Monday, September 11, 2017

Radio activity


Today on his Daily Wire podcast, Ben Shapiro kindly recommended my book The Last Superstition, characterizing it as “really fantastically written” and “rare for a philosophy book, really readable and lucid.”  His comments on the book can be heard about 38 minutes into the show.

Speaking of The Daily Wire, I will be interviewed this week on The Andrew Klavan Show

Last week I was interviewed on Catholic Answers Live on the subject of my latest book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  You can listen to the show here.

I will be discussing Five Proofs this Friday, September 15, on Bill Martinez Live at 8:06 am PT.  And on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 5:17 pm PT, I will be on Forte Catholic to discuss By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed.  Further media appearances forthcoming.  Stay tuned.

97 comments:

  1. I’m really enjoying Five Proofs of the Existence of God. I hoping someone can help me out with a question I have regarding the Aristotelian proof. The Aristotelian proof, as I understand it, is, at its core, a claim that a material thing’s existence, here and now, is the result of a hierarchical series of causation which is ultimately rooted in the first actualizer. The question posed in the book when this core claim is introduced is the question “What keeps water in existence at any particular moment?” The book then goes on to describe how it can’t be, among other things, the chemical bonds; however, I wonder why something needs to keep it in existence at all. Why can’t it simply be the *nature* of water, and other substances, to stay in their form once it is composed via some linear chain?

    Thank you in advance and God Bless.

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    1. Well as the book points out, every linear chain presupposes a hierarchical chain of causation. It's not like after water becomes water it doesn't have to rely on the actualization of its chemical bonds, the actualization of its molecular structure, the actualization of its atomic structure, and so on.

      I mean, yes, we can view the existence of water as a product of some linear chain (I woke up, I had an idea about synthesizing oxygen and hydrogen together, I bought the chemicals, I went to a laboratory, I combined the chemicals and created water). But surely we can't deny that once water is in existence it would cease to be in existence at any moment if we caused its chemical bonding to change, or its molecular structure to be otherwise, or if we toyed around with its atomic structure. What this indicates is that at every moment of the water's existence the water relies on a series of levels essential to its being. And each level requires actualization--i.e the potential for hydrogen and oxygen to form a chemical bond has to be actualized, the potential for water's specific molecular structure has to be actualized.

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    2. RomanJoe,

      Thank you very much for the reply. I completely agree with your statement: "surely we can't deny that once water is in existence it would cease to be in existence at any moment if we caused its chemical bonding to change, or its molecular structure to be otherwise, or if we toyed around with its atomic structure." However, The issue at hand in my question is not "if water would cease to exist if we caused the chemical bound to change", which would be accomplished linear chain, but rather whether or not water would continue to exist via its nature in absence of any linear change.

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    3. In short, if you accept that material things are composites of act and potency then you have to explain why a thing continues to be actualized in a specific way. Merely appealing to a thing's nature doesn't solve it because obviously that thing can go out of existence so, obviously, it wasn't part of its nature to be actualized in the way it was. So now we have to look beyond the material thing itself to understand why it is actualized in the way that it is. And, consequently, this means that said material thing is reliant on different levels of reality which are themselves composites of act and potency, that is until you get to the First Cause itself.

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    4. Tom,

      I haven't read 5 Proofs yet, but your question is essentially (pun intended) addressed in the last chapter of Scholastic Metaphysics on Essence and Existence. The Scholastic argument is that if Existence were part of a thin'gs Essence (as is the case for God), then it would be impossible for that thing to go out of existence. Just as having two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom is an essential property water, and this if is impossible to have water (as we all know it) without H2O, it would also be impossible to make that water go out of existence. But we can easily make water go out of existence through electrolysis. Therefore, existence must be a non-essential (or contingent) property of water. Another line of argument shows that if Existence is of something's nature, then you should be able to determine whether or not it in fact exists. For example, imagine a few days after the Big Bang, God gives all of his angels a lesson in physics so that they know everything there is to know about the "laws" of nature. Now they could start talking about all of the various elements and compounds that could possibly exist given these laws, but they (assuming the age of the universe was kept secret from them) could not know which elements actually exist just by simply knowing their natures. This indicates that Existence is a nonessential feature of anything that is not Subsistent Being Itself. In fact, physicists often do something similar to this when positing the Multiple Worlds hypothesis in which they assume that the constants that "govern" the "laws" of physics could be different in different worlds. They can determine what these worlds would be like (intelligent designers could go on for days about this), but they cannot tell you whether any of these worlds actually exist. In fact, the lack of empirical evidence is the biggest rock in the Multiple Worlds shoe. This just demonstrates that knowing "what" a thing is does not entail knowing "that" a thing is (except for in the case of God, who is defined as such).

      Hope this helps, and check out Scholastic Metaphysics. It contains crucial background information for these kinds of arguments.

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    5. Scott, your explanation nailed it for me. Specifically " ... But we can easily make water go out of existence through electrolysis. Therefore, existence must be a non-essential (or contingent) property of water."

      I don't recall reading anything in the chapter about a thing's essential vs non-essential/contingent properties but I more than likely just missed it. I will re-read the chapter shortly.

      Thank you and God Bless

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  2. Five Proofs is a great book, Shapiro should recommend it too. I also have an issue with the fifth argument.

    In the proof Ed doesn't address one of the most obvious objections to the Leibnizian argument: why did God create this specific world/infinite series of contingent things? Surely there has to be a reason why he specifically chose to create this world as opposed to others. But, as I noticed in the last chapter on divine attributes, Ed is unwilling to accept Leibniz's principle of the best possible world because he thinks it fetters God's freedom. Okay, well now we don't have an explanation for God's specific act of creation. I'm hoping someone can show me that I'm missing something here.

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    1. Yes, I've wondered about this. It seems as if something existing in a specific way always needs an explanation for its specificity. Dr. Feser even says that if our world is an infintie series of contingent beings we would still need an explanation for why this contingent series exists in the specific way its does, being consisted of trees, people, rocks, mountains, galaxies, etc. So, if we need an explanation for specificity, then wouldn't that mean we need an explanation for God's creating this specific world?

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    2. This is an approach to this question that I have taken, and it certainly may not be in line with Leibniz' thinking.

      But it depends on how you define "best". If you define "best" as not capable of being improved in terms of Aquinas' 4th way where better means a higher participation of being, well then it is just obvious that the world is not best in that sense. In fact, taken from that view, the "best" world would be one with no other creatures (or angels) at all insofar as all contingent beings lack some perfection. Obviously, the most morally righteous world is one where no sin is possible whatsoever (where only God exists, assuming alternatives would be the creation of a pre-fallen world where all creatures have a greater than zero per cent chance of sinning). Similarly, an imperfect but still much better world would be one in which all had free will but no one sinned. Certainly this world is metaphysically possible. And there is also no way to disprove that an alternate universe like this doesn't actually exist (take C.S. Lewis' Perelandra trilogy for example).

      But the reason God created this world is because it IS the best possible world for us insofar as it may be the only world in which we exist. Take for example, one of the most despicable sins such as rape. If you go back far enough in your ancestry, chances are (statistically) that within 10 generations (about +2000 ancestors) one of the women from your ancestral line conceived a child (another one of your ancestors) through rape. This is horrible, and it certainly is not the "best" world for your female ancestor, but it is the "best" world for you insofar as without that act of rape, you would not exist at all. Now this obviously does not justify rape or other sins, but it does show how God can bring about good from even the greatest evils. Similarly, the "better" world with no sinners is another world in which I do not exist (insofar as I have sinned plenty of times). So while it may not be "best" for God for me to exist, it IS best for me to exist. (It certainly wasn't best for Jesus to be crucified, either).

      The reason for this world then boils down to love. It is not irrational in that it is not incoherent to create and will the good of a completely helpless and oftentimes disobedient creature, but it is also not calculated. It is true love. God did not create the world to give himself a big ego boost. He created the world so that we might enjoy it. Ultimately, He created us so that we might learn to return His selfless love and thus achieve our greatest purpose and happiness.

      Hope this helps!

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    3. @Scott
      I can't help but feel as if the notion of love being the reason behind this specific world being sustained by God rather than some other, is also susceptible to the best world principle. Because, couldn't we also ask the question, well why does God's act of love sustain this specific world rather than another? Isn't it conceivable that there be a better world where more creatures return his love, where more creatures come to know him?

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    4. @RomanJoe
      Intrinsically woven into love is free will. Without it there cannot really be true love. Also is'nt it that an effect can take as much of the cause as it has the potential to do so. God creates the best possible world since He is limited by the potential of the world itself. Further more love is something that requires free will and creatures that have free will can also choose not to love Him.

