Now, the term “intuition” has a respectable traditional use in philosophy, to connote the mind’s direct grasp of abstract objects or fundamental a priori truths. But that is not the sort of thing that those who appeal to “intuition pumps” or “considered intuitions” in ethics have in mind. As Alan Lacey notes in an entry on intuition in the Ted Honderich edited volume The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, “recently… the term ‘intuition’ has been used for pre-philosophical thoughts or feelings, e.g. on morality, which emerge in thought experiments and are then used philosophically.”
This is most regrettable. It gives the impression that ethics and metaphysics are ultimately subjective, which is – certainly from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view (which is my point of view) – not at all the case. That is not to say that intuitions in the sense in question have no place at all in philosophy, but their role should be at most heuristic, a pointer to something objective, which alone can serve as a legitimate premise in a philosophical argument and after the discovery of which the “intuitions” can be put to one side.
“But as an A-T philosopher, don’t you think metaphysics and ethics should be in harmony with common sense?” Yes I do, but that does not mean that saying “It just seems commonsensical to me” is how an A-T philosopher thinks metaphysical or ethical claims should be defended. That gets the significance of common sense and intuition all wrong. The A-T philosopher doesn’t say “Such-and-such metaphysical and ethical claims seem intuitive and commonsensical; therefore they must be correct.” Rather, he says: “Such-and-such metaphysical and ethical claims are correct, and can be shown to be so on entirely objective rational grounds; and it is because they are correct that nature has made us in such a way that we tend to regard them as intuitive and commonsensical.”
So, in metaphysics, common sense regards skepticism about the external world as absurd, and the A-T philosopher agrees with common sense. But it is not that its commonsense status shows that realism about the external world is true; rather, the fact that realism about the external world is true is what accounts for its commonsense status. In ethics, common sense regards the direct, intentional killing of an innocent human being as gravely immoral, and the A-T philosopher agrees with common sense. But it is not that its commonsense status shows that such killing is immoral; rather, the fact that it is gravely immoral accounts for our intuitive sense that it is. And so forth. Nature has formed our feelings and intuitions so that they provide us with a rough and ready practical guide to what is true and good. But their intuitive status is a consequence of their being true and good, not the ground of their being true and good.
Moreover, feelings and intuitions are indeed at best only a rough guide, and a very general one. They do not give us much guidance vis-à-vis complex moral situations or difficult metaphysical questions, and they are not infallible even in simple cases. Even the feelings and intuitions nature has put into us are subject to distortion, through habituated vice, social conditioning, and perhaps even genetically influenced psychological deformity. And some feelings and intuitions that seem natural to us are in fact culturally relative. An obvious example would be the way in which foods which are considered by people of some cultures to be unbelievably disgusting and thus “obviously” not meant to be eaten, seem unremarkable or even delightful to people of other cultures.
In the moral sphere, people’s feelings and intuitions about various specific life and death issues – vigilantism, torture in “time bomb” scenarios, “mercy killing,” and so forth – can vary considerably. That is irrelevant from an A-T point of view, since natural law theory – the approach to ethics favored by A-T philosophers -- doesn’t appeal to “intuitions” to settle such questions. We can also all think of a number of sexual practices that at least many people find disgusting, but only some of which are contrary to the natural law. Others, though they may not be to some people’s taste, are (within marriage, anyway) of themselves morally unobjectionable. (I won’t elaborate, and I doubt that I need to.) Contrary to a standard caricature, natural law theory does not regard (some or even most) people’s sense of what is “icky” or “nasty” to be an infallible guide to sexual morality, any more than it is an infallible guide to what sorts of foods we should eat. What is good for us is defined by the ends which nature has set for our various capacities. Our feelings and intuitions can facilitate the realization of those ends but they do not define the ends. Rather, the ends determine the reliability of the feelings and intuitions.
So, to put “intuitions” at the foundations of philosophical inquiry is to put the cart before the horse. Or, to switch metaphors, no serious philosopher – certainly no A-T philosopher – should be caught dead wearing intuition pumps.
Very good post – one of your most personable, IMO.
In disagreements, others have so often accused me of just emoting, or just feeling, as if such activity were somehow forboten. But it isn’t. The logical, rational type actor stands in contrast to the emotional, intuitive type as merely two different modes (moods) – different temperaments, different personality types (Myers-Briggs).
I disagree wholeheartedly with your putting feelings and intuitions subordinate to rationalizing and logical analysis. In an evolutionary view, the limbic system is far more primary than the cortex. It was first, and the cortex relies on the emotional body.
While stating that A-T metaphysics is superior to other ways of doing it, you are at best reporting your emotional temperament. It might be worth noting that science relies first and foremost on hypotheses, which arise in different manners for different personality types.
If you look again at my comments on 7/12 at 1:32 and 1:43 you can see that ontologically, we are totally emotional agents, including consciousness itself.
I know you don’t want to listen much to what I think, but you might enjoy the thinking of the famous mathematician, Henri Poincare, on the connection of intuition and logical analysis here http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Extras/Poincare_Intuition.html
It appears then that you are accepting Hume's claim that reason is always the slave of the passions. And how do you know this true? Is it because your emotions tell you so? If so then how do we determines whose emotional conclusions are true and which are not?Delete
The exaltation of intuition above demonstation is part of the bitter legacy of Rene Descartes. His substitution of “clear and distinct perceptions” in the place of the traditional principles of reason has had, IMO, the effect of a frontal-lobe lobotomy,* as it were, on the western mind.
*See Just Thinking's comment.
Either I don't think I understand your position regarding intuitions or it's not fleshed out enough for my tastes (I know, I know, the horror!). If I understand you correctly, your position is this: many people have an intuition that X is the case. Typically--or at least often--the reason people have the intuition that X is the case is that X is the case. In other words, because reality is the way it is, we have the intuitions we have (this relationship is the case at least sometimes, anyway).
