One of the exciting things about living out here in rural Arizona is that all too many local hombres love to greet the the New Year with a hail of gunfire aimed heavenward. It adds a nice Middle Eastern touch to the Copper State. Part of the problem is the sad state of science education in these United States. There are people who do not understand that a falling projectile poses a threat. (I have actually met such people.) They understand that they cannot catch with their bare hands a round fired at them; but they don't understand that that same round, falling on a human head from a sufficient height, will kill the head's unlucky possessor.
Let's see if we can understand the physics. If I jump from a chair to the floor, no problem. Same if I jump from a table to the floor. But I shrink back from neighbor Bob's suggestion that I jump from my roof to the ground. "Just kick away the ladder, like Wittgenstein, and jump down." Nosiree Bob! But why should it be any different? The mass of my body remains invariant across the three scenarios. And the gravitational field remains the same. But the longer I remain falling in that field, the faster I move.
A body falling in the earth's gravitational field falls at the rate of 32 feet per second PER SECOND. Thus the body ACCELERATES.* Now the momentum of a moving object -- which is roughly a measure of the amount of effort it would take to stop it from moving -- is the product of its velocity and its mass. So a small mass like a bullet, left falling for a long enough time, will attain a high velocity and thus a high momentum, and so do a lot of damage to anything it comes in contact with, a human skull for example.
*Velocity is a vector, hence has a scalar and a directional component. So it is possible that an object accelerate without 'speeding up.' Consider a satellite orbiting the earth. The scalar component of the velocity stays constant (more or less) but the object accelerates. This sort of falling toward the earth is not relevant to the case I am considering.
John Searle is a marvellous critic of theories in the philosophy of mind, perhaps the best. He makes all sorts of excellent points in his muscular and surly way. But his positive doctrine eludes me, assuming it is supposed to be a coherent doctrine. The problem may reside with me, of course. But I am not ready to give up.
So I take yet another stab at making sense of Searle. (The exegetical equivalent of squaring the circle?) His aim is to find a via media between the Scylla of dualism and the Charybdis of materialism. Dualism, whether a dualism of (kinds of) substances or a dualism of (kinds of) properties, makes of mind something mysterious and supernatural and therefore intolerable to naturalists. But materialism, as Searle understands it, issues in the conclusion that "there really isn't such a thing as as consciousness with a first-person, subjective ontology." (Mind, Language, and Society, Basic Books, 1998, p. 45)
What Searle wants to say is that there can be a natural science of consciousness, but one that does not end up by denying its existence, a natural science that is adequate to consciousness in its very subjectivity. But (1) science is objective: it aims at an underlying reality 'beneath' subjective appearances. (2) Consciousness, however, is essentially subjective. It seems, therefore, that (3) there can be no natural science of consciousness.
To defeat this argument, Searle makes a distinction between epistemic subjectivity and ontological subjectivity, and a distinction between epistemic objectivity and ontological objectivity. Compare a pain and a mountain. A pain has a subjective mode of existence whereas a mountain has an objective mode of existence. The difference is that the appearing of the pain is identical to the being of the pain unlike the mountain whose appearing and being are distinct. A pain cannot exist unless it is experienced, whereas a mountain can exist without being experienced. So far, so good. But then Searle maintains that what is ontologically subjective can be studied by a science that is epistemically objective. If this is right, then the argument above falls victim to a failure to distinguish the two senses of 'subjectivity' and the two senses of 'objectivity.' Here is the argument again:
1. Science is objective: it aims at an underlying reality 'beneath' subjective appearances. 2. Consciousness is essentially subjective. Therefore 3. There can be no natural science of consciousness.
Searle's contention is that there is nothing to prevent a science that is epistemically objective from studying consciousness which is ontologically subjective. Here is the crucial passage (ML&S, pp. 44-45):
The pain in my toe is ontologically subjective, but the statement "JRS now has a pain in his toe" is not epistemically subjective. It is a simple matter of (epistemically) objective fact, not a matter of (epistemically) subjective opinion. So the fact that consciousness has a subjective mode of existence does not prevent us from having an objective science of consciousness.
Searle's argument goes like this:
4. The pain in JRS's toe is ontologically subjective. 5. That JRS has a pain in his toe is a matter of epistemically objective fact. Therefore 6. That consciousness has a subjective mode of existence is consistent with there being an epistemically objective science of it.
Although both premises are true, the conclusion does not follow from them. Searle is confusing the objective reality of his pain with its objective accessibility to science. This confusion is aided and abetted by the ambiguity of 'object' and 'objective.' From the fact that the pain exists in itself and is in that sense objective, it does not follow that the pain is exhaustively knowable by science, that it is an object of scientific knowledge.
Consider a different example. Mary says, "The room is cold!" Bill says, "The room is not cold." Clearly, there is no fact of the matter as to whether or not the room is cold or the opposite. It is a matter of perception: Mary feels cold, while hot-blooded Bill does not. The objective fact is that the room temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, a fact perceived differently by Bill and Mary.
Note that it is also an objective fact that Mary feels cold and that Bill does not. But how is it supposed to follow that Bill's sensation, or Mary's, are exhaustively understandable in natural-scientific terms? The fact that the sensations themselves exist in reality and not relative to perceivers does not show that they are wholly accessible to science. It is precisely their "first-person ontology" that keeps them from being wholly accessible to science.
The mistake Searle is making is to think that what is objectively real (in the sense of that which exists in itself and not relative to perceivers) is exhausted by what is natural and therefore accessible to natural science. He mistakenly identifies reality with nature. It is undoubtedly true that sensations (and mental data generally) exist in observer-independent fashion: they are not mere appearances but appearances in which appearance and reality coincide. Thus Searle is right to say that they are ontologically subjective. Searle is also right to say that this ontological subjectivity is consistent with mental data's existing in themselves and not merely for an observer.
But as far as I can see it is a howling non sequitur to conclude that mental data are objects of scientific knowledge. To be objectively real (in the sense of existing an sich and not merely for observers) is not the same as being an object of scientific knowledge. Beware the ambiguity of 'object'! It appears that Searle has fallen victim to it.
But why does Searle mistakenly identify reality with the objects of scientific knowledge -- especially given his clear insight into the ontological subjectivity of mental data? Because he is in the grip of the IDEOLOGY of scientific naturalism. This prevents him from properly exploiting his insight. But to make this allegation stick will require further citations and considerations.
You say: "I would argue that a naturalist/physicalist/materialist ought to be a moral nihilist, and that when these types fight shy of moral nihilism that merely shows an inability or unwillingness on their part to appreciate the logical consequences of their own doctrine, or else some sort of psychological compartmentalization. "
I agree with you that the naturalist/materialist/physicalist ought - intellectually ought - to be a moral nihilist. Of course, that's not a very popular position. So aren't we left with the case where the naturalist/materialist/physicalist 'ought' to pretend to be otherwise? In other words, when we see someone like Hitchens talking about moral oughts, is this necessarily a case of either compartmentalization or contradiction? What about the other option: they're lying, because what's important is advancing an agenda. After all, moral nihilism doesn't compel one to be up front about one's moral nihilism.
The reader agrees that naturalism logically requires moral nihilism. That it does is not obvious and requires argument. A naturalist might try to argue that objective values either supervene upon, or emerge from, pure natural facts. A huge topic! For one thing, it depends on exactly what sort of naturalism is under discussion. A nonreductive naturalist might escape the entailment, assuming he can make sense of nonreductivism, and good luck with that. But surely an eliminativist naturalist would not. So it seems obvious that eliminativist naturalism does entail moral nihilism. We can raise our question with respect to a naturalist of this stripe.
So, assuming that some versions of naturalism do entail moral nihilism, what ought we say about the naturalist proponent of one of these versions who refuses to accept the consequence?
I suggested that there are two options: either he is simply being logically inconsistent, something I wouldn't put past a 'public intellectual,' or he is compartmentalizing. (I saw a show last night on TV about one 'Mad Dog' Sullivan, mafia hit man. He was a good husband and father when he wasn't gunning people down in cold blood. He'd walk into a bar, shoot his victim through the head, and calmly walk out. He has about 20-30 murders to his 'credit.' He pulled off the compartmentalization by telling himself that his crimes were just 'business.' The most depressing bit came at the end when his wife and two sons insisted that Sullivan was "a good man.")
My reader suggests a third option: (some) naturalists are just lying. They see what their naturalism entails, and they are not compartmentalizing. They are lying to forward their agenda. After all, a fully self-aware moral nihilist would not consider truth to be a an objective value, and so could not have any moral scruples about lying.
I think my reader made a good point. If you are an eliminativist naturalist, and do not accept moral nihilism as a logical consequence of your naturalism, then you are either being logically inconsistent, or you are a self-deceived compartmentalizer, or you are a lousy no good liar!
You can guess what my strategy will be with respect to the other naturalisms. I will test whether or not they collapse into eliminativism in the end.
Story here. It is not just that leftists are bereft of common sense; they want voter fraud. How else could one explain their palpably irrational position? An opponent devoid of arguments is an opponent legitimately psychologized.
A university, for example, might highlight its “rich diversity” by pointing to gay students, female students, Punjabi students, Arab students, Korean students, and disabled students — even should they all come from quite affluent families and backgrounds. Key here was that “diversity” was admittedly cosmetic, or at least mostly to be distinguishable by the eye — skin color, gender, etc. — rather than internal and predicated on differences in political ideology or values. A Brown or an Amherst worried not at all that its classes included very few Mormons, libertarians, or ROTC candidates; instead, if the students looked diverse, but held identical political and social views, then in fact they were diverse.
In the end the only kind of diversity liberals care about is politically correct diversity. They are not really interested in diversity or in dissent or in civility. They hijack these terms and pilot them towards Left-coast destinations. They think they own these values. Same with accusations of racism. They think they have proprietary rights in this enterprise. So there is white racism but no black racism. It's nonsense, but that's a liberal for you.
Let's talk about cigarettes. Suppose you smoke one pack per day. Is that irrational? I hope all will agree that no one who is concerned to be optimally healthy as long as possible should smoke 20 cigarettes a day, let alone 80 like Rod Serling who died at age 50 on the operating table. But long-term health is only one value among many. Would Serling have been as productive without the weed? Maybe not.
Suppose one genuinely enjoys smoking and is willing to run the risk of disease and perhaps shorten one's life by say five or ten years in order to secure certain benefits in the present. There is nothing irrational about such a course of action. One acts rationally -- in one sense of 'rational' -- if one chooses means conducive to the ends one has in view. If your end in view is to live as long as possible, then don't smoke. If that is not your end, if you are willing to trade some highly uncertain future years of life for some certain pleasures here and now, and if you enjoy smoking, then smoke.
The epithet 'irrational' is attached with more justice to the fascists of the Left, the loon-brained tobacco wackos, who, in the grip of their misplaced moral enthusiasm, demonize the acolytes of the noble weed. The church of liberalism must have its demon, and his name is tobacco. I should also point out that smoking, like keeping and bearing arms, is a liberty issue. Is liberty a value? I'd say it is. Yet another reason to oppose the liberty-bashing loons of the Left and the abomination of Obamacare with its individual mandate.
