Friday, September 4, 2015

Pigliucci logic


In a recent article (to which I linked last week), philosopher Massimo Pigliucci wrote:

[W]hile some people may very well be “Islamophobes” (i.e., they may genuinely harbor an irrational prejudice against Islam), simply pointing out that Islamic ideas play a role in contemporary terrorism and repression does not make one [an] Islamophobe, and using the label blindly is simply an undemocratic, and unreflective, way of cutting off critical discourse.

Furthermore, to insist that “Islamophobia” is the only alternative to regarding Islam as inherently benign is, Pigliucci says, to promote a “false dichotomy [which] is a basic type of informal logical fallacy.”

Not that Pigliucci, though himself an atheist, wants to attack Islam simply because it is a religion.  On the contrary, in the same article he criticizes “overconfident atheists” and “crass new atheism-style ‘criticism’ of religion,” dismisses the suggestion that any religion is somehow “the motherlode of bad ideas,” and acknowledges that “religions have done lots of good in the world throughout history.”  He simply thinks that we need to strive for “nuance” and to avoid “oversimplification,” whether we are speaking well of religious ideas or criticizing them. 

All of which is, of course, perfectly reasonable.  Good for Pigliucci!

But wait…

Recall that in a post from several months ago, I responded at length to some criticisms Pigliucci had raised against metaphysics as a subfield within philosophy.  A reader has called my attention to this Twitter exchange, in which Pigliucci is asked if he has replied to my critique.  Pigliucci responds:

[N]o, not particularly interested to engage with theologically-informed authors.  Sorry.

It is then pointed out to Pigliucci that this is a “surpris[ing]” response given that in fact my “defense of metaphysics doesn't rest on theological premises.”  To this Pigliucci replies:

[I]t lurks in the background, esp. the way [Feser] (mis) treats Hume.

End quote.  So, dismissing criticisms raised by a “theologically-informed author” is OK, even though the alleged theological premises do not actually play any role in the criticism but merely “lurk in the background” in some vague, unspecified way.  And even though this is (for the two or three readers to whom it is not already blindingly obvious) a textbook example of the informal ad hominem fallacy of poisoning the well

What happened to “nuance” vis-à-vis religion?  When did “oversimplification” become acceptable?  How did an atheist’s dismissing something simply because it is vaguely associated with religion suddenly become non-“crass” and non-“overconfident”?  Why are informal fallacies suddenly OK?

Apparently, all of these miracles occur when Pigliucci himself becomes the object of criticism.  (Ah, the calm sunshine of the Humean mind!)

In fairness, though, when pressed to justify his claim that I have somehow “mistreated” Hume, Pigliucci says he’ll “take another look” at what I wrote.  So I await his more measured response to my (in fact completely non-theological) criticisms.

53 comments:

entirelyuseless said...

That doesn't sound like he was saying that everything you said was necessarily wrong, but mainly that he didn't expect it to be productive for him to discuss it.

That could be true for any number of reasons, such as his emotional reactions to what you wrote, or because the things that "lurk in the background", whatever that means, could make it difficult for him to understand what you are saying.

Bharat said...

entirelyuseless:

No, it's very apparent from the twitter exchange that he meant the theological background of Feser's arguments (according to Pigliucci) leads to falsehood. Why else would he have said Feser mistreated Hume? He is giving that as an example.

Scott said...

Agreed with Bharat. The whole point of the remark about Hume was that Ed's reading of him was slanted by what Pigliucci took to be a "lurk[ing] in the background" religious/theological bias.

Josh Harris said...

Hilarious that the indictment against you is that you're "theologically-informed"; is it somehow better to be ignorant of theology? I suppose he means that your philosophical work is somehow poisoned at the root by "theology"? Honestly as a grad student who has to face the reality that I may never get a position in philosophy, it pisses me off to know that this moron has a great job.

Anyway, read and understand Metaphysics epsilon or stfu.

Massimo Pigliucci said...

What I meant was that I usually do not find exchanges with theologically-informed viewpoints productive enough to invest my time in them. This has nothing to do withe specific comments made on this blog by its author, it is simply a general heuristic I find effective in deciding when and where to focus my energy and time.

