Friday, February 25, 2022

Taylor on cognition, teleology, and God

In his book Metaphysics, a classic brief and lucid introduction to the subject, Richard Taylor devotes a chapter to the topic of God.  Most of the attention philosophers have paid to it seems to focus on his version of the cosmological argument, which is indeed a fine brief exposition and defense.  But Taylor also presents a second argument, of a broadly teleological sort.  It is decidedly not a variation on Paley’s design argument (of which, as longtime readers know, I am not a fan).  It is much more interesting and metaphysically deep than that, and at least in a general way closer to the spirit of Aquinas’s Fifth Way (even if it is not quite the same as Aquinas’s argument either).

Stones and semantics

Taylor begins by asking us to consider a couple of scenarios.  Suppose you are traveling by train through the UK and, peering out the window, you see an arrangement of stones in a pattern that looks like this: THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES.  You would naturally assume that the stones had been deliberately arranged that way by someone, in order to convey the message that you are entering Wales.  Now, it is possible in theory that the stones got into that arrangement in a very different way, through the operation of impersonal and purposeless natural causes.  Perhaps, over the course of centuries, the stones gradually tumbled down a nearby hill, and each one stopped in a way that generated just that pattern.  This is, of course, extremely improbable, but that is irrelevant to Taylor’s point and he allows for the sake of argument that it could happen.

Taylor’s point is rather this.  Even if you could reasonably entertain the latter possibility, what you could not reasonably do is both accept it as the correct explanation of the arrangement of stones and at the same time continue to regard that arrangement as conveying the message that you are entering Wales.  The arrangement could intelligibly be conveying that message only if there is some intelligence behind its origin, which brought it about for the purpose of conveying the message.  If, instead, the arrangement came about through unintelligent and purposeless causes, then it cannot intelligibly be said to convey that message, because it could not in that case intelligibly be conveying any message at all.

Or, to take Taylor’s second example, suppose a rock were dug up from the ground and found to be covered with an interesting set of marks, of roughly the same size and arrangement that the letters and sentences of a book might exhibit.  One explanation of the marks might be that they had been formed by some impersonal and purposeless natural process, such as glaciation or volcanic activity, which simply happened by chance to result in a pattern that looked like writing.  Whether or not this is likely is, again, not to the point, and Taylor allows for the sake of argument that it might be a perfectly reasonable explanation. 

Another possible explanation, of course, is that it really is writing.  Suppose some scholar studied the stone on this assumption, and proposed that the correct translation of the marks would be: HERE KIMON FELL LEADING A BAND OF ATHENIANS AGAINST THE FORCES OF XERXES.  Now, Taylor allows for the sake of argument that you could opt either for the first explanation or the second.  But what you cannot reasonably do is suppose both that the marks arose through an entirely impersonal and purposeless natural process and at the same time that they really do convey the message represented by the proposed translation.  For if they arose through an impersonal and purposeless process, they cannot convey any message at all.

I hasten to emphasize again that Taylor’s point has nothing whatsoever to do with probabilities, and in particular nothing to do with how likely or unlikely it is for arrangements of the kind in question to form via natural processes.  He allows, for the purposes of the argument, that that could happen.  His point is rather that, no matter how complex and orderly are the arrangements of physical components that might be generated by purely impersonal and purposeless natural processes, they could never by themselves generate something with intentional or semantic content.  (This way of putting things is mine rather than Taylor’s.)  This is not a point about probabilities, but rather a conceptual and metaphysical truth.  Neither stones nor marks on a rock have any inherent connection with any semantic content we might decide to convey through them.  The content they might have must derive from a mind which uses them for the purpose of conveying such content.  Delete such a mind from an explanation of the arrangements of stones or marks, and you delete the semantic content along with it.

Minds and meaning

Taylor then asks us to consider our perceptual and cognitive faculties.  These too we take to have intentional or semantic content.  We have visual experiences such as the perception that there is a cat on the mat, auditory experiences such as the perception that someone has just rung the doorbell, and so on.  We have the thought that there will be rain tomorrow, the thought that two and two make four, and so on.  We take it that a visual experience like the one in question is not merely the presentation to the mind of an array of colors and shapes, and that the auditory experience in question is not merely a sequence of sounds, but that the experiences convey the messages that the cat is on the mat and that someone is at the door.  Of course, we might be misperceiving things, but that is not to the point.  The point is that the experiences do convey those messages, whether or not the messages are accurate.  Similarly, we take it that when we “see” or “hear” a sentence like “There will be rain tomorrow” as it passes through our imaginations, this is not a mere string of internally apprehended sounds or shapes, but conveys the meaning that there will be rain tomorrow.

Now, Taylor is happy to allow for the sake of argument that, as with the arrangement of stones you see out the train window and as with the series of marks on the rock that has been dug up, our sensory organs and neural structures may have arisen through entirely impersonal and purposeless natural processes, such as evolution by natural selection.  He is not interested in challenging the probability of such explanations.  He writes:

The mere complexity, refinement, and seemingly purposeful arrangement of our sense organs do not, accordingly, constitute any conclusive reason for supposing that they are the outcome of any purposeful activity.  A natural, nonpurposeful explanation of them is possible, and has been attempted – successfully, in the opinion of many.  (p. 117 of the second edition)

Notice that he includes the “seemingly purposeful arrangement” of our sense organs as among the considerations that do not suffice to show real purpose.  The arrangement of stones you see out the train window and the marks you see on the rock seem purposeful, but Taylor allows that that may be an illusion.  Similarly, he allows that our sense organs could seem to have a purposeful arrangement and yet be purposeless for all that.  His argument has nothing at all to do with how likely or unlikely it is that the appearance of purpose could arise from purposeless impersonal process.

What he is concerned about instead is the case where we suppose our sense organs and neural processes to have genuine purpose, and in particular where we suppose our perceptual experiences and thoughts to have genuine intentional or semantic content.  And he wants to make a point that parallels the point he made about the arrangement of stones and the marks on the rock.  We could take the deliverances of our sense organs and neural states to have genuine intentional or semantic content.  Or we could take those organs and states to have arisen through entirely impersonal and purposeless natural processes.  What we cannot reasonably do is both of these things at once.  In particular, we cannot intelligibly both take these cognitive faculties to have arisen through entirely impersonal and purposeless processes and at the same time regard them as having genuine intentional or semantic content – as conveying any message about cats on mats, the ringing of doorbells, rain tomorrow, or anything else. 

The cases, Taylor argues, are in all relevant respects parallel.  Delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of the arrangement of stones or the marks on the rock, and you delete any semantic content along with them.  Similarly, if you delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of our cognitive faculties, then you delete any intentional or semantic content along with them.  You can have one or the other account, but not both. 

Now, our cognitive faculties do in fact have intentional or semantic content.  We really do have perceptual experiences with the content that the cat is on the mat, thoughts with the content that it will rain tomorrow, and so on.  Since this is intelligible only on the supposition that our cognitive faculties originated via some mind and its purposes, there must be some intelligent being that brought us about with the aim of having our cognitive faculties convey to us information about the world around us. 

Taylor does not elaborate further.  Presumably he would identify this mind with the necessary being whose existence he argues for earlier in the chapter, by way of a version of the cosmological argument.  But if so, he does not explain how.  Indeed, he makes only modest claims for his arguments, and leaves it an open question what relevance they might have for religion.  If the chapter can be said to defend theism, it is a purely philosophical theism that does not entail (though it also does not rule out) a specifically Jewish, Christian, or Muslim conception of God and his relationship to the world.

Some bad objections

Taylor does address several objections that he suggests some readers might take to be obvious, but which in fact simply miss the point.  For example, some may point out that our cognitive faculties are not always reliable.  As Taylor says, this is irrelevant.  The point isn’t that our cognitive faculties convey accurate messages, but rather that they convey any message at all.  Consider once again the case of the arrangement of stones that you see out the train window.  If you suppose that it arose through purely impersonal and purposeless processes, then it isn’t just that you can’t regard it as accurately telling you where you are.  The point is rather that you can’t intelligibly regard it as telling you anything at all.  By the same token, Taylor argues, if you suppose that your cognitive faculties arose through purely impersonal and purposeless processes, then what would follow is not merely that they don’t accurately represent the world but rather that they don’t represent anything at all, whether accurately or inaccurately.

A second bad objection would be to suggest that Taylor is presenting an inductive argument from analogy, which is no stronger in this case than when Paley presents such an argument.  As Taylor emphasizes, he is not, in the relevant sense, presenting an argument from analogy.  In particular, he is not making a point about how improbable it is that a certain complex natural structure arose apart from intelligent design, given how similar it is to human artifacts.  On the contrary, he explicitly concedes that the complexity, refinement, and appearance of purpose that our sensory and cognitive faculties exhibit could have arisen through unintelligent processes, just as the arrangement of stones could have.

True, he does draw an analogy between the arrangement of stones on the one hand and our cognitive faculties on the other.  But the point of the analogy is simply to illustrate the general principle that it is metaphysically impossible for something to have actual intentional or semantic content (as opposed to the mere appearance of such) if it arose entirely from impersonal and purposeless processes.  He is not giving an inductive “argument from analogy” of the form: “A is like B, so the cause of A is probably like the cause of B.”  Again, probabilities are not what is in question.

A third bad reply, Taylor says, would be to suggest that, even if our faculties arose through entirely impersonal and purposeless processes, we have good inductive grounds for taking them to be reliable.  One problem with this, as he points out, is that such an argument would be circular.  For in order to get such an inductive argument off the ground, you’d have to rely on your cognitive faculties, and whether they are reliable in that case is precisely what is in question.

But the problem is deeper than that (and I think that in his response to this particular objection Taylor could have made the point clearer).  For as I have said, the point is not merely that our cognitive faculties would not reliably convey messages if they arose via purely impersonal and purposeless processes.  The point is that they would not convey any messages at all, that they would be as utterly devoid of intentional or semantic content as an arrangement of stones that formed via impersonal and purposeless processes.  And they would first have to have such content for us to be able to get any inductive argument, or any argument at all, off the ground.  Hence this third objection to Taylor simply misses the point.

A fourth bad objection addressed by Taylor would be to appeal to survival value as a reason to think that our cognitive faculties are reliable.  Taylor notes in response that the deliverances of our sensory and cognitive faculties far outstrip anything that could plausibly be said to have survival value.  But here too I think he could and should have made a stronger point, which is that the appeal to survival value also misses the point.

Suppose that the power to become immaterial at will would afford my descendants tremendous survival value.  (I’ve seen this example used by someone else, by the way, but I do not recall where.)  Does it follow that, through mutation, natural selection, and the like, such a power might arise in the generations that follow me?  No, because there is no plausible mechanism by which that power, specifically, might arise through such processes.  Or suppose that an organism would gain tremendous survival value from being a round square.  Does it follow that round squares might evolve via mutation, natural selection, and the like?  Of course not, because round squares are logically impossible.  Appeal to “survival value” is mere hand-waving without some plausible process by which a property or power could actually arise.

Now, the deep point behind Taylor’s argument is that you simply aren’t going to get intentional or semantic content from entirely impersonal and purposeless processes any more than you are going to get immateriality or round squares out of them, so that appeal to the survival value of having such content is a red herring. 

Evolution and cognition

Notice that, though Taylor is not explicit about it, this is compatible with an evolutionary story about the origin of our cognitive faculties.  It just isn’t compatible with a materialistic-and-mechanistic evolutionary story about the origin of our cognitive faculties – one that entirely excludes mind and purpose from the story. 

Daniel Dennett characterizes Darwinian evolutionary theory as a style of explanation that excludes any “mind first” account of the world, viz. an account that takes mind to be a fundamental feature of reality, rather than one that derives from non-mental phenomena.  But while this is true of Dennett’s preferred style of evolutionary explanation, it is not true of evolutionary explanations as such, not even Darwinian ones.  (See chapter 6 of Aristotle’s Revenge for discussion of this issue.)  And Taylor’s point is that whether or not evolutionary processes are part of the story of the origin of our cognitive faculties, we must in fact affirm a “mind first” account of the world.  There would simply be no minds like ours at all if there were not a more fundamental kind of mind to bring them into being.

Some readers will have noted that Taylor’s argument is reminiscent of the “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” that Alvin Plantinga would develop years later (and which I have discussed in other places, such as this one).  But there are some important differences, and differences that, in my view, make Taylor’s argument the metaphysically deeper and more interesting one.  In Plantinga’s argument, there is a lot of heavy-going about probabilities.  But as I’ve been emphasizing, the point really has nothing essentially to do with probabilities at all, and in my opinion Plantinga’s emphasis on them just muddies the waters.  Second, Plantinga focuses on the question of whether our cognitive faculties would be reliable if they arose through entirely impersonal and purposeless natural processes.  But the deeper question is whether they would have any intentional or semantic content at all (whether reliable or not) if they arose in that manner.

193 comments:

  1. This is like the opposite of the Chinese Room.

    On one hand you have the "looks like Chinese but who or what did it?"

    Now we have, "I think, therefore I was MADE to think". (but by who?)

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  2. Ed

    A crater on the moon came about through the operation of impersonal and purposeless natural causes.
    Yet, it has semantic content, because it says "a meteor has struck this place". This is a very simple analogy, but it shows that Taylor's argument isn't as straightforward as you seem to think.

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    Replies
    1. Walter,

      I was considering a similar objection. If you redefine semantics and intentionality to be something to the effect of a natural potency or a natural effect, you can say that one’s thought “It will rain” as semantic content insofar as there is a state of affairs that has a high probability of rain, and that neural pathways are actualized in a way such that the animal is conscious of a set of phantasms interpreted as “It will rain”. Of course I think even this situation requires an explanation via something like Aquinas’ Fifth Way, but does it preserve Taylor’s argument? I think it will ultimately become a debate on what counts as semantic and intentional content.

      I would love to hear Dr. Feser’s take on this objection, if he has the time.

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    2. Walter,

      I'm not sure your objection answers the fundamental question at issue. In your example, our mind can understand the message (or reason to the message) "a meteor has struck this place" because we take in the image of the crater and deduce the meaning from our understanding of the the natural world and physics. But that is exactly what is at issue as Ed says in the post:

      "We take it that a visual experience like the one in question is not merely the presentation to the mind of an array of colors and shapes, and that the auditory experience in question is not merely a sequence of sounds, but that the experiences convey the messages that the cat is on the mat and that someone is at the door. Of course, we might be misperceiving things, but that is not to the point. The point is that the experiences do convey those messages, whether or not the messages are accurate. Similarly, we take it that when we “see” or “hear” a sentence like “There will be rain tomorrow” as it passes through our imaginations, this is not a mere string of internally apprehended sounds or shapes, but conveys the meaning that there will be rain tomorrow."

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    3. There is a clear difference between saying "This is a pattern of rock on a hill" vs "THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES."

      So yer example seems trivial.

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    4. You're just begging the question. Taylor lays out the reason why you cannot have semantic content without an intelligent, intentional cause. Semantic signs are only intelligible with reference to the intentional agent who presents them to us. You cannot attribute semantic content to a crater on the moon without implicitly attributing intentionality to its natural causes.

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    5. Walter (and those saying similar things),

      You are committing a fallacy of confusing:

      (I) something’s having properties from which we can infer other things about it and then go on to express that knowledge in sentences like “A meteor struck this place”

      with

      (II) something’s having semantic content, like the sentence “A meteor struck this place” does, or something’s having intentional content the way that the thought that a meteor struck this place does.

      (I) is true of a crater but (II) is not. This should be obvious, and if there is any doubt consider:

      1. If a crater has semantic content in the same way that a sentence does, in what language is the crater “written”? English? German? French? Should we call linguists out rather than geologists in order to figure out how craters are formed?

      2. If a crater has the semantic content you claim it has, why didn’t people always know that craters are caused by meteors? Why did we need to carry out scientific investigation to determine this, any more than you need to carry out scientific investigation in order to read a menu or a magazine?

      3. If the fact that craters are caused by meteors entails that a crater has the semantic content “A meteor struck this place,” then it would follow that everything that was caused in any way – and thus absolutely everything in the physical world around us – also has semantic content in the way that a sentence does. Stones, eggs, twigs, mud, balls of lint, dust, blades of grass, etc. etc. – all of them have semantic content, just as the words in a book do. This is preposterous, and anyone tempted to take it seriously either (a) doesn’t know what “semantic content” means or (b) is in the grip of an ideology and intent on following it out ad absurdum.

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    6. Ed

      I don't have much time, so I Will be brief.

      Of course sentences are intended to concept meaning, while craters do not intend anything, but I have never claimed that the craters intends to tell us anything, but it neverthelesd does tell us something.

      To answer your questions

      1. In thé language of nature.
      2 Because knowledge comes from experience. I am not a native speaker ofEnglish, so if,when I was 10 years old my parents had taken me to visit Wales, I wouldn't have understood thé sentences.
      3. Yes, every thing has a semantic content of some kind. Some have more complex content than others, of course.

      '










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    7. Dr. Feser,

      Okay I think that answers my concerns. You are definitely correct that in that sense, one thing has semantic content and another does not. So anyone who accepts the reality of semantic content would have to accept Dr. Taylor’s argument.

      So ultimately, the debate would reduce to whether one can reasonably be an eliminativist qua semantic content (which I am certainly not, but I am also not very knowledgeable on the subject). It seems that saying “everything has semantic content” simply reduces to eliminativism the way pantheism reduces to atheism. Or as Syndrome from The Incredibles said, “If everyone is super, then no one is”.

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    8. Walter,

      Do you believe that "nature" is an intelligent being that communicates to us?

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    9. Mister Geocon

      No, I don't believe nature is an intelligent being but I do believe it "communicates" to us.

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    10. @Walter, writes:

      A crater on the moon came about through the operation of impersonal and purposeless natural causes. Yet, it has semantic content, because it says "a meteor has struck this place". This is a very simple analogy, but it shows that Taylor's argument isn't as straightforward as you seem to think.

      This misses the point entirely. Arguing that an impression on the moon has semantic content presupposes a mind which is capable of inferring something intelligible from that data. But that is precisely what is at issue—whether something (sensory organs) which is the product of mindless evolution is capable of having intentionality. As rock arrangements on a hillside are mindless patterns, so too are sensory patterns. Indeed, “semantic content” is nonsensical without a mind to apprehend it. A discussion on the topic can’t even occur because the precondition for such a discussion is missing if mindless evolution is correct.

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    11. @Mr. Geocon:

      I was about to post the same.

      What's the point of "Nature" "creating a language" to communicate itself if there's no one around to interpret it? Or did "Nature" know from the beginning that we H. sapiens would finally appear and "she" left all those "messages" there for us to interpret?

      But if "she" knew we would appear and "nature is all there is", then it follows that "nature" had intended our creation ("nature" is now = "God"). So "nature" is self-aware! Hahaha.

      The unending non-sense coming from the atheist brigade is astounding.

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    12. @Walter Van den Acker:

      Because knowledge comes from experience.

      Knowledge comes from the apprehesion of reality by an adequate noetic apparatus.

      A dog could look 1000 times to a crater and he would never "know" anything about "meteors being the result of a crater impact", let alone about any "language of nature".

      So your dear "nature" is discriminatory in the extreme and seems to have preference for H. sapiens. How un-woke.

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    13. @Walter Van den Acker:

      Yes, every thing has a semantic content of some kind. Some have more complex content than others, of course.

      1. And your PROOF for this assertion is?
      2. Granting, for the sake of argument, that it's true (which you are going to have a lot of trouble to explain), that would then
      mean that it's false that nature is "meaningless" and that it's the human mind the one that has to impose meaning on it. The basic tenet of naturalism/atheism has been therefore destroyed.

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    14. Bill

      Suppose I am thé only mond capable of inferrong something intelligible and I witte, 'Welcome Yo Wales', does that message have semantic content?
      Something has semantic content of it conveys something about reality.



      .





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    15. Walter Van den Acker has given rise to pan-semantism.

