Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red herrings don’t go to heaven either


They say that pride goeth before a fall.  And if you’re Jerry Coyne, every fall goeth before an even bigger fall.  The poor guy just never learns.  Show him that he’s shot himself in one foot, and in response he’ll shout “Lock and load!” and commence blasting away at the other one.  It seems the author of Why Evolution is True has got it into his head that a Darwin Award is something it would be good to win.  And this week he’s made another try for the prize.

But first some background.  Recently we witnessed Coyne badly embarrass himself when attempting to defend Lawrence Krauss against some criticisms I had leveled against him.  As I demonstrated in the post linked to, Coyne commits a battery of logical fallacies -- poisoning the well, red herring, non sequitur, special pleading, and straw man -- makes category mistakes, uses language sloppily where precision is called for, badly misrepresents the views of his opponents, and is breathtakingly ignorant of what the writers he confidently dismisses actually say.  He even confuses me with William Lane Craig.  In a follow-up post I demonstrated that Coyne has been peddling the same shameless misrepresentations of his opponents for four years now -- despite multiple corrections of the record, and despite the fact that some of his own atheist readers have begged him to cut it out.  (As we saw, one of those readers got banned from Coyne’s blog.) 

You don’t have to sympathize with my views to see the awfulness of Coyne’s performance.  Commenting on Coyne’s “diatribe” and my response to it, Coyne’s fellow atheist Jeff Lowder concluded, at the Secular Outpost:

If I were to sum up Feser’s reply in one word, it would be, “Ouch!” I think Feser’s reply is simply devastating to Coyne and I found myself in agreement with most of his points.

My onetime sparring partner Eric MacDonald -- who was once an ally of Coyne’s and whose advice Coyne acknowledges in his recent book Faith vs. Fact, but who has now distanced himself from the New Atheism --  wrote in response to Lowder:

I have said very much the same kinds of things about Coyne, and was asked to go elsewhere if I had any criticisms to make (which is not a sign of intellectual honesty in itself), though he did not outright "ban" me…

I must say that, having left the narrow confines of Coyne's outlook, I have been greatly helped by Professor Feser's careful reading and argument, something that Coyne could not be accused of.

And now, it seems, even Coyne himself has realized the magnitude of his humiliation.  Not that he has responded to, or even commented on, the criticisms I raised in those two recent posts. On the contrary, he has for more than a couple of weeks now been strangely silent about that.  Instead, this week he has, out of the blue, posted a weird rant about a six month old article of mine criticizing David Bentley Hart’s view that dogs and other fauna go to heaven.  Apparently the biologist, materialist, and staunch atheist Coyne thinks I’m a complete idiot for taking the view that there is no afterlife for animals.  Wrap your head around that one.

But actually, it’s not so hard to understand Coyne’s sudden interest.  The guy is as transparent as an air guitar, and only ever manages to make himself look as silly as someone playing one.  Here’s my hypothesis: Coyne is irked that I made him look like a fool.  (Or rather, that I pointed out how he’d make himself look like a fool.)  Payback is called for.  But Coyne can’t actually answer the criticisms I raised in my posts, because they’re unanswerable, and because drawing his readers’ attention to them will only exacerbate his embarrassment rather than remedy it.  So, Coyne decided to try something else.  Trawling the web for something he might use as a diversion, he came upon my exchange with Hart.  Bingo!  Tossing this red meat into the monkey cage that is Coyne’s combox would be the perfect way to distract attention from the fiasco of several weeks ago:

Nothing to see over there, folks.  Really, I mean it, nothing.  C’mon, stop looking already.   Oh, but hey, look over here!  Check out these two guys arguing about animals in heaven!  Can you believe it?!  I said animals in heaven!  No really, look over here!  Isn’t this just hilarious?!  Really just fall-on-the-floor funny, right?  Right?!

Am I warm, Jer?

Per the Iron Law of New Atheist literature, it only gets worse.  Coyne complains that I do not establish in my article about Hart that there is any such thing as an afterlife in the first place, whether for animals or for anyone else.  Of course, that was not the point of the article; it would require separate argumentation, which I have provided elsewhere.  Yet when I do direct readers to other places where I have developed such arguments, Coyne accuses me of engaging in self-promotion. 

This is all very childish, of course, but it is standard New Atheist shtick: If an opponent doesn’t answer absolutely every possible objection in one short article, accuse him of not having established anything.  If he does respond to many objections or addresses any one of them at length, accuse him of being long-winded.  If instead he refers to other writings where the issues are treated in greater depth, accuse him of evading the issue, or of trying to sell books.  If he complains about this farcical “heads I win tails you lose” procedure, accuse him of being thin-skinned and unwilling to take criticism.  A pretty crude rhetorical trick, but an effective one with the dumber sort of secularists who form Coyne’s base, who are only interested in the latest Two Minutes Hate anyway, rather than in having a serious discussion. 

Naturally, Coyne also repeatedly accuses me -- as he ritualistically does absolutely every theist, no matter how many and detailed his arguments are -- of having “no evidence” and of “just making stuff up.”  Then absurdly -- and, in good Jerry Coyne fashion, without seeing that he has just contradicted himself -- he admits that in fact I do give arguments for my views, but that they are in an article of mine that he says he will not bother actually to read.  (The article is “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” which appeared in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly a few years ago and is reprinted in my anthology Neo-Scholastic Essays.) 

As goes without saying for Coyne readers, this doesn’t stop Coyne from leveling various objections to the arguments he says he won’t bother reading -- objections I’ve answered many times in various places, including the very article Coyne refuses to read.  But then, this is (as longtime readers will recall) a man who once wrote over 5000 words attacking a book (by Hart) which he admitted he had not actually read -- and in the course of doing so, and with no trace of irony, accused the book’s author of having had his “intelligence… blatantly coopted and corrupted to prove what [he] has decided is true beforehand”!

Yes, dear reader, behold the mind of Jerry Coyne -- of a man who explicitly refuses to read what his opponents have actually said, but will nevertheless attack at length the arguments he guesses they must be giving, and who in the same breath will insist that it is those opponents who refuse to look at actual “evidence” and who “make things up.” 

Well, that is itself evidence for you, though only further evidence of what has already been massively confirmed, viz. that Coyne is a Walter Mitty atheist if ever there was one!

206 comments:

1 – 200 of 206   Newer›   Newest»
Troy Tice said...

Don't blame Jerry. He had no choice in the matter. As he would no doubt tell us, his superficial grasp of philosophy was predetermined by the laws of physics...

Jeremy Taylor said...

My reading of Coyne's article is he was attempting satire. No, I don't mean that facetiously, I mean he was simply trying to mock Dr. Feser and the religious in general. Alas, Coyne is no Jonathan Swift. His satire lacks either intellectual insight or any humourist content that would appeal to anyone but those who already agree with him.

Dragon fang said...

Pseduophilosophers, more famously found among New-Atheists, should just stop to take a breath, and learn what a logical argument is, how to construct it, and how to attack it. Some of their attempts at a debate are too funny and sad to handle.

entirelyuseless said...

While I agree that Coyne's argument was idiotic, and I said so at his blog, he did mention that at least part of the reason that he did not read the article was that it cost $20. I can't find an unpaid version of the article myself and cannot afford to pay $20 for a single article. I regularly purchase books every few days so it is not a question of not being willing to pay for content. It is simply that if I were to adopt a policy of willingness to pay $20 for a single article I would rapidly become broke.

(As a side note, I do not understand these prices -- it is not possible that they maximize profit. They simply discourage purchase.)

In any case, I did read Ross's exposition of the argument, and I disagree with it. I think it is pretty obvious that all our thoughts are indeterminate, because our thoughts depend on our words, and our words are indeterminate, simply because we have no way to define words which does not depend on other words, on examples, and on pointing out cases, and all of these lead to indeterminate meanings.

I accept what he calls the "astronomical" costs of admitting that our thoughts are indeterminate, namely among other things that the laws of logic are not consistently truth preserving when applied to our thoughts.

Whether this is a high cost or not, there are arguments that this is the case which are very persuasive to me, independent of the immateriality issue. For example, the sorites paradox is a paradox exactly because the laws of logic fail to be truth preserving: if I change a color imperceptibly, it is true after each change that "this is the same color as before the change," but at the end, after hundreds of changes, it is no longer true that it is the same color as it was at the beginning. Likewise, the paradox of the liar seems to have no solution which does not either accept the existence of a contradiction, or demand that we change the meaning of the word "true." For the paradox results from the objective fact that the very idea of truth is vague, not determinate.

I think what is implied by this is that our knowledge of reality is much weaker than people suppose when they think that logic applies perfectly to our thoughts. It does not apply perfectly, not because reality is illogical, but because our thoughts are vague.

Brandon said...

While I agree that Coyne's argument was idiotic, and I said so at his blog, he did mention that at least part of the reason that he did not read the article was that it cost $20.

This is actually something I didn't understand; Coyne should have free access to it through academic libraries. Unless the University of Chicago doesn't, for some incomprehensible reason, allow its emeritus professors library access? (I can't imagine that that is the case, but if it is, it's something to bring up to the union.) In this day and age he wouldn't even have to go to the stacks; all it requires is online access to the Philosophy Documentation Center E-Collection, and any large academic library will have that. It's not like Coyne is emeritus professor of a community college whose library subscriptions would be hit and miss or an independent scholar who has to scramble to find ways to get access to academic texts.

But it's very true that the costs for individual articles are simply ridiculous.

Chad Handley said...

They probably rely on a steady stream of undergraduates who are required to purchase it.

monk68 said...

@ entirelyuseless,

"I think it is pretty obvious that all our thoughts are indeterminate, because our thoughts depend on our words"

On what basis would you argue the position that "our thoughts depend on our words"? The perennial philosophical tradition, in contradistinction from modern analytical/linguistic philosophy, holds just the opposite; namely, that our words clearly depend upon our thoughts. It seems evident to me that thoughts are a phenomena of our nature (however cognition is cashed out metaphysically or psychologically); whereas words are clearly conventional. I, and presumably others, have thoughts - whether or not those thoughts are verbalized or written in some particular language. Thoughts are natural and formal signs, whereas words are artificial and instrumental signs. In fact, the evident ability to succeed in cross-cultural communication through language-translation is another indication that thought is the fundament of speech/language, and not vice-versa.

Finally, when I encounter the view you express (which I often do), I wonder whether the claim that "our thoughts depend on our words" (and therefore all language and knowledge of reality is indeterminate) is meant to convey a *determinate* content which the hearer is expected to understand? For if the statement expressed is put forward as a proposition with a determinate meaning, the position seems blatantly self-refuting. On the other hand, if the statement is *not* put forward as a determinate statement (but rather an indeterminate statement), then how could anyone ever come to understand what the expressed position is meant to convey given its indeterminacy? That strikes me as a sort of performative contradiction? It brings to mind those who decry the ability of “natural language” to serve as an effective medium of philosophical discourse. And yet I note that every student or professor who has ever come to embrace that assessment of the shortcomings of natural language has necessarily done so precisely through the use of natural language, since every student and professor – before becoming professional philosophers – were once run-of-the-mill natural language users. It seems to be a case of cutting off the limb upon which one is perched.

At any rate, I have yet to see a persuasive defense of the claim that “our thoughts depend on our words”. The Aristotelian-Scholastic position in exactly the opposite direction strikes me as exceedingly more reasonable, and is a position that has been defended for centuries. This issue is evidently a central point of contention between modern and classical epistemologists. If the modern analytic/linguistic tradition is in error with respect to this foundational claim, then a great deal of its epistemological superstructure is vitiated. Therefore, I would truly be interested in reading an argument(s) for the specific claim that “our thoughts depend upon our words” so that I might evaluate the force of such an argument(s) over against the arguments made for exactly the reverse claim within the Scholastic tradition.

Pax

entirelyuseless said...

monk68:

I agree that thoughts are a phenomena of our nature. I don't think they depend on words in the sense that they are a logical construct invented from our words. They are a reality. But I think they depend on them in the sense that they depend on words for their usefulness and for much of their determination. (I.e. regarding the claim about indetermination, I think both thoughts and words are vague, but thoughts without words would be much vaguer.)

The evidence that thoughts depend on words in this way is empirical, and I could point to various facts. While there have been few cases of real feral children, the existing cases support the idea that if someone does not learn a language, he does not learn to think, at least not in a fully determinate and useful way, but instead behaves much like an irrational animal. Likewise, sometimes I have something that feels like a thought without words, but if I am distracted before putting it into words, then I cannot remember the thought, I cannot draw any conclusions from it, and so on. It is neither determinate nor useful. Likewise, people can be led into error by verbal phenomena such as a double meaning, which could not happen, unless they were depending on the words for their thoughts. There are other things that would support the same general idea that words are used to make our thoughts determinate and useful.

I accept that all thoughts and all claims are vague, including this one. There is no contradiction here: saying that a claim is vague is not saying that it is meaningless. It is saying that the meaning is imperfect. "The meaning of every claim is imperfect" has an imperfect meaning, but it is not meaningless. There is no contradiction.

monk68 said...

@entirelyuseless:

"I agree that thoughts are a phenomena of our nature. I don't think they depend on words in the sense that they are a logical construct invented from our words. They are a reality. But I think they depend on them in the sense that they depend on words for their usefulness and for much of their determination."

Ok, thanks. That's a better, less radical, claim than I sometimes encounter.

"While there have been few cases of real feral children, the existing cases support the idea that if someone does not learn a language, he does not learn to think, at least not in a fully determinate and useful way, but instead behaves much like an irrational animal."

So if I understand you, you are not denying that the feral child might have thoughts (in an ontological sense) without being part of a language-user group; you are indicating that without interaction with a language-user group, the precision, ordering and general usefulness of his thought processes for practical affairs will be greatly diminished. Is that right?

And I assume that when you write about the feral child that:

"he does not learn to think, at least not in a fully determinate and useful way"

You don't mean to say that he ever will really think in a *fully* determinate way (since you deny this possibility), but merely to indicate that his interaction with a language-user group will refine his thinking (and speaking) and thereby render his thoughts (and speech) *less* indeterminate and *less* vague - and therefore more useful for practical affairs? Is that correct?

"There is no contradiction here: saying that a claim is vague is not saying that it is meaningless. It is saying that the meaning is imperfect. "The meaning of every claim is imperfect" has an imperfect meaning, but it is not meaningless"

I suppose a lot depends upon teasing out (less indeterminately :>)) what you *mean* by your use of the word "vague" and the phrase "imperfect meaning" in this context. What can an "imperfect meaning" mean? For if a statement which is imperfect through indeterminancy, is nonetheless capable of conveying *one* recognizable meaning (even if that one meaning is itself described as "imperfect"), it would seem that at least insofar as that "imperfect" meaning is really *one* recognizable meaning, the use of thought/language will have achieved real determinancy - which seems contrary to your broader position as I understand it.

But if, on the other hand, an "imperfect meaning" is so imperfect that it might have *two (or more)* recognizable meanings, then I think the threat of contradiction re-emerges with respect to your position. For in that case, its hard to see how your claim that:

"The meaning of every claim is imperfect" has *an* [apparently one] imperfect meaning, but it is not meaningless"

could remain true."

Pax

Anonymous said...

...and if you change (say blue) by adding a teeny-tiny bit of something else it is no longer strictly blue, but a hybrid, ergo no paradox

Greg said...

@ entirelyuseless

Whether this is a high cost or not, there are arguments that this is the case which are very persuasive to me, independent of the immateriality issue.

The Ross counterargument is that, if one gives up determinacy, then no argument can be persuasive, because no argument can be sound.

For example, the sorites paradox is a paradox exactly because the laws of logic fail to be truth preserving: if I change a color imperceptibly, it is true after each change that "this is the same color as before the change," but at the end, after hundreds of changes, it is no longer true that it is the same color as it was at the beginning.

The sorites paradox is complicated, but we certainly aren't required to say that the laws of logic fail to be truth preserving. (If the laws of logic are not truth preserving, then they are false, so no arguments invoking them are valid or sound.)

If you change a color imperceptibly, then it's not true after each change that "this is the same color as before the change"; it's a different color, you just can't tell the difference. That'd be like saying that, if a child grows 0.01 inches every day, and you can't perceive the difference day to day, then it is true after each day that "the child is the same height as he was the day before."

Suppose someday the child is "tall," whereas at the beginning of our experiment he was "not tall." The paradox results from thinking that it's true that "if the child is not tall today, then he will not be tall tomorrow"; we are inclined to say that this is true because the changes in height day-to-day are imperceptible. But maybe that statement is just false; one day the child becomes "tall" even though he just grew 0.01 inches taller, and we aren't able to tell. Or "tall" is a vague word, so good arguments will not feature premises like "if the child is not tall today, then he will not be tall tomorrow". So there are lots of ways to handle the paradox that, however difficult to work out the details of which, don't require abandoning the possibility of reason.

monk68 said...

I should add, I understand the notion of a thought (and a statement) lacking comprehension, clarity, and distinctness - and therefore being “imperfect” in those ways. Yet, a lack of comprehension, clarity, and distinctness does not seem to entail lack of determinancy (or lack of certainty).

The general statement that "there is vegetation in my back yard" is non-comprehensive (because there are other things in my back yard besides vegetation), is indistinct (because making no distinctions between the sorts of vegetation in my back yard), and lacks clarity (because the statement is general rather than particular, it does not clarify what individual plants are in my back yard).

Yet, for all that, the statement seems to have a quite determinate meaning and enjoys a strong degree of certainty precisely due to its generality (I am more certain that there is vegetation in my back yard than that there are trees, grass, and flowers in my back yard - though there are trees, grass, and flowers in my back yard). I am more certain about the broader-general claim because the more detailed claim (about tees, grass, flowers) would require further judgments (each subject to error), in order to arrive at a clearer, more distinct knowledge of what is in my back yard. So neither determinancy nor certainty seem necessarily undermined by imperfections such as lack of comprehension, indistinctness, or lack of clarity.

Anyhow, I am simply trying to understand the claim that all thought/language use is necessarily indeterminate.

Pax

Vincent Torley said...

entirelyuseless:

I'm in the same boat as you are, when it cones to cash. I haven't read Ed's article, “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” either. However, the following posts by Ed, which are online, convey the gist of his arguments:

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

Some Brief arguments for dualism, Parts I to V:
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/09/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part-i.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/09/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/10/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/10/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part_29.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/11/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part-v.html

Churchland on dualism, Parts I to V:
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/churchland-on-dualism-part-i.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/churchland-on-dualism-part-ii.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/churchland-on-dualism-part-iii.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/churchland-on-dualism-part-iv.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/09/churchland-on-dualism-part-v.html

And finally, Feser's mind-body round-up page:
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/05/mind-body-problem-roundup.html

I hope that helps.

I think Ed's arguments are pretty good. The one significant point on which I would differ from him is the "interaction problem." Feser maintains that when I perform a bodily action such as writing a blog, the movement of neurons in my brain and arm and the attendant flexing of muscles constitute the material cause of my action, and also the efficient cause, presumably because these neurons are the parts of my body whose movements cause my hands to move when I press the keys on my computer. My thoughts and intentions, on the other hand, comprise the formal cause and the final cause of my action: my thoughts give the blog post the "form" or structure that it has as an essay, while my intentions define my purpose for writing the post. The soul, on Feser's view, is not the efficient cause of the body's movements, but its formal cause: it is what unites the matter of the body and makes it a human body in the first place. See here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/10/interaction-problem.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/04/interaction-problem-part-ii.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/01/interaction-problem-part-iii.html

I maintain, on the other hand, that while the intellect and will do not move the body as a separate thing, they are nonetheless the efficient cause of the body's movements, as well as being the formal cause. Aquinas himself writes that writes that "the will as agent moves all the powers of the soul to their respective acts, except the natural powers of the vegetative part, which are not subject to our will" (ST I, q. 82 art. 4) and that the intellectual soul "guides and moves the body by its power and virtue" (ST.I, q. 76 art. 6, ad. 3). So I would call myself a person-body dualist.

Here are a few posts summarizing my views:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/why-i-think-the-interaction-problem-is-real/
http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/how-is-libertarian-free-will-possible/
http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/feser2.html

Cheers.

entirelyuseless said...

Greg:

The literature on the paradoxes is extremely vast, and if I were to commit myself to a full discussion of those things on the object level, I would be committing myself to a lifetime discussion of it. My opinion (which for that reason I am not going to try to prove here) is that the reason for such a vast literature is because I am right. If there were good solutions of the kind you propose, such a solution would be generally accepted; all such solutions are bad solutions.

I disagree that this means abandoning reason. It follows from my position that applying logic to human thoughts can sometimes lead you into error. It does not follow that it always does, and usually it does not. What follows is that absolute certainty is not possible, and I agree with this. Imperfect certainty is what human beings have.

Vincent Torley said...

entirelyuseless,

You write: "I think it is pretty obvious that all our thoughts are indeterminate, because our thoughts depend on our words, and our words are indeterminate." Surely you don't mean to apply the same argument to the language of mathematics as well? What's vague about Pythagoras' Theorem, or Newton's law of universal gravitation for that matter?

entirelyuseless said...

monk68:

Your summary of what I was saying is basically accurate.

However, working out the process that you suggest (what EXACTLY do I mean by vague) is not going to be helpful, because there are no exact meanings. This is true whether the meanings are one or many (and apart from that, "one" and "many" do not have exact meanings).

A meaning is not automatically determinate because it is one meaning, in the ordinary sense of this. For example, "My oldest brother is bald," is a true statement about my oldest brother. It has one meaning. But if he started growing hair again, there is no determinate point when the statement would be suddenly false. It has a vague meaning, like your statement about the vegetation in your back yard. And I am quite sure the statement about my brother is currently true. That is insufficient to make the meaning determinate, since it does not say when it would be come false, and the same is true of your statement about the vegetation.

To make this more (but not perfectly) clear: a word is vague if there is no test or factor that can universally determine whether the word is correctly applied to something or not. So "bald" is a vague word, because it include anything like "someone who has less than 137 hairs is bald, while someone who has 137 hairs or more is not bald."

This is true of all words, as I said in the original post, because either we define them by other words, by examples, or by pointing to things.

The same thing is true of the thought that I think, when I think that my brother is bald. Just because it is a thought, does not mean that somehow the thought would become false when he got to 137 hairs, or any such arbitrary point: there is simply no determinate point, despite the fact that if he grows enough hair, it will be definitely false. The thought is vague in exactly the way the words are vague.

And note that even if we did define bald in such a way (having less than 137 hairs), it would remain vague, since whether some object on his head is a hair or not would be a vague fact.

Greg said...

