Saturday, June 29, 2013

Extraordinarily ordinary

There are no such things as tables, only “particles arranged tablewise.”  Or so say certain contemporary metaphysicians, who in the name of science deny the existence of the ordinary objects of our experience.  In her book Ordinary Objects, philosopher Amie Thomasson rebuts such arguments.  (Her work is part of a recent salutary trend, which includes Crawford Elder’s Familiar Objects and their Shadows and Kathrin Koslicki’s The Structure of Objects.)  Thomasson is interviewed over at 3:AM Magazine.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Geach on worshipping the right God

In his essay “On Worshipping the Right God” (available in his collection God and the Soul), Catholic philosopher Peter Geach argues that:

[W]e dare not be complacent about confused and erroneous thinking about God, in ourselves or in others.  If anybody’s thoughts about God are sufficiently confused and erroneous, then he will fail to be thinking about the true and living God at all; and just because God alone can draw the line, none of us is in a position to say that a given error is not serious enough to be harmful. (p. 112)

How harmful?  Well, if a worshipper is not even thinking about the true God, then he is not really worshipping the true God, but something else.  That’s pretty serious.  (I would add to Geach’s concern the consideration that atheistic objections to erroneous conceptions of God can lead people falsely to conclude that the notion of God as such is suspect.  That’s pretty serious too.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mind and Cosmos roundup

My series of posts on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos has gotten a fair amount of attention.  Andrew Ferguson’s cover story on Nagel in The Weekly Standard, published when I was six posts into the series, kindly cited it as a “dazzling… tour de force rebutting Nagel’s critics.”  Now that the series is over it seems worthwhile gathering together the posts (along with some related materials) for easy future reference.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nagel and his critics, Part X

It’s time at long last to bring my series of posts on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos to a close, before it becomes a lot longer than the book itself.  There isn’t, in any event, much more to say about the naturalist critics, most of whom raise objections similar to those on which I’ve already commented.  But I’ve long intended to finish up the series with a post on reviewers coming at Nagel’s book from the other, theistic direction.  So let’s turn to what John Haldane, William Carroll, Alvin Plantinga, and J. P. Moreland have said about Mind and Cosmos.

Though objecting to materialist forms of naturalism, Nagel agrees with his naturalist critics in rejecting theism.  All of the reviewers I will comment on in this post think he does so too glibly.  Naturally, I agree with them.  However, as longtime readers of this blog know, the arguments and ideas often lumped together under the “theism” label are by no means all of a piece.  Thomists and other Scholastics develop their conception of God and arguments for his existence on metaphysical foundations derived from Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophy.  But most contemporary philosophers of religion do not, relying instead on metaphysical assumptions deriving from the modern empiricist and rationalist traditions which defined themselves in opposition to Aristotelianism and Scholasticism.  This is a difference that makes a difference in the reviews of Nagel now under consideration.  Haldane and Carroll, like me, are Thomists, and their approach to Nagel reflects that fact.  But the objections raised by Moreland and Plantinga are to a significant extent different from the sort a Thomist would make.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Body movin’, mind thinkin’

The human body is the best picture of the human soul.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

We recall that John B. Watson did not claim that quite all thought was incipient speech; it was all incipient twitching of muscles, and mostly of speech muscles.

W. V. Quine, “Mind and Verbal Dispositions”

We're getting down computer action
Do the robotic satisfaction

Beastie Boys, “Body Movin’”

To perceive a human being behaving in certain characteristic ways just is to perceive him as thinking.  There are two ways to read such a claim: Quine’s and Watson’s reductionist way, and Wittgenstein’s anti-reductionist way.  The Beastie Boys, of course, were putting forward a computational-functionalist variation on Quinean behaviorism.  (OK, not really.  Just pretend.  It’s a better quote than any I could have gleaned from a functionalist philosopher.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Naturalism in the news

On the subject of naturalism, Raymond Tallis opines in The Guardian, Massimo Pigliucci reports at Philosophy Now, and Daniel Dennett is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.  James Ladyman, co-author of the influential Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, gets a prominent mention in each piece.  Which gives me an excuse for some photoshopping fun (with apologies both to Ladyman and to Tim Meadows).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mackie’s argument from queerness

In his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, J. L. Mackie famously put forward his “argument from queerness” against the objectivity of moral values.  The argument has both a metaphysical aspect and an epistemological aspect.  Mackie writes:

If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.  Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else. (p. 38)

Mackie’s claim is that we simply have no good reason to believe either in such odd entities as objective values or in an odd special faculty of moral knowledge.  We can explain everything that needs to be explained vis-à-vis morality by analyzing values in terms of our subjective responses to certain events in the world, and Ockham’s razor favors this approach to the alternative given the latter’s “queerness.”