Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review of Mele


Over at the online edition of City Journal, I review Alfred Mele’s recent book Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will.

185 comments:

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Mele came to speak at Grand Valley State, where I teach. He did a fine job. And thanks for your review of the book!

Tom said...

I've long been pining for a post on free will from a Thomistic perspective. From what I can tell, all the contemporary positions on free will are varying degrees of disastrous, and even the the views of Aquinas fall into the traps of compatibilism or libertarianism, depending on how they're construed.

robert said...

As long as one doesn't conflate free choice with free will, there is not much of a problem.

One can freely choose to go left or right...one goes right. The free choice to go right is, of course, determined by the laws of physics (everything that happened prior determines what happens next). The choice is free, but it is not random (everything that happened prior has no effect on what happens next).

Anonymous said...

The free choice to go right is, of course, determined by the laws of physics (everything that happened prior determines what happens next).

Metaphysics and quantum physics would like a word with you.

robert said...

@Anonymous

Neither would have much to say on this matter.

Anonymous said...

Neither would have much to say on this matter.

They'd have plenty to say, but they require you to listen and understand first. That's the best way to see your error.

But perhaps the laws of physics condemn you to be wrong?

Sen Ezkisto said...

Neither metaphysics nor quantum physics has a voice with which to speak. Therefore neither can have "a word with you" or have "plenty to say".

machinephilosophy said...

Determinism, like about a dozen other reductionisms, never seems to be presented in relation to the consequences for its own truth value.

But there's nothing quite like implicit self-exemption when you're jockeying for social ascendancy at a cocktail party!

"Ok, has everyone registered their reductionistic dismissals for the evening? Remember: No knowledge, no objectivity, no truth, no good, no evil, no values, and that old-time favorite---no meaning! NOW we can have a free and open philosophy discussion! Finger food is on the corner table!"

Glenn said...

I've place an order for Mele's recent book mentioned in the OP. Although this will be my first time reading Mele, Mele's recent book is not the first time he has written on Libet's experiement.

- - - - -

An abbreviated timeline (with an obvious point):

1. 13th century St. Thomas (in answering an objection to the question, "Whether the will is moved, of necessity, by the lower appetite?") writes, "Although the will cannot prevent the movement of concupiscence from arising, ... yet it is in the power of the will [a)] not to will to desire or [b)] not to consent to concupiscence. And thus it does not necessarily follow the movement of concupiscence." -- ST II-I Q 10 A 3 ad 1

2. 1985 Benjamin Libet (in a paper published in The Behavioral and Brain Sciences) writes, "In the studies to be discussed here the acts were to consist uniformly of a quick flexion of the fingers or wrist of the right hand[.] The subjects were free, however, to choose to perform this act at any time the desire, urge, decision, and will should arise in them. (They were also free not ** to act out any given urge or initial decision to act; and each subject indeed reported frequent instances of such aborted intentions.)" -- Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action ** The word 'not' is italicized in the paper at the link.

3. 2009 William Vallicella (in a blog post on "an excerpt from Alfred R. Mele, Free Will: Action Theory Meets Neuroscience") writes, "What Libet et al. want to show is that the notion that conscious willing plays a genuine role in the etiology of a behavior such as flexing a finger is illusory.... Mele rebuts this argument by showing that it trades on a confusion of decisions/intentions on the one hand and wishes and urges on the other... Free will is displayed in decisions and choosings, not in wants and urges." -- Free Will Meets Neuroscience

Anonymous said...

Neither metaphysics nor quantum physics has a voice with which to speak.

Was that determination made with or without metaphysics? :-D

Gene Callahan said...

Ed, do you know that Libet himself denies that his experiment rules out free will? (In fact, he said he thinks it does exist.)

ccmnxc said...

One can freely choose to go left or right...one goes right. The free choice to go right is, of course, determined by the laws of physics (everything that happened prior determines what happens next). The choice is free, but it is not random (everything that happened prior has no effect on what happens next).

So when will the laws of physics determine my choice to start driving into oncoming traffic? Or do the laws of physics have a vested interest in not killing me?

Anonymous said...

Aquinas was a 'soft determinist' and a compatibilist like every other pre-modern metaphysician. He simply distinguishes between metaphysical necessity and possibility. The concept of 'indeterminacy' on the other hand is either too loose (i.e. dependent upon certain technical contexts of modern positive science) or the product of a non-metaphysical attitude. More than likely both. In a certain sense, almost everyone should be some species of compatibilist. Then again, defining our terms and presenting thoroughly complete expositions is very important.

Now, metaphysical necessity is very much dependent upon the metaphysics of universals. So, the question of what 'free will' or 'determination' could mean is very much tied up with the question of universals. This is truly a metaphysical issue that is only accidently raised within the purview of modern positive science. To be sure, this is no question of 'physics' whatsoever. I only wish this were more adequately understood.

Anonymous said...

All our physical actions (muscular movements) in the world are the results of electrical firings of neurons that have terminated in those muscles. And it's a straightforward fact that you can trace back the electrical signal from the muscle, to the spinal cord, and finally to the brain. So do our immaterial minds or souls somehow guide neural firings at some initial brain stage? That's what it would take to avoid determinism.

robert said...

@ccmnxc

So when will the laws of physics determine my choice to start driving into oncoming traffic? Or do the laws of physics have a vested interest in not killing me?

Is your choice random?

Perhaps it would have been clearer if I said "in accordance with" instead of "determined by", since the laws of physics are descriptive, not prescriptive - falls into the same semantic trap.

Anonymous said...

All our physical actions (muscular movements) in the world are the results of electrical firings of neurons that have terminated in those muscles.

Need More Metaphysics.

Alan L. said...

While in nominal agreement with the Free Will support in the book review and throughout this thread, I think it a bit too reserved. Across specific posts and across time the conventional assumption appears to tie our will to human intellect. I think it, of necessity, goes much further back to the early evolution of the brain. Human intellect greatly expands the scope within which will can be expressed, however the imagination displayed by animals requires free will as well. Above, Robert frets about choosing left or right, a decision Physics has no nominal preference for. Physics may preclude a decision of floating up or sinking down through the pavement, but left or right would be chosen by man or beast based on an array of other knowledge and concerns – the specific presence of things that neither physics nor evolution could predict and the equally unpredictable history, experiences and memories of the one making the decision. I think free will must have developed very early in the evolution of brain endowed animals to allow the rapid adaptability to new opportunities in terrain and risks from weather and predators.

Scott said...

@robert:

"Is your choice random?"

Surely you are aware—and if you're not, I'm about to make you so—that necessity and randomness aren't the only two alternatives. We can't just begin by ruling out the view that we cause our own actions in a non-necessitarian but non-random fashion. It isn't simply obvious that causation involves necessity.

In general, I have a good deal of sympathy for the sort of determinism according to which mental events are not reducible to physical events but still occur deterministically at their own level. (I'm thinking especially of Brand Blanshard, with whom I once agreed on this very subject; now I'm not so sure, but the view is at least defensible.) Sheerly physical determinism, though, is a dead end if there ever was one.

Glenn said...

Anonymous (at 12:13 AM),

All our physical actions (muscular movements) in the world are the results of electrical firings of neurons that have terminated in those muscles. And it's a straightforward fact that you can trace back the electrical signal from the muscle, to the spinal cord, and finally to the brain. So do our immaterial minds or souls somehow guide neural firings at some initial brain stage? That's what it would take to avoid determinism.

Taking a cue from ccmnxc, you might as well claim that it is road, streets and highways which determine the destination of the driver of an automobile.

And with respect to (at least) free-will, determinism is like the alligator in one's living room -- it isn't there. And since there is no alligator in one's living room, one can well imagine how easy it is for one to avoid: a) tripping over it; and, b) being eaten by it.

As Benjamin Libet -- who, it may be recalled, conducted experiments the results of which have been (mis)taken by other people as conclusively establishing the illusory nature of free-will -- has mentioned:

"[T]here has been no evidence, or even a proposed experimental design, that definitively or convincingly demonstrates the validity of natural law determinism as the mediator or instrument of free will... The assumption that a deterministic nature of the physically observable world (to the extent that may be true) can account for subjective conscious functions and events is a speculative belief, not a scientifically proven proposition."

The emphasis is Libet's. And I've not included a link to the 1999 paper from which the quotation has been taken. **

- - - - -

** The absence of a link is intentional. This is to say that, contrary to any supposition that my nervous system somehow caused me not to include it, I have purposely excluded it. And my reason for excluding it is to set things up so you can make a decision -- one free of deterministic impulses from your nervous system and in accordance with your own free-will. For example: a) you can accept that Libet wrote as I have said he did; b) you can think I have fabricated the quotation; c) you can think I have not fabricated the quotation and that it is genuine, but that it has been falsely attributed to Libet; or, d) you can do some minor research to see if Libet did in fact write as I have claimed. The choice is yours to make.

robert said...

@Scott,

Just to be clear, do you believe that the PSR applies to choice?

Alan L. said...

robert, just to be clear, do you believe that apples apply to oranges?

John West said...

We might also emphasize a point that, while somewhat tangential to the aspect of divine freedom Bill Vallicella is concerned with, is still crucial to understanding that freedom and very much in the spirit of Davies’ approach. Modern writers, largely under the massive but largely unrecognized influence of Ockham’s voluntarism and nominalism (about which I plan to devote a post in the near future) tend to think of a free will as one that is inherently indifferent to the ends it might choose. But for Thomists, the will of its nature is oriented to the good; even when we do evil, it is always because we mistakenly regard it as at least in some sense good. (I say more about this in chapter 5 of Aquinas.) It is true that in human beings, freely choosing a life of virtue typically involves change, but that is because we have weaknesses to overcome and ignorance about what is truly good that needs to be remedied. And these are not marks of freedom, but rather of its relative absence. God, in whom there is no weakness or ignorance, cannot possibly do evil; and this makes Him, not less free than we are, but more free. Again, this does not speak directly to the issue Bill raises, but it does illustrate how, as Davies emphasizes, properly to understand divine freedom we have to avoid anthropomorphism. (Edward Feser, Davies on Divine Simplicity and Freedom

I doubt Scott holds an Ockhamite view of freedom.

Alan L. said...

Robert, to be less cryptic, PSR does apply to choice, but that means nothing to free will, as the reasons are within the mind of the chooser, not the physics of the path.

robert said...

@Alan L.

You beg the question.

Scott said...

@robert:

"Just to be clear, do you believe that the PSR applies to choice?"

Sure, there's a sufficient reason for every choice. Do you believe the PSR entails that sufficient reasons necessitate their outcomes?

robert said...

@Scott,

In this case, obviously yes I do. The physical state at one moment dictates the physical state of the subsequent moment.

Scott said...

@robert:

"In this case, obviously yes I do. The physical state at one moment dictates the physical state of the subsequent moment."

That answers even more than I was asking. Even at the mental level, it's not just obvious that the PSR entails that the existence of reasons for a choice entail that the choice was necessitated. (It's not even obvious that the Principle of Causality entails that causes necessitate their effects. To produce an outcome needn't mean to produce it by necessity.) At least, though, one could accept that view and still argue (as Blanshard did) that to have one's choices "necessitated" by reason is precisely what the rational man means by freedom.

But you're also claiming, far more strongly, that choice itself is reducible without remainder to purely physical processes that operate by purely physical necessity. And in that case it's very hard to see how you can be justified in relying on reasoning at all.

robert said...

@Scott,

Yes, choice would be reducible to purely physical process that operate by purely physical necessity, as far as I can tell, but so is reasoning, or so I would say.

Anonymous said...

You beg the question.

You state, but don't support.

Anonymous said...

but so is reasoning, or so I would say.

This isn't an explanation, or a defense of your position. When Scott points out what he's pointed out, saying 'yes well I say reasoning is purely physical too' gets nowhere.

Defend your claim, explain why no alternatives are possible. Science won't do the trick. You need arguments, reasoning and metaphysics here.

Alan L. said...

@Anonymous: ‘You state, but don't support’ … If robert knows what ‘beg the question’ means, then he is assuming more content to my comment than I intended.

@robert: ‘The physical state at one moment dictates the physical state of the subsequent moment.’ Violates quantum physics. You are relying on cleaver comments when, as pointed out earlier, you need to evaluate the significance and implications of your position. There is no ‘cause’ in physics for art or poetry. As they exist, other motives exist as well.

Anonymous said...

"All our physical actions (muscular movements) in the world are the results of electrical firings of neurons that have terminated in those muscles. And it's a straightforward fact that you can trace back the electrical signal from the muscle, to the spinal cord, and finally to the brain. So do our immaterial minds or souls somehow guide neural firings at some initial brain stage? That's what it would take to avoid determinism."

You've neither defined 'determinism' nor 'free will', but have only pointed out the continuity of an entity which is really nothing more than a basic mark of reality i.e. a mode of formal unity. Whatever level of material analysis you bring some original subject down to is always synthetically continuous with respect to the formal unity of the subject.

The real issue lies in the actual discussion of the terms 'free will' and 'determinism' and in absolutely nothing else; especially not mere concrete particulars or facts. In other words, what is called for here is a discussion of abstract principles and the relation between the apparently abstract and the apparently concrete. This boils down to the 'problem of universals' and the ultimate ontological status of entities.

Anonymous said...

>>"Need More Metaphysics."

Need More Neuroscience.


