Friday, March 13, 2015

Reasons of the Hart


A couple of years ago, theologian David Bentley Hart generated a bit of controversy with some remarks about natural law theory in an article in First Things.  I and some other natural law theorists responded, Hart responded to our responses, others rallied to his defense, the natural law theorists issued rejoinders, and before you knew it the Internet -- or, to be a little more precise, this blog -- was awash in lame puns and bad Photoshop.  (My own contributions to the fun can be found here, here, here, and here.)  In the March 2015 issue of First Things, Hart revisits that debate, or rather uses it as an occasion to make some general remarks about the relationship between faith and reason.

The natural law debate revisited

I cannot help but comment briefly on Hart’s summary of his side of the debate of two years ago.  He writes:

I took my general point to be not that natural-law theory is inherently futile, but rather that its proponents often fail to grasp just how nihilistic the late modern view of reality has become, or how far our culture has gone toward losing any coherent sense of “nature” at all, let alone of any realm of moral meanings to which nature might afford access.  In our time, any argument from immanent goods to transcendent ends must be prepared for by an attempt to “recover the world,” so to speak: a deeper, wider tuition of sensibility, imagination, and natural reverence.

Well, I for one know full well that that is what Hart was saying.  And as I pointed out many times two years ago, the problem with Hart’s criticism -- now, as it was then -- is that it rests on a fatal ambiguity.  Is Hart’s target the “new natural law” theory of people like Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Robert P. George, and Chris Tollefsen?  Or the “old natural law” theory of people like Ralph McInerny, Russell Hittinger, David Oderberg, and me?  Hart’s criticism might seem to have force to someone who doesn’t know the difference between these two views.  But once one disambiguates them, Hart’s criticism collapses entirely.

The problem is this.  Hart’s point is that natural law theory, even if correct, rests on a classical (Platonic, Aristotelian, Scholastic) metaphysical conception of “nature” that is simply rejected, and indeed not even understood, by most of its modern critics.  Hence there is little point in arguing for moral conclusions on the basis of that conception of nature until one has first done the hard work of showing, to a modern audience, that that conception of nature is still plausible.  But this objection is aimed at a straw man.  All natural law theorists are very well aware that the classical conception of nature is a tough sell for most contemporary readers.  They deal with this problem in one of two broad ways. 

The approach of the “new natural law” theory is to eschew any appeal to the traditional classical metaphysical conception of nature, and to ground its approach instead on an account of practical reason which, it is argued, should be intelligible and acceptable even to someone who does not accept the classical conception.  (This is why the “new natural law” theory is new.)  The approach of “old natural law” theorists, by contrast, is to reaffirm that natural law theory must be grounded in a classical metaphysical conception of nature (which is why the “old natural law” theory is old).  But they recognize that, precisely because they are committed to this older conception, they have a lot of work to do in order to show that that conception is as defensible today as it was in Aquinas’s day.  That’s one reason they write books like this one and this one.

What you don’t ever see is any natural law theorist who both (a) grounds his position in a classical metaphysical conception of nature while (b) blithely assuming that that conception is any less controversial today than the natural law conclusions he derives from it are.  Certainly Hart has never been able to identify any specific natural law theorist, “new” or “old” -- not one -- who does this.  Exactly who is actually guilty of the charge Hart raises against what he refers to as “most natural-law theory in today’s world”?  Exactly who actually evinces what Hart calls “a boundless confidence in reason’s competency to extract moral truths from nature’s evident forms, no matter what the prevailing cultural regime”?  Hart has persistently refused to tell us, persistently refused to explain whether he has “new” or “old” natural law theorists in mind, persistently refused to answer the objection that his charge rests entirely on the ambiguity in question.  Hart laments that the controversy of two years ago indicates that it is “perilous to express doubts” regarding the persuasiveness of contemporary natural law theory.  But he could have avoided peril had he simply refrained from attacking a straw man.  Just sayin’.

Fides et ratio

Anyway, the focus of Hart’s latest piece is the question of the relationship between faith and reason.  Hart objects to the charge that he is a fideist, arguing that both fideism and rationalism of the seventeenth-century sort are errors that would have been rejected by the mainstream of the ancient and medieval traditions with which he sympathizes.  With that much I agree.  I agree too with his claim that the use of reason rests on the “metaphysical presupposition” that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps -- an “orientation of truth to the mind and of the mind to truth.”  I agree with him when he argues that naturalism cannot account for this fit, that the best it can attribute to our rational faculties is survival value but not capacity to grasp truth, and that this makes it impossible for the naturalist rationally to justify his own position.  And I agree with him when he argues that idealism in its various forms also cannot account for this fit -- that if naturalism emphasizes mind-independent truth to such an extent that it cannot account for the mind itself, idealism emphasizes mind to such an extent that it cannot account for mind-independent truth.

All well and good, and indeed a set of points whose importance cannot be overemphasized.  What puzzles me, though, is the way Hart characterizes the position he would put in place of these errors -- a way that at least lends itself to a fideist reading, his rejection of the “fideist” label notwithstanding.  In particular, he says that the metaphysical presupposition that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps is a matter of “trust,” that “there is a fiduciary moment within every act of reason,” and -- most significantly -- that “reason arises from an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will” (emphasis added).

Now, what exactly is an “irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will”?  That certainly sounds a helluva lot like a Jamesian “will to believe” that there is a natural fit between intellect and mind-independent reality, an act of will that is not itself susceptible of rational justification.  For if it is susceptible of rational justification, why talk of “will” rather than intellect, and why call the “movement” of the will “irreducibly fiduciary”?  And if we must simply will to trust that there is this fit between mind and world without having a rational justification for doing so, why does this not count as a kind of fideism?

Then there is Hart’s characterization of the rationalism he rejects as holding that reason is “capable of discerning first principles and deducing final conclusions without any surd of the irrational left over” (emphasis added).  So, is Hart saying that, in any attempt rationally to justify a position, there always is some “surd of the irrational left over”?  Again, why wouldn’t this count as fideism?

On the other hand, the objections Hart rightly raises against naturalism and idealism themselves constitute rational grounds for maintaining that there is a natural fit between the intellect and mind-independent reality, a mutual orientation of the one to the other.  For Darwinian naturalism, as Hart points out, gives us a view of the mind on which it floats entirely free of truth.  Any belief or argument whatsoever could seem absolutely indubitable even if it were completely wrong, if this were conducive to survival.  Idealism, meanwhile, tends toward the opposite extreme of tying truth so closely to the mind that it effectively collapses the former into the latter.  What is true ends up being whatever the mind takes to be true, so that we save the mind’s capacity to know truth only by making truth trivial.  As Hart indicates, it is no accident that in the history of continental thought the sequel to idealism was postmodernism, on which truth is entirely mind-relative. 

Now, both of these extreme positions are incoherent.  They are both defended by their proponents with arguments, yet each view undermines any argument that could be given for it.  We cannot make sense of the practice of formulating and rationally justifying propositions unless we presuppose both that there is a distinction between the intellect and the truths which the intellect grasps, and also that the intellect is naturally “directed” or oriented toward the grasp of these truths.  But so to argue just is to give a rational justification of these presuppositions; reductio ad absurdum is, after all, a standard argumentative strategy.  In that case, though, the presuppositions do not rest on an “irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will” with a “surd of the irrational left over.”  And Hart does indeed condemn postmodernism precisely for making of reason “the purest irrationality, a game of the will.”

So Hart’s position seems ambiguous.  On the one hand, there is the emphasis on an “irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will,” skepticism about the rationalist attempt to eliminate “any surd of the irrational,” and talk of “reason’s faith.”  On the other hand, there is the rejection of the “fideist” label and criticism of views which entail “irrationality, a game of the will.”  So which is it?

One way to read Hart here is that he tends to sympathize more with the “voluntarist” (Scotus, Ockham) rather than “intellectualist” (Aquinas, Neo-Scholastic) strain in Christian thought, but still wants to resist the fideist and irrationalist tendencies of voluntarism.  Another way to read him is that his view is at bottom an “intellectualist” one, but that he has merely expressed himself badly.  I suspect that the former interpretation is the correct one.  And I have, in recent posts (here, here, and here), given some of the reasons why intellectualism and “rationalism” of a sort (albeit not of a Cartesian or Leibnizian sort) are to be preferred to voluntarism.

101 comments:

Daniel said...

I have his Experience of God coming up on my to-read list. I notice that in the endnotes he recommends Intro to Philosophy of Mind noting that its author argues for a Hylemorphic Dualism which he (Hart) is sympathetic with but ultimately rejects as in insufficient. What then would he recommend in its place? He's obviously very sympathetic to classical metaphysics and philosophy of nature (and doesn't like Cartesianism) up to the point where he recommends Neo-Scholastic Natural Theology manuals, so it would be interesting to hear this.

