The long views of philosophy are not to everyone's taste. If not bored, many are depressed by the contemplation of death and pain, God and the soul, the meaning or meaninglessness of our lives. They prefer not to think of such things and consider it best to take short views. If as Thomas Nagel maintains, the contemplation sub specie aeternitatis of one's daily doings drains them of seriousness, one is under no obligation to take the view from nowhere.
Is it best to take short views? Sometimes it is. When the going gets tough, it is best to pull in one’s horns, hunker down, and just try to get through the next week, the next day, the next hour. One can always meet the challenge of the next hour. Be here now and deal with what is on your plate at the moment. Most likely you will find a way forward.
But, speaking for myself, a life without long views would not be worth living. I thrill at the passage in Plato’s Republic, Book Six (486a), where the philosopher is described as a "spectator of all time and existence." And then there is this beautiful formulation by William James:
The absolute things, the last things, the overlapping things, are the truly philosophic concerns; all superior minds feel seriously about them, and the mind with the shortest views is simply the mind of the more shallow man. (Pragmatism, Harvard UP, 1975, p. 56)
I wrote above, "speaking for myself." The expression was not used redundantly inasmuch as it conveys that my philosopher’s preference for the long view is not one that I would want to or try to urge on anyone else. In my experience, one cannot argue with another man’s sensibility. And much of life comes down to precisely that -- sensibility. If people share a sensibility, then argument is useful for its articulation and refinement. But I am none too sanguine about the possibility of arguing someone into, or out of, a sensibility.
How argue the atheist out of his abiding sense that the universe is godless, or the radical out of his conviction of human perfectibility? If the passages I cited from Plato and James leave you cold, how could I change your mind? If you sneer at my being thrilled, what then? Argument comes too late. Or if you prefer, sensibility comes too early.
One might also speak of a person’s sense of life, view of what is important, or ‘feel for the real.’ James’ phrase, "feel seriously," is apt. To the superior mind, ultimate questions "feel real," whereas to the shallow mind they appear pointless, unimportant, silly. It is equally true that the superior mind is made such by its wrestling with these questions.
Maximae res, cum parvis quaeruntur, magnos eos solent efficere.
Matters of the greatest importance, when they are investigated by little men, tend to make those men great. (Augustine, Contra Academicos 1. 2. 6.)
Of course, with his talk of the superior and the shallow, James is making a value judgment. I myself have no problem making value judgments, and in particular this one. Evaluate we must.
Although prospects are dim for arguing the other out of his sensibility, civil discussion is not pointless. One comes to understand one’s own view by contrast with another. One learns to respect the sources and resources of the other’s view. This may lead to toleration, which is good within limits. For someone with a theoretical bent, the sheer diversity of approaches to life is fascinating and provides endless grist for the theoretical mill. If the theoretician is a blogger, he has blog-fodder for a lifetime.
As for the problem of how to get along with people with wildly different views, I recommend voluntary segregation.
Why do we need philosophy? There are several reasons, but one is to expose the confusions and absurdities of scientists and science journalists when they encroach ineptly upon philosophical territory. This from science writer Clara Moskowitz in Controversially, Physicist Argues Time is Real:
NEW YORK — Is time real, or the ultimate illusion?
Most physicists would say the latter, but Lee Smolin challenges this orthodoxy in his new book, "Time Reborn" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2013) . . . .
Time is an illusion? And this is supposed to be orthodoxy? But don't the cosmologists tells us that the universe began in a Big Bang some 12-13 billion years ago? If time is an illusion, then that statement and statements like it cannot be true. For if time is "the ultimate illusion," , then it is never true that event x is earlier than event y, that y is later than x, or that x and y are simultaneous (whether absolutely or relative to a reference-frame). But surely the Big Bang is earlier than my birth, and my blogging is later than my having had breakfast. If time is an illusion, however, then the so-called B-relations (as the philosophers all them) cannot be instantiated. The B-relations are: earlier than, later than, and simultaneous with. Physics cannot do without them. If time is an illusion, then it cannot be true that the speed of light is finite (in a vacuum, approx. 186, 282 mi/sec). But it is true, and because of it, sunlight takes time to arrive at Earth (about 8 min 19 sec). It arrives later (temporal word!) than it started out. Therefore, time cannot be an illusion.
My first point, then, is that the physicists themselves presuppose that time is not an illusion by the very fact that they employ such phrases as 'earlier than,' 'later than,' 'simultaneous with,' and a host of other temporal words and phrases. Suppose two cosmologists are discussing whether the universe began 15 billion years ago or 12 billion years ago. Debating this point, they presuppose that time is precisely not an illusion. The past-tensed 'began' and the little word 'ago' make it clear why. Reading on we come to this:
In a conversation with Duke University neuroscientist Warren Meck, theoretical physicist Smolin, who's based at Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, argued for the controversial idea that time is real. "Time is paramount," he said, "and the experience we all have of reality being in the present moment is not an illusion, but the deepest clue we have to the fundamental nature of reality."
Time is paramount? No doubt! No time, no physics. All of reality is in the present moment? So what happened in the past is not part of reality? When we inquire into what happened, whether as historians or as cosmologists, what then are we inquiring into? Unreality? Mere possibility? Fiction? Do you really want to say that all of reality is in the present moment? There is a deep confusion here (whether it is chargeable to Smolin's account or the science writer's, I don't know): It one thing to affirm the doctrine of presentism according to which only the temporal present and its contents are real; it is quite another to affirm, as Smolin seems to be doing, that time is not exhausted by the B-series, the series of events ordered by the above-mentioned B-relations.
Smolin said he hadn't come to this concept lightly. He started out thinking, as most physicists do, that time is subjective and illusory. According to Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, time is just another dimension in space, traversable in either direction, and our human perception of moments passing steadily and sequentially is all in our heads.
We now see what is really going on here. Smolin is not opposing the claim that time is an illusion, but the claim that time is exhausted by the B-series, where the B-series (this term from McTaggart) is the series of events ordered by the B-relations. Clearly, there is a difference between saying that time is real, but exhausted by the B-series, and saying that time is unreal. There is nothing particularly controversial about maintaining that time is real. What is controversial is to maintain that real time involves not only the instantiation of the B-relations but also the (shifting) instantiation of the irreducible A-properties, pastness, presentness, and futurity.
As we ordinarily think of it, time passes, flows, indeed 'flies.' Tempus fugit! as the Latin saying goes. We think of events approaching us from the future, getting closer and closer until they become present, and then receding into the past becoming ever more past. Thus, as a natural man, I think of my death as approaching, becoming less and less future, and my birth as receding, as becoming more and more past. This belief in the reality of temporal becoming (as some philosophers call it) is part and parcel of our ordinary view of the world. But physics, pace Smolin, needn't concern itself with it.
Now it is not unreasonable to think of temporal passage or temporal becoming as a mind-dependent phenomena such that, in reality, there is no temporal becoming, and no (shifting) exemplification of the A-properties. All there is are events ordered by the B-relations. But this is not to say that time is an illusion but that real time is exhaustively analyzable in terms of the B-relations. Note also that if temporal becoming is mind-dependent, it doesn't follow that it is an illusion. Phenomenal colors are m ind-dependent but not illusory.
There is more, but it doesn't get any better, and I have exposed enough confusions for one day. To sum up:
1. One ought not confuse the claim that time is an illusion with the claim that time is exhausted by the B-series.
2. That time is real is presupposed by both common sense and the practice of physicists.
3. One ought not confuse presentism, the view that only the temporally present exists, with the claim that there is more to time than the B-series.