>>"you might as well claim that it is road, streets and highways which determine the destination of the driver of an automobile"

If the claim here is that neurons are to muscular contraction as roads are to destinations, then it's too simplistic to the point of being wildly off the mark. Motor neurons release acetylcholine molecules into the neuromuscular junction (the small space between the end of the neuron and the muscle cells), and those molecules are transported into the muscle cells, which immediately causes an electrical event called "depolarization," which in turn immediately causes sodium ions to rush into the muscle cells en masse, which in turn immediately and drastically changes the electrical environment of the muscle cells, which in turn immediately causes internal stores of calcium ions to be released within the cells, and these calcium ions bind to a protein called troponin. Ion-bound troponin causes a neighboring protein called tropomyosin to shift, and this movement exposes a binding site on actin. Finally, the protein myosin binds to this exposed site, and voila -- contraction of the muscle cell. Amazingly, this all happens in a tiny fraction of a second.

http://www.mda.org/disease/inherited-and-endocrine-myopathies/causes-inheritance/ion-channels-muscle-contraction (decent visual summary)


There is no causal relationship even remotely like this between a road and a destination.

I detail all that to illustrate the following point: We have absolutely no control over these immediate electro-molecular interactions between "lower" motor neurons and muscle cells. So if we exert any control at all, it has to come from on top (the "upper" motor neurons in the brain which activate the "lower" motor neurons). And since we have just as much control over the electro-molecular interactions in the brain as we do over the electro-molecular interactions within the neuromuscular junctions and muscle cells (i.e., none), the immaterial mind needs to somehow guide the material processes in the brain to allow for free will.

Daniel said...

@Universals Anon,

I certainly agree a whole host of issues regarding the nature of cognition depend on nature of Universals (Husserl and the early phenomenologists understood this clearly), though Free Will would not have immediately come to mind as one of these. Problems like Balaam's Ass ultimately come down to the PSR even if one adopts a form of Nominalism.

Random Anon said,

And since we have just as much control over the electro-molecular interactions in the brain as we do over the electro-molecular interactions within the neuromuscular junctions and muscle cells (i.e., none), the immaterial mind needs to somehow guide the material processes in the brain to allow for free will.

Cool, so how's the 'Needz mawr Nyroscienz' come into it?

Anonymous said...

"the immaterial mind needs to somehow guide the material processes in the brain to allow for free will."

If by 'immaterial' you mean formal, then no: Incorrect. The material elements of a compound substance are themselves substances. Whereas by 'mind' or 'soul' we signify either the form of the subject ('substantial form') per se or the form of the subject per accidens i.e. as complex in virtue of a given matter. A given matter is then constituted in a complex subject through the subsistence of a simple subject i.e. the form of the subject or 'substantial form'. The subsistence of a simple subject signifies a distinction between essential properties and accidents or inessential properties with respect to the complex subject. I believe that all Thomists hold 'free will' to be an essential feature of the human subject.

It seems to me that your point of interest is the temporal status of a complex subject (or 'material substance'). Namely, that any discrete process can be distinguished from the complex under a continuous and efficient mode and conceptually incorporated within the complex as a component i.e. a mechanical model is possibly given due to the formal unity of any entity. Yet, all actual motion is in fact finite and only in principle continuous. Now, no one is disputing pure facts because that is impossible. All disputes are with respect to ultimate principles or the status of facts with respect to principles.

Lastly, it seems to me that no discussion is yet possible due to a lack of rigor amongst certain participants. I myself do not intend to participate unless enticed, but I should hope that dead ends and mere repetitions of clichés should be put to an end. Philosophy first!

What after all could 'free will' or 'determination' be?

Alan L. said...

@Anonymous, re: ‘Need More Neuroscience’. Not anymore than we need more physics. You are simply using the complexity of the brain and the unknown functioning of the mind to confuse the issue.
You further state: ‘immaterial mind needs to somehow guide the material processes in the brain to allow for free will.’
That is simply not the question under discussion. Gravity did not require Einstein for anyone to accept its existence. The debate at this point is not how free will is achieved but that it is achieved.

Daniel D. D. said...

I'm not overly familar with the free will debate, but isn't St. Thomas of the opinion that we have the free will to develop our habits, and change them if we desire to do so (although it might be hard), all basing this on the intellect's understanding of the good?

Christi pax.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Problems like Balaam's Ass…"

Heh, I expect you mean Buridan's Ass.

Scott said...

@robert:

"[B]ut so is reasoning, or so I would say."

As one of the Anonymouses says, this isn't a satisfactory reply. What is the physical difference between, say, the valid argument "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal," and the invalid argument "All men are mortal; Socrates is mortal; therefore Socrates is a man"? How is the difference in validity to be explained in purely physical terms? And how is your judgment about the validity (or otherwise) of the two arguments to be explicated in terms of physical law and nothing else?

Those are questions that, if you claim that reasoning is both purely physical and also worthy of our trust, stand in need of answer.

Tony said...

Although I definitely agree with Ed on the reality of free will, I have to say that this comment seemed, to me, rather glib and unfortunate:

Why should we assume that a choice is not free if it registers in consciousness a few hundred milliseconds after it is made?

Proposing that it "registers in consciousness after it is made" sounds contradictory to me. The consciousness is, well, CONSCIOUS of the choice, or it is not a choice. So the consciousness has to be aware of it no LATER than the moment the choice is made.

Yet I think there is a good, clean way to read this as a counter-proposal to the determinist notion that the choice is "made" after the initiation of the mental work that ends in the event of motor act. Actually, there are two.

First that in the experiment the subject is actually undergoing three interior events, one is the event of choosing to move the wrist, the other is willfully noting (taking note of) of the choice as a thing to observe, and the third is willfully mapping the "thing of which you making an observation" to a time. There is no particular reason to think that the mind is very precise about the mapping - the comparison activity - against the motion of the clock. So the mind may simply have a bias on that comparison activity, it is off by a margin of error.

But one thing to be sure of: since the actual event of choosing, and the act of observing it AS AN OBSERVABLE EVENT are not the same mental act, there can be a discrepancy in how long they take. It may take, for example, 5 ms to "choose", and 100 ms to consciously think the thought that would correspond to a sentence like "that act I just did was the choice of moving my hand" - i.e. to "make" the observation. Since the latter could hardly come BEFORE the choice itself, it would then be tautological that SOME PORTION of the observation act comes a considerable time after the choice itself is complete. There would be a GAP, not between the inherent (first order) AWARENESS of the choice and the choice, but between the (second order) observation's end and the choice's end. And the same problem could attend the interior act of mapping: if it takes the mind more time to DO the act of mapping (yet another willed act) than to choose to move the hand, then again there is more room for skewing the "noted" time from the actual moment the choice was made.

Secondly, in the context of the experiment, the subject is undergoing a series of interior acts like "wait, wait, wait, get ready...almost....go." Obviously, the mental acts of "get ready" and "almost" are not ACTUALLY the choices to move the hand, but there is almost certainly a kind of feedback loop between the mind and the body about the preparation to move, the dispositive preparation to move, that is involved in the physical changes measured but is not noted by the mind as part of the CHOICE but as part of the pre-choice interval. And, in fact, this fits with Libet's own take, which is that because the person can veto the motion after the electrical potential rises, the INTERVAL between the rise of potential and the actual choice is non-zero and is not clearly determined by the experiment.

Step2 said...

Tony,
Read page ten of this pdf. Short version - a magnetic instrument applied to a specific brain region completely changed his subjective experience. Note he didn't think the movement was done against his will, his will changed to take possession of the movement. Hat tip: a former commentator on this blog.

John West said...

Sounds like Persinger's work.

Anonymous said...

Why does no one present a clear notion of what the WILL is. You're all fixated on 'freedom' and in the most banal sense at that.

All are willing to cite the latest techno-experiments, but none are willing to show signs of pure discursive thinking? Perhaps you're not free: After all, those who cannot objectify an entity via the will are natural slaves. If a man objectifies nothing but the instances of his own passive experience how can he do anything other than submit himself to the determinate conditions of this-or-that particular experience?

Consider as well the distinction between 'master' and 'slave' outside of the context of mere positive law or history. This is very important if you are to have any primordial notion of what is called 'will'. Which is to say, consider the essence of man alongside the existential distinction between 'master' and 'slave'.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I looked up Transcranial magnetic stimulation on Wikipedia and it doesn't mention being able to move body parts with it. Also, what those quoted in that link are talking about simply seems to be - it is a little hard to follow what they are saying - that although your foot moves differently to where your wanted to move it, you tend to accept that you did mean to will that your foot moved as it did. I don't see how, even if this is true, that it disproves free will any more than any other cognitive bias does.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Actually, looking up Transcranial magnetic stimulation more wildly does reveal it may be able to move limbs and the like, though I still don't see how this effects free will. It seems to be a case of the kind of flawed philosophical grounding of these kinds of experiments that Dr. Feser was referring to.

John West said...

Jeremy writes: Actually, looking up Transcranial magnetic stimulation more wildly does reveal it may be able to move limbs and the like, though I still don't see how this effects free will. It seems to be a case of the kind of flawed philosophical grounding of these kinds of experiments that Dr. Feser was referring to.

We can induce this type of problem for people simply by causing brain damage, without fancy equipment, too. It seems easy to explain.

In contrast, it's always seemed to me that the real problem for determinists is explaining why, normally, our limbs do move where we wish. In other words, explaining our experience of free will.

Jeremy Taylor said...

John West,

Indeed. Isn't there, perhaps, an argument against naturalism in our very experience of free will, albeit an inductive and somewhat circumstantial one. After all, if our free will an illusion, why would this illusion occur in a completely naturalistic world? The argument that it serves some evolutionary purposes seems to be circular, because the purposes offered always imply that some sort of psychological boon, which seems to imply that man has choice. I suppose there is that old naturalist favourite of chance - that no matter how unlikely it seems, if an event is possible it should be interpreted naturalistically, even if there may seem more likely non-naturalistic explanations (I am never quite sure how the naturalist squares this mindset with his love of the scientific method). This argument against naturalism would only be inductive, so I suppose technically the naturalist can just shrug and say chance, but it still seems somewhat unsatisfactory to me. At the very least we should ask serious questions about our appearance of free will and what is the best explanation.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- sorry, it is more that the evolutionary arguments imply we do have free will, rather than they are circular, and are therefore inconsistent.

I suppose I am assuming actual free will is hard to account for naturalistically.

John West said...

Jeremy,

. Isn't there, perhaps, an argument against naturalism in our very experience of free will, albeit an inductive and somewhat circumstantial one. After all, if our free will an illusion, why would this illusion occur in a completely naturalistic world?

I draw a distinction between naturalists and Naturalists (thanks Daniel), because I think a lot of confusion arises over different uses of the label in different fields of philosophy. The former I associate with people like Quine. The latter, I use to mean the strict physicalist, deterministic view as you are here.

You probably could develop an inductive case. J. P. Moreland is even more direct on this point. Roughly, he argues that if physicalism is true, there is no free will. There is free will. Hence, physicalism is false.

Most Naturalists accept the first premise. It's implicit in their thinking that physicalism is true and therefore free will doesn't exist because there's no just room for it in a physicalist world. The second premise is supported by our every day experience of seeming to choose to lift our arm, or carefully weighing the pros and cons to make complex, intellectually challenging decisions. I figure this is where inductive reasoning comes into his argument.

But also, I think if we can't trust the basic, experiental data telling us we have free will, it's hard to see why we shouldn't also cast skepticism our other, often far less basic experiential data, such as that for complex, scientific investigations.

At the very least we should ask serious questions about our appearance of free will and what is the best explanation.

Right. I agree. At the very least, the burden of proof is on free will deniers.

John West said...

That should read: Just no^

Though, I used to wonder if the experience of choice and the experience of free choice were the same thing. For example, imagine Bob has some set of values, V, and has to make some complex decision. If (say) God suddenly gives Bob perfect information and perfect rationality, Bob would almost certainly make make a very specific choice, and I think any person in the exact same circumstances as Bob with values V given perfect information and perfect rationality, would make the same choice Bob did.

On one hand, if given his values Bob's having perfect information and rationality entails he makes a specific choice, it's hard to see how Bob could have freely chosen it. On the other hand, I wouldn't normally say Bob's not still going through the process of choosing and experiencing choice in the same way someone would with less information and weaker rationality. So, what's the deal? Is our experience of choice really our experience of free choice?

But today I'm pretty sure this thinking tacitly assumes a naive, not to mention Ockhamite, view of free will.

Anonymous said...

The Great Hindu Sage Sri Ramana Maharshi pointed out that the only freedom one has is whether one will choose to identify with the mortal body-mind-complex, or not.
Pointing out that the moment one does so everything about ones existence is karmically pre-patterned, and merely reinforces the continuance of the karmic pattern-patterning.

There is no intrinsically free will.
There is no free ego.
Indeed, the ego-"I" is itself intrinsically and always pattern-bound, un-free, and always only seeking to be free.
The ego-"I" never achieves, nor can the ego in fact achieve either free will or freedom itself.
The would-be-active agent or ego-"I" wills itself to act only because, or when or if, it is stimulated to do so by a pattern of conditionally apparent circumstances in space and time.
The would-be-active agent or egoic will to act is always caused to act, by the stimulating effect of one or another kind, or mode, or state of conditionally evident pattern-context.
Therefore the ego-"I" is not primary or self-existing or intrinsically free. But the ego-"I" is intrinsically and necessarily an effect or a secondary, subsequent, merely caused, and always limited, or intrinsically non-free agent.