Smoking and drinking can bring you to death's door betimes. Ask Humphrey Bogart who died at 56 of the synergistic effects of weed and hooch. Life's a gamble. A crap shoot no matter how you slice it. Hear the Hitch:
Writing is what's important to me, and anything that helps me do that -- or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation -- is worth it to me. So I was knowingly taking a risk. I wouldn't recommend it to others.
And like Bogie before him, Hitch paid the price for his boozing and smoking in the coin of an early death at 62. Had he taken care of himself he might have kept up his high-toned ranting and raving for another ten years at least.
So why don't I smoke and drink? The main reason is that smoking and drinking are inconsistent with the sorts of activities that provide satisfactions of a much higher grade than smoking and drinking. I mean: running, hiking, backpacking and the like. When you wake up with a hangover, are you proud of the way you spent the night before? Are you a better man in any sense? Do you really feel better after a night of physical and spiritual dissipation? Would you feel a higher degree of satisfaction if the day before you had completed a 26.2 mile foot race?
Health and fitness in the moment is a short-term reason. A long-term reason is that I want to live as long as possible so as to finish the projects I have in mind. It is hard to write philosophy when you are sick or dead. And here below is where the philosophy has to be written. Where I hope to go there will be no need for philosophy.
Perhaps you have noticed how, in American English at least, ‘issue’ has come to supplant ‘problem.’ For example, people will refer to medical problems such as obesity and hypertension as medical issues. Being a conservative, I don’t confuse change with improvement. And being a linguistic conservative, I am none too pleased with this recent development. So I would like to be able to say that a mistake is being made, or a distinction is being obliterated, by those who use ‘issue’ when, not long ago, one would have used ‘problem.’ I would like to say what I say to those who confuse ‘infer’ and ‘imply,’ namely, that there is an extralinguistic distinction that their linguistic confusion renders invisible. In the case of ‘infer’ and ‘imply’ it is the distinction between a subjective mental process and an objective relation between propositions. In a slogan: People infer; propositions imply. For details see On the Correct Usage of 'Infers and 'Implies.'
Trouble is, I am having a hard time finding any clearly formulable mistake of a logical or conceptual nature such as would justify my displeasure. Here we read that "A problem is something negative." Sometimes. A flat tire is a problem and something negative. But chess problems -- the ones problemists compose, if not over-the-board problems -- are not something negative. The same is true of many if not all logical, mathematical, and philosophical problems.
The so-called 'problem of universals,' for example is not negative; it's just there. Ditto for the problem whether existence is a property of individuals. We could just as well describe it as an issue, a topic of debate. So some problems are issues. But other problems are not issues. If you suffer from hypertension, then you have a medical problem, not a medical issue. Nevertheless, there is the medical issue of how best to treat hypertension (with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors? With beta-blockers?). This medical issue can also be described as the problem of how best to treat hypertension.
Perhaps we should say the following. Every issue is a topic of controversy. But it is not the case that every problem is a topic of controversy. Some problems are topics and some are not. Of those that are not, some are difficulties while others are tasks.
Let’s consider some more examples.
No one is about to start referring to chess problems and math problems as chess and math issues. At least I hope not. These are problems, in particular, tasks. For example,White to move and mate in three. If you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, then you’ve got a problem in the form of a difficulty. And if your wife is about to give birth when you run out of gas, then you really have a problem in the form of a difficulty. The use of ‘issue’ here offends my linguistic sensibilities, and rightly so if every issue is a topic of controversy. If you are running out of gas and your wife is in labor, then those are facts, not topics of debate. More examples:
There is an issue with the starter solenoid.
You got an issue with that, buddy?
There are serious issues with the formatting of the March issue of Chess Life.
Thank you Carmelita, for putting me on your blogroll. Carmelita: No issue!
I say that the above four examples are all egregious misuses of 'issue.' For in none of these four cases is there any topic of controversy. Each is a problem in the form of a difficulty.
One issue that arises for a married couple is whether or not to have children. It's an issue because it is a topic of debate. But if the man is impotent, then that is a problem. It is even more of a problem if the two find each other physically repellent. Neither of these is an issue because neither is a topic of controversy.
In the sentence, ‘He died without issue,’ one cannot substitute ‘problem’ for ‘issue’ salva significatione. But that is not the relevant use of ‘issue.’ We certainly don't want to make an issue, or a problem, out of that use of 'issue.' Similarly with 'issue' in the sense of an issue of a magazine.
I end with a question. Why is ‘issue’ coming to supplant ‘problem’? Is it just because people are suggestible lemmings rather than the independent thinkers and speakers that they ought to be? Is it because people are averse to facing problems and so use 'issue' as a euphemism?
We can speak correctly both of the issue and of the problem of why 'issue' is coming to supplant 'problem.'
I assume that the bird of Reality is jointed, and we need to cut it linguistically at the joints.
Could intentonality be an illusion? Of course not. But seemingly intelligent people think otherwise:
A single still photograph doesn't convey movement the way a motion picture does. Watching a sequence of slightly different photos one photo per hour, or per minute, or even one every 6 seconds won't do it either. But looking at the right sequence of still pictures succeeding each other every one-twentieth of a second produces the illusion that the images in each still photo are moving. Increasing the rate enhances the illusion, though beyond a certain rate the illusion gets no better for creatures like us. But it's still an illusion. There is noting to it but the succession of still pictures. That's how movies perpetrate their illusion. The large set of still pictures is organized together in a way that produces in creatures like us the illusion that the images are moving. In creatures with different brains and eyes, ones that work faster, the trick might not work. In ones that work slower, changing the still pictures at the rate of one every hour (as in time-lapse photography) could work. But there is no movement of any of the images in any of the pictures, nor does anything move from one photo onto the next. Of course, the projector is moving, and the photons are moving, and the actors were moving. But all the movement that the movie watcher detects is in the eye of the beholder. That is why the movement is illusory.
The notion that thoughts are about stuff is illusory in roughly the same way. Think of each input/output neural circuit as a single still photo. Now, put together a huge number of input/output circuits in the right way. None of them is about anything; each is just an input/output circuit firing or not. But when they act together, they "project" the illusion that there are thoughts about stuff. They do that through the behavior and the conscious experience (if any) that they produce. (Alex Rosenberg, The Atheists' Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. The quotation was copied from here.)
Rosenberg is not saying, as an emergentist might, that the synergy of sufficiently many neural circuits gives rise to genuine object-directed thoughts. He is saying something far worse, something literally nonsensical, namely, that the object-directed thought that thoughts are object-directed is an illusion. The absurdity of Rosenberg's position can be seen as follows.
1. Either the words "The notion that thoughts are about stuff is illusory" express a thought -- the thought that there are no object-directed thoughts -- or they do not. 2. If the latter, then the words are meaningless. 3. If the former, then the thought is either true or false. 4. If the thought is true, then there there are no object-directed thoughts, including the one expressed by Rosenberg's words, and so his words are once again meaningless. 5. If the thought is false, then there are object-directed thoughts, and Rosenberg's claim is false. Therefore 6. Rosenberg's claim is either meaningless or false. His position is self-refuting.
As for the analogy, it is perfectly hopeless, presupposing as it does genuine intrinsic intentionality. If I am watching a movie of a man running, then I am under an illusion in that there is nothing moving on the movie screen: there is just a series of stills. But the experience I am undergoing is a perfectly good experience that exhibits genuine intrinsic intentionality: it is a visual experiencing of a man running, or to be perfectly punctilious about it: a visual experiencing AS OF a man running. Whether or not the man depicted exists, as would be the case if the movie were a newsreel, the experience exists, and so cannot be illusory.
To understand the analogy one must understand that there are intentional experiences, experiences that take an accusative. But if you understand that, then you ought to be able to understand that the analogy cannot be used to render intelligible how it might that it is illusory that there are intentional experiences.
What alone remains of interest here is how a seemingly intelligent fellow could adopt a position so manifestly absurd. I suspect the answer is that he has stupefied himself by his blind adherence to scientistic/naturalistic ideology.
Here is an earlier slap at Rosenberg. Peter Lupu joins in the fun here.
Too many people use the word 'stuff' nowadays. I was brought up to believe that it is a piece of slang best avoided in all but the most informal of contexts. So when I hear a good scholar make mention of all the 'stuff' he has published on this topic or that, I wonder how long before he starts using 'crap' instead of 'stuff.' "You know, Bill, I've published a lot of crap on anaphora; I think you'll find it excellent." But why stop with 'crap'? "Professor X has published a fine piece of shit in Nous on temporal indexicals. Have you read it?"
If you ask me to read your 'stuff,' I may wonder whether you take it seriously and whether I should. But if you ask me to read your work, then I am more likely to take you seriously and give you my attention. Why use 'stuff' when 'work' is available? Do you use 'stuff' so as not to appear stuffy? Or because you have a need for acceptance among the unlettered? But why would you want such acceptance? Note that when 'stuff' is used interchangeably with 'work,' the former term does not acquire the seriousness of the latter, but vice versa: 'stuff' retains its low connotation and 'work' drops out. The net result is linguistic decline and an uptick in 'crudification,' to use an ugly word for an ugly thing.
No doubt there is phony formality. But that is no reason to elide the distinction between the informal and the formal. A related topic is phony informality. An example of the latter is false intimacy, as when people people address complete strangers using their first names. This is offensive, because the addresser is seeking to enjoy the advantages of intimacy (e.g., entering into one's trust) without paying the price.
'Ass' is another word gaining a currency that is already excessive. One wonders how far it will go. Will 'ass' become an all-purpose synecdoche? Run your ass off, work your ass to the bone, get your ass out of here . . . ask a girl's father for her ass in marriage? In the expression, 'piece of ass' the reference is not to the buttocks proper, but to an adjoining area. 'Ass' appears subject to a peculiar semantic spread. It can come to mean almost anything, as in 'haul ass,' which means to travel at a high rate of speed. I don't imagine that if one were hauling donkeys one could make very good time. So how on earth did this expression arise? (I had teenage friends who could not refer to a U-Haul trailer except as a U-Haul Ass trailer.)
Or consider that to have one's 'ass in a sling' is to be sad or dejected. Here, 'ass' extends even unto a person's mood. Robert Hendrickson (Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, p. 36) suggests that 'ass in a sling' is an extension of 'arm in a sling.' May be, but how does that get us from the buttocks to a mental state? I was disappointed to find a lacuna where Hendrickson should have had an entry on 'haul ass.'
'Ass' seems especially out of place in scholarly journals unless the reference is to some such donkey as Buridan's ass, or some such bridge as the pons asinorum, 'bridge of asses.' The distinguished philosopher Richard M. Gale, in a piece in Philo (Spring-Summer 2003, p. 132) in which he responds to critics, says near the outset that ". . . my aim is not to cover my ass. . . ." Well, I'm glad to hear it, but perhaps he should also tell us that he has no intention of 'sucking up' to his critics either.