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    16. @Walter writes,

      Suppose I am thé only mond capable of inferrong something intelligible and I witte, 'Welcome Yo Wales', does that message have semantic content? Something has semantic content of it conveys something about reality.

      Sorry, but I think your cheese has done slid off your biscuit.

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    17. Even if we grant for the sake of argument the idea that a crater on the moon has semantic content such as "A meteor struck this place," it is self-defeating as an argument for mechanistic materialism.

      Why? Well, as should be self-evident, a crater on the moon only possesses such "semantic content" (to the extent that it does, which is not at all) for rational agents capable of observing the crater, grasping what it is, and inferring how it was created.

      Now if, as this argument requires, this semantic content is objectively real and not merely a projection of our minds, then we have an objectively real feature of the world that depends for its existence on rational intellects, and that in turn implies that rational intellects are themselves objectively real, and in a substantial, irreducible way, not merely as something epiphenomenal or a matter of convention that we project onto material objects.

      Since moon craters preexist human intellects, a further implication is that there was a mind that preexists them. And since this "semantic content" allegedly exists in all material things, including everything that existed before there were any human rational intellects, it implies that the entire physical universe comes from a mind and that reality is mind-first after all.

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    18. @ The Deuce:

      What a good post. And, either way, mechanistic materialism is a loser philosophy that blocks any access to extra-mental reality, so no materialist could acquire any knowledge at all (no meteors, no craters, no moon... nothing).

      As Profesor Feser has noted, materialism is "The Last Superstition". Time to get rid of it.

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    19. The deuce

      Your reply begs the question. It already presupposes that which you want to prove, namely that semantic content cannot exist without a mind.

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    20. On the contrary, you asserted (with no justification) that a moon crater carries the semantic content "A meteor struck this place" much as human words and sentences do.

      The only way to make intelligible sense of that assertion is that a crater carries such semantic content by virtue of the fact that a rational agent can infer said content from observing the crater.

      Without that, your assertion amounts to an unintelligible string of words rather than a coherent idea that can be replied to at all.

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    21. The deuce

      I didn't say that the crater carries the semantic content much as human words and sentences do, I said that it carries some kind of semantic content,
      When you say only a mind van conveys semantic content you are berging thé question, because that is what you are supposed to show.


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    22. @Walter Van den Acker,

      Semantic content can only occur (or exist) in language. Sentient creatures with a mind have the capacity to use languages. So they can talk about or share with others what they think about craters. But there literally is no content inside of what they think (i.e. inside their thoughts).

      It is true that when referring to someone's thoughts we talk about the 'content of their thought' but that is just the way we have of identifying the thought. A thought's content is parasitic upon language.

      As The Deuce tried to point out, it simply makes no sense to say the crater has some kind of semantic content. Craters cannot 'carry' any kind of semantic content. Only languages can do that.

      Any semantic content in regards to craters is in the language we use to talk about and refer to craters.

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    23. @Walter Van den Acker,

      Just wanted to add that the fact I agree with The Deuce regarding semantic content does not imply I agree with his metaphysical beliefs. I am coming from the analytical tradition which deals with conceptual clarification rather than the de re essences of things.

      P.M.S. Hacker summarizes it nicely in his book "Human Nature:The Categorial Framework":
      The study of the nature of things, in another sense, belongs to philosophy. This investigation has sometimes been characterized as the quest for the essential nature of things, and contrasted with the empirical sciences that are conceived to study their contingent nature. In past ages such investigation was allocated to the Queen of the Sciences – metaphysics. The de re essences of things provided the subject matter of metaphysical philosophy, and their disclosure its sublime task. This, however, was an illusion. There is no such thing as metaphysics thus conceived, and no such subject matter for philosophy to investigate.
      It is one thing to grant that substances of a given kind have essential as well as accidental properties, or that the instantiation of certain properties or relations entails the instantiation or exclusion of certain other properties and relations. It is quite another to hold that propositions that state the essential properties of a given substance or the relations of inclusion or exclusion that hold between properties and relations describe mind-independent, language-independent, metaphysical necessities in reality. What appear here to be descriptions of de re necessities are actually norms of representation. That is, they are not descriptions of how things are, but implicit prescriptions (rules) for describing how things are. Consider the following four propositions:

      (i) A material object is a three-dimensional space-occupying entity that can be in motion or at rest and consists of matter of one kind or another.
      (ii) Every event is temporally related to every other event.
      (iii) Nothing can simultaneously be red all over and also green all over.
      (iv) Every rod has a length.

      Such propositions appear to be descriptions. They are what we think of as necessary truths, for, to be sure, nothing can be a material object that is not a space-occupant or that does not consist of material stuff; it is inconceivable that there be an event that is neither earlier nor later nor yet simultaneous with, or a constituent phase of, any other event, or that something be both red all over and green all over simultaneously; and it is not a contingent matter that we shall never find a rod without a length.
      Appearances are deceptive. These sentences express rules for the use of their constituent terms in the guise of descriptions.

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    24. I didn't say that the crater carries the semantic content much as human words and sentences do, I said that it carries some kind of semantic content

      Then you are simply writing the words "semantic content" without actually referring to anything. You may as well have said that craters possess flaggenbiggles. Furthermore, it turns out you are now actually affirming Ed's original contention that such things as craters do not possess semantic content, and that when you claimed they did, you weren't actually disagreeing with him at all but merely changing the subject and using the same words to refer to something else.

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    25. The Deuce

      What i mean by "semantic content" is that the crater conveys something about reality, and not just that it is a crater, but something more.
      AFAIK, a crater possessing "flaggenbiggles" does not convey anything about reality.

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    26. What i mean by "semantic content" is that the crater conveys something about reality

      And now you're back to a definition of semantic content that is dependent on the concept of rational observers. A crater doesn't convey anything in the absence of someone to whom it is conveyed. I suppose next you'll go in circles again and say that by "convey" you mean some sort of "conveying" that doesn't depend on anything being conveyed.

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    27. @ficino4ml:

      Ryle posits that "bodies are in space and are subject to the mechanical laws which govern all other bodies in space. .. But minds are not in space, nor are their operations subject to mechanical laws."

      Isn't that platonism? If minds are not in space, where are they? In another realm?

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    28. The Deuce

      I mean "convey" in some analogous way.

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    29. @Walter Van den Acker:

      Since in this thread you proposed that reality is "non-existent", I don't believe you have any grounds to talk about how it's constituted and what it "conveys" to us. A tinfoil hat would suit you fine.

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    30. Just to inform the unbiased reader of this discussion. I have never proposed that reality is non-existent.
      That's one of the many straw men my opponents have been erecting because they were incapable of refuting my actual argument.
      Anyway, whatever I proposed or did not propose in another thread is off-topic in this thread.

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    31. @Walter Van den Acker:

      You should inform the unbiased reader that your account of reality is that it's constituted "only by potentials", which leads to the conclusion that reality has never come to be, ergo, reality does not exist. With such an astonishing "argument" you pretend to "destroy" A-T metaphysics (notice the irony) because you find it "absurd" (notice the irony again).

      Now the unbiased reader must be informed that Walter's favorite tactic is the recourse to the so called "fallacy of equivocation". He keeps changing meanings ad nauseaum and negating what he has previously said. After a long number of posts, he finally asserts that he has been "misunderstood", declares "victory" and jumps onto another thread.

      Unbiased reader, that's Walter Van den Acker in a nutshell :)

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    32. Stop derailing this thread.
      I stopped the discussion in thé thread you linked to make room there for your insults and straw men.



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    33. @Walter Van den Acker:

      Fine. I'll do it when you stop writing non-sense :)

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  3. @Walter Van den Acker,
    A crater on the moon, along with smoke in a forest or rain clouds in the sky are natural meanings. Natural meanings are evidential correlations. In these cases one thing signifies, is a natural sign, of another thing.
    Non-natural meanings may be either linguistic or non-linguistic. Traffic signs, icons and store signs are examples of non-linguistic cases of non-natural meaning. Obviously, the English language is a linguistic case. Non-natural meanings are set by convention.

    I don't know how this affects the examples in the OP. But it should be clear that there are important differences between natural meaning and non-natural meaning, so they shouldn't be treated as the same thing.

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    1. Hal

      I agree that non-natural meanings rare set by convention, but the claim that "If, instead, the arrangement came about through unintelligent and purposeless causes, then it cannot intelligibly be said to convey that message, because it could not in that case intelligibly be conveying any message at all" is demonstrably false because, as you seem to agree on, there are natural meanings, and if there are natural meanings, there is a message.

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    2. @Walter Van den Acker,

      But the natural meanings are evidential correlations that a human being with a mind can make.
      I don't think 'evidential correlations' are messages. So it simply makes no sense to think a message is being conveyed.

      In any case, I'm surprised anyone would take the fact that by happenstance some random forces in nature accidentally created a pattern that resembles some words in our language proves anything other than that strange coincidences do occur in our world.

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  4. See I've always thought the Ross style argument for an immaterial intellect also had ramifications for natural theology.

    Many Leibnizian or PSR style contingency arguments get you to a neccessary being but what about the gap problem? Ed has addressed this from a Thomistic perspective but that seems to grant that a pure leibnizian will struggle. Using Ross would seem to be the answer

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    1. Callum,

      Leibniz directly addresses this by way of arguing that part of the explanandum is the fact that this world exists as opposed to the infinite number of other possible worlds that might have existed. He then argues that this requires us to conceive of the necessary being as having an intellect capable of grasping all of these alternative worlds, a will capable of choosing between them, power sufficient to have created any of them had he chosen to, etc.

      One can debate whether, when worked out, this approach succeeds, but the point is that the Leibnizian tradition does in fact address the issue.

      Also, as I have said elsewhere, there is no such thing as the "gap problem." Defenders of cosmological arguments over the history of the subject have routinely offered arguments for the claim that the first cause they arrive at must have the divine attributes. Naturally, one can debate whether the arguments work (as one can with all philosophical arguments) but the idea that there is some "gap" between (a) the first cause they arrive at and (b) any of the classic divine attributes, and that they simply assume the "gap" can be bridged rather than giving arguments to get from (a) to (b), is an urban legend.

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    2. Just to recapitulate my point, because there seems to be a gross misunderstanding about what I am saying.

      If the sentence "THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES" has come about by some coincidence it does not really convey the message included in the sentence because there is no connection to the reality of entering Wales. The group of stones forming that sentences could have appeared in Scotland, in China or anywhere else and they could have appeared even if Wales did not exist or the British railways did not exist or even when people did not exist.
      That's why Taylor and Ed are correct when they say that "it cannot intelligibly be said to convey that message" but they are not correct in claiming that this is "because it could not in that case intelligibly be conveying any message at all". The arrangement of stones does convey a message about reality.

      Some of you have complained that this is not really a message at all, but that implies that messages can only come from things with intention. But that is question-begging.

      Now, it may be that it is impossible to get from the (primitive) message from e.g. a crater on the moon to something like an intentional mind, but that would take another argument.
      The bottom line is that this particular argument fails.


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    3. I feel like Walter's position that everything (could or does) have semantic content is being short-shrifted a bit here. Did the Star of Bethlehem have semantic content? If no, how did it communicate to the Magi, and how did they know to follow it? If we step back from Talyor's argument and assume that God does exist, it seems to follow that anything in Nature could be a semantic meaning-bearer, because God ordered and arranged Nature, and he has an intentional mind. That doesn't mean that everything does, but I think it has to be a possibility.

      For example, do we think that tea-leaf divination and astrology are false, or that they are completely incoherent, because they stars and tea leaves aren't capable of bearing semantic content? The former, it seems to me.

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    4. ^ This reply was supposed to be on the other thread, at the very top. Sorry about that...

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    5. @Brian. I don't think that any of us are short-changing the teleology in the universe. The critique is over any allegation that "semantic content" can occur without a mind to both give and receive it.

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    6. I'm not concerned about teleology, I'm concerned about whether we can ascribe semantic content to Nature, which is one of the things in dispute in the thread I meant to comment on. Walter made the claim that semantic content can be written in the "language of nature", a claim that was dismissed by others. I'm curious whether that claim false. I'm not sure it is.

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    7. @Brian,

      I think Walter is being dismissed because he appears to think that semantic content makes “sense” without a mind. As The Deuce has noted above, that is self-defeating. Recall that Taylor’s work and Feser’s endorsement insists that one cannot rationally assert mindless effects and mind-oriented content.

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    8. @Brian:

      "I'm curious whether that claim false."

      It is false and obviously so. There is no such thing as "language of nature". One can "read off", as it were, causes from their effects, assuming some form of causal principle (which when turning on other issues are strenuously denied, but leave those ironies aside), but this has nothing to do with "semantic content" or language related notions that only make sense for rational beings.

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    9. @grodrigues:

      One can "read off", as it were, causes from their effects, assuming some form of causal principle (which when turning on other issues are strenuously denied, but leave those ironies aside),

      Of course, when God is involved, the atheist uses the mind he "does not have/ is an illusion" and his also "illusory" free will to deny causality and keep being an smug atheist.

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  5. Huh...wouldn't the idea that material things and even basic perceptual experiences naturally carry meaningful messages imply that many animals also have semantic / intentional content since they can recognise those messages as well?

    I don't even think Thomists would disagree with this as they believe animal minds have intentionality as well. I guess you could argue that the message conveyed by material things around us is purely abstractly propositional or has pure universals, but that just doesn't seem to be the case as nothing about the cases Feser cites (cat on a mat, bell being run meaning someone is at the door, etc.) is purely universal or abstractly propositional - they all seem like quite particular or general-but-not-universal things, plus universals are immaterial so they aren't the actual thing nor the immediate message it conveys. And even if we accept that natural messages contain purely abstract content like universals, one could say a large portion of the message isn't like that either way.

    A different problem though would be whether or not natural things really do somehow contain intrinsic messages - one could instead make a distinction between meaning which can potentially be derived or made from an event or thing, and the meaning-as-possessed-by-an-intelligent-agent.

    There still seems to be a real difference between the sort of "natural" meaning a physical thing or event straightforwardly conveys, and the type of intelligent meaning beings like us convey when we use letters or sounds to communicate stuff which isn't immediately present in the carrier (like the state of a cat being on the mat may naturally contain the message that a cat is on the mat).

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  6. It seems to me that Taylor's argument is more a prologue to the Fifth Way than a variation of it. For what it proves is that final causes are a real feature of the material universe, not a projection from minds onto a basically meaningless arrangement of particles as the materialists would have it. Final causation is where the Fifth Way starts, so once you admit it's real you end up at classical theism, but there's still distance to cover before you get there.

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  7. A crater has no representational content or “intentionality.” The word crater, or a drawing of a crater, have intentionality. In the relevant respect, a human mental state about a crater is more like a word or picture than the creator itself.

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  8. Since Taylor is talking about imaginary scenarios, suppose the following:
    The British Railways plans on sending workers out to arrange stones on a hillside in order to deliver the following message to its passengers:
    THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES

    The night before the workers come out to arrange their stones into that message a terrific storm comes up and moves the stones in that area (stones that look remarkably like the ones intended for the message) in such a way that they look like this:
    THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES

    Would the workers have to take those stones apart and then put their own in place so that the message can be conveyed?

    Isn't it the context in which the message is conveyed that is the crucial element in this example and not the causal interactions that produced the message?

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  9. Taylor and Prof. Feser need to establish the truth of some premise like this (can be better worded): "If there is semantic content, then that content is uttered intentionally by a mind," or something such. The truth of this conditional is not a given. Although Frege and, as I understand, the scholastics understood logic as dealing with intentions, many moderns understand it as dealing with the relations among propositions, apart from speakers' intentions. I think Taylor's first example shows up this problem. If someone can read the sentence, "THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES," from a pattern of stones, then a proposition has been expressed, whether any speaker intended it. Taylor's "a pattern that looks like" glosses this over. Either the stones spell out the above locution or they don't. If they spell it out, then we have a proposition, which by definition has semantic content.

    Prof. Feser's recurrent phrase, "intentional or semantic content," makes it sound as though content is semantic if and only if it is intentional, but that is contentious. A sophisticated AI program can generate new locutions; the computer engineer does not formulate every locution in advance. Such have semantic content, but it is prima facie doubtful that every AI locution is intentional in any strong sense of intentional.

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    1. But this just gives rise to the question of "What does it mean for stones to 'spell out' the locution?" Is it simply that the person who sees the stones thinks upon looking at them "THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES"? Because if that's the case, there are a lot of strange things that can have semantic or intentional content.

      Undoubtedly one could look into the sky on a clear night and see in the stars what looks like letters, perhaps saying "Hi" or something simple like that. Are we to believe that those stars possess semantic content simply because their arrangement lends itself to someone thinking they see the word "Hi" in them?

      My point, I guess, is that for merely physical objects to "spell out" anything will require that an observer ascribe or impose semantic or intentional content onto that arrangement, at which point, the semantic content is clearly not intrinsic to the so-arranged physical objects.

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    2. @ccmnxc: since we can't edit our comments on here, I'm just adding to mine above that a posited AI scenario is not fully mapped to that of the pattern of stones in Taylor's thought experiment, since AI programs reflect intentionality of their creators. But they themselves do not have intention, so I stand by what I said on that point.

      I don't really understand your question. What it means for stones "to spell out a locution" is just the meaning of the locution. Either the stones spell it out, or they don't. If they don't spell it out, then Taylor's thought experiment is faulty. Taylor seems to want a close correspondence between the shapes made by the stones and shapes made by letters. Taylor also seems to need any observer to look at the stones and read off the same proposition. I don't think that happens when different people look at the stars and see different patterns.

      So I don't think your third paragraph fits what Taylor apparently wanted to do with his thought experiment. If we all see "Worship God" in a pattern made by meteors in a meteor shower, then we have a command, and it has semantic content. It's another question to ask whether that content reflects an intention.

      My point is, intention does not fix semantic content. Intention does not fix semantic content; words fix it. A Freudian slip, after all, is when you say one thing but mean your mother (lol).

      Then, I am waiting for a strong argument that a communicative intention of some mind is a necessary condition for semantic content. If you see "merely physical objects" like rocks on a beach spelling out "Frodo Lives," you receive semantic content. End of story. Questions about intentions of speakers are different questions. It's a principle of modern logic, as I said above, that it's about the relations between propositions, not about intentions of minds.

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    3. Hi ficino4ml,

      This paper addresses your concerns:
      “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought” by Edward Feser. (Google it; available for free).

      There is no INTRINSIC semantic meaning in any physical arrangements, including those arrangements which human beings called words and sentences.

      Any semantic meaning (including from the readers’ perspective when they attempt to interpret/read the physical arrangements) are imposed upon the physical arrangements from outside of those physical arrangements.

      Cheers!

      johannes y k hui

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    4. @reasonable: No one has cited that paper, from what I can see on JSTOR and Philosopher's Index. So it doesn't seem to have made much of a splash. Would you be so kind as to summarize what is relevant in it?

      Out of the starting gate I am rejecting a supposed distinction between "intrinsic semantic meaning" and some other kind of semantic meaning. Either there is semantic content or there is not. "Intrinsic" looks like a qualifier that is trying to slip in a speaker's intention, the very property that I am not accepting as a necessary condition of semantic content.

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    5. @ficino4ml
      Kripke's example of quus shows that all syntactic material devoid of intentional semantic content is in fact devoid of semantic content; because I cannot specify any infinite set without a definition which is intentional I cannot say that a certain physical object means something because I cannot point non-intentionally to its infinite detail or referent let alone its sense. This is one of the reasons why people adopted nominalism (to get away from all the thorny issues of semantics) (they don't play nicely with the physical world)

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  10. @Michael Brazier:

    ...not a projection from minds onto a basically meaningless arrangement of particles as the materialists would have it.

    So materialists are Kantians... Oh the irony :)

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  11. @Walter Van den Acker:

    Yet, it has semantic content, because it says "a meteor has struck this place".

    Or maybe it whispers in our ears: "don't look for an explanation, I am just a brrrruuute fact".