First, I don't know of any philosopher off the top of my head who reasons, "the reason X is the case is that most of us have an intuition that X is the case"; in other words, I don't yet think I can tell the difference between your position on intuitions and Dennett's.
But I'm more curious what work you think your account is supposed to do. I have the intuition that something cannot come from nothing. Moreover the premise, "something cannot come from nothing" has the status for me of an intuition, one that is foundational in much of my thinking about metaphysics. When people reject it, I usually try to give them an example of what they're really committed to in order to make them feel intellectual pressure, such that they will rethink their rejection. If they don't mind the intellectual pressure, though, then I'm at a loss.
Now, I could tell them an A-T story, or a Kantian story, to explain for them why the premise has for me the status of an intuition. This would make it look less like intuition-mongering and more like reasoning. But of course any story I tell to shore up my intuition is either itself going to rely on that intuition or is going to rely on other premises that have the status of intuitions, and that I hope my interlocutor shares.
So I still don't know how to make intuitions something you craft in the cobblery rather than something you wear as pumps.
Moreover the premise, "something cannot come from nothing" has the status for me of an intuition, one that is foundational in much of my thinking about metaphysics.ReplyDelete
Bobcat, you seem to identify self-evident propositions with intuition. This is problematic; for there must be a reason why these premises are self-evident to the intellect. In other words, there must be some kind of inner light that reveals the truth of these premises to the thinking subject. But if the premises themselves are called intuition, what are we to call that which in the intellect causes them to be held to be self-evidently true but intuition in a far truer sense?
It seems, therefore, that self-evident premises are not intuition but rather effects of intuition. But what, then, is intuition, and how does it work?
George R. wrote, "Bobcat, you seem to identify self-evident propositions with intuition. This is problematic; for there must be a reason why these premises are self-evident to the intellect."ReplyDelete
This is a good point--what is the distinction between something's being self-evident and it's being an intuition? One answer is this: I know of some people who claim that they can't see why something can't come from nothing, so they don't accept the proposition that only nothing can come from nothing. Because of this, I'm not sure that "only nothing can come from nothing", or (what is the same) "something cannot come from nothing" is self-evident.
It appears as though I'm relying on the epistemic premise: "A proposition is self-evident if and only if it is undeniable". This would leave me only with the truths of logic and arithmetic as self-evident. (Actually, it would leave me with nothing, because dialetheists deny that the truths of arithmetic and logic are undeniable.)
So this is true: I don't have a principle to hand that would allow me to distinguish propositions that are self-evident from intuitions. I'll have to think about this more.
"In other words, there must be some kind of inner light that reveals the truth of these premises to the thinking subject."
That sounds a lot to me like what Descartes was talking about when he discussed clear and distinct propositions. What do you take the difference to be between a proposition whose truth is revealed by an inner light and one that is seen to be clear and distinct?
"But if the premises themselves are called intuition, what are we to call that which in the intellect causes them to be held to be self-evidently true but intuition in a far truer sense?"
I don't understand what you're saying here. You seem to be raising a criticism of the view that foundational premises are intuitions. But I can't see what the criticism is. Are you asking about the faculty that allows us to see self-evident propositions are intuitively true?
The foundation of all rational knowledge is intuitional knowledge -- non-rational knowledge -- that which we know because we know it.ReplyDelete
So, trying to shoot at or delegitimize intuition itself or assertions to intuitional knowledge, just because it is (allegedly) intuitional knowledge, is to deny that any knowledge at all is even possible.
Moreover, all that God knows, he knows intuitionally -- God knows because he knows.
I think Ed is right to condemn intuition as it is used by philosophers in the last 40 years, since this sense of "intuition" seems to be opposed to "factual" or "what is the case". It seems to mean nothing more than "common prejudice". Moreover, there is a general agreement that a "prejudice" can be purely irrational with no connection to reality whatsoever, and so intuitions are seen as always being possibly this sort of thing.ReplyDelete
There's a general agreement that intuition is opposed to reasoning, but more than one thing is opposed to reasoning. The purely emotive or irrational (which are not the same) are opposed to reasoning in one way and intellection and vision (or the rest of the mind in truth) is opposed to it in another way. This duality of ways to be opposed to reasoning leads to a duality of ways in which one can understand intuition.
For my own part, I think intuitions are best described as things that are worthy to reason from, which can include everything from the self-evident to a good hunch; and everything from a naturally known principle to a mere cultural belief. There's also something to be said for the end of a reasoning process being an intuition, but this might be a secondary meaning.
That sounds a lot to me like what Descartes was talking about when he discussed clear and distinct propositions. What do you take the difference to be between a proposition whose truth is revealed by an inner light and one that is seen to be clear and distinct?ReplyDelete
It sounds like Descartes, but it’s really nothing like Descartes. Descartes never discusses a light being cast on something, in which something else is revealed. He just talks about “perception,” which he identifies with that which is perceived. And if this “perception” happens to be “clear and distinct,” well it must be true then. His philosophy really doesn’t explain anything. Besides, it opens the door to all the dangers of “intuition” that Ed is talking about.
Are you asking about the faculty that allows us to see self-evident propositions are intuitively true?
Yes. If we know X to be true by (true) intuition, X ought not be called “intuition” but rather it should be called "that which is known by intuition."
I have an (off-topic) question re: Aquinas' First Way, specifically the argument you give in "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" and "The Last Superstition" that the First Mover cannot have any potentialities.
