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.)
Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One (Simon and Shuster, 2004), p. 13:
He was different from the rest of the teen idols, had a great guitarist who played like a cross between a honky-tonk hero and a barn-dance fiddler. Nelson had never been a bold innovator like the early singers who sang like they were navigating burning ships. He didn't sing desperately, do a lot of damage, and you'd never mistake him for a shaman.
Nosiree, Bob, no shaman was he. There is more interesting material on Nelson in the vicinity of this excerpt. Dylan discusses Ricky Nelson in connection with his 1961 hit, Travelin' Man. But the great guitar work of James Burton to which Dylan alludes was much more in evidence in Hello Mary Lou. The Dylan Chronicles look like they will hold the interest of this old 60's Dylan fanatic.
Here is a better taste of James Burton and his Fender Telecaster with E. P. And here he is with the Big O dueling with Springsteen. Here he jams with Nelson's sons. Orbison on Nelson.
It has been over twenty five years now since Nelson died in a plane crash while touring. The plane, purchased from Jerry Lee Lewis, went down on New Year's Eve 1985. That travelin' man died with his boots on -- as I suspect he would have wanted to. In an interview in 1977 he said that he could not see himself growing old.
James N. Anderson and Greg Welty have published a paper entitled The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic. Having worked out similar arguments in unpublished manuscripts, I am very sympathetic to the project of arguing from the existence of necessary truths to the necessary existence of divine mind.
Here is a 'bloggity blog' sketch of the Anderson-Welty argument as I construe it:
1. There are laws of logic, e.g., the law of non-contradiction.
2. The laws of logic are truths.
3. The laws of logic are necessary truths.
4. A truth is a true proposition, where propositions are the primary truth-bearers or primary vehicles of the truth values.
5. Propositions exist. Argument: there are truths (from 1, 2); a truth is a true proposition (3); if an item has a property such as the property of being true, then it exists. Ergo, propositions exist.
6. Necessarily true propositions necessarily exist. For if a proposition has the property of being true in every possible world, then it exists in every possible world. Remark: in play here are 'Fregean' as opposed to 'Russellian' propositions. See here for an explanation of the distinction as I see it. If the proposition expressed by 'Socrates is Socrates' is Russellian, then it has Socrates himself, warts and all, as a constituent. But then, though the proposition is in some sense necessarily true, being a truth of logic, it is surely not necessarily existent.
7. Propositions are not physical entities. This is because no physical entity such as a string of marks on paper could be a primary truth-bearer. A string of marks, if true, is true only derivatively or secondarily, only insofar as as it expresses a proposition.
8. Propositions are intrinsically intentional. (This is explained in the post which is the warm-up to the present one.)
9. The laws of logic are necessarily existent, nonphysical, intrinsically intentional entities.
10. Thoughts are intrinsically intentional.
The argument now takes a very interesting turn. If propositions are intrinsically intentional, and thoughts are as well, might it be that propositions are thoughts?
The following invalid syllogism must be avoided: "Every proposition is intrinsically intentional; every thought is intrinsically intentional; ergo, every proposition is a thought." This argument is an instance of the fallacy of undistributed middle, and of course the authors argue in no such way. They instead raise the question whether it is parsimonious to admit into our ontology two distinct categories of intrinsically intentional item, one mental, the other non-mental. Their claim is that the principle of parsimony "demands" that propositions be constued as mental items, as thoughts. Therefore
11. Propositions are thoughts.
12. Some propositions (the law of logic among them) are necessarily existent thoughts. (From 8, 9, 10, 11)
13. Necessarily, thoughts are thoughts of a thinker.
14. The laws of logic are the thoughts of a necessarily existent thinker, and "this all men call God." (Aquinas)
A Stab at Critique
Line (11) is the crucial sub-conclusion. The whole argument hinges on it. Changing the metaphor, here is where I insert my critical blade, and take my stab. I count three views.