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    5. @ Dillhine

      I think Feser would hold that while he rejects the notion of a best possible world, it doesn't follow that the world actualized by God doesn't follow from his nature.

      On the other hand with the contingent series, the point is that there's no reason contained in the series itself why it is this kind of series rather than another (or indeed why it exists at all in the first place). So the contingent series itself isn't explicable in terms of the nature of that series, and so it must be explained in terms of a necessary being.

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    6. Why can't the explanation for God creating this world simply be that God chose to create this specific world? Saying that seems enough to be consistent with the principle of sufficient reason. This world is not an unexplained brute fact. Rather, His choosing to create this world is a sufficient reason for why this particular world exists.

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    7. Consider an analogy. The question "Why did Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa?" cannot be answered fully by inspecting the painting. But the Mona Lisa is not a brute fact; there was a reason why da Vinci painted it, and we could discover it by asking him, if he were alive.

      Why God made this world is the same kind of question. We can't answer it fully by looking at the world. But the world isn't a brute fact; God had a reason for doing so, and He might tell us what it was, if He chose.

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    8. @ Michael

      Good analogy. There has to be a reason for da Vinci choosing to paint that specific painting, and us not knowing this reason doesn't invalidate PSR which says there must be one.

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    9. That isn't an objection.
      Just because we don't know the reason doesn't mean there isn't one. We can conclude that a reason exists, even if we can't conclude what the reason might be.

      Similarly, we can prove that Final Causes exist, even if we don't know the specific final cause(s) of any particular thing. Just because we don't know the final cause is not an objection to the existence of final causes themselves.

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  3. So, if we need an explanation for specificity, then wouldn't that mean we need an explanation for God's creating this specific world?

    That "this specific world" is good explains why God would be willing to make it.

    What you really want to be asking is why He didn't make some other world, which would also be good. But it is not clear that this is a question that can or should have an answer.

    As C.S. Lewis suggests, "nobody is ever told what would have happened if they had done something else." There is a kind of definiteness to what DID happen that does not belong to all the what might have happened, in part because we simply cannot say for sure if they really 'might' have happened, given all the things God intended to occur.

    But perhaps more importantly, if St. Thomas has it right, there is an infinite gulf of gradations of being between any creature and God. And, likewise, between any created order and God. Hence it would be, necessarily, always possible to ask "but why didn't God make one of the better worlds," no matter which version of the universe He decided to create. Hence, there is a kind of possibility of "having 'perfect' be the enemy of the good": if God only "should" create X world if it is the best of all worlds, and if there cannot be any such thing as the best of all worlds, then God could never create any world X. Which is not as good a thing as creating a world Y even though there could be a better one.

    When I was taking philosophy in college from a great Catholic philosopher, I asked him: when presented with 2 pieces of pie, each of which is "like" to the other in any way that I can discern, how is it that I am ABLE to choose one over the other? His answer was "that's what free will implies." Is it possible that this is just what we must say of God: that the mysterious freedom implied in God's free will just is the capability of choosing a one good even though there could be other goods instead of it?

    This kind of 'answer' (such as it is) cannot apply to anything short of having a free will, so it doesn't work for "the universe" or quarks. I think.

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    1. @ Tony

      Yes, I've thought this too--that the mere existence of this specific world implies that God can freely choose to create one world as opposed to another. But, upon closer consideration, I realized that merely positing free will as the explanans for the existence of this specific world is inadequate. Because we could easily ask, 'Well, why did God freely choose to create this world as opposed to another?'

      Free acts of choice always have some reason, be it trivial or significant--a motive, intention, etc. So, naturally, we should expect God to have some reason behind his freely choosing to create this specific world rather than another. We could, of course, just say it was arbitrarily created, but then I think this would entail the absurdity that the entire world of contingent beings rests on a non-reason, an arbitrary decision. And I'm inclined to think that most adherents to PSR wouldn't find this appealing.

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    2. Actually, consider the fact that Thomists believe that intellect is prior to will.

      Because intellect deals fundamentally with reason, every human choice has at least some reason for why it happened.

      Thus, the PSR applies to our human intellects because it is intimately connected to it.

      But since God is Pure Intellect Itself, it logically follows that the PSR also applies to God, and God cannot create a world for no reason whatsoever even in principle.

      This means that there is in fact a reason for why God created this world rather than another, it's just not something we can know this side of eternity.

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    3. Perhaps this is the conclusion then: there has to be some transcendent reason for this world's existence, we just don't know what it is. Of course, this reason must also be the product of a divinely simple intellect.

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    4. Following RomanJoe:

      What if we said that *God's choice* just is the explanation for this world? We simply have no access to how the divine, simple intellect makes choices, but we know FOR CERTAIN that God is not a creature like us who thinks discursively and reasons like do.

      Brian Davies, toward the end of his book on the problem of evil, explains that he rejects the whole notion of trying to find a reason for God's specific decisions to create this or that. It is just one more thing we do that brings God down to the level of a person like we are, and that's just not His nature. We simply don't know what He's like, how He thinks, or How He makes decisions (and making decisions is not even the right things to say). He's so radically different than us.

      We know that He exists, that He created, that He loves us, and so forth. But we don't have the slightest clue about His inner-workings or His nature in itself. He's radically transcendent and unlike us. At least, that's what Thomist's seem to be saying.

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    5. Yes, I would be comfortable with this position. PSR can still hold as long as we admit God does have a reason, regardless of whether or not we'll ever come to know what this reason is.

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    6. @RomanJoe,

      I agree. And in fact, we can be certain that there is actually a reason just by metaphysical analysis of the intellect alone.

      I guess my point that intellects always follow PSR and God being Intellect also follows PSR is basically just a more metaphysical restatement of Michael Brazier's helpful Mona Lisa analogy.

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    7. "It is just one more thing we do that brings God down to the level of a person like we are, and that's just not His nature. We simply don't know what He's like..."

      I think that's right. An awful lot of what we say and think about this keeps getting messed up by reading our method of choosing into God. After all, if we really "knew what he's like", then we'd really know his essence. So, for one thing, Ed would have had to write Six Proofs..., as then the Ontological Argument would work.

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    8. But another thing that mixes this matter up is that when we discuss our own free will there's a lot of confusion. (Ed briefly refers to this.)

      For instance, it's not uncommon to hear it said "If there is a proof of the existence of God, then I cannot be free to believe in Him or not. It destroys MY free will." (Incidentally, one who believes this is Andrew Klavan, or so he says. I'll be interested to see if this comes up today or tomorrow.)

      But one consequence of this, if it's true (and I don't buy it) is that God cannot be free, period. If having certain knowledge destroys the possibility of free choice, then where does that leave God, all of whose knowledge is certain?

      (Sorry, accidentally signed out.)

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    9. RomanJoe,

      Re: "PSR can still hold as long as we admit God does have a reason, regardless of whether or not we'll ever come to know what this reason is."

      I think we should say God's choice *is* the explanation for the existence of this particular world and not some other.

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    10. But choice implies a reason. I chose to eat steak because it seemed appetizing, I chose to read Aquinas because I want to learn more about his First Way, I chose to drink water because I was overheated. So, yes, in some sense we can say God's choice to sustain the existence of this specific world explains this specific world's existence, but it only does so superficially. Of course God, having something like intellect and will, must have a reason behind his choice for sustaining this specific universe.

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    11. Re: "But choice implies a reason."

      Perhaps for us, but God is radically different from us.

      Re: "I chose to eat steak because it seemed appetizing, I chose to read Aquinas because I want to learn more about his First Way, I chose to drink water because I was overheated."

      Those are all examples of us humans choosing like we usually do. That analysis does not tell us about God in Himself.

      Re: "So, yes, in some sense we can say God's choice to sustain the existence of this specific world explains this specific world's existence, but it only does so superficially."

      What do you mean that it only does so superficially? I think it explains it in perhaps the only way we can grasp.

      Re: "Of course God, having something like intellect and will, must have a reason behind his choice for sustaining this specific universe."

      I just don't think we have enough to go on to make that claim. At least, we can't mean that he has a reason just like we have reasons. We really have hardly any idea what He's like in Himself. We can know him through His effects, negative theology, and revelation. But that just doesn't give us enough to go on to insist that He has a specific reason for this specific world like we have reasons for creating the things we do. That's not to say He does not have reasons. It's just to reject the notion of thinking He has to do things like we do, or is bound to give reasons for choices like we humans are.