Then there is Hart’s characterization of the rationalism he rejects as holding that reason is “capable of discerning first principles and deducing final conclusions without any surd of the irrational left over” (emphasis added). So, is Hart saying that, in any attempt rationally to justify a position, there always is some “surd of the irrational left over”? Again, why wouldn’t this count as fideism?

What does he mean by 'irrational'? Something that is as yet unknown (in which case it may well be true for most things though to what extent it applies to first principles is more controversial) in which case it wouldn't seem that controversial, or something inherently irrational/ unreachable by reason, either a Kantian Noumenon known only to God or an out and out Brute Fact.

Gene Callahan said...

"idealism emphasizes mind to such an extent that it cannot account for mind-independent truth."

Oy, now who is at a strawman? Do you mean truth independent of the human mind? Idealists have no difficulty accounting for that, from Berkeley on. Or do you mean truth independent from the mind of God? Well, no metaphysics can account for that!

Gene Callahan said...

Berkeley: God can make his ideas real to us.

Classical metaphysics: God can make his ideas real to us, but in order to do so he must go through an elaborate rigamarole of substance and essence etc.

Seraphim said...

I wish I had the patience and First Things subscription necessary for comprehending what, to me, seems like splitting hairs.

Thursday said...

That’s one reason they write books like this one and this one.

Uh, Hart's whole point is that writing books like those is futile.

Very few people are going to find even the the basic metaphysical points in those books convincing unless they already grasp them intuitively.

Thursday said...

It's also pretty clear that Hart is dismissing both old and new approaches to natural law as effective bridges to the secular world.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"…a Kantian Noumenon known only to God…"

Even that wouldn't do the job. A fact known only to God would for that very reason be intelligible.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday,

First, if that were true, then he could easily have said, in response to all the critics who were accusing him two years ago of failing to distinguish "old" and "new" natural law and trading on the ambiguity, that he intended his remarks to apply to both, was aware of the difference, etc. Yet in fact he repeatedly failed even to address this persistent central objection.

Second, your claims are simply not supported by anything he actually has said. His claim has always been that natural law theorists can't take classical metaphysics for granted any more (even though, as I have said, none of them do in fact take it for granted). He has never said it can't be argued for any more. And arguing for it is not taking it for granted.

Third, the interpretation you are putting on his position entails a skepticism about the possibility of dialogue that is far more radical than anything he has advocated, that in fact he rejects (in The Experience of God), and that would not be consistent with his own writings (The Experience of God, Atheist Delusions, etc.) which he intends to be intelligible even to people who reject classical metaphysics.

Edward Feser said...

Seraphim,

Where exactly is the the "hair-splitting"? In noting the difference between "new natural law" and "old natural law"? Or between intellectualism and voluntarism? Or between rationalism and fideism? Or between naturalism and idealism?

Calling any of that "hair-splitting" is like saying that it is mere "hair-splitting" to note the difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, or between Christianity and Islam, or between communism and capitalism, etc.

Edward Feser said...

Gene,

I knew you'd like it.

Anyway, I'd need an exposition of what "can make his ideas real to us" even means, exactly, before I can know whether to judge it true or false.

Seraphim said...

Edward,

I'm guessing that the hair splitting is in my noted impatience. I read through what I could without a subscription and perhaps didn't comprehend the debate well enough to understand why it is such a big deal.

Anonymous said...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bJWwtxihSa4. Finally Ed!

All joking aside: can you autograph my copy? No really, all joking aside: Had I not known better, I would have concluded that this is a rather peculiar new philosophical interest for Professor Feser.

Thursday said...

the interpretation you are putting on his position entails a skepticism about the possibility of dialogue that is far more radical than anything he has advocated

False.

Hart has been quite clear in this debate with you (and in The Experience of God) that some things simply have to be seen.

The rationality of such beliefs can certainly be defended after the fact, but they are not arrived at through reason.

Thursday said...

Yet in fact he repeatedly failed even to address this persistent central objection.

It's not really much of an objection. He strictures apply to all natural law positions as bridges to secular people.

Thursday said...

People arrive at conclusions primarily through intuitive and imaginative leaps. Some of the positions they arrive at through this method are rationally defensible, and some are not. But they weren't arrived at by thinking through the reasons.

You just aren't going to be able to argue people into even the most basic metaphysical propositions (such as the reality of final causes) with which they are intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy.

That's why arguments are more useful for solidifying faith than as for evangelizing those on the outside.

Thursday said...

Here is Hart:

"I believe this to be impossible, that at no point in the entire history of human thought has it actually been done, that all “purely natural” moral arguments are defective, and that every “successful” natural law argument (classical or modern) is one that covertly incorporates certain ­ supernatural principles that cannot be proved dialectically, but must simply be seen and asserted. And the ­cultivation of such moral vision cannot be accomplished by any single discipline or method, but requires an immense variety of tacit and explicit forms of knowledge and spiritual sensibility."

I would agree that arguments can sometimes work on someone who is intuitively and imaginitively somewhat sympathetic to a position.

It would certainly be of some help if Christians were more confident in their beliefs and could articulate their reasons for them, if only to themselves.

Thursday said...

Hart's line of thought also suggests an interesting analogy. I know that Bach is superior to Ariana Grande as music. I cannot in any way prove this to someone else through argument. The difference in quality has to be seen. Yet, Bach's superiority is not some irrational leap of faith, but knowledge.

Hart seems to be suggesting that you need to see certain aspects of reality before you can draw conclusions from them using reason.

Daniel said...

You just aren't going to be able to argue people into even the most basic metaphysical propositions (such as the reality of final causes) with which they are intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy.

I fail to see how this can be interpreted as anything more than an assertion that rationality is a waste of time.

This morning I wake up feeling stubbornly unsympathetic towards particle physics, ergo I reject the existence of electrons. Should anyone claim there are purported demonstrations of the existence of electrons I will just appeal to principles of Quinian holism to the effect that given enough revision one can come up with a theory which accounts for all the evidence of electrons without them. Alternatively I will go all out and argue for Anti-Realism - either way no electrons for me.

Glenn said...

Thursday,

Hart seems to be suggesting that you need to see certain aspects of reality before you can draw conclusions from them using reason.

IOW, Hart seems to be agreeing with Aristotle and Aquinas on the matter of whether it is sensible experience upon which the intellect and reason initially operate.

Josh Harris said...

Prof. Feser,

Thanks for this post. I always appreciate your clarity and argumentative rigor. It strikes me that an important point of this most recent FT article by Hart is to problematize what you seem to think is a self-evident turn of phrase: namely, "a natural fit between the intellect and mind-independent reality, a mutual orientation of the one to the other."

If Hart is correct, then this is a potentially misleading formulation; for we might mistakenly think that the metaphor of "fit" is something akin to the fit of "hand in glove" or "puzzle piece to puzzle space," or something like that. Hart's point is that this "natural fit" of knower and known is the fit of two non-identical things being reconciled (imperfectly!) as mutually participating in the divine mystery that is Truth itself. If all truths are true insofar as they participate in Truth itself--and the adaequatio between knower and known is itself an imperfect participation--then certainly this implies something like the "journey" (i.e. towards God) that Hart is talking about.

Thanks,

Josh

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"IOW, Hart seems to be agreeing with Aristotle and Aquinas on the matter of whether it is sensible experience upon which the intellect and reason initially operate."

I was going to say that until I read further and found that you'd said it first.

John West said...

Thursday,

You just aren't going to be able to argue people into even the most basic metaphysical propositions (such as the reality of final causes) with which they are intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy.

I think the existence of people holding ontological commitments they find unintuitive, implies this statement is false. Recent naturalists provide good examples. Many of them probably despised having ontological commitments to immaterial entities like universals. But their commitment to intellectual honesty and taking science serious often bullied them into having them. Quine, for example, was what he called a “reluctant platonist” thanks to his indispensability argument.

It's slightly bad form, but allow me to also use myself as an example. I find functionalism much more intuitively plausible than dualism. I've never been able to shake the feeling dualism is somehow cheap. I don't find it intuitive. But Ed's indeterminacy argument is a monster; and since I'm unable to resist his arguments for its premises, I'm a hylemorphic dualist. So, I hold a position with which I'm intuitively out of sympathy on the basis of an argument.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Seraphim: Even aside from this particular discussion, you do need to get a First Things subscription. Or get your local library to get one. I think we all can agree on that.

Tony said...

Hart seems to be suggesting that you need to see certain aspects of reality before you can draw conclusions from them using reason.

Let me say that this is, indeed, a fair rendering of Hart's thesis. Good job, Thursday.

Fortunately for the sake of all us sane people, the "see certain aspects of reality" is very easy to acquire. In fact, it is SO EASY that it is virtually impossible to discuss these matters with an adult who has NOT had these certain experiences of reality. Let me give an example: Aristotle starts off his theory of nature by talking about change, motion. Now, whatever theory of change you would like to posit, every human being in the world has experienced change, motion. Another example: Aristotle starts his discussion of ethics with the observation that all men desire happiness.

