Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. This post will remain at the top of the queue to give new and some old readers an idea of what this site is and isn't, what goes on here, and what is not permitted to go on here. Like the site itself, this introductory page is under permanent construction and reconstruction. It will take shape bit by bit over the coming weeks and months.
1. Why 'Maverick Philosopher'? Since I am a philosopher and what is done here is mainly philosophy, it is appropriate that 'philosopher' be in the title. As for 'maverick,' this word derives from the name of the Texas lawyer Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) who for a time was a rancher who ran cattle that bore no brand. These unbranded animals of his came to be known as mavericks. The term was then extended to cover any unbranded stock and later any person who holds himself aloof from the herd, bears no 'brand,' resists classification, strives to be independent in his thinking or mode of living, is religiously or politically unaffiliated, and the like. (Cf. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 473.)
. . . is 'One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Freedom Fighter.' And that is probably because Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlanticcited it. So I tell myself that I am having some influence, and doing some good. But even if I had no influence on anyone, the life of the mind would remain for me an end in itself and its own reward.
This is an old post from the Powerblogs site, written a few years ago. The points made still seem correct.
Peter Lupu's version of the logical argument from evil (LAFE) is committed to a principle that I formulate as follows:
P. Necessarily, agent A ought to X iff A is morally obligated to X.
This principle initially appealed to me, but but then I came to the conclusion (with the help of the enigmatic Phil Philologos or was it Seldom Seen Slim?) that the biconditional (P) is correct only in the right-to-left direction. That is, I came to the view that there are moral uses of 'ought' that do not impute moral obligations. But so far I have not convinced Peter. So now I will try a new argument, one that explores the connection between the obligatory-supererogatory distinction and the thesis that there are two moral senses of 'ought.' Here is the gist of the argument:
1. There are supererogatory actions 2. Whatever is good to do ought to be done --- 3. There are two moral senses of 'ought,' one prescriptive the other commendatory.
Ad (1). I am using 'supererogatory' in a wide sense. Accordingly, an action can be supererogatory (roughly: above and beyond the call of duty) even if it is not heroic or particularly costly (financially or otherwise) to the agent. It can be something as trifling as leaving a 50% tip in a restaurant. (Not that hard to do given dives I frequent.) If an action is obligatory, then it is good to do, and bad to leave undone. If an action is supererogatory, then it is good to do, but NOT bad to leave undone. Suppose I have lunch in a restaurant in which the food is good and the service adequate. Then
a. I am legally and morally obligated to pay the bill. b. I am morally but not legally obligated to leave a 15% tip. (Or so I would argue.) c. I am neither legally nor morally obligated to leave a 50% tip.
Nevertheless it is a good thing to leave a large tip (other things being equal), but not bad if I fail to leave a large tip. So the action is supererogatory in the wide sense here in play.
Ad (2). The principle that whatever is good to do ought to be done is theoretically attractive. It is attractive because it forges a partial link between the axiological and the deontic which are two aspects of the normative. Axiological terms include 'good,' 'evil',' 'value,' 'disvalue,' 'ideal.' Deontic terms include 'obligation,' 'prohibition,' 'permission,' 'right,' 'duty.'
Note the difference between (2) and
4. Whatever is good ought to be done.
(2) is about the good-to-do; (4) is about the good-to-be, which is a wider category. (4) says that everything which would be good were it to exist ought to be brought about by someone. It suffices to refute (4) to adduce a state of affairs that would be good if realized, but is not in the power of any finite agent to realize. Well, it would be good if none of us had to to die; but the immortality of human beings is not a state of affairs that can be brought about by any finite agent or agents.
Much more needs to be said about the principle (2) but let's assume that one accepts it.
Now under what conditions can it be true both that (1) there are supererogatory actions, and (2) whatever is good to do ought to be done? On the face of it, these seem contradictory. The supererogatory is that which it is good to do but not obligatory. But if what is good to do ought to be done, then it seems to follow that what is good to do is obligatory — which contradicts (1).
The contradiction is avoided if we distinguish between two moral senses of 'ought.' In the prescriptive sense, what one ought to do is what one is obligated to do. In the commendatory sense, what one ought to do is good to do but not obligatory.
But are there any sentences that feature moral uses of 'ought' that do not impute obligations? Suppose my wife says to me, 'We ought to give more of our income to charity.' Suppose further that there is an obligatory percentage and that we are already giving that percentage. In saying what she says, my wife is not imputing an obligation to us; she is recommending that we do more than we are obligated to do. Since the context is moral, this seems to be a moral use of 'ought' that does not impute an obligation. This seems to be a clear counterexample to (P) above.
Suppose instead she had said to me, 'We ought to check out the Roy Orbison exhibit at the Tempe Center for the Arts before it is too late.' Visiting such an exhibit is a morally indifferent action: neither prohibited, nor obligatory, nor supererogatory. The use of 'ought' in this example is nonmoral. It like the 'ought' in 'If you want to get to Tempe from Gold Canyon by freeway, then you ought to head east on the Superstition Freeway.'
Robert Merrihew Adams (Finite and Infinite Goods, Oxford 1999, p. 235) offers this example: "The religious leaders of the world ought to launch an appeal to protect the physical environment in which humanity must live." Someone who says this is not saying that the leaders are under an obligation; he is saying that it would be a good idea were they to act as recommended.
To sum up. There are nonmoral and moral uses of 'ought,' but not every moral use is an obligation-imputing use. So the biconditional (P) is false. What is true is the conditional,
P*. If agent A is morally obligated to X, then A ought to X.
Another in the NYT Opiniator series. This one is particularly bad and illustrates what is wrong with later Continental philosophy. Earlier Continental philosophy is good: Brentano, Meinong, Husserl, early Heidegger, early Sartre, and a whole host of lesser lights including Stumpf, Twardowski, Ingarden, Scheler, von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, et al. The later movement, however, peters out into bullshit with people like Derrida who, in the pungent words of John Searle, "gives 'bullshit' a bad name."