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    12. I suspect that "superficially" was just an off-the-top-of-the-head choice of a word. That's normal when typing in a comment. The more natural choice for a Thomist would be "analogously", would it not?

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    13. George LeSauvage said:-

      "I think that's right. An awful lot of what we say and think about this keeps getting messed up by reading our method of choosing into God."

      This is the sticking point for me (as an atheist/agnostic - depending on whether we're talking about "Old Man in the Sky" God or the "God of the Philosophers" :) ) with some of these arguments. It's the same with the Problem of Evil.

      The only choice we know is the choice WE do, the only good and evil we know is the good and evil WE do. So what grants us license to say that this thing God is doing, that doesn't look like the choice we know, or the good we know, is suitable to be called "choosing" or "being good?"

      Is it just by analogy, that what God's doing is kinda-sorta like choosing, or being good, as we understand those things? But then, surely we have to accept that some things God does DON'T look like choice or goodness as we understand those things?

      Then what He does partly looks like choice and being good, but also partly looks like whim, or compulsion, or being evil. But then we're all at sea - what are the criteria any more?

      It always comes back to this, for me: I'm not a particularly good person, but if I were omnipotent I wouldn't choose to create a world in which some of the horrible things that happen in this world happen. If God is supposed to be ultimately good, yet He does create such a world, then I no longer understand what "good" means here. On the other hand, if omniscience meant I WOULD then choose to create a world in which the evil we know exists (because doing so has some rationale that only I, in my omniscience, could understand) and I would think that world good, then it would seem that omniscience leads an omnipotent being to create evil.

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  4. I wonder if the Munchausen trilemma affects any of Feser's proofs?

    To which there can only be three classes of answers concerning how someone can know something;

    1. A circular argument, where at some point the theory and the alleged proof support each other, however indirectly.

    2. An argument from regression, in which the proof relies on a more basic proof, which in turn relies on an even more basic one, and so on, in an infinite regress.

    3. An axiomatic argument, where the proof stems from a (hopefully) small number of axioms or assumptions which, however, are not themselves subjected to proof.

    I wonder where Ed thinks his arguments from incoherence would fit in here? What i find interesting is if this trilemma demonstrates the existence of a brute fact at the bottom of an explanatory chain, an axiom say, or that there is no bottom of the explanatory chain (am infinite regress of explanations, which, to be fair, hardly anyone goes for).

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    1. PSR in the book is hashed out in terms of metaphysics rather than epistemology
      so it is hard to see what negative effect the above trilemma has on PSR.

      am infinite regress of explanations, which, to be fair, hardly anyone goes for).

      Nope, epistemological infinitism has many defenders(maybe still a minority) look it up on some philosophy papers archive online or elsewhere.

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    2. Munchausen's trilemma is an argument for radical scepticism. I don't know how Dr. Feser responds to such arguments, but I know philosophers generally don't respond to them when writing on other areas than the foundation of knowledge. If you're writing on ethics or philosophy of art, for example, you don't worry about the trilemma. The same would go in this case.

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    3. Although I have seen some argue that the Munchausen trilemma establishes that the PSR is false and at bottom we must accept a brute fact (as an axiom for example) if you drop the PSR 4 of the 5 proofs are in trouble.

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    4. @Callum,

      Wait, so the Augustinian proof doesn't rely on the PSR?

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  5. Glad to hear a book on the soul is coming out! Considering your past work, I assume it will be a philosophically serious book that deals with objections similar to FPEG. I wonder if you would address the Thomist understanding of the soul with various paranormal or weird phenomenon? Perhaps not in the book but on your blog. I'm specifically thinking of supposed apparitions of the dead and NDE's. I'd be very interested to see how the Thomistic understanding of soul as substantial form would translate into these scenarios (like you have addressed reincarnation previously). Perhaps thee thomistic version of the soul would rule such weird phenomena out in principle?

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  6. Dear Mr. Feser

    A summary of my current view of your views, please kindly comment:

    https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/the-neo-scholastics-and-the-immateriality-of-the-intellect/

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  7. My copy finally showed up. I hope the delays from Amazon were because sales were larger than they expected. The first proof is all I've read so far (except skimming), and that only once, so I can't comment.

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  8. Oh, yes. I listen to Klavan a lot; and IMHO, philosophy is his weakest link. I do hope you straighten him out a bit about the Enlightenment's inflated status. (Note that the consecutive eras, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment are designated by blatantly tendentious and question-begging names. Unlike, say, the Bronze Age or the Carolingian Era.)

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  9. Just finished reading my copy of Five Proofs a few hours ago. I really enjoyed the book and think it's one of the best contributions to natural theology in many years.

    I did have one question about an argument in the book for PSR, where Dr. Feser argues rejecting PSR would entail that we couldn't trust our cognitive faculties, and would therefore be self-undermining. Being a longtime reader of your blog, I recall Dr. Parsons had an objection to this argument in your debate with him which essentially went like this: denying PSR entails the possibility that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. However, that possibility isn't enough to show they actually are unreliable, so denying PSR doesn't commit us to the view that our cognitive faculties are unreliable, etc.

    I know by the rules of the debate Parsons had the last word and so Feser was obligated not to respond. But since it has now been a couple of years and the argument is officially now in a published work, I was wondering if Dr. Feser or anyone else better trained in philosophy than I am might give a sketch of how one could respond to Dr. Parson's counterargument.

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    1. If PSR isn't true then it's not necessary that our cognitive faculties behave in an intelligible way. We may believe in some things for no reason and even if we think we have a reason to believe in them, this reason may have no reason too. And if PSR doesn't hold then we can't say it would be improbable for our cognitive faculties to be unintelligible. This is because to speak of probabilities would be to appeal to the objective tendencies of things, how things regularly behave. But without PSR unexplained events don't have to obey objective tendencies, they just occur unintelligibly. Thus without PSR we would have radical skepticism about almost all of our beliefs, we could never be sure whether one particular belief is intelligible or not.

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    2. @ RomanJoe

      Yes, I'm aware this is Feser's argument. He's given this argument in his debate with Parsons and in Five Proofs.

      This is precisely the argument Parsons was responding to in their debate, where Parsons gave reasons -- which I briefly summarized above -- for holding that this isn't sufficient to entail skepticism.

      If you'd like to see Parsons's objection for yourself, you can find it here:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/03/05/reply-to-prof-fesers-response-part-iv/

      Let me know what you think.

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    3. @Tyler

      Dr. Feser has shown through retorsion that if Parsons denies PSR, then (a) for all Parsons knows his cognitive faculties may be unreliable (parsons admits this much); but also - and crucially - (b) that Parsons must admit that the probability that the deliverances of his cognitive faculties are not a brute fact, may be every bit as high as the probability that any other state of affairs (including the existence of the whole universe) is a brute fact. Denial of PSR undermines any possibility of probability analysis. But this situation entails that while it *might* be the case that Parsons’ cognitive faculties really are reliable; he has absolutely no more reason to affirm *that* possibility, than to affirm the possibility that they are not reliable. In which case, wouldn’t his choice to affirm the reliability of his cognitive faculties be patently ad hoc? Certainly, under such conditions, any choice to believe that the deliverances of one’s cognitive faculties are *not* brute facts, while some other state(s) of affairs (such as the existence of the whole universe) *is* a brute fact, is manifestly ad hoc.

      Ultimately, I must say that this does strike me as essentially entailing skepticism about one’s cognitive faculties – at least performatively. For if one holds some thesis (in this case the denial of PSR) which entails that one can have absolutely no more reason – one way or the other – for either trusting or dis-trusting the deliverances of one’s cognitive faculties; then one can appear to escape cognitive skepticism only by an arbitrary act of will – i.e. by an ad hoc choice or assertion. Again, It is true that for all Parson’s knows, his cognitive faculties *might* be reliable (i.e. ontologically, it might really be the case); but on Dr. Feser’s showing, Parsons has zero *epistemological* justification for thinking that such reliability really is the case, over against its opposite. In my mind, that constitutes a sort of practical or performative skepticism, because while one might go around *asserting* one’s trust in one’s cognitive faculties, one’s simultaneous denial of PSR entails that when pressed for a justification for such trust, one must admit that such trust is rooted in a sheer will to believe; *and* therefore that dis-trust would be an equally viable choice.