In fact, it is the usual position of classical A-T that the requisite experience needed to grasp the starting points of philosophy are those that are common, all men have them (or virtually all). It doesn't take experiencing a deep glade in the forest for days on end, or rubbing your hands in dirt and rock and cloth for hours on end to notice subtle textures, or listening carefully enough to birdsong to be able to pick out 6 different species and 20 different individuals. The reason classical natural law philosophers like Ed start with common experiences is that they are common. Being so, people cannot rationally claim they haven't experienced them.

Foobobble the Absurd said...

C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man seems to be a natural law tract of a sort, but am I wrong in thinking that there's a residue of English empiricism in Lewis' though, despite his Platonism, and that in tacitly conceding the is-ought distinction Lewis would be closer to a new-natural law epistemology than a "Thom-head"?

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Hence there is little point in arguing for moral conclusions on the basis of that conception of nature until one has first done the hard work of showing, to a modern audience, that that conception of nature is still plausible. But this objection is aimed at a straw man.

Natural lawyers like yourself accept Hart's challenge to "recover the world", but that is largely irrelevant to his point. Catholic bloggers, conservative pundits and so on engage in a "culture war" over specific moral issues. The defense that they mount is a half-hearted appeal to natural law, without the context necessary to establish it. Countless claims must be debated and justified before appeals to natural law are valid. A few people (again, like yourself) are interested in this whole-hog restoration project, but their work is too arcane and detailed to be useful for culture warfare. This kind of rigor simply is not accessible in the public forum (even most Catholics fail to understand the premodern philosophical structure), and the moral debates central to the culture war rage on. Essentially, most natural law arguments presented today--that is, the ones presented in day-to-day life--are disembodied ghosts without any persuasive power.

I have to run off, but I'll have more to write about this post later. For now, suffice it to say that Hart has bitterly criticized voluntarism since the beginning of his career. His comments about rationalism and fideism are perfectly sound once one interprets them in light of Augustine, Aquinas, MacIntyre and early Christianity.

Sir Gareth said...

Footbobble,
Further on page 19, Lewis describes the Way in terms of both "is" and "ought," the Way the universe goes on and in which things everlastingly emerge, and the Way which every man should tread.

Daniel said...

Just flicking through EoG. A couple of thoughts:

He's right to emphasise the Ontological Argument perhaps not as a strict proof but as an argument which immediately marks God off from other beings. His particular reservation about Plantinga's version makes me wonder if there isn't still a hint of confusion as to what a Possible World means though.

His use of the term 'metaphysical necessity' on pages 115 to 116 is wrong or at least odd (I take metaphysical necessity as synonymous with Material or Broadly Logical necessity where he seems to use it rather along the lines of nomological necessity)

Although he's correct to point out the massive confusion engendered by the Existential Quantifier his criticisms of Analytical Philosophy as a whole are superficial and uninformed. The gripes about logically objective propositions floating free from all historical and cultural circumstance have a nasty taint of Continental sub-Heideggerian historicism, about them. He would have done better to criticise the whole Extensionalist project and the continued use of Set Theory as a sort of panacea for all philosophical quandaries.

@Rank.

Countless claims must be debated and justified before appeals to natural law are valid. A few people (again, like yourself) are interested in this whole-hog restoration project, but their work is too arcane and detailed to be useful for culture warfare. This kind of rigor simply is not accessible in the public forum (even most Catholics fail to understand the premodern philosophical structure), and the moral debates central to the culture war rage on. Essentially, most natural law arguments presented today--that is, the ones presented in day-to-day life--are disembodied ghosts without any persuasive power.

Might we then conclude that culture warring and what have you should be put on hold and that our prime focus should be metaphysics and Natural theology?

Jack Ferrara said...

Heard this on the radio this morning and it made me feel like a lot of pseudo-moral philosophy was going on; check it out here:

http://www.onbeing.org/program/arthur-zajonc-michael-mccullough-mind-and-morality-a-dialogue/7316

Jack Ferrara

Fred said...

Might we then conclude that culture warring and what have you should be put on hold and that our prime focus should be metaphysics and Natural theology?

We might, but I think we'd be wrong. While we were focusing on metaphysics and Natural theology, the family would still be under assault, unborn children would still be slaughtered by the thousands, religious freedom would still be under assault, etc. That's not to say that metaphysics and natural theology are not vitally important and that we should not be making those arguments, just that it should be done concurrently with "culture warring" (which I find an unfortunate term for trying to save our culture from total degeneration).

Tony said...

A few people (again, like yourself) are interested in this whole-hog restoration project, but their work is too arcane and detailed to be useful for culture warfare. This kind of rigor simply is not accessible in the public forum (even most Catholics fail to understand the premodern philosophical structure), and the moral debates central to the culture war rage on. Essentially, most natural law arguments presented today--that is, the ones presented in day-to-day life--are disembodied ghosts without any persuasive power.

Rank, I think this is somewhat true and somewhat untrue. It is true in that the ordinary joe, even Catholic joes, get schooled in such a way that they imbibe modern naturalism or materialism of one form or another and thus have distorted metaphysical notions running around in their heads. And it is difficult to dislodge these so that they can correct their thinking. It is, however, also true that EVEN WHEN they have modern nonsense distorting their thinking, they also have a grasp of at least some truths from common experience - even if they cannot coherently explain these latter in terms of the former nonsense. One of the things natural lawyers (actually, any good apologists for truth, it doesn't have to do with natural law at all) can do is help the ordinary joe see that incompatibility and get him to realize that his comfortable non-sense needs some work, thus making him open to the possibility of other explanations. Just as an example, MOST people actually do believe in personal responsibility - if you slap their face, they want some kind of recompense or at least a moral explanation. This in spite of the fact that most materialistic theories eliminate real responsibility.

Secondly, for someone who has been enlightened just enough to get them to WANT to seek out a better philosophical foundation for thinking about the world than their old naturalism, even though a FULL explanation takes many, many months and hundreds of separate investigations into this and that, it can be done. In fact, it can be done with something like regular success - if they commit to sticking with the process. I have seen it. I have seen college freshmen turned from regular joes with just a willingness to be led well, through hard and long investigations and socratic discussion, turned into college seniors who have a firm and ready grasp of natural law explained scholastically. In spite of modern influence. So, it is an unnecessarily pessimistic view that there is no prospect of succeeding. There is, admittedly, little prospect of succeeding on a mass, general scale. That's OK, Christ went to towns where the whole people rejected him, too. And he knew beforehand they would. That didn't make his effort irrelevant.

Scott said...

@John West (and The Man Who Is Thursday, though I don't quote him herein):

"Quine, for example, was what he called a 'reluctant platonist' thanks to his indispensability argument."

In somewhat the same vein but involving epistemological rather than ontological commitments, Laurence BonJour used to be a coherentist but found himself converted to foundationalism by reasoned argumentation. No doubt these examples could be multiplied a hundredfold.

"It's slightly bad form, but allow me to also use myself as an example."

Well, if it's bad form, you and I can stand in the corner together, because I'm happy to offer myself as another such example. Thomistic arguments have changed my mind (and others will no doubt do so in the future) on a number of different issues.

Scott said...

…including, importantly, some on which I don't by taste or temperament find the Thomistic views congenial.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Then there is Hart’s characterization of the rationalism he rejects as holding that reason is “capable of discerning first principles and deducing final conclusions without any surd of the irrational left over” (emphasis added). So, is Hart saying that, in any attempt rationally to justify a position, there always is some “surd of the irrational left over”?

Hart is dismissing the rationalist belief in the absolute power of the intellect. It's a classical criticism of reason accepted by Augustine, Aquinas and many other church figures. To trot out a few tired Aquinas quotes,

But someone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly. (On the Apostles' Creed)

The investigation of the human reason for the most part has falsity present within it, and this is due partly to the weakness of our intellect in judgment, and partly to the admixture of images. The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated. This would be particularly the case since they see that, among those who are reputed to be wise men, each one teaches his own brand of doctrine. Furthermore, with the many truths that are demonstrated, there sometimes is mingled something that is false, which is not demonstrated but rather asserted on the basis of some probable or sophistical argument, which yet has the credit of being a demonstration. (SCG b1 ch4.5)

Other examples abound. It is distinctly modern to believe that a human can access first principles and accurately deduce his way down to the most fundamental conclusions. First, that ignores the central place of endoxa to Aristotelian thought: the gradually-built-up beliefs, accepted on the basis of authority, that influence every citizen. It takes at least a lifetime to transform endoxical beliefs into known truths--and, given Aquinas's comment about flies, that might be overly optimistic. Second, it ignores the natural confusion of human reason, which can be misled by passion, dullness of mind, poor education and (more generally) sin.