4. One ought not confuse the claim that temporal becoming is mind-dependent with the claim that temporal becoming is an illusion.
5. One ought not confuse the claim that temporal becoming is an illusion with the claim that time is an illusion, or the claim that time is real with the claim that temporal becoming is real.
Your procreation argument for heterosexual marriage is consistent with polygyny, so if it is sound, it may rule out homosexual marriages, but be of great use to defending polygynists since it maximizes procreation and the perpetuation of the state quantitatively. What is the state's interest in monogamy?
I was afraid my argument could be misinterpreted as promoting increased procreation. But I took no stand on that. My argument does not "maximize procreation." It says nothing about whether there should be more procreation or less. Here is what I wrote: "The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good." Let me break that down paratactically.
We collectively need some offspring; they need to be socialized and instructed in the rudiments of our culture; they need to be protected; they need to be educated to the point where they can function as productive citizens. No one of those coordinate clauses, or their logical conjunction, entails that levels of procreation should be increased, let alone that the state should have a hand in such an increase.
Is my argument logically consistent with countenancing polygyny? I suppose it is as it stands; but that is only because my argument was restricted to only one aspect of this multi-faceted issue. I was just assuming that marriage is dyadic in order to focus on the question of why the state shouuld recognize opposite-sexed dyadic unions but not same-sexed dyadic unions. The issue of the 'adicity' of marital and quasi-marital unions was not on the table. One cannot talk about everything at once.
Why should the state have an interest in monogamy over polygamy (whether polyandry or polygyny)? I have no answer to that at the moment. I have only started thinking hard about these questions recently and I have an open mind on them.
As a conservative, I of course subscribe to the quite general principle that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things. But I am open to the possibility that the presumption in favor of traditional marriage (dyadic, between humans only, permanent, exclusive, opposite-sexed, open to procreation) can be defeated. For while I am a conservative, I am also a philosopher, and you can't be a philosopher (in the strict sense!) if you simply assume dogmatically this or that.
I should also add that I play for a draw, not for a win. It sufficies to 'neutralize' the liberal-left arguments. All I have to do is show that they are not compelling. I don't have to refute them. There are precious few refutations in philosophy, and none of them pertain to 'hairy' issues like same-sex 'marriage.'
Beloved of cyberpunks and Internet infidels, the 'One God Further' meme invites generalization. Although it is not an argument but an assertion, the Dawkins attribution suggests an argument. The argument it suggests to me is the following:
1. All gods are on a par with respect to credibility.
2. All of us find most gods incredible.
3. Consistency demands of us that we make a clean sweep and reject all gods, including the Judeo-Christian god.
The implict claim is that believers in the Judeo-Christian god refuse to apply their principle of god-rejection across the board, but instead make an irrational exception in the case of their god.
Suppose we generalize the argument and see what happens:
1G. All Xs are on a par with respect to credibility.
2G. All of us find most Xs incredible.
3G. Consistency demands of us that we make a clean sweep and reject all Xs.
Now hear the speech of an anti-philosopher addressed to philosophers:
We reject all the philosophical theories you do, but we take it a step further by rejecting your pet theories as well. We reject all philosophical theories. So we do exactly what you do except that we do it consistently, applying the principle of philosopheme-rejection across the board. We make a clean sweep whereas you irrationally and inconsistently make an exception in favor of your pet theories.
And then there is the speech of the anti-idealist:
We reject all the ideals you do, but we take it a step further by rejecting your pet ideals as well. We reject all ideals. You distinguish between true and false ideals and reject those you take to be false such as the ideals of National Socialism. You are not consistent. You ought to make a clean sweep and reject all ideals.
Further examples of the argument schema can be provided, but you get the drift. The history of science is littered with hypotheses that didn't pan out. But of course it would be irrational to infer that one ought not propose hypotheses. Same with ideals. There are no doubt false ideals. But it doesn't follow that there are no true ideals. And the same goes for philosophical theories.
So if Dawkin's puerile meme is intended as a truncated argument, it is unsound. But if is a bare assertion, then it is true but uninteresting.
In philosophy, appeals to the obvious don't cut much ice because, as Hilary Putnam says somewhere, "It ain't obvious what's obvious." And as Spencer Case, MavPhil Cairo correspondent, points out, ". . . in contemporary academic philosophy there is a perverse incentive to deny the obvious." One who denies what counts as obvious to the vulgar comes off as a learned sophisticate while the one who invokes the obvious is cast in the role of rube or bigot or intransigent fool.
This raises the question whether there are obvious truths the denial of which would be perverse and sophistical. The answer is obviously in the affirmative. For example, it is obvious that normal post-natal human beings have two legs, that if they live long enough they learn to walk upright upon them, etc. Examples are easily multiplied ad libitum in the Moorean manner. More interesting is the question whether there are obvious truths that competent, academically accredited philosophers have denied either directly or by implication. I asked Spencer for examples. Here is part of that he said:
As far as more serious philosophers go, certain pro-choice hardliners at the University of Colorado deny that it is wrong to kill small children in fairly mundane circumstances. In addition, I believe every emotivist and expressivist theory of semantic content of moral statements denies the obvious. It's obvious that when I say "eating meat is morally wrong" I do not mean "eating meat (Boo!)" or anything of the sort. I am the one formulating the statement, and I know damn well what I intend to say. Extreme materialism in philosophy of mind, and David Lewis' ideas about modality also seem like good examples to me. Then there's Graham Priest who denies the law of non-contradiction. (But you might have already noticed the hedging in "I believe" or "seem like.")
Let's consider three examples. I expect Case to agree with me about the first two and disagree about the third.
1. Infanticide. I argue this way: "Infanticide is morally wrong; there is no morally relevant difference between late-term abortion and infanticide; ergo, late-term abortion is morally wrong." But of course the argument can be run in reverse with no breach of logical propriety: "Late-term abortion is not morally wrong; there is no morally relevant difference between late-term abortion and infanticide; ergo, Infanticide is not morally wrong." For details, see here.
Both arguments are valid, but only one can be sound. Which one? The first, say I. I am tempted to say that is just obvious that killing infant humans is morally wrong in the vast majority of circumstances, and that if you say the opposite, then you are denyng the obvious. I think Spencer will agree with me on this. So here is a case where it is obvious what's obvious. Even if it is not blindingly self-evident that killing infant humans, for convenience say, is morally wrong, it is more obvious than the opposite.
Of course, much more can be said in elaboration of the basic point, and to soften up my opponent. But if he remains intransigent, then I am well within my epistemic rights in writing him off as morally blind and showing him the door. What is both subjectively and objectively self-evident to me is not subjectively self-evident to him -- but that is due to a defect in his cognitive apparatus: he is just morally obtuse.
2. Extreme Materialism. One form of extreme materialism about the mind, the most extreme, is eliminative materialism. I trust Spencer will agree with me if I simply dismiss it as a lunatic philosophy of mind despite its having been espoused by some brilliant people. For argument, see my Eliminative Materialism category. Brilliance is no guarantee of truth. (David Lewis goes wrong brilliantly and most creatively.) My dismissal of eliminative material is a dismissal of its claim to be credible. It is incredible. (By its own lights there are no beliefs, which also supplies a reason for its being unbelievable). But I am not saying that one shouldn't study it. After all, pathology can be very instructive, whether one studies diseased tissue or diseased thinking.