In On the Nature and Existence of God (1991), Gale wonders why anyone would "screw around" with the cosmological argument if Kant is right that it depends on the ontological argument. The problem here is not just that 'screw around' is slang, or that it has a sexual connotation, but that it is totally inappropriate in the context of a discussion of the existence/nonexistence of God. The latter is no joking matter, no mere plaything of donnish Spielerei. If God exists, everything is different; ditto if God does not exist. The nonexistence of God is not like the nonexistence of an angry unicorn on the far side of the moon, or the nonexistence of Russell's celestial teapot. As Nietzsche appreciated (Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, sec. 27), the death of God is the death of truth. But to prove that Nietzsche was right about this would require a long article or a short book. One nice thing about a blog post is that one can just stop when the going gets tough by pleading the inherent constraints of the genre. Which is what I will now do.
Bernard Goetz, mild-mannered electronics nerd, looked like an easy mark, a slap job. And so he got slapped around, thrown through plate glass windows, mugged and harrassed. He just wanted to be left alone to tinker in his basement. One day he decided not to take it any more and acquired a .38 'equalizer.' And so the black punks who demanded money of him on the New York subway in December of '84 paid the price to the delight of conservatives and the consternation of liberals. To the former he became a folk hero, to the latter a 'racist.' It was a huge story back then. One of the miscreants, James Ramseur, has been found dead of an apparent drug overdose.
Ramseur was freed from prison last year after serving 25 years for a rape, according to NBC NewYork.com. He was one of four black teens shot by Goetz on a train on Dec. 22, 1984, in a shooting that earned Goetz the nickname of "subway vigilante" by city newspapers.
Meanwhile Goetz, 64, flourishes and runs a store called "Vigilante Electronics."
A heart-warming story on this, the eve of Christmas Eve.
I once had a graduate student with whom I became friends. Ned Flynn, to give him a name, one day told me that after he finished high school he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and get a job with the railroad. His mother, however, wanted something 'better' for her son. She wanted him to go to college, which he did, in the desultory fashion of many. He ended up declaring a major in psychology and graduating. After spending some time in a monastery, perhaps also at the instigation of his Irish Catholic mother, and still not knowing quite what to do with himself, he was accepted into an M.A. program in philosophy, which is where I met him. After goofing around for several more years, he took a job as a social worker, a job which did not suit him. Last I saw him he was in his mid-thirties and pounding nails.
His complaint to me was that, had he followed his natural bent, he would have had fifteen or so years of job seniority with the railroad, a good paycheck, and a house half paid for. Instead, he wasted years on studies for which he had no real inclination, and no real talent. He had no discernible interest in the life of the mind, and like most working class types could not take it seriously. If you are from the working class, you will know what I mean: 'real' work must involve grunting and sweating and schlepping heavy loads. Those who work on oil rigs or in the building trades do real work. Reading, writing, and thinking are activities deemed effete and not quite real. When my mother saw me reading books, she would sometimes tell me to go outside and do something. That use of 'do' betrayed her working class values. What she didn't realize was that by reading all those fancy books I was putting myself in a position where I could live by my wits and avoid the schlepping and grunting. Of course, the purpose of the life of the mind is not to avoid grunt work, with which I have some acquaintance, but to live a truly human life, whether one fills one's belly from it or not.
Overeducation' is perhaps not the right word for cases like my former student Ned. Strictly speaking, one cannot be overeducated since there is and can be no end to true education. The word is from the Latin e-ducere, to draw out, and there can be no end to the process of actualizing the potential of a mind with an aptitude for learning. Perhaps the right word is 'over-credentialed.' It is clear that what most people in pursuit of 'higher education' want is not an education, strictly speaking, but a credential that will gain them admittance to a certain social and/or economic status. 'Education as most people use it nowadays is a euphemism for a ticket to success, where the latter is defined in terms of money and social position.
. . . [Christopher] Hitchens writes that he and other atheists “believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion,” thus implying that he and others have direct and incorrigible acquaintance with a natural moral law that informs their judgments about what counts as an ethical life.
But to speak of a natural moral law – a set of abstract, immaterial, unchanging principles of human conduct that apply to all persons in all times and in all places – seems oddly out of place in the universe that Hitchens claimed we occupy, a universe that is at bottom a purposeless vortex of matter, energy, and scientific laws that eventually spit out human beings.
Right. It is easy to confuse two very different questions, and Sam Harris, one of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism, does confuse them as I argue here.
Q1. Given some agreed-upon moral code, are people who profess some version of theism more 'moral,' i.e., more likely to live in accordance with the agreed-upon code, than those who profess some version of atheism?
However it be answered, (Q1) is not philosophically interesting, except as part of the run-up to a genuine philosophical question, though it is of interest sociologically. Suppose we grant, arguendo, that the answer to (Q1) is in the negative. Now contrast (Q1) with
Q2. Given some agreed-upon moral code, are atheists justified in adhering to the code?
The agreed-upon code is one that most or many atheists and theists would accept. Thus don't we all object to child molestation, wanton killing of human beings, rape, theft, lying, and swindling in the manner of Madoff? Even swindlers object to being swindled! And in objecting to these actions, we mean our objections to be more than merely subjectively valid. When our property is stolen or a neighbor murdered, we consider that an objective wrong has been done. And when the murderer is apprehended, tried, and convicted we judge that something objectively right has been done. Let's not worry about the details or the special cases: killing in self-defense, abortion, etc. Just imagine some minimal objectively binding code that all or most of us, theists and atheists alike, accept.
What (Q2) asks about is the foundation or basis of the agreed-upon objectively binding moral code. This is not a sociological or any kind of empirical question. Nor is it a question in normative ethics. The question is not what we ought to do and leave undone, for we are assuming that we already have a rough answer to that. The question is meta-ethical: what does morality rest on, if on anything?
Beckwith is quite right that the naturalist/physicalist/materialist is going to have a hard time justifying his adherence to the moral prescriptions and proscriptions that most of us, theist and atheist alike, accept. I would argue that a naturalist/physicalist/materialist ought to be a moral nihilist, and that when these types fight shy of moral nihilism that merely shows an inability or unwillingness on their part to appreciate the logical consequences of their own doctrine, or else some sort of psychological compartmentalization.
I once knew a hard-assed logical positivist who during the work week practiced his positivism, but on Sundays attended Eastern Orthodox religious services. He avoided cognitive dissonance by compartmentalizing.
The compartmentalized life is the suboptimal life. Seek existential unity and consistency.
Call it synchronicity if you like, but a Port Angeles reader points me to this article by Rabbi Lord Sacks which complements the article by Theroux to which I linked in the previous post. Excerpt:
So there it is: the evidence that intellectuals have systematically misunderstood the nature of religion and religious observance and have constantly been thinking, for the better part of three centuries, that religion was about to disappear, yet it hasn't. In certain parts of the world it is growing. The 21st century is likely to be a more religious century than the 20th. It is interesting that religion is particularly growing in places like China where the economy is growing.
We must ask ourselves why this is, because it is actually very odd indeed. Think about it: every function that was once performed by religion can now be done by something else. In other words, if you want to explain the world, you don't need Genesis; you have science. If you want to control the world, you don't need prayer; you have technology. If you want to prosper, you don't necessarily seek God's blessing; you have the global economy. You want to control power, you no longer need prophets; you have liberal democracy and elections.
If you're ill, you don't need a priest; you can go to a doctor. If you feel guilty, you don't have to confess; you can go to a psychotherapist instead. If you're depressed, you don't need faith; you can take a pill. If you still need salvation, you can go to today's cathedrals, the shopping centres of Britain — or as one American writer calls them, weapons of mass consumption. Religion seems superfluous, redundant, de trop. Why then does it survive?
My answer is simple. Religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? We will always ask those three questions because homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal, and religion has always been our greatest heritage of meaning. You can take science, technology, the liberal democratic state and the market economy as four institutions that characterise modernity, but none of these four will give you an answer to those questions that humans ask.
Jewish Philosophers. Jewish Chess Players. Other lists are accessible via these links. Roots of Jew hatred? One is undoubtedly envy. Jews have made contributions to culture far in excess of their numbers. No wonder they are so hated in the Muslim, and not onlyin the Muslim, world. And you say you don't believe that man is a fallen being? I would argue that failure to perceive one's fallen status is part of the Fall. I will be coming back to this topic. For now I point out that even Michael Ruse takes it seriously, to his credit, and to the displeasure of the very bright boneheads of the New Atheism, one of whom has recently passed from our midst.
I found no lists for Jewish Hikers or Jewish Outdoorsmen. Does that help explain Peter Lupu's and Grandpatzer Ed Yetman's utter incomprehension of my hiking and backpacking and running activities? It is not only that they would never do such a thing; they express astonishment that anyone should want to do such a thing.
Many Catholic artifacts related to worship are marked with the Roman letters IHS, which is a partial Latin transliteration of the Greek form of 'Jesus' and can also be read as an acronym for the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus Savior of Man). However, some have construed the IHS to be an acronym for "In this Sign", as in "In this sign you shall conquer." Some who were desirous of defending the judgements of the Obama administration used that last and incorrect notion to justify covering all of the IHS images at Georgetown University two years ago on the ground that Muslims would see the IHS as a symbol of Christian aggression. My reaction to that claim is that the event presented the U.S. government with what educators now call a "teachable moment." The only problem being, I suspect, that no one in the White House gang actually knew the true meaning of the letters and probably shared the Muslim belief that the Crusades were wars of aggression aimed at forcefully converting the peace-loving Muslims and enriching the pope.
Although it is true that 'IHS' is, as Tom writes, "a partial Latin transliteration of of the Greek form of 'Jesus'," it is not true that it abbreviates Iesus Hominum Salvator, at least according to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "IHS was sometimes wrongly understood as "Jesus Hominum (or Hierosolymae) Salvator", i.e. Jesus, the Saviour of men (or of Jerusalem=Hierosolyma)."
Being a pedant and a quibbler (but in the very best senses of these terms!), I was all set to quibble with Monterey Tom's use of 'acronym' in connection with 'IHS.' After all, you cannot pronounce it like a word in the way you can pronounce 'laser' and 'Gestapo' which are clearly acronyms. But it all depends on how exactly we define 'acronym,' a question I'm not in the mood for. The Wikipedia article looks good, however. I am tempted to say that, while every acronym is an abbreviation, not every abbreviation is an acronym. 'IHS' is an abbreviation.
Acronym or not, 'IHS' is a Christogram, and sometimes a monogram. As it just now occurred in my text, 'IHS' is not a monogram but a mere abbreviation. But again it depends on what exactly a monogram is. According to the Wikipedia monogram article, "A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol." Clear examples:
In the first monogram one can discern alpha, omega, chi, and rho. The 'chi' as I said last post is the 'X' is 'Xmas.'
From pedantry to political correctness and a bit of anti-Pee Cee polemic. To think that 'IHS' abbreviates In hoc signes vincit shows a contemptible degree of ignorance, but what is worse is to worry about a possible Muslim misreading of the abbreviation. Only a namby-pamby Pee-Cee dumbass liberal could sink to that level. That is down there with the supine foolishness of those librul handwringers who wailed, in the wake of 9/11, "What did we do to offend them?"
As for Georgetown's caving to the White House demand, that is contemptible and disgusting, but so typical. To paraphrase Dennis Prager, there is no one so spineless in all the world as a university administrator. They should have said loud and clear "Absolutely not!"