I buy your argument on pg 75 of "Aquinas" that the first mover cannot be brought into existence by anything else. But why does it follow that it therefore has no potentialities? You say:
"But the only way to stop this regress and arrive at a first member of the series is with something whose very existence, and not merely its operations or activities, need not be actualized by anything else. This would just be something which, since it simply exists without being made to exist by anything, or is actual without being actualized, is pure act, with no admixture of potentiality whatsoever. For suppose it had some potency relevant to its existence (its existence being what is relevant to its status as the end of the regress as we have continued it). Then either some other thing actualizes that potency, in which case we haven't really stopped the regress after all, contrary to hypothesis; or some already actual part of it actualizes the potency, in which case that already actual part would itself be pure act and, properly speaking, the true first mover." (p75)
I don't understand:
(1) What a potency relevant to the thing's existence is?
(2) Why the thing can't have potencies irrelevant to its existence which aren't actualized, despite all that's been said here?
I have a hunch that none of us share the same meaning for intuition.ReplyDelete
Same for noumena, phenomena, perception, emotion, feeling, consciousness, etc.
As we did with qualia, we can agree to a definition, but before long, we will be talking past one another as the other terms start weighing heavy on our comment content.
If you haven’t already guessed it, Bobcat, what I call “true intuition” is what Aristotle referred to as the “agent intellect,” which abstracts intelligible objects from sensible objects. This is the light by which we know self-evident propositions to be true.ReplyDelete
You wrote, "And if this “perception” happens to be “clear and distinct,” well it must be true then. His philosophy really doesn’t explain anything."
I can see how you get this negative impression of Descartes, but I gather that it is very much more complicated than this. According to a paper I heard by Allison Simmons--I believe in her paper, "Changing the Cartesian Mind"--Descartes has a somewhat precise sense of what clear and distinct means. From what I remember--I heard the paper something like ten years ago--for a perception to be clear and distinct means for to be distinguishable in a precise fashion from other perceptions; i.e., the perception of X must be such that in perceiving X, you don't "fuse together" X with anything else.
That's all I can say about that topic, though--I don't remember anything more!
As for your use of "intuition", I didn't know you were using it to equate with Aristotle's agent intellect, and I gather that you reject using intuition to refer to something like a proposition. For you, intuition is a faculty, and it gives rise to propositions that have a certain status. For me, and for most contemporary philsoophers, though, agents *have* intuitions, several of them, and we use these intuitions in reasoning. I grant that your sense is the older, more established sense, but I don't think that means that we contemporary philosophers all have to stop talking in the way we do. Otherwise, we'd also have to understand principles as moving forces, etc., passions as states of affairs you undergo rather than bring about, etc.
James Chastek: "I think Ed is right to condemn intuition as it is used by philosophers in the last 40 years, since this sense of "intuition" seems to be opposed to "factual" or "what is the case". It seems to mean nothing more than "common prejudice"."ReplyDelete
It seems to me that in this sense, 'intuition' is used to mean not simply "common prejudice" but "common prejudice for which I myself am far too sophisticated to fall or to subscribe."
But then (as I frequently point out), most philosophers are fools.
James Chastek: "Moreover, there is a general agreement that a "prejudice" can be purely irrational with no connection to reality whatsoever, and so intuitions are seen as always being possibly this sort of thing."
People frequently use (and/or misuse) the term "prejudice" as a means to contemptuously dismiss others’ opinions without consideration. And, incidentally, the term “opinion” is also frequently misused in that way.
Also, people frequently (mis-)apply the term 'intuition' to things they wish to believe true and do not wish to examine whether there is justification for believing it true.
So, just because something is claimed to be intuitional knowledge doesn't make it so.
Nevertheless, ultimately, all our rational knowledge builds upon and depends upon non-rational knowledge, upon “self-evident” truth. And the correct term for this non-rational means of grasping/understanding self-evident truth/knowledge is ‘intuition.’
Think of it in terms of the old distinction in philosophy of science between the "context of discovery" and the "context of justification." You might discover some theory in any number of odd ways -- say, in a moment of inspiration that involved falling off the toilet and hitting your head, like Doc Brown in Back to the Future when he thought up the flux capacitor. But such an event could never legitimately be part of a rational justification of a scientific theory. Doc Brown could say "Given such-and-such laws of physics, it follows that the flux capacitor makes time travel possible." The fact that he realized this in a flash of inspiration after falling off the toilet is irrelevant to the justification as such, though. He could not legitimately say "The flux capacitor makes time travel popssible, and my justification for saying this is that I had this really vivid moment of inspiration when I fell off the toilet."
Similarly, I'm happy to allow that intutions, like all sorts of other things, might inspire a certain philosophical idea or line of argument. But I think that they ought to play no justificatory role. "Many of us have the following modal intution," for example, is not a good way to start a philosophical argument.
Yet intuitions do seem to be made to play a "justificatory" role, and not merely a "discovery" role, in much contemporary metaphysical and moral argumentation. And that's what I'm objecting to.
Yes, quite off-topic, but briefly:
(1) What a potency relevant to the thing's existence is?
A thing's operating and a thing's existing can both involve the actualization of potencies. For example, my raising my arm involves the actualizing of certain potencies, such as the potency of the muscles to flex. But my mere existence also involves the actualization of potencies insofar as it involves e.g. the prime matter underlying my arm being informed (and thus actualized) by the substantial form of a human being, my essence being actualized by an act of existence, and so forth. So, by "a potency relevant to a thing's existence" I mean some potency that must be actualized for it to exist at all, and not merely for it to operate or act. And the point is that a purported unmoved mover, if it required the actualization of some potency for its existence, would not really be an unmoved mover at all in the relevant sense, since there'd have to be something outside it actualizing the relevant potency. (Someone might ask: "But couldn't some already actual part of it be doing the actualizing?" If so, though, then that part itself will be the true unmoved mover, and would itself have to require no actualization of a potency relevant to its existence.)