Less extreme is identity materialism which I argue collapses into eliminativism. I am within my epistemic rights in simply stating that it is obvious that my present thinking about the Boston Common is not identical to a complex state of my brain. Of course, I am not saying that one should not be prepared to give detailed arguments and to answer objections. But all that is merely in the service of what really ought to be obvious. The arguments merely articulate the position one finds obvious, situating it within the space of reasons.
3. Berkeleyan Idealism. Can it be dismissed in the same way, as involving a denial of the obvious? As I said in an earlier post (December 2009) responding to Case:
I think it is clear that someone who identifies God with an anthropomorphic projection simply denies the existence of God. This putative identification collapses into an elimination. You are not telling me what God is when you tell me he is an anthropomorphic projection, you are telling me that there is no such being. Same with felt pains. A putative identification of a felt pain with a brain state collapses into an elimination of felt pains. For a felt pain simply cannot be identical to a brain state: it has properties no brain state could possibly have. But an identification of a physical object with a cluster of items such as Berkeleyan ideas or Husserlian noemata, items that exist only mind-dependently, does not collapse into an elimination, the reason being that there is nothing in the nature of physical objects as we experience them that requires that such objects exist in splendid independence of any mind. I just located my coffee mug on my desk, and now I am drinking from it. There is nothing in my experiential encounter with this physical thing that requires me to think of it as something that exists whether or not any mind exists. And so I am not barred from the idealist interpretation of the ontological status of stones and coffee cups and their parts (and their parts . . .). Nor does the meaning of 'coffee cup' or 'physical object' constrain me to think of such things as existing in complete independence of any mind. Neither phenomenology nor semantics forces realism upon me. There is nothing commonsensical about either realism or idealism; both are theories.
Neither a realist nor an idealist interpretation of the ontological status of physical objects can be 'read off' from the phenomenology of our experiential encounter with such things or from the semantics of the words we use in referring to them and describing them. Only if realism were built into the phenomenology or the semantics would an identification of a physical thing with a cluster of mind-dependent items collapse into an elimination of the physical thing. For in that case it would be the very nature of a physical thing to exist mind-independently so that any claim to the contrary would be tantamount to a denial of the existence of the physical thing. The situation would then be exactly parallel to the one in which someone claims that God is an anthropomorphic projection. Since nothing could possibly count as God that is an anthropomorphic projection, any claim that God is such a projection amounts to a denial of the existence of God. But the cases are not parallel since there is nothing in the nature of a physical thing as this nature is revealed by the phenomenology of our encouter with them to require that physical things exist in sublime independence of any and all minds.
Of course, one could just stipulate that physical objects are all of them mind-independent. But what could justify such a stipulation? That would be no better than Ayn Rand's axiomatic declaration, Existence exists! What Rand means by that is that whatever exists exists in such a way as to require no mind for its existence. But although that may be true, it is far from self-evident and so has no claim to being an axiom.
In sum, token-token-identity theory in the philosophy of mind collapses into eliminativism about mental items. As so collapsing, it is refutable by Moorean means. The identitarian claims of idealists, however, do not collapse into eliminativist claims, and so are not refutable by Moorean means.
My claim, then, is that Berkeleyan idealism does not deny the obvious in the way that the eliminative materialist does. Indeed, it shows a lack of philosophical intelligence if one thinks that Berkeleyan idealism or its opposite is obvious. St. Paul displays the same lack of philosophical intelligence when he claims, at Romans 1:18-20 that the existence and nature of God are obvious from nature. See Is Atheism Intellectually Respectable? On Roman 1:18-20.
Nature can be reasonably interpreted both as divine handiwork and as the opposite in the same way that the tree in the quad can be interpreted Berkeley-wise or the opposite. But my current headache or my present thoughts about Bostion cannot be reasonably interpreted as identical to material states. It is obvious that they are not material states given the understanding of 'material 'supplied by current physics.
There is charm to reading a philosopher who confesses to finding things bewildering. But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index [of prohibited books].
The problem with the book, Blackburn states at the beginning of his piece, is that
. . . only a tiny proportion of its informed readers will find it anything other than profoundly wrong-headed. For, as the title suggests, Nagel’s central idea is that there are things that science, as it is presently conceived, cannot possibly explain.
Blackburn doesn't explicitly say that there ought to be a "philosophical Vatican," and an index of prohibited books but he seems to be open to the deeply unphilosophical idea of censoring views that are "profoundly wrong-headed." And why should such views be kept from impressionable minds? Because they might lead them astray into doctrinal error. For even though Nagel explicitly rejects God and divine providence, untutored intellects might confuse Nagel's teleological suggestion with divine providence.
Nagel's great sin, you see, is to point out the rather obvious problems with reductive materialism as he calls it. This is intolerable to the scientistic ideologues since any criticism of the reigning orthodoxy, no matter how well-founded, gives aid and comfort to the enemy, theism -- and this despite the fact that Nagel's approach is naturalistic and rejective of theism!
So what Nagel explicitly says doesn't matter. His failing to toe the party line makes him an enemy as bad as theists such as Alvin Plantinga. (If Nagel's book is to be kept under lock and key, one can only wonder at the prophylactic measures necessary to keep infection from leaking out of Plantinga's tomes.)
Blackburn betrays himself as nothing but an ideologue in the above article. For this is the way ideologues operate. Never criticize your own, your fellow naturalists in this case. Never concede anything to your opponents. Never hesitate, admit doubt or puzzlement. Keep your eyes on the prize. Winning alone is what counts. Never follow an argument where it leads if it leads away from the party line.
Treat the opponent's ideas with ridicule and contumely. For example, Blackburn refers to consciousness as a purple haze to be dispelled. ('Purple haze' a double allusion, to the Hendrix number and to a book by Joe Levine on the explanatory gap.)
John of the MavPhil commentariat drew our attention to the analogy between presentism and actualism. An exfoliation of the analogy may prove fruitful. Rough formulations of the two doctrines are as follows:
P. Only the (temporally) present exists.
A. Only the actual exists.
Now one of the problems that has been worrying us is how to avoid triviality and tautology. After all, (P) is a miserable tautology if 'exists' is present-tensed. It is clear that no presentist thinks his thesis is a tautology. It is also clear that there is a difference, albeit one hard to articulate, between presentism and the the various types of anti-presentism. There is a substantive metaphysical dispute here, and our task is to formulate the dispute in precise terms. This will involve clarifying the exact force of 'exists' in (P). If not present-tensed, then what?
A similar problem arises for the actualist. One is very strongly tempted to say that to exist is to be actual. If 'exists' in (A) means 'is actual,' however, then (A) is a tautology. But if 'exists' in (A) does not mean 'is actual,' what does it mean?
We seem to have agreed that Disjunctive Presentism is a nonstarter:
DP. Only the present existed or exists now or will exist.
That is equivalent to saying that if x existed or exists or will exists, then x presently exists. And that is plainly false. Now corresponding to the temporal modi past, present, and future, we have the modal modi necessary, actual, and merely possible. This suggests Disjunctive Actualism:
DA. Only the actual necessarily exists or actually exists or merely-possibly exists.
This too is false since the merely possible is not actual. It is no more actual than the wholly future is present.
We must also bear in the mind that neither the presentist nor the actualist intends to say something either temporally or modally 'solipsistic.' Thus the presentist is not making the crazy claim that all that every happened or will happen is happening right now. He is not saying that all past-tensed and future-tensed propositions are either false or meaningless and that the only true propositions are present-tensed and true right now. The presentist, in other words, is not a solipsist of the present moment.