When I was eight years old or so and first took note of the phrase 'Merry Xmas,' my piety was offended by what I took to be the removal of 'Christ' from 'Christmas' only to be replaced by the universally recognized symbol for an unknown quantity, 'X.' But it wasn't long before I realized that the 'X' was merely a font-challenged typesetter's attempt at rendering the Greek Chi, an ancient abbreviation for 'Christ.' There is therefore nothing at all offensive in the expression 'Xmas.' Year after year, however, certain ignorant Christians who are old enough to know better make the mistake that I made when I was eight and corrected when I was ten.
It just now occurs to me that 'Xmas' may be susceptible of a quasi-Tillichian reading. Paul Tillich is famous for his benighted definition of 'God' as 'whatever is one's ultimate concern.' Well, take the 'X' in 'Xmas' as a variable the values of which are whatever one wants to celebrate at this time of year. So for some, 'Xmas' will amount to Solsticemas, for burglars Swagmas, for materialists Lootmas, for gluttons Foodmas, for inebriates Hoochmas, and for ACLU extremists Antichristianitymas.
A reader suggests some further constructions:
For those who love the capitol of the Czech Republic: Pragmas. For Dutch Reformed theologians of Frisian extraction who think Christmas is silly: Hoekemas. For Dutch Reformed philosophy professors of Frisian extraction who like preserves on their toast: Jellemas. For fans of older British sci-fi flicks: Quatermas. For those who buy every special seasonal periodical they can get their hands on: Magmas. One could probably multiply such examples ad nauseum, so I won't.
How could an ACLU bonehead object to 'Xmas' so construed? No doubt he would find a way.
A while back I quipped that "Aporeticians qua aporeticians do not celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Enigmas." My man Hodges shot back: "But they do celebrate 'X-mas'! (Or maybe they 'cerebrate' it?)"
Bill Clinton may have brought the matter to national attention, but philosophers have long appreciated that much can ride on what the meaning of 'is' is.
Edward of London has a very good post in which he raises the question whether the standard analytic distinction between the 'is' of identity and the 'is' of predication is but fallout from an antecedent decision to adhere to an absolute distinction between names and predicates. If the distinction is absolute, as Frege and his epigoni maintain, then names cannot occur in predicate position, and a distinction between the two uses of 'is' is the consequence. But what if no such absolute distinction is made? Could one then dispense with the standard analytic distinction? Or are there reasons independent of Frege's function-argument analysis of propositions for upholding the distinction between the two uses of 'is'?
To illustrate the putative distinction, consider
1. George Orwell is Eric Blair
2. George Orwell is famous.
Both sentences feature a token of 'is.' Now ask yourself: is 'is' functioning in the same way in both sentences? The standard analytic line is that 'is' functions differently in the two sentences. In (1) it expresses identity; in (2) it expresses predication. Identity, among other features, is symmetrical; predication is not. That suffices to distinguish the two uses of 'is.' 'Famous' is predicable of Orwell, but Orwell is not predicable of 'famous.' But if Blair is Orwell, then Orwell is Blair.
Now it is clear, I think, that if one begins with the absolute name-predicate distinction, then the other distinction is also required. For if 'Eric Blair' in (1) cannot be construed as a predicate, then surely the 'is' in (1) does not express predication. The question I am raising, however, is whether the distinction between the two uses of 'is' arises ONLY IF one distinguishes absolutely and categorially between names and predicates.
Fred Sommers seems to think so. Referencing the example 'The morning star is Venus,' Sommers writes, "Clearly it is only after one has adopted the syntax that prohibits the predication of proper names that one is forced to read 'a is b' dyadically and to see in it a sign of identity." (The Logic of Natural Language, Oxford 1982, p. 121, emphasis added) The contemporary reader will of course wonder how else 'a is b' could be read if it is not read as expressing a dyadic relation between a and b. How the devil could the 'is' in 'a is b' be read as a copula?
This is what throws me about the scholastic stuff peddled by Ed and others. In 'Orwell is famous' they seem to be wanting to say that 'Orwell' and 'famous' refer to the same thing. But what could that mean?
First of all, 'Orwell' and 'famous' do not have the same extension: there are many famous people, but only one Orwell. But even if Orwell were the only famous person, Orwell would not be identical to the only famous person. Necessarily, Orwell is Orwell; but it is not the case that, necessarily, Orwell is the only famous person, even if it is true that Orwell is the only famous person, which he isn't.
If you tell me that only 'Orwell' has a referent, but not 'famous,' then I will reply that that is nominalism for the crazy house. Do you really want to say or imply that Orwell is famous because in English we apply the predicate 'famous' to him? That's ass-backwards or bass-ackwards, one. We correctly apply 'famous' to him because he is, in reality, famous. (That his fame is a social fact doesn't make it language-dependent.) Do you really want to say or imply that, were we speaking German, Orwell would not be famous but beruehmt? 'Famous' is a word of English while beruehmt is its German equivalent. The property, however, belongs to neither language. If you say there are no properties, only predicates, then that smacks of the loony bin.
Suppose 'Orwell' refers to the concrete individual Orwell, and 'famous' refers to the property, being-famous. Then you get for your trouble a different set of difficulties. I don't deny them! But these difficulties do not show that the scholastic view is in the clear.
This pattern repeats itself throughout philosophy. I believe I have shown that materialism about the mind faces insuperable objections, and that only those in the grip of naturalist ideology could fail to feel their force. But it won't do any good to say that substance dualism also faces insuperable objections. For it could be that both are false/incoherent. In fact, it could be that every theory proposed (and proposable by us) in solution of every philosophical problem is false/incoherent.
An obituary by his Indiana University colleague, Nino Cocchiarella.
"Grossmann was well known among his colleagues for his eagerness to discuss philosophical problems and to engage in sustained debate on fundamental positions." Sounds right. When I, a stranger, wrote Grossmann sometime in the '80s and posed some questions for him, he responded in a thorough and friendly manner. May peace be upon him.
Here is another obituary by Javier Cumpa and Erwin Tegtmeier. It ends with a tantalizing reference to the book Grossmann was working on when felled by a massive stroke: Facts. I hope Grossmann's literary executors make the manuscript available.
The summer of '84 found me in Bloomington, Indiana. Thanks to the largesse of the American taxpayer, I was a 'seminarian' in Hector-Neri Castaneda's NEH Summer Seminar. One afternoon we repaired to a bar where we encountered Professor Grossmann. He told a story about the 19th century German philosopher Kuno Fischer, who was a big name in his day and a professor at Heidelberg. One day some workmen were making a racket outside his apartment. This incensed the good professor and he warned the workmen: "If you don't stop making this noise, I will leave Heidelberg!" The workmen stopped. Grossmann remarked that if Quine were to have lodged a similar complaint, the workmen would have laughed and bid him goodbye.
Passing a lady in the supermarket I catch a whiff of patchouli. Her scent puts me in mind of hippy-trippy Pamela from the summer of '69. An olfactory stimulus in the present causes a memory, also in the present, of an event long past, a tête-à-tête with a certain girl. How ordinary, but how strange! Suddenly I am 'brought back' to the fantastic and far-off summer of '69. Ah yes! What is memory and how does it work? How is it even possible?
Let's start with the 'datanic' as I like to say:
1. There are (veridical) memories through which we gain epistemic access to the actual past, to events that really happened. The above example is a case of episodic personal memory. I remember an event in my personal past. To be precise, I remember my having experienced an event in my personal past. My having been born by Caesarean section is also an episode from my personal past, and I remember that that was my mode of exiting my mother's body; but I don't remember experiencing that transition. So not every autobiographical memory is a personal episodic memory. The latter is the only sort of memory I will be discussing in this post. The sentence in boldface is the nonnegotiable starting point of our investigation.
We now add a couple of more theoretical and less datanic propositions, ones which are not obvious, but are plausible and accepted by many theorists:
2. Memory is a causal notion. A mental image of a past event needn't be a memory of a past event. So what makes a mental image of a past event a memory image? Its causal history. My present memory has a causal history that begins with the event in 1969 as I experienced it.
3. There is no action at a temporal distance. There is no direct causation over a temporal gap. There are no remote causes; every cause is a proximate cause. A necessary ingredient of causation is spatiotemporal contiguity. So while memory is a causal notion, my present memory of the '69 event is not directly caused by that event. For how could an event that no longer exists directly cause, over a decades-long temporal gap, a memory event in the present? That would seem to be something 'spooky,' a kind of magic.
Each of these propositions lays strong claim to our acceptance. But how can they all be true? (1) and (2) taken together appear to entail the negation of (3). How then can we accommodate them all?
Memory trace theories provide a means of accommodation. Suppose there are memory traces or engrams engraved in some medium. For materialists this medium will have to be the brain. One way to think of a memory trace is as a brain modification that was caused at the time of the original experience, and that persists since that time. So the encounter with Pam in '69 induced a change in my brain, left a trace there, a trace which has persisted since then. When I passed the patchouli lady in the supermarket, the olfactory stimulus 'activated' the dormant memory trace. This activation of the memory trace either is or causes the memory experience whose intentional object is the past event. With the help of memory traces we get causation wthout action at a temporal distance.
(Far out, man!)
The theory or theory-schema just outlined seems to allow us to uphold each of the above propositions. In particular, it seems to allow us to explain how a present memory of a past event can be caused by the past event without the past event having to jump the decades-long temporal gap between event remembered and memory. The memory trace laid down in '69 by the original experience exists in the present and is activated in the present by the sensory stimulus. Thus the temporal contiguity requirement is satisfied. And if the medium in which the memory traces are stored is the brain or central nervous system, then the spatial contiguity requirement is also satisfied.
Question: Could memory traces play merely causal roles?
Given (2) and (3), it seems that memory traces must be introduced as causal mediators between past and present. But could they be just that? Or must they also play a representational role? Intuitively, it seems that nothing could be a memory trace unless it somehow represented the event of which it is a trace. If E isthe original experience, and T is E's trace, then it it seems we must say that T is of E in a two-fold sense corresponding to the difference between the subjective and objective genitive. First, T is of E in that T is E's trace, the one that E caused. Second, T is of E in that T represents E.
It seems obvious that a trace must represent. In my example,the sensory stimulus (the whiff of patchouli) is not of or about the '69 event. It merely activates the trace, rendering the dispositional occurrent. But the memory is about the '69 event. So the aboutness must reside in the trace. The trace must represent the event that caused it -- and no other past event. The memory represents because the trace represents. If the trace didn't represent anything, how could the memory -- which is merely the activation of the trace or an immediate causal consequence of the activation of the trace -- represent anything? How a persisting brain modification -- however it is conceived, whether it is static or dynamic, whether localized or nonlocalized -- can represent anything is an important and vexing question but one I will discuss in a later post.
Right now I want to nail down the claim that memory traces cannot play a merely causal role, but must also bear the burden of representation.
Suppose a number of strangers visit me briefly. I want to remember them, but my power of memory is very weak and I know I will not remember them without the aid of some mnemonic device. So I have my visitors leave calling cards. They do so, except that they are all the same, and all blank (white). These blank cards are their traces, one per visitor. The visitors leave, but the cards remain behind as traces of their visit. I store the cards in a drawer. I 'activate' a card by pulling it out of storage and looking at it. I am then reminded (at most) that I had a visitor, but not put in mind of any particular visitor such as Tom. So even if the card in my hand was produced by Tom, that card is useless for the purpose of remembering Tom. Likewise for every other card. Each was produced by someone in particular and only by that person; but none of them 'bring back' any particular person.