Brandon said...

This has nothing to do withe specific comments made on this blog by its author, it is simply a general heuristic I find effective in deciding when and where to focus my energy and time.

This is quite clearly inconsistent with the actual evidence of the exchange, which very explicitly identifies a specific topic and attributes specifically to the author.

Crude said...

Massimo,

Your heuristic has you avoiding engaging with viewpoints that also have nothing to do with theology, if they're simply held by someone 'theologically informed' - which singles out theists pretty specifically.

And is that heuristic really that productive? I recall you once took some major public action in signing a petition related to biology education (against the views of the 'theologically informed'), then later on recanted your view. It seems if you abandoned that heuristic early on, you could have saved yourself the trouble of making the mistake in the first place.

Put simply, it's pretty weird to specifically go 'I'm not going to read or discuss something argued by a theist, even if the topic or their presentation has nothing to do with theism'. Especially since you love to talk about 'theologically informed' topics in general. It's always been a bizarre blind spot with your writings that you repeatedly say what amounts to, 'Oh, theism has been totally refuted' but you never really show the work with that refutation, and instead strive to treat the topic as settled completely. Doubly bizarre since you've recently told the Skeptic Movement that there really are intelligent theists out there.

Legion of Logic said...

I like Massimo's method of avoiding difficult arguments. Just dismiss them as non productive and avoid them.

Crude said...

I like Massimo's method of avoiding difficult arguments. Just dismiss them as non productive and avoid them.

What kills me is, Massimo's actually a pleasure to read. He's thoughtful, fairly non-snarky, even when I disagree with him. Naturally some of his Skeptic-criticism warms me to him, but he's in a different class from normal.

So seeing how he deals with the 'theologically informed' is just an oddity. I suppose he could be far worse, but mostly it just stands out in an otherwise thoughtful approach.

Milos81 said...

Crude -

Agreed with you on Massimo's work. I've read much of it and even made use of his excellent (co-authroed) book "Making Sense of Evolution." He's certainly thoughtful, and that makes his response here disappointing indeed. He seems like the perfect person for a productive debate here.

Oh well, maybe he'll reconsider.

WMF said...

It's cool Massimo, next thing they will expect you to discuss with negros, even when their viewpoints aren't influenced by their skin-color. Keep that heuristic going strong!

Josh Harris said...

>>What I meant was that I usually do not find exchanges with theologically-informed viewpoints productive enough to invest my time in them.<<

The history of philosophy is deeply intertwined with the history of theolog(ies). Honestly if you spent any time at all (I mean any) thinking seriously about what being "theologically-informed" means, you would not say these sorts of things. So, lazy...

Michael G. Murad said...

The way I read the Twitter quote (just saw it in Feser's post, haven't looked at the source) seemed reasonable (expressed in shorthand -- 140 char. limit, right) as a heuristic, which is confirmed by Pigliucci's post. We all have to make choices about whom to read, whom to engage, etc., and simply don't have time to look into everything. And consequently, there's always a risk that we'll miss out on something important (even eternally so). But as someone who can barely read half of the blog posts I find interested, much less think deeply about them, I sympathize for the need for a rule of thumb. (There's actually a fascinating dialectic there between the speculative intellect -- seeking truth for its own sake -- and the practical intellect -- trying to allocate intellectual effort prudently). Let's hope he tunes his heuristic, for his sake, and also because he would be a much better interlocutor for Dr. Feser and friends than the run-of-the-mill Gnu.

Brandon said...

'Heuristic' here just means 'methodized prejudice'; a heuristic in the proper sense is a means of discovery of solutions or an approach to learning new things, but this quite literally has no other function than prejudging what should not be looked into and what one should not attempt to learn from. Such methodized prejudices are not completely avoidable by anyone, and not even necessarily bad things under normal conditions, but I don't see the point in prettying them up with a label they do not in any way deserve.

That said, Michael G. Murad is right enough that we all must engage in cost-of-inquiry reasoning, and there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself; it will just always be relative to a larger inquiry as its context.

Michael G. Murad said...