Indeed the ego-"I" is not a separate entity, but entirely and only a pattern.
The ego-"I" is a secondary and subordinate pattern within a larger pattern. A comprehensive pattern of totality and particularity, upon which the ego-"I" depends, and which is, itself, the cause of the reaction that is the ego-"I" itself.
There is no independent ego-entity, no separate and absolute ego-"I", no intrinsically free agent of conditional action.
The existing or conditionally evident pattern always predetermines the options of the would-be-active agent or ego-"I".
Therefore, the willful ego-"I" cannot act as an independent, and thus free agent, actively prior to the pattern in which it would, or potentially could, act. Because the pattern-bound ego-"I" can only REACT to the pattern patterning itself.
The willful ego-"I" can only act as a pattern within a pattern.
The willful ego-"I" can choose among conditionally evident options, but is able to make choices only as a pre-patterned, or condition limited and pre-conditioned, agent of the pattern itself.
Therefore, the always only pattern-reactive egoic will to act is not,and cannot be,
FREE will.
Fundamentally, the ego-"I" is a pattern-slave, or a pattern-impulsed subordinate element within a larger, or comprehensive, and choice-programmed, and even largely choice determining, pattern-context.
The pattern itself always plays, or in effect enacts, the egoic agent, within an always pre-determined, or pattern-determined, and intrinsically limited field of options.
In any moment or circumstance or space-time context, the ego agent can only choose one of the given or pattern-evident options. No matter what choice or action the ego-"I" makes in any moment, it is always the pattern itself that continues. Whereas the ego-"I" itself is always and intrinsically mutable and threatened, and, at last, it is mortally terminated by the pattern itself (which is completely indifferent to the well-being or the survival of the ego-"I" agent)

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

>> "you might as well claim that it is road, streets and highways
>> which determine the destination of the driver of an
>> automobile"

> If the claim here is that neurons are to muscular contraction
> as roads are to destinations, then it's too simplistic to the
> point of being wildly off the mark. Motor neurons release
> acetylcholine molecules into the neuromuscular junction
> (the small space between the end of the neuron and the
> muscle cells), and those molecules are transported into
> the muscle cells, which immediately causes [..., etc].
> There is no causal relationship even remotely like this
> between a road and a destination.

What you say is true.

However, a destination is not necessarily merely some fixed location in space. And in the case of the driver of an automobile, a destination is where he intends on going.

So, you are correct in saying that there is no causal relationship even remotely like the one you mention between a road and the place a driver intends to get to.

Yet this is actually quite close to my point: the firing of neurons, and the entire physical goings on involved in those firings, say nothing about a person's intention when the successful completion of said intention involves the use of his muscles.

I detail all that to illustrate the following point: We have absolutely no control over these immediate electro-molecular interactions between "lower" motor neurons and muscle cells. So if we exert any control at all, it has to come from on top (the "upper" motor neurons in the brain which activate the "lower" motor neurons). And since we have just as much control over the electro-molecular interactions in the brain as we do over the electro-molecular interactions within the neuromuscular junctions and muscle cells (i.e., none), the immaterial mind needs to somehow guide the material processes in the brain to allow for free will.

If I want to touch my left shoulder with my right pinky, I simply make movements the outcome of which is that my right pinky is touching my left shoulder. Direct control over electro-molecular interactions in my brain, neuromuscular junctions or muscles cells is not needed in order to do that.

And even if one could trace in the minutest detail the amazingly complex and blindingly fast cascade of events (such as those described above), that collection of data would provide zero clues regarding the reason, intention or purpose behind my touching my left shoulder with my right pinky.

ccmnxc said...

Hi robert,

Is your choice random?

I would say no, though as others have stated, it seems to be a false dichotomy to set it up in terms of the only options being physical determinism and physical indeterminism.

Perhaps it would have been clearer if I said "in accordance with" instead of "determined by", since the laws of physics are descriptive, not prescriptive - falls into the same semantic trap.

This is more accurate, though I am not sure that this clarification ultimately helps you all that much. If the laws up physics simply describe the way things happen to act, why should I expect things to happen in a way that will ensure that my actions don't quickly bring about the end of my life? Or, for that matter, ensure that I can give assent to the truth (or falsity) of any proposition, including the one(s) you are putting forward.

Alan L. said...

@ Anonymous: No. Two problems – there are many patterns to choose from and all of the patterns are generated by our own minds, generated by the dynamics of our free will. We choose among our own choices, however colored by outside influences.

Scott said...

@John West:

"For example, imagine Bob has some set of values, V, and has to make some complex decision. If (say) God suddenly gives Bob perfect information and perfect rationality, Bob would almost certainly make make a very specific choice, and I think any person in the exact same circumstances as Bob with values V given perfect information and perfect rationality, would make the same choice Bob did."

I suspect that's true, and I even suspect that we don't need to introduce perfect information and perfect rationality in order to arrive at a similar result. However…

If you offer me a choice of two sandwiches, one of which I like and one of which I don't, I'm always going to choose the one I like. But that makes my choice predictable, not necessarily "deterministic" in the sense that the outcome occurs by natural necessity (even at the appropriately "mental" level).

If there's such a thing as nondeterministic causation (and I don't mean merely "probabilistic"), then it seems that my choice can be "contingent" in the relevant sense even though if I had it to do over again, I'd always do exactly the same thing—indeed, even if anyone else under precisely similar circumstances would also make the same choice.

John West said...

Scott,

As I'm not fully read in the free will debate's terminology, you may have to forgive me at parts specific to it (ie. see "determined" below).

If you offer me a choice of two sandwiches, one of which I like and one of which I don't, I'm always going to choose the one I like. But that makes my choice predictable, not necessarily "deterministic" in the sense that the outcome occurs by natural necessity (even at the appropriately "mental" level).

I introduced God giving perfect rationality and information into my (admittedly contrived) example to create a cause (God giving Bob perfect rationality and information) and effect (Bob making a specific choice as a result) relationship. Though it may be an irrelevant difference, I think it's a difference between my contrived example and your elegant example.

If there's such a thing as nondeterministic causation (and I don't mean merely "probabilistic"), then it seems that my choice can be "contingent" in the relevant sense even though if I had it to do over again.

I wonder if you can clarify the specific notion of “contingent” you're using here. Certainly, it's contingent in the sense that Bob could have been hit by a truck and never made any choice, or God could have chosen instead to leave Bob alone. But I'm trying to figure out what it means to say that on the supposition Bob has values V, is in the aforementioned circumstances, and God gives Bob perfect rationality and perfect information, it's possible Bob could choose differently.

To use possible worlds semantics, there is no possible world where the aforementioned suppositions (about values, circumstances, etc) obtain, and Bob does not make the same choice. In any case, IF you could unpack the statement for me I would appreciate it.

Though, now I wonder if I'm using a faulty definition of "determined". I'm taking determined to mean, “On the supposition that A happened, necessarily B happens.”

John West said...

"[...] [I'm suspecting] there is no possible world where the [..]"^

... Minus the accidentally capitalized "IF", which should read "if", too. How obnoxious.

Scott said...

@John West:

"I'm taking determined to mean, 'On the supposition that A happened, necessarily B happens.'"

So am I. Basically, what I'm suggesting is that not all causation involves such necessity, and in saying that some causation (of which volition may be an example) is "contingent" I mean that it lacks such necessity. In the present context I'm not using it in any uniquely Aristotelian or Thomistic way. Aquinas, I think, usually uses "contingent" to refer to beings that might not have existed, i.e., whose non-existence is possible. I'm using it to mean merely "non-necessitated."

My choice of which sandwich to have, I'm suggesting, is not strictly necessitated by my tastes and circumstances and is therefore, in that sense, "contingent." Nor would that fact, if it is one, be altered by God's endowing me with perfect rationality and information. In either case, there's a tolerably clear "first-look" sense in which my choice could have been different, even if it in fact never is, and even if I'd always make exactly the same choice if the scenario were rerun.

I don't think the unpacking of the notion of "contingency" is the important thing here. I think the key bit is reconsidering whether causation involves necessitation.

Getting Causes from Powers by Stephen Mumford and Rani Anjum, which I haven't yet read, has what looks like a very good chapter arguing that necessity is actually a more obscure notion than causation, and that in trying to explain causation in terms of necessity we are therefore "explaining" the better understood in terms of the worse.

I've come around to somewhat the same view. I cut my philosophical teeth some three-plus decades ago on Brand Blanshard, who argued forcefully (particularly in Reason and Analysis) that the relation between cause and effect was "necessary" in both directions: that not only do causes logically entail their effects, but effects also logically entail their causes. The idea that some causal powers could operate without necessitating their effects did not come easily to my mind (which, like yours if I recall correctly, was originally attracted by and trained in mathematics).

But I've come to think, over the last five or ten years, that the important idea in "causation" is that a cause in some way brings about its effect(s), not that it does so with any specific sort of modality. And it seems far more clear to me that I do exercise the power of choice/volition than that my exercise of that power is governed by "necessity" of any kind.

I feel all icky betraying Blanshard like that, but as we say on Earth, c'est la vie.

John West said...

Scott,

Aquinas, I think, usually uses "contingent" to refer to beings that might not have existed, i.e., whose non-existence is possible. I'm using it to mean merely "non-necessitated."

Right. The standard possibly true or possibly false, but not necessarily true or necessarily false. Okay. I thought maybe you were using it in some more case-specific sense. My mistake. Thank you.

like yours if I recall correctly, was originally attracted by and trained in mathematics

You recall correctly. It's where most of my time—when I'm not spending inordinate amounts of time reading and making comments here—still goes, too. I enjoy philosophy, and think it's important, but even my continued interest in philosophy is partly because of its role in foundations of mathematics.

What originally drew me to philosophy classes was an interest in modal logic.

The idea that some causal powers could operate without necessitating their effects did not come easily to my mind

Admittedly, I am uncomfortable with contingent causation. I'm comfortable with the notion of there being, for example, per accidens causation. But I'm uncomfortable with what specifically that might mean, or what such causation would look like.

You're right that—especially in this case—causation is a clearer notion than necessity. I'm going to have to think about that and get back to you.

Scott said...

@John West:

"Admittedly, I am uncomfortable with contingent causation."

Yeah, I know what you mean; it strikes my mind as weird too. But you know what's really weird? The idea of causation-as-necessitation traces back to Leibniz and Spinoza (that's not the weird part) and no farther (that's the weird part). The idea (assumption, really) that causation involves logical necessity seems to be a peculiarly modern notion, and it's very easy to question it once one is aware of it.

John West said...

Scott,

Are there any stock examples of contingent causation? Scotus's, maybe?

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous.

"Why does no one present a clear notion of what the WILL is."

I'm glad to see you referred to "will" rather than "free will." I don't know that it's a clear notion, but I'll give you my definition. Will is what a person does when he chooses the more difficult path. If I always follow the easy path, I suppose it could be argued my acts are determined by inputs. But that's not the way I've lived my life. And I doubt many others have lived that way. Libet's experiments don't impress me. As Feser notes, the choices were artificial, demanded by the experiment itself. There was no difficult path. So "will" was no part of that experiment.

I'm baffled by how some scientists deny will in the name of science. It's not a scientific claim. It would require a time machine to perform actual experiments on a subject. The claim is an inherently untestable.

I'm also baffled by the strict determinism required to deny the will. I necessitates the absurd claim that "Hamlet" was written in the Big Bang. It means Shakespeare was merely observing his hand make ink strokes on paper. It also means, as Jeremy Taylor points out, there is no evolutionary reason for the will. We are mere observers of blind fate. Physics would deny the wisdom of one of science's bedrock theories.

But I think a species does benefit from a real will. It starts with a will to survive which isn't always the easy path. See "Touching the Void" for example. But will has developed into much more than that in our species. We have a will to excel. Anyone who has tried to excel knows it's far easier to accept mediocrity. It's through will that we have Hamlet, Beethoven's Ninth and Michael Phelps. Nobody will ever be able to convince me excellence is determined.

Scott said...

I have nothing on tap but I'll check it out. In the meantime maybe someone else will have something.

Scott said...

(My reply was to John West. Don Jindra replied while I was composing my reply.)

AlK said...

Request of the Day:

Could you write a post on the definition of person? I was tossing an idea around in a chatroom about what would happen if you shot a fox (because why not) with a "mind gun", and we decided that it does count, but I've heard a dissenting opinion, namely that the fox is more than animal, but less than personal.

So what gives?

Anonymous said...

"Could you write a post on the definition of person? I was tossing an idea around in a chatroom about what would happen if you shot a fox (because why not) with a "mind gun", and we decided that it does count, but I've heard a dissenting opinion, namely that the fox is more than animal, but less than personal."

Whatever can legally represent itself is a 'persona'. In more philosophic words, whatever is capable of abstract thought is a person. For example, a child is by nature a person, but in fact it is not properly a person until some degree of rationality and conceptual capacity is obtained. Can a fox understand universal propositions? No. Then, it can't participate in any species of law in the mode of a person; neither positive, natural nor divine. Of course, the facts of positive law, to the extent that they deviate from the principles of natural and divine law, will always be arbitrary to some degree. So, it is possible and quite probable that some mode of foolishness be posited through the facts of mere human consensus i.e. ineptitude.

Curio said...

Anonymous from 4/23 12:55 (the neuroscience one) are you a nurse, physical therapist, or doctor?

That was a great and thorough walkthrough of muscle contraction. Usually when philosophers use the wiggling of the finger as an example, they jump straight from motor neurons to acetylcholine - forgetting the role of the protein troponin. Granted that Feser and other philosophers aren't interested in the details per se, its always nice to see it explained correctly and thoroughly.

Also, you're dead wrong about metaphysics and free will but I hope that, given your commitment to essentially ordered causal chains, you understand the necessity of an Unmoved Mover.

Curio said...