      So, while Parsons is making a valid logical/ontological point (by noting that even though denial of PSR entails that cognitive faculties *might* be unreliable, this does not entail that they really are unreliable); nevertheless, his view lands him in an *epistemological* situation (because of the inability, given denial of PSR, to show any greater likelihood that cognitive states of affairs are intelligible, over against any other state of affairs) which I think rightly exposes him to the charge of radical cognitive skepticism. I don’t know about you, but if I meet someone who holds a position which entails (whether they admit it or not) that trust in the deliverances of one’s cognitive faculties is *no more* justified than distrust in those deliverances, I consider that person to have embraced a form of radical skepticism about the reliability of his cognitive faculties.

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    4. Exactly, Feser's position doesn't entail that our cognitive deliverances are ipso facto unintelligible. But what it does introduce is something akin to a Cartesian Demon--we can never know whether or not our cognitive deliverances are intelligible, either all the time, none of the time, or part of the time. Because, to reiterate my earlier point, intelligible cognitive deliverances don't obey any objective tendencies and are therefore just as likely to make up our alleged *rational thinking,* as intelligible ones are.

      Parsons is right, Feser's position doesn't prove that our cognitive faculties are unintelligible. But, without PSR, there's no one to know either way. You would merely just have to assume or trust the accuracy of your cognitive faculties without any reason to do so, for any appeal to objective tendencies, intuition, or previous thoughts regarding your cognitive faculties, are all equally susceptible to a brute facticity.

      I also don't know how I feel about Parsons' critique that even with PSR we still have radical skepticism because (since we're fallible) we could be wrong about everything. To me this just concedes the point that without PSR there is radical skepticism. But, more importantly, this would destroy rational thinking in general--does he really believe that with and without PSR we are victims to a radical skepticism? Perhaps I'm jumping the gun here, I only read through the latter half of the article because I have work to get done. I think the key difference between a PSR and non-PSR worldview is that in the former there is at least an objective true explanation (regardless of whether or not we fail to discover it prima facie) that we can gauge reality by. In the latter, there is no standard of veracity, and for all we know, everything, most things, or an indeterminate number of things are just brute facts--we will never truly know.

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    5. I think the issue, here, is what is it about denying PSR that entails we cannot trust our cognitive faculties? Now, as Parsons argues and you both seem to agree, it cannot be the mere possibility that PSR being false entails our cognitive faculties are inexplicable.

      So the reply seems to be it's not the mere possibility but rather that denying PSR entails we can have no positive reason for thinking our faculties are explicable, or that there's no reason to think it's likely they're explicable.

      But is there not an obvious reply availbe to Parsons here, namely that this too is true regardless of whether PSR is true or false? For instance even if PSR is true, I don't see how we could have any reason to think it's unlikely that we're being deceived by a demon (or whatever). What kind of reason could we appeal to in order to show it's unlikely that's the case that wouldn't presuppose our faculties are reliable and thereby beg the question?

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    6. There is no reason you could present to disprove the Cartesian Demon theory because any reason you posit automatically becomes part of the epistemic conspiracy against you. The difference between the person who affirms PSR and the person who denies PSR is that the latter automatically sacrifices the trustworthiness of his cognitive faculties, that is, his worldview entails radical skepticism. The person who believes in PSR could, I suppose, have a Cartesian Demon explaining all of his thoughts, but merely affirming PSR doesn't necessarily entail radical skepticism like denying it does.

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    7. I'm afraid this doesn't work, though. If I understand you rightly, you hold denying PSR entails an inability to trust our faculties because it means we can have no positive reason for thinking they function intelligibly.

      But as you seem to agree, there's no positive reason to think we're not being deceived by a demon, either. Therefore, for parity's sake, you should accept that you're committed to skepticism (of a different sort) w.r.t. the demon, and are thereby unable to trust your cognitive faculties (though again, for different reasons than that in the PSR scenario).

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    8. @ Tyler

      I largely agree with what RomanJoe just wrote, including that one cannot *disprove* the Cartesian demon theory, but I think a little more can be said in response to radical skepticism.

      You wrote: “For instance even if PSR is true, I don't see how we could have any reason to think it's unlikely that we're being deceived by a demon (or whatever). What kind of reason could we appeal to in order to show it's unlikely that's the case that wouldn't presuppose our faculties are reliable and thereby beg the question?”

      The difference is that so long as we do not deny PSR we can have a reasonable confidence (not absolute certainty) that our cognitive faculties are reliable without presupposing a priori that our cognitive faculties are reliable. We can adopt an intentionally neutral stance about the reliability of human cognitive faculties (despite the fact that we have been de facto relying upon them for years prior to engaging in philosophical reflection); and then ask whether there is any good reason to deny that our cognitive faculties are reliable. If any alleged reasons for doubting their reliability can be answered, and given that such faculties seems to serve us well in practical affairs and the sciences, there will be reason for thinking that it is more likely than not that our cognitive faculties are reliable. For example, Thomists can respond to claims that the senses are unreliable (such as those Descartes offers) by carefully considering that error occurs formally in the judgement and noting that simple apprehension, as such, is always free from error; the error arising from a failure to bring more senses to bear on the object prior to predication, hasty judgement, etc. If the specter of an Evil Demon or Brain-In-a-Vat is raised, the Thomist can point out that while such a scenario is logically possible, it is implausible. There is simply no evidence whatsoever to suggest that such a scenario actually obtains. In other words, just because someone can raise the exotic, yet logically possible, scenario that our cognitive faculties are being deceived by an ED or BIV; that hardly raises such a logical possibility to the level of a real probability or puts it on any sort of par with the for-all-we-have-ever experienced appearance that our cognitive faculties are in contact with a real extra-mental reality, and report truly (though not comprehensively) on that reality – barring, of course, damage to cognitive organs and/or hasty judgement.

      In short, the mere raising of the logical possibility that cognitive faculties might be globally unreliable (as in ED or BIV), leaves entirely open the possibility that reasons can be given why that possibility is unlikely, improbable, etc.; such that general confidence in the reliability of cognitive faculties remains the more reasonable position. No formal claim to the effect that an ED or BIV really exists is being offered by the skeptic – only a suggestion of an exotic logical possibility (what if??). No necessary conclusions follow from merely raising this possibility; hence, any temptation to take seriously the radial skeptical suggestion can be rationally overthrown by relevant dialectical considerations. By contrast, someone who denies PSR *is* making a formal claim, and if Dr. Feser is right, that claim has the necessary implication that one can have zero epistemic justification for affirming (versus denying) the reliability of human cognitive faculties on a denial of PSR. The denial of PSR cuts off the possibility of any probabilistic or dialectic reasoning which might be employed to show that one has a principled (rather than ad hoc) reason for affirming that the deliverances of cognitive faculties are not brute facts, while *simultaneously* affirming that some other state of affairs is (or might be) a brute fact (which is the stance Parsons would apparently like to achieve).

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    9. @ monk68

      I'm afraid I'm not sure what your point is supposed to be.

      Look at your own points here regarding possible responses to the ED or BIV type scenarios, e.g. that there's no evidence to think it's actually true, etc.

      Unless I'm just missing something I don't see why the PSR skeptic cannot give similar parallel responses regarding the purported skeptical scenario implied by rejected PSR.

      To consider the above point, for instance, the PSR skeptic can happily allow that denying PSR entails his faculties might be unreliable, but he can point out there's no evidence to think it's actually the case this is happening, and that therefore he's justified in not being bothered by such a possibility.

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    10. @ Tyler

      The ED skeptic is asking "what if" ED is true. The realist can respond by acknowledging that "if" ED is true, "then" cognitive faculties are unreliable; but that there are no reasons to affirm ED, and also reasons to deny ED. So ED is not a position a reasonable person should hold.

      Unless I misunderstand, the person who denies PSR, really denies PSR. He is not asking "what if" PSR is false. He formally denies PSR. If he is only contemplating what might follow "if" PSR were false, then he does not yet deny PSR and is open to retorsive and other arguments which can convince him that denying PSR leads to necessary conclusions he wishes to avoid.

      But once he formally denies PSR then the consequences Dr. Feser points out follow. The PSR skeptics pointing out that there is no evidence to suggest his cognitive faculties are unreliable at this point will not help, since his denial of PSR entails that he cannot make any principled probabilistic judgements about what counts as evidence. So shrugging off Feser's criticism as irrelevant because of lack of evidence would do nothing to negate the force of the criticism.