@ entirelyuseless

The literature on everything is extremely vast. It's not generally true in philosophy that good solutions will be generally accepted. In any case, denying that the laws of logic preserve truth is itself an attempted solution that is also subject to the same doubt as any other solution, as far as lack of consensus is concerned.

I disagree that this means abandoning reason. It follows from my position that applying logic to human thoughts can sometimes lead you into error. It does not follow that it always does, and usually it does not. What follows is that absolute certainty is not possible, and I agree with this. Imperfect certainty is what human beings have.

Sure, it doesn't always. Introducing the rule "if p, then my door is locked" doesn't always lead you into error either. But when it doesn't lead you into error, it is by accident, not by virtue of the form of thought. And likewise with the laws of logic, if they are literally false. Why call them laws>?

(One will also have to suppose: This is one of those cases in which the laws of logic don't lead me into error. But how does one know this, without knowing that what one is trying to prove is true. Any argument where the laws of logic can be invoked therefore becomes circular. Unless, that is, we find some way to demarcate the set of inferences for which the laws of logic do preserve truth. But then, we need to infer the truth of this conclusion from the fact that this inference is in the set, and we are back to square one.)

entirelyuseless said...

Vincent Torley,

Yes I think the same thing applies to mathematical terms, and for the same reasons.

entirelyuseless said...

Greg:

As I said, I was not trying to prove the truth of my position on the paradoxes.

Still:

Either I am wrong, right now in making this very claim, or you are wrong in your general position.

Let's apply the laws of logic to that previous statement.

By the law of excluded middle, it is either true or false.

If it is true, then there are two possibilities:

1) I was wrong to make the claim. That means it wasn't true, which by hypothesis is false.
2) You are wrong in your general position. This is the only remaining possibility on the "true" hypothesis.

If it is false, the laws of logic imply that my claim there was not wrong, which means that it was true. This is a contradiction, so it is not false.

By the laws of logic, the only remaining possibility is that your general position is wrong.

Your general position is that the laws of logic cannot fail to preserve truth. So if you are right about this, you are wrong, since I have used nothing in this argument except the laws of logic.

So in any case your general position is wrong.

Your example of "if p, then my door is locked" shows nothing useful, since the reason that we do not use this argument is that p does nothing to increase the chance that your door is locked. If you have a logical syllogism, on the other hand, there is a highly increased chance that your conclusion is true, if your premises are true.

Edward Feser said...

I appreciate Vincent's linking to earlier posts of mine, but those are not in fact posts that are directly relevant to the specific argument of my article "Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought" -- an argument the focus of which is on the issue of the indeterminacy of the physical (in the technical Quinean sense of "indeterminacy"). Some posts here on the blog which are related to the topic of indeterminacy would be:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/oerter-and-indeterminacy-of-physical.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/oerter-on-indeterminacy-and-unknown.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/do-machines-compute-functions.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/can-machines-beg-question.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/kripke-contra-computationalism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/12/da-ya-think-im-sphexy.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/dretske-on-meaning.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-i.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-ii.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-iii.html

These are just blog posts, though, with all of the limitations that that implies. The article contains a much more lengthy, systematic, and academic treatment of the subject. I also treat it in a more systematic way in a complementary article, "Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind." Both articles are available in Neo-Scholastic Essays.

That's not "self-promotion," by the way. That's "telling readers who want to see a more detailed treatment where they can find it." Kind of like what Coyne and every other author does when they direct readers to their books for a more detailed discussion.

If Coyne doesn't want to read the article, fine. But here's what I do when I don't read something: I also don't criticize what's in it, since, of course, I haven't actually read it and thus have no basis for judgment.

Funny, I know, but it's just standard procedure for people who want to try to be intellectually honest, decent, sane, etc.

Anonymous said...

I just checked -- The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly is available through the University of Chicago Library, so his complaint about needing to spend money to read it is, well, made up.

monk68 said...

@entirelyuseless,

I think your use of logic is in error. The problem is one of referent equivocation, which can be shown by explicitly clarifying which claim(s) you are referring to in your analysis by restating your analysis as follows:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Either I am wrong, right now in making this very claim [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving], or you are wrong in your general position [that the laws of logic are truth preserving].”

Let's apply the laws of logic to that previous statement; namely the statement that [“Either I am wrong, right now in making this very claim [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving], or you are wrong in your general position [that the laws of logic are truth preserving]”].

By the law of excluded middle, *it*; namely the claim that [“Either I am wrong, right now in making this very claim [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving], or you are wrong in your general position [that the laws of logic are truth preserving]”] is *either* true or false.

If it; namely the claim that [“Either I am wrong, right now in making this very claim [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving], or you are wrong in your general position [that the laws of logic are truth preserving]]” is true, then there are two possibilities:

1) I was wrong to make the claim [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving]. That means it [the claim that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving] wasn't true, which by hypothesis is false.

Or

2) You are wrong in your general position [that the laws of logic are truth preserving]. This is the only remaining possibility on the "true" hypothesis.

If it; namely the claim that [the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving] is false, the laws of logic imply that my [*DIFFERENT!!*] claim; namely, that [“I am wrong, right now in making this very claim” [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving]] was not wrong, which means that it; namely the claim that [“I am wrong, right now in making this very claim” [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving]] was true. This is a contradiction, so it is not false.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

*There is no contradiction*. The falsity of your claim [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving] is perfectly compatible with the truth of the very different claim that you were [“wrong, right now in making this very claim” [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving]]. You have equivocated on your referent with respect to the word “claim” in your analysis. The claim that [“I am wrong, right now in making this very claim” [that the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving]] is indeed true, precisely because the very different claim that [the laws of logic are *not* truth preserving] is false. The former claim is a claim about you and the propriety of making a certain claim, whereas the latter claim is a claim concerning the properties of the laws of logic. Without establishing this contradiction, the rest of your argument collapses.

Pax

entirelyuseless said...

monk68: When I said, "in making this very claim" I was referring to

"Either I am wrong, right now in making this very claim, or you are wrong in your general position [that the laws of logic are truth preserving]."

I was not assuming this statement is true, and I was not referring to my general position about the laws of logic. I was showing that if we are allowed to assume that it is true or false, which we would assume by the law of excluded middle, we can conclude that "you are wrong in your general position."

Tyrrell McAllister said...

For context, note that entirelyuseless is exploiting a version of Curry's paradox.

A simple version of Curry's paradox runs as follows: Let P be any proposition, say "The moon is made of green cheese". Let S be the proposition "If S is true, then P." A superficially valid argument by contradiction (exercise for the reader) shows that S must be true. That is, S is a true implication. Thus, the antecedent of S (which is just S itself) is true. Hence, S is a true implication whose antecedent is true. Therefore, by modus ponens, the consequent of S is true. That is, P is true. Thus, apparently, we have proved the truth of an arbitrary proposition.

entirelyuseless's version of Curry's paradox just replaces the If-then version of S above by the equivalent disjunction, so that S is now the proposition "Either not-S or P." Then entirelyuseless lets P be the negation of Greg's position. The falsity of Greg's position then follows in the usual Curry way.

Note that this argument did not start out by assuming the truth of S (or of P). However, there is an implicit assumption that such a proposition S exists in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, this assumption has been contested. The whole paradoxical argument begins by declaring S to be a proposition satisfying a certain description. If no proposition meets that description, than the whole argument, even if it is valid, is vacuous. It's like an argument that begins with "Let n be a number such that n = n + 1." That's a perfectly well-formed hypothesis, and you can draw all kinds conclusions from it. For example, you can draw the conclusion that 0 = 1. But all that you've shown is that if such a number n exists, then 0 = 1. Since no such number exists, your result is only vacuously true.

Curry's paradox is named after a 20th century logician, but apparently it was studied by medieval logicians in the 14th century. I don't know much about this beyond what I read in this interview with Stephen Read.

rems said...

Dr Feser

I think you would be enlightened in your lucubrations about the uniqueness of the human mind ("intellect") if you read the modern science studies about animal cognition that use an evolutionary comparative approach. It is proven beyond doubt that we humans are related (share common ancestors) with the rest of the animals and thus we share a lot of traits (phenotypic characters) with them.
Wynne, C. D., & Udell, M. A. (2013). Animal Cognition: Evolution, Behavior and Cognition.
Palgrave Macmillan.
Shettleworth, S. J. (1999). Cognition, evolution, and behavior. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Kind Regards

Brandon said...

It is proven beyond doubt that we humans are related (share common ancestors) with the rest of the animals and thus we share a lot of traits (phenotypic characters) with them.

Everyone here already accepts this. It is not a legitimate logical inference, however, to move from "We share a lot of cognitive capabilities with animals" to "We share intellectual capabilities in particular with animals".

Tim Lambert said...

rems,
If only you knew how goofy and out of place you look posting that here.

JohnD said...

Ed,

Any new info on your natural theology project?

Edward Feser said...

JohnD,

Patience. In fact I'm working on it at this very moment. The writing should be done within a month or two. Detailed information about it coming in due course. You will like it.

JohnD said...

Ed,

Thanks for the reply! I am excited. Will exercise patience from here on =)

Guadalupe said...

I too, am excited for the new philosophy of nature book.

With that said, I would like to ask a question:
Is it possible to tell the difference between a post-mortem human soul and an angel, fallen or otherwise?

I would think that since both exist, and lacking any matter, there would be no way to differentiate them. Or would the form itself be used to distinguish them?

laubadetriste said...

"Patience," 'e sez. Doesn't he know it's too late for that? Doesn't he know we're *too far gone*?

I sat down, I thought to unwind over something that would play in Peoria; something of moral uplift and suasion; something hearty and clean and true-blue American, like *The Arrow* or *Hawaii Five-0.* But I couldn't help myself: my hands as if guided by some alien influence opened a new browser tab and took me to Dr. Feser's Aristotelian proof on Vimeo. I became absorbed in the rehearsal of Eleatic argument.

There was a knock at the door. I slammed shut my laptop and flipped off the lights, concealing myself in the shadows of my living room. Then again, insistently, the knock. "Trick or treat!"

Had anyone seen me through the window? What had they seen? The room spun. My heart shook. Again, the knock. "I am not an animal!" I shrieked out into the darkness. "I am a human being!"

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser have you considered doing a blog post on St. Augustine's argument from eternal truth and dealing with objections to it?

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

Got something much better than a blog post on that forthcoming. That's a whole chapter in the natural theology book.

entirelyuseless said...

Tyrrell: yes, I was exploiting a paradox. Normally this is not a serious method of reasoning. But in this case it was a serious method, because I was arguing against the claim that real paradoxes do not exist.

I realize there are proposals that attempt to resolve it without admitting that the paradoxes are real. (Note that when I say they are real, I do not mean that anything contradictory exists; I mean they necessarily result from applying the laws of logic to thought and language.) In my opinion, all of those attempts fail. It is usual to talk about "revenge paradoxes", in the sense that the manner of talking used in proposed resolutions allow you to formulate a new version of the same paradox with the same consequences.

That is true of the case of denying that a proposition exists, although I will not go into it here (as I said I am not trying to prove the whole of my point.) But in a way that should be obvious: whatever you mean by denying that there is such a proposition, the sentence itself exists, and is surely not meaningless, in the usual sense of meaningless. We know perfectly well what it is trying to say, even if you assert that it fails to say it.

Don Jindra said...

entirelyuseless,

"I did read Ross's exposition of the argument, and I disagree with it. I think it is pretty obvious that all our thoughts are indeterminate, because our thoughts depend on our words, and our words are indeterminate, simply because we have no way to define words which does not depend on other words, on examples, and on pointing out cases, and all of these lead to indeterminate meanings."

I agree Ross is sloppy in the way he uses words. He depends on this sloppiness to get us talking about irrelevant things like "pure addition" and "indeterminate." The crucial word is "physical." He arbitrarily excludes human thought from his "physical" category, as if he knows humans aren't as physical as a calculator. IOW, the way he defines "physical" makes the word mean merely "non-human." So in reality his definitions beg the question. Therefore his conclusion is not "No formal thinking is a physical process" but rather "No formal thinking is a non-human process" -- or simply, "Formal thinking is a human process." That may or may not be true but it's not really very controversial and says nothing like his rhetoric claims.

Greg said...

@ entirelyuseless

Your example of "if p, then my door is locked" shows nothing useful, since the reason that we do not use this argument is that p does nothing to increase the chance that your door is locked. If you have a logical syllogism, on the other hand, there is a highly increased chance that your conclusion is true, if your premises are true.

Nothing in the argument you gave depends on the fact that the statement you were trying to disprove was "you are wrong in your general position"; thus, if your argument is worth crediting, you have a logical syllogism against any proposed true statement. So no, you are not entitled to say that "If you have a logical syllogism, on the other hand, there is a highly increased chance that your conclusion is true, if your premises are true." You've actually shown that you can prove a contradiction, so that you can prove everything.

I was showing that if we are allowed to assume that it is true or false, which we would assume by the law of excluded middle, we can conclude that "you are wrong in your general position."

The law of excluded middle does not imply that any string of words is either true or false. You might have shortened your argument by just asserting that the Liar's paradox has to be taken at face value and shows the law of excluded middle to be invalid.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

The crucial word is "physical." He arbitrarily excludes human thought from his "physical" category, as if he knows humans aren't as physical as a calculator. IOW, the way he defines "physical" makes the word mean merely "non-human."

I don't know where this reading comes from. Just skimming over the first page of the paper, he seems to define "physical" in terms of what is explicable in terms of the "laws of physics". This amounts to a more or less ostensive definition. So long as that is all we have said, human thought might be physical. Ross also argues that what's physical is indeterminate. But so long as that is all we have said, human thought might be physical.

Then Ross also argues that human thought is not indeterminate. Thus is would follow that human thought is not physical, but the question is no more begged here than it would be in any instance of Leibniz's law.

Perhaps you have a point in mind where Ross takes as a premise that human thought is not physical or where he defines "physical" as "non-human". I can't imagine where. This is familiar ground for us, so I expect the same amount of hand wringing.

Anonymous said...

That is Don Jindra's constant attack against this argument. He sticks to it no matter how many times he is shown it is not a good objection. When it gets down to it, he seems to object to the notion that one would allow the possibility that thought is not physical.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, I hope you would consider writing a book on apologetics. Something like how to build the case for Christianity from ground up (starting from what faith and reason is, what tools of reason do we have at our disposal, then on to the proofs for God's existence, to miracles, to Christ's birth, ministry, and resurrection, to the Church as keeper of the deposit of faith, etc) I know you've written something of this sort in TLS, but that approach is focused on answering the New Atheism. Perhaps another approach can be presented with focus on the case for Christianity? Thanks! ~ Mark

A. R. Diaz said...

Ed,

I wonder if you intend to respond to Peter Dillard's reply to your "Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought" article. I see that you have included the article in your Neo-Scholastic Essays as it appeared in ACPQ, and thus without any mention of his reply. I wonder why you did not include an expanded version of it in your Neo-Scholastic Essyas addressing the misplaced criticisms Dillard made to the original article of yours (and to Kripke's and Ross's arguments).

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

"Ross also argues that what's physical is indeterminate."

Ross gives the illusion of making that argument, but he doesn't actually make it. He takes us on a wild goose chase for a thing called "indeterminacy." But nowhere does he tell us why the determinate cannot be "resultant from, if not reducible to, universal laws of physics." Instead of making that argument, he relies on nomenclature. He writes of a set he labels "physical processes." We are to assume this set includes all of those processes "resultant from, if not reducible to, universal laws of physics." But nowhere does he argue what criteria must be used to put things into that set. We see it only by example. He limits himself to examples we can easily agree on: calculators, computers, adding machines, and even falling bodies. But why does he not include human thinking as an additional example of what belongs in that set? Where does he show that determinate processes cannot be a subset within physical processes?

Ross uses only one criteria when defining his physical process set: indeterminacy in, formal thinking out. Using that criteria, he begs the question.

Daniel Carriere said...

Hi Don,

Ed summarizes the argument as follows:
1) All formal thinking is determinate, but
2) No physical process is determinate, so
3) No formal thinking is a physical process.

So, if I take you correctly, you are arguing that Ross has not given adequate reason to believe his points 1, 2. For 1, perhaps there are aspects of formal thinking that are indeterminate. For 2, perhaps there are physical processes that are determinate. If one can find evidence where 1 and 2 are wrong, then 3 does not follow. You want him to do a better job in explaining why all physical processes must be indeterminate. And "why the determinate cannot be "resultant from, if not reducible to, universal laws of physics.""

You agree that "calculators, computers, adding machines, and even falling bodies." are examples of 2 (I think??) But you don't think Ross has made a good case for why point 1 can't be a subset of point 2. He just affirms that this is the case.

Is this a fair representation of your argument?

Cheers,
Daniel

Daniel Carriere said...

Here is another list produced by Ed in one of his last exchanges with Oerter:

A. All formal thinking is determinate.
B. No physical process is determinate.
C. No formal thinking is a physical process. [From A and B]
D. Machines are purely physical.
E. Machines do not engage in formal thinking. [From C and D]
F. We engage in formal thinking.
G. We are not purely physical. [From C and F]

Cheers,
Daniel

Daniel Carriere said...

I've been doing my homework based on the links Ed provided. He defines indeterminate as follows:

What Ross, Kripke, et al. are saying when they say that the physical is indeterminate is that no collection of physical facts, and indeed not even the entirety of physical facts, entails any particular meaning rather than another. That would include all the facts about deterministic causation, if causal determinism turned out to be true. For example, even if it so happened that every single time anyone saw Δ or T-R-I-A-N-G-L-E he were rigidly causally determined to utter “That definitely represents triangles, and not a slice of pizza, or a UFO, or some oddball acid jazz music!” there would be nothing about the physical properties of that sequence of sounds, or of its causal relations to any other collection of sounds, brain states, bodily motions, etc., that would by itself entail that the meaning it hasis the one we would naturally tend to associate it with. It is important to emphasize that there is nothing essentially anti-materialist or anti-physicalist about this claim. Ross is a critic of materialism, but many prominent philosophers who are materialists or physicalists -- Quine, Daniel Dennett, Bernard Williams, Alex Rosenberg, and others -- have taken precisely the same view. They hold that for any collection of physical facts, no matter how large, there is nothing about them that entails one specific meaning rather than another. Not only could a materialist agree with Ross’s premise (2), many materialists do agree with it.

Daniel said...

Am I the only one who finds the suggestion of this special determinate material component of human thoughts, this material element radically unlike any other material substance that we know of and certainly all those others involved in carbon-based life-forms, hauntingly like Dennett's much vaunted 'Secret Ingredient'?

Ian Wardell said...

Not relevant to this particular blog entry, but I feel I have to share this:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/science/612340/Origin-of-the-universe-riddle-solved-by-Canadian-physicists-and-er-it-wasn-t-God

Article:
"Just to make things more complicated Dr Mir says we have been looking at the question ‘how did the universe come from nothing?’ all wrong.

According to the extraordinary findings, the question is irrelevant because the universe STILL is nothing".

Yes folks, the whole of physical reality is simply nothing at all! Oh how deceptive are appearances!

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

Ross uses only one criteria when defining his physical process set: indeterminacy in, formal thinking out.

This is just false. It's not even consistent with your preceding paragraph, in which you charge Ross of defining the physical in terms of a set of objects. From the standpoint of interpreting Ross, it is unintelligible. Ross says things like:

It seems that one cannot explain certain truth-carrying thoughts as reductively physical, even though they always have a physical medium in-which. (TW 116)

Adding physical instances even to infinity will not exclude incompossible equally most most particular forms (cf. Saul Kripke's "plus/quus" examples). (TW 116)

The consequence is that a physical process is really indeterminate among incompatible pure functions. That's not just an epistemic claim; it is a physical necessity. (TW 119)

Each of these contains at least one use of "physical" that can't be read as "formally indeterminate." That the physical is formally indeterminate is consistently treated as a conclusion.

In the original article, Ross wrote:

If a "thought process," say, adding, were a function linking actual physical states to "subsequent" physical states, then whatever pattern of inputs to outputs, there are incompossible functions that link the states equally well. In that case, we could not really add. Nor could we deny that we add precisely. Since we can add, we know our thought process is not the same as any function among brain states because no such function is determined (the way two points determine a line) by physical states.

In TW, he claims similarly:

We have no doubt that the operations of a mechanical adding machine and of a personal computer are entirely physical. Addition cannot be type identical with either of those physical processes because then it could not be done by the other sort of machine. Suppose that addition is identical with a common function among those processes, then the processes would have to realize that function to the exclusion of every incompossible function. But they cannot do that, as the examples above show. (TW 120).

Applied to human thought, the argument is simply: Consider the human brain or human body from the standpoint of physics, chemistry, and biology. There will always be incompossible predicates that are consistent with any pattern of observable behavior, so no pure function can be identical with whatever brain processes one is talking about.

Ross probably doesn't sit down and say, "'physical' =def ..." because it's too blindingly obvious based on the people he's citing and the term's standard connotations. But if you want a straightforward way to read "physical," think of his argument as an argument against physicalism; this will be a proposal that thoughts are type or token identical to brain or functional states/processes. The argument can be run simply by arguing that any such brain or functional states/processes are formally indeterminate in a way thought cannot be, and he is relies on no definition of 'physical' more controversial than a mind-brain identity theorist or functionalist would invoke.

Step2 said...

Applied to human thought, the argument is simply: Consider the human brain or human body from the standpoint of physics, chemistry, and biology.

I'm not sure where Ross does consider the human brain from the standpoint of biology, he seemed content to work off his examples at the primitive level of machines with no goal-driven programming or learning capacity. When simple physical creatures like ants can use swarm intelligence to solve dynamic and sometimes complex problems, the claim that the exponentially more complex human brain is unable to determine a basic mathematical operation unless human thought is immaterial seems overstated. Once you include just a sleight bit of learning ability and "aboutness" in the examples the answer isn't as strongly either/or as Ross makes it out to be.

Craig Payne said...

It seems like the conversation has moved beyond this by now, but I'll add my tuppence anyway. I just read Coyne's entry and the comments by readers. Man, those comments are, for the most part, DENSE.

There should be a simple term for an internet comment that is totally self-congratulatory and yet, at the same time and within itself, reveals how little one has on which to congratulate oneself.

Greg said...

@ Step2

We can say that the physicalist has at his disposal to answer Ross's argument whatever resources he would have to dissolve Kripkenstein. Maybe there is some "goal-driven programming or learning capacity" solution to be observed on that front, but stated in that way, they are either too vague to be helpful or susceptible to Kripke's argument. (Strictly, though, there still remains a problem of saying what "goal-driven programming" or "learning capacity" are apart from anyone else's intention. Calculators do, in a sense, exhibit goal-driven programming and learning capacity.)