Similarly wth the actualist. He is not a solipsist of this world. He is not saying that everything possible is actual and everything actual necessary. The actualist is not a modal monist or a modal Spinozist who maintains that there is exactly one possible world, the actual world which, in virtue of being actual and the only one possible, is necessary. The actualist is not a necessitarian.
There is no person like me, but I am not the only person. There is no place like here, but here is not the only place. There is no time like now, but now is not the only time.
In sum, for both presentism and actualism, tautologism, disjunctivism, and solipsism are out! What's left?
To formulate presentism it seems we need a notion of tenseless existence, and to formulate actualism we need a notion of amodal existence (my coinage).
We can't say that only the present presently exists, and of course we cannot say that only the present pastly or futurally exists. So the presentist has to say that only the present tenselessly exists. I will say more about tenseless existence in a later post.
What do I mean by amodal existence? Consider the following 'possible worlds' definitions of modal terms:
Necessary being: one that exists in all possible worlds Impossible being: one that exists in no possible world Possible being: one that exists in some and perhaps all possible worlds Contingent being: one that exists in some but not all possible worlds Merely possible being: one that exists in some possible worlds but not in the actual world Actual being: one that exists in the actual world Unactual being: one that exists either in no possible world or not in the actual world.
In each of these definitions, the occurrence of 'exists' is modally neutral analogously as 'exists' is temporally neutral in the following sentences:
It was the case that Tom exists It is now the case that Tom exists It will be the case that Tom exists.
My point, then, is that the proper formulation of actualism (as opposed to possibilism) requires an amodal notion of existence just as the proper formulation of presentism requires an atemporal (tenseless) notion of existence.
But are the atemporal and amodal notions of existence free of difficulty? This is what we need to examine. Can the requisite logical wedges be driven between existence and the temporal determinations and between existence and the modal determinations? If not then presentism and actualism cannot even be formulated and the respective problems threaten to be pseudoproblems.
Without a doubt, the philosophy of time. The philosophy of mind is a piece of cake by comparison. According to a story, possibly apocryphal, Peter van Inwagen was once asked why he didn't publish on time. "Too hard," was his reply. If it is too hard for van Inwagen, it is hard. According to Hugh McCann, "Few subjects in philosophy are as difficult, as exasperating even, as the subject of time, for few elements in our experience are so inherently enigmatic." (Creation and the Sovereignty of God, p. 68)
This puts me in mind of perhaps the stupidest commercial of the '80s: "Man invented time. Seiko perfected it." Stupid but stimulating: how many fallacies can you spot?
As Hilary Putnam once said, "It ain't obvious what's obvious." Or as I like to say, "One man's datum is another man's theory."
But is it obvious that it ain't obvious what's obvious?
It looks as if we have a little self-referential puzzle going here. Does the Hilarian dictum apply to itself? An absence of the particular quantifier may be read as a tacit endorsement of the universal quantifier. Now if it is never obvious what is obvious, then we have self-reference and the Hilarian dictum by its own say-so is not obvious.
Is there a logical problem here? I don't think so. With no breach of logical consistency one can maintain that it is never obvious what is obvious, as long as one does not exempt one's very thesis. In this case the self-referentiality issues not in self-refutation but in self-vitiation. The Hilarian dictum is a self-weakening thesis. Over the years I have given many examples of this. (But I am now too lazy to dig them out of my vast archives.)
There is no logical problem, but there is a factual problem. Surely some propositions are obviously true. Having toked on a good cigar in its end game, when a cigar is at its most nasty and rasty, I am am feeling mighty fine long about now. My feeling of elation, just as such, taken in its phenomenological quiddity, under epoche of all transcendent positings -- this quale is obvious if anything is.
So let us modify the Hilarian dictum to bring it in line with the truth.
In philosophy, appeals to what is obvious, or self-evident, or plain to gesundes Menschenverstand, et cetera und so weiter are usually unavailing for purposes of convincing one's interlocutor.
And yet we must take some things as given and non-negotiable. Welcome to the human epistemic predicament.
My tendency has long been to use 'reification' and 'hypostatization' interchangeably. But a remark by E. J. Lowe has caused me to see the error of my ways. He writes, "Reification is not the same as hypostatisation, but is merely the acknowledgement of some putative entity's real existence." ("Essence and Ontology," in Novak et al. eds, Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Analytic, Scholastic, Ontos Verlag, 2012, p. 95) I agree with the first half of Lowe's sentence, but not the second.
Lowe's is a good distinction and I take it on board. I will explain it in my own way. Something can be real without being a substance, without being an entity logically capable of independent existence. An accident, for example, is real but is not a substance. 'Real' from L. res, rei. Same goes for the form of a hylomorphic compound. A statue is a substance but its form, though real, is not. The smile on a face and the bulge in a carpet are both real but incapable of independent existence. So reification is not the same as hypostatization. To consider or treat x as real is not thereby to consider or treat x as a substance.
Lowe seems to ignore that 'reification' and 'hypostatization' name logico-philosophical fallacies, where a fallacy is a typical mistake in reasoning, one that occurs often enough and is seductive enough to be given a label. On this point I diverge from him. For me, reification is the illict imputation of ontological status to something that does not have such status. For example, to treat 'nothing' as a name for something is to reify nothing. If I say that nothing is in the drawer I am not naming something that is in the drawer. Nothing is precisely no thing. As I see it, reification is not acknowledgment of real existence, but an illict imputation of real existence to something that lacks it. I do not reify the bulge in a carpet when I acknowledge its reality.
Or consider the internal relation being the same color as. If two balls are (the same shade of) red, then they stand in this relation to each other. But this relation is an "ontological free lunch" not "an addition to being" to borrow some phaseology from David Armstrong. Internal relations have no ontological status. They reduce to their monadic foundations. The putatively relational fact Rab reduces to the conjunction of two monadic facts: Fa & Fb. To bring it about that two balls are the same color as each other it suffices that I paint them both red (or blue, etc.) I needn't do anything else. If this is right, then to treat internal relations as real is to commit the fallacy of reification. Presumably someone who reifies internal relations will not be tempted to hypostatize them.
To treat external relations as real, however, is not to reify them. On my use of terms, one cannot reify what is already real, any more than one can politicize what is already political. To bring it about that two red balls are two feet from each other, it does not suffice that I create two red balls: I must place them two feet from each other. The relation of being two feet from is therefore real, though presumably not a substance.
To hypostatize is is to treat as a substance what is not a substance. So the relation I just mentioned would be hypostatized were one to consider it as an entity capable of existing even if it didn't relate anything. Liberals who blame society for crime are often guilty of the fallacy of hypostatization. Society, though real, is not a substance, let alone an agent to which blame can be imputed.
If I am right then this is mistaken:
First, I have given good reasons for distinguishing the two terms. Second, the mistake of treating what is abstract as material is not the same as reification or hypostatization. For example, if someone were to regard the null set as a material thing, he would be making a mistake, but he would not be reifying or hypostatizing the the null set unless there were no null set.
Or consider the proposition expressed by 'Snow is white' and 'Schnee ist weiss.' This proposition is an abstact object. If one were to regardit as a material thing one would be making a mistake, but one would not be reifying it because it is already real. Nor would one be hypostatizing it since (arguably) it exists independently.