Hart is not questioning the existence of natural reason and its ability to deduce conclusions from premises. He is dismissing Enlightenment rationalism for its naive assumptions about the scope and power of pure reason.

rank sophist said...

In particular, he says that the metaphysical presupposition that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps is a matter of “trust,” that “there is a fiduciary moment within every act of reason,” and -- most significantly -- that “reason arises from an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will”

I haven't read this article (no First Things subscription), so I don't know the full context of this remark. But it sounds very much like a comment made by Augustine in Against the Academics,

Let us rather discuss among ourselves as closely as possible, the question whether or no truth can be found. For my part, I think I can even now advance many arguments against the Academic position. Between them and me there is this one difference: they think it probable that truth cannot be found, and I, that it can.

Hart leans toward a Christian Neo-Platonist view on most issues (as does Aquinas, in my opinion), and so the problem of distinguishing truth from verisimilitude is at the forefront of his philosophy. You can see this in his critique of rationalism, and it shows itself here as well. Further, with MacIntyre, Hart rejects any Hegelian belief in "Absolute Knowledge", whereby one simultaneously deduces the truth and acquires absolute certainty that the truth has been deduced. That would make it a matter of trust that one's dialectical reasoning so far, which has survived previous debates, will remain undisproved. Without having read the article, I can't comment further on this point--he might be referencing something else, like the intuition of being or the necessity of trust in matters not subject to proper demonstration (i.e. history, empirical science, day-to-day life, etc.).

Daniel,

I would agree with that idea. The culture war has been a wash on every front, and the obsessive focus on abortion, gay marriage and other stock issues has merely diluted public perception and understanding of Christianity. If anything, it's convinced people in reverse.

Tony,

One of the things natural lawyers (actually, any good apologists for truth, it doesn't have to do with natural law at all) can do is help the ordinary joe see that incompatibility and get him to realize that his comfortable non-sense needs some work, thus making him open to the possibility of other explanations.

Arguments over specific natural law conclusions don't rattle people in this way, though. You need to attack from the meta-ethical level, or even the metaphysical level, if you're going to show their views to be incoherent. And that is just a different way of phrasing Hart's "recover the world" point. He's done this himself in books like The Experience of God, which largely eschews mainstream moral debates in favor of more general criticisms of modern philosophy.

rank sophist said...

Secondly, for someone who has been enlightened just enough to get them to WANT to seek out a better philosophical foundation for thinking about the world than their old naturalism, even though a FULL explanation takes many, many months and hundreds of separate investigations into this and that, it can be done. In fact, it can be done with something like regular success - if they commit to sticking with the process. I have seen it. I have seen college freshmen turned from regular joes with just a willingness to be led well, through hard and long investigations and socratic discussion, turned into college seniors who have a firm and ready grasp of natural law explained scholastically. In spite of modern influence. So, it is an unnecessarily pessimistic view that there is no prospect of succeeding. There is, admittedly, little prospect of succeeding on a mass, general scale.

I don't think Hart would disagree that there's hope in a limited number of cases--I, certainly, do not. But that doesn't refute the point Prof. Feser is attacking, viz. that most natural law arguments used today are unconvincing and out of context. Some philosophers (like Hart and Prof. Feser) make a career out of trying to "recover the world", and people like myself have been converted. But that isn't what Hart is criticizing.

As an aside, I'm very skeptical that any human can obtain a thorough habitus of classical metaphysics and natural law in the small span of a college education. They can certainly memorize the conclusions of other thinkers and spit them back out--but that, while valid to an extent, isn't metaphysics. It takes a lifetime to grasp truths for oneself, rather than on the authority of others. I've been studying metaphysics for several years now, and I still feel very much like a beginner.

Glenn said...

Rank,

Augustine does say in the quote you provide that he thinks it probable that truth can found.

But how might it follow from that, or anything else in the quote, that he also thinks that reason arises from:

a) a movement of the will; or,
b) a "fiduciary" movement of the will; or,
c) an "irreducibly fiduciary" movement of the will?

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

Fiduciary means "involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary." A "fiduciary movement of the will" is the will's assent to trust in something that it does not know for itself. If Augustine proposes that the "one difference" between himself and the Academics is that he believes (key word) truth to be attainable, then this is an act of trust. That is, he trusts that there is actual truth behind the verisimilitude in which he currently stands: he believes that truth exists even though he has not yet found it.

Whether this is Hart's line of argument is beyond my knowledge, since I can't access the article. From what I know of Hart, though, it seems like a valid guess. (The irony!)

Glenn said...

Rank,

Okay, thanks. I see what you're saying. But now I have another question.

A "fiduciary movement of the will" is the will's assent to trust in something that it does not know for itself.

If the will first assents to trust in something (it doesn't know for itself), and then acts of reason kick in, isn't the faculty or power of reason basically just playing second fiddle or being subservient to whatever happens to be assented to by the will?

If so, then since the faculty or power of reason is, in this case, basically a servant of the will, who or what monitors or oversees the will that it might not indiscriminately assent to, e.g., something which only appears to be good but isn't actually good?

Glenn said...

Rank,

Part of my reason for asking that question is that it earlier had been said that "the problem of distinguishing truth from verisimilitude is at the forefront of [Hart's] philosophy."

This seems to me to be saying that being able to tell the difference between truth and mere appearances of truth is of utmost importance to Hart's philosophy.

But if the will doesn't know for itself just what it is that it is assenting to, and acts of reason arise from or kick in only when the will has assented to something, then I am most curious -- in a Whiteheadian 'disinterested' sort of way -- how those distinctions vital to Hart's philosophy are to be made, or manage to get made.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

If the will first assents to trust in something (it doesn't know for itself), and then acts of reason kick in, isn't the faculty or power of reason basically just playing second fiddle or being subservient to whatever happens to be assented to by the will?

No. Consider the concept of endoxa that I mentioned earlier, which is a central pillar of Aristotelianism. People aren't born with knowledge--they have to obtain it. And who teaches them? Other people. But, before they can learn anything, they have to place their trust in those people. The root of endoxical learning is trust in the words of others, which is the assent of the will to propositions that the mind does not yet know with certainty. Hart seems to say that this kind of assent--although not necessarily the endoxical variety--is the basis of reason.

That doesn't make the intellect subservient to the will, though, because Hart does not consider trust to be an irrationalist "will to believe". Here's Aquinas:

One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish. (On the Apostles' Creed)

The uneducated person is expected to trust the masters even when they have no understanding of what those masters are saying. Aquinas doesn't see it as irrational at all. On that note, the MacIntyre quotes I presented in this post from February seem relevant. As MacIntyre explains, paraphrasing Aristotle, an uneducated person cannot identify the true and the good: they remedy this problem by engaging in "a type of training whose point emerges only in the course of the training." They only discover the rational justifications for their training a posteriori, once that training has given them the mastery necessary to see those justifications. What do they have until that point? Trust.

But if the will doesn't know for itself just what it is that it is assenting to, and acts of reason arise from or kick in only when the will has assented to something, then I am most curious -- in a Whiteheadian 'disinterested' sort of way -- how those distinctions vital to Hart's philosophy are to be made, or manage to get made.

It follows from the points mentioned above. Hart often rebuts atheists by challenging them to use the traditional method of finding God: contemplative prayer. He ends The Experience of God with this challenge, in fact. Why would someone pray to a God that they don't believe exists? Given the context from Aquinas, Aristotle and MacIntyre above, it seems that the answer is the lateblooming nature of rational justification. Trust comes first, but it is followed by understanding. (This mirrors Augustine's famous "believe so that you may understand" remark in Tractates on the Gospel of John.) The will does not thereby displace the intellect, though. When one is ignorant, it is only rational to trust someone who claims to possess wisdom--otherwise, how can you escape your ignorance? At no point does an irrational "will to believe" enter the picture, and Hart has railed against voluntarism at least since The Beauty of the Infinite in 2003. (He once called the arch-fideist Kierkegaard's understanding of Christianity "in many significant respects, disastrously false.")

Again, all of this may or may not be Hart's specific claim in the article criticized by Prof. Feser. I have no idea. It's just my best guess after years of reading Hart.

Don Jindra said...

I'm reminded of Robert Bork. He took several different legal theories out for a spin. But did they change the way he would have decided a case? I doubt it. Legal theories are academic exercises. In the real world they don't matter. Such theories are used to justify preconceived notions. They're brought in to justify what has already been decided. One fact won't change. When a more classical natural law theory was in fashion, the world wasn't a better place. It wasn't more moral, orderly, lawful or pleasant. I see no reason to lament the passing of a theory that helped justify a worse time to be alive.

Brandon said...

The root of endoxical learning is trust in the words of others, which is the assent of the will to propositions that the mind does not yet know with certainty.