In other words: So perhaps a calculator is not complex enough and doesn't "learn". Okay. How does making it more complex remove any of the difficulty in principle vis a vis indeterminacy? At some point are the input/output pairs no longer indeterminate among incompossible functions? I've seen no argument that that is the case.

Dan Harte said...

"as transparent as an air guitar" that line made me laugh out loud.
I feel compelled to use that line in the near future. :-D

Mr. Green said...

Craig Payne: There should be a simple term for an internet comment that is totally self-congratulatory and yet, at the same time and within itself, reveals how little one has on which to congratulate oneself.

There is: "Internet comment".

Anonymous said...

You all do know that Don is a troll, right? He is just trying to kick up dust with silly objections. He will jump from one to another whenever the former is shown to be totally ridiculous. It is likely his final objection will boil down to the claim Ross is begging the question against natural in not begging the question in favour of naturalism. This is what he argued previously.

Step2 said...

Strictly, though, there still remains a problem of saying what "goal-driven programming" or "learning capacity" are apart from anyone else's intention.

I don't see why it is a problem if we are talking about biology.

How does making it more complex remove any of the difficulty in principle vis a vis indeterminacy?

Let me respond this way: do you think IBM's Watson can be run on a calculator?

At some point are the input/output pairs no longer indeterminate among incompossible functions?

Kripke's skeptical argument applies to humans also - just because someone reports they are adding I don't know for certain they aren't "really" quadding.

Scott said...

Step2:

Let me respond this way: do you think IBM's Watson can be run on a calculator?

In principle it can be run on a Turing machine.

laubadetriste said...

I would like to emphasize something Daniel Carriere and Greg both mentioned in passing, above: Ross is careful to say (e.g. in "Immaterial Aspects of Thought," here, footnote 5), not that "judgmental understanding" (the actuality of the intellect according to his reading of Aristotle) is not physical, but that it is not *wholly* physical.

@Step2: "I'm not sure where Ross does consider the human brain from the standpoint of biology, he seemed content to work off his examples at the primitive level of machines with no goal-driven programming or learning capacity. When simple physical creatures like ants can use swarm intelligence to solve dynamic and sometimes complex problems, the claim that the exponentially more complex human brain is unable to determine a basic mathematical operation unless human thought is immaterial seems overstated."

Either I have missed your subtle irony, or there is a sort of bait-and-switch you pulled off there. You seem to concede that while *primitive* machines may not determinately be able to perform a mathematical operation, nonetheless since *simple* creatures like ants can solve *dynamic* and *complex* problems, surely *exponentially more complex* material human brains may be able to perform *basic* math! A point which implies that the relevant difference is made by going from *primitive* or *simple* or *basic* to *dynamic* or *complex* (or even, mirabile dictu, *exponentially more complex*!)--when surely the first obvious departure was made when you elided the relevant difference between machines and ants, and the second when you elided the relevant difference between ants and humans. Ross may not have touched on this much (although he seems to allude to it in his footnote 17 to the paper above), but Dr. Feser has addressed it ad nauseum, in his many posts on artifacts and teleology and the animal soul.

Also, Greg mentioned Ross's point about the inadequacy even of infinity (I paraphrase) to make the physical determinate. If infinity won't cut it, *exponentially more* won't, either.

"Once you include just a sleight bit of learning ability and 'aboutness' in the examples the answer isn't as strongly either/or as Ross makes it out to be."

A slight bit of learning ability and aboutness is like a slight bit of pregnancy. It's almost... *determinate* that way. And that reveals your sleight of hand.

@Craig Payne: "There should be a simple term for an internet comment that is totally self-congratulatory and yet, at the same time and within itself, reveals how little one has on which to congratulate oneself."

I propose "commentoinette," formed from "comment" and "Marie Antoinette." It may not capture self-congratulation, but it seems to capture clueless disregard.

Tomislav Ostojich said...

In principle it can be run on a Turing machine.

In principle not even MS Word can be run on a Turing machine, because it works with unbounded input. The Turing machine is a mathematical model, not a model of reality.

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." -Albert Einstein

Anonymous said...


Either I have missed your subtle irony, or there is a sort of bait-and-switch you pulled off there.

...I see you haven't met Step2 before.

Scott said...

For the purposes of the point about "complexity," it's sufficient that a Turing machine model Watson's operation for a finite period of time. Neither it nor MS Word ever actually has to deal with unbounded input.

Tomislav Ostojich said...

For the purposes of the point about "complexity," it's sufficient that a Turing machine model Watson's operation for a finite period of time.

What kind of complexity are we talking about here, computational complexity?

It is a known fact that computational complexity actually depends on the underlying machine model used to program the algorithm. The Deutsch-Jozsa algorithm, on a quantum computer, is exponentially simpler than any algorithm on a Turing machine which is extensionally identical to the DJA. If you change the underlying model of computation, you change the complexity.

Greg said...

@ Step22

Let me respond this way: do you think IBM's Watson can be run on a calculator?

Well, I think IBM's Watson is a calculator, in that I don't see a conceptual difference between a computer and a calculator.

Some of what "a calculator" does (as we'd usually think of calculators) does not require a Turing machine.

But, for that matter, Watson isn't really a Turing machine, since even Watson doesn't have an infinite stack, and a Turing machine is a mathematical object.

Kripke's skeptical argument applies to humans also - just because someone reports they are adding I don't know for certain they aren't "really" quadding.

Yes, Kripke does argue that, and I think defenders of Ross's argument have to be prepared to give a clearer account than he does of what should be accepted in Kripke. Feser has done that, for example. I have also spent a lot of time thinking about it.

Scott said...

Tomislav Ostojich:

No, we're not talking about computational complexity. I was replying to Step2; see his post and follow the discussion back from there.

laubadetriste said...

@Tomislav Ostojich: "'As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.'--Albert Einstein"

Lord knows I love quotes. But whenever Einstein is quoted, everyone's instinctive first reaction ought to be, "I call bullshit." Not because he wasn't eminently quotable--of course he was--but because he was so eminent, a whole lot of bullshit ended up being hung around his neck. "Well, Einstein said it, and he was smart, so it must be true..." Just think of all those unsourced Einstein image macros floating around on the internet. "Everything is energy and that's all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality...," etc.

In this case, I'm happy to see the quote is real. But it doesn't seem to apply. Einstein seems to have been speaking loosely, in "Geometry and Experience." The essay develops several ways in which Euclidean geometry does not fit reality, and must be modified by non-Euclidean geometry and contemporary physical science. He did not mean (say) that if you add two apples to two apples, you do not certainly and in reality get exactly four apples.

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

My claim is that all of the rhetoric about determinate vs. indeterminate is a red herring. We could be talking about any property, p. Ross's argument is really:

(1) Human beings have property p
(2) No purely physical thing has property p
(3) No human being is a purely physical thing.

The arguments for or against p make no difference. Ross's proof fails because it must assume human beings, or human acts are not a subset of purely physical things or acts, regardless of the truth of p. Its truth is only as good as that assumption. With other assumptions we could easily reach a very different conclusion:

(1) Human beings are purely physical things
(2) p is a property of human beings
(3) p is a property of some purely physical things

So I say:

(1) All humans acts are physical processes
(2) Formal thinking is a human act
(3) Formal thinking is a physical process.

Very unimpressive logic. And that's basically how Ross's proof strikes me. It poses no threat to materialism.

But I can't help noticing one of your paragraphs and the ramifications of Ross. Determinacy is really about meaning, purpose and, ultimately, final cause. So I find this ironic:

"Consider the human brain or human body from the standpoint of physics, chemistry, and biology. There will always be incompossible predicates that are consistent with any pattern of observable behavior, so no pure function can be identical with whatever brain processes one is talking about."

If this is true, it also follows that:

Consider the heart from the standpoint of physics, chemistry, and biology. Is its final cause to pump blood? No, because there will always be incompossible predicates that are consistent with any pattern of observable behavior, so no pure function can be identical with whatever process one is talking about.

Ross's "proof" depends on a purposeless universe. It depends on a universe with no final cause except what humans bring to it. IOW, Ross cannot have physical processes directed toward a particular end, such as addition, or pumping blood. This meaningless universe is very much unlike the A-T universe most here would otherwise argue for. It's no good to argue that Ross is merely adopting a materialist position for argument's sake. Adding some dualist potion will not magically reveal purpose. Purpose has to be apparent first. Ross's proof denies the very possibility of A-T philosophy.



Don Jindra said...

Anonymous ,

"It is likely [Don's] final objection will boil down to the claim Ross is begging the question against natural in not begging the question in favour of naturalism. This is what he argued previously."

I don't even know what that means so I'm pretty sure I never made that claim. :) But if you've been around, and you seem to suggest you have, I don't jump from one objection to another. I've consistently stated that Ross's argument begs the question. I could make other objections too, and early on I did. But I realized it was all a waste of time since his argument fails so miserably with such a basic and obvious logical fallacy.

Daniel Carriere said...

Hi Don,

About this: It depends on a universe with no final cause except what humans bring to it.

I was reading through Ed's Aquinas the other day, reviewing the fifth way. He said something that struck me - I'm paraphrasing from memory, so I may get this wrong - He said that we can imagine the final causality inherent in the universe in the same way as one can imagine the meaning inherent in a given text. The meaning is imposed on the text by the language users. But the text itself is in no way indicative of the meaning apart from the language users. If the language users were to go out of existence, then the text would stop being meaningful. The structure of the text would still remain though.

In the same way, the final causality apparent in the universe (in all causal regularities) points towards the existence of a directing intellect. If that directing intellect were to vanish, then the final causality inherent in the universe would also vanish.

That gave me some insight into what Aquinas was getting at. It also gave me a push away from the idea that final causality were some sort of quasi-physical characteristic that one could analyze under a microscope...

Anyway, I hope I've done justice to what Ed was trying to describe.

Cheers,
Daniel

J. A. Le Fevre said...

@ laubadetriste, re: "'As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.'--Albert Einstein"

Einstein is saying just what Professor Feser has often said – (paraphrasing) – ‘Mathematical representations of the Laws of physics are like wire frame representations of reality, they have a shape but not the substance nor form of reality.’ Comparing them in at least one post to representing the ‘desiccated pulp of an orange’ rather than a real fruit.

Scott said...

J. A. Le Fevre:

Einstein is saying just what Professor Feser has often said…

They don't seem quite the same to me. Ed's point is that mathematics refers successfully to reality as far as it goes, but because it leaves out anything nonquantifiable, it doesn't capture everything there is to know about that reality. Einstein's is that mathematics, in contrast to empirical knowledge, is "certain" precisely because it doesn't (qua mathematics) refer to reality at all. (See especially the two paragraphs contrasting the "older" and "more modern" interpretations of geometry. Ed's is closer to—though not identical with!—the former, Einstein's the latter.)

DavidM said...

But how do we know that red herrings don't go to heaven? With God all things are possible!

laubadetriste said...

@ J. A. Le Fevre:

↑Scott's point just goes to illustrate the force of Einstein's remark, in his celebrated contretemps with the Grand Vizier Ahmet Tevfik Pasha, that "People with hats are people what read good." And who am I to gainsay Einstein?

@Don Jindra: "Ross's argument is really: /(1) Human beings have property p / (2) No purely physical thing has property p / (3) No human being is a purely physical thing. / The arguments for or against p make no difference. Ross's proof fails because it must assume human beings, or human acts are not a subset of purely physical things or acts, regardless of the truth of p."

You claim Ross must *assume* what, in your own summary of his argument, you take to be his *conclusion.* Therefore I presume you concede what Greg said, above, "That the physical is formally indeterminate is consistently treated as a conclusion."

Also you equivocate between treating p as a premise, a conclusion, a proposition, and a variable.

"Its truth is only as good as that assumption."

Any argument is sound if and only if it is valid and its premises are true.

"With other assumptions we could easily reach a very different conclusion:"

Why yes. With any argument, if you change the argument, it is a different argument.

"So I say: (1) All humans acts are physical processes / (2) Formal thinking is a human act / (3) Formal thinking is a physical process. / Very unimpressive logic."

That ought to impress you. It's a Barbara syllogism, with thousands of years of history from the Prior Analytics to the Medieval moods. Now, it may not be *sound*--but that would not be a fault of the *logic.*

"Consider the heart from the standpoint of physics, chemistry, and biology. Is its final cause to pump blood? No, because there will always be incompossible predicates that are consistent with any pattern of observable behavior, so no pure function can be identical with whatever process one is talking about. / Ross's "proof" depends on a purposeless universe."

It is a peculiarly perverse method of disputation, to take someone else's reductio ad absurdum, and claim him to be arguing for the absurdum.

laubadetriste said...

(Also, your summary of Ross is a Camestros syllogism. To give a Barbara syllogism as a counterexample to a purportedly unsound Camestros syllogism while complaining about Ross's logic is...

Well, let's try this:

1) Both pots and kettles are black.
2) This is really rich.

Therefore,

3) You're the one who misunderstands both Ross and logic.)

Step2 said...

@laubadetriste
If infinity won't cut it, *exponentially more* won't, either.

To infinity and beyond! I don't do subtle irony, it's typically pretty blatant and improper. Although I should point out that Aristotle famously denied the reality and comprehensibility of an actual infinity, so I'm unsure what happens to Ross's argument when that gets factored into it. To the extent there was any switch it was that swarm intelligence is not at the "level" of individual ants, the description applies only to the colony as a whole, although even from that perspective the process is still rather simple compared to the human brain.

A slight bit of learning ability and aboutness is like a slight bit of pregnancy. It's almost... *determinate* that way. And that reveals your sleight of hand.

Hmph, I didn't realize I used the wrong spelling. However animal intelligence is supposed to be connected to animal cunning so maybe it wasn't totally inaccurate. Nevertheless if the consequence of Ross's argument is that no other animals can learn in any capacity nor can they really fixate on a particular object then he's got a problem with biology rather than my supposed sneakiness.

@Greg
Well, I think IBM's Watson is a calculator, in that I don't see a conceptual difference between a computer and a calculator.

Calculators cannot do this.

ozero91 said...

If we want to talk about sets, then the indeterminacy of the physical implies that anything in the set of all physical processes must also be in the set of all indeterminate processes. So if human thought is in the set of all physical processes then it must be in the set of all indeterminate processes. But that's a contradiction if human thought is determinate.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

(1) Human beings have property p
(2) No purely physical thing has property p
(3) No human being is a purely physical thing.

The arguments for or against p make no difference. Ross's proof fails because it must assume human beings, or human acts are not a subset of purely physical things or acts, regardless of the truth of p. Its truth is only as good as that assumption.


If p is a property, then there are no "arguments for or against p", nor is there such a thing as "the truth of p". p is not a proposition.

But the argument you've just given is patently valid and does not beg the question. Neither of its premises is or implies that "human beings, or human acts are not a subset of purely physical things or acts".

Now, jointly, of course, the premises imply that, because it's, well, a valid argument. But the trivial sense in which all valid arguments presuppose their conclusions does not a question begging argument make. If this argument begs the question, then every argument begs the question.

I think your real problem here is that you really want to ascribe a fallacy to the argument when you just think (2) is false. This leads you to adopt an incredible position.

Consider the heart from the standpoint of physics, chemistry, and biology. Is its final cause to pump blood? No, because there will always be incompossible predicates that are consistent with any pattern of observable behavior, so no pure function can be identical with whatever process one is talking about.

This is an objection that Dillard makes and Feser answers. There are also paragraphs in Ross that anticipate it. The assumption behind the objection is that if a heart has a final cause, then it has that final cause by instantiating a pure function. A-T is not committed to that.

Greg said...

@ Step2

Calculators cannot do this.

I said I don't see a conceptual difference, and I still don't. There are calculators you can buy for a few bucks at Staples, there are expensive graphing calculators, there are computers, and there are supercomputers. Some of these are computationally more powerful, but past a certain low threshold, I don't think there is a conceptual difference between what the different sorts of computers are doing. An argument to the contrary would be interesting.

Don Jindra said...

laubadetriste,

"It is a peculiarly perverse method of disputation, to take someone else's reductio ad absurdum, and claim him to be arguing for the absurdum."

It's funny that you thought Greg was working toward the absurd with that paragraph. He was actually paraphrasing Ross but applying it to a materialist notion of the brain. It *is* absurd, I grant you that. But it *is* Ross's argument. Greg is correct on that. When applied to human brains, it obviously assumes much more than is warranted. This has been my claim all along.

"You claim Ross must *assume* what, in your own summary of his argument, you take to be his *conclusion.* Therefore I presume you concede what Greg said, above, 'That the physical is formally indeterminate is consistently treated as a conclusion.'"

That's a curious dilemma. If a person assumes his conclusion in his premise is he treating the item as conclusion or premise? I don't have an answer for you there.


laubadetriste said...

@Step2: "Hmph, I didn't realize I used the wrong spelling..."

In the comments on Dr. Feser's last post, I misspelled the word "is," and also left out the key preposition in the culminating sentence of my initial criticism of somebody, making me sound like a Valley girl. You were just unlucky that your minor slip made for a moderately funny pun.

"To infinity and beyond! I don't do subtle irony, it's typically pretty blatant and improper."

:)

"... I should point out that Aristotle famously denied the reality and comprehensibility of an actual infinity, so I'm unsure what happens to Ross's argument when that gets factored into it."

So far as I can tell, nothing happens. That the counterfactual could not exist on Aristotelian terms should not matter to someone who thinks it impossible anyway.

(Note: it may be that Ross thinks it impossible on something like Aristotelian terms. See his paper I linked to, above, footnote 13 and thereabouts.)

(Other note: I also note in passing that Ross addresses nearby the criticism that Kripke's argument applies to humans, made by Step2 and Greg, above.)

"To the extent there was any switch it was that swarm intelligence is not at the 'level' of individual ants, the description applies only to the colony as a whole, although even from that perspective the process is still rather simple compared to the human brain."

I take it that since you do not dispute with argument my criticism of your elision of the difference between machines and ants, or of that between ants and humans, nor do you dispute my criticism of your move from simple to complex, that my criticisms stand.

"Nevertheless if the consequence of Ross's argument is that no other animals can learn in any capacity nor can they really fixate on a particular object then he's got a problem with biology..."

Who in the Sam Hell said those were consequences of his argument?

(I have noticed recently a departure in disputation which is new to me. I shall call it The Immodest Demurral, in honor of Swift's "A Modest Proposal." The way it works is, that if you wish to object to some claim x, that you blithely relate the most grotesque and fantastical consequences purportedly following upon the assertion of x, without arguing that in fact they follow, and then continue to mention that you may take some small exception to them, thus implying that any reasonable person should likewise object to x... [The objector is to be pictured, when doing this, as staring with an expression of wounded propriety over the rim of a cup of tea, and then gently wiping crumbs from his moustache.]

The Immodest Demurral works in many circumstances. Like so:

"Did you hear that Muriel voted to raise the federal excise tax on gasoline from 18.4 cents per gallon to 20 cents, so as to pay for road repair? She may be willing to follow the diktat of the vanguard party in this, but she may not wish to stand in the bread line, or see her children only through razor wire, what with her heart condition, poor thing...")

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

That's a curious dilemma. If a person assumes his conclusion in his premise is he treating the item as conclusion or premise? I don't have an answer for you there.

I think laubadetriste is just trying to read you charitably, so he was not fully prepared to attribute to you your actual position: that one of "Human beings have property p" and "No purely physical thing has property p" is equivalent to or implies that "No human being is a purely physical thing".

Step2 said...

@laubadetriste
I take it that since you do not dispute with argument my criticism of your elision of the difference between machines and ants, or of that between ants and humans, nor do you dispute my criticism of your move from simple to complex, that my criticisms stand.

I'm not sure what you think the differences between machines, ants, and humans is supposed to demonstrate unless those difference support my criticism of Ross's poor examples, nor do I think criticizing the move from simple to complex makes any sense from your point of view. How could a move from simple to complex be relevant in any way to determining meaning if an actual infinity falls short?

Who in the Sam Hell said those were consequences of his argument?

You were the one who said a slight amount of learning ability or aboutness is like being slightly pregnant. If you are going to take the strong either/or position then you've set it up as all or nothing.

laubadetriste said...

@Don Jindra: "It's funny that you thought Greg was working toward the absurd with that paragraph. He was actually paraphrasing Ross but applying it to a materialist notion of the brain. It *is* absurd, I grant you that. But it *is* Ross's argument. Greg is correct on that. When applied to human brains, it obviously assumes much more than is warranted. This has been my claim all along."

Why are you repeating what I said as if it supports your claims? Let me acknowledge that you acknowledged that I acknowledged that Ross made a reductio ad absurdum, which, since he made it, was his, and since it was a reductio ad absurdum, was absurd. Since it was absurd, therefore the "materialist notion of the brain" (as you put it) is false--which was the thrust of Ross's argument. Your claim, that "Ross's 'proof' depends on a purposeless universe," is false. The "purposeless universe" (as you put it) is the absurd consequence, the rejection of which means that "materialist notion of the brain" is false. Ross's argument depends, not upon "a purposeless universe," but upon the *rejection* of such a thing, by reductio. Hence my saying your method of disputation is perverse, to take Ross to be assuming what he is rejecting.

Perhaps we need to get down to cases, since Ross did not actually talk about a purposeless universe as such, and was talking about functions like " x(*)y = (x + y, if y < 1040 years, = x + y + 1, otherwise" instead of the function of the heart. The way we were talking was more in the spirit of Ross, than about what he literally said. Again, from the paper I linked to, above:

"[F]or a machine process to be fully determinate, every output for a function would have to occur. For an infinite function, that is impossible. The machine cannot physically do everything it actually does and also do everything it might have done. That is the heart of the matter. The physical, as pro-cess, is formally vague, no matter how far you extend it, or how minutely you describe its innermost mechanisms. The conclusion is that a physical process cannot realize an abstract function. It can at most simulate it."

So:
1. For a machine process to be fully determinate, every output for a function would have to occur; but
2. For an infinite function, that is impossible; therefore
3. A physical process cannot realize an abstract function.

If the brain is a physical process, it cannot realize an abstract function.

That is one reductio. Another:

"[I]n order to maintain that the processes are basically material, the philosopher has to deny outright that we do the very things we had claimed all along that we do. Yet our doing these things is essential to the reliability of our reasoning. [...] The final and greatest cost of insisting that our judgments are not more determinate as to pure functions than physical processes can be, is that we can do nothing logical at all, and no pure mathematics either. Now, who believes that?"