This is the third in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is John D. Caputo, a professor of religion and humanities at Syracuse University and the author of “The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion.”
Gary Gutting: You approach religion through Jacques Derrida’s notion of deconstruction, which involves questioning and undermining the sorts of sharp distinctions traditionally so important for philosophy. What, then, do you think of the distinction between theism, atheism and agnosticism?
John Caputo: I would begin with a plea not to force deconstruction into one of these boxes. I consider these competing views as beliefs, creedal positions, that are inside our head by virtue of an accident of birth. There are the people who “believe” things from the religious traditions they’ve inherited; there are the people who deny them (the atheism you get is pegged to the god under denial); and there are the people who say, “Who could possibly know anything about all of that?” To that I oppose an underlying form of life, not the beliefs inside our head but the desires inside our heart, an underlying faith, a desire beyond desire, a hope against hope, something which these inherited beliefs contain without being able to contain.
One could be forgiven for stopping right here, though I read the whole thing. First of all, it is simply false to maintain that one is a theist or an atheist or an agnostic "by virtue of an accident of birth." Some are brought up theists and become atheists or agnostics. Some are brought atheists and become theists or agnostics. And so one. It is also wrong for Caputo to imply that those brought up thist or atheist can have no reasons for their theism or astheism. Then there is the silly opposing of beliefs and desires, head and heart. And the talk of a form of life as if it does not involve beliefs. Then the empty rhetoric of desire beyond desire. Finally, the gushing ends with the contradictory "contain without being able to contain."
The interview doesn't get any better after this. But there is an insight that one can pick out of the crap pile: there is more to religion than doctrinal formulations: the reality to which they point cannot be captured in theological propositions.
Retractio 3/11. Joshua H. writes,
As one of your loyal "continental"-trained readers, I must say I agree that Caputo's performance in the NYT elicits a rather terrible odor of self-congratulatory BS. But surely "later" continental philosophy as a whole doesn't suffer from this unfortunate illness?! Gadamer, Frankfurt School, Ricoeur, among others? Surely Gadamer-Habermas and Habermas-Ratzinger are some of the most interesting debates the discipline has produced in the last 50+ years?
As someone who, back in the day, spent his philosophical time mainly on Gadamer and Habermas and Adorno and Horkheimer and Levinas and Ricoeur, et al., I must agree that Joshua issues a well-taken corrective to what I hastily wrote above at the end of a long day of scribbling. The later movement cannot be dismissed the way I did above. I would, however, maintain that the quality declined as the movement wore on and wears on.
I will also hazard the observation, sure to anger many, that just as one becomes more conservative and less liberal with age, and rightly so, one becomes more analytic and less Continental, and rightly so. It is the same with enthusiasm for Ayn Rand and Nietzsche. Adolescents are thrilled, but as maturity sets in the thrill subsides, or ought to.
This old Heidegger man can't help but wait with bated breath for this material to see the light of day.
In his will, Heidegger, who died in 1976, stated the order in which his unpublished writings were to be released. That drawn-out process is why the 1,200 pages of the 1930s and 1941 notebooks are being published only now.
The new material "is something very surprising, something we’ve never seen before," says Mr. Trawny, director of the Martin Heidegger Institute at the University of Wuppertal. The scholar was chosen by the Heidegger family to edit the three volumes of the leather-covered black notebooks.
"In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Heidegger was very angry," says Mr. Trawny. By then, he says, the philosopher realized that both Nazi ideology and his own philosophical mission, which was predicated on a national revolution and Germany’s dominance in Europe, were going to fail. "In this anger, he makes reference to Jews, including some passages that are extremely hostile. We knew that he had expressed anti-Semitism as private insights, but this shows anti-Semitism tied in to his philosophy," says Mr. Trawny.
Do you regret in the morning the spare supper of the night before or the foregoing of the useless dessert? Do you feel bad that you now feel good and are not hung over? You missed the party and with it the ambiguity and unseriousness and dissipation of idle talk. Are you now troubled by your spiritual continence?
As for idle talk, here is something good from Franz Kafka: The Diaries 1910-1923, ed. Max Brod, Schocken 1948, p. 199:
In the next room my mother is entertaining the L. couple. They are talking about vermin and corns. (Mrs. L. has six corns on each toe.) It is easy to see that there is no real progress made in conversations of this sort. It is information that will be forgotten again by both and that even now proceeds along in self-forgetfulness without any sense of responsibility.
I have read this passage many times, and what delights me each time is the droll understatement of it: "there is no real progress made in conversations of this sort." No indeed. There is no progress because the conversations are not seriously about anything worth talking about. There is no Verantwortlichkeit (responsibility): the talk does not answer (antworten) to anything important in the world or anything real in the interlocutors. It is jaw-flapping for its own sake, mere linguistic behavior which, if it conveys anything, conveys: ‘I like you, you like me, and everything’s fine.’ An expression of boredom, it does little to alleviate it.
The interlocutors float along in the inauthenticity (Uneigentlichkeit) of what Heidegger calls das Man, the ‘they self.’ Compare Heidegger’s analysis of idle talk (Gerede) in Sein und Zeit (1927), sec. 35.
Am I suggesting that one should absolutely avoid idle talk? That would be to take things to an unnecessary and perhaps imprudent extreme. It is prudent to get yourself perceived as a regular guy -- especially if you are an 'irregular guy.'
This is an old post rescued from the old blog, dated 20 May 2007. Some things have changed. But all the details were true then.