A. There are propositions and there are thoughts and both are intrinsically intentional.
B. Propositions reduce to thoughts.
C. Thoughts reduce to propositions.
Now do considerations of parsimony speak against (A)? We are enjoined not to multiply entities (or rather types of entity) praeter necessitatem. That is, we ought not posit more types of entity than we need for explanatory purposes. This is not the same as saying that we ought to prefer ontologies with fewer categories. Suppose we are comparing an n category ontology with an n + 1 category ontology. Parsimony does not instruct us to take the n category ontology. It instructs us to take the n category ontology only if it is explanatorily adequate. Well, do we need propositions in addition to thoughts for explanatory purposes? It is plausible to say yes because there are (infinitely) many propositions that no one has ever thought of or about. Arithmetic alone supplies plenty of examples. Of course, if God exists, there there are no unthought propositions. But the existence of God is precisely what is at issue. So we cannot assume it. But if we don't assume it, then we have a pretty good reason to distinguish propositions and thoughts as two different sorts of intrinsically intentional entity given that we already have reason to posit thoughts and propositions.
So my first critical point is that the principle of parsimony is too frail a reed with which to support the reduction of propositions to thoughts. Parsimony needs to be beefed-up with other considerations, e.g., an argument to show why an abstract object could not be intrinsically intentional.
My second critical point is this. Why not countenance (C), the reduction of thoughts to propositions? It could be like this. There are all the (Fregean) propostions there might have been, hanging out in Frege's Thrid Reich (Popper's world 3). The thought that 7 + 5 = 12 is not a state of an individul thinker; there are no individual thinkers, so selves, no egos. The thought is just the Fregean proposition's temporary and contingent exemplification of the monadic property, Pre-Personal Awareness or Bewusst-sein. Now I don't have time to develop this suggestion which has elements of Natorp and Butchvarov, and in any case it is not my view.
All I am saying is that (C) needs excluding. Otherwise we don't have a good reason to plump for (B).
My conclusion? The Anderson-Welty argument, though fascinating and competently articulated, is not rationally compelling. Rationally acceptable, but not rationally compelling. Acceptable, because the premises are plausible and the reasoning is correct. Not compelling because one could resist it without quitting the precincts of reasonableness.
To theists, I say: go on being theists. You are better off being a theist than not being one. Your position is rationally defensible and the alternatives are rationally rejectable. But don't fancy that you can prove the existence of God or the opposite. In the end you must decide how you will live and what you will believe.
If blacks make up 12% of the student population, then blacks ought to make up 12% of school expulsions. Fair is fair. Discrimination on the basis of skin color is wrong. But in Clark County, Nevada, in 2009-2010 black student expulsions were at 43% of the student population. So Clark County is racist. Blacks are being targeted just because of their skin color.
How could anyone resist such cogent reasoning?
It is shocking but true: minority students are overrepresented in expulsions and suspensions.
Any morally decent person should be able to appreciate that justice demands that minority students be represented proportionately.
We were talking of Hawking. I said 'black hole.' You heard 'black ho' and took offense . . . . Is that my problem?
Do you really want to maintain that something is offensive just in virtue of someone's taking it to be offensive? Do you really think that there is no call for a distinction between the objectively offensive and the merely subjectively offensive?
If you are that preternaturally deficient in intellect, then I am offended, deeply and personally offended.
Critical thinking is not necessarily opposed to the status quo. To criticize is not to oppose, but to sift, to assess, to assay, to evaluate. The etymology of krinein suggests as much. A critical thinker may well end up supporting the existing state of things in this or that respect. It is a fallacy of the Left to think that any supporter of any aspect of the status quo is an 'apologist' for it in some pejorative sense of this term. After all, some aspects of the status quo may be very good indeed, and others may be unimprovable without making things worse in other respects.
The notion that critical thinking entails opposition to the status quo presumably has its roots in the nihilism of the Left. Leftists are often incapable of appreciating what actually exists because they measure it against a standard that does not exist, and that in many cases cannot exist. It is the leftist Nowhere Man who judges the topos quo from the vantage point of utopia. There is no place like utopia, of course, but only because utopia is no place at all.