Bear in my mind that I don't directly remember any of my visitors. My only memory access to them is via their traces, their calling cards. For the visitors are long gone just like the '69 experience. So the problem is not merely that I don't know which card is from which person; the problem is that I cannot even distinguish the persons.
Had each visitor left a differently colored card, that would not have helped. Nor are matters helped if each visitor leaves a different sort of trace; a bottle cap, a spark plug, a lock of hair, a guitar pick. Even if Tom is a guitar player and leaves a guitar pick, that is unhelpful too since I have no access to Tom except via his trace.
So it doesn't matter whether my ten visitors leave ten tokens of the same type, or ten tokens each of a different type. Either way I won't be able to remember them via the traces they leave behind. Clearly, what I need from each visitor is an item that uniquely represents him or her -- as opposed to an item that is merely caused to be in my house by the visitor. Suppose Tom left a unique guitar pick, the only one of its kind in existence. That wouldn't help either since no inspection of that unique pick could reveal that it was of Tom rather than of Eric or Eric's cat. Ditto if Tom has signed his card or his pick 'Tom Riff.' That might be a phony name, or the name of him and his guitar -- doesn't B. B . King call his guitar 'Lucille'?
If I can remember that it was Tom who left the guitar pick, then of course I don't need the guitar pick to remember Tom by. I simply remember Tom directly without the need for a trace. On the other hand, if I do need a trace in order to remember long gone Tom, then that trace must have representational power: it cannot be merely something that plays a causal role.
Traces theories have to avoid both circularity and vicious infinite regress.
Circularity. To explain the phenomenon of memory, the trace theory posits the existence of memory traces. But if the explanation in terms of traces ends up presupposing memory, then the theory is circular and worthless. If what makes the guitar pick a trace of Tom is that I remember that Tom left it, then the explanation is circular. Now consider the trace T in my brain which, when activated by stimulus S causes a memory M of past experience E. M represents E because T represents E. What makes T represent E? What makes the memory trace caused by the encounter with Pam in '69 represent Pam or my talking with her? The answer cannot be that I remember the memory trace being caused by the encounter with Pam. For that would be blatantly circular. Besides, memory traces in the brain are not accessible to introspection.
Infinite Regress. Our question is: what makes T represent E and nothing else? To avoid circularity one might say this: There is a trace T* which records the fact of E's production of T, and T represents E in virtue of T*. But this leads to a vicious infinite regress. Suppose Sally leaves a photo of herself. How do I know that the photo is of Sally and not of her sister Ally? If you say that I directly remember Sally and thereby know that the photo is unambiguously of her, then you move in a circle. You may as well just say that we remember directly and not via traces. So, to hold onto the trace theory, one might say the following: There is a photo of Sally and her photograph, side by side. Inspection of this photo reveals that that the first photo is of Sally. But this leads to regress: what makes the second photo a photo of the first?
Conclusion: To avoid both circularity and infinite regress, memory traces must possess intrinsic representational power. Their role cannot be merely causal.
A later post will then address the question whether memory traces could have intrinsic representational power. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will be able to guess my answer.
REFERENCE: John Heil, "Traces of Things Past," Philosophy of Science, vol. 45, no. 1 (March 1978), pp. 60-72. My calling card example above is a reworking of Heil's tennis ball example.
In this season especially we ought to find a kind word to say about the much maligned Ebeneezer Scrooge. Here's mine: Without Scrooge, the sexually prolific Cratchit wouldn't have a job and be able to support his brood! This thought is developed by Michael Levin in In Defense of Scrooge.
And is there not something preternaturally knuckleheaded about the calls from some liberals that the presentation of Dickens' masterpiece be banned? They ought to consider that there is more of anti-Capitalism in it than of Christianity -- an irony that no doubt escapes their shallow pates.
'Tis the season for the letter carriers of the world to groan under their useless burdens of impersonal greetings.
Impersonality in the minimalist style may take the form of a store-bought card with a pre-fabricated message to which is appended an embossed name. A step up from this is a handwritten name. Slightly better still is the nowadays common family picture with handwritten name but no message.
The maximalist style is far worse. Now we are in for a lengthy litany of the manifold accomplishments of the sender and his family which litany may run to a page or two of single-spaced text.
One size fits all. No attempt to address any one person as a person.
A colleague once reported an out-of-body experience. He had been resting on his back on a couch when he came suddenly to view himself from the perspective of the ceiling. He dismissed the experience. He had too much class to use the phrase 'brain fart,' but that is what I suspect he thought it was: a weird occurrence of no significance. Vouchsafed a hint of what might have been a reality beyond the ordinary, he chose to ignore it as if it were not worth the trouble of investigating. That sort of dismissive attitude is one I have trouble understanding.
It would be as if the prisoner in Plato's Cave who was freed of his shackles and was able to turn his head and see an opening and a light suggestive of a route out of the enclosure wherein he found himself were simply to have dismissed the sight as an insignificant illusion and then went back to 'reality,' the shadows on the wall.
I have no trouble understanding someone who, never having had any religious or mystical experiences, cannot bring himself to take religion seriously. And I have no trouble understanding someone who, having had such experiences, and having seriously examined their epistemic credentials, comes to the conclusion that they are none of them veridical. But to have the experiences, and not think them worth investigating -- that puzzles me.
So maybe some things human are foreign to me after all.
Last week I saw my brother for the last time in a fairly grim hospital room in Houston, Texas. He was in great pain, and suffering in several other ways I will not describe. But he was wholly conscious and in command of his wits, and able to speak clearly. We both knew it was the last time we would see each other, though being Englishmen of a certain generation, neither of us would have dreamed of actually saying so. We parted on good terms, though our conversation had been (as had our e-mail correspondence for some months) cautious and confined to subjects that would not easily lead to conflict. In this I think we were a little like chess-players, working out many possible moves in advance, neither of us wanting any more quarrels of any kind.
". . . and suffering in other ways I will not describe." I understand and respect the reticence of the Englishman, a reticence we Americans could use a little more of; but that is one teaser of an independent clause! One wants to know about that mental or spiritual suffering, and not just out of idle curiosity. The moment of death is the moment of truth. The masks fall away. No more easy posturing as in the halcyon days of health and seemingly endless invincibility. In wine there is truth, but in dying even more. Ego-display and cleverness are at an end. What was always hollow is now seen to be hollow. Name and fame for example. At the hour of death one hopes for words from the dying that are hints and harbingers and helps to the living for their own preparation for the hour of death.
Peter's chess image is a curious one. We work out many possible moves in advance the better to inflict material loss, or time-trouble, or checkmate upon our opponents. We are cautious, not so as to avoid conflict, but to render it favorable to ourselves. On second thought, however, the chess comparison is apt: in the end the brothers circled around each other 'keeping the draw in hand.' Each could then withdraw from the fray feeling neither that he had lost to the other nor that he had bested him.
I am struck once again by the insignificance of blood-relations. These two brothers in the flesh came to inhabit different planets. As one of my aphorisms has it, consanguinity is no guarantee of spiritual affinity.
The Hitch is dead. The following is a re-post, slightly emended, from 16 August 2010.
I just caught the last third of an interview of Christopher Hitchens by Charlie Rose. Hitchens looks bad, the chemotherapy having done a nasty tonsorial number on him. But his trademark intellectual incandescence appeared undiminished. 'Brilliant' is a word I don't toss around lightly, but Hitch is one to whom it unarguably applies. Public intellectuals of his caliber are rare and it will be sad to see him go. Agree or disagree with him, it is discourse at his level that justifies the high regard we place on free speech.
In the teeth of death the man remains intransigent in his unbelief. And why not? He lived in unbelief and so it is only fitting that he should die in it as well. He lived for this life alone; it is fitting that he should die without hope. As I read him, God and the soul were never Jamesian live options. To cop out now as debility and death approach must appear to him to be utterly contemptible, a grasping for straws, a fooling himself into a palliative illusion to ease the horror of annihilation.
For what he takes to be the illusion of immortality, Hitch substitutes literary immortality. "As an adult whose hopes lay assuredly in the intellect, not in the hereafter, he concluded, 'Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and — since there is no other metaphor — also the soul.'" (Here)
But to the clearheaded, literary immortality is little more than a joke, and itself an illusion. Only a few read Hitch now, and soon enough he will be unread, his books remaindered, put into storage, forgotten. This is a fate that awaits all scribblers but a tiny few. And even they will drink the dust of oblivion in the fullness of time.
To live on in one's books is a paltry substitute for immortality, especially when one recalls Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's aphorism: Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt. "A book is a mirror: if an ape peers in, no apostle will look out." Most readers are more apish than apostolic. The fame they confer cannot be worth much, given that they confer it.
To live on in one's books is only marginally better than to live on in the flickering and mainly indifferent memories of a few friends and relatives. And how can reduction to the status of a merely intentional object count as living on?
The besetting sin of powerful intellects is pride. Lucifer, as his name indicates, is or was the light-bearer. Blinded by his own light, he could see nothing beyond himself. Such is the peril of intellectual incandescence. Otherworldly light simply can't get through. One thinks of Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, and to a lesser extent Hitchens. A mortal man with a huge ego -- one which is soon to pop like an overinflated balloon.
The contemplation of death must be horrifying for those who pin all on the frail reed of the ego. The dimming of the light, the loss of control, the feeling of helplessly and hopelessly slipping away into an abyss of nonbeing. And all of this without the trust of the child who ceases his struggling to be borne by Another. "Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." But this of course is what the Luciferian intellect cannot do. It cannot relax, it must hold on and stay in control. It must struggle helplessly as the ego implodes in upon itself. The ego, having gone supernova, collapses into a black hole. What we fear when we fear death is not so much the destruction of the body, but the dissolution of the ego. That is the true horror and evil of death. And without religion you are going to have to take it straight.
What would Hitch lose by believing? Of course, he can't bring himself to believe, it is not a Jamesian live option, but suppose he could. Would he lose 'the truth'? But nobody knows what the truth is about death and the hereafter. People only think they do. Well, suppose 'the truth' is that we are nothing but complex physical systems slated for annihilation. Why would knowing this 'truth' be a value? Even if one is facing reality by believing that death is the utter end of the self, what is the good of facing reality in a situation in which one is but a material system?
If materialism is true, then I think Nietzsche is right: truth is not a value; life-enhancing illusions are to be preferred. If truth is out of all relation to human flourishing, why should we value it?
Really? Suppose some question is posed, some question concerning which there is an objective answer, regardless of how difficult it is to ascertain the answer. For instance, Is the Social Security system currently taking in more in payroll taxes than it is paying out in benefits? People have a knee-jerk tendency to say, 'It depends on who you talk to.'
But of course it doesn't. What depends on who you talk to is the opinion of the one doing the talking. The answer to the question precisely does not depend on who you talk to. It depends on the way the world is.
If you want to say that different people have different opinions on a certain (objective) question, then say that. But don't say that it depends on who you talk to. The latter is a phrase that thoughtful people ought to beware of. Don't let your sloppiness of speech aid and abet a sophomoric relativism.
