning your lazy appeal to the "world's smartest people" - expertise in one field is no reason to suppose expertise in another, especially given modern hyperspecialization and the practical disappearance of philosophy of nature. Not to mention the cultural trends existing nowadays. And as has been pointed out repeatedly on this blog, most philosophers of religion (people who actually do study the relevant material) do accept
the traditional proofs.
When Lord Russell is refuting a strawman version of the cosmological argument and says generally silly things about religion betraying ignorance or lack of seriousness, and many intellectuals celebrated by the society and intelligentsia generally fare no better, one get's to deny them expertise, really.

What you propose is talk in terms of "plausibilities".

I'm going to skip the pathetic (in the bad sense) where you get to tell us what life is all about, sorry.

A retortion of your position is not a dismissal at all: it's a call to recognise your incoherence.

I'm going to ignore the question-begging scientism part as well (this has already been covered by my betters), this is tedious.

I'll just note that I think there's immense pride concealed under the guise of "humility" scientism wears. In reality, it seems to be a stubborn refusal to accept that not all of reality is subject to human control.


But will respond to the inanity of quoting Christ in such a context.

Our Lord is absolutely right (naturally, see what I did there?): there is no reason to set one's collection of personal experience or imagination (rather than reason) as a criterion for judging the possibilities history.
I'm truly blessed with learning the report of what I have indeed not seen, but do believe.
Quite reasonably, too.

Georgy Mancz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin said...

It seems to me that using Bayes' rule to estimate likelihoods of metaphysical statements is a losing proposition, because one such statement is "I am the sort of a creature whose cognitive functions work approximately well." For example, if you try to entertain the notion that straightforward arguments are really invalid but only appear to you to be true, then you now doubt your reason for believing everything you believe, including the philosophical questions you're now asking, so you lose the ability to believe everything. I haven't really put much thought into this, but I think there's a point to be made somewhere.

Georgy Mancz said...

That should read:

*nor is it logical positivism
**epistemology
***do you maintain/propose that this kind of operations is

Sorry for all of my atrocious typos and accidental double-posting.

P.S.
I do expect the comment to have Russianisms, too.
Apologies.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Here is Santi' routine:

Complain that everyone, especially theists, needs to eschew certainty and be more humble, then make scientistic and other assertions brazen in their combination of self-assurance with ignorance.

I still remember when he was butchering Buddhism in another thread. He isn't worth bothering with.

Georgy Mancz said...

Urgh.

*Absurd position
**He has promised
***Possibilities of history.

I really do not recommend writing comments using Notepad.
Just tried it.

Santi Tafarella said...

Scott:

You wrote: "Bayes' Theorem gives precise results when it's given precise prior probabilities."

Well yes, of course, but garbage in, garbage out.

Someone has to weigh the probabilities they decide to place into the formula in the first place.

Example: How likely is it that the woman with the new electric car and Hillary bumper sticker is a Democrat? (90%.) A self-described feminist? (70%.) Voted for Obama in 2008? (70%.) Is a vegetarian? (30%.) Doesn't shave her armpits? (5%.) Supports marijuana legalization? (70%.) Would donate $50 dollars to a gay equality parade and participate in organizing? (40%.)

But what if I learned the next day that she's married to a Republican politician? That would be surprising. How might that change my levels of confidence about what this person is about--and whether she'd help me with the parade I'm organizing?

And what other hypotheses about this person might be on offer that might more readily incorporate this new data point?

It's a cheesy example, but unless you're dealing with the hard sciences, playing with Bayes' Rule informally is an art. You can argue that it's not valuable for that reason; that it's too imprecise. But as a tool for thinking, it has uses. It gives you a gut check; it can be counter-intuitive; it makes you more self-aware of how you're weighting data points and contrasting competing hypotheses, etc.

That's why I asked you how the Holocaust changes your God belief "confidence equation." But you've apparently got that equation up to 100% based on some deductive arguments you think are as solid as 2 + 2 = 4. So no Bayes for you on the God issue.

But 100% certainty about a matter is also a judgment call. To make it, you've got to weight a lot of other things at zero. Including the Holocaust.

Scott said...

@Santi:

"Well yes, of course, but garbage in, garbage out."

Which, as I said and as you appear to agree, has absolutely nothing to do with any "imprecision" in Bayes' Theorem itself.

Alking-tay through at-hay.

"But 100% certainty about a matter is also a judgment call. To make it, you've got to weight a lot of other things at zero."

Well, sure, except that, wait, no, you don't.

Alking-tay through at-hay.

Jeremy Taylor said...