Just as leftists do not own dissent, they are not the sole proprietors of a critical attitude. Kritische Theorie as used by members of the Frankfurt School is a tendentious and self-serving expression.
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals might want to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government. Certain scumbags of the Left love to slander us by saying that we are anti-government. It is a lie and they know it. They are not so stupid as not to know that to be for limited government is to be for government.
There are two extremes to avoid, the libertarian and the liberal. Libertarians often say that the government can do nothing right, and that the solution is to privatize everything including the National Parks. Both halves of that assertion are patent nonsense. It is equal but opposite nonsense to think that Big Government will solve all our problems. Ronald Reagan had it right: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have." Or something like that.
From a logical point of view, the ‘Government is us’ nonsense appears to be a pars pro toto fallacy: one identifies a proper part (the governing) with the whole of which it is a proper part (the governed).
I continue the investigation into existential meaning and absurdity. Earlier posts in this series are collected in the Meaning of Life category.
Let's take a step back and ask what we might mean by 'absurd' the better to isolate the sense or senses relevant to the question of the putative absurdity of human existence. I count the following main senses.
1. In the logical sense, 'absurd' means logically impossible or self-contradictory. Thus a round square is an absurdity as is a cat that is not a cat. A philosophizing cat, however, though nomologically impossible, is not an absurdity in the logical sense. In a reductio ad absurdum proof one proves a proposition by assuming its negation and then, with the help of unquestioned auxiliary premises, deriving a formal contradiction. One thus reduces the assumption to absurdity. 'Absurdity' here has a purely logical sense.
2. In the epistemic sense, a proposition is absurd if it is epistemically impossible, i.e., logically inconsistent with what we know. In ordinary English we often call propositions absurd that neither are nor entail logical contradictions. Thus if a Holocaust denier asserts that no Jew was executed by Nazis at Auschwitz, we say, "That's absurd!" meaning not that it is logically impossible -- after all, it isn't -- but that it contradicts what we know to be the case. The same goes for *There are whore houses on the Moon.* It is false, but more than that, it blatantly contradicts what everyone knows; so we say it is absurd.
3. We also apply 'absurd' to such nonpropositions as enterprises, schemes, undertakings, projects, plans, and the like. An 80-year-old with ankle problems tells me he intends to climb Weaver's Needle. I tell him his project is absurd. I am not saying that what he has in mind is logically impossible, or even that it is nomologically impossible, but that "there is a conspicuous discrepancy between pretension or aspiration and reality." (Thomas Nagel, "The Absurd," Mortal Questions, p. 13) Camus gives the example of a swordsman attacking machine gunners. That is an absurd project. The means chosen is radically unsuited for the end in view. The fantasies of transhumanist and cryonic physical-immortality-seekers I would call absurd. Ditto for the quest for the philosopher's stone, the perpetuum mobile, the classless society.
The above are all 'discrepancy' senses of 'absurd.' There is the self-discrepancy of a self-contradictory proposition such as *No cat is a cat.* There is the discrepancy of a false proposition such as *There are whore houses on the Moon* with what we all know is the case. There is the discrepancy between certain projects and plans with reality and its real possibilities. The logic and epistemic uses can be set aside: they are not directly relevant to the problem of the meaning of human existence. The third sense brings us in the vicinity of Nagel's use of 'absurd.'
4. Nagelian absurdity. Nagel's use of 'absurd' is also a 'discrepancy' use. As opposed to what? As opposed to an absolute use, to be explained in a moment. In his 1971 J. Phil. essay "The Absurd," Thomas Nagel maintains that "the philosophical sense of absurdity" arises from "the collision between the seriousness with which we take our lives and the perpetual possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary, or open to doubt." (13) "What makes life absurd" is the collision of "the two inescapable viewpoints," namely, the situated viewpoint from which we live straighforwardly, immersed in our projects and taking them in deadly earnest, and the objective, transcendental viewpoint from which we coolly comtemplate our lives and everything else sub specie aeternitatis. There is a discrepancy between the seriousness with which we take our projects and the indifference with which we view them from 'on high' under the aspect of eternity.This discrepancy is inescapable since both the subjective and objective viewpoints are essential to being human and they necessarily conflict.