Christopher Hitchens has been dead for over a year now. He will be joined by Dennett and Dawkins, Grayling and Harris, and the rest of the militant atheists.
Religion, like philosophy, always buries its undertakers.
It was Etienne Gilson who famously remarked that "Philosophy always buries its undertakers." That is the first of his "laws of philosophical experience." (The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Scribners, 1937, p. 306) As a metaphilosophical pronunciamento it is hard to beat. It is equally true that philosophy always resurrects its dead. Let that be my first law. The history of natural science is littered with corpses, none of which is an actual or potential Lazarus. Not so in philosophy.
Skin and seeds are proper parts of a tomato, and the tomato is an improper part of itself. But what about such properties as being red, being ripe, being a tomato? Are they parts of the tomato? The very idea will strike many as born of an elementary confusion, as a sort of Rylean category mistake. "Your tomato is concrete and so are its parts; properties are abstract; nothing concrete can have abstract parts." Or: "Look, properties are predicable entities; parts are not. Having seeds is predicable of the tomato but not seeds! You're talking nonsense!"
I concede that the notion that the properties of an ordinary particular are parts thereof, albeit in some extended unmereological sense of 'part,' is murky. Murky as it is, the motivation for the view is fairly clear, and the alternative proposed by relational ontologists is open to serious objection. First I will say something in motivation of the constituent-ontological (C-ontological view). Then I will raise objections to the relational-ontological (R-ontological) approach.
Plainly, the blueness of my coffee cup belongs to the cup; it is not off in a realm apart. The blueness (the blue, if you will) is at the cup, right here, right now. I see that the cup before me now is blue. This seeing is not a quasi-Platonic visio intellectualis but a literal seeing with the eyes. How else would I know that the cup is blue, and in need of a re-fill, if not by looking at the cup? Seeing that the cup is blue, I see blueness (blue). I see blueness here and now in the mundus sensibilis. How could I see (with the eyes) that the cup is blue without seeing (with the same eyes) blueness? If blueness is a universal, then I see a universal, an instantiated universal. If blueness is a trope, then I see a trope, a trope compresent with others. Either way I see a property. So some properties are visible. This would be impossible if properties are abstract objects as van Inwagen and the boys maintain. Whether uninstantiated or instantiated abstract properties are invisible.
Properties such as blueness and hardness, etc. are empirically detectable. Blueness is visible while hardness is tangible. That looks to be a plain datum. Their being empirically detectable rules out their being causally inert abstracta off in a quasi-Platonic realm apart. For I cannot see something without causally interacting with it. So not only is the cup concrete, its blueness is as well.
This amounts to an argument that properties are analogous to parts. They are not parts in the strict mereological sense. They are not physical parts. So let's call them metaphysical or ontological constituents. The claim, then, is that ordinary particulars such as tomatoes and cups have their properties, or at least some of them, by having them as ontological constituents. To summarize the argument:
1. Some of the properties of ordinary concrete material particulars are empirically detectable at the places the particulars occupy and at the times they occupy them.
2. No abstract object is empirically detectable. Therefore:
3. Some properties of ordinary concrete material particulars are not abtract objects. Therefore:
4. It is reasonable to conjecture that some of the properties of ordinary concrete material particulars are analogous to (proper) parts of them.
I grant that the above is not entirely clear, and that it raises questions that are not easy to answer. But does R-ontology fare any better? I don't think so.
Suppose an R-ontologist is staring at my blue cup. Does he see something colorless? Seems he would have to if the blueness of the cup is an abstract object merely related by exemplification to the concrete cup. Abstracta are invisible. Suppose we introduce 'stripped particular' to designate the R-ontological counterpart of what C-ontologists intend with 'bare particular' and 'thin particular.' A stripped particular is an ordinary particular devoid of empirically detectable properties. If the R-ontologist thinks that my cup is a stripped particular, then he is surely wrong. Call this the Stripped Particular Objection.
But if the R-ontologist agrees with me that the blueness is empirically detectable, then he seems to be involved in an unparsimonious duplication of properties. There is the invisible abstract property in Plato's heaven or Frege's Third Reich that is expressed by the open sentence or predicate '___ is blue.' And there is the property (or property-instance) that even the R-ontologist sees when he stares at a blue coffee cup.
Isn't that one property too many? What work does the abstract property do? More precisely, what ontological work does it do? I needn't deny that it does some semantic work: it serves as the sense (Fregean Sinn) of the corresponding predicate. But we are doing ontology here, not semantics. We want to understand what the world -- extramental, extralinguistic reality -- must be like if a sentence like 'This cup is blue' is true. We want to understand the property-possession in reality that underlies true predications at the level of language. We are not concerned here with the apparatus by which we represent the world; we are concerned with the world represented.
In my existence book I called the foregoing the Duplication Objection, though perhaps I could have hit upon a better moniker. The abstract property is but an otiose duplicate of the property that does the work, the empirically detectable propery that induces causal powers in the thing that has it.
So I present the R-ontologist with a dilemma: either you are embracing stripped particulars or you are involved in a useless multiplication of entities.
It's Christmas Eve and there is more to life than ontology. So I'll punch the clock for today. But there are two important questions we need to pursue. (1) Couldn't we reject the whole dispute and be neither a C- nor an R-ontologist? (2) Should ontologists be in the business of explanation at all? (My point that abstract properties are useless for purposes of accounting for predication and property-possession presupposes that there is such a legitimate enterprise as philosophical explanation.)
Bill O'Reilly does a lot of good, but he made a fool of himself last night on his O'Reilly Factor. It was painful to watch. In the course of a heated exchange with David Silverman, president of American Atheists, O'Reilly claimed that Christianity is not a religion, but a philosophy. At first I thought I had misheard, but Mr. Bill repeated the ridiculous assertion.
And yet O'Reilly was right to oppose the extremism of Silverman and the zealots who seek to remove every vestige of religion from the public square, though they seem to be rather less zealous when it comes to the 'religion of peace.'
O'Reilly's bizarre assertion shows that he has no understanding of the differences among philosophy, religion, and Christianity. For part of my views on the differences between philosophy and religion, see here. There is room for disagreement on the exact definition of 'religion,' but if anything is clear, it is that Christianity is a religion. O'Reilly only dug his hole deeper when he claimed that while Christianity is a philosophy, Methodism is a religion!
I am reminded of the inarticulate George W. Bush. He once claimed that Jesus was his favorite philosopher. That silly assertion showed that Bush understood neither philosophy nor Jesus. Jesus claimed not only to know the truth, but to be the truth. "I am the way, the truth, and the life . . . ." That is a claim that no philosopher qua philosopher can make. A philosopher is a mere seeker of truth, not a possessor of it, let alone truth's very incarnation. A philosopher is a person who is ignorant, knows that he is, and seeks to remedy his deficiency.
Neither God nor Christ are philosophers. And we can thank God for that!
Long ago I was told the following story by a nun. One day St. Augustine was walking along the seashore, thinking about the Trinity. He came upon a child who had dug a hole in the sand and was busy filling it with buckets of seawater.
Augustine: "What are you doing?"
Child: "I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole."
Augustine: "But that’s impossible!"
Child: "No more impossible than your comprehending the Trinity."
What holds for the Trinity holds for the great problems of philosophy: we can no more solve them than the child could empty the sea into a hole on the seashore. Our minds are not large enough for these problems, not strong enough, not free enough from distorting, distracting, suborning factors. We know that from experience.