Addendum 12/16. A reader complains that the second sentence of the second paragraph should read, 'What depends on whom you talk to is the opinion of the one doing the talking.' That's right, except that, for stylistic reasons, I was paralleling the street idiom on which I was commenting. The problem with the street idiom is not the grammatical peccadillo it contains, but the conceptual confusion it embodies.
One ground of my dislike of editors is that the typical editor is a Besserwisser. He knows better what you really want to say, or ought to say. But he lacks the subtlety to realize that there are stylistic questions which may require the flouting of a grammatical rule.
Moreland views contemporary naturalism as consisting of an epistemology, an etiology, and a general ontology.
A. The epistemology of naturalism is (weak or strong) scientism with its concomitant rejection of first philosophy. Strong scientism is the view that "unqualified cognitive value resides in science and nothing else." (6) Weak scientism allows nonscientific subjects some cognitive value, but holds that "they are vastly inferior to science in their epistemic standing . . . ." (6) On either weak or strong scientism, there is no room for first philosophy, according to which philosophy is an autonomous discipline, independent of natural science, and authoritative in respect to it. So on scientism, natural science sets the standard in matters epistemic, and philosophy’s role is at best ancillary. The method of explanation allied to this scientistic epistemology is combinatorial and third-personal. It is combinatorial in that every complex entity is to be understood as a combination of simpler entities. Whether this enormously fruitful approach, which resolves wholes into parts and complexes into simples, can work for types of unity such as consciousness is one of the key issues in the debate. The scientistic method of explanation is third-personal in that first-personal "ways of knowing" are eschewed in favor of third-personal ways. (8)
B. The etiology or "Grand Story" of naturalism is an event-causal account of how everything came to be, spelled out in the natural-scientific terms of physics, chemistry, and evolutionary biology. There are three main features of the Grand Story. The first is that the event-causal account must proceed bottom-up, as is done in the atomic theory of matter and in evolutionary biology, not top-down. A second feature is "scientistic philosophical monism" according to which everything falls under the aegis of the methods of natural science. As monistic in this sense, naturalism is most consistently understood to entail strong physicalism, the view that everything is "fundamentally matter, most likely, elementary ‘particles’ (whether taken as points of potentiality, centers of mass/energy, units of spatially extended stuff/waves, or . . . ) organized in various ways according to the laws of nature." (9) If a naturalist fights shy of this strong physicalism, in the direction of admitting supervenient or emergent entities, he will nonetheless have to maintain, if he is to remain a naturalist, that all additions to his ontology in excess of what strong physicalism allows must be rooted in and dependent upon the physical items of the Grand Story. The third feature of naturalism’s Grand Story is that its account of things, because it is event-causal, must reject both agent-causal and irreducibly teleological explanations. Fundamentally, the only allowable explanations are "mechanical and efficient-causal." (9) A corollary is that the Grand Story is both diachronically and synchronically deterministic. Diachronically, in that the state of the universe at a given time together with the laws of nature determines or fixs the chances for the state of the universe at later times. Synchronically, in that the properties and changes of macro-wholes are determined by and dependent upon micro-events.
C. The general ontology of naturalism countenances only those entities that figure in a completed physics or are "dependent on and determined by the entities of physics. . . ." (6) There are three main features of naturalism’s general ontology. The first is that the only admissible entities are those "knowable by third-person scientific means." (10) The second feature is that it must be possible, with respect to any entity admitted into the general ontology, to show how it had to arise by chains of event causation in which micro-entities combine to form increasingly complex aggregates. The third feature of naturalism’s general ontology concerns supervenience/emergence. The idea is that anything admitted in excess of the entities of physics, chemistry, and biology must be shown to be determined by and depend upon (whether with metaphysical or nomological necessity) natural scientific entities.
Moreland grants that a naturalist can stray ‘upwards’ from strong physicalism by admitting emergent properties, but in only two senses of ‘emergence.’ A feature is emergent0 if it can be deduced from its base. Moreland gives the example of fractals. For a simpler example, my own, consider the weight of a stone wall. Its weight can be computed (and thus deduced) from the weights of its constituent stones. Suppose the wall has a weight that is utterly novel: nothing in the history of the universe before this wall came into existence had its exact weight. The property of weighing 1000.6998236 lbs, say, despite its utter novelty, is innocuously emergent and surely no threat to naturalism’s epistemology or Grand Story or ontology. Ordinary structural properties are emergent1. The property of being water, for example, is structural in that it is "identical to a configurational pattern among the subvenient entities," (10) in this case atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. Structural emergent properties are also easily countenanced by naturalists. But there are five other types of emergent entities that according to Moreland are beyond the naturalist pale: sui generis epiphenomenal properties; sui generis properties which induce causal liabilities in the things that have them; sui generis properties that induce active causal powers in the things that have them; emergent egos which are consciously active and rational; emergent egos which are conscious, active, and rational and are rights-possessors.
With the exception of the first two types of emergence, emergent entities, whether properties or substances, "defy naturalist explanation and they provide confirmation for biblical theism construed as a rival to naturalism." (11-12) Human persons in particular "are recalcitrant facts for naturalism and provide evidence for Judeo-Christian monotheism." (14)
At this point I need to register a misgiving I have over Moreland’s use of ‘emergence.’ On his way of thinking, human persons are emergent entities, albeit ones that cannot be accommodated by naturalism. But I should think that, because Moreland’s purpose is to "provide confirmation for biblical theism," human persons and "suitably unified mental egos" (11) are precisely the opposite of emergent. If persons are created by God in his image, then they do not emerge since what emerges emerges ‘from below,’ from suitably organized material configurations. But it all depends on how we will use ‘emergence.’ There is an innocuous sense of the term according to which an entity emerges just in case it manifests itself or comes into being. Apparently this is the way Moreland uses the word. But in its philosophically pregnant sense, ‘emergence’ is a theoretical term, a terminus technicus, that always implies that that which emerges has an origin ‘from below,’ from matter, and never ‘from above,’ from spirit or mind. (See the opening paragraph of Timothy O'Connor's SEP article, Emergent Properties.) I suggest we use it as a technical term, but Moreland is of course free to disagree.
The publication of Alvin Plantinga's latest book has been noted in the NYT (HT: Dave Lull):
In “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism,” published last week by Oxford University Press, he unleashes a blitz of densely reasoned argument against “the touchdown twins of current academic atheism,” the zoologist Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, spiced up with some trash talk of his own.
Mr. Dawkins? “Dancing on the lunatic fringe,” Mr. Plantinga declares. Mr. Dennett? A reverse fundamentalist who proceeds by “inane ridicule and burlesque” rather than by careful philosophical argument.
On the telephone Mr. Plantinga was milder in tone but no less direct. “It seems to me that many naturalists, people who are super-atheists, try to co-opt science and say it supports naturalism,” he said. “I think it’s a complete mistake and ought to be pointed out.”
Exactly right. The notion that science supports the philosophical position, naturalism, is an error no less grotesque for being widespread. My categories Naturalism and Scientism may contain some helpful material.
The topic of explanatory rationalism has surfaced in a previous thread. So it's time for a re-run of the following post (ever so slightly emended) from nearly three years ago. How time does pass when you're having fun.
Explanatory rationalism is the view that there is a satisfactory answer to every why-question. Equivalently, it is the view that there are no brute facts, where a brute fact is a fact that neither has, nor can have, an explanation. Are there some truths that simply must be accepted without explanation? Consider the conjunction of all truths. Could this conjunctive truth have an explanation? Jonathan Bennett thinks not:
Let P be the great proposition stating the whole contingent truth about the actual world, down to its finest detail, in respect of all times. Then the question 'Why is it the case that P?' cannot be answered in a satisfying way. Any purported answer must have the form 'P is the case because Q is the case'; but if Q is only contingently the case then it is a conjunct in P, and the offered explanation doesn't explain; and if Q is necessarily the case then the explanation, if it is cogent, implies that P is necessary also. But if P is necessary then the universe had to be exactly as it is, down to the tiniest detail -- i.e., this is the only possible world. (Jonathan Bennett, A Study of Spinoza's Ethics, Hackett 1984, p. 115)
Bennett's point is that explanatory rationalism entails the collapse of modal distinctions.
The world-proposition P is a conjunction of truths some of which are contingent. So P is contingent. Now if explanatory rationalism is true, then P has an explanation in terms of a Q distinct from P. Q is either necessary or contingent. If Q is necessary, and a proposition is explained by citing a distinct proposition that entails it, and Q explains P, then P is necessary, contrary to what we have already established. On the other hand, if Q is contingent, then Q is a conjunct of P, and again no successful explanation has been arrived at. Therefore, either explanatory rationalism is false, or it is true only on pain of a collapse of modal distinctions. We take it for granted that said collapse would be a Bad Thing.
That is a cute little argument, one that impresses the illustrious Peter van Inwagen as well who gives his own version of it, but I must report that I do not find it compelling. Why is P true? We can say that P is true because each conjunct of P is true. We are not forced to say that P is true because of a proposition Q which is a conjunct of P.
I am not saying that P is true because P is true; I am saying that P is true because each conjunct of P is true, and that this adequately and noncircularly explains why P is true. Some wholes are adequately and noncircularly explained when their parts are explained.
Suppose three bums are hanging around the corner of Fifth and Vermouth. Why is this threesome there? The explanations of why each is there add up (automatically) to an explanation of why the three of them are there. Someone who understands why A is there, why B is there, and why C is there, does not need to understand some further fact in order to understand why the three of them are there. Similarly, it suffices to explain the truth of a conjunction to adduce the truth of its conjuncts. The conjunction is true because each conjunct is true. There is no need for an explanation of why a conjunctive proposition is true which is above and beyond the explanations of why its conjuncts are true.
Suppose the three bums engage in a ménage à trois. To explain the ménage à trois it is not sufficient to explain why each person is present; one must also explain their 'congress': not every trio is a ménage à trois. A conjunction, however, exists automatically iff its conjuncts exist.
Bennett falsely assumes that "Any purported answer must have the form 'P is the case because Q is the case'. . ." This ignores my suggestion that P is the case because each of its conjuncts is the case. So P does have an explanation; it is just that the explanation is not in terms of a proposition Q which is a conjunct of P.
I conclude that Professor Bennett has given us an insufficient reason to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
I apply a similar critique to Peter van Inwagen's version of the argument in my "On An Insufficient Argument Against Sufficient Reason," Ratio, vol. 10, no. 1 (April 1997), pp. 76-81.
Here. "Contrary to what our critics suggest, Distributism does not denote government redistribution of wealth, which is socialism, but rather the natural distribution of wealth that arises when the means of production are distributed as widely as possible in society."
I am afraid I must quibble with the lax definition of socialism just given.
Robert Heilbroner defines socialism in terms of "a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production." This is the standard definition.
By the way, it is a tactical mistake for libertarians and conservatives to label Obama a socialist. For what will happen, has happened: liberals will revert to the strict definition and point out that Obama is not a socialist by this definition. Then they will accuse his opponents of mispresenting his position, with some justice.
To my knowledge, Obama has never advocated socialism, despite the fact that his behavior manifests a decided slouch towards it. So when the libertarian or conservative accuses Obama of socialism, he lets himself in for a fruitless and wholly unnecessary verbal dispute from which he will emerge the loser.