There are some people with whom I would not want to enter a frugality contest. Keith Burgess-Jackson is one of them. I seem to recall him saying that he doesn't own a clothes dryer: he hangs his duds out on a line in the Texas sunshine. Not me. This BoBo (bourgeois bohemian, though not quite in David Brooks' sense) uses both washer and dryer. But I have never owned an electric can opener (what an absurdity!),nor in the three houses I have owned have I used the energy-wasting, house-heating, noise-making, contraptions known as dishwashers. The houses came with them, but I didn't use 'em. In the time spent loading and unloading them, one can have most of one's dishes washed by hand. And tall guys don't like bending down. Besides, a proper kitchen clean-up job requires a righteous quantity of hot sudsy water.
So I'm a frugal bastard too. And on the automotive front, I've got Keith beat. His car is old as sin, but mine is older, as old as Original Sin. It's a 1988 Jeep Cherokee base model: five-speed manual tranny, 4.0 liter, six-cylinder engine, four-wheel drive, off-road shocks, oversized tires, and manual air conditioning despite the fact that I live in the infernal Valle del Sol -- from which I don't escape in the summer like some snowbird wimps I could mention. Manual air conditioning: if you want air, you use your God-given hands to roll down the windows. In this part of the country manual A/C is also knowto the politically incorrect as 'Mexican air conditioning.' 'Roll down the windows, Manuel!'
One blazing hot August I drove straight through from Bishop, California to Chandler, Arizona, 600 miles, alone. Stopping for gas in Blythe, on the California side of the Colorado river, I noted that the afternoon temperature was 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. Bouncing along Interstate-10 I saw that theonly people with their windows down were me and the Mexicans.
It's no big deal, really, driving through 115 degree heat in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert with the windows down. You take a bandanna and soak it in the ice water in your cooler and wrap it around your neck. When the dry blast of desert wind hits the wet bandanna some serious evaporation takes place cooling your neck and with it the rest of your body. Feeling a little drowsy after four hundred miles of nonstop driving? Stoke up a cheap cigar, say that Swisher Sweet that's been aging under the seat alongside those oily shop rags, and throw another audio tape into the deck. May I recommend Dave Brubeck? Or how about Kerouac reading to the piano accompaniment of Steve Allen? Or perhaps that latter-day beat, Tom Waits.
With four on the road, one in the hand, a cigar in the mouth, some boiling hot McDonald's drive-through java in the other hand, Brubeck on the box, proudly enthroned at the helm of a solid chunk of Dee-troit iron, rolling down a wide-open American road, with a woman waiting at the end of the line, you're feeling fine.
I bought the Jeep around Thanksgiving, 1987 and come this Thanksgiving it will have been twenty years. Expect another post in celebration. An old car is a cheap car: cheap to operate, cheap to insure, cheap to register. My last registration renewal cost me all of $31.39 for two years. My wife's late model Jeep Liberty, however, set us back $377.93 for two years. With a five-speed manual tranny, a six cylinder engine, and no A/C I can easily get 25 mpg. With a tailwind, 30 mpg.
So I don't want to hear any liberal bullshit about all SUVs being gas guzzlers. Your mileage may vary.
Americans are very foolish when it comes to money. If you want to stay poor, buy a new car every four or five years. That's what most Americans do. And if you finance the 'investment,' you compound your mistake. Buy a good car, pay cash, and keep it 10+ years. Better yet, live without a car. From September 1973 to May 1979 I lived and lived well without a car. But I was in Boston and Europe, compact places.
The Left Banke, Walk Away Renee, 1966. This song is the personal soundtrack to 40-year-old memories of a woman, older than me, whom I loved from afar, a love never revealed to its object. Does hidden love count as unrequited love?
Lenny Welch, Since I Fell for You, 1963. You say it's sentimental? Well, what would life be without sentiment and feeling? Qualia are what make life worth living, as a philosopher might put it. It would be interesting to try to figure out just what sentimentality is, and what is wrong with it.
One self-indulgently 'wallows' in a sentimental song, giving into its 'cheap' emotions. The emotions are 'false' and 'faked.' The melody and lyrics are formulaic and predictable, 'catchy.' The listener allows himself to be manipulated by the songwriter who is out to 'push the listener's buttons.' The aesthetic experience is not authentic but vicarious. And so on. Adorno would not approve.
A theist friend requests a design argument. Here is one.
You are out hiking and the trail becomes faint and hard to follow. You peer into the distance and see three stacked rocks. Looking a bit farther, you see another such stack. Now you are confident which way the trail goes.
Your confidence is based on your taking the rock piles as more than merely natural formations. You take them as providing information about the trail's direction, which is to say that you to take them as trail markers, as meaning something, as about something distinct from themselves, as exhibiting intentionality, to use the philosopher's term of art. The intentionality, of course, is derivative rather than original. It is not part of your presupposition that the cairns of themselves mean anything. Obviously they don't. But it is part of your presupposition that the cairns are physical embodiments of the original or intrinsic intentionality of a trail blazer or trail maintainer. Thus the presupposition that you make when you take the rock piles as providing information about the direction of the trail is that an intelligent being designed the objects in question with a definite purpose, namely, to indicate the trail's direction.
Of course, the two rock piles might have come into existence via purely natural causes: a rainstorm might have dislodged some rocks with gravity plus other purely material factors accounting for theirplacement. And their placement might be exactly right. Highly unlikely, but possible. This possibility shows that the appearance of design does not entail design. A stack of rocks may appear to be a cairn without being one. A cairn, by definition, is a marker or memorial, and thus an embodiment of meaning, meaning it cannot possess intrinsically in virtue of its mere physicality, e.g., its being a collocation of bits of rhyolite.