5. Absolute Absurdity. Suppose our lives are Nagel-absurd. Does it follow that they are absolutely absurd? I define:
X is absolutely absurd =df the existence of X is (modally) contingent but without cause or reason.
Some say the universe is absurd in this sense. It exists; it might not have existed; it exists without cause; it exists without reason or purpose. "It is just there, and that is all," to paraphrase Russell in his famous BBC debate with Copleston.
It seems obvious that our lives could be Nagel-absurd without being absolutely absurd. Suppose God created us to love and serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next. Suppose this is true and is known or believed to be true. Then our existence, though modally contingent, would have both a cause and a reason (purpose). Our lives would have an objective meaning. But this objective meaning is consistent with our lives embodying an inescapable conflict between subjective and objective points of view such that a fully aware human being would not be able to shake off what Nagel calls "the philosophical sense of absurdity." Supposing my life objectively has a purpose and so cannot be absolutely absurd, it remains Nagel-absurd because our power of self-transcendence -- which is essential to us -- allows us to call into question every thing and every purpose and every sense-bestowing wider context, including God and God's purposes, and the divine milieu that presumably would be the ultimate context. As Nagel puts it in his 1971 essay: "If we can step back from the purposes of individual life and doubt their point, we can step back also from the progress of human history, or of science, or the success of a society, or the kingdom, power, and glory of God, and put all these things into question in the same way." (17)
Indeed, even the existence of God himself, which cannot be absolutely absurd because God is causa sui and a necessary being, could be Nagel-absurd. God might reflect on his eternal life and his purposes and find them dubious and arbitrary. "Why did I limit my own power by creating free beings? Look at the mess they have made! Why did I bother? I was happy and self-sufficient and in no need of any creaturely images and likenesses." God might even think to himself: "I am from eternity to eternity, and outside me there is nothing save what is though my will, but whence then am I?" (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A613 B641, Kemp Smith tr. This is the only passage in the CPR that I would describe as 'chilling.')
Even if God reminds himself that, as a necessary being, he cannot fail to exist, the very fact that he contemplates his existence 'from outside' -- assuming that he does so contemplate his existence -- introduces willy-nilly an element of contingency and brute-factuality into his existence.
It would therefore appear that Nagel-absurdity does not entail absolute absurdity, that the former is logically consistent with objective meaningfulness. This can be see also in a third way. One key thesis of Nagel's 2012 book Mind and Cosmos is that mind is not a cosmic
accident. Mind in all of its ramifications (sentience, intentionality,
self-awareness, cognition, rationality, normativity in general) could
not have arisen from mindless matter. To put it very roughly, and in my
own way, mind had to be there already and all along in one way or
another. Not an "add-on" as Nagel writes, but "a basic aspect of
nature." (16) If this is right, then mind is not a fluke and not something that just exists without cause or reason purpose. Nature has aimed at it all along. So our existence as instances of mind is not absolutely absurd. But it can presumably still be Nagel-absurd. So again we see that Nagel-absurdity does not entail absolute absurdity.
Now when we ask whether human life is absurd, are we asking whether it is absolutely absurd or Nagel-absurd? I suggest that we are asking whether it is absolutely absurd. This question is not settled by life's being Nagel-absurd.
At this point someone might suggest that life's being Nagel-absurd, though it does not entail life's being absolutely absurd, is yet evidence for it. I don't see how it could be, but this question requires a separate post. My main purpose in this post was taxonomic. The main uses of 'absurd' are now on the table.
So what can we teach the Muslim world? How to be gluttons?
Another sign of decline is the proliferation of food shows, The U. S. of Bacon being one of them. A big fat 'foody' roams the land in quest of diners and dives that put bacon into everything. As something of a trencherman back in the day, I understand the lure of the table. But I am repelled by the spiritual vacuity of those who wax ecstatic over some greasy piece of crud they have just eaten, or speak of some edible item as 'to die for.'