So:
1. In order to maintain that the processes are basically material, the philosopher has to deny outright that we do the very things we had claimed all along that we do; but
2. Our doing these things is essential to the reliability of our reasoning; therefore
3. The processes are not basically material.

If the processes of reasoning are basically material processes of the brain, then our reasoning is unreliable.

And so on. There are a few more reductios also. I hope it is clear, both why this tends towards your talk of the purposeless universe, and also why that is the sort of thing that Ross rejects.

Anonymous said...

laubadetriste, the people you are arguing with are not worth arguing with. Don is a troll, and if Step2 isn't actually a troll, then he has demonstrated a chronic inability to make or follow a simple argument without floundering in fallacies and stupidity, as his comments in this thread are ample proof.

laubadetriste said...

@Step2: "I'm not sure what you think the differences between machines, ants, and humans is supposed to demonstrate..."

I think that there are relevant differences between machines, ants, and humans--argued for ad nauseum by Dr. Feser, I said, and so not argued for but merely noted by me--demonstrates that your move from primitive/simple/basic to dynamic/complex/exponentially, etc. in your post November 2, 2015 at 1:25 PM was illicit.

(At the risk of being confusing, let me attempt a parallel. Suppose we were discussing something like the ability to fly, and the fact that birds have it but rocks do not. Suppose you said something like, "When simple physical objects like rocks can be tossed through the air, the claim that exponentially more complex objects like Mount Rushmore could not fly seems overstated..." The illicit move [I might say], would be the implication that greater complexity is the sort of thing that could take mountains aloft. Birds *are* more complex than rocks, I might admit; but that is tangential.)

"How could a move from simple to complex be relevant in any way to determining meaning if an actual infinity falls short?"

I don't think that it *is* relevant. You had not yet brought up actual infinities. I was pointing out, that your move from primitive/simple/basic to dynamic/complex/exponentially, etc., falls short on Ross's terms, since it does not even reach the infinity he discusses (whether actual or otherwise).

"You were the one who said a slight amount of learning ability or aboutness is like being slightly pregnant. If you are going to take the strong either/or position then you've set it up as all or nothing. "

Yes. So how does that entail that other animals (besides the ants and humans we mentioned?) cannot learn "in any capacity"? (Do you think that, because I only mentioned the ants and humans that you mentioned, therefore I was denying capabilities to the animals I didn't mention?)

And--do I read this right?--are you taking "aboutness" to be the ability to "fixate on a particular object"? If so, I think we've found the root of the problem right there. Just in case, "aboutness" is intentionality.

@Anonymous 5:09 PM:

Thanks. :) I actually find this fun--up to a point. I'm going through some personal stuff right now, and I welcome philosophical discussion and polemic as diversions.

I have found myself, though, wondering recently whether I started speaking in another language without realizing it. That would explain some confusion...

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

"But the argument you've just given is patently valid and does not beg the question. Neither of its premises is or implies that 'human beings, or human acts are not a subset of purely physical things or acts'"

So putting human beings in a separate category of purely physical things doesn't assume from the outset that they belong in separate categories? To me that blatantly begs the question. It creates a self-serving, false dichotomy of (1) physical things, and (2) human beings. There is no reason to accept those two mutually exclusive categories. Therefore to accept the conclusion is to accept those two mutually exclusive categories from the outset. The proof depends entirely on being credulous from the outset.

Dogs feel pain
No physical body feels pain
No dog is a physical body

I could write a paper on that, mimicking Ross, and the outcome would be just as strong as Ross, which is to say, not strong at all. The only way to accept the conclusion is to accept the complete separation between the sets at the outset. One must believe the conclusion prior to following the proof. If you know of another fallacy that fits better, I'm curious to hear it. But it is a fallacy. A materialist would never accept proposition (2) in either proof because "No physical body feels pain" asks the materialist to agree that dogs, which clearly feel pain, are not physical bodies. So yes, my real problem is that I ascribe a fallacy to the argument because (2) is false. Why is it false? Because it demands agreement from the outset that thinking brains are not as physical as a calculator. IOW, it asks me to beg the question.


This is an objection that Dillard makes and Feser answers.

I'm not familiar with Dillard's objections nor with Feser's response. I'll research that. But if one believes Ross's indeterminacy, the path to final cause seems to be too overgrown for us to determine its outline.


Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

I know it's not appreciated here and I don't expect otherwise, but I have made an honest attempt to understand the A-T position. I've read a lot. I've learned a lot. I've put myself to the test in a hostile environment. I've always believed those who avoid challenges will stagnate. I've long suspected most people don't mind stagnation. But I do try to keep an open mind on that.


laubadetriste,

You think Ross's argument is an reductio ad absurdum? That's bizarre. Why is it absurd to believe brains are 100% physical and therefore every process they perform must be physical? The brain obviously realizes abstract functions and there is no evidence it is anything but physical. So from my POV, you have a peculiar idea of the absurd.

I do agree there's plenty of absurdity we could discuss. I can't imagine how a mystical substance forms the foundation of our ability to add "purely." It's hard to think of a more absurd concept than an immaterial substance. There is no hope of describing how it does what it supposedly does.

It's likewise absurd to claim Ross's inability to find determinate processes in the physical universe is an esoteric argument for a purposeful universe. I don't think I ought to take the time to pursue that fascinating issue just now. But for you to bring up absurdity is counterproductive.

Btw, our reasoning *is* unreliable. Hanging out around here, we see strong evidence of that, no matter what side we're on.



Daniel Carriere said...

Don, as far as I understand it, there is fallacy in the argument. Just premises you don't accept. You can attack the premises. Claim that they are false or unproven, as you do and that way show that the conclusion does not follow. But there is no logical fallacy here.

For example, you could attack premise A, B, C, and D in the following argument from Ed. In this way you would so that G does not follow because C and E are not true:

A. All formal thinking is determinate.
B. No physical process is determinate.
C. No formal thinking is a physical process. [From A and B]
D. Machines are purely physical.
E. Machines do not engage in formal thinking. [From C and D]
F. We engage in formal thinking.
G. We are not purely physical. [From C and F]

But there is nothing inherently wrong with this way of formulating an argument in this way. It certainly gets a discussion going and gets one to look at the reasons why the author gives for his or her premises.

And you do attack A and B by stating that there is no reason to think that A can't be a subset of B. I think Ed mentioned somewhere that Daniel Dennett attack A by claiming that we never really do A at all. That is the eliminative approach. It certainly helps focus the discussion and debate, having the argument put this way.

Cheers,
Daniel

Mr. Green said...

Greg: I don't see a conceptual difference, and I still don't. There are calculators you can buy for a few bucks at Staples, there are expensive graphing calculators, there are computers, and there are supercomputers.

Tsk, tsk. A calculator is something that calculates. A computer is something that computes. See the difference?!?

Daniel Carriere said...

no fallacy that is. :)

E.Seigner said...

Mr. Green, Tsk, tsk. A calculator is something that calculates. A computer is something that computes. See the difference?!?

In many languages "calculate" and "compute" are the same word. How would you explain the difference?

Scott said...

E.Seigner:

Simple. A calculator is something that does what is expressed by the English word "calculate," and a computer is something that does what is expressed by the English word "compute."

</humor> (just in case)

ozero91 said...

"If we want to talk about sets, then the indeterminacy of the physical implies that anything in the set of all physical processes must also be in the set of all indeterminate processes. So if human thought is in the set of all physical processes then it must be in the set of all indeterminate processes. But that's a contradiction if human thought is determinate."

Perhaps this can be out another way.

1) Human thought, whatever kind of process it is, is determinate (as per Ross' argument)
2) Whatever is physical (entirely describable by materialist physics/biology/etc) is indeterminate (from the argument for the indeterminacy of the physical)
3) Human thought is physical (assumption)
4) Human thought is indeterminate (from 2 and 3)
C) Contradiction between 1 and 4

Tim m'fing Lambert said...

Funny how big of a mouth Ben Goran is over at Coyne's blog.... but crickets over here.
Oh but why would a guy even need to waste his time on the topic here when he can waste post on top of post over there and just deal with the caricature of Ed's position?

Step2 said...

@laubadetriste,
Suppose you said something like, "When simple physical objects like rocks can be tossed through the air, the claim that exponentially more complex objects like Mount Rushmore could not fly seems overstated..." The illicit move [I might say], would be the implication that greater complexity is the sort of thing that could take mountains aloft. Birds *are* more complex than rocks, I might admit; but that is tangential.

Unfortunately I do find your analogy confusing, sorry. For the most part your parallels aren't parallel. It does clarify where you think my illicit move is but the implication of greater complexity is of a kind already associated with that sort of functionality. A flying-related example would be comparing a hang glider, which is simple and light in its construction, to the flying ability of the F-22 jet fighter.

Just in case, "aboutness" is intentionality.

The philosophical definition of intentionality is ironically all over the place, so fixating on a particular object is sufficient as a beginning point.

laubadetriste said...

@Don Jindra: "You think Ross's argument is an reductio ad absurdum?"

I think several of them are, yes. I quoted two examples, above. Is there any actual reason why you would deny that they are? (I understand that you think Ross's arguments *fail.* I am asking why--apart from your incredulity, which has no logical force--you would deny that they are *reductios*.)

"It's likewise absurd to claim Ross's inability to find determinate processes in the physical universe is an esoteric argument for a purposeful universe. I don't think I ought to take the time to pursue that fascinating issue just now."

No doubt. Yes, I should have called you on that when you first brought up the "purposeless universe" on November 3, 2015 at 6:42 AM. Instead I accepted your term and ran with it. That's on me. I seem to have confused you more than you already were confused.

Also, there's nothing "esoteric" about that. The word is quite out of place. (See? I learned my lesson, and will call you on that now. If you should attempt in a day or two to roll your eyes at someone's purported "esoteric" argument, we'll remember where that poppycock came from.)

"Why is it absurd to believe brains are 100% physical and therefore every process they perform must be physical?"

For a few minutes I sat and marveled at your chutzpah. *Why,* do you ask? Well, let me answer your question with a question: Are you the same Don Jindra who, in the immediately preceding paragraph of this same comment, said "I have made an honest attempt to understand the A-T position. I've read a lot. I've learned a lot."? It seems marvelous, after the *dozens* of posts (and books!) in which Dr. Feser has addressed that, that you would seriously ask the question.

(Not to mention the many sometimes-allied works Dr. Feser has mentioned *in* those posts and books, from Kripke, Ross, Popper, Hayek, Fodor, McGinn, Searle, Nagel, Levine, Strawson, Chalmers, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, Plotinus, Braine, Davies, Putnam, Baker, Burtt, Williamson, Plantinga, Lewis, Foster, Robinson, Ruse, Kitcher, Noë, Gutting, Barr, Haldane, Carroll, Whitehead, Chomsky, Berkeley, Jackson, Schrödinger, Sellars, Gödel, Lovejoy, Aristotle, Descartes, Scruton, Frege, Swinburne, Hasker, Flew, Reppert, Cudworth, Malebranche, *and* a whole bunch of manualists!)

If you somehow "read a lot" of and "learned a lot" from Dr. Feser's work over the last few years, and yet don't know *why* it is absurd to believe brains are 100% physical, then I think no one here can help you, because yours is not the sort of problem that reading and learning can fix. (Note: I am not saying that you should *be persuaded* by all that work. I am saying that, if you did what you claim to have done, you ought to be able to fairly reproduce some of it.)

And if you should need to start all over again, then I suggest starting with the "Mind-body problem roundup" here, and the "Scientism roundup" here.

"It's hard to think of a more absurd concept than an immaterial substance. There is no hope of describing how it does what it supposedly does."

Do I detect a Cartesian emphasis there? I'll bet a lot of the A-T folk would object. You might be less confused after reading "Was Aquinas a dualist?" here.

"Btw, our reasoning *is* unreliable. Hanging out around here, we see strong evidence of that, no matter what side we're on."

By what faculty (besides reason) do you reach, from the "strong evidence" here, the conclusion that our reasoning is unreliable?

Anonymous said...

Don, your comments seem belied by the fact you have tried, again, to claim an obviously valid argument form, that suffers from no obvious material fallacies, is invalid or fallacious without being able to give a proper explanation why. Perhaps it is logic that you need to study as well?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I was proven right, Don. As I said, your argument will boil down to the objection that Ross begs that question against naturalism by not begging the question in favour of naturalism.

This seems to be your meaning in your latest posts. You seem to ignore the fact that Ross doesn't assume humans are physical beings and doesn't assume they are not. This is not begging the question against naturalism. It is trying to discover if naturalism is true.

And you seem to think it relevant what the materialist might, psychologically, accept. Many materialists are hardly going to read any argument against their position, no matter how strong, and immediately abandon their position. This is irrelevant as Ross tries to back up his claims for premise (2), so the materialist, to give his psychological reaction any objective weight, must refute the support Ross gives to this premise. You act as if Ross simply offers the syllogism in standard form quoted with not a jot of supporting argument for the premises.

The silliness here from you is so large that it is hardly surprising you are thought a troll.

daurio said...

Dr Feser,

Since everyone else is asking about your writings...
Have you ever written about the compatibility of Thomistic metaphysics with evolution as understood by modern biologists? There seem to be more than a few Thomists who reject evolution on the basis that it's "metaphysically impossible."

p.s. If you're going to claim that red herrings don't go to heaven you really should formulate an argument to demonstrate that claim in the above article. You could start by proving the existence of heaven.

Daniel Carriere said...

Most Thomists I've read have been very comfortable with the evolution. Ed has been a vocal critic of the Intelligent Design movement and its roots in William Paley's design argument. Thomas Aquinas' fifth way, the argument from design, as very little in common with ID.

You might look at this blog post to start:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2011/03/thomism-versus-design-argument.html

Cheers,
Daniel

Scott said...

daurio:

If you're going to claim that red herrings don't go to heaven you really should formulate an argument to demonstrate that claim in the above article. You could start by proving the existence of heaven.

That step isn't necessary. Either heaven exists or it doesn't. And on the latter hypothesis, red herrings obviously don't go there.

daurio said...

I was only kidding- just being a Coyne.

Anonymous said...

Daurio:
"If you're going to claim that red herrings don't go to heaven you really should formulate an argument to demonstrate that claim in the above article."

He doesn't need to. This title is a reference to a discussion with David Bentley Hart, that Jerry Coyne wrote about, which prompted this article. Read the article for links to all this.

"You could start by proving the existence of heaven."

Both Hart and Feser accepted the existence of heaven, before their discussion, so its not something they needed to discuss for the purpose of the discussion.

Do you start every discussion by first proving every single presupposition pertaining to the discussion?

By your own logic, given that you make this argument:
"If you're going to claim that red herrings don't go to heaven you really should formulate an argument to demonstrate that claim in the above article."

If you are going to claim that he "really should formulate an argument to demonstrate that claim", you really should formulate an argument to demonstrate that claim. You should start by proving that anyone "really should" do anything.

Anonymous said...

Daurio

Upon seeing your response to Scott, please ignore me.
I thought you were serious.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

'Have you ever written about the compatibility of Thomistic metaphysics with evolution as understood by modern biologists? There seem to be more than a few Thomists who reject evolution on the basis that it's "metaphysically impossible."'

I wouldn't say impossible, but one thing I can't wrap my head around metaphysically is how one species can give birth to another, besides it being an accident. Wouldn't it fly in the face of final causes in biological systems if it was anything else?

laubadetriste said...

@Step2: "Unfortunately I do find your analogy confusing, sorry..."

Looks to me like you're less confused now than you may think you are. I'm quite happy with the difference that parallel seems to have made. Oh, we're not out of the woods yet, but we're on the right track.

"...the implication of greater complexity is of a kind already associated with that sort of functionality."

Yes! Sweet Jesus, yes! And of course, you have to *have* that "functionality" in the first place in order to be able to--how shall I say?--*increase its complexity.*

(Ugly phrase that, and inapt. But I guess it will do...)

Aaaaaand there are some "functionalities" that ants have that machines do not; and there are some functionalities that humans have that ants do not; and among the gaps between "functionalities" are some such that, it has been argued, *greater complexity* cannot bridge them (any more than it could take Mount Rushmore aloft); and so, I claimed, your move from primitive/simple/basic to dynamic/complex/exponentially, etc. was illicit, because that is not the sort of difference that could make a difference.

"A flying-related example would be comparing a hang glider, which is simple and light in its construction, to the flying ability of the F-22 jet fighter."

I like your example. Now, let me add, as some sample other "functionalities," the ability to run, and the ability to swim. (Yes, yes, I realize those aren't exactly parallel examples, either. But I'm sticking with what seems to be working.) So now:

machines=>ants=>humans

is kinda sorta parallel to

running=>swimming=>flying.

Within running, you could be anything from (say) a bacterium scooting itself along on its cilia, to a cheetah racing across the plains. Within swimming, you could be anything from (say) a jellyfish to a sailfish. And within flying, you could be anything from (as you put it) a hang-glider to an F-22. *But,* a cheetah, merely because it is more complex than a bacterium, is not *therefore* a better swimmer; and a sailfish, merely because it is more complex than a jellyfish, is not *therefore* better in flight--because those are *different* "sorts of functionalities," and complexity ain't got squat to do with it (or rather, it is tangential: I admit that a sailfish could get some serious hang time).

"The philosophical definition of intentionality is ironically all over the place, so fixating on a particular object is sufficient as a beginning point."

I don't know what it is for a *definition* to be "all over the place"--and, moreover, to be so *ironically.* Do you mean that examples of intentionality are ubiquitous? If so, that is true. But I do not think that therefore "fixating on a particular object" is "sufficient as a beginning point." It seems to me that fixation as such involves extraneous matters of behavior, and so rather muddies the waters.

Or do you mean, that fixation is sufficiently like intentionality (that fixation is intentionality writ large, so to speak) that it can serve as a familiar analogy? If so, I suppose you may be right.

I must insist, whatever you may mean, that this is of cardinal importance. Understanding the implications of the existence of such a thing as intentionality--yes, in the philosophical sense--is akin to to having oxygen in your scuba diving tank. Without it, you're dead in the water.

pck said...

laubadetriste wrote:
Understanding the implications of the existence of such a thing as intentionality--yes, in the philosophical sense--is akin to to having oxygen in your scuba diving tank. Without it, you're dead in the water.

Which is precisely what most radical materialists/naturalists are going to deny or belittle. First person experience will either be explained as "emerging" from material states or processes, or be labelled "illusory", that is, non-existent.

Of course the former is an epistemic non-starter and the latter is a logical contradiction. And you don't have to be religious or believe in something like a res cogitans to understand that. But that isn't going to stop our "reality-based" friends because the notion that science has, allegedly, shown that all there is to the world are little billiard balls moving around according to externally fixed rules (with or without some randomness thrown in) is just too attractive in its simplicity.

Thus the examination of the conceptual preconditions of scientistic/empirical worldviews is never even considered. Intentionality and thought are held in some way to be generated (instead of merely made possible) by the brain, or, perhaps even worse, it is claimed that it is the brain itself that intends and thinks (instead of the human being as a whole). For many this has become the default "rational" assumption. It's much like locking yourself into a prison cell, throwing out the key through the bars and claiming that all you could ever possibly know was the inside of your cell. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy masquerading as rationality. (Standard reply/rhetorical Pavlov reflex to this: "Do you belive in ghosts too?")

I once had a self-proclaimed materialist/rationalist/New Atheist type ask me why I couldn't accept already that "everything just is and moves" (his exact words). Naturally, he also had a strong dislike towards philosophy. Because who needs clarifications of concepts when you can just measure stuff. He insisted on scientific accuracy and "defining terms precisely", but as soon as any counterargument was raised the consequences of which he didn't like, he would switch to the familiar triplet of accusations that a) "nobody can break the laws of physics", b) philosophers are "playing word police" ("they're holding science back") and c) there is no "wonder-tissue" in the brain (he really liked to copy/paste from Dennett). Of course I had never claimed a) or c) and b) is simply nonsense.

Regarding b), according to him, anyone or anything that can perform what someone with the ability-to-X can do, has the ability-to-X him/itself. In other words, someone who manipulates chess pieces by having the moves texted to his phone should be called a chess player. This is a Chinese room type of fallacy. Allegedly, we should allow this remodelling of the use of "chess player" because a) we invent new uses of words all the time anyway and b) we would be holding back science (sacrilege!) if we didn't (because computers can model brain/mind functions and abilities).

And so it is no surprise that cautioning against the reification of first person experiences and abilities and/or their extension to machines as being likely to muddle the issues will be dismissed by rhetoric instead of being given due consideration. Even if we did adopt the practice of attributing mental abilities to computers or procedures of calculation or computation, this could not possibly contribute to the clarification of the ordinary meaning of "thinking", since our ordinary use of "think" and "thought" makes zero references to brain structures. Our uses of "thought" are manifold, but none of them are descriptions of brain processes or of what goes on within some "inner space" populated by mental objects or propositions.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"Oh, and I was proven right, Don. As I said, your argument will boil down to the objection that Ross begs that question against naturalism by not begging the question in favour of naturalism."

That's bogus. I've never claimed this issue can be solved by logical proofs. I've never claimed I would not beg the question the other direction if I proposed such a proof. I claim such a proof (sets in question) is invalid because it inherently begs the question no matter the argument.

But since you have such confidence in it, I propose the following:

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge

Next time someone claims scientism begs the question I'm going to smile.


George LeSauvage said...

Just lurking to date, but I thought I'd put this in.

Back context: In the age of sail, when one ship was trying to escape from a stronger, but equally fast enemy, one of the last desperate acts was throwing her guns overboard.

One of the fun things about the gnus is the way they, in public proudly proclaim their passion for logic, facts, and reason. They display this prominently, like the lines of guns along a frigates sides. But once engaged in action with a philosophically minded opponent, oops, over they go. The very reality (let alone validity) of concepts like logic, fact, and reason are jettisoned.

But back in popular forums, the pretense is resumed.

Gottfried said...

pck: ...c) there is no "wonder-tissue" in the brain (he really liked to copy/paste from Dennett).

You have to have a kind of perverse admiration for Dennett. He has a remarkable knack for coining terms that can give blatant refusals to think a veneer of cleverness: "wonder-tissue", "ectoplasm", "skyhook", etc. Someone really needs to come up with an amusing word for that sort of thing. Something along the lines of "deepity."

DNW said...




" All true knowledge is based on empirical science ..."


Do you believe that you love your wife?

Don't respond ... it's ...

Don Jindra said...

laubadetriste,

You claim this is absurd:


1. For a machine process to be fully determinate, every output for a function would have to occur; but
2. For an infinite function, that is impossible; therefore
3. A physical process cannot realize an abstract function.

If the brain is a physical process, it cannot realize an abstract function.