Nevertheless, your taking of the rock piles as trail markers presupposes (entails) your belief that they were put there by someone to mark the trail. It would clearly be irrational to take the piles as evidence of the trail's direction while at the same time maintaining that their formation was purely accidental. And if you later found out that they had come into being by chance due to an earthquake, say, you would cease interpreting them as meaning anything, as providing information about the trail. One must either take the rock piles as meaningful and thus designed or as undesigned and hence meaningless. One cannot take them as both undesigned and meaningful. For their meaning -- 'the trail goes that-a-way' -- derives from a designer whose original intentionality is embodied in them.
In short: the rock stacks have no meaning in themselves. They have meaning only as embodying the original intentionality of someone who put them there for a purpose: to show the trail's direction. The hiker who interprets the stacks as meaningful presupposes that they are embodiments or physical expressions of original intentionality and not accidental collocations of matter.
Now consider our incredibly complex sense organs and brain. We rely on them to provide information about the physical world. I rely on eyesight, for example, both to know that there is a trail and to discern some of its properties. I rely on hearing to inform me of the presence of a rattlesnake. I rely on my brain to draw inferences from what I see and hear, inferences that purport to be true of states of affairs external to my body. The visual apparatus (eye, optic nerves, visual cortex and all the rest) exhibits apparent design. It is as if the eyes were designed for the purpose of seeing. As we say colloquially, eyes are for seeing. But the appearance of design is no proof of real design. And indeed, human beings with their sensory apparatus are supposed to have evolved by an unguided process of natural selection operating upon random mutations. If so, eye and brain are cosmic accidents. The same goes for the rest of our cognitive apparatus: memory, introspection, reason, etc.
But if this is the case, how can we rely on our senses to inform us about the physical world? If eye and brain are cosmic accidents, then we can no more rely on them to inform us about the physical world than we can rely on an accidental collocation of rocks to inform us about the direction of a trail.
As a matter of fact, we do rely on our senses. Our reliance may be mistaken in particular cases as when a bent stick appears as a snake. But in general our reliance on our senses for information about the world seems justified. Our senses thus seem reliable: they tend to produce true beliefs more often than not when functioning properly in their appropriate environments. We rely on our senses in mundane matters but also when we do science, and in particular when we do evolutionary biology. The problem is: How is our reliance on our sense organs justified if they are the accidental and undesigned products of natural selection operating upon random mutations?
To put it in terms of rationality: How could it be rational to rely on our sense organs (and our cognitive apparatus generally) if evolutionary biology under its naturalistic (Dawkins, Dennett, et al.) interpretation provides a complete account of this cognitive apparatus? How could it be rational to affirm both that our cognitive faculties are reliable, AND that they are accidental products of blind evolutionary processes? That would be like affirming both that the cairns are reliable trail indicators AND that they came about by unguided natural processes. I agree with Richard Taylor who writes:
. . . it would be irrational for one to say both that his sensory and cognitive faculties had a natural, nonpurposeful origin and also that they reveal some truth with respect to something other than themselves, something that is not merely inferred from them. (Metaphysics, 3rd ed. p. 104)
This train of thought suggests the following aporetic triad or antilogism:
1. It is rational to rely on our cognitive faculties to provide access to truths external to them.
2. It would not be rational to rely on our cognitive faculties if they had come about by an unguided process of natural selection operating upon random genetic mutations. 3. Our cognitive faculties did come about by an unguided process of natural selection operating upon random genetic mutations.
The limbs of the triad are individually plausible but collectively inconsistent: they cannot all be true. From any two limbs one can validly argue to the negation of the remaining one. So, corresponding to our antilogism there are three valid syllogisms. One of them is a design argument that argues to the negation of (3) and the affirmative conclusion that behind the evolutionary process is intelligent, providential guidance. "And this all men call God."
To resist this design argument, the naturalist must reject either (1) or (2). To reject (2) is to accept the rationality of believing both that our cognitive faculties arose by accident and that they produce reliable beliefs. It is to accept the rationality of something that, on the face of it, is irrational. To reject (1) is not very palatable either. But I suppose one could bite the bullet and say, "Look, we are not justified in relying on our cognitive faculties, we just rely on them and so far so good."
A mysterian naturalist could say this: Our cognitive faculties came about through an unguided evolutionary process; it is rational to rely upon them; but our cognitive architecture is such that we simply cannot understand how it could be rational to rely on processes having this origin. For us, the problem is insoluble, a mystery, due to our irremediable limitations. Just because it is unintelligible to us how something could be the case, it does not follow that it is not the case.
The best objection to this little design argument I have sketched comes from the camp of Thomas Nagel. Nagel could say, "You have given good reason to reject unguided evolution, but why can't the guidance be immanent? Why must there be a transcendent intelligent being who supervises the proceedings? Nature herself is immanently intelligible and unfolds according to her own immanent teleology. You cannot infer theism since you haven't excluded the pansychist option."
Of course, one could beef up the design argument presented by working to exclude the panpsychist option.
I demanded an argument valid in point of logical form all of whose premises are purely factual but whose conclusion is categorically (as opposed to hypothetically or conditionally) normative. Recall that a factual proposition is one which, whether true or false, purports to record a fact, and that a purely factual proposition is a factual proposition containing no admixture of normativity.
My demand is easily, if trivially, satisfied.
Ex contradictione quodlibet. From a contradiction anything, any proposition, follows. This is rigorously provable within the precincts of the PC (the propositional calculus). As follows:
1. p & ~p 2. p (from 1 by Simplification) 3. p v q (from 2 by Addition) 4. ~p & p (from 1 by Commutation) 5. ~p (from 4 by Simplification) 6. q (from 3, 5 by Disjunctive Syllogism)
Now plug in 'Obama is a liar' for p and 'One ought to be kind to all sentient beings' for q. The result is:
Obama is a liar Obama is not a liar Ergo One ought to be kind to all sentient beings.
My demands have been satisifed. The above is an argument valid in point of logical form whose premises are all purely factual and whose conclusion is categorically normative.