It is natural for a beast to be bestial, but not for a man. He must degrade and denature himself, and that only a spiritual being can do. Freely degrading himself, he becomes like a beast thereby proving that he is -- more than a beast.
Senator John McCain is for it. Victor Davis Hanson is against it. VDH has the better case, as it seems to me.
The further expenditure of American blood and treasure "to teach locals not to be their tribal selves" (VDH) is a losing proposition. We are in deep trouble domestically, and we are going to teach benighted Middle Eastern tribalists how to live? How has that worked out in the past? And with our trash culture of empty celebrity, an entertainment industry that resembles an open sewer, fiscal irresponsibility, ever-widening political divisions, and a panem-et-circenses populace, we are not exactly role models to anyone any more.
I'm curious as to when you eat breakfast in relation to when you do your early morning studying, meditating, hiking, or running. I know you've mentioned a few times that you've done these activities before meeting folks for breakfast, so I am curious to know if eating affects your mental and/or spiritual clarity.
Eating definitely affects mental and spiritual clarity, and usually adversely, although it depends on the quantity and quality of what is eaten and drunk. My rule is: Nothing but coffee until after meditation. And no electronics until after meditation. A typical day goes like this. Up at 2 AM, reading and journal writing and coffee drinking til 4, then meditation 4-5, then more coffee and some toast smeared with almond butter (great stuff!). Then I turn on the modem (which I keep off at night), fire up the computer, answer e-mail and blog comments, work on a blog post, then around 5:30 or later depending on the season head out for 2-3 hours of exercise either a local hike/run or a combination of weight-lifting, swimming, and riding the mountain bike. For hydration I drink copious amount of water and OJ.
Only after physical exercise do I have a proper breakfast, around 7:30 or 8:30. But a little something before exercise is a good idea to fuel your exertions.
Don't imitate Jim Morrison, that distinguished member of the 27 Club, Roadhouse Blues: "I woke up this morning and I had myself a beer. The future's uncertain and death is always near." Yes it is if beer's your breakfast.
I dedicate this post to Victor Reppert who thinks along similar lines, and shares my love of the oldies.
If matter could think, then matter would not be matter as currently understood.
Can abstracta think? Sets count as abstracta. Can a set think? Could the set of primes contemplate itself and think the thought, 'I am a set, and each of my members is a prime number'? Given what we know sets to be from set theory, sets cannot think. It is the same with matter. Given what we know or believe matter to be from current physics, matter cannot think. To think is to think about something, and it is this aboutness or intentionality that proves embarrassing for materialism. I have expatiated on this over many, many posts and I can't repeat myself here. (Here is a characteristic post.)
But couldn't matter have occult powers, powers presently hidden from our best physics, including the power to think? Well, could sets have occult powers that a more penetrating set theory would lay bare? Should we pin our hopes on future set theory? Obviously not. Why not? Because it makes no sense to think of sets as subjects of intentional states. We know a priori that the set of primes cannot lust after the set of evens. It is impossible in a very strong sense: it is broadly logically impossible.
Of course, there is a big difference between sets and brains. We know enough about sets to know a priori that sets cannot think. But perhaps we don't yet know enough about the human brain. So I don't dogmatically claim that matter could not have occult or hidden powers. Maybe the meat between my ears does have the power to think. But then that meat is not matter in any sense we currently understand. And that is my point. You can posit occult powers if you like, and pin your hopes on a future science that will lay them bare; but then you are going well beyond the empirical evidence and engaging in high-flying speculations that ought to seem unseemly to hard-headed empiricistic and scientistic types.
Such types are known to complain about spook stuff and ghosts-in-machines. But to impute occult powers, powers beyond our ken, to brain matter does not seem to be much of an improvement. For that is a sort of dualism too. There are the properties and powers we know about, and the properties and powers we know nothing about but posit to avoid the absurdities of identity materialism and eliminativism. There is also the dualism of imagining that matter when organized into human brains is toto caelo different from ordinary hunks of matter. There is also a dualism within the brain as between those parts of it that are presumably thinking and feeling and those other parts that perform more mudane functions. Why are some brain states mental and others not? Think about it. (I have a detailed post on this but I don't have time to find it.)