      In the same way, someone who merely asks "what if" ED is the case, remains open to the sorts of arguments I suggest should lead one to ignore ED as a serious proposal. But the moment someone were to positively affirm that ED is true, certain necessary consequences would follow, such as that cognitive faculties are deceived, etc. The difference is that some people really do deny PSR, whereas hardly anyone actually suggests that there really is an ED in control of human cognition. So I think there is a real difference between the situation of the person who formally denies PSR and that of the person who is merely asking about PSR from a "what if" standpoint, or the person raising Ed as a mere if/then exercise.


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    11. @ monk68

      But it seems to me there's a parity here you're perhaps not acknowledging between the PSR skeptical argument and the ED / BIV.

      The PSR skeptic is indeed declaring PSR to be false, but the retorsion argument's response to this is to point out what is essentially a "what if" scenario itself, i.e. given ~PSR some things are unintelligible, but what if the unintelligble events are actually our cognitions? Again, it does not by any means entail they actually are unintelligible.

      That's sort of my point. In the words of Feser, if PSR is false, "for all we know" our cognitive faculties are unreliable, and we "might believe what we do for no reason whatsoever," etc. I don't know how to understand this in terms other than epistemic possibility, which is parallel to the epistemic possibility w.r.t. the ED / BIV (e.g. for all we know we're BIVs, we might believe what we do because of EDs, etc.).

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    12. The PSR denier admits the necessary conditions for radical skepticism concerning our cognitive faculties. The PSR adherent does no such thing, yet he can maintain that it is logically possible that we are BIV or being controlled by an ED. Forgive the analogy but consider this:you visit an advanced society and they tell you that some of the people in the society are actually extremely realistic humanoid robots. In this case you would be skeptical about who you meet, wondering whether they truly are human or not. Contrast this with someone positing a "what if" conspiracy scenario where the government has produced extremely intelligent AI as surveillance mechanisms on the general public--perhaps the cashier at the grocery store, the local priest, the baseball coach is a robot. But this is just a hypothetical, it doesn't purport to tell you what really is the case, just what could be the case.

      I realize it's a crude analogy, but I'm trying to show that PSR denial is akin to the former and the BIV or ED case is like the latter. Again, the latter doesn't admit the necessary conditions for radical skepticism, while PSR denial does.

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    13. You can posit as many "what ifs" as you like, it won't have any bearing on reality. But the moment you accept the existence of a Cartesian Demon or you outright deny PSR you have imbued your reality with the proper epistemic conditions for radical skepticism. No hypothetical scenario can do that.

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    14. @ RomanJoe

      But again we need to spell out exactly why ~PSR entails skepticism and BIV doesn't.

      We've already established ~PSR can't establish skepticism on the basis that it (merely) renders it possible that our faculties are unintelligible, as that possibility remains even if PSR is affirmed and cannot in principle be eliminated on ED scenarios (e.g. the ED could be causing your belief that the ED is impossible, therefore, etc.).

      In other words, the logical form of the retorsion argument is something like "If ~PSR, then X. If X, then we cannot trust our cognitive faculties. But this is false, so PSR must be true."

      And I'm saying we need to spell out exactly what X is in such a way that it is entailed by denying PSR and that it entails we cannot trust our faculties. And, crucially, X would have to be such that it's not applicable in other skeptical scenarios (BIV, ED, etc.).

      So we need some account of X that's relevant to the retorsion argument but not EDs / BIVs. As best I can tell, it seems this hasn't been accomplished yet.

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    15. Tyler, I think you mistake what denial of the PSR means. It means we have no reason for thinking our faculties are generally reliable. This seems to be different from the point that they merely may sometimes be unreliable, as in when we reason fallaciously. To have general trust in our reasoning we need to avoid positions that conflict with that trust. If we deny the PSR, we don't know whether our faculties are reliable, not in occasional instances, but generally. Therefore, it seems to me the same as someone who embraces the existence of the ED.

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    16. @ Jeremy Taylor

      I agree it means we don't have reason to think our faculties are reliable.

      But insofar as we admit ED or BIV scenarios are at least in principle possible, the same thing is true regardless of PSR. We could never have reason to say those faculties are reliable given the possibility of ED / BIV (because the reason could, for all we know, always be a product of the ED, for instance).

      My thoughts are essentially that we don't need any reason to think our cognitive faculties are reliable, and that therefore the BIV / ED / PSR skeptical arguments all fail to commit one to skepticism because the fact that they show we can have no such reason isn't sufficient to entail skepticism.

      Instead I would say we need only worry about skepticism if some position makes it likely that our faculties are unreliable. Otherwise, it seems to me, I need not be worried about such scenarios.

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    17. @ Tyler

      You wrote: “The PSR skeptic is indeed declaring PSR to be false, but the retorsion argument's response to this is to point out what is essentially a "what if" scenario itself, i.e. given ~PSR some things are unintelligible, but what if the unintelligble events are actually our cognitions? Again, it does not by any means entail they actually are unintelligible.”

      I think the point you might be missing (the "X" you are looking for) is that there is something intrinsic to the ~PSR position which entails skepticism. Namely this, the “what if” scenario concerning the possible unintelligibility of cognitive events which the retorsion argument raises, arises *because* ~PSR entails probabilistic inscrutability. As I wrote earlier, ~PSR necessarily lands the formal PSR denier in an epistempic situation that removes any justification whatsoever for thinking that cognitive events are any more likely to be reliable than unreliable, and that is (I contend) a form of (at least) performative radical skepticism about cognitive faculties.

      What this gets down to is that the basic problem with ~PSR is not the generic possibility that any one or more states of affairs might be a brute fact; but that once that possibility is acknowledged – even for one state of affairs - there is nothing (that I can see at least) that the ~PSR proponent can appeal to in order to address the likelihood that there is only one brute fact, or that they are rare, or common, or ubiquitous, or tend to obtain for these states of affairs and not those, etc. What the retorsive work of Koons, Pruss, Feser at al. shows is that PSR, when spelled out, is really a complete epistemological acid having the same (at least) practical implications as would flow from really affirming (not just hypothesizing) the ED scenario.

      Now when the ED proponent says “for all we know” our cognitive faculties are being manipulated by an ED, we can produce reasons why it is quite unlikely and quite unreasonable to think we are being manipulated by an ED (there is no experiential evidence of the ED, our cognitive faculties enable us to get along in practical and scientific affairs, the proposal of an ED is ad hoc in the extreme, if true it entails radical cognitive skepticism which undermines the possibility of rational dialogue, etc.) Hence, I am reasonable to think the ED position is improbable.

      But when Feser says that “for all we know” on ~PSR our cognitive faculties might be unreliable, this is not just some far-fetched logical (but implausible) possibility as is the ED proposal. Rather, the very nature of the ~PSR position provides no means, no reasons, no appeals, by which the ~PSR proponent can argue that it is more likely than not that his cognitive faculties are reliable. He can’t appeal to lack of experiential evidence that cognitive faculties are unreliable, or to the success of cognitive faculties in practical affairs and science, as the realist can when rebutting ED, because the ~PSR proponent's affirmation that some states of affairs are brute facts, *in conjunction with* his inability to say when or where or how often such brute facts might arise means that any state of affairs he might appeal to in order to raise the probability that cognitive events are not brute facts relative to other events, is a state of affairs that might itself be a brute fact – not just *might* as in remote possibility, but *might* as in as likely as not. So I just don’t see the parity between the two situations. There is nothing intrinsic to ~ED which entails radical cognitive skepticism, but there is something intrinsic to ~PSR (namely the inability to say when ~PSR obtains) which does entail such skepticism.

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    18. I would say that we don't admit the ED or BIV are in principle possible, except perhaps when we are considering them specifically. Otherwise, we ignore them, and more or less assume they are incorrect. I think when discussing anything but the foundations of knowledge, we do assume there is no ED, for example.

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    19. Also, (and this is not directly related to argument we are engaged in) with ED, (a) the plausibility of the scenario is minimal on its face given known human experience, and (b) the epistemic consequences of its being true are immediately evident (undermining the reliability of cognitive faculties). That’s why few seriously affirm ED (or BIV). With ~PSR, it is not immediately evident that the possibility that *some* state of affairs might be a brute fact is problematic. Specifically, it is not immediately evident that holding ~PSR (for even one event) leads to radical cognitive skepticism when fully spelled out, due to the inability of the ~PSR position to say anything whatsoever about when ~PSR holds. That result must be fleshed out by retorsion. The hiddenness of the epistemic consequences of ~PSR explains (IMO) why philosophers are much more prone to seriously embrace ~PSR than to seriously propose ED, BIV, or some variant.

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    20. @ monk68

      You might see my above reply to Jeremy, in which I actually addressed some of your concerns here.