I recall a remark by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his Philosophische Lehrjahre to the effect that the harvest years of a scholar come late. That was certainly true in the case of the Australian philosopher Barry Miller (1923-2006). His philosophical career culminated in a burst of productivity. In roughly the last decade of his long life he published a trilogy in philosophical theology: From Existence to God (1992), A Most Unlikely God (1996), and The Fullness of Being (2002). I reviewed the first two in the journals and made substantial comments on a manuscript version of the third. Miller kindly acknowledged my help at the end of the preface of the 2002 book. So I was pleased to be of some small service on Miller's behalf by refereeing Kremer's manuscript for Oxford UP and supplying the blurb below when it was accepted by Bloomsbury.
“Barry Miller’s philosophical theology clearly shows how a philosopher can think rigorously about God without caving into fashionable and facile refutations of theism. In this study of his writings, Elmar Kremer provides an exemplary account of his sophisticated arguments while discussing their value and cogently defending them against a number of objections. Kremer’s welcome book is both a fine introduction to Miller and a significant contribution to philosophy of religion.” – Brian Davies, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University, USA,
“Barry Miller was a brilliant philosophical theologian with an original argument for, and development of, the Thomist idea of God as the entity whose essence is existence. Unfortunately Miller's ideas have not been given the attention they deserve. In part this is because he made few concessions to the reader. In this book Elmar J. Kremer provides the 'clear, well-developed exposition' that Miller's ideas deserve. I recommended it highly to all interested in metaphysics, philosophy of religion, or theology.” – Peter Forrest, Retired Professor of Philosophy, University of New England, Australia,
“Barry Miller's penetrating work in philosophical theology has not received the attention it deserves. It is therefore with pleasure that I recommend the first book-length treatment of Miller's work, Elmar J. Kremer's Analysis of Existing: Barry Miller's Approach to God.” – William F. Vallicella, Retired Professor of Philosophy, USA,
“Kremer's book consists of philosophically acute, painstaking scholarship. It is a very fine introduction to Miller’s highly original work on the metaphysics of theism.” – Bruce Langtry, Senior Fellow in Philosophy, The University of Melbourne, Australia,
Some in the habit of running run in a habit. The Poor Clares are sponsoring their 5th annual Desert Nun Run in Tempe on March 8th. Might be fun to run with a nun. And you can vote with your feet against the scumbaggers and bullies of the current administration.
The Poor Clares are the group of sisters who have been targeted by the lawless and corrupt thugs of the Obama administration. See here. Here is the Obamacare Anti-Conscience Mandate.
Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (editiones scholasticae, vol. 39, Transaction Books, 2014) provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics. The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy. The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated. The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.
I thank Professor Feser for sending me a complimentary copy which arrived a couple of hours ago. So far, I have read the Prolegomenon (pp. 6-30) which is mainly a critique of scientism together with a rejection of the view of philosophy as mere 'conceptual analysis.'
Scientism is the doctrine that "science alone plausibly gives us objective knowledge, and that any metaphysics worthy of consideration can only be that which is implicit in science." (10) That is exactly what it is in contemporary discussions, although, for the sake of clarity, I would have added 'natural' before both occurrences of 'science.' Also worth noting is that scientism is to naturalism as epistemology to ontology: scientism is the epistemology of the ontological view according to which (concrete) reality is exhausted by the space-time manifold and its contents as understood by physics and the natural sciences built upon it such as chemistry and biology.
I won't repeat Feser's arguments, but they are pellucid and to my mind conclusive. The usual suspects, Lawrence 'Bait and Switch' Krauss and Alexander Rosenberg, come in for a well-deserved drubbing. Ed's prose in this book is characteristically muscular, but he keeps his penchant for polemic in check.
By the way, if you want to read a truly moronic article on scientism, I recommend (if that's the word) Sean Carroll, Let's Stop Using the Word "Scientism. Carroll thinks that the word is "unhelpful because it’s ill-defined, and acts as a license for lazy thinking." Nonsense. He should read Feser or indeed any competent philosopher's discussion of the topic.
Some hold that philosophy, because it is not science, can only be conceptual analysis. Ed makes a forking good point when he observes that this view is a variation on Hume's Fork:
The claim that "all the objects of human reason or enquiry" [Hume] are or ought to be either matters of "conceptual analysis" matters of natural science is itself neither a conceptual truth nor a proposition for which you will find, or could find, the slightest evidence in natural science. It is a proposition as metaphysical as any a Scholastic would assert, differing from the latter only in being self-refuting." (26)
It occurred to me this morning that there is an ominous parallel between Putin's occupation of the Ukraine and Hitler's of the Sudetenland, and on a similar pretext, namely, the protecting of ethnic Russians/Germans. The Sudetenland was the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia whose annexation by Hitler in 1938 was part of the run-up to the Second World War. But I'm no historian. So let me ascend from these grimy speluncar details into the aether of philosophy.
George Santayana is repeatedly quoted as saying that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Although this may be true individually, I cannot see that it is true collectively. I have learned from my mistakes, and I don't repeat them. But a collection of individuals, with its ever-changing membership, is not an individual. Collectively, whether we remember the past or not we are condemned to repeat it. That is how I would go Santayana one better. Or to put it in less ringing terms:
Collectively, knowledge of the past does little to prevent the recurrence of old mistakes.
One reason for this is that there is no consensus as to what the lessons of history are. What did we Americans learn from Viet Nam? That we should avoid all foreign entanglements? That when we engage militarily we should do so decisively and with overwhelming force and resolve? (E.g, that we should have suppressed dissent at home and used a few tactical nukes against the Viet Cong?) What is the lesson to be learned? What is the mistake to be avoided? Paleocons, neocons (the descendants of old-time liberals) and leftists don't agree on questions like these.
One cannot learn a lesson the content of which is up for grabs.