Brandon -- hmmmm. I think heuristic in this context means what it usually does, namely "rule of thumb", i.e., something that yields a quick evaluation in the absence of detailed investigation. And the "pre" in your use of "prejudice" assumes that the heuristic isn't, itself, a product of past experience (postjudice?) -- but Pigliucci, in his post above, explicitly clarifies that it's his past experience that motivates his current stance. I think you and I agree on the cost-of-inquiry component of such judgments but I think there's also an element of assessing likely signal-to-noise ratio for ideas from certain sources.

And there is a similar distinction to be made between an ad hominem fallacy strictly speaking, and a judgment of credibility based on generalization by proxies grounded in experience (fundamentalists argue in circles, atheists always let their anger cloud their reasoning, ...). One can and should dispute the generalizations if one's interlocutor is open to conversation, and certainly avoid hasty generalization in one's own case, of course, but it's sometimes a delicate judgment -- and I hesitate to clobber somebody just for making a different call than me. It might be laziness or a plausible inference from a different experience set.

I should say that what I take to be Dr. Feser's main point, namely P.'s double standard, seems sound enough. Moreover, public intellectuals (and a blogging professor and professional philosopher fits that bill), as opposed to individuals figuring out what to do with their intellectual free time, have a special duty to familiarize themselves with the broad worldview/philosophical options on hand, if they expect to credibly and persuasively comment on issues of great moment. So there's a higher standard there, I think. And the judgment about the lack of intellectual rigor of theologians is, given the broad facts about Western intellectual history, just absurd. So the heuristic is pretty lame, in this case.

Michael G. Murad said...

Bottom line, I think Pigliucci just fears the monkey in our souls.

Matthew Rodriguez said...

I like Pigliuci--he has done a lot of good work on the intersection of philosophy and science; however, those remarks on Twitter he made were unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see Massimo debate Feser on something like final causes, or how subjectivity or intentionality could possibly be physical.

I felt that Massimo himself accepted there is little to no efficient causality at the quantum level, so where he differs with Feser on causation would be a good read. (IMO anyway)

Brandon said...

I think heuristic in this context means what it usually does, namely "rule of thumb", i.e., something that yields a quick evaluation in the absence of detailed investigation.

A rule of thumb is not "something that yields a quick evaluation in the absence of detailed investigation" (nor is this what 'heuristic' usually means), which would yield the obviously absurd result that flipping a coin or playing eeny-meeny-miney-moe was a universal 'rule of thumb' (and thus by your reasoning a universal heuristic, which it certainly is not except in jokes); a rule of thumb is instead something easy that provides a solution appropriate for practical purposes to a common kind of problem. Nor was Pigliucci's claim anything like a real 'rule of thumb', any more than refusing to read any Hispanic authors because you haven't liked any you've read in the past is a 'rule of thumb' for anything. This would also turn every kind of evaluation based on experience into a 'rule of thumb', which is quite clearly not a reasonable way to use the phrase. Instead, it's merely a prejudice treated as if it were a method. As I said, such methodized prejudices are inevitable and not necessarily even bad; but it is an abuse of terms to call them 'heuristics'.

And the "pre" in your use of "prejudice" assumes that the heuristic isn't, itself, a product of past experience (postjudice?)

This is an utterly, and I mean utterly, astounding claim. What prejudices do you have in mind that aren't in any way products of past experience? Do you think racial prejudices, religious prejudices, sexual prejudices, prejudices against popular music, prejudices against Joe down the street, prejudices against neighbors who play their music too loud, or any of the other prejudices people identifiably have, all just magically appear in infants with no prior experiences at all feeding into them? Do you think no one on earth has ever rationalized their prejudices in terms of prior experiences? Do you really think no one has ever developed a prejudice against something due to prior experiences? I can make neither heads nor tails of your claim here.

Anonymous said...

Pigliucci is always ragging Sam Harris and other New Atheists for being intellectually lazy and ignorant of philosophy in their work, but he is perfectly fine with himself being ignorant of theology? In fact, in order to seriously look at someone's work it cannot be "theologically informed"? Needless to say this is hardly what one should expect from a professional philosopher!

Peter Smith said...