Or rather, they jump from acetylcholine release to electrical impulse to muscle contraction. It's late.

A nice resource:

http://meat.tamu.edu/ansc-307-honors/muscle-contraction/

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I must disagree with everything that's been stated so far, because this entire notion of "free will" is built upon an inherent flaw necessarily within reason; this correction alone is the present and future philosophical and logical reality and its law. Here it is, and learn to know this ever more deeply: from now on every single instance of "free will" demands decision, and every implementation responsibility. But every logical statement and legitimization itself moves within a certain relation to the current mental manifold of the logical system. Therefore, branding something "free will" is itself not a thing, thus nothing which is, and yet it remains constant in its implementation without being something concrete like the beings in time, and hence, we cannot legitimately label a judgment as "free," since "free will" as commonly understood, in the sense of the distance measured between two standards of opposing logic, is the negative collapse of a TIME calculation, which is in essence nothing. In spite of this, stubborn metaphysicians still are the house of the truth of unforgivable judgmental lapses. They should click their heels three times and go back to their mothers' basement.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

(This is an edited version of an earlier response (which had disappeared a few minutes after it was posted).)

"you might as well claim that it is road, streets and highways which determine the destination of the driver of an automobile"

If the claim here is that neurons are to muscular contraction as roads are to destinations, then it's too simplistic to the point of being wildly off the mark. Motor neurons release acetylcholine molecules into the neuromuscular junction (the small space between the end of the neuron and the muscle cells), and those molecules are transported into the muscle cells, which immediately causes [..., etc]. There is no causal relationship even remotely like this between a road and a destination.


Perhaps you were thinking of the driver's destination as a fixed location in space-time. I was thinking of the "destination of the driver" as an object of the driver's intention. Just as there is no causal relationship even remotely like the one you describe between a road and a destination as a fixed location in space-time, so too is said causal relationship lacking between muscle contractions and a destination as an object of the driver's intention.

I detail all that to illustrate the following point: We have absolutely no control over these immediate electro-molecular interactions between "lower" motor neurons and muscle cells. So if we exert any control at all, it has to come from on top (the "upper" motor neurons in the brain which activate the "lower" motor neurons). And since we have just as much control over the electro-molecular interactions in the brain as we do over the electro-molecular interactions within the neuromuscular junctions and muscle cells (i.e., none), the immaterial mind needs to somehow guide the material processes in the brain to allow for free will.

To touch my left shoulder with my right hand, I make movements the outcome of which is that my right hand is touching my left shoulder. Direct control over electro-molecular interactions in my brain, neuromuscular junctions or muscles cells is not needed in order to do that.

Anonymous said...

"I'm afraid I must disagree with everything that's been stated so far, because this entire notion of "free will" is built upon an inherent flaw necessarily within reason; this correction alone is the present and future philosophical and logical reality and its law. Here it is, and learn to know this ever more deeply: from now on every single instance of "free will" demands decision, and every implementation responsibility. But every logical statement and legitimization itself moves within a certain relation to the current mental manifold of the logical system. Therefore, branding something "free will" is itself not a thing, thus nothing which is, and yet it remains constant in its implementation without being something concrete like the beings in time, and hence, we cannot legitimately label a judgment as "free," since "free will" as commonly understood, in the sense of the distance measured between two standards of opposing logic, is the negative collapse of a TIME calculation, which is in essence nothing. In spite of this, stubborn metaphysicians still are the house of the truth of unforgivable judgmental lapses. They should click their heels three times and go back to their mothers' basement."

I wouldn't rest my whole case on those concrete 'beings in time'. Are they really 'concrete'? I can't think of singular entity which is not sheathed in hordes of abstraction. The extent to which I objectify the abstract Idea and all of its modes corresponds to the degree to which I am free. The less so do I objectify the Good, the more so do I experience privation and a lack of transcendence. But, even now I am transcending myself and the world of concrete beings as well.

Brandon said...

Anonymous April 23, 2015 at 12:55 PM:

One obvious problem with the argument you give is that it proves too much: since it is structurally about control rather than free will per se, it would establish that living things exercise no control over themselves in any way, free will or not. This is not a sustainable claim in light of the evidence of ordinary animal behavior, much less human behavior like scientific inquiry in neuroscience, for which there is no available coherent account that does not presume that we have control over ourselves (whether it is due to free will or not). The basic argument-form is an old one -- it is used by Malebranche in the eighteenth century when they thought the whole process was purely hydraulic, and does not structurally depend on any actual neuroscientific facts, as long as there are such facts and they meet certain minimal requirements -- and the problem with arguments of this form has always remained the same, that they seem to assume a defective account of causation.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Feser and all
This may be off topic, but I have read your post on qualia and how this is a hard problem for materialist. I understand why it is, but there is one thing troubling me a bit. If two people are both for example in freezing cold water, and say they both feel pain, could it be argued that their experience in the water is the same and they both know the experience of the other?
Thank you in advance.

Anonymous said...

"I'm afraid I must disagree with everything that's been stated so far, because this entire notion of "free will" is built upon an inherent flaw necessarily within reason; this correction alone is the present and future philosophical and logical reality and its law. Here it is, and learn to know this ever more deeply: from now on every single instance of "free will" demands decision, and every implementation responsibility. But every logical statement and legitimization itself moves within a certain relation to the current mental manifold of the logical system. Therefore, branding something "free will" is itself not a thing, thus nothing which is, and yet it remains constant in its implementation without being something concrete like the beings in time, and hence, we cannot legitimately label a judgment as "free," since "free will" as commonly understood, in the sense of the distance measured between two standards of opposing logic, is the negative collapse of a TIME calculation, which is in essence nothing. In spite of this, stubborn metaphysicians still are the house of the truth of unforgivable judgmental lapses. They should click their heels three times and go back to their mothers' basement."


?

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous,

"every logical statement and legitimization itself moves within a certain relation to the current mental manifold of the logical system"

Here's a perfectly logical statement: The cat is white.

Here's an illogical statement: The cat is not a cat.

I'm not sure what a legitimization is supposed to refer to, except perhaps as a judgment grounded in a logical entailment as being necessary.

But where's the "necessary flaw" in the first statement? What exactly is "moving" or what is moved? The judgment itself is single and one. How many judgments is someone making when they judge the cat to be white? Judgments can build on each other, sure, but they are in themselves single and one.

Going further, we can infer from
"The cat is white" to
"If it is not white, then it's not the cat"

How is that a "movement"? It only appears to be a movement in time. The reality is simultaneous.

And what the heck exactly is the mental manifold of a logical system anyway?

You say that free will "demands decision"; but it's free will that makes being indecisive perfectly possible. Is indecision physically forced on people from without or by some bio-mechanism in the brain? How or by what means? That truly would be remarkable: if true, we are quite wrong for, e.g., getting frustrated with people for being indecisive and demanding they make a decision. It wouldn't even be in their power to do so. Someone's being unsure of what to do doesn't destroy their ability to choose to do something or take a stance on something. Indeed, you can freely and happily choose to refrain from judgment if you wish. This is why we can actually assign blame to people for failing or refusing to make a decision in certain cases, especially when it was their responsibility to do so. This is especially evident in the military where often it's better to make even a wrong decision then do nothing, as the latter is tantamount to abandoning one's post. But this only makes sense if and when a person has a choice; absent that, there is no responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

[...]and hence, we cannot legitimately label a judgment as "free," since "free will" as commonly understood, in the sense of the distance measured between two standards of opposing logic, is the negative collapse of a TIME calculation, which is in essence nothing. In spite of this, stubborn metaphysicians still are the house of the truth of unforgivable judgmental lapses. They should click their heels three times and go back to their mothers' (sic) basement.

Albeit a tortorously descriptive and odd way of looking at the consquent, going to a chapel is an easy choice rather than wanting to press a button for relinquishnment of such (Pavlovian?) language.

Ismael said...

@ Anon

" from now on every single instance of "free will" demands decision, and every implementation responsibility."

Nope. This is not correct.

Defenders of free will do not (necessariloy) support the idea that EVERYTHING we do is a result of a conscious decision.


For the rest, what you are saying, is utterly incoherent.

You ought to prove that beings in time and free will are something incompatible (unless someone accepts deterministic materialism), which you do not.

Daniel D. D. said...

Can someone reply to this for me please?

"
josh

There is no C. A causes B.

You misunderstand. 'C' is the thing you claimed to be adding, whatever it was. In this case C='A causes B', added to 'A, then B'. The question is, how does this explain A then B. Possibly, you just mean 'every time A happens, then B', which would be consistent with what I already said. (And would be a theory, subject to revision or rejection.) But I think you want it to do more, without really understanding what you want. If 'A causes B' is just your way of saying, "I think every time A happens B happens" then you are going to have to be very careful about how you talk of causes from now on.
A thing's form is just what it is.

Except when it isn't. Like a brick of clay has the form of a brick but matter of clay, so is matter different than form or merely a subdivision of some type? Similarly for final and efficient causes. Or a worn brick is a brick but half a brick isn't, or a dying cat is but a dead cat isn't, and Schrodinger's cat is somewhere in between. 'It is what it is' is rather unenlightening. Does form make things what they are, as though they could be something else? Or is it a definition, which may or may not apply to the real world? You say form is just in the thing, but according to Aristotle it has to be also in your mind, whic h is not the thing.
A cat, for example, is actually black, soft, playful, etc. Those things are its formal cause.

According to the Aristotelians, those are accidents of the Cat since we can imagine something we'd call a cat without them, and thus not the form of 'catness'.
When you think of the universal "c at," you are thinking of that aspect which all individual cats have in common.

When I think of the universal cat, I am thinking of an abstract category of convenience into which I place subcategories. What all cats have in common is that I call them cats. It's an unjustified assumption that they all have a single feature in common other than that. Rather, each cat is close enough to the next one for my purposes when I use the universal. But this can break down, as when I consider the history of evolution: what was a convenient universal is now unsuitable for some questions.
The problem here isn't that Aristotle's concept of form is hard to explain, but that it is facile while harboring massive problems. I'm not telling you that every aspect of it has to be jettisoned, because the idea that things have arrangements, or definitions, isn't wrong, or unique to Aristotle. However, you need to quit trying to fit everything back into his inadequate frameworK"

Where is the best explanation of formal cause, made specifically for moderns, that you have ever found?

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Here is the context of the message:

http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/2015/03/estranged-notions-why-something-rather.html#comment-1990670929

(I'm Lucretius, btw).

John West said...

Daniel D. D.,

I recall reading their fallacy of composition "refutation" from a link in the Interview with a Metaphysician thread a while ago.

I haven't read the whole comment section in your link (I got as far as the brain-in-a-vat guy, who someone should introduce to Putnam), but when defending Leibnizian type arguments I often encounter the claim that the PSR premise is somehow inductively reasoned, or reasoned by composition. The whole notion of reasoning from universal generalizations -- from Principles -- seems foreign to many modern minds. We're used to it in mathematics, but even there it's typically ignored in the standard curriculum until university. The result is that some people aren't even reading the argument correctly.

John West said...

(... Also, I realize that doesn't answer your question.)

Daniel D. D. said...

I have found while being on that specific blog that they DON'T understand a general statement at all. They can't reflect deeply on their views to reach their logical conclusions. I can see where Neiztche got is "English flatheads" insult from.

Or to use a Chesterton paraphrase, to think generally about everything causes a man to think about religion, and we can't have that can we...

As you can see, this is the first time I encountered a Gnu atheist on the Internet. I know atheists, and they are much more reflective then many (not all) I have found on that blog.

I posted something about the Authorship of GMatthew and GJohn, and it all went down from there (I'm the only theist for miles probably). I feel like a polymath, as I have been arguing about many different topics.

Anyway, I'm trying to explain formal cause and final cause. The problem is that they seem to think of them as some sort of mechanism, or as some sort of occult force. I think the biggest problem is that they reject "nothing comes from nothing" in order to reject act/potential. If they reject "nothing comes from nothing," is it just not worth conversing with them anymore?

Thank you for the semi-random fact though :-)

Christi pax.

Greg said...

@ Daniel D.

Where is the best explanation of formal cause, made specifically for moderns, that you have ever found?

Take a look at James Ross's Thought and World. I think it will help situate formal cause in its explanatory context. It also paints the distinction between the formal cause of a thing and sensible/intelligible forms, with which your interlocutor is somehow apparently confused.

David Oderberg's Real Essentialism is also helpful and can give you an idea of how form specifies and grounds the essence of a thing.

I don't think either of these books provide you with go-to remarks for combating gnu atheists. But I think it's worth investigating them just to acquire facility with the concepts.

Discussions like those can become really tiresome; somehow, it seems that every internet atheist has the same tone and haughtiness, "Like a brick of clay has the form of a brick but matter of clay, so is matter different than form or merely a subdivision of some type?" This shows no recognition of the sorts of distinctions that have always been drawn about cases like these (i.e. substantial and accidental form, proximate and prime matter, what have you). Then there's the assertion that by 'A causes B' you must really be assuming a Humean account of causation.

I would recommend tackling a handful of good philosophy texts before you spend time debating people online. Most people simply don't know what they're talking about.

Greg said...

@ John West

I haven't read the whole comment section in your link (I got as far as the brain-in-a-vat guy, who someone should introduce to Putnam), but when defending Leibnizian type arguments I often encounter the claim that the PSR premise is somehow inductively reasoned, or reasoned by composition. The whole notion of reasoning from universal generalizations -- from Principles -- seems foreign to many modern minds.

