Wednesday, July 22, 2009

UnBeguiled, UnHinged, and UnWorthy of further attention

If you’ve been following the exchange with UnBeguiled in the comboxes here and especially in the post immediately below this one, you know that I’ve been trying very patiently to get him to see the difference between an empirical scientific issue and a philosophical or metaphysical one. His latest “response” (see the combox to the previous post) was to sum up my position as the claim that “Facts don’t matter.” See, if you so much as distinguish two fields of study – even two fields of study that everyone else also agrees are distinct -- then you must not care about facts. Got it? Me neither.

Could it get any worse? Turns out it can. In the combox to his own latest post, he opines that “Feser's statement [about the irrelevance of questions of physics to the argument from motion] effectively removes him from the community of reasonable conversation, but it seems to me it is much worse than that. His is an act of betrayal. He has betrayed our common humanity.”

It goes on.

This is, I must say, simply so bizarre and unhinged that I cannot even get angry about it. The guy is just out to lunch.

So long, UnBeguiled. Hope you can get the help you need, fella.


  1. You might enjoy this, also from his combox:


    "UnBeguiled said...

    'Just out of curiosity, why does it matter to you?'

    It's the aesthetic that drives my life. I cannot defend it on rational grounds. Read my subtitle. I am blindly obsessed with what is probably true.

    For me, truth and beauty are the same.


    But why do I find truth beautiful? I don't know. Hence, I'm blindly obsessed.


    But why I am I like this? It is just my nature. I cannot account for it."



  2. Remembering the time that I used to hold such views I now think, What an Ass I was.

  3. It never fails to astonish me how certain types of people react when confronted with actual logic, possibly for the first time in their lives. Though otherwise reasonably intelligent, they tend to react with pure gibberish (a la Beguiled). Very amusing!

  4. Prior to the internet people like unbeguiled would be getting the help the need.
    But, with the advent of the internet, people like unbeguiled find like-minded folk (also in need of help) but who applaud and back pat.
    Leading to a warped sense of reality.

  5. To try to bring the conversation back to a sane level...

    You say: "See, if you so much as distinguish two fields of study – even two fields of study that everyone else also agrees are distinct -- then you must not care about facts. Got it? Me neither."

    Is it fair to say, though, that everyone (everyone with a sufficiently informed opinion, that is) agrees that there is a clear distinction between empirical scientific issues and philosophical/metaphysical ones? It's my understanding of Quine and the sorts of naturalists who follow him that they deny any deep distinction of this sort. Though in certain contexts we might make an innocent distinction between an empirical question and a conceptual question, that distinction doesn't hold up beyond the superficial level. So, my question is, am I just misunderstanding them? If not, then how can one correctly say that everyone agrees that metaphysics and empirical inquiry are distinct?

  6. Hello djr, yes, Quine and his followers hold that empirical and philosophical issues are continuous, but then, they also hold that questions of mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, etc. are continuous. That is all perfectly consistent with what I'm saying, because they would not deny that these different fields can for most practical purposes be carried out independently from one another. The connections are mostly remote, not direct. Something in chemistry (say) might in theory lead through some complex chain of reasoning to a change in logical theory, or metaphysics, or mathematics, but that doesn't mean that you can never raise a question in metaphysics, logic, or mathematics without bringing chemistry in (or vice versa).

    I don't agree with this Quinean line, but again, it's consistent with what I'm saying. It will not do to say, "If Quine is right, metaphysical questions and empirical ones are continuous, so UnBeguiled's points must be relevant to the argument from motion," any more than Quineanism could justify someone in saying "Mathematical questions and empirical ones are continuous, so I want to see some laboratory experiments before I'll accept that 2 + 2 = 4." The connection just isn't that direct. In any event, if someone wants to claim that there is a direct relevance, this has to be shown -- merely asserting it without argument, and then claiming absurdly that anyone who disagrees must think that "facts don't matter," is not serious.

  7. Dude,

    If he was so "UnWorthy of further attention", then why for goodness sakes did you in fact dedicate an actual post concerning him?

  8. Fellow anon, what part of "Not worthy of further attention" is throwing you for a loop? Beguiled made a criticism of TLS, which Ed happily engaged. At that point Beguiled's demonstrated himself to be obnoxious, ignorant and, honestly, more than a little bit nutso.