Philosophy teaches us humility. This is one of its most important uses. And this despite the fact that too many paid professors of it are the exact opposite of humble truth-seekers. But worse still are the scientistic scientists whose arrogance is fueled by profound ignorance of the questions and traditions that made their own enterprise possible.
I have been searching various databases such as JSTOR without success for a good article on deus ex machina objections in philosophy. What exactly is a deus ex machina (DEM)? When one taxes a theory or an explanatory posit with DEM, what exactly is one alleging? How does a DEM differ from a legitimate philosophical explanation that invokes divine or some other nonnaturalistic agency? Since it is presumably the case that not every recourse to divine agency in philosophical theories is a DEM, what exactly distinguishes legitimate recourse to divine agency from DEM? Herewith, some preliminary exploratory notes on deus ex machina.
This question is personally very interesting to me because Arianna Betti here (third paragraph) accuses my theory of facts of deus ex machina, a theory I initially sketched in my 2000 Nous article "Three Conceptions of States of Affairs" and then presented more fully in my 2002 Existence book.
1. Deus ex machina is Latin for 'God out of a machine.' Let us begin by making a distinction between DEM objections in literary criticism and in philosophy. A DEM objection can be brought against a play or a novel if the behavior of a character is not "necessary or probable" (as Aristotle puts it at Poetics 1454a37) given the way the character has already been depicted, or if an incident is not a "necessary or probable" consequence of earlier incidents. From a lit-crit point of view, then, a playwright or a novelist can be taxed with a DEM if he allows something to irrupt into the scene from outside it which doesn't fit with the characters and action so far depicted. As I understand it, the literal meaning of 'DEM' comes from the lowering of a god via stage machinery into the setting of an ancient Greek play. See, for example, Plato, Cratylus 425d where Plato has Socrates speak of "the tragic poets who, in any perplexity have their gods waiting in the air . . . ." If any novelist or playwright is reading this, he is invited to supply some examples of DEM and explain what is wrong with them.
2. My interest, however, is less literary and aesthetic than philosophical. In the context of philosophical and perhaps also scientific explanations, a DEM objection would be to the effect that illegitimate recourse has been had to an explanatory posit that belongs to an order radically other than the order of the explananda. I put it so abstractly because I want to leave open the possibility of DEM objections to explanations that invoke agents or powers other than God. We now consider two putative examples of DEM. The first is Leibniz's recourse to God in his solution of the mind-body problem and in his theory of causation generally, and the second is Malebranche's invocation of God for a similar purpose. What is particularly interesting is that Leibniz accuses Malebranche of deus ex machina, but does not consider himself liable to the same objection.
3. Leibniz,Psychophysical Parallelism, and Pre-Established Harmony. There are reasons to believe that psychophysical interaction is impossible. Indeed, Leibniz has reasons for denying intersubstantial causal influx quite generally, even between two material substances. And there are reasons to believe that (i) there are both mental events and physical events as modifications of mental and physical substances respectively and (ii) these events are mutually irreducible. Suppose you accept both sets of reasons. And suppose you want to explain the apparent law-like correlation and covariation of mental and physical events, e.g., how a desire for a cup of coffee, which is mental, is correlated with the physical events that eventuate in your bringing a cup of coffee to your lips. Or, proceeding in the other direction, you want an explanation of why a hammer blow to a finger causes pain. Given that psychophysical interaction is impossible and that there are mutually irreducible mental and physical events, how explain the 'constant conjunction' of the two sorts of event?
One might be tempted by a theory along the lines of Leibniz's pre-established harmony. Roughly, on such a theory there is no intersubstantial causal interaction: the states of one substance cannot act upon the states of another. But there is intrasubstantial causation: the states of a substance cause later states of the same substance. So physical events in a body are caused by earlier physical events in the same body, and mental events in a mind are caused by earlier mental events in the same mind. Mental-physical correlation is explained in terms of pre-established harmony: "each created substance is programmed at creation such that all its natural states and actions are carried out in conformity with all the natural states and actions of every other created substance."(link) The explanation thus invokes God as the agent who establishes the harmony when he creates finite substances.
A standard analogy for the parallelism is in terms of two perfectly synchronized clocks. Whenever clock A shows 12, clock B strikes 12. There is an Humean 'constant conjunction' of striking and showing, but no showing causes a striking if 'causes' means produces or brings into existence. What accounts for the constant conjunction is the pre-synchronization by an agent external to the two clocks. Similarly with all apparent causal interactions: there are in reality no intersubstantial causal interactions, given the windowlessness of Leibnizian monads, but there are law-like correlations which constitute causation a phenomenon bene fundata. But these law-like correlations are grounded in the harmony among the internal states of the monads established when God first created the entire system of finite monads.
4. Now here is my question: Can one dismiss this Leibnizian scheme by saying it is a deus ex machina? Note that on Leibniz's scheme God plays an explanatory role not only with respect to the mind-body problem, but also with respect to the phenomenon of secondary or natural causation in general. For without the monadic harmony pre-established by God when he created the system of finite monads, there would be no law-like regularity such as constitutes causation in the phenomenal world.
Is the Leibnizian proposal a deus ex machina or is it a legitimate form of philosophical explanation? The logically prior question is: What exactly is a DEM? I can think of five answers.
Answer One:Any appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM. On this latitudinarian understanding of DEM, any reference to God in a theory of causation or a theory of truth or a theory of objective value would be a DEM. If this is what is meant by a DEM, then of course Leibnizian parallelism is a DEM. But surely this understanding of DEM is entirely too broad and ought to be rejected. For it allows that any explanation of anything that invokes God is a DEM. But then the problem is not primarily that Leibniz brings God into the theory of mind and body, or the theory of secondary causes, but that he invokes God to explain the existence of things. To give a cosmological argument for the existence of God would be to commit a DEM. But surely a sophisticated cosmological argument for the existence of God cannot be dismissed by slapping the 'DEM' label on it.
It is different if one is seeking a scientific explanation of the very existence of things. The rules of the scientific game preclude the invocation of anything beyond the natural order, beyond the realm of space-time-matter. My concern, however, is DEM as a philosophical objection. That being understood, we can safely set aside Answer One.
Answer Two: An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM if and only if no independent reasons are given for the existence of the supernatural agent. This is a much better answer. But then one will not be able to tax Leibniz with a DEM since he gives various arguments for the existence of God. The same goes for other philosophers such as Descartes and Berkeley who 'put God to work' in their systems. If one can supply reasons for the existence of God that are independent of the natural phenomenon to be explained, then it is legitimate to invoke God for explanatory purposes.
But this second answer seems to have a flaw. Why would the reasons for the supernatural agent have to be independent, i.e., independent of the job the agent is supposed to do? Suppose the appeal to a divine agent takes the form of an inference to the best or the only possible explanation of the natural explananda. Then the appeal to the divine agent would be rationally justified despite the fact that the agent is posited to do a specific job. Accordingly, Leibnizian pre-established harmony could be interpreted as an argument for God as the best explanation of the phenomena of natural causation.