The root of endoxical learning is free decision of the intellect, though. The will's primary role in endoxical matters is directing further inquiry in light of that decision (and other things); and assent of the will to endoxa simply transforms them from opinion to belief.

As a minor sidenote, whether Kierkegaard is a fideist an extremely controversial question; the bulk of what you've said about Hart, for instance, is true of Kierkegaard, as well. But, of course, the problem here is not that people aren't clear that Hart officially rejects fideism -- he is quite clear about that; the problem is that he repeatedly says things that are usually understood in fideist ways, and everybody has difficulty figuring out in what other sense they are supposed to be taken.

Daniel said...

I'm having a hard time seeing endoxa as anything but trivially true. That one has to 'take things on trust' before one can reach a sufficiently developed state to call them into question is something virtually no philosopher would deny. Even those how claim that individuals are 'born with knowledge' (aside for linguistic nativists who makes such a claim nowadays?) typically claim that we cannot exercise such knowledge without sufficient external stimulus beforehand e.g. in the case of language acquisition.

dover_beach said...

Any thoughts on Gary Gutting's attempt to 'queer' the natural law in the NYT? http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/03/14/trying-to-queer-natural-law/

Anonymous said...

When a more classical natural law theory was in fashion, the world wasn't a better place.

I think 'utter lack of AIDS transmissions' was a good thing, personally.

Glenn said...

Rank,

1. You begin by saying,

No. Consider the concept of endoxa that I mentioned earlier, which is a central pillar of Aristotelianism. People aren't born with knowledge--they have to obtain it. And who teaches them? Other people. But, before they can learn anything, they have to place their trust in those people.

A counterpoint arises in my mind.

2. You then quote from Aquinas' On the Apostle's Creed, and say,

The uneducated person is expected to trust the masters even when they have no understanding of what those masters are saying.

The counterpoint grows stronger.

3. You next refer to some MacIntyre quotes (offered in a post back in February this year), and conclude with,

They only discover the rational justifications for their training a posteriori, once that training has given them the mastery necessary to see those justifications. What do they have until that point? Trust.

The counterpoint grows stronger still.

4. And next ask and answer a question,

Why would someone pray to a God that they don't believe exists? Given the context from Aquinas, Aristotle and MacIntyre above, it seems that the answer is the lateblooming nature of rational justification. Trust comes first, but it is followed by understanding.

Not only does the counterpoint continue to grow stronger, it is now looming quite large in my mind.

5. But then -- surprise, surprise -- you say,

When one is ignorant, it is only rational to trust someone who claims to possess wisdom--otherwise, how can you escape your ignorance?

Well, now... that counterpoint which arose in my mind, which grew stronger, and grew stronger still, and then loomed quite large, has just been made.

Or, at least, half of it has been made.

- - - - -

Yes, it is rational for me to trust someone I have good reason to believe knows more than I.

Yes, it is normal, usual and par for the course, that an understanding of the justifications for a process of training should bloom only after I have been engaged in that process for a while (and, perhaps, benefited by it in some way).

However, it is also rational -- as well normal, usual and par for the course -- that the trust which underlies all that -- or, more specifically, the decision to trust which sets all that in motion -- is itself based on or arises or stems from reason.

It is reason which tells me that I’m likely to be well served by trusting someone who knows better that I.

And it is reason which tells me that I’m likely to be ill-served by trusting someone who doesn’t know half as much as the little that I know.

Whatever the benefits which may follow from a person's act of trust, the act of trust itself follows from the person's use of reason.

If engaging in that act of trust didn’t seem reasonable to the person, then that person, being reasonable rather than unreasonable, would not engage in it.

Anonymous said...

“A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . .[For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.”

Except that straight sex and gay sex are utterly different, from biologically to otherwise.

And that's the problem that Gutting can never get past. All of the goods of a same-sex relationship do not necessitate anal sex, nor are they enhanced by it. Would we say that a gay man who does not like to be anally penetrated is somehow disturbed? In need of help?

What a dark thought. A gay man sent for therapy because he finds anal sex dirty, demeaning and unnatural. Clearly he's sexually broken.

Glenn said...

Rank,

Btw, what's up with the drawing of conclusions from consideration of common experiences (such as those alluded to by Aristotle, Aquinas, MacIntyre and Augustine)?

It all sounds so... I don't know... natural law-ish.

Karl W/ A K said...

". . . What puzzles me, though, is the way Hart characterizes the position he would put in place of these errors -- a way that at least lends itself to a fideist reading, his rejection of the “fideist” label notwithstanding. In particular, he says that the metaphysical presupposition that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps is a matter of “trust,” that “there is a fiduciary moment within every act of reason,” and -- most significantly -- that “reason arises from an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will” (emphasis added)."

Sounds a lot like Roy Clouser's theory of divinity beliefs, which is based off of Herman Dooyeweerd's theory of ground-motives. (Dooyeweerd is the thinker who came up with the idea that Aquinas is the root cause of nominalism, secular humanism, etc., as taught by Francis Schaeffer.) Whether or not Hart has read any of these men is beyond me.

Thursday said...

RE: The examples of people changing their mind to positions that were unintuitive or uncongenial.

1. Exceptions don't refute general trends.
2. There is the question of how much you ever cared about the issue.

Thursday said...

I fail to see how this can be interpreted as anything more than an assertion that rationality is a waste of time.

Whether someone finds an idea unintuitive or uncongenial is not a binary thing. Some people can be persuaded.

Thursday said...

the "see certain aspects of reality" is very easy to acquire.

Actually, this the very point at issue.

John West said...

Thursday,

1. Exceptions don't refute general trends.

Maybe this is what you meant. But you wrote:

You just aren't going to be able to argue people into even the most basic metaphysical propositions (such as the reality of final causes) with which they are intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy.

And exceptions do refute universal generalizations.

As for the issue of how much I ever cared, I would say I care about the answer to the question, "What am I?", and that Quine cared quite a lot about not positing non-spatial, non-temporal, non-naturalist friendly objects. Most of his work was projects trying to naturalize parts of philosophy and metaphysics, and platonic objects are in rather the opposite direction to that.

John West said...

non naturalist-friendly^

Tony said...

First, that ignores the central place of endoxa to Aristotelian thought: the gradually-built-up beliefs, accepted on the basis of authority, that influence every citizen. It takes at least a lifetime to transform endoxical beliefs into known truths--and, given Aquinas's comment about flies, that might be overly optimistic. Second, it ignores the natural confusion of human reason, which can be misled by passion, dullness of mind, poor education and (more generally) sin.

Hart is not questioning the existence of natural reason and its ability to deduce conclusions from premises. He is dismissing Enlightenment rationalism for its naive assumptions about the scope and power of pure reason.


Consider the concept of endoxa that I mentioned earlier, which is a central pillar of Aristotelianism. People aren't born with knowledge--they have to obtain it. And who teaches them? Other people. But, before they can learn anything, they have to place their trust in those people.

Rank,

We have been through this ground before, and I will attempt not to simply bray back at you the very same arguments used in the past to reject this very same argument you give here. But I cannot just simply let these go by without any suggestion that there is another way to answer the point.

Didn't we see in Plato's "Meno" a slave boy come to knowledge about something that before hand he did not have knowledge about? Was his process that of putting himself in the hands of a master whom he trusted to dole out truth? No, it wasn't. Socrates' method was, well, socratic: he asked the boy questions. The boy answered. The boy was led to question, and then re-evaluate, and modify his initial estimation of truth by QUESTIONS. At no point did he simply rely (through trust) on the knowledge of a master. Indeed, within the dialogue Socrates very point rests on the fact that the boy DID NOT need an outside teacher to hand knowledge to him. Socrates drew the conclusion that the knowledge was in the boy all along. Aristotle's answer was different, but still accepted the premise - the boy was not being handed truths and told to TRUST for now.

While it is true that there is much danger of having our learning of truths made ill by admixture of error, the underlying nature of intellect is not so damaged that it has simply lost the ability to see truth by its own natural light. So, whenever we testify to the reality of the danger of error, we must always qualify that warning as being only part of the truth, the other part being the intellect's true capacity to apprehend truth of ITS OWN NATURE. Of, especially, its capacity to grasp certain universal first principles that are held by men: the principle of non-contradiction, the validity of syllogistic forms. To suggest that EVEN FOR THESE the intellect does not - cannot - operate with certainty but instead is moved to "trust" in these truths by the will is not at all without problem - such a claim is not clearly true, nor clearly required by the fact of the problems of rampant error. If a man is not able to see, by the natural light of the intellect, the validity of the following:
All A's are in class B.
All B's are in class C.
Therefore, all A's are in class C.

without a teacher to TELL him it is valid, he isn't ever going to be able to come to anything at all with the operations of the intellect and his whole future will be that of faith and faith alone. If this is what you are suggesting, there is no practical difference between that and fideism.

Jeffrey S. said...