What did we learn from Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That the wholesale slaughter of noncombatants is sometimes justified and may (as it actually has) usher in a long period of world peace? (There hasn't been a world war in going on 70 years). That this is a case in which the end justified the means? No adherent of just war doctrine would agree that that is the lesson.
Another reason why knowledge of the past is of little help in the present is that, even if there is agreement on some general lesson -- e.g., don't appease dictators -- there is bound to be disagreement as to whether or not the lesson applies in particular circumstances. Is Obama an appeaser? Is Putin a dictator? Is the Ukraine sufficiently like the Sudetenland to justify an action-guiding comparison? Et cetera ad nauseam.
It may be that moral and intellectual progress is possible only here. After death it may be too late, either because one no longer exists, or because one continues to exist but in a state that does not permit further progress.
It is foolish to think that believers in post-mortem survival could have no reason to value their physical health and seek longevity. Even a Platonist who believes that he is his soul and not a composite of soul and body has reason to prolong the discipline of the Cave. For it may be that the best progress or the only progress is possible only in the midst of its speluncarchiaroscuro.
Philosophia longa, vita brevis. It is precisely because philosophy is long that one ought to extend one's earthly tenure for as long as one can make progress intellectually and morally. And this, whether or not one has the hope that Vita mutatur non tollitur.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book II, sec. 92, tr. Kaufmann:
Good prose is written only face to face with poetry. For it is an uninterrupted, well-mannered war with poetry: all of its attractions depend on the way in which poetry is continually avoided and contradicted.
I thank Tully Borland for pushing the discussion in this fascinating direction.
Affirming the Consequent is an invalid argument form. Ergo One ought not (it is obligatory that one not) give arguments having that form.
Modus Ponens is valid Ergo One may (it is permissible to) give arguments having that form.
Correct deductive reasoning is in every instance truth-preserving. Ergo One ought to reason correctly as far as possible.
An argument form is valid just in case no (actual or possible) argument of that form has true premises and a false conclusion. An argument form is invalid just in case some (actual or possible) argument of that form has true premises and a false conclusion. Deductive reasoning is correct just in case it proceeds in accordance with a valid argument form. 'Just in case' is but a stylistic variant of 'if and only if.'
Now given these explanations of key terms, it seems that validity, invalidity, and correctness are purely factual, and thus purely non-normative, properties of arguments/reasonings. If so, how the devil do we get to the conclusions of the three arguments above?
View One: We don't. A, B, and C are each illicit is-ought slides.
View Two: Each of the above arguments is valid. Each of the key terms in the premises is normatively loaded from the proverbial 'git-go,' in addition to bearing a descriptive load.. Therefore, there is no illict slide. The move is from the normative to the normative. Validity, invalidity, and correctness can be defined only in terms of truth and falsity which are normative notions.
View Three: We have no compelling reason to prefer one of the foregoing views to the other. Each can be argued for and each can be argued against. Thus spoke the Aporetician.
Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994) is an outstanding aphorist of a decidedly conservative, indeed reactionary, bent. What follows are some of his observations on the Catholic Church of the Second Vatican Council. I found them here thanks to Karl White. I've added a couple of comments in blue.
The phenomena of the decay of Catholicism are entertaining; those of Protestantism dull. (p. 191)
Tongues of fire didn’t descend upon the Second Vatican Council, as they did upon the first assembly of the apostles, but a stream of fire – a Feuerbach. (p. 245)
If one were to translate Ludwig Feuerbach's name into English it would come out as Firebrook. (Of course, one does not translate proper names; at most one transliterates them.) Feuerbach was an important influence on Karl Marx. He is famous or notorious for the notion that God is an unconscious anthropomorphic projection. Man alienates himself from his best attributes by unconsciously projecting them, in maximized forms, upon a nonexistent transcendent being.
A single council is nothing more than a single voice in the real ecumenical council of the Church: her complete history. (p. 265)
Popular Catholicism is the target of all progressive anger. Popular faith, popular hope, popular charity exasperate a clergy of petit bourgeois origin. (p. 266)
For the left-wing Catholic Catholicism is the great sin of the Catholic. (p. 248)
Catholics have lost that sympathetic capacity of sinning without arguing that sin doesn’t exist. (p. 274)
The problems of man can be neither exactly defined nor even remotely solved. Whoever hopes that Christianity can solve them ceases to be a Christian. (p. 285)
Add 'here below' at the end of the first sentence, and then the aphorism is true.
The progressive Catholic is only active in zealously seeking for whatever he can still hand over to the world.
Better a small church with Catholics than a numerous one with Rotarians. (p. 334)
Today’s Church is so nice as to exclude everything from the revealed traditions which public opinion condemns. (p. 319)
The current pope prays for that progress which Bury – its historian – called the “substitute for Providence.” (p. 319)
The thing that exasperates today’s Christian about the Middle Ages is Christianity. (p. 319)
The new liturgists have abolished the sacred pulpits in order that no scoundrel can assert that the Church intends to compete with the secular ones. (p. 319)
Catholics don’t have the slightest idea that the world feels betrayed by the concessions made to it by Catholicism. (p. 325)
The progressive clergy crowns the towers of the church of today not with a cross but with a weathervane. (p. 325)
Only the Catholic on the brink of losing his faith is outraged by the Church’s dazed state, sent by Providence.