(2) Why the thing can't have potencies irrelevant to its existence which aren't actualized, despite all that's been said here?
Because to get to something which requires no actualization of any potency for its existence just is by itself to get to something that is purely actual, in which case it has no potencies relevant to its operation either. As the Scholastics say, "operation follows being"; to act or operate presupposes existing, and a thing's manner of acting or operating reflects its manner of existing. Hence, if the unmoved mover exists in a way that involves no actualization of any potency, it also operates in a way that involves no actualization of any potency.
Another way to look at it: If we supposed for the sake of argument that an unmoved mover's operation involved potencies even though its existence did not, then we'd be back to the case considered above where we have a distinction between some purely actual part of an unmoved mover and a part involving potencies, in which case the purely actual part would itself really be the true unmoved mover.
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E.Feser: "... "Many of us have the following modal intution," for example, is not a good way to start a philosophical argument."ReplyDelete
People misuse or misapply the term/descriptor 'intuition,' both innocently and not-at-all-innocently, all the time.
E.Feser: "Similarly, I'm happy to allow that intutions, like all sorts of other things, might inspire a certain philosophical idea or line of argument. But I think that they ought to play no justificatory role."
And yet, this opinion -- if really believed -- is exactly equivalent to denying that it is possible for human beings to know anything at all or to justify any claim to possess knowledge.
Suppose we are speaking in person and I demand of you to provide me a fully rational justification for believing that you really do exist, and with the proviso that if you cannot, I shall no longer hold to the belief that you do exist. And suppose that you do not immediately and impatiently blow off the demand as so much sophomoric BS, but rather realize that I have asked a serious question to a serious purpose.
What shall you do? Shall you say, "Here I am! QED!" Have you not appealed to certain of *my* intuitive beliefs, including that:
1) there really is a world external to myself;
1a) this world exists independently of me;
2) my senses and perceptions generally can be relied upon to truly represent that external world;
2a) that my senses and perceptions are functioning properly at this moment and can be trusted to be presenting me an accurate represention of the external world;
3) that, given the above, it would be absurd for me to doubt that you really do exist.
Or, suppose the doubt arises independently to you whether you really do exist. How shall you allay the doubt and rationally justify a return to your previous certainly that you do indeed exist? Shall you simply say, "It would be absurd for me to doubt that I exist," or, shall you add a step by saying, "If I did not exist, I could not be questioning that I exist. And it is absurd to imagine that that-which-exists-not can do ought"?
Now, as you *have not* provided me (or yourself) a fully rational justification for believing that you exist, is it not the case that your own asserted principle demands that neither of us is justified in believing that you exist?
Part of the reason why so much contemporary philosophy relies upon intuition is because most people, philosophy professors included, simply do not exactly know what they are supposed to be doing when they are practicing philosophy. Philosophy has no real definite content as a discipline anymore even though it deserves to stand next to the physical sciences as a branch of proper knowledge or even a genus under which more specific knowledge rests.ReplyDelete
Invoking intuitions is a safe method to proceed when you cannot articulate your fundamental premises and principles but still want to appear to be making progress in some aspect of knowledge. My last philosophy of mind textbook is filled with men who have intuitions about imagined scenarios with aliens and people who speak multiple languages or have little people inside their heads who translate for them. It shouldn't surprise us much, though. Nobody agrees on anything fundamental anymore, it actually makes sense that common prejudice would be looked to after all authentic reasoning has been ejected from the discussion.
Funny, the age of enlightened scientific rationalism relies upon intuitions while the supposedly superstitious medievals applied an intellectual rigor to their thought that makes it almost unintelligible to the modern philosophy student.
What E.R. Bourne said. Exactly. Many analytic philosophers are hopelessly confused about the role of philosophy. They won't acknowledge it as an a priori source of knowledge, but they can't call it a form of empirical inquiry either. All that seems to be left is some kind of half-assed "philosophy reflects on and organizes the knowledge we have acquired from the sciences." It's as if philosophers just do the clarificatory work which scientists haven't got the time for do once they finish up their experiments. Fair enough, but is this kind of "inquiry" really worth anybody's time?ReplyDelete
This is probably why, incidentally, the notion of "reflective equilibrium" is taken as some kind of epistemic gold standard. Philosophers can't prove things, and they can't run experiments, but still, they can push conclusions simply because they are disinclined to change their mind anymore. As if this could, even in principle, somehow confer justification on there beliefs.
Many analytic philosophers are hopelessly confused about the role of philosophy. They won't acknowledge it as an a priori source of knowledge, but they can't call it a form of empirical inquiry either.ReplyDelete
In this case, they are in good company with Socrates, who claimed to know nothing.
Philosophy is the love of wisdom, so how could it be the unmediated, a priori source of knowledge?
Isn't that the kind of mindset that created analytic philosophy in the first place?
Wisdom is born of experience, which is a posteriori.
“Wisdom is born of experience, which is a posteriori.”
Aren’t you discounting the wisdom of others that came before us? Wisdom is also learning from others mistakes. I know it’s a cliché and so very boring but it has much truth.
Another question: Is this truth of yours “Wisdom is born of experience, which is a posteriori” not a priori. If it is not, where does this truth come from? The truth certainly cannot be gained from experience alone. I think experience is necessary but definitely not sufficient for wisdom. Maybe it should be restated as such:
Wisdom is born of experience and tradition.
“Wisdom is born of experience, which is a posteriori.”ReplyDelete
Now if you could just convince the myriad of post-Kantian philosophers that this is the case, maybe we can talk.
And make no mistake, Socrates would be excommunicated from contemporary academia for questioning the dogmatic status of materialism and attempting to encourage moral virtue among the pupils. In this way, he would probably be accused of the same crimes albeit in different terms: not worshiping the city's gods and corrupting its children.