The materialist operates with a conception of matter tied to current physics. On that conception of matter, it is simply unintelligible to to say that brains feel or think. If he nonetheless ascribes mental powers to matter, then he abandons materialism for something closer to panpsychism. I seem to recall Reppert making this point recently.
It is worth noting that the reverent gushing of the neuro-scientistic types over the incredible complexity (pound the lectern!) of the brain does absolutely nothing to reduce the unintelligibility of the notion that it is brains or parts of brains that are the subjects of intentional and qualitative mental states. For it is unintelligible how ramping up complexity can trigger a metabasis eis allo genos, a shift into another genus. Are you telling me that meat that means is just meat that is more complex than ordinary meat? You might as well say that the leap from unmeaning meat to meaning meat is a miracle. Some speak of 'emergence.' But that word merely papers over the difficulty, labelling the problem without solving it. Do you materialists believe in miracle meat or mystery meat? Do you believe in magic?
I've been following your writing on same sex marriage and I've got to say I think you have, in a certain sense, taken the bait. SSM proponents demand much of conservatives that they are in no position to demand. For instance, they demand that conservatives, in order to justify their views on marriage, indicate a single property or set of properties unique to the relationships that currently count as marriages. "All and only heterosexual couples have what common feature?" is the challenge.
You try to meet this demand by specifying potentiality to procreate. This is only true on a metaphysical understanding of "potentiality" – in the ordinary sense, 70-year-olds have lost that potentiality.
Spencer, I think you have misconstrued my argument. I did not use the word 'potentiality.' And I don't know what you mean by a metaphysical as opposed to an ordinary understanding of the term. Here is what I said:
It is biologically impossible that homosexual unions produce offspring. It is biologically possible, and indeed biologically likely, that heterosexual unions produce offspring. That is a very deep difference grounded in a biological fact and not in the law or in anything conventional. This is the underlying fact that both justifies the state's interest in and regulation of marriage, and justifies the state's restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
I did not make the (false) claim that every opposite-sexed couple has the power to procreate.
Unfortunately, I think conservatives do themselves great harm when they rely on metaphysics in the marriage debate when they have recourse to other lines of response. I respect metaphysics, but it is rarely useful in politics.
I disagree completely. The same-sex marriage question and most if not all of the 'hot button' issues currently debated are metaphysical at bottom. Consider abortion. Everything rides on the status of the fetus. Is it a person in the normative sense, i.e., a rights-possessor? What are the criteria of descriptive and normative personhood? What are rights? In what are they grounded? These are metaphysical questions. A powerful anti-abortion argument is the potentiality argument. Underlying it, however, is broadly Aristotelian metaphysics. Those who reject this metaphysics will be opting for some metaphysical alternative. Questions about diachronic numerical identity arise, questions that are plainly metaphysical. (See Fission and Zygotes.) And so on.
I could show the same for most of the 'hot button' issues. In general, political philosophy rests on normative ethics which rests on a theory of human nature (philosophical anthropology), which is turn presupposes metaphysics. So metaphysics is unavoidable. One point I will concede, however, is that we ought to keep religion out of these discussions, assuming we are addressing fellow citizens as opposed to co-religionists.
Let me remind you that very often the law makes distinctions where there is no essential difference, as when we pick a certain age as the baseline for sexual consent. There is a certain kind of arbitrariness there, but one we must be stuck with in any event. So, essential difference is neither necessary nor sufficient for a difference in legal and social status.