    Which is the language of the brutes.

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  12. Prof. Feser, in line with what I wrote yesterday, it seems to me that you are making the properties "intentional" and "has semantic content" interentailing. If so, that move seems to be theory embedded. On speech act theory, and on what I understand as mainstream philosophy of logic, a locution has semantic content, end of story. To fix its "force," if it has any, is to identify (on speech act theory) what illocutionary act the locution conveys, if any. A locution may express a proposition, and that's not yet an illocutionary act like "asserting." Taylor's sample locution has semantic content already, before our analysis reaches the point where we ask whether any speaker intends to assert an assertion by that locution.

    I'm tying "intends" to a speaker and not to a pure relation between concepts because your OP seems to argue that if there is no speaker, then there is no semantic content. I'd say that's false, or at least, highly contentious. Whether the arrangement of stones on Taylor's hillside is purposeful is a different question from the question, does "The British Railways Welcomes You To Wales" have semantic content. It's a locution, so by definition it has semantic content. Maybe an agent endowed with mind intended to assert this locution, maybe not - a different question.

    I may be missing something, of course.

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  13. From the OP: "Neither stones nor marks on a rock have any inherent connection with any semantic content we might decide to convey through them. The content they might have must derive from a mind which uses them for the purpose of conveying such content. Delete such a mind from an explanation of the arrangements of stones or marks, and you delete the semantic content along with it."

    Surely the last sentence is false. The thought experiments already present two cases of semantic content. The strings of symbols "The British Railways..." etc. and "Here Kimon fell ..." etc. express semantic content. If they didn't, we could make no sense of the thought experiment.

    Whether they convey a message is a question of illocutionary force, not a question of meaning.

    It may be uncontroversial that if a speech act like sending a message is performed, then it is performed by an agent endowed with mind. Are the two above sentences intended as messages? In the thought experiment, we don't know. I think the use of "message/s" in the OP is problematic. "Message" is used metaphorically in the case of our seeing a cat, but it's used literally in the case of the doorbell's being rung.

    I'm dubious that Taylor's examples provide what is needed to support the Fifth Way.

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    1. ficino4ml, you say,
      "Whether they convey a message is a question of illocutionary force, not a question of meaning."
      However, the meaning of a sentence is its illocutionary force potential. See William Alston, Illocutionary Acts & Sentence Meaning.
      Further, when you say, "The strings of symbols 'The British Railways' etc. and 'Here Kimon fell' etc. express semantic content. If they didn't, we could make no sense of the thought experiment" you are already assuming that they are symbols, which is begging the question.

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  14. His point is rather that, no matter how complex and orderly are the arrangements of physical components that might be generated by purely impersonal and purposeless natural processes, they could never by themselves generate something with intentional or semantic content.

    And here is where the naturalist has to insert again his "complexity -of-the-gaps" as the explanation of why matter can give rise to intellects.They say "complexity" has made our brains (matter) capable of understanding and creating meaning, but they do not have a theory of HOW this "complexity" works. For example, "complexity" is not equal to size, because whales and elephants have massive brains and they can not use mathematics, or write simple marks to communicate (therefore they can not create texts/books/philosophical treatises). Neither is "complexity" physical. The arrangement of matter is "complex", but "complexity" is not. Neither can it have causal powers, because for the naturalist/materialist, only efficient causality is "real" and efficient causality can only be carried out by matter.

    "Complexity" is then the poor mans' soul. A misterious "entity" that is there but can never be detected. Only its effects can.

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  15. "The British Railways Welcomes You To Wales" have semantic content. It's a locution, so by definition it has semantic content. Maybe an agent endowed with mind intended to assert this locution, maybe not - a different question.

    I don't see how this holds.

    Let's suppose that the English language has never been invented, and the Roman alphabet was never invented. It would be difficult to say HOW it is the case that rocks arranged in a way to have the shape consistent with "The British Railways Welcomes You To Wales" could be said to be "a locution". So, its "being" a locution seems to depend AT LEAST on their being minds who first allocated meaning to certain words and then allocated references to those words to certain shapes. Whether it requires, ALSO, that there was an agent who actually arranged the rocks (by intention) seems a secondary question.

    To claim the contrary (the rocks would "be" a locution even if English and the Roman alphabet had never been invented would imply that ALL physical arrangements are locutions. Because all physical arrangements COULD BE arrangements that some language and some system of representing language could arrive at. (This encompasses, also, every sound made, because sounds also are physical arrangements.) But this makes nonsense of the whole issue, it would erase the very essence of what distinguishes "locution" from everything else.

    It would be interesting to consider a kind of counter-example: a cryptologist is intent on playing mind-games with his opposite number in the enemy country, and sends a "signal" that is, by intention, garbage. Say, by telegraph. Although the signal has elements (electric elements) that could be arranged in patterns of letters, the letters cannot be arranged into something the sender intends to say, because the sender intends NO MEANING AT ALL. So, even if the receiving agent manages to "decode" the series of electric elements into some "message", he is imposing on the physical arrangement a meaning that the sender never had. The philosophical question could be asked whether the "signal" sent has semantic content or not. It could be argued either way: One might say it has so much content as arranging the individual dots and dashes as representing letters, even if the letters don't arrange words. On the other hand, if the LETTERS don't arrange words, then what is to say if the dots and dashes "make" letters? If ordinary morse code uses a (fairly small) time interval between letter groups to indicate the ending of one letter, suppose another code uses those same time intervals to represent something else. (E.G. The Tom Clancy novel that used the sounds of the static running alongside the initialization sequence of two fax machines talking to each other to carry a completely different kind of signal than the fax message.) Then what is to definitively say whether the signal "parts" (letters) are made up of 2, 3 and 4 element groups of dots and dashes, and not groups of 20 elements?

    So, as Tim suggests, the very issue of whether a physical arrangement constitutes a representation of some other reality is what is at stake here.

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    1. Maybe Taylor's thought experiment is not well formed. If all literate English speakers who see the rocks read off the same sentence, there is content. Taylor allows that the rocks might not have been arranged by an intelligent agent. But then, is he guilty of question begging when he goes on to say that there is no content being read by readers unless some mind intended it?

      Hal posited an interesting scenario, which I'll modify slightly. Suppose the sentence could be read in the rock arrangement, but the rocks' positions were caused by natural processes. On Taylor/Feser, there is no semantic content. Then suppose someone disturbs all the rocks but subsequently puts each rock back exactly where it was, so that the sentence can be read. Does the arrangement now express semantic content because an intelligent agent made the arrangement, while there was no semantic content to be read from the "chance" arrangement? This seems counter-intuitive.

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    2. @ficino4ml,
      Thanks for improving my scenario. It is a more concise presentation of the point I was trying to make.

      Obviously, language users do need a mind in order understand the semantic content that a statement or sentence may contain. And I think it safe to assume that they would need a mind in order to 'create' a language.

      Whether or not a mind is needed in order for beings with minds to exist is a questionable claim. I favor a negative response to that, but I think it reasonable for others to hold a positive response.

      If I understand you correctly, you are trying to point out that whatever semantic content a sentence or statement may contain it is not always equivalent to the intent of the person using it.
      For example: If Jane says "John's umbrella is not in the umbrella case" her intent may not only be to express the fact that John's umbrella is not in the case. She may be intending by use of that sentence to express the fact that John is out taking a walk (because John never goes for a walk without his umbrella). Or she may simply mean that it is likely to rain (because she knows John would never take the umbrella without thinking it was going to rain).

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    3. I think the example itself can maybe cause it’s own confusion. What if it was an arrow, which was in a desert and happened to point to a hidden pool of water. So the semantic content is “this way”. Would that have the same issue?

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    4. Hal posited an interesting scenario, which I'll modify slightly. Suppose the sentence could be read in the rock arrangement, but the rocks' positions were caused by natural processes. On Taylor/Feser, there is no semantic content.

      Not sure you have characterized Feser's point correctly. Let me pose a different example which I think separates out the issues a little more clearly. Suppose a guy in the French Alps, in 10,000BC, is intent on expressing some praise to his gods, and is using some form of "writing" on a mountain side to do it. He must first rip out some vegetation, and move some rocks and carve some other rocks, and THEN he can start painting his message. Now, his message is in some pre-historic tongue, and in a "script" that relies primarily on COLOR sequences rather than mere shapes (like our letters), and he works one color at a time. Suppose he gets done with one color, blue, and someone asks him "what does it say"? He responds that it doesn't say anything at all yet, because you need the rest of the colors even to make up ANY of the "letters", i.e. any of the semantic ELEMENTS. So far it doesn't even arise to semantic elements. Now, some alien takes a photograph of it at that moment, and 10,000 years later shows us the photograph. To us, it clearly (seems) to say "The British Railways Welcome You to Wales."

      That it "says" the English phrase is clearly accidental. (And part of the clearness of that is that it is on a mountainside in the French Alps.) It's "semantic content" in English is clearly erroneous, but that doesn't prevent all English-speaking people to be able to "read" the photo. But the man who caused the physical phenomenon had no intention of (a) causing any English phrase, or (b) of using the Roman alphabet, or (c) using a system that relies on shapes and not primarily color sequences, and (d) had NOT EVEN GOTTEN far enough for his colors to amount to any of his "meaning".

      As I understand it, Feser's thesis is not WHETHER the physical phenomenon "has" the English semantic content. It is, rather, that it could not be taken to be "conveying" that content while also maintaining that such content arrived purely through random forces that were irrelevant to that semantic content. That is, no English speaker who was aware of HOW those "words" came to be would take their existence to indicate that the words were meant to have that content - to "convey" that meaning. And that (implies) "conveyance" requires some intentional agent to act.

      Yet clearly, English speakers who DON'T know the source of the phenomenon will still read the English sentence and grasp a "meaning" to it. They, at least, will attribute to its existence a semantic content, "erroneous" though it is. The point, though, is that these latter people will NOT be attributing to the physical phenomenon a purely accidental "cause" to it, at the same time. Taylor's point is not that one group is right and the other group wrong about such attribution, but that neither group attributes BOTH the meaning and the accidental source.

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    5. Tony,
      That is a beautifully elaborate scenario. However, I think it relies on the assumption that words or sentences cannot be misunderstood if they have semantic content.

      Perhaps some modern day descendant of the ingenious fellow in the Alps has a grammar of that language which has been passed down from generation to generation. Seeing those letters he could readily inform us that it was meaningless. Or if the message was longer he could inform us of what it meant.

      All of us at one time or another have used words or even sentences incorrectly. That doesn't negate their semantic content (meaning).

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    6. Tony,

      Just wanted to add that it would be the same situation for the game of Chess. People can use the chess pieces differently than stipulated in the official rules of Chess. But that doesn't imply that there aren't any rules for the game of Chess.

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    7. @Tony,

      "As I understand it, Feser's thesis is not WHETHER the physical phenomenon "has" the English semantic content. It is, rather, that it could not be taken to be "conveying" that content while also maintaining that such content arrived purely through random forces that were irrelevant to that semantic content. That is, no English speaker who was aware of HOW those "words" came to be would take their existence to indicate that the words were meant to have that content - to "convey" that meaning. And that (implies) "conveyance" requires some intentional agent to act."

      I misunderstood the point you were trying to make in your post. So am afraid I was simply talking past you in my reply. Sorry about that.

      I understand you to be saying here that the meaning of a sentence has to be distinguished from what is said by the use of it. So "THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES" is not being used by anyone to mean that the British Railways welcomes its passengers to Wales. It makes no sense to think that the random forces which resulted in this arrangement of rocks intended to convey that message.

      So I agree with you. But then what is the point of the argument being made? It seems to me to be making the claim that only language users can use words and sentences to mean something. That doesn't strike me as earth shattering news.

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    8. @Tony, you wrote this: "As I understand it, Feser's thesis is not WHETHER the physical phenomenon "has" the English semantic content. It is, rather, that it could not be taken to be "conveying" that content while also maintaining that such content arrived purely through random forces that were irrelevant to that semantic content."


      But Prof. Feser's OP included this: "Delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of the arrangement of stones or the marks on the rock, and you delete any semantic content along with them. ... But the point of the analogy is simply to illustrate the general principle that it is metaphysically impossible for something to have actual intentional or semantic content (as opposed to the mere appearance of such) if it arose entirely from impersonal and purposeless processes."

      It sounds to me as though Prof. F denies to the non-humanly arranged stones both "have semantic content" and "convey semantic content". Yours seems to show Feser as allowing "have semantic content" and denying only "conveys semantic content". Am I misreading you?

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  16. @Tony, adding: I think your opening paragraphs raise questions about detecting a locution. If literate English speakers read the same sentence on the hillside, that seems sufficient for us to say they are receiving semantic content, however it got there. There might be OTHER sentences detectible in the rocks by, say, aliens and not by us. And if no reader sees the rocks, then no detection of sense. I don't see how that poses a problem for the essence of locution. The Taylor/Feser view, which I take it you endorse, seems to want semantic content to emerge from adding something to a sentence - adding, say, a speaker's intention, without which the sentence is held to have no sense. I wonder whether there is a theory gap here.

    I think we are all agreed that linguistic communities are constituted, if that's the right word, by the conventions they hold. Speakers who agree on one code may not detect messages in another code or may detect messages that a sender didn't intend. That happens even with mistakes; meaning is fixed by language not intent. If a monkey is fooling around with a telegraph device and telegraph operators up and down the railroad act in accord with what they hear as a message in the signals emanating from the monkey's play, that's semantic content, no?

    Taylor, or at least Prof. Feser, seems to want the thought experiment to show that any intentional process cum effect must be governed by an intelligent agent. I think Taylor's thought experiment only shows that observers of an effect can find intentionality and can do this within the confines of a linguistic community (they read something "about" Wales, so it's intentional in that way).

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  17. I think the argument is pretty sound, but would not have made any sense that me when I was an atheist. My atheism was based on the nominalism that is assumed under the modern way of thinking. From that ontological perspective, the meaning, the semantic content, is something emergent. Creatures develop to survive over eons, and as that becomes more sophisticated it creates meaning as an add on, like the software that develops as the hardware develops.

    Of course this is wrong for many reasons, including the very intelligibility of anything at all. However when you see only horizontal causation, the whole vertical movement from cause to telos is hidden, and only even seen as a valid question when rolled back to the first cause/big bang.

    I think that is the biggest problem with all these arguments, that they are nullified by nominalism. That’s why I see the victory of nominalism 700 years ago as the ‘new’ version of the Tower of Babel.

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  18. J. L. Austin points out that a spoken locutionary act consists of a phonetic act (the action of uttering certain noises) and a phatic act (the act of uttering certain vocables, i.e. words, as belonging to a particular vocabulary and arranged conforming to a particular grammar. [Austin also argued that there was a "rhetic act" over and above the phatic act which stopped short of an illocutionary act. None of Austin's students followed Austin on this point; see P. F. Strawson's article "Austin and 'Locutionary Meaning'" for further details.] There are analogues to phonetic act and phatic act for written messages but I don't remember the terms at the moment. Perhaps someone here can help with that.
    If Searle is correct (and I think he is) in "Is the Brain a Digital Computer?" then whether the written analogue of a phonetic act counts as the written equivalent of a phatic act is an observer-relative feature of physical processes rather than being intrinsic to them.
    Beyond this, the major speech act theorists that I am aware of do not locate meaning at the locutionary level. Grice reduces illocutionary acts to perlocutionary intentions but they are nevertheless distinct from the phatic act. S. R. Schiffer and others argue that neither meaning nor propositional content can be explained in physicalist terms and, being physicalists, they abandon the attempt to understand meaning. Bill Alston sees the meaning of a sentence type as its illocutionary act potential and rejects physicalism.
    The claim that the physical evidence in the examples of the OP automatically constitute semantic content is far from uncontroversial.

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    1. @Tim Finlay. You wrote: "Bill Alston sees the meaning of a sentence type as its illocutionary act potential and rejects physicalism."

      Questions.
      1. Above you wrote that Alston holds that the meaning of a sentence is its illocutionary force potential. But now you write that Alston holds that the meaning of a sentence TYPE is its illocutionary act potential. Which claim does Alston defend?
      2. Can a speaker adopt a sentence (or sentence type?) that s/he did not generate and use it to make an illocutionary act? If yes, then does the given sentence (or sentence type) have illocutionary act potential? E.g. if I read off the sentence of Taylor's thought experiment and then use those very words to assert to fellow passengers that "the British Railways welcomes you to Wales," do the quoted words have illocutionary art potential before I use them to assert?

      Tx



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    2. ficino4ml,
      "Sentence" is ambiguous between "sentence type" (i.e. all possible instantiations of the same group of words) and "sentence token" (a particular token of a sentence type). Alston analyzes the former.
      2. The sentence type "The British Railways welcomes you to Wales" certainly has the potential prior to a particular use (or token) for you as a passenger on a train located in Wales (my father's birthplace, by the way) to assert that British Rail welcomes you to the land they are now in. However, the main issue is whether the rock formations in Taylor's thought experiment are actual words in the first place.

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  19. @Tim Finlay,
    "The claim that the physical evidence in the examples of the OP automatically constitute semantic content is far from uncontroversial."

    If the markings on the stone that is dug up do not have semantic content how could they be translated?

    If a German man saw the stones arranged in the shape of letters on the hillside, wouldn't he be able to translate it into German?

    TBH, there was a lot of technical terminology in your post so am very unsure that I understood much of it.

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  20. Good explanation but i can't see how the argument works. Taylor seems to pressupose the strange view that our minds can only have semantic content that is extrinsic, i don't think i can see where this come from. It is not a mind precisely something that generates meaning? If you take away from a thought its generation of relations between concepts i don't think you still got much left. While i can see how a writed text only means something while having a author, the author thoughts being on the same situation seems uninteligible to me.

    And even if Taylor was right about that it would just lead to a further question: why do God thoughts have content while He has no author but we need a author? With most cosmological arguments there is important diferences between the world and the First Cause that explain why God does not need a cause, but i can't see why it would be the case here, either minds can create meaning or they can't. When a variation of "what caused God?" is a serious objection we know that we are in trouble...

    Ross argument for dualism gets his force precisely from the diference between our minds and the material world, so trying to use the argument to argue that *our minds* are like material substances on the meaning question seems to me a good way to lose..

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    1. @Talmid,

      You make some good points here. We express our thoughts with language. But languages are normative practices set by convention.
      It is confused to believe that thought is another kind of language.

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    2. @Talmid writes,

      Good explanation but i can't see how the argument works. Taylor seems to pressupose the strange view that our minds can only have semantic content that is extrinsic, i don't think i can see where this come from. It is not a mind precisely something that generates meaning?

      Hi, Talmid. Respectfully, I do not believe that is what Taylor is getting at. If human minds are the result of mindless physical processes, then we have as much warrant to infer intelligibility to our thoughts as we do the messages on a hillside and on a rock. No matter how closely any pattern of intelligibility comes to real intelligence, the proximity is only coincidental. One cannot both assert that said patterns are undirected AND are intelligible.

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    3. @Hal

      Exactly.

      @Bill

      But a thought mostly is a mind creating relations between concepts, so the meaning on our minds are created by us, not by a third party. Intentionality does not needs to be given, it is already there.

      I just don't see how exactly what Taylor is getting at. Does God needs to offer content to the thoughts i'am having right now? That sounds kinda eliminativistic to me.

      And, of course, if Taylor argument works it seems that we will get a infinite regress, for there does not appear to be any useful diference between our minds and the divine one, so God would also need a author.

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    4. @Talmid, then I would respectfully suggest that you re-read the OP. The very thing you raise was directly addressed.

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    5. @Bill,

      In the OP there are two questions:

      There is the question of how semantic content can exist. I think we all agree that it exists because there are sentient beings with the capacity to use signs and symbols (representational systems).

      Then there is the question of how those sentient beings have come to exist.

      I can't speak for Talmid, but it seems that the argument is treating the two questions as if they are the same.

      That's why I don't find it very persuasive.