      I agree rejecting PSR entails we can have no reason to think our faculties are reliable. But my point is admitting the possibility of ED or BIV scenarios does exactly the same thing, as any reason you give for doubting you're being deceived as in BIV / ED scenarios could itself be a product of BIV / ED scenarios.

      This is why, as I said to Jeremy, I think this notion that we need some sort of "meta-reason" to justify trusting our cognitive faculties is completely unnecessary. What would such a reason look like that wouldn't presuppose trusting our cognitive faculties in the first place?

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    21. @ Jeremy

      So you don't think BIV / ED scenarios are possible? Either they are or they are not, and I find it hard to imagine that we could say they're literally not metaphysically possible.

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    22. I think that we don't consider them possible if we are doing any kind of philosophy but looking at the foundation of knowledge, because they bog us down in all sorts of difficulties. After all, many sceptics and anti-foundationalists do in fact take these kinds of scenarios to undermine any claims to certain knowledge. They think their mere possibility is enough. Besides, I think that, as it is self-defeating to claim our faculties might be generally unreliable, any scenario that might open this possibility is not worth considering, so that it isn't simply a matter of them being possible or not.

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    23. @ Tyler

      Any reason I give for doubting ED or BIV could itself be a product of ED or BIV scenarios only "if" ED or BIV is true. But it's truth is something the ED/BIV proponent cannot simply assert (what is gratuitously asserted can be gratuitously denied, and anybody can assert anything). Some "reason" why the ED/BIV scenario is plausible rather than a remote possibility (or even just a bat shit crazy idea) must be given before the ED/BIV proponent gets to absorb all counter arguments to his own benefit. Why is the onus on the realist to respond on the ED/BIV proponents terms? The ED/BIV proponent (like the realist) must credential his scenario before he can demand anyone take him seriously. Why should either side enjoy a default presumption of force at the start of the skeptic/realist debate?

      I mean if someone proposes that all the effects of electromagnetism studied in quantum physics and putatively attributed to our atomic world were really produced by a wizard in a parallel universe, I see no reason at all why a physicist should be obliged to answer questions on the wizard-world scenario terms, explaining how he can ever be sure electromagnetism, despite appearances, is not really wizard's play. Instead, the physicist can simply give some good reasons why the wizard proposal is far less likely than the standard account in modern physics (in fact why it is bat shit crazy) and is therefore the far less reasonable position. That's also essentially what the realist can do in the face of ED/BIV. But as I explained above, the ~PSR proponent has no such means by which to evade the skeptical implications of his affirmed position. So again, no parity.

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    24. @ Jeremy

      Perhaps we have to agree to disagree, but I find it implausible to say BIVs or EDs aren't at least possible in principle.

      @ monk68

      It's not the case, though, that any reason you give for doubting the ED could only be true if the ED scenario is actually true. If it's merely possible the ED is true then, possibly, my doubt of the ED is caused by the ED. And that's all that's required to say we can't know the ED isn't deceiving us.

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    25. Regarding my last post, I would've changed "And that's all that's required . . ." to say we can't give any reason for rejecting the ED that isn't, for all we know, itself a product of the ED.

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    26. @ Tyler

      I never said what you say I said. I said that any reason I give for doubting ED/BIV could be the *product* of ED/BIV only if ED/BIV is true. That's trivially true. How could a reason/argument be the product of an ED if the ED does not exist (i.e. the ED scenario is true)?

      More importantly, what you just pointed out is something I affirmed earlier. All it entails is that since ED is a logical possibility, its logically possible that reasons adduced against ED are the products of ED. And all that entails is that we cannot be absolute certain that we are not being deceived by an ED ( because it is logically possible). I admitted that all that many posts ago.

      But that is not the point. The point is that ED is *implausable*. The realist can give reasons why the ED, while logically possible, is exceedingly improbable so that trust in our cognitive faculties is by far the more reasonable epistemological stance, even if we cannot enjoy absolute certainty in taking this stance.

      By contrast, the intrinsic problem with ~PSR ( its inability to say when, where, how often, ~PSR obtains) means that the PSR skeptic can not give any reasons why the reliability of cognitive faculties is more likely than not. That entails radical skepticism.

      By contrast, the ~ED proponent *can* give reasons why the reliability of our cognitive faculties is more likely than not despite the mere logical possibility of an ED scenario and even if not enjoying *absolute* certainty on this point. That's the difference, and it showes the two situations are not on a par.

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    27. Or think of the disparity this way:

      Parsons, when faced with the retorsion argument wants to point out that even though it's logically possible thst cognitive faculties are unreliable that doesn't establish that they really are. True enough. But the PSR defender argues that thst point does not help Parsons escape skepticism unless Parsons can give reasons why on ~ PSR, it is still more likely than not that cognitive functions are reliable. But he can't because on ~ PSR, one can never say when, where, how often ~PSR obtains. And that leaves Parsons stuck with cognitive skepticism.

      The one who denies ED likewise admits that ED is logicsllly possible and so it is logically possible that our cognitive functions are unreliable. But just like Parsons, the person who rejects ED points out that just because ED is a logical possibility that does not mean it is really the case. But the person who rejects ED can go further and offer good reasons why in fact, despite the possibility of ED, it is still far more likely than not that cognitive faculties are reliable. Hence he can avoid radical skepticism, whereas Parsons cannot.

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    28. @ monk68

      Well, my point was admitting the ED is possible entails it's possible that your beliefs are caused by the ED, which implies that, for all you know, they are caused by the ED (which is parallel to Feser's "for all we know" in his exposition of the retorsion argument).

      If I understand you rightly, you're wanting to say the difference is that we can say the ED is implausible while it cannot be said it's implausible your beliefs pop up for no reason if PSR is false.

      I agree with the latter, but I'm not sure of the former. As I've pointed out several times now, I don't see how we could give any argument that the ED is unlikely that wouldn't presuppose our cognitive faculties aren't be deceived by the ED in the very act of giving the argument. Therefore, etc.

      Or, briefly in other words, I'd just say I don't see how the probabilities regarding the reliability are anything but inscrutable, regardless of whether we're considering the retorsion argument, EDs / BIVs, etc.

      So it seems to me if you want to reject this you'd need to give some non-question-begging explanation of how it can be said that the ED / BIV scenarios are highly implausible, and that explanation would have to be such that a parallel one isn't open to the PSR denier in an attempt to avoid the retorsion argument.

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    29. @ Tyler

      I think I'm starting to understand your point a bit better. So essentially on ~PSR we can't have any trust in our cognitive faculties because we could never know whether or not they are victim to spontaneous brute facts. Likewise, on ED you can't trust your cognitive faculties because we could never know whether or not they are victim to the ED pulling the strings. And in both cases we can't present any reasons against ~PSR or ED because said reasons could be brute facts or a product of the ED. That is, we couldn't trust our any reasons against either scenario.

      OK, I think, then, that you've just made an absurdum case for PSR. That is, if we deny ED or BIV on the basis that it's absurd, it renders all rational thinking null, and makes it impossible to argue for or against it, then we should also deny ~PSR which is equally as radical. May I suggest that this is what Feser is trying to point out, that ~PSR is just as absurd as ED/BIV, so if your deny the latter then you should deny the former.

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    30. @ Tyler

      I think we may have been talking past each other a bit. RomanJoe summed up what I was (ineffectively) tying to point out when he writes:

      “That is, if we deny ED or BIV on the basis that it's absurd, it renders all rational thinking null, and makes it impossible to argue for or against it, then we should also deny ~PSR which is equally as radical. May I suggest that this is what Feser is trying to point out, that ~PSR is just as absurd as ED/BIV, so if your deny the latter then you should deny the former.”

      So I do see the parity you are trying to point out, but the key problem is that in the case of ED/BIV the person who is being challenged by the logical possibility of cognitive unreliability on the mere logical possibility that ED/BIV is true, gives reasons why ED/BIV is improbable and therefore unreasonable to embrace. One such reason (among others) is the fact that if ED/BIV were true, “it renders all rational thinking null” as RomanJoe points out. Now this is the very same effect (rendering rational thought null) that Feser (pruss, Koons) argues results if one denies PSR.