I have a lot of respect for Massimo and I think we should judge him charitably. His writing is thoughtful, nuanced and insightful. Nevertheless we have come to very different conclusions but we should respect the fact that these are honest differences, sincerely expressed. If he does not want to engage theists in debate,then so be it, even if he worded his refusal awkwardly. He has already been on the receiving end from some pretty tenacious new atheists and scientismists so I can understand his reluctance to wade into what he fears will be another debating swamp.

Let's respect that and show by our charitable behaviour that we can be productive debating partners when and if he chooses to engage us in conversation.

Greg said...

I sympathize somewhat. I've stopped looking for internet atheists to debate because I don't think those exchanges are very productive. I'm of the opinion that, even if Pigliucci has has unproductive conversations with theists in the past, Ed is someone worth engaging. (Though the particular claims, i.e. that Ed's treatment of Hume is tainted because "theologically informed," just seem incorrect.)

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous and Peter Smith,

No one was asking Piglicci to comment on or get into any discussion about theism or theology in the first place. Rather, he was asked by a reader (Rinku Mathew) to comment on a response I wrote to something he had written about metaphysics -- a response that in no way rested on any theological premises. The only person who brought theology into the discussion was Pigliucci himself. So, whether Pigliucci is or should be interested in studying theology or engaging with theology is completely irrelevant to what we are talking about here.

Prof. Pigliucci,

Thanks for your comment. Nothing in what I said in my response to your article about metaphysics rested on any theological premises. An atheist could happily accept what I wrote there. So, it is misleading for you to say that the reason you don't want to respond to it is that I am a "theologically-informed author" and have a "theologically-informed viewpoint." The fact that I have elsewhere expressed theological views is completely irrelevant to what I wrote in the specific piece which responded to your article on metaphysics, which does not in any way rest on those theological views. You might as well say that you'd rather not comment on a certain automotive repair manual which happens to have been written by a theist, because he is a "theologically-informed author" with a "theologically-informed viewpoint."

I realize, of course, that you simply don't have time to respond to everything. That's fine. However, judging from your comments to Rinku Mathew, you did at least read (or at least skim) what I wrote in the post in question. Hence you know that I did not give any sort of theological argument there. Hence the specific reason you have given for declining to respond is odd and unreasonable. That's my only point.

Brandon said...

Let's respect that and show by our charitable behaviour that we can be productive debating partners when and if he chooses to engage us in conversation.

Charity is certainly reasonable to call for, although genuine charity requires respect for the actual evidence; but subordinating charity to an end as thoroughly arbitrary as "showing that one can be productive debating partners" is baffling to me, particularly as I have neither more nor less interest in being "productive debating partners" with Pigliucci than with anyone else. Being productive for Pigliucci was the standard Pigliucci put forward in his comment; perhaps it makes sense for him, but there is no reason why anyone else should regard it as a standard to meet at all.

Peter Smith said...

"Charity is certainly reasonable to call for, although genuine charity requires respect for the actual evidence; but subordinating charity to an end as thoroughly arbitrary as "showing that one can be productive debating partners" is baffling to me"

Perhaps we are overcomplicating the matter. In my understanding charity demands(among other things) that I always behave with courtesy, consideration and respect, making due allowance for misunderstanding and poor communication. It demands also that I make a genuine effort to understand the matter from the other person's point of view. It demands that I maintain a dialogue that is enriching to the partners of the dialogue and moderate my wording accordingly. It demands that I search for clarity and understanding. It demands that I be forgiving or tolerant of unfortunate events or wording in the conversation. It demands that the manner of my behaviour reflects the deepest values of my faith.

I am not pretending that any of this is easy and I have more than once betrayed these ideals. But even so these ideals represent what I think we should always be striving towards.

I think there is real value in conducting conversations across the aisle but then the onus is on us to show by our behaviour that we can be worthy partners in the conversation.

Scott said...

One or two people seem to be misunderstanding Pigliucci's phrase "theologically-informed authors." He did phrase it badly, but the context and his subsequent comment make tolerably clear that he didn't mean "authors who are personally well informed on the subject of theology"; he meant "authors whose views are informed by theology."

That's not apt either, but we should at least acknowledge that he wasn't simply declaring that ignorance of theology was a prerequisite for being worthy of debate.