    What's so hard to understand about someone responding to a person's comment (especially on der interwebs) and finding out it's not worth your time to talk with them further?

  9. Anon. incapable of finding the blatant contradiction contained therein:

    If I deemed a person "UnWorthy of Further Attention", I personally would not have dignified such a person so unworthy the distinct pleasure of a response; let alone, a post.

  10. Anon, who's probably just a jilted and self-conscious Beguiled returned:

    Think about what the word "further" means. I'll spell it out for you, since you're having trouble: It means that, while past interaction may have been justified (likely due to not fully being aware of a person's style, behavior, mental state, etc), from this point on it's apparently no longer worth the effort because new information has come to light.

    There's no blatant contradiction, just you being thick again. You're basically saying "Ed should have realized Beguiled was a dope and kind of a fruitcake to boot before he was aware of these things". It's not like this guy is well-known or something, he's frankly a dime a dozen over on Dawkins' or PZ Myers' site.

  11. "Dude,"

    Since you apparently really need an answer, "further" in this context means "beyond the current post" not "beyond the previous post I wrote about him." Obviously.

    No doubt you'll have some snappy comeback to this too. Knock yourself out.

    This is what too much of the blogosphere amounts to -- no substance, just stupid exchanges of smart-ass remarks. Since I believe in self-defense, occasionally I respond in kind to people who indulge in this sort of thing -- I think I can say I've never _initiated_ this kind of stuff myself -- but it's gotten really tiresome of late. Hence my decision to ignore UnBeguiled from here on out.

    If you want to continue with this sort of thing further, anonymous, please go visit his blog, since it seems that's pretty much what it's all about.

    In general, dear readers, though as some of you have noticed, I moderate with a light hand -- i.e. pretty much not at all -- I'm sorely tempted to start deleting this kind of stuff.

  12. I, a completely different anonymous from any other in this topic, applaud stricter moderation. I'm tired of reading crap. Vallicella, before he killed comments entirely, had the right attitude on this.

  13. Yeppers.

    Since 'scientismists' is way too much the mouthful, I call such 'scientistes' -- think of Miss Piggy, the Artiste, and with much the same connotation of being a ridiculous poseur.

  14. Ilíon:

    I second your point about the mouthful difficulties of tagging "those subject to scientism" in English. The term I coined is "scientismatic," which I don't think is too hard to say or understand, and which also captures the cultic devotion scientism can engender. ;)

    (P.S. I think the Anon goin' on an' on about the "contradiction" of Dr. Feser ignoring unBe by posting a farewell to him is just jealous. Maybe he wants his own share of dismissive attention! Indeed, perhaps Dr. Feser could write a preemptive farewell post to all those who comment inanely under the name Anonymous!)

  15. I'm tired of reading crap.

    I don't know whether that comment is scientific or metaphysical in essence, but it certainly is ironic.

  16. It is arguable that any philosopher who has made a name for himself within the tiny community of philosophes has in the process also suffered collateral damage on two accounts:
    1) he has nailed his own conceptual foot to the floor; and,
    2) he has rendered himself unitelligible to the rest of humanity: his ideas cannot be expressed (and probably don't hold up) in the vernacular.
    While I concur that UnBeguiled was not sufficiently flexible in his argument, it is not the case that his argument deserves the uncharitable (and telling) ridicule that it has received from some of the high intellects prancing about in the comboxes of this and other threads. UnBeguiled's argument was valid, even if his formal presentation sometimes left something to be desired. Not only was it valid (being both coherent and plausible), but, like Prof. Feser's, it was not addressed on its own terms. Much less was it refuted.

  17. Rodak:

    Insofar as you believe unBe's line of attack is valid and not refuted, I would ask you to point out why you think this so. I posted the following (may get broken into two comments) in the combox of the post in which Dr. Feser actually did reply to unBe. You can use my comments as a material example of comments that fail to engage or refute unBe. Show me how I missed the mark.


    Not to presume to improve on Dr. Feser's astute reply here, yet I would like to add some words from St. Thomas d'Aquino on this very topic followed by a brief gloss.