      Given that Feser (Pruss, Koons) are right, then they have provided Parsons with a good reason to accept PSR rather than deny it (and there are other reasons to accept PSR and no good reasons to reject it). In other words, when Parsons is shown that the ~PSR position really does entail cognitive unreliability, then he should do exactly what the ~ED/BIV person does when shown that ED/BIV entails cognitive unreliability – he should reject the entire paradigm or position which is generating the cognitive-unreliability result. In Parsons’ case this means rejecting ~PSR. But Parsons does not want reject ~PSR. Parsons wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to hold ~PSR while simultaneously insisting that he can still have some principled (non ad hoc) way of vouching for the reliability of his cognitive faculties. Feser’s point is that he cannot do this coherently. The person who rejects ED/BIV is NOT trying to have cake and eat it too. He knows that one cannot hold to the truth of ED/BIV while simultaneously holding that cognitive faculties are reliable, so he does the reasonable thing – he rejects ED/BIV. Insofar as Parsons insists on remaining a ~PSR proponent, he has an incoherence problem that the ~ED/BIV proponent does not have. That’s where I see the dis-parity.

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    31. @ RomanJoe

      That is, if we deny ED or BIV on the basis that it's absurd, it renders all rational thinking null, and makes it impossible to argue for or against it, then we should also deny ~PSR which is equally as radical.

      No, I don’t think this avoids the problem I’m trying to illustrate. Let me put it differently in terms of possible worlds. I don’t like the approach but it might aid in clarity here.

      PSR being false entails there are possible worlds in which our cognitive faculties are unreliable. And for the reasons already given, there's no reason we could have for thinking we're in one of the possible worlds in which our faculties are reliable rather than one of the possible worlds in which they're not reliable. The retorsion argument, as I understand it, takes this to be sufficient to entail that we cannot trust our faculties.

      But, unless one wants to claim that EDs are literally impossible, then there are possible worlds in which our cognitions are the result of EDs. And, in a parallel manner to the retorsion argument, there’s no reason we could have for thinking we’re in a ED possible world rather than an ~ED possible world. This scenario is directly analogous to the one entailed by denying PSR according to the retorsion argument, and so if we take that argument to successfully entail skepticism, then, for parity’s sake, we must take the mere possibility of EDs to commit us to skepticism too. You could, of course, reject the possibility that there are EDs, but that’s perhaps not very plausible, since there’s no obvious incoherence in the notion that such scenarios are at least possible.

      But I think the usual approach taken here by epistemologists would be to maintain that the fact that there are possible worlds in which our cognitive faculties are unreliable, and even the fact that we cannot give any reason for holding we’re in a possible world in which they’re actually reliable rather than a possible world in which they’re unreliable, simply aren’t sufficient to commit one to skepticism. And we could thereby avoid the possibility of EDs -- a possibility which seems extremely difficult to eliminate -- as committing us to skepticism. But, if so, then the fact that ~PSR entails there are possible worlds in which our faculties are unreliable isn’t going to work either.

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    32. @ Tyler

      Okay, so you're arguing that regardless of whether or not our world is ~PSR, radical skepticism can still seep in. That is, the mere possibility of a ~PSR world and the mere possibility of a PSR-ED world automatically makes our own cognitive faculties suspect, because they could be rendered null in both scenarios and we would never know.

      So, I suppose this means that you think Feser's retorsion argument isn't really saying anything new because radical skepticism is entailed on both sides of the fence. But, again, showing a parity between an ED world and a ~PSR world with regards to radical skepticism just furthers Feser's point which is that a ~PSR world is as epistemically acidic as an ED or a BIV world.

      Now the mere possibility of an ED or a ~PSR world kind of leaves us in a neutral position. So we can either A) Opt for radical skepticism which would, in turn, destroy all rational thinking and undermine even our own reasons for radical skepticism, or B) Take our cognitive faculties as, for the most part, accurate, rational, and intelligible. If we're in a neutral position, I don't understand why someone would go for A over B, that is, unless he's trying to safeguard some deeply-held doctrinaire premise which constitutes his philosophical outlook.

      So Feser's point is that ~PSR and ED fall under 'A,' and that most people won't accept A because of its consequences. Someone can commit themselves to radical skepticism because of the mere possibility that this world is haunted by an ED controlling their thoughts--fine, best of luck to them. But I can't and I will never understand why someone would make the gigantic leap and affirm that an ED does indeed exist, that the ED isn't a mere possibility, that the ED already has dominion over this world. Likewise, someone can adopt a radical skepticism because of ~PSR's possibility, but I don't see why someone would ever conclude that ~PSR is the actual world.

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    33. @ RomanJoe

      It's not that I'm saying the fact that there are possible worlds in which our faculties are unreliable commits us to skepticism regardless of PSR.

      Rather I'm drawing a disjunction: either possible worlds in which our faculties are unreliable commits us to skepticism or it does not.

      If it does, then we're committed to skepticism even if PSR is true (because we cannot eliminate ED possible worlds). If it does not, then we need not worry about the fact that there are ED possible worlds, but analogously the PSR skeptic need not worry about possible worlds in which our faculties are unintelligible.

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    34. @ Tyler

      But the PSR skeptic is not saying there is just some possible world in which cognitive faculties are unreliable and that he merely rejects that possibility as unlikely for various reasons - as the person who rejects the ED possible world does.

      Rather he is positively affirming that in *this* world ~PSR is the case, and that means he is committed to skepticism *in this world* because ~PSR prevents him from giving any reasons why *in this world* his cognitive faculties are more likley to be reliable than not.

      I just think your analogy at the end of your last paragraph fails because the proper comparison is between the ED possible world and the ~PSR possible world. People have reasons for thinking they do not live in an ED controlled world. The PSR skeptic thinks this really *is* a ~PSR world.

      You make it sound as if while formally being a PSR skeptic there is some unspecified other possible world where cognitive faculties are unreliable that the ~PSR skeptic can safely ignore as improbable just as the person who rejects the probability of ED does. But in fact it is the possible world of ~ PSR which entails the skepticism. And *unlike* the person who rejects the ED possible world because he thinks there are rational justifications for doing so, the PSR skeptic thinks that the possible ~ PSR world *is* the real world.

      So I just cannot see how the analogy you lay down at the end of your last paragraph is supposed to put the ED skeptic and the PSR skeptic in the same justificatory boat.

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    35. @ monk68

      Well, no, the analogy seems fine because PSR being false doesn't entail our faculties are unreliable. The PSR skeptic can even say PSR is necessarily false, i.e. false in every possible world. And while this would entail there are possible worlds where our faculties behave unintelligibly, there would be other possible worlds where they do behave intelligibly. And nothing about denying PSR commits one to the position that they're in former sort of world rather than the latter, just as nothing about admitting the possibility of EDs commits one to thinking we're actually being deceived by EDs.

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    36. @ Tyler

      “And nothing about denying PSR commits one to the position that they're in former sort of world rather than the latter, just as nothing about admitting the possibility of EDs commits one to thinking we're actually being deceived by EDs.”

      I thought we already agreed that the problem is *not* that on either Ed or ~PSR it must necessarily be the case that cognitive faculties really are unreliable (ontologically speaking); rather it is that on both ED and ~PSR no one could ever *know* whether cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not. The problem is epistemological, no?

      So the problem with you claim above is this:

      There IS something about denying PSR which commits one to *epistemological* skepticism about cognitive faculties (that’s what Feser’s retorsive argument highlights). But there remains nothing about admitting the mere logical possibility of ED which commits one to thinking that he cannot *know* whether his cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not.

      How can the skeptical entailment which attends to ED *stick* to someone who gives reasons for why the mere logical possibility of ED is, in fact, highly improbable? Having reasons why some worldview with skeptical entailments about the reliability of cognitions is unlikely, is tantamount to having reasons for why cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not. And when one has reasons for thinking that one’s cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not, then one can be said to have probable *knowledge* that his cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not. That’s a desirable, non-skeptical, epistemic condition that someone who actually embraces ED or ~PSR *cannot* enjoy due to the necessary *epistemological* entailments of those positions. The obvious reason that the skeptical *epistemological* entailment of ~PSR sticks to Parsons is because he *embraces* ~PSR, rather than giving reasons why ~PSR is unlikely to be true.

      I have reasons for thinking that Ed and ~PSR are both likely false (not the least of which is their mutual entailment of *epistemological* skepticism about cognitive faculties); consequently, and conversely, I have reasons for thinking that my cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not. So long as he holds to ~PSR, Parsons cannot successfully explain why he thinks his cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not – or so argues Feser. Our epistemological situation, therefore (vis-a-vis the case we can respectively make for thinking that our cognitive faculties are more likely reliable than not) is not equivalent.

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    37. @ monk68

      I think you need to reread some of my above posts, as I've addressed this type of reply already.