Answer Three: An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff no reasons are supplied for the existence of the divine agent. This is an improvement over Answer Two, but a problem remains. Suppose a philosopher gives arguments for the existence of God, and then puts God to work in the phenomenal world. If the work he does involves the violation of natural laws, then his workings here below are miraculous in one sense of the term and for this reason philosophically objectionable. So we advance to
Answer Four: An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff EITHER no reasons are supplied for the existence of the divine agent, OR the working of the agent violates natural laws. But in Malebranche's system, neither disjunct is satisfied, and yet Leibniz accuses Malebranche of DEM. For Malebranche there is only one genuine cause and that is God, the causa prima. All so-called secondary causes are but occasions for the exercise of divine causality. Thus the occurrence of event e1 is not what makes e2 occur; God creates e1 and then e2 in such a way as to satisfy the Humean requirements of temporal precedence of cause over effect; spatiotemporal contiguity of cause and effect, and constant conjunction, which is the notion that whenever events of the first type occur they are contiguously succeeded by events of the second type. On this scheme, no causal power is exercised except divine causal power, which involves God in every causal transaction in the natural world. Leibniz objects that this is a DEM because it makes of each cause a miracle. (See Kenneth Clatterbaugh, The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy, 1637-1739, p. 122.)
But it is not a miracle in the sense of the violation of a natural law. It is a miracle in the sense that the work that should be done by a finite substance is being done by God. A miracle for Leibniz need not be an unusual event; an event that surpasses the power of a natural substance can also be a miracle. Thus Malebranche's denial of causal efficacy to finite substances makes God's involvement in nature miraculous, which amounts to saying that the appeal to God is a DEM.
Answer Five: An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff EITHER no reasons are supplied for the existence of the divine agent, OR the working of the agent violates natural laws, OR the agent's intervention in nature is miraculous in the sense in that it takes over a job that ought to be done by a natural entity. But if this answer be adopted, then Leibniz himself can be accused of DEM! Arguably, the job of grounding mental-physical correlations ought to be done by the terms of theose correlations and not by God.
5. The foregoing remarks are highly tentative and inadequate, but at least they show that a lot of work needs to be done in this area of metaphilosophy.
I've followed your blog for a few months now. I feel compelled to say thank you for the content of your posts. They are usually trenchant, always interesting, and occasionally they lead me to delve into topics and categories that I have never explored previously.
Some background: I'm an Arabic linguist for the Navy. I currently live in Georgia, but was born and reared in Florida. I pretty much agree with everything you've said on political topics.
A question for you: I didn't study philosophy, but am extremely well read in history and politics (particularly ancient history). You obviously were a academician, but if I wanted to get grounded in the current state of philosophy, where do I start? The field is so vast, so opaque and confusing. Am I better off just reading Plato and perhaps William James?
Again, thank you for a wonderful blog. I always try to learn something new every day, and your writing makes it easier for me to accomplish that task.
I of course appreciate the kind words, and the regular arrival of letters like this in my mail box is emolument aplenty for my pro bono efforts.
First of all, I wouldn't worry too much about the current state of philosophy because much that is current is ephemeral and even foolish. I would concern myself more with an introduction to the perennial problems of philosophy. To understand the sometimes strange things that philosophers say one must first understand the questions that perplexed them and the problems they were trying to solve. With that in mind I recommend two short well-written books, the first from 1912 and the second from 1987: Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy; Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? I commend the following advice to you from p. 4 of Nagel's book:
The center of philosophy lies in certain questions which the reflective human mind finds naturally puzzling, and the best way to begin the study of philosophy is to think about them directly. Once you've done that, you are in a better position to apprecdiate the work of others who have tried to solve the same problems.
Sage advice. There is no point in studying philosophy unless there are some questions that 'bug' you and to which you want and need answers. Think about them directly, and try to answer them for yourself. Then test your answers against the answers more experienced thinkers have proposed.
For example, suppose you are interested in the question of the freedom of the will. Formulated as a problem, it is the problem of reconciling the freedom of the will presupposed by ascriptions of moral responsibility with the apparent determinism of the natural world of which the agent is a part. So you think about it. You don't get very far on your own, so you seek help. You turn to Schopenhauer's magisterial On the Freedom of the Will for orientation. You get that and more: data, distinctions, the history of the problem and the various solutions, and Schopenhauer's own solution. And so it goes.
The ComBox is open in case anyone wants to suggest titles for my reader.
I am a philosopher and a conservative (in many ways) and I enjoy your blog very much. One thing I find rather puzzling (and interesting), though, is your extreme asceticism. Recently, you said:
"Well, we know that drinking and dancing won't get us anywhere. But it is at least possible that thinking and trancing will."
I guess I wonder just _where_ it is that you are trying to get and what is so great about being there such that it is better than enjoying some drinking and dancing (in moderation, of course).
Well, if I am an extreme ascetic, then what was Simeon Stylites? I am not now, and never have been, a pillar-dweller exposed to the elements.
'Asceticism' is from the Greek askesis meaning 'self-denial.' On a spectrum from extreme self-indulgence on the left to extreme self-denial on the right, I would place myself somewhere in the middle, moving on my better days right-ward and on the others left-ward. So you could say that I am a mild-to-moderate ascetic. I believe in the value of self-denial and self-control in thought, word, and deed. That self-control with respect to words and deeds are essential to human flourishing I take to be well-nigh self-evident. Control of thought, however, is also essential to happiness which is why one ought so spend some time each day in formal meditation. (More on this in Meditation and Spiritual Exercises categories.)
Moderate asceticism is good and is enjoined by all the major religions and wisdom traditions. It is perfectly obvious that many of the problems we face today result from the lack of self-control. Obesity, for example. Debt, both at the personal level and at the level of government, is fundamentally a moral problem with at least one of its roots sunk deep in lack of self-control.
If you are running credit card debt, you are doing something very foolish. Why do you buy what you can't afford with money you don't have? You must know that you are wasting huge amounts of money on interest. Why doesn't this knowledge cause you to be prudent in your expenditures? Because you never learned how to control yourself. Perhaps you were brought up by liberals who think the summum bonum is self-indulgence and 'getting in touch with your feelings.' By the way, this in another powerful argument against liberalism. There is no wisdom on the Left. The last thing you will learn from liberals are the virtues and the vices and the seven deadly sins. For liberals, these are topics to joke about.
No one preaches self-denial anymore. We have become a nation of moral wimps. We need a taste of the strenuosity of yesteryear, and who better to serve it up than our very own William James, he of the Golden Age of American philosophy:
Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But, if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.
We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never-so-little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson's play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, "I won't count this time!" Well, he may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve-cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation.
Back to drinking and dancing and the reader's question. Everything depends on what one considers to be the purpose of life. To me it is clear that we are not here to have a 'good time.' For me philosophy is not an academic game but a spiritual quest for the ultimate truth. The quest involves rigorous, technical philosophy, but it also involves non-discursive spiritual exercises. These are impossible without a certain amount of moral purification and ascesis. They are also best pursued in the early hours before dawn. So right here is an excellent reason not to waste the evening hours in idle talk, drinking and dancing. These activities are not conducive to spiritual progress. That is why some of us avoid them.
We are all in the dark, but the philosophers among us know it. The enlightenment they provide is mainly of a negative nature: they cast a bright light on our ignorance. And sometimes they do so willy-nilly, by contradicting each other.
Both worldling and philosopher distinguish between the permanent and the impermanent. How then do they differ? For the philosopher what the worldling calls permanent is impermanent, while for the worldling what the philosopher calls permanent doesn't exist.
Much of what was once in the province of philosophy now belongs to the sciences. Might it be that eventually everything once claimed by philosophy will be taken over by special sciences? I recently took Lawrence Krauss to task here and here for his latest scientistic outburst according to which philosophical problems, "when the grow up, leave home." He maintains that all answerable questions belong in the domain of empirical science. Is that right? Is it true that, eventually, there will nothing left for philosophy to do? Or are there certain problems and questions that will remain specifically philosophical? I suggest that in the following four areas philosophy has and will retain its proprietary rights in perpetuity.