I agree w/ you both, Gordie and ERB.ReplyDelete
"Socrates would be excommunicated from contemporary academia for questioning the dogmatic status of materialism and attempting to encourage moral virtue among the pupils."
Well, let's be perfectly fair here. Has Dr. Feser been excommunicated from contemporary academia?
"Socrates would be excommunicated from contemporary academia for questioning the dogmatic status of materialism and attempting to encourage moral virtue among the pupils."ReplyDelete
Actually if Socrates took a tenure track position and true to form did not tow the line expected within the power group of his little Phil. Dept. -- Gone.
But this is true of any and all possible philosophies: it only matters what the local elite believe, so to borrow from the late Senator Tip O'Neal, a prominent Catholic, "All philosophy is local."
To be fair, Socrates said he knew nothing since God alone was wise, and what human wisdom Socrates had counted for little or nothing in comparison to God. Since contemporary Analytic philosophers are almost all atheists (78%) they are not keeping good company with Socrates at all, but are explicitly denying the very basis of his claim to know nothing.
james "lets be perfectly fair has Dr. Feser been excommunicated from contemporary academia".ReplyDelete
Big bad bustling Brian 'BL' Leiter or 'Ladder Man' as Prof. Vallicella calls him http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/07/the-stickiness-metric.html
tried to rope his lackeys into tar and feathering Dr Feser recently. So there are steps in the official excommunication process.
Following closely upon this was another desperate gambit by the balloon heads that involved changes in the APA constitution to brand affirmations of natural law wrt to homosexual sexual behavior by Christian universities, discriminatory.
Ladder Man is a lonely wraith and great nuisance.
James Chastek, or Dr. Feser, or anyone else,ReplyDelete
According to James Chastek
"Since contemporary Analytic philosophers are almost all atheists (78%)"
Can anyone explain why this is so; or else direct me to any contemporary works which trace the causes of the development of atheism as the strong majority stance of modern analytical philosophers? I mean atheism is a strong affirmative position. I could understand majority agnosticism, given that analytical philosophy can be understood as a reaction against the multiplicity of large scale idealist philosophical systems in continental Europe. But formal atheism seems a rather strong "meta"-philosophy for philosophers whose methodological heritage can be seen as a reaction against, well, "meta"-philosophies??
Thanks in advance for any comments or recommendations.
Perhaps they value, after their fashion, honesty. For 'agnosticism' is just an atheism which hasn't the honesty to admit what it is.ReplyDelete
I speak as someone who is an ex-naturalist and ex-physicalist, and who once towed the Quinean line pretty hard.
There are a lot of reasons for the demographic tilt in favor of atheism. I should note at the start that are a lot of atheists who are of intellectual goodwill and can give a reasoned defense of their position. They are not, however, even close to a majority.
Unfortunately, a lot of atheists simply don't know what intelligent religious people believe. They see us as a kind of curiosity, something to look at with amusement from afar, but not to be taken the least bit seriously. It is rather like the way people reportedly gave David Lewis an "incredulous stare" when he declared that possible worlds are concrete worlds no different from our own. Except that most philosophers actually understand why David Lewis thought this, whereas few of them understand why philosophical theists believe in God. They generally think that all of the theistic arguments were put away by Hume, and there is no point in revisiting them now. They are "so far beyond" all that "religious crap" that they see no point in even bothering with it.
A minor case in point is when a philosopher of religion wrote in Leiter's combox that Plantinga had refuted the logical argument from evil. This is, in fact, the consensus opinion among philosophers of religion, even the atheists. Leiter's reaction? He thought it was a joke, even though it was an accurate statement about the state of play in philosophy of religion. His reaction is the standard one.
At bottom, then, you just cannot motivate many atheists to take Theism seriously. Among other factors, there is a widespread perception that a)none of the arguments for God's existence are any good and b) natural science rationally compels us to be naturalists and physicalists.
The attitudes of most analytic philosophers towards religion is much like their attitude towards Continental philosophy: they are so sure is a bunch of garbage, they don't need to know anything about it in order to dismiss it. Most philosophers just don't care about religion, and don't care that they don't care.
"For 'agnosticism' is just an atheism which hasn't the honesty to admit what it is."ReplyDelete
I am trying to think of the right...oh yes, horseshit.
Go look up the word skeptical.
"The attitudes of most analytic philosophers towards religion is much like their attitude towards Continental philosophy: they are so sure is a bunch of garbage, they don't need to know anything about it in order to dismiss it. Most philosophers just don't care about religion, and don't care that they don't care."ReplyDelete
ASLL philosophy is local.
Just Pretending To Be Thinking characterizes 'agnosticism': "... horseshit."ReplyDelete
You know, I think you're on to something!
There is a reason for the quip that the Latin for 'agnostic' is 'ignoramus.' -- Agnosticism is the assertion that no knowledge at all is possible; but, as no one can live as though it were true that no knowledge at all is possible, in practice agnosticism is just a mealy-mouthed atheism without the basic honesty to own up to its own position.
Ilion is right. Atheists, in throwing "burden of proof" around, like to pretend they don't have to make claims. It's that "presumption of atheism" thing that I hear all the time. An atheism defined merely by a "lack of belief in God or gods" is not really any different from an agnostic, or anyone else that definition can apply to.ReplyDelete
That's true enough about the present-day trend by self-identifying atheists to attempt to redefine atheism so as to make it indistinguishable from formal agnosticism -- and to attempt thereby to attain a trifecta:
1) active God-denial;
2) shirking of any recognition at all of a burden of proof;
3) accolades (self-accolades if that's what it takes) for "just asking questions" -- when the point of the exercise is to stiffle enquiry and the answering of questions.