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    38. @ Tyler

      I read each of your comments originally, and I have now re-read them at your request. Of everything you have written so far, it seems to me the closest you have come to engaging the objection I have been raising in various ways is found in your remarks to RomanJoe September 14, 7:44. There you wrote as follows:

      “And, in a parallel manner to the retorsion argument, there’s no reason we could have for thinking we’re in a ED possible world rather than an ~ED possible world. This scenario is directly analogous to the one entailed by denying PSR according to the retorsion argument, and so if we take that argument to successfully entail skepticism, then, for parity’s sake, we must take the mere possibility of EDs to commit us to skepticism too.”

      Here you just assert that “there is no reason we could have for thinking we’re in a ED a possible world rather than an ~ED possible world” and that the “mere possibility” of EDs commits us to skepticism (and let’s remember we are talking about epistemological skepticism concerning the reliability of cognitions.)

      Is there an argument(s) for these claims? How does it go? I’ve given reasons for thinking we’re not in a ED possible world. You say I could have none. What’s wrong with the reasons given? How exactly does acknowledging the mere possibility that the real world might be an ED world entail that one is committed to epistemological skepticism in the same way that ~PSR commits one to skepticism?

      Unless you provide some argument for these assertions, your claim that there is parity/analogy, etc. is just hand waiving.

      In short, I have been arguing that one can admit the logical possibility of EDs and yet retain rationally justifiable confidence in the reliability of cognitive faculties. I’ve seen nothing from you to refute this claim.

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    39. And just to put it out here in the thread, Dr. Feser has provided an actual retorsion argument that entails that if one really thinks the actual world is a ~PSR world, then he can have no reason for thinking his cognitive faculties are more likely to be reliable than not. Here it is:

      “For if PSR is false . . . there might be no connection at all between our perceptual experiences and external objects and events we suppose cause them. Nor would we have any grounds for claiming that such a radical disconnect . . . is *improbable*. For objective probabilities depend on the objective tendencies of things, and if PSR is false then events might occur in a way that has nothing to do with any objective tendencies of things. Hence one cannot consistently deny PSR and be justified in trusting the evidence of sensory perception . . . we also suppose that our cognitive faculties track truth and standards of rational argumentation . . . But if PSR is false . . . For all we know what moves or causes us to assent to a claim may have absolutely nothing to do with truth or standards of logic. . . yet it might falsely seem . . . for no reason whatsoever, that we do believe what we do on good rational grounds. . . This would apply to any grounds we could have for doubting PSR . . . Hence to . . . deny PSR undercuts any grounds we could have for . . . denying PSR ” (Scholastic Metaphysics, pp 143-144)[emphasis added].

      So Feser offers an argument through retorsion that if someone thinks the real world is a ~ PSR world he faces epistemological skepticism about the reliability of his cognitions. You claim that admitting the mere logical possibility of an ED world yields the same result. What’s the argument?

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    40. @ monk68

      In short, I have been arguing that one can admit the logical possibility of EDs and yet retain rationally justifiable confidence in the reliability of cognitive faculties. I’ve seen nothing from you to refute this claim.

      Yes, and as I've said, I agree with this.

      But the problem is if the epistemic possibility is insufficient to commit one to skepticism in the ED scenario, then it's insufficient to commit one to skepticism w.r.t. PSR / retorsion too.

      The retorsion argument is, plainly, relying on epistemic possibility (see Ed's "For all we know..." and "We might believe what we do for no reason whatsoever," etc.). Nothing in his exposition is claiming PSR being false entails it's actually the case that our faculties are unreliable, just as nothing about the ED scenario claims the ED is actually operational.

      I actually said something similar to this above when I gave my disjunction, i.e. either the possibility our faculties are unreliable implies skepticism or it doesn't. Since retorsion and the ED scenarios are both relying on epistemic possibility, they seem to stand or fall together based on your option chosen in the disjunction.

      If you have some way of giving the retorsion argument in a way that doesn't rely on epistemic possibility, I'd like to see it, but that argument hasn't been given by anyone so far.

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    41. And, briefly w.r.t. your other comment, yes, the PSR skeptic holds PSR is false for the actual world. But that doesn't entail he's committed to the position that the actual world is one of the possible worlds in which his faculties are unintelligible.

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    42. @ Tyler

      I'm starting to realize the full strength of the objection. I would love for Feser to respond to it directly. I'm going to think on it and I'll let you know if I discover some weakness with it.

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    43. It'd be cool if he replied to it, though he's obviously busy and simply doesn't have time to respond to every objection that pops up.

      I actually went over to the classical theism forums to think about asking some users there, but it appears there's already a thread on the argument. One of the users there made an argument that's very similar to Parsons's argument, and it seems the overall reaction is mixed.

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    44. Please submit your objection. I'm a user over there too and I'd love to see some of the guys there tackle it again.

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    45. You can see the thread here:

      http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/viewtopic.php?id=839

      I don't have an account there, I just read the posts occasionally, but the user that made the topic is essentially raising the same potential problem that I did here.

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    46. I'll read the thread and get back to you if I have anything new to say. I'm glad you brought this objection up.

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  10. Dr. Feser,

    Just wanted to alert you and other readers that there is a Facebook reading group for Five Proofs set to start in about 3 weeks:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1865858183731305/

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  11. I am doing a series debunking Dr. David Wood on the Trinity. I challenge you to a debate on the subject as well.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBZNs2SqLMw

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    Replies
    1. Question,

      Are you Jewish are do you belong to some Jewish Christian group?

      Just curious.

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  12. No, No, No!!

    Roman Joe, John D, George...

    Of course God has reasons for creating this world!

    You mentioned the two identical pieces of pie. When the choice between pies is too close to call, it then becomes a question about the one doing the choosing. Example: I'll pick THIS piece because it's CLOSER to ME.

    We don't have to throw our hands up and say, "I guess we'll never know."

    God created THIS world because it's the one that gives Him the most (exterior) glory.

    This includes some specifics like: there must be Incarnation, there must be a Mother, there must be subjects that share the assumed nature, etc..

    You have to remember that there are several sources of knowledge about God. Scholastic philosophy is only one source. It can tell you there is a God and what His attributes are within certain limits, but it doesn't give you specifics like; God is a Trinity.
    We get specifics like the Trinity, and why THIS world, from Revelation; both public and private, including Catholic Mysticism.

    A great place to address the question about the creation of THIS particular world is in the book, The Mystical City of God, by Ven. Mother Mary of Agreda.

    There are plenty of sources for specific questions about God. Don't rely on philosophy exclusively.

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    Replies
    1. Is there any doctrine which has been explicitly based on private revelation to Catholic Mystic?

      (And BTW, what I was trying to say is that God's having reasons for creating the world DOES NOT therefore negate His freedom, despite any such reasons being unquestionable.)

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  13. I do not know about anyone else, but for me there is one compelling reason for God creating this world instead of another one: I am in it. If this is not a good enough reason, what could satisfy my utterly reasonable person?

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  14. Since this came out, I've been sure to listen to each Klavan show. I usually do, anyway, but sometimes turn it off or quit when he gets into philosophy or philosophical theology. This week I listened to all.

    Anyway, yesterday's show ended with him saying that today's (9/14's) guest will be Curt Schilling. Since he doesn't do Friday shows, does this mean that it'll be next week for Ed, or has it been cancelled, or what?

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    Replies
    1. We taped it on Tuesday, and it will run next week.

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    2. Good. BTW, my comment shows why you shouldn't type while listening to a sports talk show. It was Schlicter, no Shilling.

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    3. One more thing. Is there a chance you might discuss the problems inherent in many contemporary conservatives' full embrace of classical liberalism as defining of conservatism, full stop? I know you've addressed many of the the issues involved, but I'm wondering about a straight-on discussion.

      Not that I wholly reject CL. For one thing, it isn't wrong about everything, for another, it is so deeply engrained in Anglo-American culture that rejecting it would be destructive. Nevertheless, much of it's dependent on 17th and 18th C assumptions which are questionable. Thus the 100 percenter attitude is worrisome. To their credit, NRO in the past year reprinted an excellent article by Bozell Sr, which raised many of the right questions. But overall the vigorous debate on the basis of conservatism there, and generally on the right, has largely disappeared. I started reading NR in the 1960s; and it's something I've long been aware of. Coincidentally, Klavan just wrote a column at PJM claiming that there is such a debate. If so, I can't see it.

      (Or maybe I just missed something you've already written.)

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  15. Every time I hear you speak, it only reinforces my desire for a Feser podcast of sorts. I would love to hear your thoughts on things week to week.

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