You are making it sound as it it is wholly arbitrary where the law draws a line. I gave the example of driving. It is somewhat arbitrary, but not totally arbitrary, to make the legal driving age 16. There are excellent, non-arbitrary, reasons for not making it five or ten, or 25 or 30. These reasons are grounded in biological and psychological facts. As for the age of sexual consent, a non-arbitrary lower bound is provided by puberty. Similarly with voting and drinking alcohol. There is a range of arbitrarity between, say, 18 and 21. But there are excellent, non-abitrary reasons grounded in biological and developmental facts for keeping six year olds out of voting booths and bar rooms.
So I find your comment confused. No essential difference need be cited for making the driving age 16 rather than 17, but essential differences are relevant when we move beyond the range of arbitrarity. I am tempted to say that the lower and upper bounds on the range of arbitrarity are themselves non-arbitrary.
Applying this to same-sex 'marriage,' there is nothing arbitrary about the law's not recognizing SSMs when it recognizes OSMs. For there is the essential difference that procreation is impossible in a SSM but not in an OSM. Arbitrarity and a bit of unfairness come in when the law allows non-procreating OS couples to marry. But as I said, practical laws cannot cater to unusual cases.
A better response, and the one I use, is to challenge the challenge. Tell your interlocutor, "If I must produce some relevant property common to all heterosexual couples, then it should also be incumbent on you to specify what kinds of relationships can count as marriages, and what is the morally relevant property that all and only those relationships have. Since you think this kind of challenge is proper, you must already have something in mind to defend your side. So go on, then." SSM proponents hate this move, because it reveals how much their strategy relies upon burden-shifting and tacit double standards. I submit that your interlocutor probably won't even tell you how much change he is committing himself to, or what marriage should be. But suppose he says "Any two consenting adults, regardless of gender." Then ask him what is the special property that all and only couples have, that no threesome has. He will not have a persuasive answer.
I deny that your approach is better, though I grant that it is a reasonable one and does have the advantage of side-stepping the contentious metaphysical questions. But it has the disadvantage of entangling us in burden-of-proof considerations. You accuse the same-sexer of shifting the burden of proof. But he will reasonably demand to know why he should shoulder the burden. My position on burden-of-proof is that
In philosophy no good purpose is served by claims that the BOP lies on one side or the other of a dispute, or that there is a DP [defeasible presumption] in favor of this thesis but not in favor of that one. For there is no fact of the matter as to where the BOP lies. BOP considerations are usefully deployed only in dialectical situations in which some authority presides over the debate and lays down the rules of procedure and has the power to punish those who violate them. Such an authority constitutes by his decision the 'fact' that the BOP lies on one side rather than on the other. We find such authorities in courts of law. But there is no court of philosophy.
It is bad sort of conservative who stands on tradition and takes the way things have been as sufficient justification for their remaining so. The wise conservative admits that the presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things is defeasible. And so he takes the challenge of the same-sexer seriously. He tries to explain why the law should recognize OS but no SS unions as marriages. Furthermore, if he cannot meet the challenge, then he ought to re-evaluate and perhaps change his views about marriage. It would be unphilosophical of him to stand on tradition and ignore sincerely intended rational challenges to it.
I met Dallas Willard only once, at an A. P. A. meeting in San Francisco in the early '90s. I had sent him a paper on Husserl and Heidegger and we had plans to get together over dinner to discuss it. Unfortunately, the plans fell through when a son of Willard showed up. But we did speak briefly and I still recall his kindness and his words, "I'll help you any way I can." In the few minutes I was with him I became aware of his depth and his goodness.
My only serious engagement with Professor Willard's work was via a long and intricate paper I published in Philosophia Christi, "The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being," vol. 6, no. 1 (2004), pp. 27-58.
We have it on good authority that death is the muse of philosophy. The muse reminds us that our time is short and to be well used. I expect Willard would approve of the following lines from St Augustine's Confessions, Book VI, Chapter 11, Ryan trans.:
Let us put away these vain and empty concerns. Let us turn ourselves only to a search for truth. Life is hard, and death is uncertain. It may carry us away suddenly. In what state shall we leave this world? Where must we learn what we have neglected here? Or rather, must we not endure punishment for our negligence? What if death itself should cut off and put an end to all care, along with sensation itself? This too must be investigated.