But, my point was that even if a formal distinction between atheism and agnosticism is respected and maintained, agnosticism is still just po-faced atheism, and that's all it ever was; both are God-denial:
1) one denies God by openly asserting, "God is not;"
2) one denies God by passive-aggressively asserting, "It is impossible to investigate the question of whether God is."
'Atheists' almost never will attend to any argument which aims to show that the assertion/proposition "God is not" is false.
'Agnostics' tend to be even more closed-minded than 'atheists' about examining *their* basic assertion about the fundamental nature of reality.
Ah, I see, you were going after agnostics more than atheists. I gotcha now.ReplyDelete
What is the most "damning" "argument" in the arsenal the typical self-identifying agnostic? It is some variation on “You’re too sure that your opinion is true,” and generally served with a side-dish of “How arrogant!"
It's just that tart, Passive Aggression, tricked out as Queen Reason.
Josh: "Ah, I see, you were going after agnostics more than atheists."ReplyDelete
Well, really, the -isms more than the -ists.
Thank you, your comments were insightful and helpful.
I am particularly interested in this comment of yours:
"b) natural science rationally compels us to be naturalists and physicalists."
Why do you think this notion obtains? Is it argued for? Or is it the case that terms such as "chance", "random selection", "force", "mass-energy", etc simply mask questions of causality with emperiometric jargon such that apparent final causality or teleology can simply be ignored - as if the scientific jargon had resolved the continuing ontological puzzles signified by such terms?
Or, alternatively, I wonder if the thinking sometimes goes roughly like this: "the universe took billions of years to achieve its current form with gads of apparent waste", "the universe is enourmous and mankind is the smallest of specks therein - clearly an accident"; there is then no "God", because if there were a God along the lines posited by traditional theists, He would never make a universe like this one, nor bring it about in such an elongated, haphazard manner.
In short, as to this business of natural science compelling us towards physicalism; I wonder if part of the problem is that theists have failed to produce a macro narrative which explains the same empirical data (a story of the universe) in theistic terms. In other words, a narrative that shows why a universe that developed over long periods of time with lots of waste and apparent defects might indeed be the preferred methodology of God.
I say this, because it seems to me that there is a fairly well developed "naturalistic" narrative with regard to cosmology - a comprehensive (though perhaps overly simplistic)story which indeed implies that natural science "compels" one toward naturalism. There is not, IMO, a well developed theistic counter-narrative cosmology. There are metaphysical proofs to be sure - and I think many of them work - but the cosmological narrative seems lacking.
Just thinking outloud here. I would be intereseted in any aditional thoughts, as an x-atheist, that you might have about this issue.
Please let us know your itinerary if ever you travel so we can be dead certain there is absolutely no possible conceivable way in the whole world that we might get a plane seat next to you.
This is certainty to which absolutely assent.
What is happening in that prozac-starved mind of yours? Have you gone rum-dumb from communion wine? Your services as an echolyte are not as appreciated as the voices in your head may be telling you.
The careful reader may discern why a rational man has no more use for the "nice-nazis" than for the very un-nice persons on whose behalf they make their passive-aggressive demands that all others must bow to their notions of “civility.”ReplyDelete
Good for anon!ReplyDelete
There is not, IMO, a well developed theistic counter-narrative cosmology. There are metaphysical proofs to be sure - and I think many of them work - but the cosmological narrative seems lacking.
Your concern for a naturalist cosmology narrative is at the heart of Ed’s misconstrual of what is primary in such a narrative.
Has anyone here yet defined intuition? Is it vague, like the actual nature of the noumena are vague, because our consciousness is aware only of high-order awareness of the feelings of the contrast posed by propositions of these actualities and the possibilities that might attain to them? Propositions like “the lying tiger is asleep” create a contrast when we are prone to consider what is and might not be, or what might be, but is not. Consciousness is awareness of the contrast of such a proposition. However, the actuality of the perceived tiger is way prior to this conscious intellectual feeling.
Intuitions are our consciousness' weak glimpse of possibility in actual noumenal reality. We have vague feelings of their causal efficacy in our conscious awareness of propositions of which we are consciously aware, but they too are way prior to our proposition formation.
Ray. Forgive me I'm only paraphrasing GKChesterton from a hazy memory but he said something like:ReplyDelete
If the universe were small, it would be used to discredit belief in God because a real God would be far less stingy.
If humans were the only life on earth it would be used against God who ought to have in his so-called plenitude created an abundance of life.
GK again: as soon as one is given a self there is an opportunity for selfishness.
I think the atheist narrative is just incredible; like GK said it amounts to an astonishing failure of imagination. "The universe is a prison, it came from nothing, humans have no free will and so are prisoners inside an even greater prison from which there is no escape; there are no beliefs say the EM's nor meaning, a dead rock of a planet came to life by chance or was seeded by ET. And the efficient cause, the mechanism of NS acting on random mutations explains life in its entirety - in principle there can be no other kind of explanation, and by the way that theory that is supposed to correspond with the 'Truth' doesn't really - it just appears that way, the same with right and wrong and every other humanising pursuit - its all psychologically satisfying but ultimately a great trick.
As a fairytale it is appalling, as some kind of serious representation of physical reality it is a flight of fancy.
And paraphrasing the God-man:
After all the miracles performed in their presence your ancestors still killed the prophets. If you should be raised from the dead and sent back to warn them about hell they would still not believe.
Could we get this on topic...as I recall, I was recently chastized by you for being the cause of such an offense.
JT you are a massive contributor in here, you've read my ONE and only and brief excursion that connected with Ray's post. It has background validity and goes to a priority given to 'particular' intuitions.ReplyDelete
If the content of the post disturbs you don't fret just get out of the way for a short while or ignore. You've had a good go. If you think it takes away from a focus on our host's latest thoughts - you don't have to wait long look here comes a post now that takes up where others left off. You'll be fine.