Curio said...

Is everyone Pigliucci disagrees with about metaphysics theologically-informed? That's quite a way to inoculate oneself from the possibility of ever changing positions.

Scott said...

Curio:

Is everyone Pigliucci disagrees with about metaphysics theologically-informed?

Perhaps not, but it sure sounds like he's going to disagree automatically with any metaphysics that is in any way theologically informed. In the article that set off this exchange, Pigliucci expressly says that his allergy to metaphysics began when he was exposed to the Scholastics, whom he rejected out of teenage intellectual rebelliousness. His final paragraph also implies that he won't find any proposed examples of metaphysical necessity "convincing" if they have anything to do with theology.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That excludes a breathtaking amount of philosophy throughout the ages.

Well whatever. Unless he starts mouthing off about specific theological points, which as far as I can tell, he does not, then there is not much point in engaging him in discussions. But to refrain from discussing any philosophical points with a person because that person happens to be religious and happens to reflect on theology is just bigotry.

Cheers,
Daniel

CurioMT said...

@Scott

"His final paragraph also implies that he won't find any proposed examples of metaphysical necessity "convincing" if they have anything to do with theology."


Okay, at least he's honest, but there's a back door that leads to Aristotelian metaphysics and that back door requires a foray into the fields of philosophy Pigliucci is most interested in. Interest in causal dispositions and essences has made Aristotelianism a live option again among many philosophers of science, as Feser is wont to point out.

If Pigliucci continues to insist that this metaphysics is theologically informed then we can be sure the issue is not with the beginning but with the end of the inquiry. The result is unpalatable.

Boru said...

Admirers of Pigliucci's scholarly intelligence and principled thoughtfulness, might care to take a look at this:

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/gary-gutting-on-being-catholic.html

Celine said...

This is interesting :)

Greg said...

@ Boru

Hmm, that is pretty bad. If Pigliucci is still around, I would be interested in seeing plausible metaphysical arguments for the existence of Santa Claus that look anything like metaphysical arguments for the existence of God.

Even so, one could (indeed, rationally should) accept the ethical teachings, say, of Jesus, but reject both the truth of other Church teachings as revealed by God (because there is no such thing as gods, reason tells us), and of course accept that all the metaphysical arguments for the existence of said God are no better than the exactly parallel arguments one could advance in favor of the existence of Santa Claus (which is why no truly self-respecting philosopher should indulge in apologetics).

Boru said...

@ Greg

Of course there are no such arguments.

What is amazing is the almost comical asymmetry of his doing to Catholicism in that post, almost all of the lazy, prejudiced things that, above, he says we should not do to Islam.

Step2 said...

Of course there are no such arguments.

You could start at the end and work backwards, i.e. the Beatific Vision is the ultimate Christmas gift. You have to earn this gift through both strong faith and good works. Of course Santa is always watching you and keeping track of naughty or nice.

Crude said...

What is amazing is the almost comical asymmetry of his doing to Catholicism in that post, almost all of the lazy, prejudiced things that, above, he says we should not do to Islam.

Pigluicci seems to at once treat theism (particularly Christian theism) as utterly, completely refuted... but he also absolutely does not want to actually argue that refutation, or even point at a fleshed out argument he thinks is decisive. (I imagine, since then you're inviting people replying to the refutation, etc, and the stance is not going to hold up.)

It may be similar to the rumblings we've seen with other philosophical topics: where the very act of debating an idea is threatening, since a discussion implies there's a possibility of being wrong, and the political stakes of possibly being wrong are seen as too high.

Anonymous said...

There is such a thing as philosophical orthodoxy I guess. The range may be fairly wide, but don't you dare make arguments for the existence of God, or anything that remotely smells like that.

Cheers,
Daniel

DNW said...

"Pigliucci is asked if he has replied to my critique. Pigliucci responds:

'[N]o, not particularly interested to engage with theologically-informed authors. Sorry.' "



Reading that triggered something that compelled me to come back today and look something else up before I forgot completely.

One of Ed's more thoughtful, if occasional, blog commenters, has a great anecdote which I have in another venue several times badgered him to repeat.