    From Summa contra gentiles I, xiii:

    "In an ordered series of movers and things moved (this is a series in which one is moved by another according to an order) [In moventibus et motis ordinatis, quorum scilicet unum per ordinem ab alio movetur], it is necessarily the fact that, when the first mover is removed or ceases to move, no other mover will move or be moved. For the first mover is the cause of motion for all the others. But, if there are movers and things moved following an order to infinity, there will be no first mover, but all would be as intermediate movers. Therefore, none of the others will be able to be moved, and thus nothing in the world will be moved."


    Ordinal motion does not exactly mean 'serial' or 'step by step' motion. Rather, it refers to the idea of, let us say, distributed simultaneous efficiency. The efficient causation in an ordered causal system is distributed simultaneously throughout the elements involved at every moment of change. For example, when a boy splashes water by hitting the surface of a creek with a stick, his hand, the stick, and the disrupted water are all, so to speak, causally concurrent. There is a proper order, a determinate structure, of this event, which cannot happen without all the elements being in the right place at the right––namely, the same––time. Moreover, we must realize that the boy's hand simultaneously depends on its attachment to his body, his body on its attachment to the earth, the earth on its place in the solar system, and so on. Everything in the cosmos must occur in an exact causal, albeit not temporal, order for the water to splash as it does. This is more or less what St. Thomas means by what happens in motis ordinatis.

  18. And:

    I would also to suggest that it is metaphysically illegitimate to dissect actions in the way unBe tries to, simply because an action is, at some level, an integral whole. When I say "the arrow hit the bull's eye," I thereby specify an integral set of sub-motions which are only what they are as part of the larger action. I bring this up for two reasons.

    First, it is unfair to dissect an action in question into its sub-motions as an attempt to disprove the actuality of that action as an integral whole, because as soon as you shift the attention to the sub-motions you are no longer engaging the actual action in question.

    Second, even the sub-motions presuppose an integral actuality. For every unBe who denies the coherence of an essentially ordered series by citing the micro-movements within it, there is a radical Xeno who denies even those micro-movements actually happen, since they are just made of sub-micro-movements, ad infinitum. unBe is trying to have his reductionist cake and eat it too, but it's simply a matter of taste for him to stop at the micro-level. Those micro-movements are still subject to the arguments about act/potency, since, in each micro-case, as in the larger action itself, whatever it is that is actually happening is happening in an essentially ordered series. If the potency of the sub-sub-motions were "greater than" the activity of the sub-motions, and in turn the motion itself, then there would be no actual sub-motions and no larger motion. Seeing, however, as each element in the ordered series is subject to potency in se, what accounts for their activation? Cue the First Mover argument.

    Unwittingly, to be sure, unBe's metaphysical gallivanting buttresses the whole point of the act/potency distinction. While an action might potentially stop at, or collapse into, any one of its components and sub-motions (as things seem to do in unBe's mind), in actuality it occurs as a formal whole ordered toward some end. The potency of the components are formally ordered toward the finality that is the completed action.

    Thanks for being civil and helpful, Rodak. Onward!

  19. I attempted to point out to UnB that that he was not addressing his argument against Prof. Feser's position in its own terms. With particular reference to Feser's use of the word "simultaneous," I suggested that UnB should step outside of his subjective box and consider the word sub specie aeternatatis. This he did not do.
    At the same time, however, Feser's (and I suppose Aristotle's/Aquinas') use of the term is meaningless as the word is ordinarily understood in common speech. Thus, Feser and UnB were talking past each other, having failed to agree on a common definition of the terms they were using.
    It seems to me that Feser's use of "simultaneous" works only if the grounds that allow his special use are stipulated to have been established. But neither UnB, nor I, had stipulated such. In fact, both UnB (and I, for different reasons) were arguing against the reality of the grounds that would support that use of "simultaneous." Feser's argument in response to UnB's objection is a circular one.
    My argument, which was that what is entailed by this special use of "simultaneous," and which I attempted to illustrate by its use to justify a prohibition of birth control, was simply ignored, despite the fact that I, for the sake of argument, had stipulated Feser's use of "simultaneous" as valid up to the point of its application as a standard for regulating conduct in the material world.

  20. I.e., each time you modify the hand-stick-water example by the words "in a sense," you validate the plausibility of UnB's position.