I hear you (and I love Chesterton). No doubt I would say much the same as yourself as to the inadequacy of the "naturalistic" cosmological narrative. But to point out the flaws in one narritive is far from providing a persuasive alternative. However, I can see that such a narrative will necessarily involve a mix of philosophy, natural science and theology, which happens to be a rare academic amalgum.
Neverthless, I think it needs to be done. Perhaps this is just another way of saying that theologians need to incorporate a much wider field of reference into their discipline (i.e. intertwining the data of revelation with that of philsophical and natural scientific knowledge).
That kind of effort would be quite more complex than much that passes as theology these days, and require a mind much more diverse and nimble than is needed to develop the atheist narrative. But then perhaps that is just the kind of complexity any comprehensive narrative cosmological account would require. As your comments point out, the naturalistic narrative is just too damn simple!
Pax et Bonum,
But to point out the flaws in one narritive is far from providing a persuasive alternative. However, I can see that such a narrative will necessarily involve a mix of philosophy, natural science and theology, which happens to be a rare academic amalgum.ReplyDelete
Might I recommend Alfred North Whitehead's monumental natural cosmology laid out in _Process and Reality_
It fills the bill, but has been dissed by philosophers largely because they cannot understand it. Those who can appreciate its comprehensiveness and beauty.
I think Just Thinking must have read Whitehead at some point, based on what he is saying about how we comprehend.
hello. i am retired and do a great deal of web searching. i am a biologist with interest in psychology and philosophy. i read process and reality many years ago and have read about it many years hence. it is a powerful work of the mind. what stands out about metaphysical speculation of this caliber is the wisdom gained with age. whitehead was in his 60’s when he wrote his opus and such profound thought is best left to us old guys (though i can only claim to share in their gray hair). i am reminded of a professor neighbor who once told me that his colleagues sought tenure and this influenced what they were willing to publish and once they are tenured a relative ease comes over them until they retire and never really get to saying anything profound. in my opinion mr. whitehead was unique in this and we are better for it.ReplyDelete
good thoughts to you all
anon, yes I did, and so should everyone.ReplyDelete
Mr. Shortes...well said!
I'll offer a partial explanation.
A lot of people, including my former self, understand the progress of science as a steady process of "debunking" classical philosophy and religious claims.
There is a naturalistic "bedtime story" that goes something like this: "Once upon a time, mankind lived in superstition and ignorance. He thought that God was responsible for natural phenomena like earthquakes. He thought devils caused diseases and mental illnesses. He thought he was at the center of the universe. He thought he was unique and important and higher than the other animals. Then, along came the heroic scientists like Copernicus and Galileo. They fought against all the forces of superstition and ignorance, and they dethroned man from the center of the universe and showed that all supernatural phenomenon could be explained naturalistically. Then Darwin came along and showed that we are just machines made out of meat. It's depressing but its true, and not everybody has the courage to face up to it. The world is an uncaring machine, there is no god and you don't have a soul. But its not all bad. We now know that there is no reason to follow any moral theories that are inconvenient or demanding. Especially where sex is concerned. The end!"
This, I think, is the background gestalt which sustains the illusion that atheism and naturalism are obligatory to a scientific view of the world. It is very difficult to dislodge because it is repeated over and over and over again by popular writers, journalists, and by many philosophers. Its the sort of thing that anyone can assert and expect to go unchallenged.
It is, however, not even close to being true. After I started reading about the history of science, and got a better grounding in philosophy, I came to see it for what it was: a bedtime story and nothing more, a Promethean myth on all fours with other widely believed but false claims like "we only use ten percent of our brains" and "the U.S. has never started a war nor has it ever lost one."
So long as you are in the grip of the naturalistic bedtime story, you are going to have a hard time taking Theism and classical philosophy seriously. Every criticism of them will seem like it is devastating, and every argument against naturalism looks like it can be overcome eventually. Once the myth looses its grip, however, all bets are off. At least in my case they were.
What myth grips you now?ReplyDelete
No doubt, that is THE bedtime story. And I agree it is nothing remotely close to the truth. I have spent the last year researching the historical movements which lead to the near disappearance of Aristotelian philosophy of nature in exchange for philosophical categories (thought to be) more conducive to natural science, especially physico-mathematical science (Galileo, Newton, etc). I have simultaneously been attempting to gain a layman’s grasp of quantum mechanics and modern genetics.
Call me crazy, but I can see no good reason why Aristotelian natural philosophy is not perfectly compatible with modern empirical science in its various forms. More than that, it is capable of integrating the findings of quantum theory, modern chemistry and modern genetics in a way that the empiriological approach to nature championed by Descartes, Newton and others is not. The stance of physics to nature is simply an approach predicated on attention to only one aspect of the “real: namely the quantitative (what Aristotle and Aquinas call the first accident of nature).
No doubt there are, and have been, great practical benefits derived from abstracting and isolating the quantitative aspect of reality in order to “quantify” it through mathematical modeling. But the quantitative does not circumscribe the “real” – or at least I cannot find a good argument for the proposition that “the quantitative IS the real”. It is simply “taken” as circumscriptive of the real by physicist for methodological purposes: but where is the rational justification for swapping the methodological for the ontological? Many modern analytical philosophers seem to have inherited this swap un-reflexively from their physicist ancestors.
As other scientific disciplines catch up with physics in terms of experimental technique and theoretical precision, it seems clear to me that the hegemony of the “quantitative” approach must disappear. Physical reality is broader than its quantitative constituents. To encounter it through a strictly quantitative lens makes sense for the physicist, but not for biologist or even the chemist – and certainly not for the philosopher. If Descartes had been interested in biology, rather than mathematics or physics, one wonders if he would have jettisoned Aristotelian natural philosophy so quickly. It seems somewhat uncharitable to postulate that Descartes simply represents another case of a scientific specialist wishing to see the parameters of his own specialty supervene across the entire ontological spectrum, but . . .