It is enough to point out that the policies of Obama and the Democrat Party lead us toward bigger government and away from self-reliance, individual responsibility, and individual liberty.
Over lunch Friday the topic of moksha (release or liberation from samsara; enlightenment) came up in the context of Advaita Vedanta. Moksha is attained when the identity of Atman and Brahman is realized. My interlocutor wanted to know how such realization is possible. If I realize my identity with the Absolute, then I cease to exist as something separate from the Absolute. In that case, however, there is nothing left to realize anything. How could the state of enlightenment be anything for me if there is no 'me' left after enlightenment? How is moksha different from deep dreamless sleep or from utter nonexistence? A form of salvation that amounts to personal annihilation seems not to be a salvation worth wanting.
Any soteriology worth its salt must answer three questions: Salvation of what? To what? From what? Brahman does not need salvation. It is this indigent samsaric entity that I take myself to be that needs salvation. But if what is saved is destroyed in being saved, by being merged into Brahman, then it is at best paradoxical to call this salvation.
Ramanuja is supposed to have said to Shankara, "I don't want to be sugar; I want to taste sugar."
If I were taking Shankara's side of the argument, I might say something like the following to Ramanuja and my friend:
If I am right and you really are sugar/Brahman in your innermost essence, and you merely taste it, then you are removed from it and haven't yet attained the goal. It is just one more object over against you as subject. Your inquiry into the self, into who or what you really are, has not yet come to an end. The goal is to realize or become aware of your true self. To do that you must ruthlessly disengage from everything that is not-self. If Brahman is your true self, and you realize your identity with it, then you haven't lost your self, but found your self. You cannot be said to dissolve into the ocean of Brahman if Brahman is the true you. To think that you you lose your self when you merge with Brahman presupposes a false identification of the self with something finite. The self you lose is merely an object that you have wrongly identified as your true self; the self you gain is your true self.
This response is not quite satisfactory. Consider the following aporetic triad:
1. Brahman does not need salvation. 2. I am Brahman. 3. My need for salvation is a real (not merely a samsaric, illusory) need.
The first two limbs are parts of the doctrine (Advaita Vedanta) that is the context of our soteriological discussion. So they are nonnegotiable unless we shift out of this context. But (3) also seems true. The three propositions cannot, however, all be true: the conjunction of the first two limbs entails the negation of the third.
So it looks as if the advaitin has to bite the bullet and reject (3). He has to say something like: the very need for release from this hell of an existence itself belongs to maya, the realm of illusion. So both the need for moksha and the one who seeks it are illusory. But this seems to conflict with the starting point of this whole soteriological scheme, namely, that the suffering and unsatisfactoriness of this life are real.
Here is another puzzle.
Using the method of Neti, Neti (not this, not this), we end up with the result that the subject who is seeking is no object, no thing, nothing. Pursuing the question: Who or what am I? I come to the insight that I cannot be identical to any object, whether my car, my house, my clothes, my curriculum vitae, my body, any part of my body, my memories, thoughts, feelings, etc. Any and all objects -- inner, outer, concrete, abstract -- are to be disengaged from the subject for whom they are objects. The upshot seems to be that any self or subject so disengaged from every object is nothing at all.
On the other hand, I cannot be nothing at all since I am pursuing this investigation. Coming to realize that I am not this, that, or the other thing, I must be something, not nothing. So we bang into a logical contradiction: I am nothing and I am not nothing.
As long as we remain on the discursive/dualistic plane we will get tangled up like this. So one could take these insolubilia as pointing us beyond the discursive intellect. This is what I suggested to my friend. I want him to take up meditation so as to explore the non-dual source of duality. But meditation is insanely hard, and the fruits are few and far between. It can seem like an utter waste of time. Pointless navel-gazing! (But see my plea for omphaloscopy .)
Besides, one can take the insolubilia -- if insolubilia they are -- as referring us, not into the transdiscursive, but back into Plato's Cave, in particular, into that especially dark corner wherein the Wittgensteinian therapists ply their trade.
Those who make a living teaching philosophy, or are hoping to make a living teaching philosophy, have reason to be concerned. Enrollments are in decline, and as the University of Nevada (Las Vegas) example shows, whole departments are under threat of elimination. Some speak loosely of a crisis in philosophy. But it is more like a crisis for paid professors of it. And perhaps 'crisis' is overblown. So let's just say that philosophy teachers collectively have a problem, the problem of attracting warm bodies. The fewer the students, the less the need for teachers.
Lee McIntyre addresses the problem in the pages of the The Chronicle of Higher Education. He asks who is to blame for "the growing crisis in philosophy." His answer is that philosophers are. Philosophers have failed to make philosophy relevant to what people care about despite having had ages to do so. Yes, he uses that '60s buzz word, "relevant." So the problem is not caused primarily by hard economic times despite their exacerbating effect; the problem is that philosophers have failed to make philosophy "relevant."
What is to be done? "We must recognize what is unique about philosophy . . . philosophy's historical mission, which is not merely to find the truth, but to use the truth to improve the quality of human life." This is hardly unique to philosophy -- think of medical science -- but let that pass. We are then told that the goal . . . "should be to help students recognize that philosophy matters. Not just because it will improve their LSAT scores (which it will), but because philosophy has the potential to change the very fabric of who they are as human beings."
Sorry to sound negative, but if there is a "crisis," this high-sounding blather is unlikely to "avert" it. I should think that the primary task of philosophy is to understand human beings before going off half-cocked in pursuit of a radical transformation of their "very fabric."
The theme of 'change' having been sounded, the reader is not surprised to hear McIntyre go off on a liberal-left tangent, identifying critical thinking with the espousal of left wing positions. Here is one example:
Similarly, when a 2009 Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 28 percent of the American public—and an alarming number of their elected representatives in Washington—refuse to believe the overwhelming scientific evidence for the existence of global warming, where is the voice of the philosophical community to right the ship on the norms of good reasoning? Personally, I'm tired of hearing members of Congress who couldn't pass an introductory logic class say that they are "skeptics" about climate change. Refusing to believe something in the face of scientific evidence is not skepticism, it is the height of credulity. How delicious would it be for philosophers to claim public venues to rap their knuckles over that?
This is quite astonishing. We are being told that those who raise questions about global warming such as Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are in violation of "the norms of good reasoning"! Just as lefties think they own dissent, they think they own critical thinking too.
Michael Valle's comment on McIntyre's piece is dead on:
Here's how I read this. "We need to make philosophy more politically active. We need to teach our students that conservative and libertarian ideas are wrong and illogical. We need to spread progressive values and political views to our students. Unless we do this, our discipline will fade into obscurity." Yet this is exactly why our discipline isn't trusted. It's because we are allowing ourselves to become pickled in political correctness and leftwing activism. Until the public knows that it will not get progressive preaching in our philosophy classes, we will not be trusted, and for perfectly good reason.
That's exactly right. Contempt for philosophy, and for the humanities generally, on the part of the public is in large part do to the political correctness that infects humanities departments. Tax payers realize that there is no free and open inquiry going on in these venues, no balanced examination of the whole spectrum of opinion on issues, that what is going on is indoctrination.
To sum up. There is no crisis in philosophy. It is alive and well and will continue, funded or unfunded, enrollments up, enrollments down, praised or maligned, suppressed or supported, as it has for 20 centuries in the West and even longer in the East. It will bury its undertakers. At most, those who fill their bellies from it face lean times. Some will no longer be able to fill their bellies from it. Then we will see how seriously they take it and whether they really believe their own rhetoric. We will then discover whether they live for it or only from it.
The problem is not that philosophers are insufficiently engaged in 'progressive' agitation and indoctrination. The problem is due to the fact that times are tough, economically speaking, and that the cost-to-value ratio of a college education has become outrageously unfavorable. It is just plain stupid to incur massive debt to earn a degree in a subject that has no market value.
Nor is the problem that philosophy is not "relevant" to the issues of the day. The purpose of a university education is to elevate people, to give them perspective, to challenge them with difficult texts and ideas. Concern for "relevance" leads to the erosion of standards. As I used to say to my students: I am not going to make philosophy relevant to you; I am going to make you relevant to philosophy.
You don't really want to go to that Christmas party where you will eat what you don't need to eat, drink what you don't need to drink, and dissipate your inwardness in pointless chit-chat. But you were invited and your nonattendance may be taken amiss. So you remind yourself that self-denial is good and that it is useful from time to time to practice the art of donning and wearing the mask of a 'regular guy.'
For the step into the social is by dissimulation. Necessary to the art of life is knowing how to negotiate the social world and pass yourself off under various guises and disguises.
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, vol. 9, Human Experience, p. 126, #520, emphasis added:
Politicians -- more interested in their own careers than in sincere public service, ambitious to gain their personal ends, unwilling to rebuke foolish voters with harsh truth until it is too late to save them, forced to lead double lives of misleading public statements and contradictory knowledge of the facts, yielding, for the sake of popularity, to the selfish emotions, passions, and greeds of sectional groups -- contribute much to mankind's history but little to mankind's welfare.
Dead on in substance, but also stylistically instructive. A good example of how to write a long sentence. Interesting because most of the content is sandwiched between the dashes. The thesis flanks the dashes with the supporting considerations between them.
Few read Brunton. But I read everything, ergo, etc.
The guy has amazing staying power, and at 72 he still looks and sounds damn good in live performances. Saw him on Huckabee's show the other night. Plays a mean blues guitar. Said something like, "You need to marry a girl who will take you to heaven." Good advice; men need no assistance moving in the opposite direction. Every red-blooded American male can relate to his signature number, The Wanderer, which rose to the number #2 slot this December 50 years ago. The song may be superficial, but the man is not. He managed to negotiate the snares of stardom and wander back to the faith of his childhood via a Protestant detour thanks mainly to his religious experiences:
I was the first rock and roll artist signed to Columbia Records and naturally, expectations ran high. No expense was spared and no excuses accepted. This was the big time. I was getting $100,000 a year guaranteed — whether I sold a record or not. “Ruby Baby” and “Donna the Primadonna” were a great down payment: they went Top 5.
Still, even with that success, I was at an all time mental and spiritual bottom. Out of depression, we moved to Miami, looking for a fresh start. There, I would have the surprise of my life: I got to see God work through my father-in-law, Jack. Jack helped fan into flames the gift of God that was in me through the laying on of hands at my confirmation. I said a prayer one night there in Jack’s home: “God I need your help.” I was delivered from the obsession to drink and drug; it was just lifted off me like a weight. On that day, April 1, 1968, I became aware of God’s power, even before
I became aware of His reality.
I entered a spiritual-based 12-step program and grew in these disciplines. Six months later, at the age of 28, I released one of the biggest records of my career — “Abraham, Martin and John.” It became an anthem.
But my biggest moment was to come. On December 14, 1979, I went out jogging, like I did every morning. It was a time when I could be alone with my thoughts — thinking about the past, thinking about the future. There was a lot going on in me then, a mid-life crisis, or something. My emotions were everywhere. In the middle of that confusion, all I could pray was “God, it would be nice to be closer to you.” That’s all it took.