Yet from my POV there is no reason for me to doubt the physical composition of the brain (or any part of reality). Brains do realize what we call abstract functions. This seems to be empirically true. What is empirically true cannot be labeled absurd, imo.

You could legitimately say I'm merely begging the question too. I don't disagree. But when facing an unknown, and when a tentative choice must be made, begging the question is unavoidable. It's a fact of life.

This is your other example of the absurd:


1. In order to maintain that the processes are basically material, the philosopher has to deny outright that we do the very things we had claimed all along that we do; but
2. Our doing these things is essential to the reliability of our reasoning; therefore
3. The processes are not basically material.

If the processes of reasoning are basically material processes of the brain, then our reasoning is unreliable.


I suppose that would be true if I denied the ability to do the things we do. But I do not. And I deny a materialist must do so. So this doesn't apply to me.

You asked if there is any actual reason why I would deny that these two items are absurd? As I said, the second doesn't apply to me so I don't have to defend against it. The first I deny is absurd because brains do exactly what you claim is absurd. In cartoons rocks can get up and walk away. We know that's absurd. Rocks don't do that. But dogs do. Is that absurd? Using your logic it could be.


It seems marvelous, after the *dozens* of posts (and books!) in which Dr. Feser has addressed that, that you would seriously ask the question.

Are 1000 copies of bad arguments more compelling than one? You're talking about a lot of repetition of the same basic arguments. Those arguments are not compelling. I believe that's why the modern world has mostly ignored them.

I would love to wrestle over these points and others but I'm not welcomed here, to say the least. So I shouldn't.

pck said...

Don Jindra said:
I propose the following:

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge

Next time someone claims scientism begs the question I'm going to smile.


This is so monumentally confused that I have to ask: Do you realize that Anonymous is not actually endorsing either scientism or question-begging?

If you do understand this, why do you think you can counter the claim that scientism begs the question by giving a scientistic argument ((1)-(3)) that begs the question?

For your sake one can only hope that many-worlds theory is correct and that in one of the multiverse's branches logic is accurately represented by an Escher drawing. Then you would at least have a home somewhere.

daurio said...

No worries Anonymous. I should probably lay off the smart-assery a bit. Having now read some of the comments on other threads I can totally see how someone might have thought I was serious!

Scott said...

daurio:

I should have included a smiley or something in my own reply, because I didn't actually think you were serious.

laubadetriste said...

@pck: "First person experience will either be explained as 'emerging' from material states or processes, or be labelled 'illusory', that is, non-existent. Of course the former is an epistemic non-starter and the latter is a logical contradiction."

I have often whimsied that there is a good short book to be written about that second tactic. It would consider pain, color perception, and incorrigibility. And it would feature an imaginary dialogue with a moment like this:

"I see the color red."
"No, that is an illusion. It only *looks* like the color red."
"That is the same damn thing."

@George LeSauvage:

What a delightful analogy! :)

Btw--and I know this is a throwback, but I don't think I saw you answer, and I'm still really curious--what did you mean when you said, "Henry of Portugal's interest in exploration began in earnest within just 2 or 3 years of his cousin, Henry of England, winning the battle of Agincourt. If one pays any attention to dates, the standard world picture we are taught comes crashing down."?

@Gottfried: "You have to have a kind of perverse admiration for Dennett. He has a remarkable knack for coining terms that can give blatant refusals to think a veneer of cleverness: 'wonder-tissue', 'ectoplasm', 'skyhook', etc. Someone really needs to come up with an amusing word for that sort of thing. Something along the lines of 'deepity.'"

Agreed. There might be the makings of such an amusing word in Dennett's own Philosophical Lexicon here. I quote just a sampling from right around his name, in the letter "D":

"deleuzion, n. A false, persistent philosophical belief, unsubstantiated by evidence or argument. "He suffered from the deleuzion that Spinoza could be used to clarify Lacanian psychoanalysis."

derrida. A sequence of signs that fails to signify anything beyond itself. From a old French nonsense refrain: 'Hey nonny derrida, nonny nonny derrida falala.'"

Greg said...

@ Don

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge


This argument doesn't beg the question. Of course, basically all the work is done by (1), which I think is false. (This also isn't an argument for scientism, since (1) is scientism, not (3).)

Now, it might feel a bit question-beggy in the respect that just about anyone who'd accept (1) would also accept (3), owing to (2)'s plausibility; in that respect, it's unlike Ross's argument, since you can easily imagine a materialist who accepts either one of the premises individually but not the conclusion.

But consider this argument being offered to a theist who rejects its conclusion. Clearly he rejects (1). Ok. That doesn't make the argument question begging. If the scientistic purveyor of the argument has an argument for (1), then it's obviously no response on the part of the theist to say that the argument begs the question. Sure, as an accepter of (3), (1) is the sort of thing he rejects; that doesn't mean no argument taking (1) as a premise can impinge on his belief that (3) is false. It just means any argument taking (1) as a premise has to include a good defense of (1), if it's to be a big surprise.

You're simply trying to make the fallacy of begging the question do more work than it can or should do. If you were right, then the only good arguments in philosophy would be those that reveal that those to whom they are addressed are inconsistent in rejecting the conclusion, for they already agree with the premises.

This definitely is not a problem with the argument form in general; it's a completely unexceptional, valid argument form.

laubadetriste said...

@pck:

P.S.: ...and maybe it would dwell on Lewis's bread argument: Yes, you can be hungry for bread and yet you have no bread to eat. But it is not possible for you to be hungry for bread, and yet such a thing as bread never existed...

Greg said...

as an accepter of (3), (1) is the sort of thing he rejects

Oops: make that, "as a denier of (3)..."

daurio said...

Hi Scott,

I was only fifty-one percent sure you knew I was kidding, so I figured I had better clarify.

And Daniel,
Thank you for the link to Dr. Feser's article. I was hoping for something that might explain evolution in Thomistic terms rather than simply refute intelligent design, but it was good reading nonetheless.

Scott said...

daurio:

A fairly short answer: There's nothing in Thomism to say that matter can't "evolve" in the requisite sense, and there's no reason in principle that God couldn't have caused the human body to "evolve." However, Thomism does insist (with, of course, the Church!) that the first human being resulted from an act of special creation, as there's in principle no way for an intellectual (and thus immaterial) soul to "evolve" from matter alone. (Something analogous must also be true of each of the earlier steps "up" from one kind of form/soul to the next higher: nonliving-to-living and plants-to-animals.)

Scott said...

This and this look like good sites at first glance, but I haven't looked through them carefully.

Step2 said...

@laubadetriste
First I just want to say that I appreciate your enthusiasm, it is refreshing. Now on to the arguments...

Aaaaaand there are some "functionalities" that ants have that machines do not; and there are some functionalities that humans have that ants do not; and among the gaps between "functionalities" are some such that, it has been argued, *greater complexity* cannot bridge them (any more than it could take Mount Rushmore aloft)...

I can grant it has been argued, but the appeal to the Mount Rushmore example is not a relevant parallel. In your last comment to me you seemed to agree that the complexity (as considered for the purpose of this debate) is associated with that sort of functionality - so in what way would you say that the complexity of Mount Rushmore is associated with flying?

...and so, I claimed, your move from primitive/simple/basic to dynamic/complex/exponentially, etc. was illicit, because that is not the sort of difference that could make a difference.

There are of course different ways something can be complex, but again, I thought you agreed to agree with me that for this argument we are only going to consider complexity that is associated with the functionality.

I like your example.

Thanks, would you agree that an F-22 as a flying vehicle functions in ways that are physically impossible for a simple hang glider? If you want to claim this difference is not related to complexity I would like to read your opinion on what you think the cause is.

machines=>ants=>humans; is kinda sorta parallel to; running=>swimming=>flying

Even if I did grant the parallel, which seems pretty sketchy, I don't see how you could take the strong either/or position you've been taking. If cheetahs can swim and sailfish can "fly" then in principle there are such things as "slight" degrees of learning ability and intentionality.

I don't know what it is for a *definition* to be "all over the place"--and, moreover, to be so *ironically.*

If you go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy it gives a "muddy water" definition to include nearly every type of interpretation imaginable. I'm using my definition to try to cut through the clutter, to make it actually "about" something. You are correct to infer that fixation is used in an expansive sense.

Daniel said...

@daurio,

That question came up in conversation a couple of weeks ago. Short answer: David Oderberg and Stephen Boulter are the men to go to. A longer answer plus links can be found here:

http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/viewtopic.php?id=175

Mr. Green said...

Gottfried: Someone really needs to come up with an amusing word for that sort of thing.

You mean like:
dennettante (n.) — one who finds it easier to come up with cutely dismissive labels for his opponents' views than to understand them.

daurio said...

@ Scott and Daniel,

Thanks! These are exactly the kinds of things I am looking for. I also found something by Fr. John Hardon S.J. that explains how evolution can be compatible with Catholicism. All good stuff.

Hannah Stamper said...

@ daurio,

In addition to the references which Scott and Daniel have provided, I would also recommend this 819 page dissertation focusing exclusively upon the philosophical case for evolution made by 20th century neo-scholastic philosophers both in America and Europe. Interestingly, several of the neo-scholastics defended not only evolution generally, but specifically the possibility of abiogenesis, on A-T principles (though all are agreed upon the impossibility of human intellection emerging from matter).

http://darwin4u.tripod.com/Evolution_Perfect.pdf

Finally, you should also obtain a copy of Charles DeKoninck's "The Cosmos", which can be found in Volume I of his collected works here:

http://www.amazon.com/Writings-Charles-Koninck-1/dp/0268025959/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1446774583&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=charles+dekoninck

Pax

Gottfried said...

Mr. Green,

I like it! ;)

pck said...

@laubadetriste:
I have often whimsied that there is a good short book to be written about that second tactic. It would consider pain, color perception, and incorrigibility. And it would feature an imaginary dialogue with a moment like this:

"I see the color red."
"No, that is an illusion. It only *looks* like the color red."
"That is the same damn thing."


I think that's exactly right. The exchange illustrates well the futility of declaring perception as being misleading about "what is really there" in some general way. With a universal claim of illusion, one cannot possibly be naming a truth.

There are of course cases in which it might make sense to say "it only looks red", for example if one was looking at a white wall through glasses with a red tint. But as you point out above by mentioning incorribility, this does not change the fact that one has an indubitable perception of red nevertheless. Naturalists like to ignore or forget that such a perception is an element of reality, no matter what the wall's actual colour is.

Galileo is often credited with having introduced the distinction between ("mere") appearances and ("actual") reality. Smells, sights and sounds became to be seen to exist "only in the mind", while matter, shapes and forces were "really out there".

While there is no doubt that the concept of colour involves perception (something "inner"), we nevertheless ascribe colours to their respective objects and not to anything within our minds (and definitely not to any part of our brains). Which means that our colour-handling practices fall on neither side of any inner/outer dichotomy. Failing to recognize this often leads to great confusions being created or amplified by researchers in the cognitive sciences.

Two books I can recommend on the subject are Barry Stroud's "The Quest for Reality" and, if you can find it, Peter Hacker's "Appearance and Reality". Both use Wittgenstein-influenced approaches but are not limited to or by that. Stroud does an especially good job of being as intellectually careful and honest as possible about the question of whether or not we should say that we live in a colourless world.

Anonymous said...

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge


Don, as others have pointed out, this argument is formally valid (Camestres, I believe) and it would not be question begging for you to make this argument, as long as you are willing to support the controversial premises if you are called to (which is what Ross does, whether successfully or not, so you can't honestly accuse him of begging the question this way). This is a simple matter of elementary logic that you are confused over.

laubadetriste said...

@Step2: "First I just want to say that I appreciate your enthusiasm, it is refreshing."

Thank you. I do see you making an effort, and of course the stuff we're talking about is foreign initially to most of us, and abstruse anyway. (Hell, I've been lurking here for years, yet I pick my battles. Perhaps you noticed me keeping my mouth shut about Pauline hermeneutics, and paradoxes, and Bayesian probability, and phantasms... How much there is to learn!) Also I try to save my scorn for those adipose deposits of asininity yet to be shed by the exercise of the rational faculty, and not waste venom on innocent misunderstanding or disagreement.

But "In all ages there arise protests from tender men against the bitterness of criticism, especially social criticism. They are the same men who, when they come down with malaria, patronize a doctor who prescribes, not quinine, but marshmallows."--Mencken, "Cassandra's Lament"

"In your last comment to me you seemed to agree that the complexity (as considered for the purpose of this debate) is associated with that sort of functionality - so in what way would you say that the complexity of Mount Rushmore is associated with flying?"

I did agree that a sort of complexity is associated with the "functionality" of flight, yes. And *flight,* in that case, I brought up as an analogy to the faculty of "human thought" originally under discussion, mentioned by Greg November 2, 2015 at 9:05 AM, then quoted by you November 2, 2015 at 1:25 PM. I do *not* think the complexity of Mount Rushmore is relevantly associated with the "functionality" of flight. The example was intended as a counterexample. You had moved from "simple physical creatures like ants" to "the exponentially more complex human brain," as if that move could in principle address what it is about "human thought" that made it significant in terms of Ross's arguments, which were what Greg was addressing regarding definition with Don Jindra, and regarding paradoxes with entirelyuseless. My counterexample of Mount Rushmore taking aloft shows that increasing complexity can do exactly squat (as I later put it) to give something a certain faculty; by implication, ants "swarming" gets them no closer to the distinctive faculty of "human thought," addressed by Dr. Feser based upon Ross and then mentioned by Greg; and that the human brain is "exponentially more complex" than "simple" "ants swarming" (or "primitive" machines, earlier) is tangential even if true and even if associated with the distinctive faculty of "human thought."

(I am reminded of a dispute I once had with a friend while reading Lamarck's *Zoological Philosophy.* [Lamarck has gotten a bad rap, by the way, from the stretchy giraffes mentioned in introductory biology textbooks.] My friend, upon reading that Lockean ideas were really impressions engraved by the nervous fluid upon the the cavities of the hypocephalon, took this as neurophilosophy avant la lettre, and also as a revelation. I averred that necessarily it could not be so. He replied, that there are *a lot* of cavities, and that they are in *different regions.* I could only stare at him as if he had grown horns.)

laubadetriste said...

"...I thought you agreed to agree with me that for this argument we are only going to consider complexity that is associated with the functionality."

I did not say anything about what I would or would not consider. But what I am emphasizing is the "functionality," not the complexity. I claimed, so to speak, that the "functionality" is in the driver's seat, with complexity merely along for the ride. *You* seem to be intent on the complexity, which may be why I may seem obscure.

"Thanks, would you agree that an F-22 as a flying vehicle functions in ways that are physically impossible for a simple hang glider?"

Sure. Seems fair.

"...seems pretty sketchy..."

:) Very well. I said I was going with what seemed to be working, and not with what is, say, *rigorous.* Pity no one else has taken a shining to Plantinga's style of hypothetical...

"If cheetahs can swim and sailfish can 'fly' then in principle there are such things as 'slight' degrees of learning ability and intentionality."

The fault here would be in the "sketchiness" of the parallels. I admit those are not stark conceptual differences. But note, too, that (e.g.) the "flying" of sailfish needs the scare quotes to work. That "slight degree" (as you put the difference) of flying is the result of the sailfish breaching the water with sufficient speed gained while *siwwming.* And if you're going to count *that* against my point, then I might as well add that the less-complex jellyfish of my parallel could likewise "fly" (scare quotes) if launched from torpedo tubes. In both cases, what looked like "flight" (scare quotes) would be the result of speed imparted by something other than the "functionality" of flight in question, and again complexity would be removed from relevance.

But let us then abandon my "sketchy" parallels. Sigh.

"If you go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy it gives a 'muddy water' definition to include nearly every type of interpretation imaginable."

Ah. so by "all over the place," do you mean *equivocal*?

pck said...

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge

Don, as others have pointed out, this argument is formally valid (Camestres, I believe) and it would not be question begging for you to make this argument, as long as you are willing to support the controversial premises if you are called to


While the argument (1) & (2) => (3) (called (A) from here on) is indeed not circular, it nevertheless begs the question with respect to what "true knowledge" is supposed to mean.

Apart from referring to circular reasoning, "begging the question" can also describe an argument in which a premise is questionable for the same reasons that might lead one to question the conclusion.

This is clearly the case here: (3), when asserted by itself (outside of the context of (A), in particular outside of the presence of (1)), quite naturally leads to

(TK) What is one supposed to understand by "true knowledge"?

But (1), just like (3), is unable to provide an immediate and satisfactory answer to (TK). Thus our reasons for questioning (3) have something important in common with our reasons for questioning (1). It follows that (A) begs the question with respect to (TK).

pck said...

Btw, if there is any doubt left that (A) is quite devoid of substantial content, just replace "empirical science" by "the new James Bond film":

(1) All true knowledge is based on the new James Bond film
(2) No theology is based on the new James Bond film
(3) No theology is true knowledge

I bet Don Jindra's smile just got a little wider. Now he can argue (3) with even less effort.

David Ezemba said...


(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge


So how does the conclusion (3) count as true knowledge? Contra the argument, (3) is not itself an empirical observation.

If "based on empirical science" is to be read widely enough to include logical reasoning like Don Jindra's argument, then (contra (2)) wouldn't Don have to admit at least Thomism is "based on empirical science?"

Anonymous said...

PCK, I take your point. Don came up with that argument to mimic Ross's argument. I don't think Ross's argument begs the question, even in the sense you are referring to:

1) All formal thinking is determinate, but
2) No physical process is determinate, so
3) No formal thinking is a physical process.


You wouldn't reject either of the premises of this argument for the very same reason you would the conclusion.

David, I don't think Don was actually arguing for the syllogism he gave. He was just suggesting that it is valid and non-question begging if Ross's argument is.

Don Jindra said...

pck,

"I bet Don Jindra's smile just got a little wider.

True. :) I just deleted a lengthy response because of that. Now everyone can smile.


Anonymous,

Don, as others have pointed out, this argument is formally valid

Greg also made the same point. But begging the question is classified as an informal fallacy. It can be logically valid but still fallacious. So I've ignored that objection.

"it would not be question begging for you to make this argument, as long as you are willing to support the controversial premises if you are called to"

Why wouldn't one support the premise? That's the key question.


Greg,

"It just means any argument taking (1) as a premise has to include a good defense of (1), if it's to be a big surprise."

(1) was: All true knowledge is based on empirical science.

Is there a defense of that in which I'm not exposed to the same general objection? IOW, somewhere I'll beg the question, I'm pretty sure.



Anonymous said...


Greg also made the same point. But begging the question is classified as an informal fallacy. It can be logically valid but still fallacious. So I've ignored that objection.

This is why I talked about formal validity and begging the question separately.

You haven't given a clear and concise argument for your objection. At the moment you seem to be vaguely saying that you Ross's argument begs the question. But you don't show why. The answers you have hinted at - such as that the conclusion follows from the premises or that a materialist is unlikely to accept Ross's argument - are silly.


Why wouldn't one support the premise? That's the key question.

I don't know what you are saying here. I meant support in the sense of the one making the argument needs to make arguments for the premises and not just assert them. You, again, seem to be hinting at your point about someone not accepting the premises. Again, this objection on your part is not just wrong, it is silly. It doesn't make if some materialists would be psychologically loath to ever accept Ross's argument. What matters is whether they can logically support this psychological reaction.

Anonymous said...

True. :) I just deleted a lengthy response because of that. Now everyone can smile.

I don't how PCK's point helps your argument, as Ross's syllogism doesn't suffer from the same problem as yours.

pck said...

Anonymous said...
PCK, I take your point. Don came up with that argument to mimic Ross's argument. I don't think Ross's argument begs the question, even in the sense you are referring to:

Yes, I agree completely. It's the content of the premises that makes the difference, not the logical form of the argument. DJ is having a hard time telling content and form apart. Predictably for him, confusion ensues.


David Ezemba said...
So how does the conclusion (3) count as true knowledge? Contra the argument, (3) is not itself an empirical observation.

Very good point. It's just another self-defeating case of arguing philosophically against philosophy.


Anonymous said...
I don't how PCK's point helps your argument, as Ross's syllogism doesn't suffer from the same problem as yours.

DJ seems to think that my James Bond variation was something else but mere satire. Perhaps being logic-imparied has a correlation with being satire-impaired. But who cares as long as we're all smiles. At least we were spared another "lenghty response".

Don Jindra said...

Why would a theologian refuse to accept "All true knowledge is based on empirical science?" Science has demonstrated convincingly that there is a fundamental difference between what it calls knowledge and what a theologian calls knowledge. So the theologian is just being silly. -- that's how easy it is to dismiss the silliness charge against me. Surely you guys can do better than that.

Now, why would a materialist refuse to accept "No physical process is determinate?" Did Ross, as some claim here, actually argue for that?

No, he did not.

Ross made the argument that calculators, computers and rocks executed indeterminate functions. If we say those things execute "physical processes," he must prove they are not a mere subset of "physical processes." That's a much tougher task. But he immediately refuses to do that by not considering processes of the brain which should rightly, imo, be in that same category. He merely asserts they are not in the category because they could not be -- "in principle." IOW, he cherry picks his data. So in actuality, Ross argues "Some physical processes are indeterminate." He hides the fact that some physical processes are not indeterminate. He carves out a subset of "physical processes," and those he calls "formal thinking." He hopes we ignore the carving knife and the mislabeling game.

Ross *may have* shown that if a process is indeterminate, it's a physical process. That's not earth shattering. But that does change the proof dramatically. Note that indeterminate and determinate *are* mutually exclusive categories, while "physical process" and "formal thinking" cannot be assumed mutually exclusive from the start because that's the very thing in question.

So this is the actual form of Ross's proof:

if indeterminate (calculator) then physical process
(formal thinking is) not indeterminate
(formal thinking is) not a physical process

if p then q
not p
not q

Denying the antecedent.

Yes, I *do* reject "No physical process is determinate" for the very same reason I reject "No formal thinking is a physical process." In both cases Ross's "physical process" is a subset of actual physical processes. I've repeatedly made this argument from the beginning, over several years. Ross separates one set into two mutually exclusive sets arbitrarily. So I don't know how anyone could claim I haven't given a "clear and concise argument" for my objection. It should be clear as a bell by now.





Greg said...

@ Don

Greg also made the same point. But begging the question is classified as an informal fallacy. It can be logically valid but still fallacious. So I've ignored that objection.

You are the one who said this:

I claim such a proof (sets in question) is invalid because it inherently begs the question no matter the argument.