St. Thomas Aquinas: an Orleaniste of theology? (p. 350)
Aggiornamento is the sellout of the Church. (p. 363)
The progressive Catholic collects his theology from the garbage can of Protestant theology. (p. 363)
Intending to open her arms to the world the Church instead opened her legs. (p. 363)
Instead of a theology of the mystical body the theologians of today teach a theology of the mystical masses. (p. 363)
Today it is impossible to respect the Christians. Out of respect for Christianity. (p. 379)
I am on the hunt for a deductive argument that is valid in point of logical form and that takes us from a premise set all of whose members are purely factual to a categorically (as opposed to hypothetically or conditionally) normative conclusion. Tully ( = Cicero?) the Commenter offered an argument that I make explicit as follows:
1. It is snowing 2. For any proposition p, if p, then it is true that p. Therefore 3. If it is snowing, then it is true that it is snowing. (2, UI) Therefore 4. It is true that it is snowing. (1, 3 MP) 5. For any p, if p is true, then one ought to believe that p. Therefore 6. If it is true that it is snowing, then one ought to believe that it is snowing. (5, UI) Therefore 7. One ought to believe that it is snowing. (4, 6 MP)
Does this argument do the trick? Well, it is plainly valid. I rigged it that way! Is the conclusion categorically normative? Yes indeed. Are all of the premises purely factual? Here is the rub. (5) is a normative proposition. And so the argument begs the question at line (5). Indeed, if one antecedently accepts (5), one can spare oneself the rest of the pedantic rigmarole.
But I have a second objection. Even if the move from 'is' to 'ought' internal to (5) is logically kosher, (5) is false. (5) says that whatever is true is such that one ought to believe it. But surely no finite agent stands under an obligation to believe every true proposition. There are just too many of them.
If one ought to do X, then (i) it is possible that one do X, and (ii) one is free both to do X and to refrain from doing X. But it is not possible that I believe or accept every true proposition. Therefore, it is not the case that I (or anyone) ought to believe every true proposition. (One can of course question whether believings are voluntary doings under the control of the will, and (surprise!) one can question that questioning. See my Against William Alston Against Doxastic Voluntarism.)
Still and all, truth does seem to be a normative notion. (5) doesn't capture the notion. What about:
5*. For any p, if p is true, then p ought to be believed by anyone who considers it.
The idea here is that, whether or not there are any finite minds on the scene, every true proposition qua true has the intrinsic deontic property of being such that it ought to be believed. I say 'intrinsic' because true propositions have the deontic property in question whether or not they stand in relation to actual finite minds.
But of course plugging (5*) into the above argument does not diminish the argument's circularity.
Here is a possible view, and it may be what Tully is getting at. Truth is indissolubly both factual and normative. To say of a proposition that it is true is to describe how it stands in relation to reality: it represents a chunk of reality as it is. But it is also to say that the proposition qua true functions as a norm relative to our belief states. The truth is something we ought to pursue. It is something we ought doxastically to align ourselves with.
This is murky, but if something like this is the case, then one can validly move from
p is true
p ought to be believed by anyone who considers it.
The move, however, would not be from a purely factual premise to a categorically normative conclusion. My demand for a valid instance of such a move might be rejected as an impossible demand. I might be told that there are no purely factual premises and that if, per impossible, there were some, then of course nothing normative could be extracted from them.
Consider the argument: Bill is a brother ----- Bill is a sibling.
Is this little argument valid or invalid? It depends on what we mean by 'valid.' Intuitively, the argument is valid in the following generic sense:
D1. An argument is (generically) valid iff it is impossible that its premise(s) be true and its conclusion false.
(D1) may be glossed by saying that there are no possible circumstances in which the premises are true and the conclusion false. Equivalently, in every possible circumstance in which the premises are true, the conclusion is true. In short, validity is immunity to counterexample.
(D1), though correct as far as it goes, leaves unspecified the source or ground of a valid argument's validity. This is the philosophically interesting question. What makes a valid argument valid? What is the ground of the impossibility of the premises' being true and the conclusion being false? One answer is that the source of validity is narrowly logical or purely syntactic: the validity of a valid argument derives from its subsumability under logical laws or (what comes to the same thing) its instantiation of valid argument-forms.
Now it is obvious that the validity of the above argument does not derive from its logical form. The logical form is
Fa ----- Ga
where 'a' is an arbitrary individual constant and 'F' an arbitrary predicate constant. The above argument-form is invalid since it is easy to interpret the place-holders so as to make the premise true and the conclusion false: let 'a' stand for Al, 'F' for fat and 'G' for gay.
We now introduce a second, specific sense of 'valid,' one that alludes to the source of validity:
D2. An argument is syntactically valid iff it is narrowly-logically impossible that there be an argument of that form having true premises and a false conclusion.
According to (D2), a valid argument inherits its validity from the validity of its form, or logical syntax. So on (D2) it is primarily argument-forms that are valid or invalid; arguments are valid or invalid only in virtue of their instantiation of valid or invalid argument-forms. (D2) is thus a specification of the generic (D1).
But there is a second specification of (D1) according to which validity/invalidity has its source in the constituent propositions of the arguments themselves and so depends on their extra-syntactic content:
D3. An argument is extra-syntactically valid iff (i) it is impossible that its premises be true and its conclusion false; and (ii) this impossibility is grounded neither in any contingent matter of fact nor in logic proper, but in some necessary connection between the senses or the referents of the extra-logical terms of the argument.
A specification of (D3) is
D4. An argument is semantically valid iff (i) if it is impossible that its premises be true and its conclusion false; and (ii) this impossibility is grounded in the senses of the extra-logical terms of the argument.
Thus to explain the semantic validity of the opening argument we can say that the sense of 'brother' includes the sense of 'sibling.' There is a necessary connection between the two senses, one that does not rest on any contingent matter of fact and is also not mediated by any law of logic. Note that logic allows (does not rule out) a brother who is not a sibling. Logic would rule out a non-sibling brother only if 'x is F & x is not G' had only false substitution-instances -- which is not the case. To put it another way, a brother that is not a sibling is a narrowly-logical possibility. But it is not a broadly-logical possibility due to the necesssary connection of the two senses.