To shout "the holocaust, the holocaust" is meaningless unless you can put it into some kind of argument.

It seems your penchant for probabilities is, rather ironically, an excuse to go with your own personal prejudices, biases, and assumptions rather than think things through properly.

Scott said...

Example: How likely is it that the woman with the new electric car and Hillary bumper sticker is a woman? 100%.

But suppose the next day I learn that she lives in California and is legally married to a woman. If I incorporate this new data point, how likely is it that she's a woman? 100%.

Suppose I learn that she likes smoked salmon. How likely is it that she's a woman? 100%.

Suppose I learn that she's 5'10" tall. How likely is it that she's a woman? 100%.

Gosh, it looks like we've got epistemological closure on that issue! So it must be meaningless, or something, or whatever.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Taylor Weaver:

With regard to the Nobel Prize winners not being experts in the field of philosophy, your point is taken. It reduces the power of the observation. But by how much? Each person has to decide.

And in your appealing to expertise, isn't it also true that the vast majority of actual experts in the field of philosophy--professional philosophers--are not Thomists? Shouldn't that weigh on one's belief in Thomism a little bit? Isn't it a data point on which confidence declines, if only a tad?

This is why Bayes' Rule is helpful. It drives us into a confrontation with our data. Pieces can't be so readily set to one side. Each new datum carries, as it were, metaphorical weight that we have to deal with and fairly consider in our evaluation. It's something for the scales, not the trash bin.

So instead of going into "I can explain that away" mode, practicing Bayes prompts us into "How does this data piece actually fit into my current hypothesis" mode. Does it affect my level of confidence? Is there a hypothesis with which this data point fits better?"

Scott said...

"So no Bayes for you on the God issue."

More arrant nonsense. I can apply Bayes' Theorem to the proposition in question as many times as I please, just as I can apply it to the principle of non-contradiction. It's just that, since in each case I assigned the relevant proposition a prior probability of 1, Bayes' Theorem doesn't ever tell me to reduce that figure. The math works just fine.

Alking-tay through at-hay.

"[P]laying with Bayes' Rule informally is an art."

Playing with Bayes' Rule informally isn't anything at all. Bayes' Theorem is a theorem of probability theory and the only way to apply it is "formally."

Alking-tay through at-hay.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Scott,

Regarding your 100% woman observation, obviously you and I agree that Bayes' is not about what we know by deduction or experience.

Bayes is an inductive tool. It's dealing with probabilities.

So presumably you've reached 100% certainty that God exists by either deduction or a religious experience?

Does God talk to you? What deductive argument concerning God's existence do you treat as akin to a mathematical proof?

Scott said...

@Santi:

You are more full of shit than our cat's litter box when we've been out of town for a week. You very obviously do not know what you pretend to know, your "arguments" (such as they are) are very obviously not offered in good faith, and you have been repeatedly unmasked as a threadjacking troll. Bugger off.

Anonymous said...

We know that Bayes has to do with induction rather than deduction. Ed and other Thomists don't need to keep Bayes in mind because they deal with deduction.

If you want to "see the reason for certainty" simply check the structure of the argument for soundness and the premises for their truth or falsity. It's not that hard.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Scott,

Of course the math works fine. You're plugging in the numbers. Bayes will always just formalize a process of reasoning. But it's how you arrive at the probabilities that entails art, and how you decide to weigh them before plugging the numbers into Bayes.

So your God at 1 is potentially garbage in, garbage out if it has no warrant.

So my question for you is: How on Earth have you arrived at such a level of confidence regarding a matter on which there has been so much historic uncertainty?

It's as if I'm talking to someone who is 100% certain there's bacterial life on Mars. How does one ever reach such confidence absent a lot of good evidence?

Something that lowers my confidence that Christianity is true (for example) is the fact that Jesus said he would come back, that the hour was near, and it's now 2000 years later. Where the heck is he? It's surprising on the hypothesis that Christianity is true. It's not a good sign for the trinity hypothesis.

But you're at 100% with the God question. Wow. That's amazing. Tell us your secret.

Greg said...

@ Santi

It's as if I'm talking to someone who is 100% certain there's bacterial life on Mars. How does one ever reach such confidence absent a lot of good evidence?

Actually, it's not. It's more like someone ascribing a probability of 1 to their favored interpretation of the private language argument, i.e. as a result of some conceptual consideration, they regard the alternative impossible.

Scott said...

@Santi:

"Wow. That's amazing. Tell us your secret."