But since you have such confidence in it, I propose the following:

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge


So you originally confused invalidity and begging of the question. You also went on to propose that another argument would beg the question by virtue of sharing the same logical form, which "inherently" begs the question.

Why would a theologian refuse to accept "All true knowledge is based on empirical science?" Science has demonstrated convincingly that there is a fundamental difference between what it calls knowledge and what a theologian calls knowledge.

Science, insofar as it's in the business of demonstrating and convincing, does not have a theory of knowledge. Philosophers of science and epistemologists might, but Science does not.

Ross made the argument that calculators, computers and rocks executed indeterminate functions. If we say those things execute "physical processes," he must prove they are not a mere subset of "physical processes."

Is this the most charitable reading of Ross that you can give? It seems obvious to me that reference to calculators is mostly made for its heuristic value, as well as a tacit response to computationalism. Strictly the argument does not have to be run in that form.

His more fundamental point is this: Materialism takes mental states to be identical in some way to the physical states of the brain in principle observable by scientific methods. (What this identity consists in varies from theorist to theorist. I don't think it's too hard to argue that being a token-token physicalist versus an anomalous monist etc. does not help one resist Ross's argument.) IOW, consider the mental process qua physical process, that is, in terms of the states of the brain to which the identity theorist, anomalous monist, computationalist, etc. is happy to refer. Thus mental processes are a kind of physical process. If materialism is true and thinking can be formally determinate, then it must be the case that thinking qua physical process can be formally determinate. But qua physical process, mental states are just whatever brain state the identity theorist etc. says they are. By virtue of what do these brain states exclude incompossible predicates? If a person is adding, then his brain state, on its own, will not rule out some quus-like function.

pck said...

Don Jindra said...

Why would a theologian refuse to accept "All true knowledge is based on empirical science?" Science has demonstrated convincingly that there is a fundamental difference between what it calls knowledge and what a theologian calls knowledge [...] that's how easy it is to dismiss the silliness charge against me.


Naturalist fallacy 101.

No theologian worth his salt will deny that theological knowledge is usually of a different kind than the knowledge empirical sciences provide.

But no science has ever demonstrated that other kinds of knowledge than empirical knowledge do not constitute "true" knowledge. As Greg correctly points out above, science does not have any theory of knowledge at all. Not to recognize this is where the silliness comes in.

The ability to distinguish between conceptual and empirical knowledge is a precondition to the understanding of the nature of all forms of investigation, scientific, philosophical or theological (the last two obviously intersect a lot).
Failure to appreciate this distinction will inevitably lead to confusion as well as delusions about the predominance of science over other fields of investigation.

All empirical sciences must use conceptual frameworks which have not themselves been established by empirical means (occasionally the frameworks are inspired by empirical findings, but that is not at all the same as having been demonstrated by them). And none of this has anything to do with theology in any important way. The exact same argument will be made by any atheist who understands the difference between empirical and conceptual truths.

Thus the silliness charge stands. In fact, it must be raised to silliness plus ineptitude with a side complaint of Dunning Kruger.

Step2 said...

@laubadetriste
My counterexample of Mount Rushmore taking aloft shows that increasing complexity can do exactly squat (as I later put it) to give something a certain faculty; by implication, ants "swarming" gets them no closer to the distinctive faculty of "human thought," addressed by Dr. Feser based upon Ross and then mentioned by Greg; and that the human brain is "exponentially more complex" than "simple" "ants swarming" (or "primitive" machines, earlier) is tangential even if true and even if associated with the distinctive faculty of "human thought."

Okay, complexity can go in "different directions" so to speak. Obviously I think it is possible for complexity to go in tandem with functionality or I wouldn't be so intent about it. It seems clearer in machines (like IBM's Watson) that complexity is associated with functionality because they are designed to be functional, but even without an apparent initial design there are cases of correlation.

But let us then abandon my "sketchy" parallels. Sigh.

Don't give up just yet. I did have to google to find out if cheetahs could swim - they can but dislike doing so. I can agree that flying by animals (not insects), is markedly different from other types of mobility, and it seems to have evolved from land or arboreal creatures that had adaptions which led to gliding or flight rather than swimming creatures. In any event I will admit complexity has been much more limited in its effects on flying animals, the energy cost to benefit ratio of flying may impose a stricter limit in that respect. For the sake of comparison, as extremely energy efficient as the human brain is, it uses 20% of the body's total energy while only composing 2% of the body's mass.

Ah. so by "all over the place," do you mean *equivocal*?

That works too.

Don Jindra said...

pck: "As Greg correctly points out above, science does not have any theory of knowledge at all. Not to recognize this is where the silliness comes in."

You're correct. I don't recognize this. Modern science *is* a theory of knowledge. Its impressive results are not due to Ross's indeterminate processes. :)

pck: All empirical sciences must use conceptual frameworks which have not themselves been established by empirical means (occasionally the frameworks are inspired by empirical findings, but that is not at all the same as having been demonstrated by them).

Because of your parenthetical, I assume you know scientists are studying conceptual frameworks both at the neurological and computer science levels. Science has theories about this stuff. So your complaint is strange. Relating to Ross, my problem with papers like his is their detachment from the empirical. Modern science sees an unknown like "determinacy," rolls up its sleeves, and pokes at neurons. Ross tries to deduce truth. This is a fundamental difference in strategy. Science is a practical epistemology. I don't have much confidence in Ross's method. When a logical proof leads to nonsense (as I believe Ross's paper has) it's time to suspect the logic, not praise it. It could be that the nonsensical answer is correct. But, imo, the logic will never be able to prove it, even if the logic looks solid.

pck: "Naturalist fallacy 101."

Doesn't fit.


Greg: "So you originally confused invalidity and begging of the question. You also went on to propose that another argument would beg the question by virtue of sharing the same logical form, which "inherently" begs the question."

Why do you think I put in parentheses, "(sets in question)?" I was trying to say the form is of no help when the sets themselves are in question. But my communication ability is irrelevant. The fact remains that begging the question is an informal fallacy. It can happen in a logically valid form.


Greg:"If a person is adding, then his brain state, on its own, will not rule out some quus-like function."

This is idle speculation. It defies personal experience. It defies how we behave among others. Basically it says you do not believe we can do what we do. Since nobody yet knows how our brains work, Ross suggests we stir in a secret sauce that's tasteless, odorless, and has no nutritional value. We'd swap one unknown for a bigger unknown. I don't consider that an advancement of knowledge. But who am I to complain? I'm not even supposed to have a bona fide theory of knowledge like y'all here do.




Daniel Joachim said...

Modern science *is* a theory of knowledge

I cannot help but asking: What do you think that this even means? What does this "theory" consist of? What are its preliminaries?

Greg said...

@ Don

Why do you think I put in parentheses, "(sets in question)?"

I'd say your meaning wasn't clear; you were still asserting that the argument "(sets in question)" was "invalid"; so you were still obscuring the relationship between validity and questiong begging. (Also, Ross's argument doesn't have to be cast in terms of sets. I think it is obviously not the most charitable rendering of the argument.)

It defies personal experience. It defies how we behave among others. Basically it says you do not believe we can do what we do.

It says no such thing. Personal experience might tell us that we really add; it doesn't tell us that we really add by virtue of physical processes. That may or may not be true, but it is not an element of experience.

I'm not even supposed to have a bona fide theory of knowledge like y'all here do.

Sure you have a theory of knowledge. You just aren't Science; you're Don Jindra.

Anonymous said...

Don, I know others have already savaged the trainwreck of your second to last post, but I thought I'd comment on this:

Yes, I *do* reject "No physical process is determinate" for the very same reason I reject "No formal thinking is a physical process." In both cases Ross's "physical process" is a subset of actual physical processes. I've repeatedly made this argument from the beginning, over several years. Ross separates one set into two mutually exclusive sets arbitrarily. So I don't know how anyone could claim I haven't given a "clear and concise argument" for my objection. It should be clear as a bell by now.

Apart from the misunderstandings about why you could validly reject Ross's conclusion and premises, it seems this passage backs up what I have been saying. The only way to read it, I can think of, is you are saying your main argument against Ross's point, that you have been making for years, is he doesn't start by assuming thinking is a physical process. In other words, you think he begs the question against naturalism in not begging the question in favour of naturalism.

Anonymous said...

Don, your last few posts, and the responses to them, show why you are considered a troll. You clearly have no idea about the issues involved in Ross's paper and the topics you bring up, including lacking knowledge about introductory logic, yet you wade in confidently attacking Ross's argument (or whatever anti-naturalist position is being discussed). When the obvious flaws in your claims are pointed out you dig your heels in and refuse to budge.

pck said...

pck: "[...] science does not have any theory of knowledge at all. Not to recognize this is where the silliness comes in."

DJ: You're correct. I don't recognize this. Modern science *is* a theory of knowledge.


You're confused about what the terms "theory" and "knowledge" mean and in particular about the relationship in which they stand. (See Daniel Joachim's post which very lucidly exposes your error.)

Your claim that science is a theory of knowledge is as sensible as the claim that a car factory, because it produces cars, is therefore a theory of cars.

To be sure, the natural sciences produce empirical knowledge. But the concept of knowledge is presupposed by science, not produced by it. Thus science cannot possibly be a theory of knowledge. It cannot produce what it requires for what it produces. A theory of knowledge is a conceptual investigation. There are no experiments which can settle the question "what is knowledge"? (And no, "poking at neurons" will not do it. See below.)

There is more than one type of knowledge. None of our mathematical knowlege is empirical, but it is nonetheless an essential part of the framework of the natural sciences. "Framework" refers to what must be in place before science can even get started. Which as it turns out is quite a lot, including many of our ordinary experiences and practices, both linguistic and non-linguistic. They form the (completely non-scientific and non-theoretical) background against which we are able to make distinctions and judgements in the first place. We can never forget or jettison this background, no matter how advanced our theories may become, because the background is what anchors and gives sense to the fundamental terms any theory must employ. For example, botany does not have the term "tree" but no botanist can afford to forget what a tree is. Nor can a geologist afford not to know the ordinary meaning of "mountain", "valley" or "river". These terms and their use are explicitly or implicitly referenced by any theory in geology.

I assume you know scientists are studying conceptual frameworks both at the neurological and computer science levels. Science has theories about this stuff. So your complaint is strange. Relating to Ross, my problem with papers like his is their detachment from the empirical. Modern science sees an unknown like "determinacy," rolls up its sleeves, and pokes at neurons.

I'm sorry, but this is utter nonsense. No conceptual framework has ever been, nor will it ever be, studied at the level of neurons. All empirical investigation, including that of neurons, presupposes conceptual frameworks. And so does every theory. Every theory contains and is built from a number of unexamined terms not defined or explained by the theory. To claim that neurons (or their activity) are the ultimately lowest level of theory is to confuse entirely different levels of description.

A conceptual framework is what gives sense to an empirical investigation. It fixes what counts as an answer. No amount of "poking at neurons" will ever tell you what "determinacy" means. You have to know what it means before you examine any brains. Nobody ever learned the meaning of any word by looking at neurons. When you learned to speak English, did your parents show you the inside of their sawed-open skulls? (That would explain a lot, but still not the meaning of "determinacy".) What you find in brains will not tell you the meaning of anything.

pck: "Naturalist fallacy 101."

DJ: Doesn't fit.


Fits like a glove. An ultra-naive faith in empiricism and the equally blunt belief that the philosophy of mind can be reduced to studying neurophysiology are quite typically the mark of the amateur naturalist. There are smarter naturalists but you are not one of them.

Daniel Joachim said...

You're confused about what the terms "theory" and "knowledge" mean and in particular about the relationship in which they stand. (See Daniel Joachim's post which very lucidly exposes your error.)

Well, to be honest, I was actually hoping to see an answer. :)

pck said...

Daniel Joachim: Well, to be honest, I was actually hoping to see an answer. :)

:) I have to admit I treated your questions as rhetorical since as far as I am concerned they pose an unanswerable challenge to science. Don will very likely just throw one or more examples of the "huge successes" of neuroscience back at them, once again conflating the different notions of producing knowledge and elucidating it. He will have to ignore or dance around the fact that you asked for preliminaries. Since according to him, neural activity can explain the conceptual, perhaps he will name the preliminaries to be scalpels and electrodes.

Daniel Joachim said...

I have to admit I treated your questions as rhetorical since as far as I am concerned they pose an unanswerable challenge to science.

Personally, I naturally agree, for much of the same reasons that's motivating the Chapter 0 of Scholastic Metaphysics.

But that's also why it would be even more interesting to see attempts at an answer, even if it's just to see what the crux of the disagreement or confusion is. I find it a waste of time debating the consequences of accepting a premise, if the premise have not been sufficiently placed under scrutiny.

pck said...

I find it a waste of time debating the consequences of accepting a premise, if the premise have not been sufficiently placed under scrutiny.

Exactly. Which is why it is so important to look at the preconditions of scientific claims before one jumps to naturalist conclusions. Science is about adjudicating truth. But a precondition of truth is sense, the examination of which is the job of philosophy. Failure to acknowledge this is perhaps the core fallacy of naturalism and scientism.

Don Jindra said...

Greg: "Ross's argument doesn't have to be cast in terms of sets."

What other way is there to cast the argument? Its whole object is to conclude formal thinking belongs in a different category (aka, set) than physical processes.

Greg: "Personal experience might tell us that we really add; it doesn't tell us that we really add by virtue of physical processes. That may or may not be true, but it is not an element of experience."

Personal experience tells us we do add, regardless of whether you think this can be explained solely by the biology of our brain. Ross doesn't dispute that. I claim there is no evidence physics/biology/information theory cannot, in principle, explain my ability to do all I do. Ross asserts the opposite. He expects a materialist like me to forget my view and adopt his view from the start. He does this by refusing to consider my view that my physical biology does, indeed, appear to act determinately. Why should I ignore my belief and adopt his for the sake of his argument? It's not that Ross offers no compelling reason for me to do this. He offers no reason whatsoever.

Greg: "Sure you have a theory of knowledge. You just aren't Science; you're Don Jindra."

That's splitting hairs. The same could be said of any school of knowledge. And this applies to pck's similar statement.


Anonymous: "In other words, you think [Ross] begs the question against naturalism in not begging the question in favour of naturalism."

This probably isn't original with me, but I'll call this the Reservoir Dogs Fallacy. In a Mexican standoff where both sides point weapons at each other, I'm supposed to lay mine down because you're the hero in this picture. But your state of ignorance has no privileged status over mine. So I'll stand my ground. :)

But the main problem with your analysis is this:

I don't presume to "prove" my opinion. That blunder is committed by Ross, not me. He is welcomed to his opinion. But that's all it is. My argument is that his proof doesn't do more than document his opinion.

Don Jindra said...

pck: "There are no experiments which can settle the question 'what is knowledge'?"

I'll extend my Reservoir Dogs Fallacy to cover this. No school of knowledge can prove itself. Does logic prove logic is true? Everyone in every school makes fundamental assumptions that cannot be proven. In fact, if science (or anything else) was used to prove itself, it would rightly be cited for circular reasoning. (Why is the Bible true? Because the Bible says so!) You are in the same boat as me. I shouldn't have to tell you this. In fact, I'm confident I don't have to tell you this. So it makes me wonder.


pck: "None of our mathematical knowledge is empirical, but it is nonetheless an essential part of the framework of the natural sciences."

You're opening a can of worms here and I hesitate to get sidetracked. Let me just say, there was a "crisis" in math in the last century. That crisis was not really resolved. I think it's highly debatable that math, in a formal vacuum, is true knowledge. It's a mighty valuable tool, which is different.


pck: "No conceptual framework has ever been, nor will it ever be, studied at the level of neurons."

1) More begging of the question, 2) factually false. Conceptual frameworks *are* being studied at the neuron level.

pck: "Nobody ever learned the meaning of any word by looking at neurons."

Nobody learned how to drive by studying engines and steering mechanisms. But studying those things can explain how driving is possible. That's what a framework is, and that was the issue you brought up.


pck: "An ultra-naive faith in empiricism and the equally blunt belief that the philosophy of mind can be reduced to studying neurophysiology are quite typically the mark of the amateur naturalist."

That's not the naturalistic fallacy. That's you complaining about a theory of knowledge I'm not supposed to have.

Don Jindra said...

Daniel Joachim: "I cannot help but asking: What do you think that this even means? What does this 'theory' consist of? What are its preliminaries?"

If you really must know...

An implied preliminary, although many scientists might deny this, is that knowledge must be useful in this world.

But the most basic preliminary of modern science is that if it can't be detected and measured it's of no use in a search for explanations. IOW, we cannot be confident of explanations that rely on things we cannot measure either directly or indirectly. From a scientific POV, knowledge itself is provisional. It's not to be considered "truth" in the totality. Knowledge is not certainty. It's a successive approximation converging toward the true. It cannot progress unless confirmed by experimental evidence at each step, and no step is safe against empirical falsification. So modern science rejects the notion that explanations (or truths) come purely from logical or mathematical deductions. Even the most elegant mathematical equations must wait for empirical confirmation. That's what separates knowledge we can, with a high degree of confidence, depend on with our lives. It's distinguished from opinion, which might work if we're lucky.

Of course, all of this is just my opinion. :)

Now I'm sitting on the edge of my seat to see how many false charges of scientism come flying back, as if I deny there is a knowledge of history, the self-evident truths of Jefferson, or my own emotions.



Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

What other way is there to cast the argument? Its whole object is to conclude formal thinking belongs in a different category (aka, set) than physical processes.

Well, first of all, let's grant momentarily that every argument of the Leibniz's law (set form) begs the question. If Ross's argument begs the question because you can reread it in Leibniz's law (set form), even though it's stated just as Leibniz's law, then we can do the same thing for any argument in Leibniz's law form - and thus a corollary of your view is that arguments beg the question by virtue of being in the argument form Leibniz's law (since one can easily gloss any predicate as naming the set of things to which that predicate belongs). But that's wrong.

Second, this argument doesn't beg the question anyway: Let P be the set of physical processes. Let F be the set of formally determinate processes. Let t be (some instance of) human thought.

(1) t in F
(2) F is disjoint from P
(3) Therefore, t not in P

Someone hearing this argument might be a materialist who thinks some thought is formally determinate. Thus he rejects (2). Ok. So what? That only makes the argument question begging if Ross gives no argument for (2), and stalemate only ensues if the materialist has a good argument against (2).

You have desperately tried to argue that Ross specifies P as being non-F, or (in other moods, I suppose) as being non-human. I think that's silly; there are other options that actually have textual support in Ross, i.e. that P is specified ostensively or in terms of what is open to a materialist in building a theory of mind.

It's pretty common in philosophy to use an argument to classify disputes over some question, based on who would reject which premise. Clearly not all arguments of such form are of zero philosophical interest, even though you might be able to find philosophers who reject each premise; they are of interest because they tell us which premises people are compelled to reject if they want to maintain their present theory.

For my part, I don't think there is a good argument against (2). I think we have a sufficiently good ostensive understanding of what is physical that someone who denies (2) is not saying something that I understand. It might be possible for him to make me understand; but if he simply has the bare assertion that "my physical biology does, indeed, appear to act determinately," he is not speaking in a way that makes sense to me. (For instance, this would seem to imply that there is a pure function which, say, DNA replication instantiates to the exclusion of every other pure function that coincides with the "inputs" and "outputs" -- and, in fact, that this truth is "apparent".)

Step2 said...

@Don Jindra
But the most basic preliminary of modern science is that if it can't be detected and measured it's of no use in a search for explanations.

I can't remember which thread it was but someone brought up center of gravity as an inferred imaginary construct that is highly useful for explanations in order to specifically counteract this claim about science.

@Greg
It might be possible for him to make me understand; but if he simply has the bare assertion that "my physical biology does, indeed, appear to act determinately," he is not speaking in a way that makes sense to me.

I guess I would want to know how you think physical biology appears when it acts indeterminately.

Anonymous said...

My argument is that his proof doesn't do more than document his opinion.

You don't have an argument. You have a string of fallacies, misunderstandings about introductory logic, and general stupidity. In no sense have you proven Ross begs the question.

I notice you didn't actually show how I was wrong in my interpretation of your comments. What do you mean by saying the sets are subsets of actual physical processes, other than that he should start by assuming they are one set?

Anonymous said...

Everyone, I should remind you that we are dealing with trolls here. Don, and for all intents and purposes, Step2 are going to admit they are wrong. They are interested in proper arguments or actual understanding. They will stick to guns and generally jump around in stupidity, but are hardly going to engage in proper thought and discussion. In many ways it is simply a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

N.B. - They aren't going to admit they are wrong and aren't interested in proper arguments......

Greg said...

@ Step2

I guess I would want to know how you think physical biology appears when it acts indeterminately.

I gave an example.

Daniel Joachim said...

An implied preliminary, although many scientists might deny this, is that knowledge must be useful in this world.

Which is just philosophically begging the question, and confronts us with the follow-up question: Useful for what?

But the most basic preliminary of modern science is that if it can't be detected and measured it's of no use in a search for explanations.

Now, this just got hilarious. Not kidding - I seriously laughed at the sight of this! :)

Of course, all of this is just my opinion.

Which made this combox, and in fact this entire blog, and every blog, and every book, into just a lengthy waste of time? I'm just going to paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead here: “Those who devote themselves to convince other of the truth that there is no truth constitute an interesting subject for study”.

But of course, we can always handwave by saying truth is not really truth, but just temporary notion of useful or progressive knowledge, which is supposed to entirely change the rules of the game...somehow.

2+2=4 is not really true, until you've got an empirical confirmation of apples adding up to apples. As for 165.904 x 4.305, better start collecting those apples.

Step2 said...

@Greg
You gave an implied reductionist example. Try an example relevant to the apparent functioning of the whole organism. Even for my "simple" example of ants the relevant functioning was occurring at the level of the colony and didn't even consider their DNA.

Greg said...

@ Step2

Even for my "simple" example of ants the relevant functioning was occurring at the level of the colony and didn't even consider their DNA.

I can't tell, or begin to guess, what pure function the ant colony is proposed to realize to the exclusion of others.

pck said...

pck: "There are no experiments which can settle the question 'what is knowledge'?"

Don: No school of knowledge can prove itself. Does logic prove logic is true? Everyone in every school makes fundamental assumptions that cannot be proven.


Correct, but that has nothing to do with the question "What is knowledge?" The conceptual framework of, say, physics, accepts logic as a valid tool of explanation. And it has to do so before the experimental results come in. Because physics couldn't even get as far as to pose its questions without using logic (logic being the language in which mathematics is formulated). "What is physical knowledge?" therefore cannot be clarified by pointing to the results of physical theory.

pck: "None of our mathematical knowledge is empirical, but it is nonetheless an essential part of the framework of the natural sciences."