I was flooded with white light. It was everywhere, inside me, outside me — everywhere. At that moment, things were different between me and God. He’d broken down the wall. Ahead of me, I saw a man with His arms outstretched. “I love you,” He said. “Don’t you know that? I’m your friend. I laid down My life for you. I’m here for you now.” I looked behind me, because I knew I’d left something behind on that road. Some part of me that I no longer wanted. Let the road have it; I didn’t need it anymore.
God changed my life that morning, and things have never been the same.
Rest of the story here. Finally, here he is with the Belmonts in a tune from 1960 that is ignored by the oldies stations. I heard it from the radio of a '56 Ford when I was ten and I loved it. My mother hated it.
We’ve never chatted. I’m Tom Belt, a friend of Alan Rhoda. I believe you know Alan.
Yes, in fact I was thinking about him just the other day in connection with his espousal of presentism.
I’ve always appreciated being challenged when I drop by your blog. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to help me understand something.
I'll do my best.
I’ve been exploring Hartshorne’s Modal/Ontological Argument with a friend, Jeff. Basically Jeff wants to agree that some manner of ‘necessity’ needs to be posited in order to explain the existence of the universe. So he agrees that CH's "Something exists" entails "Something exists necessarily." But he then argues that both ‘an infinite regress of created beings’ and ‘a single, necessary being’ equally fit the bill. Both are equally possible and both have the same explanatory value. So his point is, “Look, parsimony is the only thing that gets us a single, necessary being; there's no obvious metaphysical advantage that a necessary being has over an infinite regress of created beings. Either might be the case, and parsimony is all we have to adjudicate the choice between them.” But something seems wrong here.
There is indeed something wrong here.
But first let's lay out Jeff's suggestion -- or a plausible candidate for that office -- a bit more clearly. To make things hard on the theist we begin by assuming that the universe has an actually infinite past. Hence it always existed. Let us also assume that the each total state of the universe at a time is (deterministically) caused to exist by an earlier such state of the universe. A third assumption is that the universe is nothing over and above the sum of its states. The third assumption implies that if each state has a causal explanation in terms of earlier states (in accordance with the laws of nature), then all of the states have an explanation, in which case the universe itself has a causal explanation. This in turn implies that there is no need to posit anything external to the universe, such as God, to explain why the universe exists. The idea, then, is that the universe exists because it causes itself to exist in that later states are caused to exist by earlier states, there being no earliest, uncaused, state. We thereby explain why the universe exists via an infinite regress of universe-immanent causes thereby obviating the need for a transcendent cause.
If this could be made to work, then we would have a nice neat self-contained universe whose existence was not a brute fact but also not dependent on anything external to the universe.
The five or so assumptions behind this reasoning can all be questioned. But even if they are all true, the argument is still no good for a fairly obvious reason. The whole collection of states, despite its being beginningless and endless, is contingent: it might not have existed at all. The fact that U always existed, if it is a fact, does not entail that U must exist. If I want to know why this universe of ours exists as opposed to there being some other universe or no universe at all, it does no good to tell me that it always existed. For what I want to know it why it exists AT ALL. I am not asking about its temporal duration but about its very existence. Why it exists at all is a legitimate question since there is no necessity that there be a universe in the first place.
So Jeff is wrong when he says that both a single necessary being and and infinitely regressive series of contingent causes "have the same explanatory value." The latter has no explanatory value at all. And this for the reason that it is contingent.
I mentioned to him Hartshorne’s point that the only conceivable way to posit the non-existence of a necessary being is to hold such a being’s existence to be impossible. A necessary being can only exist or not exist necessarily. So I told him he’s free to say “I can’t figure out which is in fact the case, an infinite regress of contingent beings or a single necessary being,” but that once he settles upon the latter for reasons of parsimony, what this moves amounts to is settling for the necessity of one option over the impossibility of the other, since the (modal) possibility of an infinite regress of contingent beings entails the impossibility of a single necessary being. But he’s not buying.
First of all, considerations of parsimony come into play only when we are comparing two theories which are both explanatorily adequate. In that case Occam's Razor enjoins us to give the nod to the more parsimonious of the two. After all, the stricture is not against 'multiplying entities' tout court, but against mutiplyng entities beyond necessity, i.e., in excess of what is needed for purposes of adequate explanation. But in the situation before us, Jeff's theory is not explanatorily adequate. It completely fails as an explantion of why there is a universe rather no universe or some other universe.
If the universe has an explanation then it must be in terms of a noncontingent explainer. As you appreciate, if such an entity exists, then it is necessary, and if it does not, then it is impossible. But the rest of your reasoning is dubious which is why your friend is not buying it. The point you need to insist on is that Jeff is not offering an adequate alternative explanation. He falsely assumes that the collection of contingent beings is a necessary being. It is not. It is as contingent as its members.
That aside, it doesn’t seem to me that an infinite regress of instances seeking [needing?] explanation really is conceivable EVEN IF actual infinities per se are conceivable. A necessary being may be temporally eternal. That’s one thing. But an infinite regress of contingent beings, each created by the previous? I don’t see how such a regress is conceivable, or how it embodies the necessity Jeff agrees has to be posited in order to explain the existence of the world. Surely if every member in an infinite regress is contingent, then the regress is contingent and the whole thing in need of the same explanation any particular member needs, no? We can’t reify the regress per se and attribute necessity to IT while positing the contingency of every member.
Right. That's exactly the point I made above. But surely such a regress is conceivable in the manner I explained above. Just don't use the world 'create' because that muddies the waters.
Lastly, wouldn’t it be the case in such a regress that every member god would HAVE to create something, so that no one of them could be free to not create at all? That seems to follow. If any member in the regress is free to not create at all, and every member is created, then any member might not have been created at all (which is just to say each is contingent). But that is to posit the contingency of the regress and thus abandon its explanatory value. No? Yes?
I agree. Jeff's suggestion is much stronger if he thinks of the regress as one of ordinary empirical causes in tandem with the assumption that causation is not probabilistic but deterministic. But if he is talking about a regress of free gods, then an added dimension of contingency comes in via the libertarian free will of these gods.
Am I nuts? Personally I think an infinite regress of created/contingent beings is impossible.
You are not 'nuts.' You are basically right. But it is not clear that an infinite regress of contingent beings is impossible. Why should it be impossible? There are benign infinite regresses. What you want to say is that an infinite regress of contingent beings cannot do any explanatory work re: the question, Why does the universe exist?
1. Even if every mental state is a brain state, it is quite clear that not every brain state is a mental state: not everything going on in the brain manifests mentality. So what distinguishes the brain states that are mental states from the brain states that are not? This question cannot be evaded.
The distinguishing feature cannot be anything intrinsic to brain states qua brain states. To put it another way, the biological, electrochemical, and other terms appropriate to the description of brain phenomena are of no help in specifying what makes a brain state mental. Talk of axons, dendrites, synapses, diffusion of sodium ions across synapses, etc. is not the sort of talk that makes intelligible why a particular complex state of Jones' brain is his intense elation at getting his neuroscience text accepted for publication. 2. To help you understand what I have just said, I offer an analogy. Even though every valve-lifter is an engine part, it is quite clear that not every engine part is a valve-lifter. So what distinguishes the engine parts that are valve-lifters from the parts that are not?
The distinguishing feature cannot be anything intrinsic to engine parts qua physical objects. The mechanical, chemical, electrical, metallurgical and other terms appropriate to the description of engine parts are of no help in specifying what makes an engine part a valve-lifter. A metallurgist might tell us everything there is to know about the physical properties of those engine parts that are valve-lifters. But knowing all of that, I do not yet know what makes the part in question a valve-lifter. Similarly, I don't know what makes a certain heavy object under my hood a battery just in virtue of knowing all the electrochemistry involved in its operation.
3. The obvious thing to say at this point is that what make an engine part a valve-lifter or a battery or a generator or a transmission is its function. Physical composition is irrelevant. What makes a part a valve-lifter is the causal role it instantiates within the 'economy' of the engine. A thing is a valve-lifter in virtue of the job it does when properly connected to valves, cams, etc. Its being a valve-lifter is not intrinsic to it. Its being is its function within a system whose parts are causally interrelated.
I stress that physical composition is irrelevant. Anything that does the job of a valve-lifter is a valve-lifter. Anything that does the job of a modem is a modem. There is more than one implementation of the modulation-demodulation function. The function is 'multiply realizable' as we say in the trade. Of course, not every physical substratum supports the function: not even in Eskimo land could valve-lifters in internal combustion engines be made of ice.
Another important point is that a particular thing that functions as a valve-lifter can assume other functions, that of paper-weight for example. So not only are causal roles typically multiply realizable, causal role occupants or realizers are typically multi-functional.
I think we are all functionalists when it comes to things like valve-lifters, screwdrivers, switches, and modems. Anything that modulates/demodulates is a modem regardless of the stuff inside the box that realizes or implements the function. For all we care, there is a colony of leprechauns inside the box that chop up the analog input into digital bits. If it does the job of a modem, it IS a modem.
Can we apply this functionalist model to the mind?
4. If there is nothing intrinsic to brain states that explains why some of them are mental states, then the naturalist must look to the extrinsic or relational features of brain states. How do they function? What causal role do they play? How do they stand in relation to inputs and outputs? How did they come into being? What are they good for?
One answer is the functionalist theory that causal role is what makes a brain state a mental state. What makes a mental state mental is just the causal role it plays in mediating between sensory inputs, behavioral outputs and other internal states of the subject whose state it is. The idea is not the banality that mental events have causes and effects, but that it is causal role occupancy, nothing more and nothing less, that constitutes the mentality of a mental state. The intrinsic nature of what plays the role is relevant only to its fitness for instantiating mental causal roles but not at all relevant to its being a mental state.
That's the basic idea. What makes a brain state a desire is the causal role that state plays. There is nothing intrinsic to the brain state itself that could tell you that it was a desire for a beer rather than an intention to paint the bathroom, or a memory of a trip to the Grand Canyon. In their intrinsic nature mental states are just brain states; it is only their external relations that confer upon them mentality.
5. Here is one problem. It seems clear that my intention to clear brush could not have been a desire for a cold beer. Nor could it be an intention to paint the bathroom. The act of intending is individuated by its intentional content (to clear brush; to pain the bathroom): the content enters into the description of the act. This entails that the act could not have been an act having a different content.
But if it is causal role occupancy that makes brain state B an intention to clear brush, then B could have been an intention to paint the bathroom, had its causal relations been different. Since this is absurd, it cannot be causal role occupancy that makes B an intention to clear brush. The fact of intentionality refutes functionalism.
Compare the valve-lifter. A particular engine part is a valve-lifter in virtue of the causal role it plays in the engine. But that part might not have been in the engine; it might have been on my desk weighing down papers, in which case it would have been playing a different causal role. There is no problem in this case because valve-lifters lack content, or directedness to an object. A valve-lifter is not about anything. But an intention is. And this aboutness is intrinsic to it, which is why it cannot be captured extrinsically in terms of functional role.
So one should not suppose that qualia are the only problems for functionalism. Intentionality is just as much of a problem. Compare the Martian neuroscientist argument given earlier.
Besides, one is superficial and thoughtless if one imagines that a clean separation can be made between qualia and intentional phenomena. But that's a separate post.