So it looks as if analytic entailments like Bill is a brother, ergo, Bill is a sibling show that subsumability under logical laws is not necessary for (generically) valid inference. Sufficient, but not necessary. Analytic entailments appear to be counterexamples to the thesis that inferences in natural language can be validated only by subsumption under logical laws.
One might wonder what philosophers typically have in mind when they speak of validity. I would say that most philosophers today have in mind (D1) as specified by (D2). Only a minority have in mind (D3) and its specification (D4). I could easily be wrong about that. Is there a sociologist of philosophers in the house?
Consider the Quineans and all who reject the analytic/synthetic distinction. They of course will have no truck with analytic entailments and talk of semantic validity. Carnapians, on the other hand, will uphold the analytic/synthetic distinction but validate all entailments in the standard (derivational) way by importing all analytic truths as meaning postulates into the widened category of L-truths.
Along broadly Carnapian lines one could argue that the above argument is an enthymeme which when spelled out is
Every brother is a sibling Bill is a brother ----- Bill is a sibling.
Since this expanded argument is syntactically valid, the original argument -- construed as an enthymeme -- is also syntactically valid. When I say that it is syntactically valid I just mean that the conclusion can be derived from the premises using the resources of standard logic, i.e. the Frege-inspired predicate calculus one finds in logic textbooks such as I. Copi's Symbolic Logic. In the aboveexample, one uses two inference rules, Universal Instantiation and Modus Ponens, to derive the conclusion.
If this is right, then the source of the argument's validity is not in a necessary connection between the senses of the 'brother' and 'sibling' but in logical laws.
This follows up on yesterday's discussion. Thanks to Hodges for getting me started on this, to Milos for reminding me of MacIntyre, and to Peter for agreeing with me so far.
Are there any valid arguments that satisfy the following conditions: (i) The premises are all factual in the sense of purporting to state only what is the case; (ii) the conclusion is normative/evaluative? Alasdair MacIntyre gives the following example (After Virtue, U. of Notre Dame Press, 1981, p. 55):
1. This watch is inaccurate.
2. This is a bad watch.
MacIntyre claims that the premise is factual, the conclusion evaluative, and the argument valid. The validity is supposed to hinge on the functional character of the concept watch. A watch is an artifact created by an artificer for a specific purpose: to tell time accurately. It therefore has a proper function, one assigned by the artificer. (Serving as a paperweight being an example of an improper function.) A good watch does its job, serves its purpose, fulfills its proper function. MacIntyre tells us that "the concept of a watch cannot be defined independently of the concept of a good watch . . ." and that "the criterion of something's being a watch and something's being a good watch . . . are not independent of each other." (Ibid.) MacIntyre goes on to say that both sets of criteria are factual and that for this reason arguments like the one above validly move from a factual premise to an evaluative conclusion.
Speaking as someone who has been more influenced by the moderns than by the ancients, I don't see it. It is not the case that both sets of criteria are factual in the sense defined above. The criteria of something's being a good watch already contains evaluative criteria. For if a good watch is one that tells time accurately, then that criterion of chronometric goodness involves a standard of evaluation. If I say of a watch that it is inaccurate, I am not merely describing it, but also evaluating it. MacIntyre is playing the following game, to put it somewhat uncharitably.
He smuggles the evaluative attribute good into his definition of 'watch,' forgets that he has done so thereby generating the illusion that his definition is purely factual, and then pulls the evaluative rabbit out of the hat in his conclusion. It is an illusion since the rabbit was already there in the premise. In other words, both (1) and (2) are evaluative. So, while the argument is valid, it is not a valid argument from a purely factual premise to an evaluative conclusion.
So if the precise question is whether one can validly move from a purely factual or descriptive premise to an evaluative conclusion, then MacIntyre's example fails to show that this is possible.
But I am being tendentious on purpose for didactic reasons. I grant that it is not perfectly evident that values and facts are mutually exclusive. I think what MacIntyre needs is the idea that some statements are both factual and evaluative. If (1) is both, the MacIntyre gets what he wants.
Is Man a Functional Concept?
But suppose one would be wrong to reject the (1)-(2) counterexample and that, with respect to functional concepts, the move from fact to value is logically kosher. Then this discussion is relevant to ethics, the normative study of human action, only if man is a functional concept. Aristotle maintains as much: man qua man has a proper function, a proper role, a proper 'work' (ergon). This is a proper function he has essentially, by his very nature, regardless of whatever contingent roles a particular human may instantiate, wife, father, sea captain. Thus, " 'man' stands to 'good man' as 'watch' stands to 'good watch' . . . ." (56) Now if man qua man has a proper and essential function, then to say of a particular man that he is good or bad is to imply that he has a proper and essential function. But then to call a man good is also to make a factual statement. (57)
The idea is that being human is a role that includes certain norms, a role that each of us necessarily instantiates whether like it or not. There is a sort of coalescence of factual individual and norm in the case of each human being just as, in Aristotle's ontoloogy, there is a sort of coalescence of individual and nature in each primary substance.
But does man qua man have a proper role or function? The moderns fight shy of this notion. They tend to think of all roles, jobs, and functions as freely adopted and contingent. Modern man likes to think of himself as a free and autonomous individual who exists prior to and apart from all roles. This is what Sartre means when he says that existence precedes essence: Man qua man has no pre-assigned nature or essence or proper function: man as existing individual makes himself what ever he becomes. Man is not God's artifact, hence has no function other than one he freely adopts.
Although Aristotle did not believe in a creator God, it is an important question whether an Aristotle-style healing of the fact-value rift requires classical theism as underpinning. MacIntyre seems to think so. (Cf. p. 57)
If the precise question is whether one can validly move from a purely factual or descriptive premise to an evaluative conclusion, I have yet to see a clear example of this. But one ought to question the strict bifurcation of fact and value. The failure of entailment is perhaps no surprise given the bifurcation. The Aristotelian view, despite its murkiness, remains a contender.