There's that. But I think there's another reason why people claim the PSR is warranted by induction or composition. Because: They recognize that they must reject it if they are to reject cosmological arguments, and they are told that cosmological arguments can be accused of the fallacy of composition or can be combatted with Humean skepticism. So then they try to fit your argument to their favorite atheist's refutation.

The philosopher's approach is to toy with opposing arguments and see how they could be reformulated to pose a greater threat, testing out a variety of repairs/readings to see what yields the most plausible argument. Gnu atheists generally don't do this; where a defender of a cosmological argument might have a number of options, they often consider just one, and write as though by arguing against that, they refute the argument generally.

Then, also, many gnu atheists are just positivists. If science gives them iPhones and quantum mechanics, then they will reject any metaphysical principle. But to someone with less extreme inclinations, who is concerned with the why of science rather than just the that, the PSR is an eminently plausible and attractive principle.

robert said...

@Scott,

Perhaps it is not satisfactory, but I have a hunch that it will prove much more correct than not, since there is actually nothing else on the table to compete with it.

You ask:

What is the physical difference between, say, the valid argument "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal," and the invalid argument "All men are mortal; Socrates is mortal; therefore Socrates is a man"? How is the difference in validity to be explained in purely physical terms?

Couldn't say bio-chemically, but a computer can be programmed to correctly distinguish between them - so are you saying that a computer is not purely physical?

And how is your judgment about the validity (or otherwise) of the two arguments to be explicated in terms of physical law and nothing else?

Set theory (the physical basis of mathmatics), serves for this example.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Greg

"Then, also, many gnu atheists are just positivists. If science gives them iPhones and quantum mechanics, then they will reject any metaphysical principle. But to someone with less extreme inclinations, who is concerned with the why of science rather than just the that, the PSR is an eminently plausible and attractive principle."

And there is the problem. Chesterton wrote that the problem with skeptics is that they aren't skeptical enough. I have ran into the same problem with many users there: I tell them that Humean ideas don't explain why A follows B "always or for the most part," and that A following B over and over again, in a Humesn view, is either really, really good luck, or magic. Yet, they say: "I doesn't matter." They are just interested that patterns and repeatability exist, not why they do. This is similar to their rejection of act/potential: they don't ask what change is in itself. They are just happy to accept change without defining it (and then they reject nothing comes from nothing to continue blindly accepting change).

They don't doubt change, they don't doubt how science actually works if there are no causes, and so on.

Who said that in the early modern times, the priest was a rationalist, always looking for an explanation, while the scientist was a fideist, willing to accept aspects of world on blind faith?

Thank you for the recommendations!

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Here's a better reply, one that I myself have questions about:

"The nuclear force in the atoms of my body is a per se cause of my body. If those nuclear forces dissipated, I would no longer exist..."

That doesn't advance the argument because that nuclear force in turn has no per-se cause, only the per-accidens cause of the formation of those atoms in stellar cores or the Big Bang.

Another of those facts of which Aristotle and the Scholastics were ignorant is the concept of conservation laws - which imply that things generally do not need to be actively maintained in being but rather that change is the result of some process. The incorrect view of physical inertia leads to an equally incorrect view of ontological inertia.

Causality does necessarily relate to time, as we see from relativity; events with spacelike separation do not interact, and cannot have cause/effect relationships.
Aristotle (assuming we resurrected him and taught him p hysics) would probably have been fine with the idea of the Big Bang (or whatever cause we find behind that) as being a prime mover, but obviously Aquinas and his modern followers wouldn't have any truck with that - it's not enough for them to have a prime mover that no longer exists, they want one that exists now - and that's not a conclusion you can reach from a concept of causal sequences which is consistent with physics.

"When did the existence of mechanisms explain how an organism could be a whole?"

There is no concept of "whole" in the laws by which the universe operates; "wholes" are features of the map, not the territory.

An organism has a boundary that is clearly visible on the map because it has mechanisms that create and maintain that boundary.

"When did cause get limited to mechanism? A organism is NOT a machine."

This is what I mean about ignorance of developmental biology - there is nothing about an "organism" which is not the result of the processes it engages in, which are notqualitatively different from any other physical or chemical process.

"An organism is a whole that IS greater than the sum of its parts."

An organism, like everything else, is the sum of its parts and the interactions between the parts. There is nothing else.

"If this is not true, than consciousness is impossible, as it is by its very nature wholistic,"

There is no reason to believe that consciousness is impossible given a physical system of sufficient capacity and appropriate structure. I pointed out previously that we already know that much of what we believe to be "caused" by consciousness is not so - that the conscious awareness of deciding on an action does not precede the associated physical changes in the brain but rather follows them.

"The problem is when people go around and say "formal and final causes
don't exist, because science doesn't deal with them," as modern science
deliberately ignores them."

Science doesn't so much ignore them as fail to discover any place for them to fit within the laws of nature.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

"That doesn't advance the argument because that nuclear force in turn has no per-se cause, only the per-accidens cause of the formation of those atoms in stellar cores or the Big Bang."

How would a Thomist respond to this? Or would my example just be flawed? He wants to reduce per se into per accident.

"Another of those facts of which Aristotle and the Scholastics were ignorant is the concept of conservation laws - which imply that things generally do not need to be actively maintained in being but rather that change is the result of some process. The incorrect view of physical inertia leads to an equally incorrect view of ontological inertia."

Isn't the whole point of prime matter is that it is conserved through change? Further, he seems to be using Newton's First Law to poke holes into Aristotle.

"Causality does necessarily relate to time, as we see from relativity; events with spacelike separation do not interact, and cannot have cause/effect relationships."

He seems to be using a Humean definition of causality. My question is this: causality is explaining change, so wouldn't causality have to be temporal?

Causality for Aristotelians is thing-based, rather than event-based, so would that mean casualty doesn't necessarily require time?

"Aristotle (assuming we resurrected him and taught him p hysics) would probably have been fine with the idea of the Big Bang (or whatever cause we find behind that) as being a prime mover, but obviously Aquinas and his modern followers wouldn't have any truck with that - it's not enough for them to have a prime mover that no longer exists, they want one that exists now - and that's not a conclusion you can reach from a concept of causal sequences which is consistent with physics."

He doesn't understand that the Big Bang is not the first cause, as it is not pure act. It is not even a thing, but an event. Didn't Aristotle himself think that not all events had a cause, but that all things do?

"There is no concept of "whole" in the laws by which the universe operates; "wholes" are features of the map, not the territory.
An organism has a boundary that is clearly visible on the map because it has mechanisms that create and maintain that boundary.
This is what I mean about ignorance of developmental biology - there is nothing about an "organism" which is not the result of the processes it engages in, which are notqualitatively different from any other physical or chemical process."

He's arguing that biological life forms are just accidental forms. I know that common sense contradicts him, but how would one go about to better explain this to him? What makes a life form substantial rather than accidental?

Daniel D. D. said...

"An organism, like everything else, is the sum of its parts and the interactions between the parts. There is nothing else."

That "interactions" line seems like he's smuggling formal cause in through the back door. I wonder how he explains emergent properties?

"There is no reason to believe that consciousness is impossible given a physical system of sufficient capacity and appropriate structure."

"Appropriate structure" also sounds like another formal cause without being called formal cause. "Sufficient capacity" seems too vague, but he might be referring to another, more in depth article.

"I pointed out previously that we already know that much of what we believe to be "caused" by consciousness is not so - that the conscious awareness of deciding on an action does not precede the associated physical changes in the brain but rather follows them."

I don't really care about the free will debate in this conversation. However, I pointed out to him that basically consciousness is qualitative, so quantitative science can't study it. He likes to deny quality, yet always seems to bring it back without calling it such.

"Science doesn't so much ignore them as fail to discover any place for them to fit within the laws of nature."

This is because the method of science is in fact designed to search for the quantitative properties of material bodies. Since the qualitative formal and final cause can't be metricized, modern science wouldn't find them at all.

This person (Andrew G. is the owner of Outside the Sun: Estranged Notions) seems to think he dismissed Dr. Feser's arguments, but he doesn't even seem remotely familiar with them.

Christi pax.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

"That doesn't advance the argument because that nuclear force in turn has no per-se cause, only the per-accidens cause of the formation of those atoms in stellar cores or the Big Bang."

How would a Thomist respond to this? Or would my example just be flawed? He wants to reduce per se into per accident.


Well, there are a couple ways to respond. The Thomist argues that per accidens causes are actually reducible to per se causes; to say that events occurring during the Big Bang are the per accidens cause of atoms presently existing is to be committed to changes to those atoms during the Big Bang, as well as various changes between then and now.

Then the other area you could press is the claim that there is no per se cause of nuclear forces. I imagine the intuition behind that claim is that nuclear forces are one of the basic forces posited by our present physics; but it does not follow that they are therefore brute (lacking any intelligibility or cause). If you have reason to believe the PSR on independent grounds, then you have reason to believe that nuclear forces have per se causes, for otherwise they would lack present explanation. (And since causes per accidens are parasitic upon causes per se, reference to, for example, how those atoms formed, is no response.)

John West said...

Robert,

Set theory (the physical basis of mathmatics), serves for this example.

Why do you think set theory is a physical basis for mathematics? Set theory is usually considered at least implicitly Platonic.

This was a big problem when David Lewis wrote Parts of Classes, back when most nominalists were falling back heavily on mereological calculus to try and “replace” set theory:

I am moved to laughter at the thought of how presumptuous it would be to reject mathematics for philosophical reasons. How would you like the job of telling the mathematicians that they must change their ways, and abjure countless errors, now that philosophy has discovered that there are no classes? Can you tell them, with a straight face, to follow philosophical argument wherever it may lead? If they challenge your credentials, will you boast of philosophy's other great discoveries: that motion is impossible, [...] that it is unthinkable that anything exists outside the mind, that time is unreal, that no theory has ever been made at all probable by evidence (but on the other hand that an ideal theory cannot possibly be false), that it is a wide-open scientific question whether anyone has ever believed anything, and so on, and on, ad nauseam? (David Lewis. Parts of Classes)

Lewis derived ZF from mereological axioms in response, which is in my view a huge blow to Platonism if it works out. Since Lewis remained a realist about free standing, abstract mathematical objects, I'm unsure it does. I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of his book.

[1]Honorable mentions of attempts to ground set theory in nominalism go to John Stuart Mill, who Frege soundly refuted, and Penelope Maddy in her suggestion of a physico-mathematical monist version of her early works' realism (never seriously refuted, I think).

John West said...

edit: "[p]latonism"^

John West said...

Daniel D. D.,

Causality for Aristotelians is thing-based, rather than event-based, so would that mean casualty doesn't necessarily require time?

For Aristotelian-Thomists, time is a measure change and not the reverse.

Alan L. said...

@robert: The absence of an answer you accept should not make a wrong answer any more acceptable. Theories are not ‘physical laws’, and set theory is not about a physical anything.

Alan L. said...

@Daniel
"An organism, like everything else, is the sum of its parts and the interactions between the parts”
Consider ‘interactions’ the key here. Atoms forming in the sun, molecules forming in chemical reactions are not arbitrary, but of very specific form. They are effectively self-ordering. The specific final order may depend upon the conditions, but still discrete and self-ordered. A watch, in contrast, is ordered by an outside agent. You cannot, for example bond a hydrogen and oxygen atom to a hydrogen atom. Brought together at the right temperature and preasure, they will self-form, both hydrogen bonding to the oxygen. This combination will now take on the properties of water, and abandon the properties of both hydrogen and oxygen. The properties of the brass in the watch do not change when combined into a watch.

Alan L. said...

@ Daniel: See also
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

John West said...

So, if I throw a ball, striking a vase, does this reflect per accidens causation or per se causation?

John West said...

Greg,

The Thomist argues that per accidens causes are actually reducible to per se causes; to say that events occurring during the Big Bang are the per accidens cause of atoms presently existing is to be committed to changes to those atoms during the Big Bang, as well as various changes between then and now.

I accept the second argument from the PSR. But without appealing to the PSR, why accept that per accidens causes are reducible to per se causes?

John West said...

Scott,

I'm not sure what philosophy of modality Thomists defend (I'm used to appealing to possible worlds language to talk about contingency). But I suppose what's being claimed by contingent causation is that if the sandwich situation could somehow be repeated a hundred times, A would sometimes not cause B.

Maybe one of the reasons it seems hard to come up with contingent causation examples is that this isn't how we experience the world. You either choose the sandwich you like, or you don't. That does not, however, mean you had to choose the sandwich you like.

Daniel D. D. said...

I wrote this:

"Act is the principle of being, while potential is the principle of
becoming. To say that they are not distinguishable is to say that change
doesn't exist or things don't exist, both in which common sense
rejects."

And he responded:

"It seems you repeat rote phrases when you don't understand the question being asked. Please don't reply to this unless you can demonstrate that you understand the point I am making: Either a thing has potential or it doesn't. If it does, then that potential is part of how it be, i.e. it is a part of act. If this con fuses you on change, that's too bad, you'll have to go back to the drawing board. You might note that it was once common sense that the Earth was stationary and time absolute."

How would you respond to this?

Christi pax.

John West said...

Daniel D.,

Either a thing has potential or it doesn't. If it does, then that potential is part of how it be, i.e. it is a part of act.

For the Thomist, change isn't a transition from non-being to being, but a transition from one kind of being, being-in-potency, to another kind of being, being-in-act.

Potency has being in virtue of inhering in a substance.

John West said...

I second Greg's recommendations. I'm not saying arguing with these people is unimportant. I'm saying it's unimportant right now. What's important right now is to hit the books like a good scholastic.

Daniel D. D. said...