This link might be the first time he told it. Compensating for light keyboard strikes, one of the sentences should obviously read, " ... his dismissal of metaphysics starting with Plato[,] with [h]is pragmatism ..."

kolnai drives to a philosophy lecture ...



Well, time for dinner. All continue to have a good weekend - even if you weren't able to get out of town, or to the shore.

Anonymous said...

"not particularly interested to engage with theologically-informed authors. Sorry."

This professor teaching philosophy would be cutting himself off from quite easily 50% of philosophers of the Western tradition if that is his standard of engagement. And yet, he hasn't offered one bit of convincing argument that they are wrong.

Glenn said...

What is the purpose of life?

P's preferred answer is that we make it up as we go along.

Given that that is so (that that is P's preferred answer**) -- and assuming both that P has a desire is to maintain a firm grip on his preferred answer and that theologically informed viewpoints are not unlikely to see the purpose of life as involving something more than just making it up as we go along -- it actually makes sense that P "usually do[es] not find exchanges with theologically informed viewpoints productive enough to invest [his] time in them."

Or, at least, it would make actual sense if the vague and general phrase 'not productive enough' is a short-hand way of saying, e.g., that the strength of the grip on the preferred answer is not likely to be increased by engaging with theologically informed viewpoints, and that that grip likely would be only maintained at best and weakened at worst in the event of such an engagement.

- - - - -

** My preferred answer here is, not surprisingly, that we make up the purpose of life as we go, and that we have a (not unlimited) number of options. -- The meanings of the meaning of life

Anonymous said...

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/gary-gutting-on-being-catholic.html

Wow. And so the truth comes out.

all the metaphysical arguments for the existence of said God are no better than the exactly parallel arguments one could advance in favor of the existence of Santa Claus (which is why no truly self-respecting philosopher should indulge in apologetics).

Breathtaking. Cruder and more embarrassing than almost anything peddled by the New Atheists (or even Bill Maher).

Given the evidence here, has Pigliucci seriously engaged with theism at any point in his life? Of course he hasn't. He's already decided that "exchanges with theologically-informed viewpoints" are not "productive." He knows that engaging with theist philosophers (even on topics unrelated to theism!) is a waste of time, because he knows that all arguments for God's existence are no better than arguments for the existence of Santa Claus. And he knows that all arguments for God's existence are no better than arguments for the existence of Santa Claus, because just look at what a waste of time it is to engage with theist philosophers!

The loop is closed. The dogmatism is complete. It is a vicious circle worthy of Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers.

What a disappointment.

FM said...

Pigliucci is clearly guilty of DOUBLETHINK, as Orwell would put it.

On one hand he likes to think he is not a new atheist and attacks their faults, on the other he clearly commits very much their mistakes.

He is ill-informed on theology or philosophy of religion and his critiques of these are puerile.

Pigliucci lives in a FANTASY WORLD where he thinks Hume's critique of religion has any real weight (while such critiques have been deemed even "absymally faulty" even by some agnostic or atheist philosphers...).

In the end I would say he is WORSE than then new atheist, only because he ought to know better.


Although I used to respect him in the past, my respect in him is waning...

In Italian (since he is Italian) we would say he's a "coglionaccio".

Gene Callahan said...

I'm unclear on how any metaphysics can be "non-theological": it would seem to me that the most fundamental metaphysical fact is that the universe has a divine origin. And then there are (false) metaphysics that deny this fact. How can we completely avoid theology in picking between them?

Or do you just mean in a narrower sense, e.g., the metaphysics you discuss does not depend on the particulars of God's nature?

Anonymous said...

Pigliucci just thinks the New Atheists have bad manners.

Curio said...

It should be pointed out that this refusal to engage with the theologically-informed is a recent decision. He spent much of his career as an evolutionary biologist debating creationists, which obviously informed his understanding of theists ever since.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRf5oIc-agA

DNW said...

" Pigluicci seems to at once treat theism (particularly Christian theism) as utterly, completely refuted... but he also absolutely does not want to actually argue that refutation ..."