  21. Rodak:

    "…in a sense…"

    Is not sub specie aeternitatis itself a modification à la in a sense? Everything exists in some sense, which is exactly the points of metaphysical disputation. Existence is not univocal, nor is simultaneity strictly quantitative. Effects can be "simultaneous" with their causes in two senses. First, temporally overlapping, as in when a pencil moves as and only as the hand writes. (Again, scrutinizing the micro-movements of the tarsals, metatarsals, crumbling graphite molecules, etc. misses the point, since they are implicitly simultaneous as essential causal cofactors. Their manifold spatiotemporal coordinates are subsumed under the formal integrity of the action "a hand writing with a pencil".) Second, effects can follow their cause in time, as in when the graphite just scribbled is left on a sheet of paper on a desk at night and, when the sun rises, causes a small gleam to rise off the graphite in the sun. Had the hand and pencil not been essentially causally coordinated in the first sense, the hand's "causing a graphite gleam" would not obtain in temporal succession.


  22. No argument. But I fail to see what reiterating all of that has to do with my point(s).

  23. My point: as long as the kind of thing you are expressing is kept in some Platonic realm of Ideas, or within the ivied walls of the academy it works just fine. By the same token I--or some person with greater skills of narrative description than I possess--could describe a creature to you in such detail that you would readily be able to identify that creature as a unicorn. That would not mean, however, that should a man approach you offering the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of his start-up unicorn ranch in Argentina, you should invest your nest egg.
    My original point (as distinct from UnB's) was that I am a sola fide, sola scriptura, Prostestant in part because I believe that I can know God as an object of faith--or of direct experience, perhaps--but not as an object of reason. All rational "proofs" for the existence of God are circular.

  24. "All rational "proofs" for the existence of God are circular."

    As are all mathematics, all languages, all logical systems, and cognitive veracity itself. It always fascinates me how a certain form (perhaps most forms) of Protestantism end up asserting the same things as atheism. To deny the knowability in the light of reason is but to be a Socinian. If there is nothing in natural reason from which faith then assent, by divine grace, then there is nothing in faith but voluntarism. As atheists say, theists can believe anything they like, but they shouldn't say they have an "rational basis" for their faith. Your position differs how?


    P.S. Your reference to ivory tower thinkering is cute coming from a Ricoeurian. ;)

  25. ERRATUM: I meant to say "the knowability of God"

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  27. Rodak:
    At the same time, however, Feser's (and I suppose Aristotle's/Aquinas') use of the term is meaningless as the word is ordinarily understood in common speech. Thus, Feser and UnB were talking past each other, having failed to agree on a common definition of the terms they were using.

    UnB is the critic in this situation, and it is his responsibility to understand the argument he is criticizing, and to address it on its own terms. It's not Ed's responsibility to bend over backwards to accommodate UnB, particularly considering UnB's conduct.

    And if, as you claim, there is some worthwhile unrefuted point hidden away somewhere in UnB's ravings, it's not worth it to try and dig it up, intertwined as it is with bizarre ravings and signs of mental instability.

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  29. Ian--
    If you want to take the time to review the whole conversation you will see that I admonished UnB that he needed to address his argument according to Prof. Feser's terms. That was the basis of my statement which you quote.

    The difference between what I say and what an atheist says is that I say there is a God, but that it can't be proven by pure reason. The atheist says there is no God and that no theist can prove that there is by pure reason. That's a big difference in my book.
    If the existence of God could be proven by reason, the question would have been settled millennia ago, and books like Prof. Feser's would constitute mere coals to Newcastle. Theologians and philosophers could then argue only about God's specific characteristics, not about his existence. Happily, they can now argue about either or both. In the end, however, it's nothing more than a publish-or-perish exercise in the cause of career advancement.
    That said, so long as this is merely an entertaining academic game, I'm fine with it. But when such ideas become translated into statute law--an outcome which I've tried unsuccessfully to introduce in this conversation--then I have a problem with it.
    (I've never read a word of Ricoeur, btw.)

  30. To deny the knowability [of God] in the light of reason is but to be a Socinian.

    Were the Socinians more interested in how we know about God, or in what God knows about the future?
    As I said above, the argument among believers boils down to the nature of God's characteristics and attributes, not to his existence per se.

  31. I've had debates with UnBeguiled before and the same problem occurred between him and I. The discussion that you had with him ended in the same fashion as mine did.

    He can't see that there are facts beyond the empirical.