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    6. Hi, Hal! Respectfully, I don’t see two questions in the OP (or any question along that line). I see an argument that impersonal natural causes cannot convey intelligible messages (semantic content). If we accept that rock formations on a hillside and marks on a buried stone are not disclosing anything intelligible, regardless their similitude to something intelligible, then we have no warrant to infer anything intelligible to a mind which is the product of impersonal causes. As we cannot both hold that nature is the product of unsupervised evolution AND has semantic content, so we cannot both insist that the mind is the product of the same unsupervised evolution AND is expressing anything intelligible. The upshot of all of this is that the universe has semantic content because it is the product of a “supervising” mind, and by “universe,” we are of course including the human mind.

      And to the objection that craters on the moon—indeed, everything that is—has some sort of semantic content (thus, negating the need for an intelligent cause), I replied above that that is self-defeating, but The Deuce said it far better than me, so I reproduce it here:

      Even if we grant for the sake of argument the idea that a crater on the moon has semantic content such as "A meteor struck this place," it is self-defeating as an argument for mechanistic materialism.

      Why? Well, as should be self-evident, a crater on the moon only possesses such "semantic content" (to the extent that it does, which is not at all) for rational agents capable of observing the crater, grasping what it is, and inferring how it was created.

      Now if, as this argument requires, this semantic content is objectively real and not merely a projection of our minds, then we have an objectively real feature of the world that depends for its existence on rational intellects, and that in turn implies that rational intellects are themselves objectively real, and in a substantial, irreducible way, not merely as something epiphenomenal or a matter of convention that we project onto material objects.

      Since moon craters preexist human intellects, a further implication is that there was a mind that preexists them. And since this "semantic content" allegedly exists in all material things, including everything that existed before there were any human rational intellects, it implies that the entire physical universe comes from a mind and that reality is mind-first after all.

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    7. Hi Bill,

      Thanks much for the interesting response. I think I now understand the argument being made in the OP better.
      I am happy to concede your point about 'two questions in the OP'. But I will have to respectively disagree with the conclusion of the argument.

      When you say that nature has semantic content do you mean that there are languages in the world? Semantic content is only found in languages.

      Human beings create languages and use language to convey semantic content. I'm sorry but the fact that some non sentient forces can't use rocks to canvey a message does not persuade me that human beings can't simply because humans have evolved from other animals. The evolution of sentient beings is not at all similar to the use of semantic content in a language.

      It's been my experience of critics often rely on the non-mental capacities of non-sentient substances to deny the possibility of sentient substances having mental capacities I wonder why?

      I would like to make clear that I don't believe the fact that human beings have evolved entails the belief that there is no God. Most of the theists I know do accept that God used evolution to create human beings. So any comments I make in this or other posts regarding this subject should not be take as an attack on theism.

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    8. Bill,
      Sorry, but in my reply to you I left out some words. The sentence “ It's been my experience of critics often rely on the non-mental capacities of non-sentient substances to deny the possibility of sentient substances having mental capacities ” should be:
      ‘ It's been my experience that critics of evolution often rely on the non-mental capacities of non-sentient substances to deny the possibility of sentient substances having mental capacities “

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    9. Hello, Hal! I appreciate your reply. You ask:

      When you say that nature has semantic content do you mean that there are languages in the world? Semantic content is only found in languages.

      The term, as argued in the OP, appears to be used along the same line. The images, THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES, and HERE KIMON FELL LEADING A BAND OF ATHENIANS AGAINST THE FORCES OF XERXES, appear to have semantic content (sentences in the English language), but since said images are the product of natural forces only, then they cannot have semantic content regardless their similarity to the English language.

      Against this, Walter lodged the objection that “[a] crater on the moon came about through the operation of impersonal and purposeless natural causes. Yet, it has semantic content because it says, ‘a meteor has struck this place.’” In Walter’s mind, this appears to undermine Taylor’s argument (thus, semantic content can be the result of impersonal causes). However, as noted above, this commits Walter to a position that is self-defeating (because it leads to the very thing he tries to deny). So, yes, “semantic content” is a language which is of course intelligence-based. And that of course negates the allegation that craters on the moon or swirling bands on Jupiter are conveying anything language-based. Thus, assuming semantic content in all things leads us unavoidably to a personal creator.

      I'm sorry but the fact that some non sentient forces can't use rocks to canvey a message does not persuade me that human beings can't simply because humans have evolved from other animals. The evolution of sentient beings is not at all similar to the use of semantic content in a language.

      True enough, but that’s not exactly what Taylor is arguing (at least as it appears to me). He is saying that our thoughts, including “the cat is on the mat” and “it will rain tomorrow,” and our cognitive faculties, regardless their seemingly purposeful arrangement, equally have no semantic content if they are the products of the same mindless evolutionary processes. In other words, on what basis do we account for intelligence on the one hand and unintelligence on the other? As Feser encapsulates:

      The cases, Taylor argues, are in all relevant respects parallel. Delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of the arrangement of stones or the marks on the rock, and you delete any semantic content along with them. Similarly, if you delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of our cognitive faculties, then you delete any intentional or semantic content along with them. You can have one or the other account, but not both.

      There are of course objections to this, and both Feser and Taylor address them in the OP (e.g., survivability, we have inductive grounds for counting them reliable, etc.). To me, the argument is a rather clever way to get a person to give a consistent account of intentionality.

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    10. Hi Bill,

      "True enough, but that’s not exactly what Taylor is arguing (at least as it appears to me). He is saying that our thoughts, including “the cat is on the mat” and “it will rain tomorrow,” and our cognitive faculties, regardless their seemingly purposeful arrangement, equally have no semantic content if they are the products of the same mindless evolutionary processes. In other words, on what basis do we account for intelligence on the one hand and unintelligence on the other? "

      Thanks much for the response. However, this simply makes no sense to me. How can cognitive faculties have a 'purposeful arrangement'? Are you talking about the organs in our bodies? If so, how can they have semantic content?

      I don't understand why Taylor would think that our organs or our bodies have semantic content. Sure there was an arrangement of the rocks in the first scenario and there is an arrangement of organs in our bodies. The rocks formed a pattern that looked like a sentence so it can be said they only appear to convey semantic content. This is nothing like the arrangement of organs in humans.


      The reason for attributing intentionality and other cognitive and cogitative powers to human beings is not based on how complex a substance we are or how our organs are arranged but on our behavior. We act for purposes. We give reasons for our actions. We see, hear, taste, smell and touch objects around us.

      And this still doesn't address the huge difference between non-sentient substances and sentient ones such as humans and other animals. It strikes me as a category error to treat them as if they are the same thing.

      Again thanks for taking the time to respond.

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    11. @Bill

      I'am back! Your explanation of the argument fits with what i understood about it, i try to show were i disagree:

      "If we accept that rock formations on a hillside and marks on a buried stone are not disclosing anything intelligible, regardless their similitude to something intelligible, then we have no warrant to infer anything intelligible to a mind which is the product of impersonal causes. As we cannot both hold that nature is the product of unsupervised evolution AND has semantic content, so we cannot both insist that the mind is the product of the same unsupervised evolution AND is expressing anything intelligible. The upshot of all of this is that the universe has semantic content because it is the product of a “supervising” mind, and by “universe,” we are of course including the human mind."

      Taylor is right that on a atheistic cosmos our minds have no extrinsic semantic content, they have no meaning that is imposed on they. What i don't see is how to jump from that to saying that if there is no God our minds have no semantic content that is intrinsic.

      Take for instance the writed phrase "Feser is a philosopher", do the writed symbols or tge associated sounds have any bon-imposed relation with Ed? Nope, by themselves they have no relation with him at all. They can only have this relation if there is a language were the symbols put on a certain way are used to refer to Dr. Feser.

      By contrast, there is no reason to have a agent besides myself to my thoughts to refer to him. When i thought about Ed what i "produce" can't be at all except as having a relation with De. Feser. The only agent necesary to a thought to have semantic content is the thinker itself. So, on the absense of a divine mind it seems that minds could still have semantic content.

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    12. Hi Talmid,

      You could not think about Profesor Feser if first you had not have apprehended him as a real, existent entity in the extra-mental world, which means that you need to apprehend his form (not his matter). And since it's not possible to apprehend forms without the soul, in an atheist cosmology you could not entertain thoughts about Profesor Feser because you would have not acquired knowledge about him, so predication would not be possible.

      That's my take :)

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    13. Welcome back Talmid,
      I know this was in response to Bill's post, but I am hoping you can clarify some questions I have about it. It looks like we agree that no God is needed for human beings to have minds and engage in thinking. I draw that conclusion from this:
      "The only agent necessary to a thought to have semantic content is the thinker itself. So, on the absense of a divine mind it seems that minds could still have semantic content."

      But you also say:
      "Taylor is right that on a atheistic cosmos our minds have no extrinsic semantic content, they have no meaning that is imposed on they."

      I don't see what difference it would make if there was a God or not in the case of minds having extrinsic semantic content. The mind can only have intrinsic content. Extrinsic semantic content only occurs in linguistic systems.
      The agent with the capacity to think also needs the capacity to use language in order to represent his thoughts. But agreed upon rules for that linguistic system must exist if the agent wishes to communicate with another agent.

      Since a human being can have intrinsic semantic content without God I see no need for God in order for there to be extrinsic semantic content. What is needed is the capacity to use a language.

      Hopefully, I haven't grossly misunderstood what you have written.

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    14. @UncommonDescent

      A atheist can believe in souls. See for instance the jains. Of course, how souls exist on a atheistic cosmos is a mystery, but if you go to that route them you are abandoning the representationism argument and starting a new one.


      @Hal

      By "extrinsic semantic content" i meanted a meaning, a relation with concepts, that is not a necessary part of the thing but created by a agent. Language is the perfect example of that,for the relation between a sign and what it means is artificial.

      Now that i read your post i can see how discussing if thoughts have extrinsic semantic content do not really makes sense, for this is a characteristic of language, category mistake and all that. My bad!

      But in the end i still don't think that Taylor argument works because he seems to confuse intrinsic and extrinsic semantic content. What a shame is seeing that i made the same mistake!

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    15. @Talmid,
      "But in the end i still don't think that Taylor argument works because he seems to confuse intrinsic and extrinsic semantic content. What a shame is seeing that i made the same mistake!"

      Well I found it very confusing also. In the limited reading I've done on this subject the word "content" is used instead of "semantic content". Obviously semantic content is found language. It felt weird to me to refer to the 'semantic content' in the mind.
      That is why I've added 'intrinsic' when referring to the mind and 'extrinsic' when referring to what is in language.

      Take care. Despite whatever differences we may have it is always a pleasure to read your posts.

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    16. Hello again, Hal! Sorry for the late reply, but Saturday’s been a busy day for me. You ask:

      How can cognitive faculties have a 'purposeful arrangement'? Are you talking about the organs in our bodies? If so, how can they have semantic content?

      I don’t think that’s what Taylor is saying, and it is certainly not what I am saying. Recall that you quoted me before asking the question. This is what you quoted:

      He is saying that our thoughts, including “the cat is on the mat” and “it will rain tomorrow,” and our cognitive faculties, regardless their seemingly purposeful arrangement, equally have no semantic content if they are the products of the same mindless evolutionary processes. In other words, on what basis do we account for intelligence on the one hand and unintelligence on the other?

      So, to me, I’m not referring so much to our organs as I am referring to the thoughts which appear to have semantic content (e.g., “The cat is on the mat,” and “It will rain tomorrow”). On what basis do we declare that to have semantic content? If we are the products of the same mindless processes that produced the rock arrangement on a hill and the etchings on a buried stone, then our thoughts are nothing but the products of the laws of physics beyond our means to control. Our molecule packages were collated by physical laws and our neurons function and fire as ordered by the same. The fact that they seem to have semantic content does not mean that they actually do. On what epistemological platform are we standing to ascribe intelligence to one and not to the other?

      And this still doesn't address the huge difference between non-sentient substances and sentient ones such as humans and other animals. It strikes me as a category error to treat them as if they are the same thing.

      And I would agree, but I don’t think that’s what Taylor (or Feser) is doing. On what basis do we call ourselves sentient? Why isn’t determinism the rule if everything in the universe is the result of mindless forces? Can Saturn help it if it orbits the sun? Can hydrogen prevent its conjoining with oxygen to form water? Of course not. Things simply happen as a result of physical laws. So too, then, must the things we call “sentient beings” conform to the same laws. If the marvelous complexity we find in DNA sequencing can be explained by mindless activity, the marvelous complexity that emits from a thing that we call a “mind” may also be explained by the same. However, that would be of no more semantic value than the etchings on a stone without an account why one is different from the other.

      The upshot of Taylor’s argument is if we insist that the thoughts which emerge from the brain have semantic content, then we must conclude that said thoughts come from a mind that is not the consequent of mindless forces. The intelligence of man is thus indicative of an intelligent force which grounds it.

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    17. Hi, Talmid. But on what basis do you call yourself a thinker? The fact that you notice impulses which appear to have semantic content does not mean on that basis alone that they do. The illustration of the rock formation and the etchings on a stone is to illustrate the conundrum we face when considering our own thoughts. I dare say that none of us would swallow the proposal that the phrase, THE BRITISH RAILWAYS WELCOMES YOU TO WALES could arise accidentally without personal intent, even it said phrase were found on a mountainside in Tibet. Nonetheless, conceding arguendo that could be the case, we would ascribe nothing intelligent to the “message” in that case.

      What this proposal attempts to accomplish is to get us to consider the orderliness of our own thoughts. If the universe exists solely due to mindless physical laws, then the same forces that etched a stone with an account of a person’s death is also “etching” your brain and moving it to spew cranial activity with no justifiable account for why it should be considered intelligent.

      Respectfully, this is not really about what you’re thinking about Ed because you’ve presupposed an intelligent mind to think about Ed. It is the presupposition that’s being questioned. You have no problem dismissing any association between mindless rock formations and intelligence. So, as the argument goes, you should be equally dismissive of any association between mindless cognitive faculties and intelligence.

      Only an intelligent, personal agent can produce “semantic content.” And if semantic content is found in nature, then an intelligent, personal agent must be the cause both as the proximate cause and as the ground for the proximate cause.

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    18. Hi Bill,
      Thanks again for the clear explanation. I do think I understand better what the argument is now regarding our perceptual and cognitive faculties.

      You said: "Our molecule packages were collated by physical laws and our neurons function and fire as ordered by the same. The fact that they seem to have semantic content does not mean that they actually do. On what epistemological platform are we standing to ascribe intelligence to one and not to the other?"

      I agree that our neurons don't have semantic content. The brain is not the one perceiving or thinking. Rather it is the human being who perceives and thinks. It simply makes no sense to believe that the brain thinks or perceives.

      We have criteria of identity to know when someone is thinking or seeing. Those criteria are based on the behavior of a human, what a human is doing or saying, facial expressions, the tone of their voice, etc. Those criteria are partly constitutive of what it means to think or to believe or to perceive. It is a logical connection, not an inductive one.

      Now it is true because we have the technology to show us changes in neuronal activity and we know what it is to think something or perceive something that we can now inductively correlate neuronal activity with that thinking or perceiving. But that is an inductive connection, not a logical one. Any inductive correlation presupposes the logical connection. So the logical connection always takes priority over an inductive one. If a neuroscientist were to identify increased activity in an area of the brain associated with pain and the person being scanned denied having any pain then the neuroscientist has to conclude the person isn't in pain.

      Also, my conception of the mind is not that of a materialist. The mind is not an entity at all. We use the word "mind" to refer to our mental and perceptual capacities. So I don't believe the brain is a material mind. Nor is the mind some mental substance that interacts with the body. The mind is not an agent.

      It is the human being who has a mind that is the agent acting in this world. It is the human being who perceives, thinks, acts for reasons and can explain to others what his reasons for acting are.

      I should add that I reject reductionism. So I am skeptical of arguments that rely on it.

      Obviously there is more that I could or should say but maybe it is better to stop here and see if any of this makes sense or clarification.

      I enjoyed your well written post. Am still mulling it over. What I am posting now is just my initial response.

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    19. Bill,
      Forgot to add the following link to a book that may help you understand a little bit more where I am coming from. It is just an Amazon preview. There is no obligation on your part to look at it. So I understand if you don't.

      Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience 2nd Edition

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    20. Hello, Hal! I want to thank you for the kind of dialog we are having. It’s refreshing to me to be able to exchange ideas without the rancor that has regrettably become all too routine in these kinds of discussions

      Now, you write:

      I agree that our neurons don't have semantic content. The brain is not the one perceiving or thinking. Rather it is the human being who perceives and thinks. It simply makes no sense to believe that the brain thinks or perceives.

      You later write:

      Also, my conception of the mind is not that of a materialist. The mind is not an entity at all. We use the word "mind" to refer to our mental and perceptual capacities. So I don't believe the brain is a material mind. Nor is the mind some mental substance that interacts with the body. The mind is not an agent.

      It is the human being who has a mind that is the agent acting in this world. It is the human being who perceives, thinks, acts for reasons and can explain to others what his reasons for acting are.


      So, if the brain and the human being are material objects, and if your conception of the mind is not that of a materialist, then what is the human being who is doing the thinking? Are you saying that the “thinker” is an immaterial agent? If not, then what else could it be other than the consequent of natural laws?

      We have criteria of identity to know when someone is thinking or seeing. Those criteria are based on the behavior of a human, what a human is doing or saying, facial expressions, the tone of their voice, etc. Those criteria are partly constitutive of what it means to think or to believe or to perceive. It is a logical connection, not an inductive one.

      Yes, I agree, but I’m having a little difficulty understanding this. We have criteria for identifying an impending eruption of a volcano or the likelihood of a heart attack, but of course we don’t ascribe intentionality to any of those things. So, it seems that the similarity between our observations of human behavior and intentionality appears to be coincidental at best. Our acts which include facial expressions and voice tones can most certainly be the consequent of neural activity which correspond with a pattern of mental activity, but that seems to kick us back to the original premise: If physics alone is responsible for the phenomenon, then we have no warrant to ascribe intentionality to said phenomenon—whether on a hillside or inside a human head.

      If we discount naturalism and/or materialism, then how does intentionality emerge other than from a mind or intelligent being which grounds the phenomenon in the natural order?

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    21. Hi Bill,
      Thanks much for your post. Am still mulling it over, but I do want to address a couple of your comments now. I finally figured out how to italicize text. So I’ve gone ahead and done that to your text.

      “So, if the brain and the human being are material objects, and if your conception of the mind is not that of a materialist, then what is the human being who is doing the thinking? Are you saying that the “thinker” is an immaterial agent? If not, then what else could it be other than the consequent of natural laws?”

      From PMS Hacker’s book on Human Nature:
      “Human beings are animals with a distinctive range of abilities. Though they have a mind, they are not identical with the mind they
      have. Though they have a body, they are not identical with the body they have. Nor is a human being a conjunction of a mind and a body
      that causally interact with each other. Like other animals, human beings have a brain on the normal functioning of which their powers depend.
      But a human person is not a brain enclosed in a skull. A mature human being is a self-conscious agent, with the ability to act, and to react
      in thought, feeling and deed, for reasons.”

      Yes, I agree, but I’m having a little difficulty understanding this. We have criteria for identifying an impending eruption of a volcano or the likelihood of a heart attack, but of course we don’t ascribe intentionality to any of those things.

      The criteria for an impending eruption or the likelihood of a heart attack are different from those used to ascribe intentionality to a human being. The human can say that he is worried about the impending eruption or that he is worried about learning that he has a high risk for having a heart attack.
      I don’t understand why anyone would find it sensible to ascribe intentionality to the phenomena in your example.

      So, it seems that the similarity between our observations of human behavior and intentionality appears to be coincidental at best.

