Sunday, February 26, 2012

Popper contra computationalism

Karl Popper was an important critic of materialist theories of the mind.  His most significant and original criticism is an argument against the possibility of a causal theory of intentionality -- an argument I discuss at length in my recent paper “Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind.”  But Popper also put forward, albeit sketchily, an argument that implies the impossibility of a computational theory of the mind in particular.  The argument is presented in The Self and Its Brain, a book he co-wrote with neuroscientist John Eccles.  It foreshadows arguments later presented by John Searle and by proponents of what has come to be known as the “argument from reason,” such as Victor Reppert and William Hasker.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hayek and Popper on the mind

My paper “Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind,” which recently appeared in a volume of Advances in Austrian Economics devoted to the theme Hayek in Mind: Hayek’s Philosophical Psychology, is currently available online in its entirety via Google Books.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to animate a corpse

One of the downsides of being a philosopher is that it makes it harder to suspend disbelief when watching horror flicks.  Plot holes become more glaring and speculations seem wilder when one’s business is looking for fallacies.  On the other hand, there is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it; hence there’s no one better placed to find a way to make even the most preposterous yarn seem at least remotely plausible.  A case in point, submitted for your approval: My take on a segment from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, adapted from H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “Cool Air.”  (You can find it on Hulu and YouTube.)  Watching it for the first time recently, I was annoyed by what at first seemed to me an obviously nonsensical twist ending.  On further reflection, there is a way to make sense of it, if one makes the appropriate metaphysical assumptions.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cal Poly Pomona seminar

This coming Saturday, February 25, I’ll be speaking at Cal Poly Pomona at a seminar on the theme “Does God Exist?” sponsored by the Cal Poly Pomona Catholic Newman Club.  The other speakers are Dr. Ronda Chervin and Fr. John Bullock.  More information is available here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The metaphysics of romantic love

Traditional natural law theory is often accused of reducing sexual morality to mere anatomy, the proper fitting together of body parts.  The charge is unjust.  To be sure, because we are animals of a sort, the natural ends of our bodily organs cannot fail to be partially definitive of what is good for us.  But because we are rational animals, our bodily goods take on a higher significance, participating in our intellectual and volitional powers.  These goods, the rational and the bodily, cannot be sundered or compartmentalized, because man is a unity, not a ghost in a machine.  Even eating participates in our rationality -- food becomes cuisine, and a meal becomes in the normal case a social occasion.  Sex is no different, and the ends toward which it is aimed by nature are as rational, as distinctively human, as they are bodily and animal.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

John Hick (1922-2012)

The Prosblogion reports that philosopher of religion John Hick has died.  I knew Hick twenty years ago, during his final semester at the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), when I took the last course he taught there.  He was a kind man and one of the best teachers I ever had.  He was also a good, clear writer, and his work in philosophy of religion was informed by a deep knowledge of the history of Christian theology and of the world religions.  His book Evil and the God of Love is one of the most important works on the problem of evil in recent philosophy and theology, and made a great impression on me when I first read it as a young man.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review of Atkins and Feyerabend

Readers of the Claremont Review of Books may want to look for my review, in the latest issue, of Peter Atkins’ On Being and Paul Feyerabend’s The Tyranny of Science.  Feyerabend’s book (which would more accurately have been called The Tyranny of Scientism) is a small gem.  Atkins’ book, not so much.  At the moment the review is behind a pay wall, but my understanding is that the content will eventually be made available online for free.  So you could wait.  Or you could do the fine folks at CRB a favor and subscribe.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Contraception, subsidiarity, and the Catholic bishops

By now you may have heard that the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, has issued a mandate that will require Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities to pay for contraceptives, including abortifacients, for their employees -- despite the fact that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception and abortion are intrinsically gravely immoral.  The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has vigorously denounced this act of tyranny, and is working to reverse it.  That is good, and we Catholics should support their efforts.  But it would have been better if the bishops had been equally vigorously upholding Catholic teaching on contraception and subsidiarity over the last several decades, and disciplining Catholics in public life who obstinately promote policies that the Church regards as inherently gravely evil.  Had they done so, it is unlikely that this outrage ever would have been perpetrated in the first place.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part VII

Pressing on through Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, we come to Rosenberg’s treatment of morality.  Followed out consistently, Rosenberg says, scientism entails nihilism.  As Rosenberg is keen to emphasize, this is not the same as moral relativism or moral skepticism.  It is not the claim that moral truth is relative, or that it is real but unknowable.  Nor is it the claim that everything is morally permitted.  It is a far more radical and disturbing claim than any of these views.  Nihilism, as Rosenberg understands it, is the view that there is no such thing as being “morally permitted” or “morally prohibited” in the first place.  For there is, given Rosenberg’s scientism, no intrinsic value in the world of the sort that is necessary for morality to be intelligible.  Morality -- not just commonsense or traditional morality, not just religious morality, but all morality, morality as such, including any purported secular, liberal, permissive morality -- is therefore an illusion.