@John West

Honestly, responding to them is a secondary reason (I ignore half of the comments: they are just rude assertion and insults). My primary reason, which is why I posted here in the first place, is to actually find a clearer way of explaining the concept. As a result, I got some book recommendatios, and more importantly, some general advise which will help me find a more detailed answer on my own.

Christi pax.

robert said...

@ John West

Why do you think set theory is a physical basis for mathematics? Set theory is usually considered at least implicitly Platonic.

I remember a tune from when I was young.

"One of these things is not like the other"...

The physical basis (the territory) from which, in this case, Set Theory (the map) is derived.

robert said...

@ Alan L.

The absence of an answer you accept should not make a wrong answer any more acceptable.

True, and?

Theories are not ‘physical laws’, and set theory is not about a physical anything.

Set Theory (map) is derived from physical reality (territory).

Daniel said...

@John West,

An aside on Benacerraf's Problem. Admittedly I'm ignorant of a lot of the literature involved but it strikes me there's a hangover from Quinean Nominalism at work which leads people to think of Platonic mathematicals as Particular entities - the Platonist will of course insist on the reality of uninstantiated universals but can, as Loux stresses, point to instantiated ones as the initial source of our knowledge. The strangeness of Abstract Objects relating to the spatio-temporal world dissolves on such an account.

@Daniel D,

As to how to respond to this fellow my advice is: don't bother. There's nothing to be gained from the whole affair - the so called 'objections' amount either to blanket denials (if one claims without any reason that the nuclear force has no per see cause then might as well just do so with the universe right out) or incoherant muddles of physics and metaphysics. Of course you know this.

(Causality for Aristotelians is thing-based, rather than event-based, so would that mean casualty doesn't necessarily require time?

Indeed it is. One of the most disasters tenants in modern philosophy has been to think of causality as between events rather than between substances, a problem exacerbated by the stubborn tendency of those otherwise friendly to Agent Causation to countenance it solely in terms of Subjects. This point cannot be stressed enough, particularly as many modern natural theologians accept this dubious account too. A quick introductory account of this can be found on pages 206 to 2016 of E.J. Lowe's A Survey of Metaphysics, which as far as I know is still available free online in PDF format.

Having spent a week flicking through old debate transcripts and book summaries I conclude Atheism is even less intellectually respectable than I thought. The atheistic arguments your blogger gives are atrociously bad but only differ in degree as opposed to kind from those put forward by professional atheist philosophers of religion. See for instance Oppy's sub-atomic particles with the property of randomly coming into existence from nothing at a certain time or Smith's infinite causal regress within the structure of basic particles. The vast majority of the rest of it comes down to that great emotive harrumph we call the Problem of Evil.

I found this exchange on the POE almost perfectly encapsulates the bathos and appeals to emotion its proponents descend to. Smith's mentions of 'Bambi deer' and 'creation as egotistical' in his debate with WLC are another good example.)

In the end I think the only coherent positive atheist strategy is to argue that the universe itself exists of (Broadly) Logical Necessity, an idea most people would balk at. Perhaps we can get an atheist arguing that Leibniz was right that this is in fact the best of all possible worlds and thus exists necessarily a la the Modal Ontological Argument (even this highly suspect line of argument might not help them since if possible a ‘world’ which includes the God of Classical Theism is better than one which does not).

grodrigues said...

@Daniel D. D.:

'"Another of those facts of which Aristotle and the Scholastics were ignorant is the concept of conservation laws - which imply that things generally do not need to be actively maintained in being but rather that change is the result of some process. The incorrect view of physical inertia leads to an equally incorrect view of ontological inertia."

Isn't the whole point of prime matter is that it is conserved through change? Further, he seems to be using Newton's First Law to poke holes into Aristotle.'

Take a typical situation where two electrons exchange a photon; a Feynman diagram would be better, but schematically represent this by:

e + e -> e + e

What the conservation law of energy says is that the total energy of the system in the left hand side is equal to the right hand side. That is all -- an equality of two *numbers*. There is *NO* route from that to "things generally do not need to be actively maintained in being but rather that change is the result of some process" -- the latter is simply (bad) metaphysics with, since the interlocutor seems to abominate it, a thin veneer of physics on top to give it an air of scientific respectability.

I am not going to go through the rest (although on a quick perusal there are some egregious howlers), but a good rule of thumb is that, when it comes to the Gnu's, their grasp of physics, and of the modern empirical Sciences in general, is poor and shallow. They profess their undying love for the Lady, but abuse it like a strumpet to satisfy their vanities.

Ismael said...

""Another of those facts of which Aristotle and the Scholastics were ignorant is the concept of conservation laws - which imply that things generally do not need to be actively maintained in being but rather that change is the result of some process. The incorrect view of physical inertia leads to an equally incorrect view of ontological inertia.""

Conservation laws state that in the INTERACTIONS we observe there is conservation of properties (mass/energy, charge, momentum, etc...).

HOWEVER, the observed fact that things are conserved, i.e. they possess a SYMMETRY, is not really explained... it's an observation.

Now if we discovered a process where some properties were not conserved (fundamentally at least), it would be a big problem for physics.

The "conservation laws" are not in themselves an explaination, but rather an empirical observation...

Now this observation seems to apply universally, for now at least.

Hence the "conservation law" is very much like the "laws of thermodynamics" which are also based on observation (rather than explaination) and also seem to be universal.

---

Now the "conservation laws" are explained by Noether's theorem, i.e. that "each conservation derves from a Fundamental Symmetry in the underlying physics".

Still even if we explain conservation through symmetry, the problem of "existential inertia" is still there.

There are several Thomists (eg W. Smith) who have elaborated on the relation between metaphysics and contemporary theoretical physics.

Moreover one might wonder if the symmetries are just something we use to justify what we observe (for now) or if they are truly fundamental, but that's a whole other debate of course...

In any case to me Thomism seems strenghtened by modern science, rather than weakened.

John West said...

Daniel,

The strangeness of Abstract Objects relating to the spatio-temporal world dissolves on such an account.

Right. Traditional Platonism solves a lot of problems.

At least not all Quinean "platonists" in philosophy of mathematics make this mistake. The structuralist Michael Resnik, for example, also makes a point like this and uses it as part of his response to Benacerraf's epistemic problem. Actually, I wish authors like Resnik received more press, instead of always authors like Balaguer (who comes up a lot nowadays for some reason -- he has one or two cool ideas, but I don't find his work that impressive). But anyway, having read quite a bit of the literature and seen Benacerraf's epistemological problem solved at least five different ways, I'm nowadays of the mind that many nominalists beating their chest about it are unread, or desperate.

John West said...

Bob,

The physical basis (the territory) from which, in this case, Set Theory (the map) is derived.

Give you were originally replying to Scott's "And how is your judgment about the validity (or otherwise) of the two arguments to be explicated in terms of physical law and nothing else?"

Either you're proposing fictionalism, which doesn't give you the grounding you need to answer Scott (ie. on fictionalism, set theoretic statements are not, ultimately, true), or its just naive Millianism.

That said, if you have some other philosophy of mathematics you've developed or found, then I would genuinely love to hear it. But you'll actually have argue for it.

John West said...

Daniel,

See for instance Oppy's sub-atomic particles with the property of randomly coming into existence from nothing at a certain time.

I wouldn't say it's random (indeterminate, especially given large enough numbers, maybe), but I suspect he gets this from what some interpretations of QM say. I think a distinction between random and indeterminate would help out a lot of authors making (I suspect) philosophical claims on the back of QM.

I like some of Oppy's work (I finally found time to start reading his book on infinites yesterday). But neither he, nor other atheist philosophers of religion, really even try to interact with classical theism. It's a shame, because I would like to hear what some of them have to say about it.

Cantus said...

@Anonymous (10:29) -

I share your confusion. I don't know if this is guy is the same as the Hindu mystic who occasionally posts comments here (who had a comment earlier on in this thread, in fact), but he sure looks like him. If so, then you needn't be surprised that he uses very long and torturous sentences (he does that all the time). Perhaps there's an idea in there to untangle, but I sure can't see it.

robert said...

@ John West

Give you were originally replying to Scott's "And how is your judgment about the validity (or otherwise) of the two arguments to be explicated in terms of physical law and nothing else?"

My answer was adequate to reply to Scott's question.

The validity, or otherwise of the two arguments Scott presented are determined by the use of Set Theory. Set Theory is, itself, derived from physical reality - physical reality is, in turn, described by physical law.

That said, I thought the discussion was actually about will and the wholly physical causes that determine it.

John West said...

Bob,

So is it true that the argument is valid? Oh, never mind.

And how is your judgment about the validity (or otherwise) of the two arguments to be explicated in terms of physical law and nothing else?

No, I'm guessing when Scott wrote the above quote he was referencing Edward Feser's indeterminacy argument for the immateriality of the mind. If I'm right, your move from logic to set theory doesn't really help you out any.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Cantus

It's hard to tell the difference between mysticism and insanity sometimes. Here's an example of insanity:

www.timecube.com

I don't much about Anon though. I say it this out of concern: If he is schizophrenic, you all should not provoke him or play around with him, as it will just make things worse. Again, though, I don't know much about Anon.

Christi pax.

John West said...

Though, I have to say, I'd be far more hesitant to simply abandon first-order predicate logic. Multi-variable predicate logics, fine. They're set theory in drag. But first-order logic?

John West said...

Come to think of it, I'm not even sure physical laws are physical.

Alan L. said...

@robert: No. In set theory, a map is a grouping of related concepts, as a set of rational numbers. There is no relation to territory or anything physical.
There is no physical basis for mathematics, set theory is a branch of mathematics, not a basis for it.

True, and? … ‘since there is actually nothing else on the table to compete with it.’ Does not justify embracing an idea that is not satisfactory.

John West said...

Alan L.,

[S]et theory is a branch of mathematics, not a basis for it.

Well, I think many people working in foundations of mathematics, the branch of mathematics of which set theory is a part, would disagree.

I agree that there's no physical basis for set theory, despite mathematics' indispensability to our best scientific theories, but I think you're wasting your time trying to argue with Robert on this point. He seems to assume physicalism and then make bald, forceful assertions.

John West said...

... If my reading of Scott is correct, the shift to set theory also completely misses Scott's point.

John West said...

My guess is he was getting at something along these lines. I was just interested in where the idea that set theory is a “physical basis for mathematics” came from. But for my part, I'll let the thread resume its natural course now.

Scott said...

Sorry, I've been busy for the last several days. John West is right that I had in mind Ross's and Feser's arguments about the indeterminacy of the physical. Those arguments are closely related to the "argument from reason," which I also had in mind.

What I was most fundamentally asking Robert was how, if our mental processes (including both valid and invalid arguments) are determined solely by the operation of purely physical laws, we can have any reason to trust those very processes to tell us whether any argument is valid or invalid.

John West said...

Daniel,

Sorry. I should probably have written: At least not all [non-traditional] "platonists" in philosophy of mathematics make this mistake.

Alan L. said...

@ John West: True, I should have stopped with: There is no physical basis for mathematics, to include set theory.

Anonymous said...

Who is the mereologicl nihilist in here?

Such a notion is entirely dependent upon your taking the cosmos as the sole and exclusive whole; hence the title 'universe'. The concept of conservation pertains entirely to the consideration of form and even telos; for these two modes of causation are tied to one another in just this way. Let us say once more: A thing is IN PRINCIPLE continuous, but it is IN FACT finite and subject to negation.

By definition and through utterly first principles we say: A thing which is called 'real' is in the same respect called a 'whole'. If a thing is deprived, dependent, etc. it is in this respect called 'part'. That which is material substance is called a 'whole' and a 'part' simultaneously. To not grasp what a whole is or in what mode a thing is a whole is to not grasp reality. Do not depend upon the mere conventions established by others before you, as if in speaking for them they in turn are capable of speaking for you: Such is only a partial mode of thinking.

Forgive me if my terse answers are of no use to you.

Anonymous said...

Answers to?

Anonymous said...

Lastly, we ought to say that Aristotle was not quite ignorant in recognizing that finite things are generally negated by their proximate causes. Your natural resting place is the Earth or perhaps some mean distance from it if you're lucky enough. He recognizing much more clearly than any mechanical thinker the fact of finite existence. Yet, we often see abstract laws being referred to as 'facts', when laws are only posited in facts but are not identical with facts. Plato understood this as well. Kant, in fact, also understood this in his own way.

When men cease to study formal grammar, Roman law, Latin, Greek, pure primary texts, etc. and only indulge in 'STEM' then we may be assured that all real intellectuality is soon to be abolished in favor of pure conventions and considerations of brute utility. Soon noble man will be nothing but a featherless biped ejaculating physical signs from his swollen throat.

Anonymous said...

Lastly, I often see talk about what is called 'physical', but I never see the absolutely first definitions laid out.

May I posit a first principle or definition with respect to what we will in fact be referring to by the term 'physical'? Just to make sure I understand this aright. Correct me if I err.

In our empirical experience we perceive things in two modes. One is the extensive mode which may also be called 'formal' or 'aesthetic', but the other is the intensive mode which may be called 'forceful' or 'sensational'. This force understood in the latter mode of perception is called 'physical' or 'physical force'. All other aspects of perception and empirical experience are derived from the ultimate reality in a mediate manner or are 'emergent', but the forceful aspect of our experience is the immediate sign of the 'real' (is it said to signify 'matter'?). The items stemming from the formal mode of our perception are quality, formal unity, continuous quantity, continuous extension and so forth. But, physical force and its discontinuous measures is the sign of the 'real' and perhaps of 'matter'.