      If Bob tells me that he is going to Cleveland tomorrow I don’t think my ascription of intentionality to him is coincidental. If I see Joe writhing on the floor screaming in pain I don’t think my ascription of pain to him is coincidental. Or if I see Mary at her desk staring intently at her textbook and writing notes in it I don’t think it coincidental to ascribe some very deep thinking to her.
      Also, none of those ascriptions are to something inside of those humans they are ascriptions to the humans that are planning or hurting or studying.
      Suppose in the future we have technology that can track every neuron that is active during the above situations. In that case we could only make inductive correlations between the neurons and what we have predicated of the humans if we already know what we are correlating. We can only know that because we have established criteria of identity.

      Is any of this helpful to you?

      Am going to stop at this point with the intention of continuing tomorrow. Take care.


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    22. @Hal

      Your post are very good to read as well. Sorry for the mistake there but it happens with me.

      @Bill

      On the kinda of atheistic view that you are pressuposing, seems to be the reductive physicalist one, i agree completely that there is no way to get the intentionality of our thoughts or any while not having a sort of dualism. If all is but these misterious laws of nature that physicalists like to mention acting, them things would truly be mindless. In fact, that consideration seems to refute my objection that if the argument worked them God would need a creator: IF the argument works, we need a creator because we are material things subject to mindless laws and God is immaterial, so He is not subject to anything mindless.

      I still can't see a divine mind as helpful on this universe, though. This because when i write a text the writing content comes from me and not from the sign, so if the relation between my mind content and God is similar to the one between a sign and its content them "my" thoughts actually are divine. I can be certain that God does not think like me! So even if we take atheism as physicalism it seems that the argument does not works out as a argument for theism, at most for dualism.

      Delete
    23. (cont.)

      And this if we make Taylor argument as facing physicalist atheism. Againts a sort of aristotelian atheism* then things get even messier. In a aristotelian cosmos, the mindless "laws" are just generalizations we make of things behavior that are grounded on their essences and the characteristics and tendencies caused by the essence, we are not directed by extrinsic forces. Since on this cosmos there is a sort of proto-intentionality on everything, final casuality, them how our thoughts can have content while being generated by mindless processes is less mysterious.

      Of course, i do think that good arguments have been made to the conclusion that our thoughts are immaterial and that final casuality implies the existence of God, but both of these takes us away from Taylor argument, which i don't see as working out.

      Dr. Feser suporting the argument suprises me, but it is like what he said on a post on Rothbard: several great philosophers used some bad arguments from time to time.

      *a instable position, yes

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    24. @Hal:

      Trying to have Aristotelianism/hylemorphism without the soul is like trying to explain a triangle without angles.

      “What is distinctive about the human soul is that it incorporates not only the vegetative powers of growth, nutrition, and reproduction, and the sensitive powers of perception, desire and motion, but also the uniquely human rational faculties of the will and intellect. The soul is not an entity attached to the body but is characterised in Aristotle’s jargon as the “form of the living body” (Human Nature: The Categorical Framework, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007, P.23)

      Notice the pattern? Soul.

      (And yes, Michael Egnor knows about PMS Hacker and Wittgenstein).

      Delete
    25. Hi Bill,

      Here is a further response to you post. Hopefully it help us to come to a better understanding regarding our different views. I've no expectation that we will reach an agreement, but I do think it important that they be shared. Am in my seventh decade and have held many different views regarding human nature and the nature of the universe we find ourselves in. Who knows, maybe someday I'll come around to your point of view.

      Our acts which include facial expressions and voice tones can most certainly be the consequent of neural activity which correspond with a pattern of mental activity, but that seems to kick us back to the original premise: If physics alone is responsible for the phenomenon, then we have no warrant to ascribe intentionality to said phenomenon—whether on a hillside or inside a human head.

      I don’t see why it should kick us back to the original premise.

      We attribute those psychological powers to the human being who is thinking thoughts or looking at an object. It makes no sense to attribute them to the brain.
      We do need a functioning brain along with all the other organs involved in perceiving and thinking. But it is not the brain that sees, it is the human being who sees things with his eyes.


      If we discount naturalism and/or materialism, then how does intentionality emerge other than from a mind or intelligent being which grounds the phenomenon in the natural order?

      I have described myself as a naturalist. But there are many varieties of naturalism. You seem to be addressing the most common form that holds to reductionism and the unity of science. I don’t agree with that variety of naturalism. I do believe that there is only one substance: material substance. I don’t believe in mental or spiritual substances.
      Like all other animals, a human being is a kind of material substance. So in that sense we are bodies: spatio-temporal continuants that come into existence, persist for a time and then cease to exist.

      To get back to the OP: I believe those examples only have explanatory force if one assumes a reductionistic stance. Of course, I don’t think Taylor is a reductionist. Seems to me he is trying to point out that if you only rely on physics you can’t get to intentionality or purposive behavior. But I can’t find myself agreeing with the alternative he proposes: an agent with a mind creating the universe.

      I’m assuming that you also reject reductionism and the unity of science. Please correct me if I’m wrong. It is interesting that despite that agreement we have very different views regarding what should replace those mistaken views.

      While posting this I noticed Talmid's latest post. Of course, I don't agree with all he says.:-) However, I think he is on point in regards to the adequacy of the argument in the OP.

      Delete
    26. @UncommonDescent,
      “What is distinctive about the human soul..

      You've conveniently left out this part:
      The Aristotelian concept of the psuche (a term commonly translated, somewhat misleadingly, as ‘soul’) is a biological concept, not a psychological, let alone a theological or ethical, one.

      Here is the entire paragraph:


      The Aristotelian tradition, as one might expect of its originator, is inspired primarily by biological reflection The Aristotelian concept of the psuche (a term commonly translated, somewhat misleadingly, as ‘soul’) is a biological concept, not a psychological, let alone a theological or ethical, one. The psuche is conceived to be the source of the distinctive activities of a living thing – the ‘principle’ of life that makes it the kind of being that it is. The soul, as Aristotle conceived it, is the set of potentialities the exercise of which is characteristic of the organism. Consequently, it is not only human beings that have a psuche, but all living creatures, including plants. What is distinctive about the human soul is that it incorporates not only the vegetative powers of growth, nutrition and reproduction, and the sensitive powers of perception, desire and motion, but also the uniquely human rational faculties of will and intellect. The soul is not an entity attached to the body, but is characterized, in Aristotelian jargon, as the ‘form’ of the living body. The soul stands to the body of a human being roughly as the power of sight stands to the eye. The powers of a thing cannot survive the death of the thing itself. However, Aristotle equivocated, sometimes arguing that the rational soul, in particular the capacity to reflect on necessary truths (later denominated ‘the agent intellect’), is itself immortal. This, not obviously coherent idea, was to be the handle that Aquinas seized in order to accommodate Aristotelian philosophy to Christian doctrine.


      You subscribe to the Scholastic interpretation of Aristotle's philosophy. My interpretation is based on Wittgenstein's philosophy.
      I agree with Hacker that the belief that the psuche can survive the death of the body is questionable. It doesn't seem coherent to me.

      I'm sorry this example of you quoting a text without including the relevant context in which it is placed just confirms that you are not concerned with engaging in a real conversation.

      Delete
    27. @UncommonDescent,

      I left out a word in the last sentence. I intended to say:
      "I'm sorry this example of you quoting a text without including the relevant context in which it is placed just confirms that you are not concerned with engaging in a real conversation.

      Delete
    28. @Hal:

      But it is not the brain that sees, it is the human being who sees things with his eyes.

      That's false. A person who has lost the striate cortex, which is a portion of the occipital lobe that represents the primary area where visual information is processed, cannot see in the normal sense. So the person needs the brain, and the final processing takes place in the occipital lobe (inside the skull). There are no other mechanisms accepted, and even if there were any, the final "receiving point" would have to be physical (unless you were to allow an immaterial entity/soul). 

      I do believe that there is only one substance: material substance. I don’t believe in mental or spiritual substances.

      And yet you keep insisting that thoughts are "immaterial". But properties inhere in substances. If there are not immaterial substances, then immaterial properties are not real. Saying that matter has "immaterial" properties is a contradiction.

      Like all other animals, a human being is a kind of material substance.

      Like all other animals, a human being is a composite of matter and soul. If you eliminate the soul, then only the matter remains. And matter does not "understand", does not "see" and does not "think".

      I am not disrespecting you, but your position is very flawed and that's where my attacks are being directed at.

      Delete
    29. @UncommonDescent,
      I do want to thank you for the link to Michael Egnor's article. It was an interesting read. It is, however, unfortunate that he doesn't have a good understanding of Wittgenstein or of Hacker & Bennett's book. I don't have time to deal with all of Egnor's misunderstandings so I'll simply provide a quote illustrating what he thinks H&B are saying in their book and then quote from p. 454 of the 2nd edition of the book. It should be obvious from the comparison of quotes that he misunderstands H&B's views.

      M. Egnor:
      "On the other hand, if we take a more classical scholastic perspective on sensation and perception and if we note Wittgenstein’s distinction between experience and knowledge, blindsight is a simple example of sensation dissociated from perception which leaves an experience (sensation) of objects in the visual field without knowledge (perception) of those objects."


      H & B:
      "As should be obvious in view of our discussion of sensation and perception (§§5.1 and 5.2), Luciani’ s distinction between visual sensation and visual perception is incoherent. There is no such thing as a visual sensation (save perhaps for a sensation of glare felt in the eyes that disrupts rather than constitutes vision). For sensations are felt and not seen; there is no such thing as an unfelt sensation; sensations have a bodily location, degrees of intensity, and phenomenal qualities. But it makes no sense to ask where a person feels a visual sensation of a red apple, or what it feels like. So the capacity retained by blindsighted patients cannot be described by saying that they have visual sensations but no visual perceptions."

      Delete
    30. Hello again, Hal. I do not understand your account of intentionality. I tried to think of ways to flesh out what you are saying, but it’s really irrelevant at this point. Since the argument ends with the same point, I’ll drop that line of inquiry. Regardless your account, if the human being is the product of mindless evolution, then there is no basis for intentionality. Whatever a “human” is, no matter how closely its sounds or inscriptions resemble intelligence, there is no account to justify calling it intelligent. You write:

      The criteria for an impending eruption or the likelihood of a heart attack are different from those used to ascribe intentionality to a human being. The human can say that he is worried about the impending eruption or that he is worried about learning that he has a high risk for having a heart attack. I don’t understand why anyone would find it sensible to ascribe intentionality to the phenomena in your example.

      Nobody would ascribe intentionality to said phenomena and that is my point. Consistent patterns that point toward a particular conclusion is not itself intentional whether on a mountainside or from a human being.

      If Bob tells me that he is going to Cleveland tomorrow I don’t think my ascription of intentionality to him is coincidental.

      Respectfully, this is not an argument and it doesn’t not engage either Feser’s or Taylor’s point. I can ascribe intentionality to a message on a hillside, but what I do does not impart intentionality to it. On what account do I justify the ascription?

      Whether or not your ascriptions of Bob, Joe or Mary are coincidental (and they would be if Bob, Joe or Mary are merely mindless products of evolution), I still don’t see an account from you that justifies intentionality to those groupings of molecules we call human and unintentionality to another group of molecules called a hillside.

      We have criteria of identity to know when someone is thinking or seeing. Those criteria are based on the behavior of a human, what a human is doing or saying, facial expressions, the tone of their voice, etc. Those criteria are partly constitutive of what it means to think or to believe or to perceive. It is a logical connection, not an inductive one.

      Well, I must respectfully disagree here. An inductive argument is a logical argument, so if you’re basing conclusions on phenomena you observe due to other phenomena you observe, then your conclusions are the result of inductive reasoning. And this objection was addressed in the OP. To offer an inductive argument, you must rely on your cognitive faculties, but whether they are reliable in that instance is precisely what is at issue. Thus, said approach is question-begging. And as Feser follows up:

      But the problem is deeper than that (and I think that in his response to this particular objection Taylor could have made the point clearer). For as I have said, the point is not merely that our cognitive faculties would not reliably convey messages if they arose via purely impersonal and purposeless processes. The point is that they would not convey any messages at all, that they would be as utterly devoid of intentional or semantic content as an arrangement of stones that formed via impersonal and purposeless processes. And they would first have to have such content for us to be able to get any inductive argument, or any argument at all, off the ground. Hence this third objection to Taylor simply misses the point.

      So, it seems to me that we’re still without an account which justifies calling one intentional and the other accidental.

      Delete
    31. @Talmid, you write:

      On the kinda of atheistic view that you are pressuposing, seems to be the reductive physicalist one, i agree completely that there is no way to get the intentionality of our thoughts or any while not having a sort of dualism. If all is but these misterious laws of nature that physicalists like to mention acting, them things would truly be mindless.

      I really don’t know why you and Hal keep bringing up reductionism. I see it as almost entirely irrelevant to the discussion. If matter is all that there is, then there must be an account of change in the material world. One doesn’t have to ascribe change to the atomic structure of all substances. However, change in such a world would have to be ascribed to the laws which govern matter—full stop. Simply calling a package “human” and saying that it has intentionality because it has intentionality is not an argument. Or countering that, “I am thinking, therefore I have intentionality,” is also not an argument.

      And where you’re going with your thoughts being divine on a certain account has no bearing on either Taylor’s or Feser’s argument. We would not hesitate to flatly state that if a “message” on a hillside or a “message” on a rock occurred naturally, nothing intelligent could be ascribed to them. We would say so because the mindless cause and effect of matter has no potency to produce intelligence. Likewise, if the matter packages we call “human” naturally produce messages, we must also deny that said messages are intelligent (because they would be nothing but the effects of natural causes). To cogently deny that, you must produce an account which justifies calling one intelligent and the other accidental. Saying that you have a thinking mind is not an argument, and it begs the whole question.

      Delete
    32. Hi Bill,
      Thanks for the detailed reply. I'm only going to respond to a small section of your reply. I fear, as usually happens on the internet, that the discussion is going to be heading in all directions and we won't be able to understand what the other party is really arguing for.


      I wrote:If Bob tells me that he is going to Cleveland tomorrow I don’t think my ascription of intentionality to him is coincidental.

      Respectfully, this is not an argument and it doesn’t not engage either Feser’s or Taylor’s point. I can ascribe intentionality to a message on a hillside, but what I do does not impart intentionality to it. On what account do I justify the ascription?

      I can justify the ascription because Bob has told me what his intentions are. Because humans are language users and and having that capacity enables them to express their intentions and to understand when that intention is being expressed.
      Whether or not humans have evolved from another species is not a criteria for ascribing intentionality.

      Whether or not your ascriptions of Bob, Joe or Mary are coincidental (and they would be if Bob, Joe or Mary are merely mindless products of evolution), I still don’t see an account from you that justifies intentionality to those groupings of molecules we call human and unintentionality to another group of molecules called a hillside.

      I don't understand this continual reliance on reductionism. Are you a reductionist? Do you really believe a human being is just a group of molecules? I know I don't. So why would you think it an effective argument opposing my position?

      Delete
    33. Hi Bill,
      Just saw your response to Talmid. His reply may differ from mine, but I would like to express my view since I think it is important to coming to an understanding regarding our positions.

      I really don’t know why you and Hal keep bringing up reductionism. I see it as almost entirely irrelevant to the discussion. If matter is all that there is, then there must be an account of change in the material world.

      I have never claimed that matter is all there is. I have claimed that the only kind of substance is matter. There are no mental or spiritual substances

      Human beings are not just a bunch of molecules. To attribute that belief to me is mistaken.

      To conceive of a human being as a bunch of molecules is to hold a reductionistic position. Reductionism posits that ultimately all can be explained at the microphysical level. Pardon my French, but that is just bullshit.

      The method of explanation has to be applicable to the phenomena needed to be explained. Physics is appropriate for explaining microphysical particles. It is not appropriate for understanding and explaining human beings and their capacities.

      You are assuming our positions rely on reductionism.

      Delete
    34. Hello again, Hal. You write:

      I can justify the ascription because Bob has told me what his intentions are. Because humans are language users and and having that capacity enables them to express their intentions and to understand when that intention is being expressed.

      But that maneuver has been addressed multiple times now. Your justification relies upon the reliability of your cognitive faculties in interpreting what Bob tells you which is the very thing in question—both ways. If a parrot says, “I am going to Cleveland tomorrow,” and he heard that because a bunch of other birds chirping happened to accidentally produce the sounds, “I am going to Cleveland tomorrow,” we would not ascribe any intentionality to it because it’s an accident of nature. It is thus no justification to say that intentionality is present because the bird told you something. Similarly, no matter how similar your thoughts are to intelligible content, there is no basis to claim intentionality if you are the product of the same mechanistic forces that produced the parrot.

      I don't understand this continual reliance on reductionism. Are you a reductionist? Do you really believe a human being is just a group of molecules? I know I don't. So why would you think it an effective argument opposing my position?

      Well, that makes two of us who do not understand the repeated references to reductionism. One doesn’t have to be a reductionist to know that a human being is composed of molecules. That’s basic biology. I am simply using “molecules” as a point of reference. If you think that a reference to molecules equals “reductionist,” then I’m happy to change my terminology to “glob of matter” or “material package.”

      I have never claimed that matter is all there is. I have claimed that the only kind of substance is matter. There are no mental or spiritual substances.

      Well, I said that I didn’t want to venture down that line because I think it’s tangential to the point. That said, if matter is not all that there is and if there are no mental or spiritual substances, what else is there?

      Human beings are not just a bunch of molecules. To attribute that belief to me is mistaken.

      The key word here, then, is “just.” Unless you deny the reality of molecules, human beings are composed of them regardless our worldview. So, again, what is left over as implied by the word “just”?

      So, the glob of matter (and whatever else) that we call a “hill” has a feature that looks like semantic content, but since we’re positing that said glob of matter is the consequent of undirected evolution, we can ascribe no personal content to said feature. It is simply an accident of nature. Similarly, another glob of matter called “human” has a feature that looks like semantic content. But if said glob of matter is the consequent of undirected evolution, we must also withhold ascribing personal content to that feature.

      We are thus back to asking for an account which justifies personal ascription to one over the other. By my lights, I haven’t heard anything close to a reasonable account because it appears that the preconditions for both globs of matter are the same. What is the distinction that makes the difference?

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    35. Hi Bill,

      Here is another reason why I find it difficult to take the argument in the OP seriously:

      How do we know that the stone pattern does not convey any semantic content?

      The simplest answer is that stones do not meet the criteria of identity humans have established for attributing language use to sentient animals.

      Rocks are not sentient and do not have the capacity to use language.

      Those criteria of identity have nothing to do with how various kinds of living things change or come to be. So in this argument evolution is a red herring. For what happens in evolution are not criteria for determining whether or not humans really think or really use language.

      Addendum: I would draw your attention to the post by Anonymous (Joe Bossano) on March 8, 2022 at 5:44am. He clearly points out the non-sequitur in the OP's argument.

      And again, I'd like to say that I see nothing in my post that should be taken as an argument against theism. It simply deals with the inadequacy of Taylor's argument.

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    36. Hello, Hal! You ask and state:

      How do we know that the stone pattern does not convey any semantic content?

      The simplest answer is that stones do not meet the criteria of identity humans have established for attributing language use to sentient animals.

      Rocks are not sentient and do not have the capacity to use language.


      First, the answer to the question is in the OP. On the assumption that the universe arose accidentally and operates accidentally without a personal creator and/or director, there is no potency in the universe to produce intentionality.

      Second, your answer is question-begging because the humans you appeal to are the products of the same mindless processes that produced the globs of matter called hills and rocks. You are thus assuming a difference in humans without accounting for how they can develop these capacities and “criteria,” and that is precisely what is at issue. If it is impossible for the glob of matter called a hill to produce intentionality, it is equally impossible for a glob of matter called “human” to do it. The potency for intelligence is missing from the equation.

      Delete
    37. Hi Bill,
      Thanks much for such a detailed response. Helps me to understand better where you are coming from even though I have to respectfully disagree with most of it.

      In reference to reductionism you wrote:

      Well, that makes two of us who do not understand the repeated references to reductionism. One doesn’t have to be a reductionist to know that a human being is composed of molecules. That’s basic biology. I am simply using “molecules” as a point of reference. If you think that a reference to molecules equals “reductionist,” then I’m happy to change my terminology to “glob of matter” or “material package.”