Right, sure, or you could bugger off. I called you out as a threadjacking troll after your very first post to this thread; applying Bayes' Theorem to the evidence of your further posts has only increased the probability of my hypothesis, and not only because your silly claims about Bayes' Theorem are obvious nonsense to those of us who actually have mathematical educations.

Do you need me to explain what "bugger off" means?

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

Thanks for the explanation. It's interesting to me how someone gets to that place (intellectually, emotionally, psychologically).

When Mormons or other fundamentalists come to the door, I tend to get, sooner or later, to this question: "When you doubt your beliefs, what do you doubt, and what do you say to yourself to make the doubt go away?"

The most common response: "I never doubt." And I say, "Ever?" And they say, "Never."

It's always amazing to me. I believe them. I think they're telling the truth. But I don't understand it.

When I was a teenage religious believer, I was tumultuous with doubt. I had moments of strong belief, but the doubt was always lurking. Always. I read apologetics, and would see holes in the arguments. The boat of faith that I was in was just constantly leaking.

Maybe it's a temperamental thing. But I keep gnawing on the same bone, even to this day, as an agnostic. Whether I'm talking to an atheist or a theist, the impressive excess of confidence--often accompanied by derision for the other side--is always strange to me. How do they know? Why don't the doubts that bother me bother them?

Is it a peptide or a problem?

Scott said...

@Irish Thomist:

"Also there are non-Catholic Thomists."

I'll add my raised hand to Daniel's here. I'd probably call myself a Thomistic Platonist (but then I think Aristotle and Aquinas are best regarded as Platonists anyway), and although I was raised Presbyterian, since the late 1990s I've been nominally a Reform Jew. If I do return to Christianity (a prospect I think not at all unlikely), it will unquestionably be to the Roman Catholic Church. But at the moment I think I qualify as a non-Catholic Thomist.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi is curiously unaware of the irony in his posts: spew forth all sorts of ignorant and half-baked assertions with breathtaking self-assurance, and then muse about how others seem strangely self-confident.

Anyway, time to stop feeding the troll.

Matt Sheean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy Taylor said...

I'm not a Thomist, but I have great admiration for Thomism, Scholasticism, and Aristotelianism. And I'm not a Catholic. Indeed, I have recently left the Anglican Church and even my Christianity is somewhat up in the air.

Brandon said...

Vince,

If, however, God determines my choice as a primary cause and me as a secondary cause, then God chooses that I (as a secondary cause) will choose to sit, then I no longer have the power to choose to not-sit. And in that sense I am not free.

But Garrigou-Lagrange is very clear that we do, in fact, have the power to do otherwise. What we don't have the power to do is to choose X and not-X simultaneously. The scenario you are suggesting is, in any Banezian account, exactly this: God's making-determinate of my choice is infallibly linked to my making my choice determinate; Banezians, as I noted before, hold that all our choices are asymmetric cooperations between God and myself. Thus every determinate choice is made determinate by both God and me, each contributing. Thus your claim is no different -- and on Banezian principles, directly entails -- the claim that I am not free because when I make my choice determinately X I am not free to choose otherwise than X. Again, this is conditional necessity, not simple necessity; and it has nothing to do with free choice, nor does it actually rule out the possibility of doing otherwise. On the Banezian account, when God makes my choice determinate, this determination is directly united with my using my freedom to make one choice among several possible ones determinate. This means that any determinate choice is already freely made determinate by both me and God, and my inability to act otherwise is just the conditional necessity of it being impossible for me to do not-X when it is already the case ex hypothesi that I do X. Your argument requires the conflation of conditional necessity and simple necessity; but they are distinct, and only the latter is a problem for free will.

And this has nothing to do with our ability to choose otherwise; it is just the purely logical point that our free will is not power to violate the principle of noncontradiction.

By definition, an instrument is not free.

Not by the definition used by Aquinas and the scholastics. Indeed, it's impossible for Aquinas in particular to hold such a thing, because he takes sacraments to be instrumental in character, and thus sacraments like baptism, confirmation, ordination, and even marriage make human persons instruments of grace without violating their freedom. Thus obviously when Garrigou-Lagrange and others talk about these things in terms of instrumentality, they are not making the assumption you are making.

Timotheos said...

@Irish Thomist:

"Also there are non-Catholic Thomists."

While I'm currently en route to Rome, I was a Thomist of sorts and a Methodist for years before I decided to convert. And there have been a number of Protestant Thomists/Scholastics over the years, even during the hostilely anti-catholic reformation years.

In other words, it's nowhere near unheard of.


@ Scott

For some reason, I thought you were a non-denominational Christian.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I believe Thomism and Scholasticism were important influence on Richard Hooker.

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