Hey "dover_beach",

I take a whack at Gutting in this post:

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2015/03/i_may_not_be_a_philosophy_prof.html

It's basically just stuff I learned from Ed. A little birdy tells me he has a long article coming out dealing with these issues in some depth so be on the look out!

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

The root of endoxical learning is free decision of the intellect, though. The will's primary role in endoxical matters is directing further inquiry in light of that decision (and other things); and assent of the will to endoxa simply transforms them from opinion to belief.

I've probably mangled a subtle distinction, then. I was trying to say that one has to decide (which is an act involving will) to trust other people on unknown matters. If this is slightly different from an assent of the will, then I clearly have more to learn--but I don't think it affects the Hart issue. He's prone to use poetic rather than strictly technical language while discussing philosophy, and his general point here related to trust in general, rather than to specifically Aristotelian categories of trust. He is not, in any case, saying that the will precedes the intellect in a voluntaristic manner. From his article Christ and Nothing:

Whereas earlier theology spoke of God as Goodness as such, whose every act (by virtue of divine simplicity) expresses His nature, the spectre that haunts late Scholastic thought is a God whose will precedes His nature, and whose acts then are feats of pure spontaneity. It is a logically incoherent way of conceiving of God, as it happens (though I cannot argue that here), but it is a powerful idea, elevating as it does will over all else and redefining freedom—for God and, by extension, for us—not as the unhindered realization of a nature (the liberty to “become what you are”), but as the absolute liberty of the will in determining even what its nature is.

Regarding Kierkegaard: fair enough. My knowledge of Kierkegaard is extremely limited; I mentioned him being a fideist because most of this blog's denizens, and Prof. Feser especially, consider him to be a fideist.

Glenn,

If engaging in that act of trust didn’t seem reasonable to the person, then that person, being reasonable rather than unreasonable, would not engage in it.

And yet Aquinas considers it unreasonable for an uneducated person to take issue with a master whose words the uneducated person finds unreasonable (that is: incoherent, incomprehensible). Does this mean that an act of trust is spontaneous and irrational, as a voluntarist would hold? No. Aristotle, Hart, Aquinas and MacIntyre are all intellectualists, and even Augustine lacked a voluntaristic worldview in the sense applied to Scotus and Ockham. The intellect only needs a very simple (even confused and desperate) reason to trust. Aquinas's defense of trust in On the Apostles' Creed, which mirrors Augustine's in Confessions, boils down to one sentence: "How could one live unless one believed others?" It's necessary for survival that we trust someone, even if we have no greater justification for that trust than survival.

Is Hart talking about trust in others specifically (like Aquinas), or trust in the possibility of obtaining truth (like Augustine), or some other kind of trust? I couldn't say. But I can say that he has consistently rejected voluntarism for many years, and that comments he makes about will must be interpreted in that light. He does not believe the spontaneous will to be prior to intellect.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Unlike Aristotle, Plato (to my knowledge) disparaged the idea of endoxical learning. It makes perfect sense that his work would fail to endorse it.

But let's assume that Meno was supposed to be an argument against endoxa and for the absolute authority of dialectics. The boy, as you said, learns by discussing and questioning his beliefs. How, then, did he learn the language necessary to converse with Socrates? Dialectics? How can you engage in them without language? It seems that endoxical learning has already been presupposed: the boy must have trusted his parents or guardians when they told him that certain words meant certain things. His trust was later justified when he learned from the wider community of language users that his parents/guardians had been telling the truth.

If a man is not able to see, by the natural light of the intellect, the validity of the following:

All A's are in class B.
All B's are in class C.
Therefore, all A's are in class C.

without a teacher to TELL him it is valid, he isn't ever going to be able to come to anything at all with the operations of the intellect and his whole future will be that of faith and faith alone.


You seem to be positing an Enlightenment-style theory of reason, wherein "faith" and "reason" are opposing poles that can never meet. Aristotle and the early Christians, up to and including Aquinas, had a different view: trust gradually transforms into understanding. When you accept something on trust, that state ideally is not permanent. Regarding endoxical learning, you trust until you gain the relevant habitus possessed by the people in whom you initially placed your trust. Regarding Augustine's theory of truth, you trust in the existence of truth until you can know it for yourself.

Many people, especially children, cannot yet understand syllogistic reasoning and the law of non-contradiction by their own power. Until they can, they have to trust others. The idea of permanent blind faith has no place in this theory.

Tony said...

How, then, did he learn the language necessary to converse with Socrates? Dialectics? How can you engage in them without language? It seems that endoxical learning has already been presupposed: the boy must have trusted his parents or guardians when they told him that certain words meant certain things. His trust was later justified when he learned from the wider community of language users that his parents/guardians had been telling the truth.

I would call that a highly idiosycratic notion of how we learn language. A particular language is made by convention - by repeated usage. At the beginning, a child learns by mimicry - by simply copying. That isn't "trust" at all. Gradually he gets old enough to learn also by being told. But being told "this is how I use the word 'father' " isn't the same kind of thing as "the sun goes around the earth". The former is just putting into words the behavior, the convention I am already exemplifying in my usage when I speak. This is doesn't call forth trust, it calls forth enlightenment: the child has seen me do that behavior repeatedly, now I encourage him to encapsulize that observation by putting a word to the behavior. That formation of words around which to coalesce the already forming concept isn't evoking trust, it is evoking the natural intellectual activity of conceptualizing.

The formation of words and concepts is pre-propositional, but it isn't pre-intellectual. And it doesn't require the actively granted permission of the will, much less the command of the will. It happens automatically in 18-month olds.

Thursday said...

Mr. West:

I made a generalization, speaking in the way people normally do, without explicitly making an obvious qualification. You then proceeded to the silliest possible interpretation of what I wrote. Really, who does that reflect poorly on?

John West said...

Thursday,

Your full post was

People arrive at conclusions primarily through intuitive and imaginative leaps. Some of the positions they arrive at through this method are rationally defensible, and some are not. But they weren't arrived at by thinking through the reasons.

You just aren't going to be able to argue people into even the most basic metaphysical propositions (such as the reality of final causes) with which they are intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy.

That's why arguments are more useful for solidifying faith than as for evangelizing those on the outside.


There was nothing silly or uncharitable in my reading. You used strong, sweeping language, and I clearly wasn't the only person that saw universal generalization (as evidenced by the fact that others replied similarly, both before and after me).

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I see no major differences between what you're describing and endoxical learning, aside from the claim that these things are "automatic". Even newborns can distrust people, and a lack of trust between parents and young children is debilitating to the learning process.

In any case, the Meno example was still inapt and your attacks on endoxa go against both Aristotle and Aquinas. I have no idea why would you take this line of argument, given your Thomistic background. Sounds more like Descartes or Kant than Aquinas.

CJ Wolfe said...

"[T]rust that... there is a fiduciary moment within every act of reason."

The first part of that statement, about "trust", does seem to imply something like James' will to believe. But the second part, about a "fiduciary moment" sounds like something else- cost/benefit analysis. Cost/benefit analysis in philosophy has some good arguments for it; some pragmatists such as Quine adopt it, but I don't think one has to be a pragmatist to accept its conclusions. The conclusions of this kind of analysis have to do with whether the "cost" of accepting a given proposition or concept is worth it, in terms of how many other things would have to be true as a result.
If that's what Hart means by "Fiduciary," he may not completely be barking up the wrong trees

Tony said...

I see no major differences between what you're describing and endoxical learning, aside from the claim that these things are "automatic".

You mean, apart from the "act of the will" difference. Toddlers do not need to make an act of the will to trust in order to learn the first words they learn.

Glenn said...

Rank,

If you want to see trust at the center of things, and continue to press home the central role you see it as playing in certain matters, that's fine with me. I haven't any objection to that, and you won't find an objection to it in any of my comments above. I'm also not going to object to it now.

You seem to agree with Hart that "reason arises from an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will", and, after I asked a few questions, you more or less boiled 'an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will' down to 'an act of trust'.

If that's how you see the meaning of 'an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will', then that too is fine with me. I'm also not going to object to that.

But if that is how you see it, then on your terms Hart's statement becomes this: "reason arises from an act of trust."

And my point -- the point I attempted to make -- is that, rather than arising from an act of trust, reason precedes an act of trust.

Assuming arguendo that reason does indeed precede an act of trust, is 'trust' somehow devalued or dethroned from its position of importance?

I don't see how it would be.

- - - - -

>> If engaging in that act of trust didn’t seem reasonable to the person, then that person, being reasonable rather than unreasonable, would not engage in it.

> And yet Aquinas considers it unreasonable for an uneducated person to take issue with a master whose words the uneducated person finds unreasonable (that is: incoherent, incomprehensible).

Actually, Aquinas considers it foolish for the uneducated person to contradict the master for no other reason than that he doesn't understand what the master said.

What he might think of the uneducated person who contradicts the master for the purpose of, say, eliciting clarification, Aquinas does not precisely say.