      Human beings are one of many different kinds of things that exist. I think you should refer to human beings as human beings if you wish to communicate what kind of thing you are referring to, not to the stuff they are made of.
      Also, my conception of the human being and his mind has nothing to do with the stuff we are made of. We attribute psychological powers to the human being. Not to the inner parts of which he is made. If I had claimed that the brain is the mind and it does the thinking then I could understand your referring to molecules or physics.

      "The key word here, then, is “just.” Unless you deny the reality of molecules, human beings are composed of them regardless our worldview. So, again, what is left over as implied by the word “just”?

      The problem is not what is left over but what is left out. As I indicated above, it leaves out what distinguishes us from other kinds of substances.

      ". That said, if matter is not all that there is and if there are no mental or spiritual substances, what else is there?"

      Laws, rules, numbers, theorems. The capacities and dispositions of material things along with their colors and weights. Wars, revolutions, and cultures.
      None of these are material substances nor are they mental or spiritual substances.
      The lists are not complete. Nor do I intend on providing a complete list.

      From the OP:
      The arrangement could intelligibly be conveying that message only if there is some intelligence behind its origin, which brought it about for the purpose of conveying the message. If, instead, the arrangement came about through unintelligent and purposeless causes, then it cannot intelligibly be said to convey that message, because it could not in that case intelligibly be conveying any message at all.

      I agree with that completely. But that is in reference to a pattern created by rocks resembling the words of a language conveying semantic content.

      But if said glob of matter is the consequent of undirected evolution, we must also withhold ascribing personal content to that feature.

      You have yet to substantiate that claim. It is not at all like the earlier claim. For now you are referring to how rocks and humans come into existence. The earlier claim had to do with what counts for ascribing the capacity to express semantic content in language.

      Evolution enables the creation of new kinds of life forms. Has nothing to do with expressing semantic content in language.

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    38. @Bill

      I admit that i don't understand you asking for a justification of the idea that we humans have intentionality. On top of its denial being silly, it seems to me that Taylor arguments takes its for granted, he just argues that atheism is not compatible with it. Besides, if our intentionality has to be proven them the atheist can just deny it exists and ignore the argument, Rosenberg would do it.


      "I really don’t know why you and Hal keep bringing up reductionism."

      Because i really can't see the argument having much strenght against a aristotelian or neo-platonic metaphysics. On these views, "laws of nature" are just descriptions of things behavior, not things that move matter. Also, the explanation of how things function is given by the four causes, including final casuality.

      Final casuality means that a intrinsic property of material things on aristotelian metaphysics is a sort of proto-intentionality. By virtue of being what is, the eye really "aims" at seeing and water at freezing if on the right temperature, so it seems that human intentionality would be less of a leap on this view.


      "And where you’re going with your thoughts being divine on a certain account has no bearing on either Taylor’s or Feser’s argument."

      It does, for if i got Taylor argument right them he has the danger of seeing the relation my mind content has with God like the relstion between my writing and my thoughts. That would imply that i don't really think but God does it using me as a sort of message. What a bad conclusion.

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    39. @Talmid, you write:

      I admit that i don't understand you asking for a justification of the idea that we humans have intentionality. On top of its denial being silly, it seems to me that Taylor arguments takes its for granted, he just argues that atheism is not compatible with it.

      Of course humans have intentionality. Taylor’s examples are designed to illustrate that semantic content can only come from a personal agent. If you remove personal agency as the cause of the universe, then you remove intentionality. Everything having the appearance of intentionality is at best coincidental because undirected nature is without the capacity (potency) to actualize something personal.

      Besides, if our intentionality has to be proven them the atheist can just deny it exists and ignore the argument, Rosenberg would do it.

      This again leads me to suspect that you’re still missing Taylor’s point. It’s not a matter of proving intentionality to an atheist. It is rather a demonstration that intentionality cannot arise from purely mechanistic forces.

      Because i really can't see the argument having much strenght against a aristotelian or neo-platonic metaphysics.

      Say what?? How many atheist Aristotelians do you know? The Aristotelian project aims to prove an unmoved Mover. This is not accepted by atheists, so I have not the sweetest clue where this comes from. Most atheists are naturalists or materialists and ascribe no final causality to existing things. Taylor isn’t at all trying to disprove Aristotle. Where in the world did you get that impression?

      It does, for if i got Taylor argument right them he has the danger of seeing the relation my mind content has with God like the relstion between my writing and my thoughts. That would imply that i don't really think but God does it using me as a sort of message. What a bad conclusion.

      I’d like you to cite anything above from Taylor that is even remotely close to this. Again, all Taylor is arguing is that semantic content requires a personal cause. Since human beings have intentionality, their personal existence was given to them by God. In no manner does that translate into God thinking our thoughts for us. The atheist is without a rational explanation for how personality can arise via a natural order devoid of a personal cause.

      I apologize if my irritation is bleeding through my text. You’re making no sense to me whatsoever.

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    40. @Hal, in reply to your claim that a human is not “just” an assemblage of molecules, I stated the biological fact that a human is indeed an assemblage of molecules, and if you think that it is more than that, then what is a human in addition to his molecules? You replied:

      Laws, rules, numbers, theorems. The capacities and dispositions of material things along with their colors and weights. Wars, revolutions, and cultures. None of these are material substances nor are they mental or spiritual substances.

      The point of interest to me from my question is what constitutes a human being. Matter has intrinsic laws and rules which govern its behavior, so these things in themselves do not set humans apart from other material objects. Numbers are abstract, and if you apply them to the composition of humans, then they also apply to other material objects. The same goes for colors and weights. A theorem is a type of semantic content, but with respect to Taylor’s argument, it is precisely what is at issue, so assuming that is question-begging. Given, then, your reply, I see nothing that sets humans apart from any other substance. Any appeal to “[w]ars, revolutions, and cultures” is also question-begging under Taylor’s argument if it is alleged that by these intentionality is proved.

      I think you should refer to human beings as human beings if you wish to communicate what kind of thing you are referring to, not to the stuff they are made of.

      I normally do, but for purposes of this argument I will not because your definition of “human being” entails “personal agent” which is what is at issue. A hill is a glob of matter, laws, rules, numbers, colors and weights, and what you call “human” is a glob of matter, laws, rules, numbers and weights. Insisting that the latter is personal without accounting for how personality arises from mechanistic “laws, capacities and dispositions” is at best proof by assertion.

      The argument isn’t ultimately whether humans are personal; it’s over how impersonal laws and capacities can produce a personal agent. Since you agree “completely” that patterns created by impersonal laws and capacities cannot convey semantic content, then how can other globs of matter, who are the product of the same impersonal laws and capacities, convey semantic content? This is Taylor’s (and Feser’s) point, and nothing you’ve written thus far has even approached that question. A successful account has nothing to do with “asking” a glob of matter where he’s going on vacation or why he is expressing pain. We all agree that humans are personal agents. What accounts for the agreed upon presence of intentionality is the question. A being having all the earmarks of personality is irrelevant. What Feser and Taylor argue is that you cannot hold that the universe is impersonal AND that it can produce a person. Merely pointing to semantic-appearing patterns emitting from a glob of matter we call “human” does not distinguish that attempt from our pointing to semantic-appearing patterns on rocks. Such an attempt both begs the question and misses the point because we already appear to agree that impersonal laws and capacities cannot produce a mind. And if you think it can, then we need your account of how that is possible.

      You seem to think that patterns on a hillside and etchings on a rock are irrelevant because the personality is humans proves that they’re not impersonal. But if that is really what you’ve been arguing, you’ve been aiming at the wrong argument.

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    41. Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your reply. Again, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with it.

      First, the answer to the question is in the OP. On the assumption that the universe arose accidentally and operates accidentally without a personal creator and/or director, there is no potency in the universe to produce intentionality.

      That is not the answer to the first question: can a rock use language like a human?
      That is like asking: can a rock fly like a plane?

      The second question is: how can humans acquire the capacity to use language to express their intentions and thoughts?
      We already have to know that human beings have that capacity in order to ask that question.
      The OP’s answer to that second question is that intentionality is needed to create intentionality. But that is no answer. It is using what needs to be explained to explain it. So I don’t accept it.

      You are thus assuming a difference in humans without accounting for how they can develop these capacities and “criteria,” and that is precisely what is at issue.

      I am not required to explain how we have intentionality in order to know that humans have the capacity to express their intentions in a language. A person can know that a plane has the power to fly without understanding any anything about the engine that gives it that capacity. What is required is knowing how to identify that capacity.

      Second, your answer is question-begging because the humans you appeal to are the products of the same mindless processes that produced the globs of matter called hills and rocks.

      Sorry, but if there is any question-begging going on it is not being done by me.
      As I pointed out, asking how a human has a capacity assumes the existence of that capacity. So you really should stop claiming that Talmid, I and others disagreeing with you are question-begging because we can identify a capacity we all know exists.

      Delete
    42. Hello, Hal! You write:

      That is not the answer to the first question: can a rock use language like a human? That is like asking: can a rock fly like a plane?

      Well, that’s not quite the question. It is rather can impersonal forces imbue rocks and hills with semantic content? And the answer which you agree with is no.

      The second question is: how can humans acquire the capacity to use language to express their intentions and thoughts? We already have to know that human beings have that capacity in order to ask that question. The OP’s answer to that second question is that intentionality is needed to create intentionality. But that is no answer. It is using what needs to be explained to explain it. So I don’t accept it.

      On Taylor’s argument, you don’t know that, so to assume it beforehand in the attempt to refute his argument is to beg the question. “Asking the question” as if both the question and the response can yield something intelligible presupposes the reliability of cognition which is at issue. An opponent cannot merely point to semantic appearance, whether spoken, written or thought, and render a verdict because it’s already conceded that mere appearance is not semantic. And if you acknowledge that mindless natural forces are incapable of producing intelligence in a rock or a hill, why are they capable of producing them in other clumps of matter? Taylor has raised a reasonable question and retorting that we just know that humans are personal is not a rational answer. Yes, we all know that humans are personal, but you cannot consistently hold to the view that mindless forces cannot produce intelligence in some clumps of matter while having the capacity of producing it in other clumps of matter without an account of how that is so. Otherwise, you’re just baldly affirming it. It is the tension between both viewpoints that tells against that endeavor.

      I am not required to explain how we have intentionality in order to know that humans have the capacity to express their intentions in a language.

      You are most certainly required to if you’re going to rebut Taylor. And the fact that you refuse to do so implies that you cannot. It is what I referred to in another thread as an illegitimate appeal to mystery. Affirming that humans just are personal is not an argument. Inductive reasoning assumes what is at issue, and every objection you lodge has been answered by Taylor and/or Feser. You are thus left with the bare insistence that you are right. And if that’s a legitimate maneuver, we can do the same. Since all observed instances of intelligence have an intelligent cause, and since humans are instances of intelligence, it follows that humans have an intelligent cause. Ipso facto, QED and coup de grace. Forgive the lame attempt at humor. I’m just trying to lighten things up.

      I don’t see where anything else can be explored here. You may feel otherwise, but without a cogent counter which shows how intelligence can arise from non-intelligent forces, Taylor’s point stands. We’ve been more or less repeating ourselves for several posts, so unless you have something new to offer, we might as well close shop. Thanks for the respectful interaction. All the best.

      Delete
    43. Hi Bill,

      Seems we are going around in circles. Am going to try a different approach.

      So I'm going to assume for the sake of argument that Taylor is correct. He does not deny that evolution could have occurred through completely natural causes:
      Now, Taylor is happy to allow for the sake of argument that, as with the arrangement of stones you see out the train window and as with the series of marks on the rock that has been dug up, our sensory organs and neural structures may have arisen through entirely impersonal and purposeless natural processes, such as evolution by natural selection.

      So what is the upshot of Taylor's assumption? Humans would still be observing (but not really) and talking ((but not really) about what they saw. (but not really) They would tell others of their intentions (but not really) . They would fall in love (but not really). They would be willing to die for others (but not really). Etc., etc.

      Nothing has changed except that from Taylor's perspective one would have to characterize all of these intentional and purposive act as not the real thing. After all none these so-called intentional and purposive acts are any more authentic than that of rocks forming a sentence.

      But how can those humans beings who are the result of natural evolution distinguish between their seemingly purposeful and intentional behavior from authentic purposeful and intentional behavior?

      Delete
    44. Hello again, Hal. Okay, we can give it another go. You ask:

      So what is the upshot of Taylor's assumption?

      Right here:

      Taylor’s point is rather this. Even if you could reasonably entertain the latter possibility, what you could not reasonably do is both accept it as the correct explanation of the arrangement of stones and at the same time continue to regard that arrangement as conveying the message that you are entering Wales. The arrangement could intelligibly be conveying that message only if there is some intelligence behind its origin, which brought it about for the purpose of conveying the message. If, instead, the arrangement came about through unintelligent and purposeless causes, then it cannot intelligibly be said to convey that message, because it could not in that case intelligibly be conveying any message at all.

      And:

      The cases, Taylor argues, are in all relevant respects parallel. Delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of the arrangement of stones or the marks on the rock, and you delete any semantic content along with them. Similarly, if you delete mind and purpose from your account of the origin of our cognitive faculties, then you delete any intentional or semantic content along with them. You can have one or the other account, but not both.

      You continue:

      Humans would still be observing (but not really) and talking ((but not really) about what they saw. (but not really) They would tell others of their intentions (but not really) . They would fall in love (but not really). They would be willing to die for others (but not really). Etc., etc.

      And this was all addressed in principle in the OP. I think what you need to do is put yourself outside the “box” of the universe and analyze both scenarios. You agree that no matter how purposeful the arrangement of stones or the etchings on a rock seem to be, there is no way that they are conveying the messages we’ve discovered. They are merely coincidences of nature. Recall that nature’s “capacities” or “powers” arranged the hillside pattern and put marks on a stone, but since nature is unintelligent, it cannot convey intelligent messages. Now, analyze the other scenario (again outside the box). We have a living being who puts marks on paper that look like a purposeful arrangement. It also makes sounds that parallel a known language. But if said being is the product of the same forces and capacities that produced the arrangement and the etching, it is likewise without the capacity to imbue said being with anything intelligent. The arrangement on a hill could even be an arrangement on a mountain range which spells out the words to War and Peace and it would still be lacking semantic content. Likewise, no complexity of patterns flowing from said being can be regarded intelligent when it is the consequent of a mindless cause.

      Nothing has changed except that from Taylor's perspective one would have to characterize all of these intentional and purposive act as not the real thing. After all none these so-called intentional and purposive acts are any more authentic than that of rocks forming a sentence.

      Taylor isn’t willy-nilly insisting that they’re “not the real thing.” He asks on what basis we ascribe intelligence to one and not the other given that both are the produces of mindless causes. He addresses objections and finds no satisfying answer.

      Delete
    45. Hi Bill,
      Thanks much for the very detailed response. And for being willing to give it one more try.

      Guess I didn't make it clear, but this is the point that I was most interested in:

      But how can those humans beings who are the result of natural evolution distinguish between their seemingly purposeful and intentional behavior from authentic purposeful and intentional behavior?

      I see that you wrote how someone like us looking at it from the outside could distinguish authentic from inauthentic purpose and intentionality.

      You wrote:
      We have a living being who puts marks on paper that look like a purposeful arrangement. It also makes sounds that parallel a known language. But if said being is the product of the same forces and capacities that produced the arrangement and the etching, it is likewise without the capacity to imbue said being with anything intelligent. The arrangement on a hill could even be an arrangement on a mountain range which spells out the words to War and Peace and it would still be lacking semantic content.

      So how would that human being living in that universe know that his novel has no semantic content or know that he his not actually conveying any message when he speaks? And how would all the readers of that novel know it has no semantic content?

      Delete
    46. Hi there, Hal! You ask:

      But how can those humans beings who are the result of natural evolution distinguish between their seemingly purposeful and intentional behavior from authentic purposeful and intentional behavior?

      Taylor’s and Feser’s answer, I presume, would be that “those humans” could not in principle distinguish between the two because assuming a mindless universe would mean that these humans would be on par with parrots or other animals. A parrot isn’t interested in whether “I am going to Cleveland tomorrow” has semantic content because he doesn’t have a sweet clue what semantic content is.

      I see that you wrote how someone like us looking at it from the outside could distinguish authentic from inauthentic purpose and intentionality.

      Certainly because, as you know, we both agree that we are intelligent creatures (rational animals). We disagree on whether a mindless universe can produce intentionality. Basically, if there is no intelligent cause, there is no intelligent effect.

      Delete
    47. Bill,

      Thanks for the reply.

      Think we have come to the end of the line for this conversation. Take care.


      Delete
    48. @Hal -- and thank you for the respectful dialog. I wish you all the best. Til next time.

      Delete
    49. I had to be away from the blog for a few days and i see that the talk ended, so i probably should let it be. But...

      @Bill

      "Of course humans have intentionality. Taylor’s examples are designed to illustrate that semantic content can only come from a personal agent. If you remove personal agency as the cause of the universe, then you remove intentionality. Everything having the appearance of intentionality is at best coincidental because undirected nature is without the capacity (potency) to actualize something personal."

      I see.

      "Say what?? How many atheist Aristotelians do you know? The Aristotelian project aims to prove an unmoved Mover. This is not accepted by atheists, so I have not the sweetest clue where this comes from. Most atheists are naturalists or materialists and ascribe no final causality to existing things. Taylor isn’t at all trying to disprove Aristotle. Where in the world did you get that impression?"

      The key part here is "most atheists are naturalists or materialists". Correct. If Taylor argument is being used against these boys then i can see it being devastading. I just don't see it 1. Working well as a argument for THEISM and 2. It getting my thoughts relation with God right.

      Lets start with 1, suppose a person who happens to be a atheist but finds the mechanicist view of matter wrong and thinks that Aristotle philosophy was right in most things, including final and formal causes. As i tried to argue before, the argument loses a lot of strenght if attacking this view, for them there are no impersonal law at all doing the work, our intentionality is just a particular type of final casuality.

      As Dr. Feser explained several times, what makes intentionality so strange is not atheism, but the mechaniscism on our philosiphy of nature. Taylor argument is interesting when dealing with this metaphysical view and for either dualism or a classical metaphysics, but it is hard to see where Theism fits.

      Delete
    50. (Cont.)

      To see why the argument does not get to theism, lets go to 2.


      "I’d like you to cite anything above from Taylor that is even remotely close to this. Again, all Taylor is arguing is that semantic content requires a personal cause. Since human beings have intentionality, their personal existence was given to them by God. In no manner does that translate into God thinking our thoughts for us. The atheist is without a rational explanation for how personality can arise via a natural order devoid of a personal cause."

      Taylor is free to explain why it is that our thoughts depend on another mind to have content on a way that does not use derivated or extrinsic intentionality. I know that he does not defend that God thinks our thoughts, but i don't see his argument escaping from this conclusion if it were sucessful.

      Taylor starts with messages and shows how these can't have content unless produced by a mind, ok. Them he goes on to talk about not a message but messagers, us, and tries to show that these completely diferent cases are equal in that both depend on a mind to have content. As Hal, i guess, said, comparing language and thoughts does not really work for the relation between a message and its content is completely diferent that the relation between our minds and its content.

      I just don't see where the connection is. On a mechanicist materialist view it works out precisely because on this views there are no minds at all(even if the materialist denies that). Once we accept that minds exist, them God does not need to explain the content, for the minds can do it.

      Again, all that Taylor shows is that mechanicist materialism is false, he has to do way more to get to theism.

      With these days i hope that you had the time to take these things less serious and reflect more in what my badly-writed, my bad, messages were getting at. And remember: rejecting a argument is not to reject the conclusion! I'am a theist and i'am quite happy with Our Lord existence and love.

      Delete
    51. Hi, Talmid. You write:

      If Taylor argument is being used against these boys then i can see it being devastading. I just don't see it 1. Working well as a argument for THEISM and 2. It getting my thoughts relation with God right.