I take it that this is fundamentally what we mean by 'physicalism'. Would I also be right in saying that this position is usually paired with the position known as 'mereological nihilism' (only parts are real)? And further, that these two positions, when synthesized together, form the diverse modes of modern arguments for a materialistic worldview?

Here I am only trying to clarify things with respect to fundamental meaning. I do this for my own sake if not for others. Forgive me for whatever errors.

Anonymous said...

Or rather I should say not, just the notion of 'ultimate parts alone', but all kinds of nihilism about the whole.

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

You don't happen to know where that Lowe PDF is, do you?

I did a google search but could only find it on Scribd, which you have to subscribe to.

Also, does anyone know if Scribd is worth subscribing to?

robert said...

@John West

I suggest that you go and observe how a small child learns to count. People are so accustomed to using the abstractions that they tend to forget the basics that make these abstractions possible. I suggest that this is precisely what you are doing here.

The digression to set theory was a specific response to the question Scott asked concerning what distiguished the validity of the two logical arguments he gave as examples.

@Scott
I believe that I did answer your question. Since you do not think so, explain exactly how you think the validity of each of the arguments you proposed in your example is determined.

John West said...

I suggest that you go and observe how a small child learns to count. People are so accustomed to using the abstractions that they tend to forget the basics that make these abstractions possible. I suggest that this is precisely what you are doing here.

This is a paraphrase of your slogan, now coupled with a fallacious smear. It does not follow that mathematics is therefore in any way grounded in physical reality. I recommend Frege's The Foundations of Arithmetic.


[1] I even help out with classes of children learning mathematics from time to time, as no doubt have others who reject this ludicrously fatuous claim that basically the whole field of philosophy of mathematics is "forgetting the territory for the map."

Jeremy Taylor said...

John West or others,

A little bit off topic, but is there an introduction to the philosophy of mathematics you would recommend?

robert said...

@John West

That mathematics is grounded in physical reality is simply the fact of the matter, regardless of your wish that it was somehow otherwise. Again, explain exactly how it is that a young child learns to count.

Daniel said...

A lot of people were plus James Franklin would probably agree with Robert that Mathematics is grounded in physical reality. The problem is Robert almost certainly has no idea of 'abstraction', 'grounded' and 'physical reality' for that matter mean.

Tbh this is problem I see in a lot of Naturalist argumentation. For instance Papineau's Causal Closure Argument against Dualism revolves around a floored notion of causation (basically watered down efficient causation) we have every reason to reject on other grounds.

@John,

'To confuse the act of counting with what is counted'

Would also recommend
Frege's review of Husserl's Philosophy of Arithmetic.

@Jeremy,

Unless you have any prior background in the field you will probably need to read some very basic text on Set Theory I'm afraid. There are a couple of Dover books on the subject which aren't too bad. Other than that maybe one of these?

Plato's Problem: An Introduction to Mathematical Platonism

More Precisely: The Math You Need to Do Philosophy

Daniel said...

Edit: Papineau's argument is also 'flawed'

Scott said...

@robert:

"I believe that I did answer your question. Since you do not think so, explain exactly how you think the validity of each of the arguments you proposed in your example is determined."

I'm afraid that's not how it works. The extraordinary claim (that what we call reasoning is in the final analysis a purely physical process determined by purely physical laws) is yours, and my question is about something you need to show in order to support that claim.

My own view is the perfectly ordinary and standard one that recognizing the validity or otherwise of an argument is an act of reason and a function of the intellect. I doubt you disagree, so that's not what's at issue here; in fact, it's not at issue here even if you do disagree. Either way, it needn't be discussed now.

What's at issue is whether you can provide any basis for trusting such "reason" if its conclusions are just the outcomes of physical processes. As far as I know, such processes don't "look at" logical validity at all. Why, then, on your view, should we trust such processes to lead us to correct conclusions? Is there some reason that a process operating strictly in accordance with physical laws won't yield invalid arguments?

The question is very far from original to me; at this point in the history of philosophy, it's a question to which any professing physicalist should know to have an answer ready.

John West said...

Daniel,

They would. In my first post on it, I mentioned a couple others I consider noteworthy who also would. My point, of course, was that Bob's comment doesn't entail anything.

Jeremy Taylor,

I like Mark Colyvan's An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mathematics, and James Robert Brown's Philosophy of Mathematics: A Contemporary Introduction to the World of Proofs and Pictures
. If I had to choose one, I would recommend the Brown's—especially for people more interested in the realism/anti-realism debate. Brown's book is worth it for the further recommendations ending each chapter alone.

Incidentally, I disagree with Daniel that you have to study set theory to study philosophy of mathematics. He's right that eventually one has to learn some introductory set theory. You needed for some branches of the subject, but in others it helps but isn't necessary. For example, books from the debate over mathematical realism I've read require little actual knowledge of set theory. If such knowledge is required, the authors usually explicate what you need to know for you (ie. It comes up with Benacerraf's ontological problem.)

John West said...

... omit "the" before "Brown's"

John West said...

Sorry about the typos. That's what I get for trying to create links and type the post a touch screen keyboard.

John West said...

Daniel,

Of course, I probably should have written "notable attempts open to physicalists."

I like Franklin's semi-platonism so much, that if didn't have Quinean doubts about slums of existent possibles, and a concern about allowing existent possibles tipping me back into Lewisian ontological extravagance (ie. what makes such possibles less real than Lewis worlds?), I may even adopt it.

Though, to be honest, right now I don't find any account of mathematics in ontology satisfying.

Glenn said...

Telegraphic notes for a proposed philosophical play in three acts. Partly tongue in cheek. Each of the three acts takes place during a different metaphorical season. Only the second act has more than one scene, and it may be rightly said to have not more than two scenes. The two scenes of the second act are interrupted by an intermission. Whether there can be an intermission without an interruption is too profound a question to be addressed in this short play. Proposed title of the play is: "I'll Have a Quarter Pound of Roast Beef, Not as a Single Chunk Thank You, but Thinly Sliced Please." Due to its length, the title is subject to revision.

ACT I (Winter)

R. says, "Set theory is the physical basis of mathematics." No explanation is offered for how a theory of something physical is itself something physical, or how a theory of something non-physical is itself nonetheless physical. In the next act, however, it'll be seen that R. either misspoke or subsequently changed his mind.

ACT II, SCENE I (Spring (at the beginning of))

R. says. "Set theory is derived from physical reality."

INTERMISSION

Backstage. R. says, "People are so accustomed to using the abstractions that they tend to forget the basics that make these abstractions possible," and others with a grounding in reality wonder why R. thinks they somehow might have forgotten the intellect. Depending on where they're sitting, however, the curtain is drawn for some, so they not sure what's really taking place behind it. It could be that R. senses that others have lost touch with their senses, while those others with a grounding in reality wonder at the appearance of R. thinking that nothing is more important than the senses.

ACT II, SCENCE II (Spring (near the end of))

A character to be named later says, "To be confused or not to be confused, that is the question. Whether 'tis saner for the mind to separate the act of counting from what is counted? Or to take umbrage at the clear distinction, and insist on conflating an act with that which is acted upon?"

ACT III (Summer)

T. says, "Although the operation of the intellect has its origin in the senses: yet, in the thing apprehended through the senses, the intellect knows many things which the senses cannot perceive." **

- - - - -

** ST 1.78.4.4

Anonymous said...

Robert,

You're confusing the social conventions that are used to teach children how to count with the child's actual experience of 'learning to count'. Sometimes people are so taken away by phenomena that they forget the reality which makes the basic, superficial appearances possible.

etc.

George LeSauvage said...

I've noticed one thing a lot lately. When someone is asked for an argument, the response is just an assertion. Of course this has always happened, and I suppose we all fall into it at times, but it seems to be much more common today. (Fortunately, the all-time champ seems to have taken his leave of this blog, at least for the time being.)

I'm enjoying this thread; it recalls the issues which pried me away from the Platonism I started out in, but also kept me from going full Ryle.

Mr. Green said...

Robert: Set Theory is, itself, derived from physical reality - physical reality is, in turn, described by physical law.

Set Theory is derived from physical reality the way the French Riviera is derived from postcards.

Mr. Green said...

John West: It's a shame, because I would like to hear what some of them [atheists] have to say about it [classical theism].

One is prompted to observe that sometimes silence speaks volumes.


George LeSauvage: I've noticed one thing a lot lately. When someone is asked for an argument, the response is just an assertion. Of course this has always happened, and I suppose we all fall into it at times, but it seems to be much more common today.

I have often thought that we may live in the most anti-intellectual age ever. Perhaps I'm a bit over-sensitive, but we surely rank highly, er, that is to say, lowly. Possibly we mistake a surfeit of information for understanding, and don't bother to digest the raw data….

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel and John West,


Thank you for the recommendations. My only sustained reading in the philosophy of mathematics is Thomas Taylor's translation of Proclus A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements , so you could say I am not that up on contemporary thought on the subject.

John West said...

I think contemporary thought may be more important to philosophy of mathematics than contemporary thought is to some other fields of philosophy. For example, people usually consider philosophy of mathematics's golden age to have been some time in the last 150 years: Cantor, Frege wiping out several schools from before him, Russell's antimony, major schools (constructivism, logicism, formalism) rising, and then subsequently collapsing in the face of Goedel's incompleteness theorems (logicism, formalism). It's one area of philosophy where I think we can unarguably say new work has been done in the last couple centuries. We only finally drew out the rest of Euclid's axioms (turns out there's around 20) some time in the 19th century.

Daniel said...

John West: It's a shame, because I would like to hear what some of them [atheists] have to say about it [classical theism].

Mr Green: One is prompted to observe that sometimes silence speaks volumes.


But if they'd read more Classical Theists surely they would know of and employ Thomas' super-special killer objection to the Ontological Argument?

Joking aside when talking about modern Philosophy of Religion we should be careful to differentiate between what might be loosely termed 'Leibnizian Natural Theology', that specialising in Modal Arguments and PSR Cosmological Arguments, which is good (though best backed up with a properly developed philosophy of nature) and sits better with Classical Theism anyway, and the anthropomorphic 'Personalist' concepts of Deity many Protestant philosophers of Religion argue for.

I suspect a number of atheist philosophers’ work under the assumption that in offering rebuttals (which usually amount to dubious assertions about the metaphysical status of propositions and entailment) to PSR Cosmological Arguments they also go a long way to disarming older First Cause and Contingency Arguments, and thus only have the Kalam Argument left to deal with. Of course there is also the good old 'handwave to Kenny's The Five Ways strategy.

One note: Thomist Natural Theology may well be uncongenial to a lot of modern philosophers, both atheist and theist, because of its reliance on the Real Distinction between Essence and Existence. Certainly I would shy away from offering Thomistic proofs in a debate were they to commit me to defending this distinction (which is probably harder to proof than the existence of God).

robert said...

@Scott,

On the contrary, the extraordinary claim in this instance is yours. That what we call reasoning is something beyond purely physical processes needs to be demonstrated and as I said, as far as I know, such a demonstration has never been forthcoming, indeed the only demonstrable thing I am aware of is, in the final analysis, the physical.

What's at issue is whether you can provide any basis for trusting such "reason" if its conclusions are just the outcomes of physical processes.

I really am not sure what trust has to do with this as whether or not you can trust such reasoning is irrelevant to how reasoning actually works. That said, if experience tells us if x then y after a while we assume that the next time we encounter x we will see y. If we do not see y, then we realize a flaw in our reasoning and, hopefully, modify our trust accordingly.


As far as I know, such processes don't "look at" logical validity at all.

I agree that such processes don't "look at" logical validity at all. Logical validity is derived from such processes.

Why, then, on your view, should we trust such processes to lead us to correct conclusions?

Maybe they just need to lead us to less incorrect conclusions. However, I do think that garbage in, garbage out is applicable - like with deductive arguments, for example.

Is there some reason that a process operating strictly in accordance with physical laws won't yield invalid arguments?

Input errors will probably lead to unexpected results, but the result, however unexpected, will always be in accordance with physical law, if said law accurately describe physical reality of course. Like I alluded to at the beginning of this thread, I tend towards determinism.

George LeSauvage said...

@robert: " That what we call reasoning is something beyond purely physical processes needs to be demonstrated and as I said, as far as I know, such a demonstration has never been forthcoming, indeed the only demonstrable thing I am aware of is, in the final analysis, the physical."

Is this your first time here? I ask because there are literally dozens of posts dealing with this question. A few:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/09/was-aquinas-dualist.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/09/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part-i.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/04/give-me-that-old-time-atheism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/02/popper-contra-computationalism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/01/feynmans-painter-and-eliminative.html

These are just the first ones I found. (Plus search for "Thomas Nagel"; the issue runs through the Mind and Cosmos discussion.)

The point is that there is nothing "extraordinary" about the claim, nor is there any lack of demonstration offered. Given that this is a Thomist blog, you really need to address those arguments.

I will give the most elementary version: If I say that 2+2=5, there is nothing in my brain which is "worse", from a physical point of view than if I say 2+2=4. On purely material grounds, there is no reason to prefer the latter state of affairs. Truth and falsehood are not characteristics of material things, at least from the materialist point of view. (To A-T, actually, there is a sense in which they are, but this doesn't help the materialist.)

You need to address these arguments; you cannot simply dismiss them. That means finding an agreed premise, and arguing from there. So far, you have begged the question.

George LeSauvage said...