Don: You're opening a can of worms here and I hesitate to get sidetracked. Let me just say, there was a "crisis" in math in the last century. That crisis was not really resolved. I think it's highly debatable that math, in a formal vacuum, is true knowledge. It's a mighty valuable tool, which is different.


Actually, the "crisis" (which wasn't really a crisis since the validity and usefulness of math was never in danger or question) was resolved, just not in the way mathematicians at the time imagined. It is true that all mathematical statements, as Wittgenstein famously said, say the same, namely nothing. As I have pointed out several times, there are different kinds of knowledge. Math is conceptual knowledge, which is different from empirical knowledge. But one would have to be quite obtuse not to recognize that the two always need to work together, especially in the natural sciences. Thus to hold the monicker "true knowledge" as exclusively reserved for emipirical knowledge is just a sign of a lack of education.

pck: "No conceptual framework has ever been, nor will it ever be, studied at the level of neurons."

1) More begging of the question, 2) factually false. Conceptual frameworks *are* being studied at the neuron level.


So now we have arrived at blunt assertions without even attempting any sort of justification? 1) is pure rhetoric and plain nonsense, since there is not even a question there which could possibly be begged. As for 2), just explain to us (or point us to) any study that has actually managed to reduce any framework of concepts to the language of neurophysiology. For example, how does the contraposition rule "A => B is equivalent to not-B => not-A" look like at the level of neurons? Your task is to translate the concept of contraposition into sentences that are constructed exclusively from terms like "action potential", "blood flow", "electro-chemical activity" and so on. And these sentences must be usable in place of "A => B ...". It won't do to say "in principle, all of what is going on in the brain while you think 'A => B ...' could be described in the terms of neurphysiology". Because it is not neurons that think and reason, but human beings. So good luck with your homework.

(contd.)

pck said...

The book your link cites does not study concepts. Rather, it creates technical terms which are supposed to represent "conceptual states". It has been shown many times that such "representations" have absolutely nothing to do with concepts as we ordinarily understand the term. Nothing in the brain represents anyting. It's like saying that the string "moo" represents (part of) the concept of a cow. This is a standard fallacy of computer and cognitive scientists who claim they can represent the mind using computer models. In fact, all representational theories of mind must fail for purely logical reasons, since the concept of representation presupposes the presence of a mind. Thus you cannot explain the mind (and, by extension, concepts), using any kind of representation.

pck: "Nobody ever learned the meaning of any word by looking at neurons."

Nobody learned how to drive by studying engines and steering mechanisms. But studying those things can explain how driving is possible.


Which was exactly my point. The mechanics of (part of) what makes thought possible can indeed be shed light on by studying the brain. But that is a completely different undertaking than clarifying what thought is (as an experience and/or human ability). Studying the brain to find out what "thought" means is like studying road asphalt and car engines to find out what a journey is.

Don: That's what a framework is, and that was the issue you brought up.

And this is where you go wrong. That is not what a framework is. The brain (being part of what is) making thought possible is not at all the same as the brain generating, causing or representing thought. The mechanical language of "movement", "force", "place", "velocity", etc. is not enough to ever express even the simplest thought such as "it's a nice sunny day". That is the materialist fallacy. The materialist panicks because he thinks that if mechanical language wasn't enough to explain thought, he would need to amend it with "Spooky Stuff" to make the equation

Brain Mechanics + Spooky Stuff = Thought

hold. He doesn't believe in Spooky Stuff (and he shouldn't), so he concludes that

Brain Mechanics = Thought

must be true instead. But in fact both equations are fallacies, because a phenomenon like thought cannot be decomposed like that, just as the concept of a "joyful dance" cannot be decomposed into "dance movements + joy". The problem is made more difficult by the fact that "thought" and other first person experiences don't even have a mechanical aspect, like a dance has, which they could possibly be analysed into. Thus the level of description which has to be applied in explanations of first person concepts cannot possibly be of a mechanical type.

pck said...

Don: But the most basic preliminary of modern science is that if it can't be detected and measured it's of no use in a search for explanations.

Funny. And how do you measure things? By using numbers. One can't escape the notion that those would be quite essential to measurement. But according to you we cannot use numbers unless we have measured them too. So now you will have to tell us how to measure numbers. This will revolutionize the natural sciences no doubt.

Don: From a scientific POV, knowledge itself is provisional. It's not to be considered "truth" in the totality. Knowledge is not certainty. It's a successive approximation converging toward the true.

Classic naturalist nonsense. How do you know "the true" exists if you have not measured it? By your own admission you need to, but at the same time you can never be sure you actually have.

Don: So modern science rejects the notion that explanations (or truths) come purely from logical or mathematical deductions. Even the most elegant mathematical equations must wait for empirical confirmation.

So you're still on the fence about whether 1+1=2 is true? Or do you think it is only approximately true?

It's funny, never even once when I got my degrees in physics and math did any of my professors mention any of these mind-blowing revelations. You must be the smartest person on the planet, in possession of truths so deep they are too precious to be taught at any university.

Anonymous is right, you are a troll. The fact that you are a computer programmer sadly confirms the deplorable stereotype of pop science educated google-monkeys.

Taylor said...

'pop science educated google-monkeys' is my new go-to phrase.

Thanks pck.

Daniel Joachim said...

'pop science educated google-monkeys' is my new go-to phrase.

Thanks pck.


Exactly my thought. I hope he hasn't managed to copyright it. :)

Don Jindra said...

Daniel Joachim,

"Which is just philosophically begging the question, and confronts us with the follow-up question: Useful for what?"

"Begging the question" on fundamental beliefs is the sort of thing that seems to bother you. It doesn't bother me because I know there's no way of avoiding it. You're free to pursue knowledge any way you choose. Just don't expect everyone else to follow you as if you have a better system, or as if you don't beg the same questions. I think for something to count as knowledge it should be useful in controlling nature or affecting our social interactions. I have no proof for this. I'm narrowing what I think ought to count as real knowledge -- a definition of knowledge has to be part of a theory of knowledge. To me, neither trivia nor navel gazing count as real knowledge. One can memorize every baseball statistic. But until that data can be organized in a useful, meaningful way, it's not knowledge.


"2+2=4 is not really true, until you've got an empirical confirmation of apples adding up to apples."

Math didn't form out of thin air. What does 2+2=4 mean until we count something of interest? Outside of intelligent beings, does it mean anything? I said this was opening a can of worms. If we apply Ross, all of math's truth content is stripped away. All that remains is personal experience of 2+2=4 (like interest in apples). Then we have the unfortunate fact that 2+2=4 is overly complex. It reduces to 4=4 then 0=0. Nothing equals nothing doesn't add too much to the knowledge base. We impose our meaning on math in the same way Ross claims we impose our meaning on calculator addition. If a calculator is indeterminate, so is all of math. I'm merely following through with Ross's logic. Ross is no more than an apologist for radically subjective knowledge.


"Now, this just got hilarious. Not kidding - I seriously laughed at the sight of this!"

Emotional reactions fail to persuade.


Alfred North Whitehead, "Those who devote themselves to convince other of the truth that there is no truth constitute an interesting subject for study”.

You're not even interested in responding to me. I firmly believe in truth. But let's see if you can turn heckling into a positive. What is your theory of knowledge?


"But of course, we can always handwave by saying truth is not really truth, but just temporary notion of useful or progressive knowledge, which is supposed to entirely change the rules of the game...somehow."

It definitely changed the game. That's why we're able to communicate via this technology.

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

You're going to have to explain to me why you think
Leibniz's law has anything to do with Ross's proof. Because I see no connection. I'm not saying the set of "physical processes" is identical to the set of "formal thinking." That's clearly false. I'm saying "formal thinking" is a small subset within the set of "physical processes," like red fire trucks is within the set of red objects. This is basically Ross's argument: no apple can be considered in the subset of red objects because no apple has an engine like red fire trucks do. What does that have to do with Leibniz's law?

Regardless, you still need to explain why this doesn't suffers from the same analysis:

(1) All true knowledge is based on empirical science
(2) No theology is based on empirical science
(3) No theology is true knowledge

Greg said...

@ Don

You're going to have to explain to me why you think
Leibniz's law has anything to do with Ross's proof.


I just mean arguments of the form:

(1) x is P
(2) no y is P
(3) Therefore x is not y

Call it whatever you want. (I suppose it might only be one direction of what in philosophy is typically called "Leibniz's law".) My point is that if the "set version" of this argument necessarily begs the question, then the original version does too.

I'm saying "formal thinking" is a small subset within the set of "physical processes," like red fire trucks is within the set of red objects. This is basically Ross's argument: no apple can be considered in the subset of red objects because no apple has an engine like red fire trucks do.

So now Ross's argument is invalid?

Regardless, you still need to explain why this doesn't suffers from the same analysis...

Which analysis?

In any case, I think that argument is non-question begging but not a very good argument. That is all. I (basically) concede (2), and if someone were to present me with a very good argument for (1), then I would accept (3). (And people have tried to make this sort of argument.)

Glenn said...

Don Jindra,

I'm saying "formal thinking" is a small subset within the set of "physical processes," like red fire trucks is within the set of red objects.

If 'formal thinking' is a small subset within the set of 'physical processes', then the problem of the spaghetti-like nature of your 'formal thinking' is easily resolved by straightening out the 'physical processes' involved.

Hop to it.

laubadetriste said...

Though I do agree with Gottfried that Dennett has "a remarkable knack for coining terms that can give blatant refusals to think a veneer of cleverness," yet I think that some of the terms he employs are quite useful. Among them I think is the "deepity" that has been mentioned here, actually coined by Dennett's friend. A "deepity," to recall, was a proposition that seems both true and profound, but achieves that effect by being equivocal between at least two readings, one of which is profound but clearly false, the other true but trivial. The unwary reader catches the two readings together and thinks, Wow, that's deep!

For example, take Don Jindra's claim that, "[W]hen facing an unknown, and when a tentative choice must be made, begging the question is unavoidable. It's a fact of life." He seems to repeat this claim later, when he says that, "'Begging the question' on fundamental beliefs is the sort of thing that seems to bother you. It doesn't bother me because I know there's no way of avoiding it." Is this not a deepity of the rarest flower?

Imagine if it were true that begging the question were a *fact of life*! (Like, say, death and taxes?)--if it were true that there is *no way of avoiding it*! Why, if there is *no way of avoiding it,* then no one ever avoids it. How marvelous, and also how clearly false! On the other hand, is it not true that many careless people do in fact frequently beg the question, and also that most of us do so at least occasionally? How true, and also how clearly trivial!

What a deepity!

@Don Jindra: "You claim this is absurd:..."

Yes, I do. But now that I've witnessed your repeated prodigies of misreading, I think I must confirm: you do realize that the absurd part of a reductio ad absurdum is the middle part, right? In that kind of argument, you start with a proposition that at least seems plausible (*not* absurd); and then show next that absurd (or false, or untenable) consequences follow from that initial proposition; and hence that the initial proposition from which those consequences followed, contrary to how it first seemed, must in fact be false (*not* absurd); hence *absurdum,* from "absurdus," figuratively "incongruous, silly, senseless," from ab + "surdus," "dull, deaf, mute."

I wouldn't ask, but I think without misunderstanding you could not proceed then to add, "Brains do realize what we call abstract functions. This seems to be empirically true. What is empirically true cannot be labeled absurd, imo." Because of course what Ross had just argued was *just why from such claims absurd consequences follow,* and hence that they must be false, however plausible they may initially seem. (For convenience, I will link again to the paper in question, here.)

Also, you have exactly zero evidence that brains realize abstract functions. This could not fail to be the case, because abstract functions are, like numbers, not susceptible of empirical investigation. (I see Daniel Joachim gently suggested this line of thought to you, when he said, "As for 165.904 x 4.305, better start collecting those apples." I also see you missed his point.)

laubadetriste said...

"So putting human beings in a separate category of purely physical things doesn't assume from the outset that they belong in separate categories? To me that blatantly begs the question."

No, it does not, because that is not what Ross did. In Ross's reductios, he very explicitly assumed for the sake of argument that human beings are in the *same* category of purely physical things, then showed that from this assumption absurd consequences follow, and hence that human beings cannot be purely physical. (Go ahead, scroll up to my post November 3, 2015 at 4:42 PM and read my two examples. If need be, click on the links I have provided to the original paper.)

"It creates a self-serving, false dichotomy of (1) physical things, and (2) human beings. There is no reason to accept those two mutually exclusive categories. Therefore to accept the conclusion is to accept those two mutually exclusive categories from the outset."

This is why Anonymous was right about your "final" objection. Ross explicitly assumed for the sake of argument that humans *are* purely physical things. (Note: by so assuming, Ross was conceding for the sake of argument the materialist case, *not* creating two dichotomous categories. What you claim he did is the exact opposite of what he did. Hence my earlier accusation of your perversity.) Then he proceeded (Hint: this is the absurd part of the reductio) to show that from putting human beings in the *same single category of purely physical things,* absurd consequence follow. Hence the *conclusion* (Hint: the conclusion is not the assumption) that human beings are not purely physical.

"I suppose that would be true if I denied the ability to do the things we do. But I do not. And I deny a materialist must do so."

What did I just finish quoting Ross as saying, above?: "[I]n order to maintain that the processes are basically material, the philosopher has to deny outright that we do the very things we had claimed all along that we do. Yet our doing these things is essential to the reliability of our reasoning." And in the process of so saying, Ross argued *why* it must be so. (Go ahead. Click on the link to his paper, and read it. I dare you.) So you *repeat what Ross said* as if it counted in support of your claims, then just *ignore* the argument he made against your claims, and then repeat your claims as if nothing had happened! Did I say *chutzpah*? More chutzpah than a eunuch in a whorehouse with a coupon!

"Those arguments are not compelling. I believe that's why the modern world has mostly ignored them."

Again, Dr. Feser and others have shown *dozens* of times that this is not so. This was the burden of the early chapters of *The Last Superstition,* and was reviewed in Dr. Feser's own personal case in "The road from atheism." Did you say, "I have made an honest attempt to understand the A-T position. I've read a lot. I've learned a lot."? Patently false.

laubadetriste said...

"Why wouldn't one support the premise? That's the key question."

How about, because of the supplemental arguments Ross gave in his paper, and also the ones Dr. Feser gave in his roundups, and also the ones in the books Feser mentioned, all of which I re-mentioned? (Click the link. You can do it. No one will ever have to know...)

"Ross made the argument that calculators, computers and rocks executed indeterminate functions."

No, he didn't. (C l i c k t h e l i n k . . . .)

"So I don't know how anyone could claim I haven't given a 'clear and concise argument' for my objection. It should be clear as a bell by now."

You seem unable to avoid piling confusion on top of confusion, solecism on top of pleonasm on top of libelous misstatement, and the result is rather as confusing as if that bell, when rung, emitted not a clear peal, but a damp raspberry.

Btw, a category is not "aka" a set. The two are significantly different. You're bringing up words again that are foreign to you and have technical meanings--like "esoteric."

"I'll extend my Reservoir Dogs Fallacy to cover this. No school of knowledge can prove itself. Does logic prove logic is true? Everyone in every school makes fundamental assumptions that cannot be proven. In fact, if science (or anything else) was used to prove itself, it would rightly be cited for circular reasoning."

Just to be clear, as this may be the root of your unreason: Are you claiming that the accepting of axioms is *circular reasoning*? (Or, as you put it earlier, *begging the question*?)

"2) factually false. Conceptual frameworks *are* being studied at the neuron level."

Go back and read your own citation. Note the scare quotes around the word "good." Note that the authors say that the "output layer" *represents* "conceptual states." Note that the authors must "define a distance measure (usually the Euclidean distance) on the m-dimensional space of sensor vectors." (Dr. Feser already addressed being *relative to people's intentions,* e.g. here and here.) Hence pck's comments November 9, 2015 at 9:56 PM and 9:57 PM.

"It definitely changed the game. That's why we're able to communicate via this technology."

And what in the hell had to happen before the "game" was "changed"? We should sit you down with Neil deGrasse Tyson and have him review for you, as he does sometimes on TV for obtuse people, how the initially useless developments of quantum mechanics in the 1920s, with their then-undetectable elements of explanation, resulted decades later in wonderful technologies. Perhaps then we would rewind to review just how Maxwell came up with his equations, and then further to Galileo's ideal falling bodies, and then to the early mathematical work of the Oxford Calculators, and then all the way back to Leucippus with his "full" and "empty." At each step we would note the points at which perfectly good explanations lacked detectable or measurable elements, and the affinity of those explanations to purely logical ones.

Why, just today by coincidence I read about quarks here that: "These particles were predicted not on the basis of empirical data, but on the basis of mathematical symmetry patterns. This was a purely theoretical prediction, made within the framework of a a sophisticated mathematical theory of representations of the group SU(3). It took physicists years to master this theory... but it is now the bread and butter of elementary particle physics."

laubadetriste said...

Note: my copy-and-paste failed. The link to Ross's paper is here.

laubadetriste said...

Here. Bloody hell.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous November 9, 2015 at 1:58 PM: "Everyone, I should remind you that we are dealing with trolls here. Don, and for all intents and purposes, Step2 aren't going to admit they are wrong. They aren't interested in proper arguments or actual understanding. They will stick to guns and generally jump around in stupidity, but are hardly going to engage in proper thought and discussion. In many ways it is simply a waste of time."

Oh, Step2 doesn't seem so bad, does he? Sure, he said a couple careless things right up front--but then he explained himself, and asked some sensible questions, and brought up a good point or two. He modified some of what he said. He gave a good counterexample to a claim of Don Jindra's (a Frege-like counterexample, even!). He made a moderately funny joke.

He looks to me like a perfectly intelligent person who is new to some of this, and hence lacks context, and hence sometimes misses the--how shall I say--*shorthand* that many folks take for granted. So there may be some other context--biology, I would guess, from his examples--in which he might be very familiar with the territory, and a few of us might be somewhat at sea. :)

"Waste of time"--perhaps. Yes, I'm just about done with Don Jindra. I can't deny I derive a certain pleasure from the spectacle, though. It's like watching daytime talk shows. "I'm a breeder for the Klan!" etc.

Don Jindra said...

laubadetriste,

"In Ross's reductios, he very explicitly assumed for the sake of argument that human beings are in the *same* category of purely physical things, then showed that from this assumption absurd"

I already answered this.

Your first example:

1. For a machine process to be fully determinate, every output for a function would have to occur; but
2. For an infinite function, that is impossible; therefore
3. A physical process cannot realize an abstract function.

Machine process and physical process are treated as equivalent here. So this is Ross without begging the question:

1. For formal thinking (aka, brain process) to be fully determinate, every output for a function would have to occur; but
2. For an infinite function, that is impossible; therefore
3. Formal thinking cannot realize an abstract function.

But that's false. Formal thinking (brain processes) do realize abstract functions.

I have to mention another difficulty because you ask if I realize "that the absurd part of a reductio ad absurdum is the middle part." This is what I realize: In that reductio ad absurdum, formal thinking is excused. It isn't held up to the same standard as so-called physical processes. Ross can't expect a person to spit out every output for an infinite function. Ross tries to hedge on that by proposing a mysterious "pure" function that is supposedly one thought or "single case." But this is wild speculation, not fact. There's no basis for assuming there is a "single case" function for addition in our heads. We look at two big numbers and we'll go through an algorithm to add those suckers. Big numbers are supposedly "accidental" -- impure inputs into "pure" adding. I submit this "ability to think in a form that is sum-giving for every sum" is foreign to school kids, and pretty much everyone else, too. What Ross really means is that we know we want a correct answer. So we whip out the calculator.

Curiously Ross admits nether correct answers nor errors guarantee a person has acquired this "pure" adding ability. So I have to ask at what point does Ross know this ability exists, and how?

But what guarantee is there that a person's formal thinking is more determinate than a calculator? This is the best Ross can do: Those thought processes "have to be [determinate]; otherwise, they will fail to have the features we attribute to them." Wonderful logic there! It's like saying, "Is God good? He has to be otherwise He fails to have the features we attribute to Him!" That's a flagrant begging of the question. But the cost makes it a necessary choice, according to Ross. Why not be magnanimous? Why not say with equal horror, imagine the cost if we say the brain cannot perform processes that are truth-preserving for all cases? It's actually the same issue but Ross shows no desire to be consistent, clear or fair.

Your second example is a misreading of Ross. It's from section 3. He's not talking about materialists in general. He's talking about a materialist who would dare doubt we add, conjoin, or do modus ponens. But I don't doubt this so this example does not apply to me, nor to many materialists, I suspect.

So I deny "Ross explicitly assumed for the sake of argument that humans *are* purely physical things." If we look at your only example that might show promise, it comes from page 143 of the copy I have. That paragraph is about what he calls physical processes. It's clear from the context around that paragraph that he is talking about adding machines and such. He must have realized an adding machine is really a finite state machine, so he claims a machine with infinite states is far more troubling. Ross is still talking about machines, not humans as machines. You're reading into Ross something that is not there.

Don Jindra said...

pck,

I had a tedious response prepared until I reached this:

"The mechanics of (part of) what makes thought possible can indeed be shed light on by studying the brain. But that is a completely different undertaking than clarifying what thought is (as an experience and/or human ability)."

I'll ignore every thing above that. Now you changed your tune. Now it's all about subjectivity. Now it's simply that we won't be able to explain what you *feel* while you think.

That has nothing to do with understanding how the brain performs "formal thinking." You're not talking about a theory of knowledge any more. You're talking about a narrow theory of self. I'll go out on a very short limb. Any philosophical exercise will do a miserable job of explaining self. But you're going to feel pretty funny if engineers create that machine which, solely through its mechanics, knows exactly what it means when it says, "it's such a nice sunny day." That day will never arrive if engineers take your advice. I know engineers. They'll ignore you and probably make a bucket load of money because supposed
"pop science educated google-monkeys" are way smarter than you think.


"But according to you we cannot use numbers unless we have measured them too."

No, that's not what I said. I said numbers mean nothing unless we impose our meaning on them. Counting something means we are interested in some frame of reference. Counting is meaningless without that frame of reference. How many apples are there? Four in that bucket, because those four things I generically call apples are all the apples that currently interest me. In no way does that mean we have to measure numbers. We apply numbers to our interests. Nothing earth shattering about that.

"How do you know 'the true' exists if you have not measured it?"

We can measure nature with pretty good accuracy these days. Do you actually think that's nonsense?


"By your own admission you need to, but at the same time you can never be sure you actually have."

Demands for certainty are irrational.

Mr. Green said...

Don Jindra: Math didn't form out of thin air.