      Well, Taylor’s argument above isn’t billed as an argument for theism. As Feser states, he argues for God in a separate section. As far as your thoughts go, if God is your cause, then you are a rational animal.

      Taylor is free to explain why it is that our thoughts depend on another mind to have content on a way that does not use derivated or extrinsic intentionality. I know that he does not defend that God thinks our thoughts, but i don't see his argument escaping from this conclusion if it were sucessful.

      Again, I think that’s explained above. Semantic content requires a personal cause. If human words and thoughts have semantic content, they arise from a personal agent (the human being). But the human being would be without any capacity to express intentionality were it not for a personal cause of said human. You seem to think that since the etchings on a stone came from a human mind, then the thoughts in a human mind must come from God. That’s not at all my takeaway from the argument. It seems you’re trying to overthink the matter.

      Delete
  21. ... if it arose entirely from impersonal and purposeless processes.

    How can something that is purely impersonal and purposeless "give rise" to a person?
    If there never was semantic content in matter, it would never be possible for matter to "give rise" to it, no matter how "complex" the arrangement of particles, because that would amount to getting being from non-being (creatio ex nihilo).
    Matter would be actualizing a potential that was never there. Impossible.

    And that is why Profesor Feser remarks that what Taylor is getting at with his analogy is for it to signal the violation of a metaphysical first principle (it can not be done, or it would not be a principle).

    (Profesor Feser can correct me if I'm wrong).

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  22. Hi Ficino4ml,

    You said: “Out of the starting gate I am rejecting a supposed distinction between "intrinsic semantic meaning" and some other kind of semantic meaning. Either there is semantic content or there is not. "Intrinsic" looks like a qualifier that is trying to slip in a speaker's intention, the very property that I am not accepting as a necessary condition of semantic content.”

    Let me explain:

    A physical arrangement PER SE, no matter how complex, does not have any semantic meaning.

    So when I see the physical arrangement with the pattern “a cat is eating a rat on a mat”, I know that there is absolutely no semantic meaning intrinsic to that pattern (in short: there is no intrinsic semantic meaning in that arrangement). But I also know there is a certain particular semantic meaning represented by that arrangement base on the common agreement by English language users. That certain particular meaning is extrinsic to that physical arrangement.

    Now let me move on to further points with the following:

    Part 1
    =====

    Consider the following situation:

    Such a physical arrangement of different sizes of pebbles giving rise to this pattern was displayed on the ground:

    o o O … O…….Oo O.O

    Is there any message in the above physical arrangement/pattern?

    Now, add on this information:
    The above physical arrangement of pebbles was caused by a storm.

    Some time after the storm, some people from an aboriginal tribe passed by and saw the above arrangement. They said that the arrangement is a text message that means “Welcome to the house of Kikako”. That physical pattern is exactly how they would engrave on a wall if they want to convey the message “Welcome to the house of Kikako”.

    At another time, some people from a different aboriginal tribe also passed by and saw that arrangement. They said the arrangement is a text message that reads “Turn back or you would be killed”. That physical pattern is exactly how they would engrave on a wall if they want to convey the message “Turn back or you will die”.

    The above illustrates this point: there is no semantic meaning that inheres in any physical arrangement of shapes, shades or colours.

    Every physical arrangement, BY ITSELF ALONE (ie without any intelligent mind around), does not “point away” towards any semantic meaning. Not at all. (ie no intentionality in the sense of “no pointing away to something else beyond itself”)

    Semantic meaning is always imposed upon physical arrangements from outside of those arrangements.

    Human readers (like the above two groups of tribal people) may be the ones who impose meaning upon a physical arrangement, even when that arrangement was caused by a storm.

    Human authors may also be the ones who impose a semantic meaning on a physical arrangement when they create that particular physical arrangement to represent that semantic meaning.

    If the readers knew the decisions of an author with regards to what set of patterns/shades/colours was created to represent each set of semantic meaning, then the readers would know what are the semantic meanings intended to be expressed by that author when the readers look at various sets of patterns/shades/colours arranged by that author to represent the semantic meanings in the author’s mind.

    Semantic meanings exists only in intelligent minds, even though physical arrangements can be systematically designed to represent each set of meanings.

    (please see “Part 2: implications on the mind” below)


    Cheers!
    johannes y k hui

    ReplyDelete
  23. Part 2: implication on the mind
    =======================

    If human thinking is purely a physical process (eg movement of neurons), then just like the case of any physical arrangement of pebbles (with the difference that thinking would be some dynamic physical movement of neurons etc, instead of being a static arrangement), there cannot be any semantic meaning inherent in that physical movement.

    Just as the earlier pebble pattern of
    “o o O … O…….Oo O.O”
    caused by a storm is simply just
    “o o O … O…….Oo O.O”
    and nothing else without some external tribal people’s intelligent minds, the movement of neurons from this position to that position is simply a movement of neurons from this position to that position. Nothing more than it, and no semantic meaning in that physical movement PER SE, if there is no immaterial mind.

    I repeat:
    The movement of neurons from this position to that position is simply a movement of neurons from this position to that position. Nothing more than it, and no semantic meaning in that physical movement PER SE, if there is no immaterial mind.

    Therefore, if semantic meanings exist, then it entails that something non-physical exist. That non-physical thing is the immaterial mind.

    Physical movements/processes/arrangements are just physical movements/processes/arrangements and nothing more. To impose meaning onto those physical phenomena, something outside those physical phenomena is necessary: a non-physical mind.


    Cheers!

    johannes y k hui

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. reasonable,
      "Physical movements/processes/arrangements are just physical movements/processes/arrangements and nothing more. To impose meaning onto those physical phenomena, something outside those physical phenomena is necessary: a non-physical mind."

      What is necessary is the establishment of rules for the use of our words and sentences.

      Semantic content (or meaning) is part of a linguistic system of representation. In this case the English language.

      Language is a normative (rule following) system. Has to be in order to be used to represent other things. If there is any intentionality in language it is extrinsic: determined by agreed upon rules.

      But thoughts (beliefs, hopes, expectations, etc.) are not representations. They are intrinsically intentional. Thought is not normative in the way that language has to be.

      So why would anyone think that claims about how semantic content is formed or conveyed in language are applicable to the mind? Seems to me to be a clear category error.

      Delete
    2. Seems to me you give away the game when you use the word "represent." If language represents things, it obviously does so to a mind. It also must be used to represent things by a mind. Otherwise it is just random noise or squiggles (if written). To say that forming and conveying representations is not related to mind is absurd.

      Delete
    3. @Fred,

      You've misunderstood what I was trying to say. But that is my fault. It was a poorly written post.

      I agree completely that it is only beings with minds that can create and use representational systems such as language. But that does not entail that thoughts and thinking are representations or representational.

      The intentionality of thought is intrinsic. There is no public or private convention that turns a thought into what it is a thought of. This is unlike language in which rules have been established by convention in order to represent what we wish to say about our thoughts.

      But in the post I was replying to it was stated that:
      "Semantic meanings exists only in intelligent minds, even though physical arrangements can be systematically designed to represent each set of meanings."

      Semantic meanings (or semantic content) exist in language. Not in minds. Thinking or thoughts are not an internal language in our minds. Rather we use language to express our thoughts.

      Delete
    4. @Hal:

      What is a mind according to you?

      Delete
    5. @ UncommonDescent: Hal will have his own answer, but I'll throw in Gilbert Ryle's account of "mind" as a construct. Ryle gave the example of a university. What is a university? It's an institution, but its substrate is all the people and buildings and activities. The "university" is a bundle term we use to capture our conception of the complex of all of this. Similarly, "mind" is a bundle term we use to refer to all the activities of the brain in their interrelationships.

      Delete
    6. @Hal:

      How can we create languages, that you have acknowledged are the product of minds (and that are full of semantic content) if according to you semantic content "does not exist in minds"?

      If it's not in minds, where is it?

      Delete
    7. @ficino4ml:

      I understand the analogy, but in this case of the university, all its components can be found in/ be located in space: its buildings and contents (doors, chairs, tables, computers...) and also all the humans that teach, study and work there can be found in/ are locatable in space. Its "activities" are nothing but (physical) people moving in and out in a 3D space matrix. All its contents have been reduced to physical ones and there is nothing non-physical in a university.

      Same goes for the "mind" then with this example: all its components can be found in/ be located in space: cells, organelles, citoplasmatic content, etc. Its "activities" are nothing but molecules moving in and out in a 3D space matrix. Therefore there is nothing non-physical in the mind.

      The "mind" has been then assimilated to the brain (cells and its components and movements) and therefore *the mind IS the brain* and we are brains and purely physical beings. Which includes that "our" thoughts are also physical.

      If our thougths are physical, they can not have semantic content. Our thoughts are void and null.

      Delete
    8. @ UncommonDescent: "All its contents have been reduced to physical ones and there is nothing non-physical in a university."

      Ryle posits that "bodies are in space and are subject to the mechanical laws which govern all other bodies in space. .. But minds are not in space, nor are their operations subject to mechanical laws." Of his University example, Ryle wrote, "the University is not another collateral institution, some ulterior counterpart to the colleges, laboratories and offices which he has seen. The University is just the way in which all that he has already seen is organized." Another example he uses: team spirit of a cricket squad. The team spirit is "roughly, the keenness with which each of the special tasks is performed."

      Something's organization is not itself another body, nor is it a "ghost in the machine." He sums up, "As the human body is a complex organised unit, so the human mind must be another complex organised unit ... a field of causes and effects, though not ... mechanical causes and effects." ~ The Concept of Mind

      Delete
    9. @ficino4ml,

      "Similarly, "mind" is a bundle term we use to refer to all the activities of the brain in their interrelationships."

      That is close to my understanding but I do differ in regards to it being used to refer to activities of the brain.
      It is because a human being displays an array of powers of intellect and will that we can say he has a mind.
      It only makes sense to ascribe psychological predicates to the human being who displays them in his actions and behavior.
      The word "mind" does not refer to any kind of entity whether it be some sort of mental or spiritual substance or to the brain.

      Hacker goes into this in great detail in the book on neuroscience that I linked to in my other reply to you.

      Delete
    10. @UncommonDescent
      "If our thougths are physical, they can not have semantic content. "

      Despite our numerous differences in the other thread, I was under the impression that we both agreed that thoughts are not representations. If that is the case then it makes no sense to think that thoughts have semantic content. In fact, it makes no sense to think that thoughts are like a box that can contain any kind of content.

      The sentence used to express the thought one has does have semantic content.

      Of course thoughts are not physical. But neither are they some kind of mental substance or entity.

      Delete
    11. @Hal:

      It is because a human being displays an array of powers of intellect and will that we can say he has a mind.

      But a "human being" is nothing but a "conglomerate" of cells brought about by evolutionary forces. A "conglomerate" of cells that is constantly changing and being replaced. Therefore, the "self" that depends for its existence on the grounding of such cells is an unstable one. Meaning that without an unifying principle, the human being that according to you displays "an array of powers of intellect and will" is nowhere to be found.

      You will probably reply that I should "read the books that point to how you view the self to understand your position". But the problem is that there is no way for you to offer a reason as to how you are today the same person that wrote the above post yesterday (March 3, 2022).

      How can an ever-changing group of cells understand anything, memorize anything and reproduce those memories if it's constantly being broken/ replaced?

      Delete
    12. @CommonDescent,

      "But a "human being" is nothing but a "conglomerate" of cells brought about by evolutionary forces. A "conglomerate" of cells that is constantly changing and being replaced."

      If reductionism is true, you are correct. But I don't believe reductionism is true. Do you?


      Delete
    13. @ficino4ml:

      (My reply got published and now I see it has disappeared, so I am re-posting it).

      Ryle posits that "bodies are in space and are subject to the mechanical laws which govern all other bodies in space. .. But minds are not in space, nor are their operations subject to mechanical laws."

      Isn't that platonism? If minds are "not in space", where are they? In another realm?

      Delete
    14. @UncommonDescent,
      "I understand the analogy, but in this case of the university, all its components can be found in/ be located in space: its buildings and contents (doors, chairs, tables, computers...) and also all the humans that teach, study and work there can be found in/ are locatable in space. Its "activities" are nothing but (physical) people moving in and out in a 3D space matrix. "

      It is interesting that you are doing the same sort of reductionistic analysis you did with your description of the human body. In fact it appears to be an eliminative form of reductionism.
      Can you explain why you believe in eliminative reductionism? Why would you think universities and bodies do not really exist? That it is only their inner parts or components that are real?

      Delete
    15. @UncommonDescent,
      "You could not think about Profesor Feser if first you had not have apprehended him as a real, existent entity in the extra-mental world, which means that you need to apprehend his form (not his matter). And since it's not possible to apprehend forms without the soul...."

      You are simply begging the question. Why is a soul needed? What is needed is that we have to capacity to perceive and apprehend the objects in this world. We also need the capacity to use a language.

      Delete
    16. @Hal:

      A-Thomism and "reductive" materialism don't mix. It's oil and water :)

      I have a "metaphysical glue" that explains why we are unified, subsistent wholes (entities) and why we can understand the world and reliably think about it to further our knowledge. But you have renounced to the soul, so what does its job then?

      Regarding the "thoughts are not representations", we both agreed that thinking involves an "isomorphic, intimate connection". But I propose that the "isomorphic" connection is one involving the apprehension of the immaterial form of an entity (which of course can only be carried out if we also have an immaterial "component", the soul). Since you don't acknowledge the soul, an isomorphic, intimate connection in your case would involve that, when you think for example about a red geranium, the matter of the geranium enters your head (which of course does not happen). How can you account then for such an "isomorphic" connection?

      Delete
    17. @UncommonDescent,
      "Regarding the "thoughts are not representations", we both agreed that thinking involves an "isomorphic, intimate connection"."

      I never agreed to that. Thoughts are not representations. If so, it makes no sense to talk about connections.
      What is being connected? There is no connection between a thought and what it is a thought of. That implies a representation.

      We can think of things that don't exist. How can there be a connection there? Can you connect to a non-existent entity?

      Thanks for your post, because it makes clear to me that we have different conceptions regarding representation and thinking.

      "How can you account then for such an "isomorphic" connection?"

      Sorry, I am under no obligation to account for your conception of how we perceive things. That is on you.:-)

      Delete
    18. @Hal:

      You keep avoiding my questions
      What makes things (including you) unified, persistent wholes? Is it a "magical loctite"? :)

      Delete
    19. @UnccomonDescent,
      "You keep avoiding my questions"

      I'm not avoiding anything. I'm waiting for you to explain why you think eliminative reductionism is correct.
      You claimed that ' a "human being" is nothing but a "conglomerate" of cells". Only an eliminative reductionist would believe that claim to be true.

      Delete
    20. @uncommonDescent,
      Sorry but I just noticed that I need to make a correction to my response to you dated March 5, 2022 11:54. Looks like I had a real brain fart.
      Hope it didn't confuse you.

      Here is what I meant to write:

      "How can you account then for such an "isomorphic" connection?"

      Sorry, I am under no obligation to account for your conception of how we think. That is on you.:-)

      Delete
    21. @Hal:

      What makes things unified, persistent wholes? What is a human being apart from his cells who are a function of his ADN, which was selected by a dumb/blind evolutionary process?

      Delete
    22. @UncommonDescent,
      "What makes things unified, persistent wholes?"

      We call substances things or bodies because they are spatio-temporal continuants.

      The answer to your question is going to be different depending on what kind of body or thing you are referring to.

      If you are interested in learning about the human body, then I would suggest an Anatomy and Physiology textbook.

      "What is a human being apart from his cells .."

      So you are still playing the reductionistic card.

      I've already told you about half a dozen times what a human being is in this thread and the other one.

      Unless you can think of something else to talk about, don't expect any more responses from me.

      Delete
    23. @Hal:

      Exactly what I was expecting.

      We call substances things or bodies because they are spatio-temporal continuants.

      Our bodies are not "spatio-temporal continuants". Our bodies keep changing and shredding cells our whole lives. In fact, according to your position, "we" do not "have" bodies, we ARE a result of what a group of cells (body) does. Which is not the same by any stretch of the imagination.

      If you are interested in learning about the human body, then I would suggest an Anatomy and Physiology textbook.

      I am not interested in physiology. I am interested in metaphysics, which is what you don't quite seem to grasp. And your metaphysics is quite garbled and defective to say the least.

      So you are still playing the reductionistic card.

      I am taking your premises to their logical conclusion. If you don't like the conclusion, then you should review your premises. If we are physical bodies according to your monism, then we can not have any "immaterial thoughts" unless you add some "magic" to the equation. Your position is wholly incoherent.

      I've already told you about half a dozen times what a human being is in this thread and the other one.

      And again, your accout of what "we" are does not make sense, because you are adscribing "immateriality" to a monistic materialist worldview.

      Unless you can think of something else to talk about, don't expect any more responses from me.

      What I expect from you are coherent responses, of which I have not received a single one. You have also not replied to where "is" the semantic content that we apply to our language. If it's "not in minds", then it has to be in our bodies (cells). Or maybe in a third, platonic realm.

      I am going to reiterate it: you don't understand your own position.

      Delete
  24. @Hal:

    As Jacques de Maritain puts it:
    "What defines language is not precisely the use of words, or even of conventional signs; it is the use of any sign whatsoever as involving the knowledge or awareness of the relation of signification, and therefore a potential infinity; it is the use of signs in so far as it manifests that the mind has grasped and brought out the relation of signification."

    For the mind to grasp the relation of signification, it needs to enter in direct contact with external reality:
    1. first it grasps the object in external reality (a bird for example), and
    2. after that it informs a physical substrate (for example a set of marks in a stone or it imposes the form upon air molecules by vocalizing) to signal the relationship insofar as he HAS grasped it. (It involves self-reflection).

    It's impossible for step 2 to exist without having completed step 1. And it's impossible to acquire knowledge about the external world without an immaterial soul.  And I mean it: impossible. (Profesor Feser is writing a book on the soul that maybe will treat this and with more expertise).

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  25. Lots of divergent assertions reflecting diverging theories.

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    Replies
    1. @ficino4ml,

      LOL!!.

      Hopefully we can all agree on that.

      Delete
  26. As Hal, then I, said about someone's rearranging naturally, chance-arranged rocks into EXACTLY the same configuration so as to spell a sentence, it seems counter-intuitive to deny that the prior arrangement was a sentence, if it was identical to the human-arranged arrangement.

    Take a monkey playing with a telegraph machine. The monkey taps a sequence that is identical to an operator-typed sequence, "The enemy approach! Abandon your post and flee!" Operators all down the line respond variously. THEY read three speech acts: an assertion and two commands. But the Taylor/Feser view, endorsed by many on here, is that the sequence had no semantic content cuz monkeys, lol.

    On the view that Tim Finlay attributed to Alston, why can't we say that the meaning of the monkey-typed is its illocutionary act potential. That potential is actualized by the telegraph operators, even though the monkey, if it directed any intentionality at all (it was playing, so it desired something), did not intend a speech act.

    I am NOT arguing that if the monkey's sequence has semantic content, therefore Taylor's broader intentionality argument fails. I'm concerned with philosophy of language.

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  27. If simply a physical configuration can (all by itself) have semantic meaning (or content) wouldn't that mean that it would have as many possibly "contents" as you wish to assign it?

    And of course it would apply to any other physical pattern. Not just the rocks cited above (why "privilege" them?) but also some other rocks nearby, or some invisible underground? Or for that matter, through in the trees in the vicinity? Or the red spot on Jupiter? I don't see any way to set a criterion for any X to which semantic content will be attributed.

    If that is so, what use is it?

    - George LeSauvage

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    1. @ Anonymous (or George LeSauvage?), re this of yours: "If simply a physical configuration can (all by itself) have semantic meaning (or content) wouldn't that mean that it would have as many possibly "contents" as you wish to assign it?"

      No. Hal and I and perhaps others, and I think even Taylor in his thought experiment, presume a community of language users. The readers all apply the same conventions to patterns. So they all assign the same semantic content as determined by their common conventions. Maybe aliens would assign a different semantic content.