@Mr Green: I agree about the anti-intellectualism of our age and culture. But there are 2 ways in which this can be true:

1. That people just argue worse than earlier. This may be true, but there is a selection bias going on. Back in my studying days (also when I was an Anglican) I read a fair amount from the late 16th & 17th Cs. Of course, the stuff I mostly read was of a pretty high level, but sometimes I came across some real dreck. The think is that the rotten writers are forgotton.

2. There is a new feature, though, which arose in my lifetime. The pomos are quite explicit in rejecting reason, and even communication. Now, there were Nietzscheans and Marxists and fascists and the like, but the current prestige - seeming dominance, in fact - is new. Just recently the comments in this blog (but not this thread) we have seen it full blown in, IMO, the all time champion troll, if you know whom I mean, and I think you do. (Note: I don't think this is robert's problem.)

robert said...

@George LeSauvage

I will give the most elementary version: If I say that 2+2=5, there is nothing in my brain which is "worse", from a physical point of view than if I say 2+2=4. On purely material grounds, there is no reason to prefer the latter state of affairs. Truth and falsehood are not characteristics of material things, at least from the materialist point of view.

2 of what?

2 apples added to 2 apples will, physically, equal 4 apples.

2 apples added to 2 oranges will, physically, equal 5 oranges if I already have 3 oranges in my basket.

This should clue you into the error you are committing.

The Scare-Crow said...

Evolutionary high-jack to Blakean cyborg experimental Love!@!@!

P.S. The number of the primes is Aleph-null

Glenn said...

2 apples added to 2 oranges will, physically, equal 5 oranges if I already have 3 oranges in my basket.

Here's another, slightly more verbose excerpt from The Curious Incident of the [Counter On Dr. Feser's Blog]:

"And the next morning I looked out of the window in the dining room to count the cars in the street to see whether it was going to be a Quite Good Day or a Good Day or a Super Good Day or a Black Day, but it wasn't like being on the bus to school because you could look out the window for as long as you wanted and see as many cars as you wanted, and I looked out of the window for three hours and I saw 5 red cars in a row and 4 yellow cars in a row, which meant it was both a Good Day and a Black Day, so the system didn't work anymore."

Daniel D. D. said...

@George

I think on of these reasons is the laziness of thought. No one wants to have a coherent philosophy anymore, they just want to pick and choose whatever they want to believe, even if they contradict. For example, I'm responding to a pantheist who doesn't seem to realize that pantheism makes all ethics arbitrary.

Interestingly enough, Neitzche thought this lack of thought regarding the logical ends of one's position was mostly an English thing, so maybe it's just us Englishmen that are flatheads :-p

Remember what Chesterton wrote: materialists, Marxists, etc., are perfectly logical, rotating in their tiny circles that have no relation to reality at all. Maybe the problem is not that we are an unreasonable age full stop, but rather that we are reasonable where we should be unreasonable, and unreasonable where we should reasonable?

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Remember in Europe, fallen away Catholics don't parade around acting as if they were orthodox, unlike in America. In fact, they usually honestly admit they reject Church teaching, and can't really be considered Catholic. For some reason, American cafeteria Catholics seem to work really hard on announcing that they are Catholic, and yet publically announce their dissent even more.

Again, English flatheads :-p

Christ pax.

Daniel said...

@Daniel D,

Not that it matters very much (it may just be an example of my Chestertonophobia) but I would dispute that last point. In someways it's like Quine's idea of rival conceptual schema which are themselves internally coherent but don't necessarily match reality. This of course just slides into the Pragmatist, Anti-Realist idea of alternating between schema depending on what's most useful for the situation (a good unconsciousness example of this is nihilist who denies all moral values right up until they want to scramble for the POE).

So, to cut a long story short I don't think such ideologies are even internally coherent.

Daniel said...

On the other-hand as someone who has lived in England all his life I'm inclined to agree with the Neitzche quote (I think it stems from the Anglican 'sound commonsense I refute him thusly' type attitude.

John West said...

Well, in Quine's case, he wanted to anchor our internally coherent metaphysic in our best scientific theories to deal with that we can have more than one, reasonable-seeming, internally coherent metaphysic. I think people reading his thesis on this often forget that part (it's not like he was some bald coherentist).

So, to cut a long story short I don't think such ideologies are even internally coherent.

I've been thinking this is the correct way to reply.

John West said...

I suspect the vast majority of people through time and space haven't thought through the logical consequences of their view. It's just that they mostly couldn't write it down before.

John West said...

I've been thinking this is the correct way to reply.

On this score, I'm reminded of Graham Oppy's The Best Argument Against God, where he basically surveys Naturalism and theism as equally logical coherent theories, and applies criteria like parsimony and explanatory power to select the better theory. It's a nice idea, but (for example) most people here would deny that Naturalism is internally coherent.

Daniel D. D. said...

@John West

I agree, and Chesterton actually argues that same point (I'm listening to "Orthodoxy" right now). He claims the "common man" would accept apparent contradictions bcause both corresponded with his experience. He uses an example of accepting fate and free will, and then uses a sight metaphor: with two eyes, we can see depth, and with a paradoxical ideas, we can see Truth. He seems to think the point of philosophy is then to reconcile the apparent contradiction, and not in a way that "waters down" and weakens the strengths of both parts, but rather "let's them run wild at full strength" constructively.

His ideas are not particular new, but this is the first time I found someone actually comment on this peculiarity in Christian thought. I can think of examples of this in Augustine (and other Church Fathers), Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Nicolaus Cusanus, Pascal, etc.

Christi pax.

George LeSauvage said...

@robert: "2 of what?

2 apples added to 2 apples will, physically, equal 4 apples.

2 apples added to 2 oranges will, physically, equal 5 oranges if I already have 3 oranges in my basket.

This should clue you into the error you are committing."


Sorry, that doesn't clue anyone into anything. It is frankly meaningless.

Perhaps it would help if you would give an outline of the argument you have in mind, rather than cryptic utterances which seem, to you, to point to something.

On 2+2=5:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bxoAsvhcOI

George LeSauvage said...

@the Daniels:

I'm American, so perhaps I shouldn't put in my oar, but I've never been convinced about the English wooliness theory. It certainly wasn't true in the 17th C; Hooker & Chillingworth were sharp enough for any. And in the 20th, well, the list of impressive philosophers is long. (The weren't usually right, but I could always learn from the likes of Russell and Austin.)

Granted, Locke & Hobbes is a lot weaker - for what he's arguing than Berkeley & Hume, who were not English. Between those there are fewer, but OTOH, the notion that they lived by muddling through in world affairs just won't hold up. My real love is naval history, and they were just damned impressive.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I presume Daniel D. had in mind contemporary left-liberals and secularists in England. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of the opinions they spout are deeply rooted in specifically English traditions and ambiance.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Jeremy Taylor

I'm an Ukrainian and Italian American, so I'm just parroting the thoughts of that German Neitzche. Remember, Chesterton himself is English. I personally enjoy the English people I've met. Not familiar with the political situation there though. I'm sure the secularist are make as much there as in America.

I do hope to one day visit and live in England: when I worked in high school, my boss was an off-the-boat Irishman, and my current boss is English as well. They describe a pretty cool place. Anyone wish to donate to the Daniel Traveling Fund? (Does Mr. Feser prohibit soliciting on his blog?) :-)

Christi pax.

Daniel said...

@George,

I must contest you there. Save for early Russell (who was on of the most clear sighted and powerful writers on Universals before his mind was ruined by dear old Ludwig) and Whitehead I can think of no original English philosophers of any great worth. P.F. Strawson maybe? Even in terms of Naturalists we had no one comparable to Quine, Sellars or D.C. Williams, only the belligerent spuriousness of Logical Positivism followed by the equally spurious Cambridge tittering of Plain Language. Granted we had Flew but he was influenced by Plain Language as well*.

The point still stands even if we say 'British' rather than English. Berkeley and Hume are more consistent than Locke but their thought is still riddled with grotesque simplifications, errors, comic misreadings of previous philosophers and dismissals on the grounds of 'subtlety' and such like. Even philosophers more sympathetic to the Classical tradition like the Cambridge Platonists were typically weak and unable to compare to their brethren elsewhere - perhaps if we were to be charitable some of this could be put down to the paucity of Modern and Early Modern thought as a whole. Back to Scotus maybe?

*To be perfectly open the shadow of L.W. falls over many contemporary British philosophers - Scruton, Grayling, Geach, Kenny, Dummet and more. Even the work of the Scottish Thomists Haldance and Braine is vitiated by this influence.

Daniel said...

- No, in fact I have remembered a very interesting English philosopher - the Husserl scholar and Realist phenomenologist Barry Smith. He's a Naturalist, and a naive Functionalist to boot, but he's done solid work developing the theories of Husserl, Ingarden and Reinach re Universals, and was co-author of a very important early essay on Truth-maker theory together with Kevin Mulligan.

Of course we had Lowe too, though I don't think he contributed as much as B Smith despite being in the right camp re Aristotelian metaphysics and the Ontological Argument (naturally that later is more important). I used to be very proud that we at least had Leftow, who’s probably the best Analytical scholastic thinker thus far, but in turns out we just swiped him from Fordham ;)

Still these are all contemporary thinkers. Historically the record is still looking dire

John West said...

Kit Fine and E. J. Lowe are British.

John West said...

Of course we had Lowe too

I must have missed this earlier. Davies is also British. Peter Geach, too.

John West said...

Still these are all contemporary thinkers. Historically the record is still looking dire

That's what you would expect though. Victorian grandeur often causes people to forget that England (well, all Britain really) was considered a bit of a backwaters in Europe for most of its history.

John West said...

Someone mentioned (Daniel D., I think) Fate and free will earlier. Fate strikes me as the final cause version of determinism.

Daniel said...

@John,

Victorian grandeur often causes people to forget that England (well, all Britain really) was considered a bit of a backwaters in Europe for most of its history.

Yes, but a cursory overview of 19th century literature doesn't allow one a moment to forget that.

I think there are a number of factors contributing to such philosophical poverty not least of which is 'moderate' superiority a certain kind of Anglican rhetoric brought within it. One might say that the most successful philosopher was Newton, and this success was due to future generations not considering him a philosopher at all.

Geach was included in the Wittgenstein-bashing section. I didn't know that about Fine though.

(I see we all purposely avoid mention of Swinburne)

Scott said...

The three greatest and best-known British Idealists (Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet) were all English. So was G.E. Moore, one of the founders of the analytic tradition. Agree with them or don't, I wouldn't say that any of them were of no "worth."

John West said...

The three greatest and best-known British Idealists (Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet) were all English. So was G.E. Moore, one of the founders of the analytic tradition. Agree with them or don't, I wouldn't say that any of them were of no "worth."

I plead ignorance. Now I need to go look into their work.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel D,

Chesterton wrote a century ago though. I'm not sure how distinctly English - in the sense of peculiarly English traditions - your average contemporary English left-liberal or New Atheist is.

Scott said...

Somewhat off-topic, for anyone who hasn't already heard it, here's one of my favorite anecdotes about Chesterton (or anyone else).

Chesterton was of course famous well before he converted to Catholicism, and during the First World War he was recognized on the street by a woman who thought he should be serving in the military. She accosted him and demanded, "Mr. Chesterton! Why aren't you out at the Front?" Chesterton replied, "If you come round to the side, Madam, you will see that I am."

John West said...

Daniel,

Have you ever read the British philosopher Bob Hale's work?

Daniel said...

@John,

No I haven't, though I've had my eye on that very book for a couple of months. I was going to ask if you knew anything about his work on the Pigliucci post actually (though ended up distracted by the demise of D.M. Armstrong).

(I'm reading up on Frege atm - I have the Klemke Essays antho waiting at the top of my to read pile)

John West said...

Daniel,

I liked Intuition and Reflection in Arithmetic, which Hale and Michael Potter wrote, but I haven't read Hale's work on modality yet. Aside from that, I'm not familiar with his work.

Don Jindra said...

"Victorian grandeur often causes people to forget that England (well, all Britain really) was considered a bit of a backwaters in Europe for most of its history."

Perhaps there is an inverse correlation between philosophical speculation and economic speculation.

George LeSauvage said...

"Perhaps there is an inverse correlation between philosophical speculation and economic speculation.

But what about Athens, then? Or for that matter, the US? Serious philosophy here largely arose with our economic power, didn't it (at least, outside poliphil.)

Anonymous said...

"But what about Athens, then? Or for that matter, the US? Serious philosophy here largely arose with our economic power, didn't it (at least, outside poliphil.)"

The Cold War destroyed American philosophy. Technical pursuits uniquely connected to America's new political (and thus 'economic') success radically altered the American academy in such a way as to more-or-less eliminate the speculative strain. Practical pursuits will always put some pressure on speculation and if those urges for practical action are occasioned by a certain political situation then they are experienced with all the more force.

Perhaps, if you're a fan of British thought and the importation of Oxbridge material into the US then you may disagree with me, but I'm more fond of blatantly metaphysical objectives. However, I think that the post-WW2 tendency towards anti-intellectualism in the West will be dying down sometime in the future. Why? Look and see.

Don Jindra said...

George LeSauvage,

"But what about Athens, then? Or for that matter, the US? Serious philosophy here largely arose with our economic power, didn't it (at least, outside poliphil.)"

Athens did put Socrates to death. Plato has him refer to a city centered on economic pursuits as a city of pigs. I think it's fair to say Strauss portrays Plato's philosophy as a nearly secret cult taking place in a hostile environment. The US is a big country. No doubt our wealth allows lots of pursuits other than economic (as did Athens on a much smaller scale). But I think it's unusual to see a businessman, salesman or an engineer with an interest in philosophy -- other than a superficial theology, as anonomous brings up.