The philosophical reasons for the ontological departures initiated in the 17th century appear utterly mystifying to me, though they make sense methodologically. Continued philosophical lockstep with the trajectory of those departures puzzles me even more in light of modern developments in the experimental sciences.
I think the naturalist "bedtime story" is in real trouble due to the findings of modern science itself - even if the majority of analytical philosophers have not yet recognized that fact.
There is an article by James Ross which Ed links to on his most recent post called "The Fate of the Analysts: Aristotle's Revenge" which makes just that argument in a powerful way. Well worth the read!
Thanks for the Whitehead recommendation
Thanks for the Whitehead recommendation"
Should you wish to study Whitehead, I can think of no better book than Fr. Thomas Hosinski's _Stubborn Fact and Creative Advance_
Hosinski's dissertation shows compatibility between Catholic theologian Bernard Lonergan and Whitehead.
Ray and EdReplyDelete
I just found this paper by Seager
which outlines all the mind-body efforts of the various philosophers Ed has been mentioning in the last few blogs. here is its conclusion
*Most modern thinkers, save for his own followers, are reluctant to follow Whitehead this far, but therefore find themselves mired in a problem of consciousness which seems utterly intractable. Furthermore, these thinkers also pay little or no attention to Whitehead’s own writings. It is hard to say whether analytic philosophers could, after so many years of neglect, find anything in Whitehead they could adopt or adapt to their style of philosophizing, but I would suggest that in the face of the evident difficulty of the problem of consciousness and the apparent convergence of several lines of argument towards some of Whitehead’s most fundamental ideas, that it is time to have a serious look at Whitehead’s approach to the mind-matter problem*
I see I am not alone in valuing panexperientialism.
Could you briefly say why analytic philosophy so ubiquitously reject Whitehead's work? Is it merely because Hartshorne push it as a religious movement rather than as a speculative solution to the problems of materialism?
Monk68: I can see no good reason why Aristotelian natural philosophy is not perfectly compatible with modern empirical science in its various forms. [...] The stance of physics to nature is simply an approach predicated on attention to only one aspect of the “real": namely the quantitativeReplyDelete
Aristotelianism is rejected because it leads to God. (Well, that and because hardly anyone knows Aristotle nowadays, or much philosophy in general.) It's not just that Aristotelianism is capable of grounding modern science; it's necessary: any philosophy that is at all able to explain science will have to be so close to Aristotelianism as to be considered at least a branch of it. There isn't much of a story as to how science is supposed to work anyway, and what story there is just doesn't work. (As has been discussed previously here, the tiny-billiard-balls theory of science didn't even outlast Newton, really, but it is clung to nevertheless because at least you can't use it to prove God.)
I would say that the issue is not quite quantity versus quality, though; formal and final causes are needed just as much in physics as in biology (though there extra forms and finalities in biology!) — and just as they are used in physics without being acknowledged as such, I expect that they will come to play greater roles in biology but simply be bold-facedly defined to be "not aristotelian".... The qualitative aspects of reality are different from the quantities in important ways, particularly in that the quantitative is the proper object of science. (See my last Frank-vs-Mary post.) The problem is that even to deal with only the quantities, it is still necessary to follow Aristotle (or at the very least, Plato with a heavy dose of aristotelian influence).
I imagine that that's part of the reason. Another part is that Process and Reality appeared at a time when hostility to metaphysics in general was still the dominant tendency in analytic philosophy. And even when positivism finally lost its hold and metaphysics returned to favor in analytic circles, analytic philosophers in general neglected to return to a serious reconsideration of the alternatives the positivists had swept aside (idealism, Aristotelianism, Thomism, process philosophy, etc.) but simply continued in the lazy scientism they had inherited from the positivists, now interpreted in a realist way. (To oversimplify a bit.)
Thanks, that's kinda what I've gathered. Of course it doesn't help that his thinking is a bitch to get your head around or that it appears as though he put reality thru a food processor set on puree.ReplyDelete
What I think will most help PoM guys is in his theory of proposition-centered consciousness occasionally arising from high order experience.
I read someone who made a good observation that his thinking is most useful when taken alegorically, like a myth that can shed useful insight.
Off topic, but Prof. Feser, could we get a movie review of Inception in the near future perhaps?ReplyDelete
Possibly, once I have a chance to see it. I may be writing up something on Memento at some point. I'm a big fan of Christopher Nolan. (But then, who isn't?)ReplyDelete
Armond White of course.ReplyDelete
Dr. Feser, your comment on the relationship between common sense and the moral truth is very interesting. You suggest that the moral truth is responsible for common sense, rather than the other way around. (See quote below.) I was wondering if you might recommend some readings that elaborate this point. Thanks.ReplyDelete
"In ethics, common sense regards the direct, intentional killing of an innocent human being as gravely immoral, and the A-T philosopher agrees with common sense. But it is not that its commonsense status shows that such killing is immoral; rather, the fact that it is gravely immoral accounts for our intuitive sense that it is."
A somewhat careful attempt to make a similar point: Have a look.ReplyDelete
Hi Professor Feser,ReplyDelete
Usually when intuitions come out in debate with other philosophy major peers of mine, they are thought to play a vital role in argumentation. Michael Huemer's Phenomenal Conservatism is usually used in defense of using intuitions in the way in which you appear to think is poor philosophy. However, whenever an A-T philosophy major is in the mix, they invariably refer to this post of yours. I wonder, to help us undergraduates who are indebted to you, may you write a post on Huemer's view?