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  28. @ficino4ml,
    "I'm concerned with philosophy of language."

    That is my my primary concern too. But I am coming from a Wittgensteinian perspective. I'm afraid I don't understand some of the technical terminology you are using.

    It is certainly true that any competent user of English would be able to recognize the semantical content in that rock pattern and use it appropriately. But the forces that created it couldn't use it appropriately. Nor could a human who doesn't know English.

    Does the rock pattern itself have any semantic content? Only if used by one who knows English. If the employees of the railway company came out with a load of rocks to put up the same message that the naturally created rock pattern matches then there would be no need for them to replace the rocks with the ones they brought.

    To be honest, I've wavered back on forth on whether one could say there was semantic content in the rock pattern before any humans saw it. But the semantic content in the rock pattern is not intrinsic. Those rock formed words can only convey semantic content if the sentient beings using them know the English language.

    I like your example about the monkey. But it is unfortunate for those on the other end that by coincidence it relayed the message that it did.

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    1. Hi Hal, I have been pushed by your comments, so thanks. I have read the Tractatus but not the Philosophical Investigations, so I am not up on the later philosophy of Wittgenstein, which Kripke worked from in the aforementioned paper/s.

      If you like my thought experiment about the monkey, what conclusions do you draw about semantic content? Do we have reason to think that signals produced by a monkey at play and read as a "message" by all the participants in a linguistic community do NOT bear semantic content? It seems to me, channeling what I take Tim Finlay to have been saying, that the product of the monkey's play has the potential of being illocutionary acts. And that it is speakers who actualize that potential.

      If THAT's plausible, then it seems implausible to say with Taylor and Feser that semantic content is present in some corporeal series if and only if it is imparted intentionally by a rational speaker.

      Delete
    2. That makes no sense to me. The monkeys in your example are no different to the words having being produced by natural forces. Words (and all universals) when used intentionally are pointers to something about reality. Philosophers wasted most of the last century first by assuming that words contain the reality, then when it became clear that they did not, assuming that all of reality was relative.

      If nature arranges the stones to form the letters (or the monkeys in your example), then this is even another step away from this modern sense where the reality is all generated by the agent using it. In the Taylor/Feser sense, it doesn’t really matter if you stop there, because the ‘semantic content’ is still functional. Even if the meaning/intelligibility is generated by the person reading/hearing it, and the words themselves are not intrinsically linked to reality, there is a binary difference from processes that cannot discern any meaning. I think computers confuse people on this point, because although they cannot discern the meaning in words, people program them so that they can act as if they do. The discernment of meaning always comes from the programmers at one level or another.

      The fact that the modern, relativistic view of words assumes the words only have meaning as part of a history of individuals applying meaning, misses the fact that we can only do this because nature is already formed in a way that allows us to at least partially discern the patterns from which it is formed. In our conscious creation of semantic content, we are partially reflecting the activity of the creator.

      Delete
    3. @ Simon Adams: yours "Words (and all universals) when used intentionally are pointers to something about reality."

      This merely asserts once again exactly the view that I imputed to Taylor and Feser.

      Delete
    4. @ficino I guess my point is that there is no structure to perceived reality without the semantic content. There is only empty awareness, and of course this ‘perception perceiving perception itself directly is central to eastern religion. Now you can have a physicalist view where this awareness itself is just an illusion created by the functioning of a machine, and the machine has evolved to make sense of this physical reality. However that runs into huge problems, including that machines work on rules and not meaning, no matter how complex. They never understand semantic content, they just process it. Alternatively you can see consciousness itself as being at least as fundamental as matter, like inward and outward, implicit and explicit, which allows reality to exist. This is twofold in that perception itself is real and not pure illusion. However the semantic content perceived in nature (including, say, maths or geometry) seems to reflect something deeper for it to be intelligible at all. You need to use imagination to consider all the ways nature could have been to really get this, and once you do, it fits very well with us being made in the image of the creator of it all.

      I’m curious what you think of this -> http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2011/12/hegel-and-nominalism.html?m=1

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    5. @Simon Adams:

      Now you can have a physicalist view where this awareness itself is just an illusion created by the functioning of a machine, and the machine has evolved to make sense of this physical reality.

      This is another absurdity coming from the materialist side, because the concept of an illusion is nonsensical without consciousness. It is only in consciousness (awareness) that illusions can occur. So "what" is being deceived? It's consciousness (awareness). And because a non-existent entity can not be "deceived", consciousness has to be real and first in order. If consciousness is real, it's not an illusion. Period.

      And if an "illusion" helped us to survive and pass our genes, and it was our brains what "deceived" us, that means that our brains are under suspicion and that whatever flows from it (including "science" and including knowledge about evolution) is also under suspicion. Enter Plantinga and his EAAN.

      Naturalism + evolution = self-defeat.

      Materialism is a descent into madness, a travel down the rabbit hole into a world of absurdity from which only the realism of A-T metaphysics can offer the naturalist a route of escape.

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    6. @Simon Adams:

      A fantastic reading. Thank you for the link. Nominalism is a dead-end for sure. There is a mumbling fool in the comments section that tries to counteract the argument against nominalist ontology with the following approach:

      Just because a nominalist uses language (such as saying 'this is') does not mean he is unaware of some of the inaccuracy inherent in using that language. He simply accpets that this use of language is - currently - the best way of communicating and accepts that it is strictly not accurate because 'thingness' is not a universal.

      How would you reply to it?

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    7. @UncommonDescent Nominalism is of course the root of both materialism and ‘flat’ idealism, which is why I think it’s important to counter it.

      In terms of the comment, it doesn’t address any of the fundamental problems that lead to relativism and ultimately nihilism. If that were the truth of reality, then of course it’s better to have meaningless truth than happy delusion. However reality IS intelligible. There IS common ground in the meaning experienced far beyond what is needed for survival. There IS a sense of discovery rather than invention when mathematicians delve into new terrains. So whilst the comment is reasonable, the ontology it comes from is in denial of common elements they willingly accept in the way they live their day to day lives.

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    8. @Simon Adams:

      Thank you for your kind reply. I would add that if this person casts doubts on the accuracy of language, he is opening the door to skepticism. How can we trust what he is trying to communicate if according to him language is not a good tool?

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    9. @UncommonDescent

      You cite a poster from another site:

      Just because a nominalist uses language (such as saying 'this is') does not mean he is unaware of some of the inaccuracy inherent in using that language. He simply accpets that this use of language is - currently - the best way of communicating and accepts that it is strictly not accurate because 'thingness' is not a universal.

      Well, my response might not be the best there could be, but this appears plain silly to me. He is really saying that, “My being forced to depend on universals to defend nominalism does not count against nominalism.” Well, it most certainly does because it renders his argument incoherent. And of course, the very definition of a logical fallacy is any mistake in reasoning which affects the cogency of an argument. As Norman Geisler might have said, “One cannot climb the rope of universals and deny that the rope may be so used.”

      The entire nominalist project is just incoherent to me. Is the statement “all categories are conventional” itself a human convention? We have the general statement that all X’s are Y, which is of course another way of categorizing them. So, “X” = “categories” and “Y” = “conventional,” and we get “all categories are conventional.” Since the statement is in the form of all X’s are Y, it is itself a grouping or a category. Thus, the very statement is a convention and undermines the assertion altogether (because it implies that it is just as arbitrary and disconnected from reality). And if so, why believe it?

      To say that X & Y are similar in some ways just means that they are alike in some respects and different in others. Otherwise, we would either have X = Y or X ≠ Y (identical or different). Focusing on what they have in common is to focus on their nature or essence, especially if what they have in common defines what they actually are. So, they really have something in common to ground the grouping or they do not have something in common to ground the grouping. The former gives us a universal, the latter is merely a projection of our imaginary, arbitrary convention without any justification to be called “true” at all. And that of course makes these conventions useless for human knowledge.

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  29. @ficino4ml
    Hi ,
    Interesting that you have approached Wittgenstein through his earlier works. I have yet to read the Tractatus. I tried reading it years ago but stopped early because I couldn't understand it. Am about half way through Philosophical Investigations (PI). As you are probably aware, there are quite a few differences among philosophers in regards to his philosophy. Generally speaking those in America who have been heavily influenced by Quine have quite a different approach to his works than the British philosophers. Kripke has also been very influentional, but most Wittgensteinians don't agree with his take on the PI. I believe that he has acknowledged that he wasn't trying to adhere strictly to Witts'
    views in the PI.

    The writings of Bede Rundle, P.M.S. Hacker and Hans-Johann Glock have been my primary introduction and guides to Wittgenstein. I see in another of your posts that you have read Gilbert Ryle. A great philosopher. I've been influenced by his writings also.

    As to your question regarding the monkeys:
    I agree that for the telegraph operators receiving the message that it did convey the semantic content they believed it to contain. But if they had known it came from a monkey they would have disregarded it. Isn't it like when a parrot mimics human speech? The words the parrot says do mean something but no one believes the parrot means something by using those words. After all parrots have never been taught how how to use the words and sentences of our language.
    Would " the potential of being illocutionary acts" be equivalent to "the potential of having semantic content"?
    So in the OP one could say that the rock pattern has the potential to be used to convey semantic content in the right circumstances. Like the railway workers deciding to use the accidentally created pattern instead of using their rocks to convey the message. Does that make sense to you?

    Just want to add that second ed. of Hacker's book "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience " has been recently published. Here is a link to a preview of the book:

    Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience 2nd Edition

    Am also linking a preview to the 1st vol. of Hacker's tetralogy on human nature":

    Human Nature: The Categorial Framework

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  30. Taylor's argument as you describe it here seems to me strikingly similar to that made in the third chapter of C.S. Lewis' book Miracles, on "The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism" (the one he revised after a bruising debate over the original version with Elizabeth Anscombe at the Socratic Club).

    Lewis' framed his case in terms of the validity of reasoning rather than of intentionality, but otherwise the argument would appear to be the same - and, to my comparatively untrained philosophical mind at least, a knock-down one at that.

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  31. Thanks for the links. I don't know when I can get to them, though, aargh.

    Re yours:
    1. "Would " the potential of being illocutionary acts" be equivalent to "the potential of having semantic content"?"
    Tim Finlay cited Wm. Alston as saying this: "Bill Alston sees the meaning of a sentence type as its illocutionary act potential."
    So acc to Finlay, Alston holds, not that the potential of having semantic content is the potential of being an illocutionary act, but that semantic content - or the meaning of a sentence type - IS is illocutionary act potential.
    2. I agree that telegraph operators would discount the blips if they knew they were produced by a monkey. That degree of knowledge wasn't posited in Taylor's thought experiment, though, which my thought experiment was mimicking. Monkey see, monkey do!

    3. I generally see classical theists discount the results of neuroscientific research as beside the point, since they hold that questions about the nature mind are metaphysical questions, not scientific ones.

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    1. @@ficino4ml,
      "3. I generally see classical theists discount the results of neuroscientific research as beside the point, since they hold that questions about the nature mind are metaphysical questions, not scientific ones."

      I'm an atheist. I think questions about the nature of mind are conceptual ones. A Cartesian conception of the mind is quite different from an Aristotelian conception.
      It is interesting that many neuroscientist's share the Cartesian conception. Of course they deny that the mind is a mental substance. But they treat the brain as if it is the mind and that results in a brain/body dualism instead of a mind/body dualism.

      Am very hopeful that neuroscience will be able to help us better treat some of the brain disorders and diseases that can afflict it. Our mental capacities do depend on a normally functioning brain.

      Delete
    2. @ficino4ml,
      So acc to Finlay, Alston holds, not that the potential of having semantic content is the potential of being an illocutionary act, but that semantic content - or the meaning of a sentence type - IS is illocutionary act potential."

      Ok. Thanks for that explanation. I would agree with Alston but if I was explaining it to someone who didn't know the technical terminology this is how I would put it:

      Each well formed sentence in our language has a meaning. That meaning is linked to how the sentence is used but it is not necessarily the same as the meaning expressed by the use of the sentence.
      For example: "Bob is out taking a walk." does not mean that Bob is out taking a walk. Sue could use this sentence to tell us that Bob is out taking a walk. Or she could use it to let someone know that she is alone at home. Or there could be other uses for this sentence depending on the circumstances.

      I don't know for sure what Alston would say to the example in the OP, but I believe he would hold the position that the rock pattern that resembles an English sentence does not have illocutionary act potential unless a language user comes upon it and decides to use it to express a message.

      Delete
  32. Guys I know this sounds like a noob question but I can't figure it out by myself. So, what's the
    major difference between Aristotelianism and Scholasticism, and Thomism?

    Sometimes, the little I know from St. Thomas looks like a natural development from Aristotle's works, but I can't figure out by myself the straight line or the nuances between the two departure points when it comes to natural philosophy and sometimes metaphysics.

    Could somebody give me a tip? (p.s Ed and guys I'm sorry if that's too off-topic, but I couldn't see any better opportunity to ask it!)

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    Replies
    1. I am not a professional, but I can give a few places of divergence or at least difference.

      1. Aristotle believed that ordinary natural substances were a union of form and matter. Thomas added to this that angelic beings were a "union" (if that's the right word) of essence and existence, and that God cannot rightly be said to be in ANY category. (The term "being" is not properly a category, as it is used equivocally between Ari's 10 categories). God is the only "being" that does not have existence, he is not separable (even notionally) from his existence.

      2. Ari believed in the distinction of potential and actual, and used it to explain the meaning of motion. Thomas fully employed this.

      3. Ari believed that humans have a nature (the combination of form and matter) and that this nature determines (on a broad level) what kind of life is good for humans, i.e. what kind of life is "happy". This then constitutes the ground for "natural law" for humans: humans can decide whether to engage in the kinds of behavior that will make them happy (or decide not to), but they cannot simply DECIDE which kinds of things will actually succeed in making them happy. Thomas added to this that man is intended to act for a good - union with God in a supernatural union - that cannot be known distinctly under the natural light of reason alone. Thus Ari's highest human behavior entailed contemplation of God, but not supernatural union with Him. Ari's list of the human virtues (which describe human excellences) were modeled on this life, with prudence and justice reigning over the others, whereas Thomas's list of the virtues starts with charity (supernatural love of God) reigning over and re-formulating all the rest, so that they are defined in terms of eternal life, with this life as the necessary formation of the soul so that it is fit for the next life.

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    2. @Tony

      Thank you soo much for the kind answer man, that was perfect!

      Your answer is exactly what I've been looking for since it is hard for me to see too much of a difference in their metaphysical aspects, but you pointed out aspects that I didn't know about when it comes to ethics, theology, and the final destination, let's say, of man.

      Thanks, dude.

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    3. Tadeoe

      There are other important differences, I think.
      One of those is that, unlike Aquinas, Aristotle rejected creatio ex nihilo.
      Aristotle was a deist, he did not believe God could intervene in any way.

      One

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  33. I am a fan of Feser he presents his ideas with proofs and Logic In my mind he is another Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas

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  34. Hi. There seems to be a fairly evident non-sequitur in the argument. (Apologies if someone above has already observed the points I'm making.) Namely, from something like 'blind forces can't generate a genuine intentional token' to 'blind forces couldn't generate a genuine intentional system'.
    Also there does seem to be a big numbers difference that weakens the suggested parallel: an evolutionary story would interpose a great many stages (which in the considered tokens' cases it would not be significant to do). And the evolutionary story would have to indicate the plausible adaptive advantage of each stage. There's a lot of complexity in this intermediary process, from blind forces to end product.
    And thirdly an evolutionary story would involve multiple actors (/ systems/ organisms), lacking in a helpful way in the token cases where a fully fledged person is set over against an accident of causation. Consider a fruit hanging on a tree broadcasting its virtues to all local fructivores! Is the evolution of such proto-intentional arrangements of matter implausible?
    Thanks for reading, and for the stimulating post,
    Joe Bossano

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  35. H Joe,
    Great post. It is a nice summary of the problems with the OP argument. Thanks!!

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  36. The latest news is that the United States has colluded with Zelenskyye to operate a number of biological warfare laboratories in the Ukraine.

    Since Ukraine is on the Russian border, does this mean we must concede principle one to Russia.

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  37. (1/2)

    I know it's a bit late to comment again on this post, but there was one thing I wanted to mention:

    Daniel Dennett characterizes Darwinian evolutionary theory as a style of explanation that excludes any “mind first” account of the world, viz. an account that takes mind to be a fundamental feature of reality, rather than one that derives from non-mental phenomena. But while this is true of Dennett’s preferred style of evolutionary explanation, it is not true of evolutionary explanations as such, not even Darwinian ones.

    Fwiw, I think that Dennett is right about what Darwinian explanation is, and I think that any "mind first" evolutionary account should use a different term.

    Darwin was responding to Paley, who assumed the same Descartesian mechanistic view of nature that Darwin did, but attributed the ubiquitous appearance of sophisticated function that characterizes biology to the sort of external and assigned purpose that artifacts of human engineering have, in which an artifact (like a watch) has function only by virtue of the intentions of its designer.

    Darwin's argument was meant to show how the appearance of biological function could be subsumed *entirely* within the mechanistic view, and the appearance of function could be accounted for with no actual intent or mind. He did this by making an analogy between the deliberate selection involved in human animal breeding and the way that some animals in a given environment will tend to survive better than others, and then reifying his analogy into a pseudo-intellect dubbed "natural selection" to which was attributed *all* the creative powers of human intellect and then some, but without having any intent. Modern day neo-Darwinists (and pseudo-Darwinists like Gould) have changed the details from Darwin's day, but the underlying logic for eliminating purpose from biology remains the same.

    I have read Aristotle's Revenge, and I know that you come up with a version of "natural selection"/"Darwinism" that doesn't reduce the appearance of purpose in biology to blind mechanism if you introduce certain Thomistic ideas that Darwin himself rejected, but I don't think you *should*, because at that point the explanatory framework of the idea has been fundamentally inverted. You could just as easily come up with a version of Paley that doesn't reject substantial form by introducing Thomistic concepts that Paley himself rejected, but nobody does that because you would simply be equivocating between two essentially different ideas.

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  38. (2/2 cont.)

    It's also often argued that Darwinism is "really" teleological because Darwinists constantly use teleological language to describe biology and constantly speak of "natural selection" itself as "choosing" or "selecting for" things. Eliminativists and material reductionists in the philosophy of mind ALSO use teleological language liberally, but we don't say that eliminativism is "really" teleological on those grounds. Rather, we say that it is incoherent. It is biology and the mind THEMSELVES that are irreducibly teleological, and Darwinists and mental eliminativists are forced to use teleological language because it's impossible to intelligibly describe those topics without it. That Darwinism and eliminativism rely on the existence of the very teleology that they are trying to eliminate just means that they are incoherent.

    And I think guys like Fodor have done a good job of showing that natural selection itself (without being redefined to "rescue" it) is an empty concept that does not in principle explain what it is meant to, and seems to because Darwinists are pushing an analogy too far and conflating natural selection with an actual rational agent.

    I think Darwinism typically gets this "kid's gloves" treatment (by contrast to Paley and IDist in Paley's mold) from Thomists for sociological reasons more than scientific or philosophical ones. It's cost-free to point out what's wrong with Paley, but what we call "cancel culture" today has been raging on the topic of origins for many decades. There's nothing approaching a reasoned discourse on the topic going on, and attacking Darwin in an unambiguous way is often career suicide in any academic or scientific field.

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  39. Very good, Professor Feser. However, as you know, in philosophy, one can always worm out of anything whatever by paying a high enough price. It is just that the price is sometimes so exorbitantly high as to be transparently dishonest. So, in the present case, your problem is that you assume there is semantic or intentional content given by perceptual processes. Thus, the school of Darwin could worm out of your argument by denying such content. How so? Specifically, they could adopt some version of reconstructed behaviorism. I myself believe that would be very much the wrong answer, but then I am not a reductive materialist. So, what do you say? DMcG

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