(That said, one can easily imagine that he might have thought that contradicting someone is not exactly the most frictionless way of eliciting clarification.)

Brandon said...

Rank,

I've probably mangled a subtle distinction, then. I was trying to say that one has to decide (which is an act involving will) to trust other people on unknown matters.

The decision I meant is an act of intellect rather than will; Aquinas holds that the intellect is a free power and in matters not involving demonstration can decide what to opine without the involvement of the will. The view that only the will is a free power, so that it has to be involved in anything that involves multiple alternatives, is a standard voluntarist position. I don't know that it affects your overall argument, but it does indicate some of the complications here in distinguishing Hart's position from voluntarism, given the way the former seems naturally stated -- which was my primary point.

Thursday said...

There was nothing silly or uncharitable in my reading.

You picked the stupidest possible reading because you wanted to win. That others did the same thing reflects just as badly on them.

All on you.

Thursday said...

Some people take a statement like "Women are weaker than men" to be refuted by one woman who is stronger than one man.

They're morons.

Learn to read.

Anonymous said...

As a mere observer, with no dog in the fight, my question bears only on Prof. Feser's recognition of "the hard sell" of alternative natural law positions. What evidence of success, for either view, has there been in the past, say, 10-15 years? Where "success" is measured by some influence beyond one's own camp, and into the territory of the opposition? Or are we still in the world outlined in those famouse opening pages of After Virtue, where rival positions speak only to their various faithful?

Daniel said...

@Thursday,

Forgive us we were evidently 'intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy' with your rationally compelling argument. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Timocrates said...

1/2

@ Thursday said...

" People arrive at conclusions primarily through intuitive and imaginative leaps.

I was at first inclined to react against this rather fiercely exactly because while it is true we certainly experience new (and even great or exciting) ideas often in this manner, we always tests them afterward by reasoning, if only to see if their pursuit is worth our while or time or plausible or realistic. Otherwise we would all be quite guilty of rash judgement. So I am inclined to agree with your original premises here, but I do not agree with your conclusion:


You just aren't going to be able to argue people into even the most basic metaphysical propositions (such as the reality of final causes) with which they are intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy.

That's why arguments are more useful for solidifying faith than as for evangelizing those on the outside.


I think the analogy is a poor one here. You definitely get people to accept metaphysical truths via argument; and the sounder or better the argument, the more people who will agree. The only reason this seems not to work in matters of faith is, in my opinion, the consequence of prejudices or fears, which in their turn are best cleared up against by reasoning.

We'll continue next with your example of final causes...

John West said...

Thursday writes: You picked the stupidest possible reading because you wanted to win. That others did the same thing reflects just as badly on them.

All on you.


And:

Some people take a statement like "Women are weaker than men" to be refuted by one woman who is stronger than one man.

They're morons.

Learn to read.


Now you're just being a disingenuous blowhard, and a troll. I won't be responding further.

Timocrates said...

2/3 @ Thursday,

Now no one denies that artificial products are built intentionally and are for the sake of an end and that each step is itself for the sake of the end. Aristotle and St. Thomas would use the example of a house. Necessarily, the foundation is placed first because this is necessary before the walls can be placed and the walls, in their turn, are necessary before the roof can be placed; and the house needs all of these. A confusion might arise in the imagination or mind as someone might point out that there is nothing impossible about building first the roof, then the walls, then the foundation. However, the person here fails to perceive that even in that order one cannot place a roof on top of as yet non-existent walls nor place walls on an as yet non-existent foundation. In any scheme, then, the roof is placed after the walls and the walls after the foundation.

Similarly in nature. The stages of, e.g., a child's development in the womb follows a similar development. One stage precedes another because it is necessary in order to achieve such and such, which in its turns is needed for the next stage, and so on. Or, to use the philosopher's example, a plant must first sprout roots downward into the soil (i.e. lay a foundation) for nourishment, then sprout upward (erect the walls) then finally grow foliage (lay the roof on the house).

Now it would be absurd to say that one stage of a child's development in the womb followed accidentally or by chance in each case after another, just as it would be absurd to suggest building a house wherein we didn't place the root on the walls or the walls on the foundation. We would, in the former case, expect humans to in fact be a rather rare product of a woman's pregnancy if, say, of so many stages it was a consequence of chance or accident that each one followed after the other; or if rather the latter stages came first then to the earlier. However, we see that human children rather result always (of course, miscarriages happen and it would be wrong to say that deformed or even monstrous children were not human) and likewise always along similar lines of development (through the normal stages).

Again. Plants always or in most cases at least shoot their roots down first, then sprout upward, then grow their foliage. And this, again, is hardly by chance. The prior stages are for the latter and at the very least the whole process is orientated finally toward reproduction or producing a healthy adult specimen.

Now my arguments here may fail to absolutely convince everyone or even most people that final causes really exist and even in nature. But undoubtedly they do at least raise serious problems for those who would try to deny them, for the in doing so what they argue is absurd and, to your credit, repugnant even in the imagination (to imagine that the stages of child development were strictly accident or by chance would surely be a most shocking thing and, certainly at least, contrary to all actual experience).

Agh! I will need a third post, my apologies.

Timocrates said...

3/3 @ Thursday,


But how are, e.g., the basic principles of house construction, plant growth or child development somehow far removed from the intuition or imagination of modern man? How else would one best hope to make a man believe? Indeed, your apparently preferred method is rather ordinarily impossible exactly because people do not "see" the principles of construction, child or plant growth, etc., intuitively in the way see see other things more readily, as we are now thinking rather about those things, and their implications or consequences, in turn. And indeed the former are more readily susceptible to imagination, as what is imagined is rather the product or effect of some cause or principle, which though perceived as necessary by the intellect aren't anymore susceptible to being imagined as final causes (except perhaps again indirectly through a particular form) can be "imagined".

And as with metaphysical realities so with apologetics: God is a spiritual Being. The only real chance we have in convincing anyone of believing is exactly by engaging their reasoning. Now insofar as men are disinclined to do this, as you rightly pointed out, we expect it to be challenging. But my point is what other alternative does anyone reasonably have? Indeed, there is no other method available because of the nature of the things in question, which are not susceptible to proofs of any other kind. Indeed, miracles can be denied, doubted or ignored (this theme actually comes up in the Gospels) and obstinance or, as it were, a blunted intellect could prevent someone from grasping or appreciating metaphysical realities (a theme we discussed not long ago here on this blog in the context of sexual sin). But the mind still, it may be said, intuits the truths of these things once the reasons are spelled out; but the bases of the arguments are no different today than they were long ago.

Scott said...

@John West (and indirectly @The Man Who Is Thursday):

"Now you're just being a disingenuous blowhard, and a troll. I won't be responding further."

Agreed on all points.

Pliny said...

Dear Professor Watson:

Could you say a bit more about what Aquinas means to say when he says that the intellect is a free power and choose what to hold without the involvement of the will? First, does "demonstration" mean deduction in this context? If it does, why doesn't Aquinas believe that some cases of abduction, for instance, would be irrational?

John

Thursday said...

a disingenuous blowhard, and a troll

Says the man who gave what I said the most grotesque and uncharitable reading possible. Look in the mirror, sir.

Thursday said...

Timocrates, you are arguing in good faith, but that is precisely the kind of thing that is going to convince nobody unless they already have some sympathy with where you are going.

Prof. Feser has pointed out here that many atheistic philsosophers were perfectly aware of the philosophical problems with their (non-)religious views. Yet, they did not become religious believers. Did (do) Russell, Popper, Ayer, Chalmers, Nagel etc. really not understand the arguments?

Thursday said...

As a general principle, it is not good philosophical practice to interpret something in the stupidest possible way it can be interpreted, refute the stupid interpretation, and then declare victory.

9/10 times you won't get a happy response.

Thursday said...

But my point is what other alternative does anyone reasonably have?

You can certainly try, but you just shouldn't expect much success. Who ever told you that success was guaranteed, or even likely?

Thursday said...

Forgive us we were evidently 'intuitively and imaginatively out of sympathy' with your rationally compelling argument. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

The devil speak true here.

Thursday said...

What evidence of success, for either view, has there been in the past, say, 10-15 years? Where "success" is measured by some influence beyond one's own camp, and into the territory of the opposition?

Indeed. Nagel now gingerly mixes a bit of teleology into his atheism. Great victory there.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"I think 'utter lack of AIDS transmissions' was a good thing, personally."

Me too. But do you think legal scholars could have an effect on a problem like that?

Brandon said...

Pliny/John:

'Brandon' is sufficient.

Demonstration is a stronger term than deduction here; it indicates that one actually has knowledge in a strict sense of the term.