Of course not. Math doesn't depend on anything so grossly physical as air! Perish the thought.

"Begging the question" [...] doesn't bother me because I know there's no way of avoiding it. [...] Why should I ignore my belief and adopt his for the sake of his argument? It's not that Ross offers no compelling reason for me to do this. He offers no reason whatsoever.

Well, apparently the root problem here is that you misunderstand what "begging the question" means. Of course it's avoidable; it is a form of intellectual dishonesty, it means intellectual cheating, and so it is easy to avoid simply by being honest and rational.

Ross, of course, does offer a reason why "mind ≠ brain" — he starts with some of your beloved empiricism and observes that thought can be determinate, and then follows the implications step by step to the conclusion that it's impossible for brain-processes (alone) to account for thought. That Ross does not accept your question-begging physicalism does not mean he is begging the opposite question. Logic simply doesn't work that way.

Now the fact that you do not like that argument, or do not agree with it, or even do not understand it is not why people call you a troll. It's because you insist on accusing Ross of begging some question even though numerous people have patiently time and again explained that this is not the case. (Well, that and because you say, "To me, neither trivia nor navel gazing count as real knowledge", apparently including philosophy, and yet persist in hanging around a metaphysics site.) That nobody else might share your opinion is possible; yet they all aver, all in the same way, not just that they disagree with your conclusion, but that you are misunderstanding what Ross says in the first place. Well, even that might be explained by a conspiracy planned when we all congregate at the underground meetings of the Secret Society of Feser-Commenters to formulate our devious plot against the Nefarious Don Jindra. Except other people have attempted to rebut Ross's argument. Feser's oft-cited piece is a response to those attacks, and his piece has in turn been replied to itself. Yet none of these counter-arguments claims that Ross simpy "begs the question".

So here's the question for Don: how exactly do you view this conspiracy, what is going on in your head when you imagine that among all the people, including professional philosophers who have never heard of you, who dispute Ross's argument, that not a one has noticed that it "begs the question", that it "offers no reason whatsoever". How could such a simple and glaring flaw go unnoticed for decades? I really wonder how you fit this into your mental picture of the landscape. Is it simply the case that Don Jindra Cannot Be Wrong, and so therefore regardless of what they say, the Conspirators cannot be right?


Demands for certainty are irrational.

Are you sure about that?

pck said...

Don Jindra said...

I had a tedious response prepared until I reached this:


It's hard to imagine any response more tedious than the one you posted. I'll reply one last time and then I'm done with your ever growing pile of confusions and uneducated nonsense.

I'll ignore every thing above that.

Given the quality of your responses I sincerely wish you had ignored all of it.

Now you changed your tune. Now it's all about subjectivity. Now it's simply that we won't be able to explain what you *feel* while you think.

Nonsense. Here are the facts: 1) Our ordinary meaning of "thought" and other terms which express 1st person experiences is what we want to clarify in philosophy. 2) What must happen on the material level in order to make human experiences possible must be examined by science. 3) It was ever thus.

Nobody changed their tune here, least of all me. Unless you count yourself, as you have managed to get more dissonant with every post you have made in this thread. Being unable to differentiate between the empirical and the conceptual has been your problem all along. And we can be almost 100% sure the distinction will continue to elude you.

That has nothing to do with understanding how the brain performs "formal thinking."

The brain does not think. Human beings do. Human beings (persons) are not the same as their bodies. You have rights and duties. Your body does not. You can get drunk. You body cannot. You have a pain in your hand. Your hand does not. All of these are conceptual remarks, not descriptions of a part of the physical order of the world. Our ordinary use of "thought" makes no references to brain processes. (And neither does our use of "drunk", "pain", or "rights".) Hence you cannot hope to find out what "thinking" is by looking at what happens in brains.

Any philosophical exercise will do a miserable job of explaining self.

Nonsense. Philosophical (meaning: conceptual) investigation is the only way to clarify what "self" means. Science is completely useless for this task. There are no experiments that can decide what the meaning of "self" or any other term is. This even includes entirely material concepts like "mass", "force", "energy", etc. All of those go into theories, they cannot possibly come out of them.

Don: 'But you're going to feel pretty funny if engineers create that machine which, solely through its mechanics, knows exactly what it means when it says, "it's such a nice sunny day."'

There is no way to empirically prove that even a human being "knows exactly what it means when it says ...". Proving it for a machine is equally impossible, whether "through its mechanics" or by any other means.

As I have explained, mechanical language is hopelessly inadequate when it comes to replacing our ordinary, everyday concepts which we use to express our experiences.

On your view, if you received a Hallmark birthday card, you would have no way to decide whether it is the card itself that wishes you a happy birthday or the sender of the card.

(continued)

pck said...

Don: "That day will never arrive if engineers take your advice. I know engineers. They'll ignore you and probably make a bucket load of money because supposed
"pop science educated google-monkeys" are way smarter than you think."


It is not my business to give advice to engineers. And financial success hardly adjudicates truth. The google monkey reference was specifically directed at you and the many IT guys out there who "argue" along the same lines as you do, mistakenly believing that being able to write an if-then-else statement plus some wishy-washy "you can't break the laws of physics" type of belief in materialism makes them experts in logic and in the explanation of the nature of the world in general or humanity in particular. It doesn't.

What will happen, and what in fact has already happened, is that once certain performatory successes (such as computers beating humans at chess) have been achieved, it will be claimed (triumphantly but falsely) that "machines can now think/play chess/have emotions/etc." But performance does not equal thought, intelligence or emotion. It does not even equal being able to play chess. A chess playing computer knows as much about chess as a CD player knows about music. Only naive materialists believe that all that matters here is output. The more intelligent AI people understand this, see for example

http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/douglas-r-hofstadter

In which Hofstadter says:

"[...] and certainly the computer program that plays chess doesn't have any intelligence or anything like human thoughts."

(And just to be clear, I disagree with Hofstadter on AI issues a lot more than I agree with him. He still endorses a lot of confusions. But he does not fall into the standard category of those who explicitly or implicitly operate on the notion that performance equals understanding, ability or skill.)

pck:"But according to you we cannot use numbers unless we have measured them too."

Don: No, that's not what I said.


Yes you did. You said:

"[...] the most basic preliminary of modern science is that if it can't be detected and measured it's of no use in a search for explanations"

So you either need to retract that or show us your number-detector.

Don: How many apples are there? Four in that bucket, because those four things I generically call apples are all the apples that currently interest me.

Does this mean you will disappear if you no longer interest me?

pck: "How do you know 'the true' exists if you have not measured it?"

Don: We can measure nature with pretty good accuracy these days. Do you actually think that's nonsense?


How is this even remotely close to an intelligible reply to what I asked? Once again, the nonsense is all yours.

I would like to cordially invite you to do yourself and everyone else a favour and stop posting these endless heaps of bizarre inanities here. You have a deficit of at least 10 years of a proper education in philosophy, logic, math and science. My advice is to enroll at STF U.

Anonymous said...

So this is Ross without begging the question:

1. For formal thinking (aka, brain process) to be fully determinate, every output for a function would have to occur; but
2. For an infinite function, that is impossible; therefore
3. Formal thinking cannot realize an abstract function.

But that's false. Formal thinking (brain processes) do realize abstract functions.


This is certainly you begging the question. Here you assume, and not simply for the sake of argument as Ross does (because it is hard to see how your assumption could be useful in a non-begging argument), that formal processes and brain processes are the same.

Of course, you either realise this, or just don't care. You are not interested in proper discussion and understanding or basic intellectual honesty. Your entire purpose is just generally to make some noise and kick up dust against us theists, blissfully secure in your dogmatic materialism.

Don Jindra said...

Mr. Green ,

How is it that "among all the people, including professional philosophers who have never heard of you, who dispute Ross's argument, that not a one has noticed that it "begs the question", that it "offers no reason whatsoever". How could such a simple and glaring flaw go unnoticed for decades?"

I wondered when someone would ask that question.

First, I haven't read every response to Ross. In fact, I've read very few. Mention has been made here of responses I'd like to read. But I'd have to pay to read them. I'm not willing to do that. Nevertheless, proper research would take weeks or more. I don't have time for that. So although I can't deny what you say is true, I can't confirm it either. However, I did do 30 minutes of research and discovered a conversation on the Philosopy Forums. I don't know if these two people are professional philosophers, but they both noticed what I notice:

MC.Pearce -- "Separating out humans from physical processes is rather begging the question."

Contrarian -- "You are merely showing that a certain subset [formal thinking] of the possibilities embraced by the 'physical system' is not equivalent to or coextensive with the entire system, or has properties (takes predicates) which are not true of the entire system.'"

So you're wrong to claim I'm the only one to notice Ross has begged the question by creating two mutually exclusive sets, namely, formal thinking and physical processes.

Second, Ross's paper is very poorly written. It's hard to understand and vague in its use of terms. It's as if he wrote it to scare away all but the most interested. I doubt many have read the paper or even heard of it. I doubt there's much interest, even among professional philosophers, of responding to it.

Third, those who do suffer through the paper, probably do so because they're highly interested in support for the "conclusion" which Ross reveals in the first page. He didn't bury his lead. Ross's typical reader is rooting for Ross.

Fourth, Ross's propositions themselves are controversial so it's not surprising that rebuttals start there. To claim a calculator is a random function generator strikes most people as an absurdity. So it seems an easy place to start. But it's also easy to get lost there, especially when all Ross means is that humans know what they want to do while calculators do not. Ross's lack of clarity practically demands tedious disputes about nothing.

Btw, you characterize begging the question as "a form of intellectual dishonesty." I guess I see people more charitably. I often debate Christians elsewhere. They typically quote Bible verses to support their claims. I point out that they cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible. These people are not being dishonest. They're sloppy thinkers. I think they are so committed to their POV that they cannot question it. So begging the question seems perfectly acceptable, even honest.

Don Jindra said...

Mr. Green,

"Ross, of course, does offer a reason why "mind ≠ brain" - he starts with some of your beloved empiricism and observes that thought can be determinate, and then follows the implications step by step to the conclusion that it's impossible for brain-processes (alone) to account for thought."

Sure, he starts with empiricism, but he merely shows (at best) that a physical system (the brain) can execute determinate functions. He begs the question with his assumption that this observation is outside the set of physical processes.

I'll show you what I mean.

Skip down to Ross's section on functionalism. There's an example of how sloppily Ross entertains the possibility that our thinking is a physical process:

"Since we can add, we know our thought process is not the same as any function among brain states because no such function is determined ... by physical states."

Note that Ross uses "brain states" as an example of physical states. A series of physical states are also known as a physical process. Also note that "add" is an example of Ross's "pure" adding, aka, a determinate function. So, plugging in the synonymous terms, Ross's sentence is actually saying this:

Since humans execute a determinate function, we know our thought process is not the same as any function among physical processes because no such function is determined by physical processes.

I could simplify Ross's sentence even more:

We know a physical brain can't add via a series of physical brain states because adding can't be a series of physical brain states.

This sentence is as close as Ross comes to making the argument that "mind ≠ brain." As I've repeatedly said, when Ross attempts that argument he merely begs the question as he has obviously done here. When I point this out I'm confronted with other question-begging assertions, like pck's recent, "The brain does not think. Human beings do. Human beings (persons) are not the same as their bodies..."

Step2 said...

@laubadetriste
Thank you for the kind words. Also, I'm quite impressed with your Sherlock-like sleuthing ability. I have been mistakenly accused multiple times of being a lawyer but my educational background is in biology.

Of course I may still be misunderstanding Ross's argument but there is a strategy in it that strongly reminds me of Zeno's paradoxes. At its core both appear to be finishing problems, the motion/meaning can never be completed because there is an infinity proposed at a boundary condition. The arguments differ tactically because of what is needed to resolve either meaning or motion. If that is a reasonable comparison in terms of strategy then there isn't anything about Zeno's paradoxes that are logically invalid or question-begging but various responses against it have shown its weakness by other methods.

While this may or may not be relevant, the most interesting bit of advice I ever received online about the limits of logic and argument (somewhat oddly considering our political differences) was from John Kekes who wrote: "Reality is not a proposition."

Glenn said...

Don Jindra,

I wondered when someone would ask that question.

...I don't know if these two people are professional philosophers, but they both noticed what I notice:

MC.Pearce -- "Separating out humans from physical processes is rather begging the question."

Contrarian -- "You are merely showing that a certain subset [formal thinking] of the possibilities embraced by the 'physical system' is not equivalent to or coextensive with the entire system, or has properties (takes predicates) which are not true of the entire system.'"


When Mr. Green said that no one else has noticed that it "begs the question", he was not saying that no one else has hallucinated that it 'begs the question".

No one has noticed that it begs the question for the simple reason that it does not beg the question.

And those who think they notice it begs the question -- i.e., those who think they 'notice' it begs the question -- are hallucinating (and whether fleetingly, temporarily or persistently depends on how long it takes for them to come to their senses (or to acquire the those senses in the presence of which the hallucination will dissipate)).

Further, a demonstration, explanation, recounting or showing of how something was, is and/or can be arrived at does not qualify as "begging the question" either on the grounds that that something was arrived at, or on the grounds that that something is presented first when the demonstration, explanation, recounting or showing is made, given or presented.

Lastly, even when being patient, calm and emotively neutral in laying out the basis of your claims, you display an obvious misunderstanding of the argument made by Ross.

laubadetriste said...

↑Like pck, my fever has run its course.

"Do you think I don’t understand what my friend, the Professor, long ago called the hydrostatic paradox of controversy? / Don’t know what that means?—Well, I will tell you. You know, that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way,—*and the fools know it.*"--Holmes, *The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table*

So, on to better things.

@Step2: "...there is a strategy in it that strongly reminds me of Zeno's paradoxes. At its core both appear to be finishing problems, the motion/meaning can never be completed because there is an infinity proposed at a boundary condition."

I agree that there do seem to be similarities. You know, it was the power of Aristotle's response to Zeno's paradoxes that first caused me to take Aristotle seriously as a thinker (as opposed to merely a historically important person).

(Let that be a lesson, kids. Be careful who you hang out with. One day you're in math class discussing the origins of the calculus--and then before you know it, you're lurking around a Thomist blog, itching for your next fix...)

"While this may or may not be relevant, the most interesting bit of advice I ever received online about the limits of logic and argument (somewhat oddly considering our political differences) was from John Kekes who wrote: 'Reality is not a proposition.'"

John Kekes! That man always picks the most wonderful quotes for his chapter headings. And what delightful bibliographies! Yes, and he makes some good arguments, too... :) I especially enjoyed *A Case for Conservatism.*

I notice you said his was *interesting* advice, and not, say, *good* advice, or *true* advice. How *suggestive.*

pck said...

laubadetriste said...
↑Like pck, my fever has run its course.
"[...] Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way,—*and the fools know it.*"


Too true. Jindra and others of his type, rather than trying to clear up their own muddy waters first, take what obscures their thought and attempt to pollute opposing views with it. They end up like the guy who stands at the foot of a mountain asking where its shoe might be.

While inventing metaphors ("the mountain's foot") or extending existing concepts (e.g. "I think" to "my brain thinks") is not a problem per se, applying metaphors or extended concepts where they no longer make sense (that is, within the logical scope of the original terms they are derived from) is. Jindra foolishly takes the literal truth of "brains think" for granted, when he should question first whether it makes sense to ask if we should say that brains think. Thus Jindra not only begs the question but in addition, even more foolishly, takes the symptoms of the poison he swallowed as proof that it is the others who are sick.

To someone who cannot differentiate between the empirical and the conceptual, the distinction is not even intelligible.

(Let that be a lesson, kids. Be careful who you hang out with. One day you're in math class discussing the origins of the calculus--and then before you know it, you're lurking around a Thomist blog, itching for your next fix...)

I very vividly remember being puzzled by a version of Zeno's paradox when I was first introduced to calculus in school. Later when I was studying physics I was told that the problem could be resolved entirely by mathematical means (which is partly, but not completely true). After I had switched to math and was gravitating towards axiomatic set theory, the problem would come up again in the form of the continuum being modelled, paradoxically, as a point set. Once more, it became clear that no technical answer could possibly satisfy all of the questions one might have.

"[...] 'Reality is not a proposition.'"

An excellent point. My entryway into philosophy open up when I realized that terms like "reality" and "cause" could never be derived from or justified by purely empirical knowlege. After all, they did not even have symbolic expressions or models among the equations of physics/math. It took me until the end of my 20s to realize this because I was just too scientifically minded. I knew too little else and had had no guiding hand which might have introduced me to other ways of thinking. Unlike Jindra and his ilk, I was fortunate enough to realize I was missing something, I just couldn't point my finger at what it was exactly. I turned to linguistics in a first attempt, but after another year, having written a paper on Russell's criticism of causality, it dawned on me I needed to look into conceptual analysis, aka philosophy.

Thus today, whenever I witness the proponents of scientism, I'm quite grateful I was never tempted to make a virtue out of my intellectual shortcomings. I owe this mostly to the guys in my math study group, where we would discuss not so much the technical details of formalisms but instead engage in their clarification. The goal was to remove the surprise one inevitably faces when all of the parts of a proof, apparently miraculously, come together neatly at its end. Our motto was, unless you're like "duh" at the end of it, you have not understood the proof.

So always question your assumptions and your concepts, especially when faced with a paradox.

Don Jindra said...

pck: "You said:'[...] the most basic preliminary of modern science is that if it can't be detected and measured it's of no use in a search for explanations.' So you either need to retract that or show us your number-detector.

You're correct. I should have been more clear. I meant only what science uses as corroborating evidence. Tools help build the house. They are not in the structure of the house.


Glen: "(1) x is P; (2) no y is P; (3) Therefore x is not y

I don't dispute that. I don't need to dispute a human being (x) is not a calculator (y). Ross used 'determinate' for (P). But he also used "physical" for (not P). Throughout his paper, 'indeterminate' and 'physical' are used synonymously for (not P). Even though his rhetoric makes it appear these are two separate properties, they are one property using two badly chosen names. So he starts with formal thinking != physical. No surprise he ends there too.


Glen: "When Mr. Green said that no one else has noticed that it 'begs the question', he was not saying that no one else has hallucinated that it 'begs the question'."

You now beg the question when attacking opponents who don't adopt your view. That might explain a lot.

pck said...

Correction:

"when he should question first whether it makes sense to ask if we should say that brains think"

should read

"when he should question first whether it makes sense to say that brains think"

Glenn said...

Don Jindra,

Glen: "(1) x is P; (2) no y is P; (3) Therefore x is not y

I don't dispute that. I don't need to dispute a human being (x) is not a calculator (y). Ross used 'determinate' for (P). But he also used "physical" for (not P). Throughout his paper, 'indeterminate' and 'physical' are used synonymously for (not P). Even though his rhetoric makes it appear these are two separate properties, they are one property using two badly chosen names. So he starts with formal thinking != physical. No surprise he ends there too.


Yeah, well... um... fumble, fumble... the fact of the matter is that:

1. Ross does not deny that physical processes can be determinate. In fact, he explicitly indicates that they can be.

2. Ross does not deny that thoughts can be indeterminate. In fact, he explicitly indicates that they can be.

3. Ross does not deny that thoughts can be physical. In fact, he explicitly indicates that they can be.

And,

4. You obviously have no idea what the paper actually is about.

Glenn said...

Correction:

s/b "3. Ross does not deny that thinking can be physical. In fact, he explicitly indicates that it can be."

Don Jindra said...

Glen,


"1. Ross does not deny that physical processes can be determinate. In fact, he explicitly indicates that they can be."

"3. Ross does not deny that thinking can be physical. In fact, he explicitly indicates that it can be."


If Ross has done so explicitly, there must be direct quotes that lead you to believe this. Could you please copy and past those quotes?

Glenn said...

If Ross has done so explicitly, there must be direct quotes that lead you to believe this. Could you please copy and past those quotes?

IOW,

1. You have read the paper.
2. You have even scrutinized the paper.
3. And its content still escapes your sharp, eagle eye.

Glenn said...

I was being overly general, and thus imprecise, when I wrote, "3. And its content still escapes your sharp, eagle eye." This instead should be,

3. And some of its pertinent content still escapes your sharp, eagle eye.

Mr. Green said...

Don Jindra: He begs the question […] I'll show you what I mean. […]
I could simplify Ross's sentence even more


Except that isn’t a simplification. It isn’t a paraphrase at all, it says something quite different. (And it’s still not question-begging even in the non-equivalent substitution you gave, although that formulation — taking it at face value as you gave it — is rather trivially true.)

First, I haven't read every response to Ross. In fact, I've read very few.

Well, I was right to call it a conspiracy-theory. You don’t have to buy and read the articles — just look at the abstracts — to see that “Ross begs the question” is not a charge being laid at his door. Unless of course you think that I, and Feser, and everyone else here, not to mention the professional philosophical journals involved are all part of a plot to conceal the Truth™ and create this smoke-screen… including the philosophers who are objecting to Ross (or only pretending to object to him, in this B-movie scenario, I guess). No, just ignore the “poorly-written” and "unheard-of" article published by a century-old peer-reviewed journal and the responses by Feser or Dillard in another, nearly as venerable, peer-reviewed journal in favour of random comments from two nobodies on the Internet. (The fact that they’re nobodies just proves that as outsiders they have no ulterior motives! If they even are nobodies and not courageous professional philosophers themselves who are posting under pseudonyms like “Contrarian” only in order to avoid repercussions of leaking the Truth!™ from the Clandestine Council of Philosophical Overlords. (Meetings every other Thursday in secret Vatican underground dungeon 4b. Free coffee and doughnuts provided by Opus Dei every first meeting of the month outside Lent.))

To claim a calculator is a random function generator strikes most people as an absurdity.

?!?!?!? (And that’s a rhetorical question.)

These people are not being dishonest. They're sloppy thinkers. […] So begging the question seems perfectly acceptable, even honest.

But we weren’t talking about people who accidentally beg a question by mistake. It is a fallacy and not, as you claim, acceptable or unavoidable — someone who is aware he is begging a question and does so anyway is indeed intellectually dishonest. Nobody is ever obliged to make a false argument: he can instead simply drop the faulty argument, and should do so.

Don Jindra said...

Mr. Green,

"although that formulation — taking it at face value as you gave it — is rather trivially true."

My formulation is textbook question begging. But maybe you reveal the root of the problem. It could be as simple as human nature. Those who believe something is true may have a tough time seeing when the question is begged. Rather it becomes "trivially true." A tautology, perhaps.

Your conspiracy theory is a straw man. I'm thinking I see people who want to believe so earnestly and blindly, that the belief is assumed a "trivial" truth in one context, then that same triviality is blown into a profound truth in another context.

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