I think it is probably fair to say that although Feser can make a good case that his metaphysical philosophizing can be rigorously separated from any theistic presuppositions - at least its starting point - most anti-theistic philosophers or thinkers assume that the very project of metaphysical speculation (understood as first philosophy, or the question of ultimate grounds, or "being per se" ) is historically, merely theology at one remove and under another name.

Whether it is Karl Marx or Richard Rorty, the historicist assumption also sees the metaphysical project as somehow an illegitimate deflection from the real concern of mortal man as a committed species being which accepts its inextricable enveloped-ness, mortality, and ultimate meaninglessness yada yada.

Their attitude is in effect the admonition to: "Quit looking up at the sky ... the only legitimate focus for you is down here, enmeshed in "the details of the lives of others" ... Or some other horseshit more or less like that.

Although existential philosophy and its informing base of phenomenology have been popular with the politically progressive left as providing a ready stockpile of politically useful rhetorical nuggets and cant, I think we all know enough about social history here to recognize that they honor what they can usefully deploy; the actual philosophy and its implications, well not so much. Cause Geez, if its all just a radically free choice then maybe master morality and all that ...

Crude said...

DNW,

most anti-theistic philosophers or thinkers assume that the very project of metaphysical speculation (understood as first philosophy, or the question of ultimate grounds, or "being per se" ) is historically, merely theology at one remove and under another name.

I believe Pigliucci doesn't fall into this camp, and I think I recall he's actually pretty set against it. He has his own metaphysical views he defends (consciously, as opposed to the unconscious way the anti-metaphysicians go about it.)

Curio,

He spent much of his career as an evolutionary biologist debating creationists, which obviously informed his understanding of theists ever since.

Maybe, though that would be a conflict in a different area - and again, one I recall that Pigluicci actually had to backtrack on. (See his role in the NABT controversy regarding the teaching of evolution as impersonal, etc.)

DNW said...

Crude said...

DNW,

" 'most anti-theistic philosophers or thinkers assume that the very project of metaphysical speculation (understood as first philosophy, or the question of ultimate grounds, or "being per se" ) is historically, merely theology at one 'remove and under another name.

I believe Pigliucci doesn't fall into this camp, and I think I recall he's actually pretty set against it. He has his own metaphysical views he defends (consciously, as opposed to the unconscious way the anti-metaphysicians go about it.)"


Thanks. I'll look the topic up: "Pigliucci and metaphysics"

Anonymous said...

Interesting response to the Pigliucci open letter.

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/scottreply.htm


Cheers,
Daniel

Sil Rayman said...

Even putatively rational, fair-minded atheists inevitably say something unbelievably derpy--this should be the 8th law of thermodynamics. Or something. Just sayin'.

Tony said...

I'm unclear on how any metaphysics can be "non-theological": it would seem to me that the most fundamental metaphysical fact is that the universe has a divine origin.

Gene, That the universe has a divine origin may be the most fundamental fact about the universe, saying so is not the same as saying that it is the FIRST fact known in the study of metaphysics.

Metaphysics doesn't START with the question "what is the origin of all that is." It starts on other matters, with other questions. Questions like "is there change?", and "Are there real kinds of beings (rather than only the appearances of kinds)?" "What is the nature of cause and effect?" "How many kinds of causality can we speak of?" "What is the distinction between negation and privation?"

All these are studied long before one can fruitfully tackle something so difficult, so advanced, and so immersed in prior considerations as "what is the origin of all that is?"

Because the above can and should be studied and understood in a manner apart from discussing any relationship with God, an assumption that metaphysics is merely theology wrapped in brown paper is just wrong, and it amounts to demeaning rhetoric. It dismisses a valid study out of a fit of pique, or (more probably) out of fear. A fear that "I won't be able to answer you when your metaphysics shows that act and potency, down the road after many turns, imply natures that imply causality that implies non-contingent Being..." This would be, actually, the reverse end of the telescope: rather than "metaphysics is just theology wrapped in brown paper", what we actually have is "dismissal of metaphysics" is just pre-emptive (prejudicial) atheism gussied up to look better than sheer prejudice.

Anonymous said...

Pigliucci is clearly a very arrogant fellow.

Anonymous said...

Pigluucci's incoherence is precisely one of the properties we should expect from someone who's worldview, at bottom, acknowledges no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.