In contingent matters, there is nothing that necessitates the conclusions of the intellect; such matters require deliberation about what to do, because we can go different ways. (Aquinas's standard examples are dialectical and rhetorical syllogisms, i.e., probable and plausible inferences.) Thus intellectual decision, which is the result of deliberation. Aquinas doesn't talk much about it in itself but he is quite clear in several places that he thinks free choice in the will requires that the intellect be able itself to make this decision without being determined by anything else.

I'm not sure I understand your abduction question correctly; but St. Thomas, like most scholastics, has a fairly liberal idea of what reason can do. The highest summit of what it can do is demonstration, but it has a great many other kinds of inferences at its disposal, all of which have a proper place in the natural and healthy activity of reason: dialectical or probabilistic inferences, rhetorical inferences, even poetic inferences. All of them can be done badly, i.e., irrationally, but all of them can also be done well.

Timocrates said...

@ Thursday,

I am sorry. In a weird way you are living proof of your own point. But I already addressed that in my post. I did not say or argue that everyone would agree; only that those who refused could not produce good reasons not to. I talked about willfulness ("obstinancy") in my post, but I should clarify this.

Professor Feser has taken issue with someone's thesis that you obviously wish to defend. But sometimes what happens to us is that someone makes an argument and the natural, though not explicitly stated conclusion, is X. The person may not even intend X to be drawn; however, because we ourselves drew that conclusion we acquire an emotional attachment to that conclusion (just as you said that intuition and imagination come first, even without proper reasoning); whereas, had the author or source originally just stated it we would have been more objective, so to speak. The movie Inception reminds me of this. Because we ourselves drew that conclusion, it becomes, as it were, our baby.

Now I know for a fact that "good" propaganda does this deliberately. In fact, someone who studies these things will know it too - most nations will teach it to you in advanced classes, either from a military or political POV. Good propaganda never expressly tells you what conclusion to draw. Rather it just suggests. It is extraordinarily effective. When we ourselves draw a logical conclusion the "conception" becomes ours, and it becomes harder to route out. It also facilitates from the political POV plausible deniability: I can effectively teach people to hate Muslims but because I never expressly said so, I can even contradict it; but because I do so expressly it becomes my personal opinion, and not the "mass suggestion".

I fear, Thursday, that you are sometimes demonstrating this kind of attachment. As I hope I showed in my previous posts, there are no other means to truly persuade a rational person into believing in metaphysical truths or God. You are quite right in saying that reality and experience is probably more apt to furnish itself opportunities to make men believe; however, absent such circumstances, we have no other recourse than man's reason.

Timocrates said...

@ Brandon,

"Demonstration is a stronger term than deduction here; it indicates that one actually has knowledge in a strict sense of the term. "

I believe I understand where you are coming from here, Brandon; that is, very humanly speaking, however, when the mind makes a deduction it is simply a demonstration.

For example,

Should someone ask, "Is man mortal?" And another bring him to witness another man in his death throes, even dying; then should someone ask that man who orginally asked the question (after seeing that man in his death throes die), "Now Socrates is a man..."

Does he need a demonstration? Does Socrates need to die, or not? I would argue that a deduction is more powerful than demonstration, because we can make deductions even about those things that couldn't possibly be demonstrated.

For instance,

Someone says, "I am looking for a white thing." Do we need a demonstration that they are not looking for a non-white thing? Does that even make sense? How would one even demonstrate that? Except maybe for someone who was colour blind, where a kind of interpreted intervened to tell you that by white the person intended yellow, there would be no way. But strictly speaking it is still wrong to deduce that the person is seeking a non-white thing, if they were seeking a white thing.

Anonymous said...

I am not an atheist . . . not even close . . . but it I were an atheist, I would be reading about this debate and giggling.

Pliny said...

Brandon, thank you for your answer to my garbled question. Let me see if I understand Aquinas's position:

Would Aquinas say that the rightly-ordered intellect could freely reject the Law of Non-Contradiction?



Brandon said...

Pliny,

No; rejecting the law of noncontradiction would be in and of itself a way of not being rightly ordered. Further, the intellect's grasp of the law of noncontradiction itself would have very little to do with any question of its freedom -- freedom only arises in matters that are actually contingent.

Jeremy Taylor said...

For what it is worth, I agree with John West. The most obvious interpretation of Thursday's comments were that they had a very general import, if not actually universal. There is clearly a subtle but important difference between his later example of uncharitable interpretation.

Also, I don't recall him ever coming here but with a bad temper. Perhaps he is using his computer at the wrong time.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

But if that is how you see it, then on your terms Hart's statement becomes this: "reason arises from an act of trust."

And my point -- the point I attempted to make -- is that, rather than arising from an act of trust, reason precedes an act of trust.


I don't think we're in disagreement here. If the intellect is the fundamental decision-maker, then some kind of reason needs to be supplied for trust to occur. Would Hart agree? I have no idea; I don't know the context of his "fiduciary movement" remark, or even what kind of trust he's talking about.

Brandon,

The decision I meant is an act of intellect rather than will; Aquinas holds that the intellect is a free power and in matters not involving demonstration can decide what to opine without the involvement of the will. The view that only the will is a free power, so that it has to be involved in anything that involves multiple alternatives, is a standard voluntarist position. I don't know that it affects your overall argument, but it does indicate some of the complications here in distinguishing Hart's position from voluntarism, given the way the former seems naturally stated -- which was my primary point.

I actually didn't realize that Aquinas held the intellect to be self-determining. From my reading, I thought the intellect's freedom came from its interaction with the will. Strange. I wouldn't say that this throws a wrench into the Hart business, but I do agree that it creates a confusing appearance.

Glenn said...

Rank,

That is a nice recovery. (<-- And that is a compliment.)

Anonymous said...

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I agree with Thursday, I think (if I understand what he/she is saying). If one's will is searching for Truth, he will find it, for the Lord says "seek and you shall find." However, many would rather believe in a fabrication then the Truth, in order to justify their own will. To believe in the Truth is to cease to act as though you are God: and many do not wish to. They would rather eat the Forbidden Fruit, and live in an artificial unreality of their own making (sadly, reality finds them, sooner or later). So they believe in contradictory and incoherent ideas, or systems of thought do have no relation to reality, but rather force a view onto reality.

In many ways, the problem with many moderns might not be concerning their minds, but rather their hearts.

St. Thomas Aquinas, ora pro nobis.

Christi pax,

Daniel

Brandon said...

I actually didn't realize that Aquinas held the intellect to be self-determining. From my reading, I thought the intellect's freedom came from its interaction with the will.

It seems to be overlooked a lot, perhaps because it's a somewhat limited self-determination, and perhaps because the will's self-determination can also affect the intellect; but it's certainly there in Aquinas. I agree with you on the rest, of course; I don't know how far it affects the overall argument, but it certainly does complicate the details.

Gene Callahan said...

@Don Jindra: "In the real world [moral theories] don't matter."

Then Don *blames* natural law theory for what he sees as the unjust world of the past!

So, these theories "don't matter" and yet are to blame when something goes wrong!

Don Jindra said...

Gene Callahan,

A careful reader would notice I didn't blame natural law theory, legal theories or legal scholars. Please read carefully.

Gene Callahan said...

Ed, to answer your question about what it means for God to make his ideas real, I quote one Prof. Feser: 'You, the computer you are using right now, the floor under your feet, the coffee cup in your hand – for each and every one of these things, God is, you might say, “keeping it real” at every instant.'

Scott said...

@Gene Callahan:

A philosophy according to which the real objects in the real world are exemplifications of divine ideas surely qualifies as some kind of idealism. Moreover, I've previously called attention to Otto Willmann's statement in the Catholic Encyclopedia that Aristotelian realism is best characterized as "immanent idealism" (in contrast to Plato's "transcendent idealism"); I think this is correct even apart from a (neo-)Platonic view of divine ideas as exemplars.

The traditional foil of "idealism" is not realism but materialism. It seems to me that those who oppose it to realism are themselves relying on an impoverished and rather too "modern" view of idealism.

The main problem I have with Berkeley is the same one Timothy Sprigge had: if God makes there be objects merely by impressing (Lockean) "ideas" on our senses, then it all seems to amount to quite a lot of needless show.

But that's an indictment not of idealism generally but specifically of subjective idealism. The view that the basic, fundamental, necessary, absolute reality is an eternal Divine Mind/Intellect that at each moment creates and sustains all things in accordance with His ideas sure sounds to me like a form of objective idealism.

ccmnxc said...

It seems to be overlooked a lot, perhaps because it's a somewhat limited self-determination, and perhaps because the will's self-determination can also affect the intellect; but it's certainly there in Aquinas. I agree with you on the rest, of course; I don't know how far it affects the overall argument, but it certainly does complicate the details.

I wonder if this might have any bearing on the Libet experiment, where at least sometimes, the intellect may move towards one direction prior to or without the immediate movement of the will, and this might correspond with the brain activity. Perhaps not a full explanation for the issue, but I wonder at its relevance.

Santi said...
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