A. Metaphilosophical Questions. Let us first note that the questions raised in my introductory paragraph belong to philosophy. They are questions about philosophy. All such metaphilosophical questions belong to philosophy. The philosophy of science (religion, law, etc.) is not part of science (religion, law, etc.), but the philosophy of philosophy is a branch of philosophy. There is simply no more encompassing rational discipline than philosophy. So right here we have a number of questions that do not belong to any empirical science or to any formal science such as mathematics either. (Whether or not you want to call mathematics science, it is certainly not empirical science.)
Consider the question of scientism. When properly employed, the term 'scientism' means the following.
Scientism is a philosophical thesis that belongs to the sub-discipline of epistemology. It is not a thesis in science, but a thesis about science. The thesis in its strongest form is that the only genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge, the knowledge generated by the (hard) sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and their offshoots. The thesis in a weaker form allows some cognitive value to the social sciences, the humanities, and other subjects, but insists that scientific knowledge is vastly superior and authoritative and is as it were the 'gold standard' when it comes to knowledge. On either strong or weak 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. Not a handmaiden to theology in this day and age; a handmaiden to science.
The question whether scientism is true is a philosophical question that cannot by its very nature be answered by any empirical science. Not only is this question not discussed in any physics or chemistry or biology text, it is not a question to the answering of which observation and experiment are at all relevant. The question whether the only genuine knowledge is scientific knowlerdge is not an empirical question. It is not like the question whether high sodium intake is a contributing factor in hypertension or whether galactic recession is taking place.
Those who champion scientism are doing philosophy whether they know it or not, and presupposing that there are specifically philosophical theses. For scientism is a philosophical thesis. Not only is scientism a philosophical thesis, it is an untenable philosophical thesis (as I argue here) the critique of which belongs to philosophy. Both the forwarding of the thesis and its evaluation as untenable are specifically philosophical activities. One of the perennial tasks of philosophy is the debunking of bad philosophy or pseudo-philosophy of the sort produced by ignorant people like Krauss.
B. Normative Questions. There are normative questions of various sorts in logic, epistemology, aesthetics, ethics, and politology. Empirical investigation cannot answer normative questions. Consider the theory of the state. A good chunk of it will be covered by political science which, perhaps, is independent of philosophy. Political science studies the types, characteristics, institutions, and genesis of states and other political entities as they actually exist. It is a non-normative enterprise devoted to facts and their explanation. It will of course treat of the norms embedded in laws and institutions but will study these norms as facts. One can study the content of legal prescriptions and proscriptions under bracketing of their rightness or wrongness. To do so is to study them as facts. Thus one could study the content of the Nazi state's Nuremberg Laws without raising the question of their justice or injustice. Questions about the moral legitimacy of a given state or of any state are quite different from the factual questions treated in political science: they are normative questions belonging to political philosophy. If I study the structure of the Nazi state and its institutions and hierarchies I am doing political science. But if I argue that the Nazi state was a criminal state or an unjust state then I have moved into the normative dimension and am doing political philosophy.
Or consider logic. It does not reduce to the psychology of reasoning, let alone to the neurobiology underlying reasoning. It is a normative discipline concerned, not with how we think as a matter of fact, but how we ought to think if we are to arrive at truth. Similar considerations hold for epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics. Suppose you disagree with what I just said about logic. Then we have a dispute in the philosophy of logic, and once again philosophy is seen to be indispensable.
3. Critical Questions. One can raise critical questions about religion, mysticism, law, science and other sectors of culture. A critique of religion, for example, aims to separate out the true from the false and the beneficial from the harmful in religion. It aims to evaluate religion as a cultural form. This is different from the descriptive study of extant religions. A critique of Buddhism, for example, goes beyond a study of characteristic Buddhist beliefs and practices; it is concerned to evaluate these beliefs and practices in the light of such criteria as logical coherence, truth, and whether they help or hinder human flourishing. Such an evaluation is obviously a specifically philosophical enterprise. It cannot be supplanted by the sociology or psychology of Buddhism. Suppose it is established that Buddhism appeals to people of a certain psychological make-up or social class. That is an interesting fact, but is irrelevant to the question whether Buddhism is wholly or in part logically coherent, true, or conducive to human flourishing. The critique of Buddhism, and of any religion, belongs to philosophy. And the same goes for the critique of mysticism, law, and the rest.
4. Metaphysical Questions. These are non-normative but also non-empirical questions. They have no place within the province of any empirical science.
There are the questions of general metaphysics or ontology. Among them: questions about existence, identity, properties, relations, modality. Consider these two claims:
a. Principle of the Rejection of Nonexistent Objects: Necessarily, for any x, if x has properties, then x exists.
b. Principle of the Rejection of Unpropertied Objects: Necessarily, for any x, if x exists, then x has properties.
I say both are true propositions of general metaphysics. They are items of knowledge about the structure of any possible world, and therefore items of knowledge about the structure of the actual world. But we do not know them by any empirical method: they do not belong in an empirical science.
The principles are not truths of pure logic either. For their negations are not logical contradictions. They are irreducibly ontological truths. The belong to metaphysca generalis or ontology.
The Meinongians deny (a). Where does the dispute about (a) belong? In physics? You would have to be as thoughtless as Krauss to maintain such a thing. It belongs nowhere else but in philosophy.
There are also the questions of special metaphysics, among them, questions about God, the soul, the freedom of the will, and the relationof mind and body.
A tip of the hat to Professor Joel Hunter for referring me to a recent discussion between philosopher Julian Baggini and physicist Lawrence Krauss. We have come to expect shoddy scientistic reasoning from Professor Krauss (see here) and our expectation is duly fulfilled on this occasion as on the others.
The issue under debate is whether there are any answerable questions in which philosophy has proprietary rights. Are there any questions that are specifically philosophical and thus beyond the purview of the sciences? Or are all answerable questions scientific questions? For Krauss, ". . . all the answerable ones end up moving into the domain of empirical knowledge, aka science." When philosophical questions "grow up, they leave home."
Moral (ethical) questions have traditionally belonged to philosophy. If Krauss and his scientistic brethren are right, however, these questions, if answerable, will be answered empirically: "science provides the basis for moral decisions . . . ." Baggini makes the expected response:
My contention is that the chief philosophical questions are those that grow up without leaving home, important questions that remain unanswered when all the facts are in. Moral questions are the prime example. No factual discovery could ever settle a question of right or wrong. But that does not mean that moral questions are empty questions or pseudo-questions.
Baggini's is a stock response but none the worse for that. Krauss' rejoinder is entirely lame:
Take homosexuality, for example. Iron age scriptures might argue that homosexuality is "wrong", but scientific discoveries about the frequency of homosexual behaviour in a variety of species tell us that it is completely natural in a rather fixed fraction of populations and that it has no apparent negative evolutionary impacts. This surely tells us that it is biologically based, not harmful and not innately "wrong".
Here we observe once again the patented Kraussian 'bait and switch' dialectical ploy. Note the scare quotes around 'wrong.' Krauss is switching from the relevant normative sense of the word to an irrelevant nonnormative sense. That is the same type of trick he pulled with respect to the Leibnizian question why there is something rather than nothing. He baited us with a promise to answer the Leibnizian question but all he did was switch from the standard meaning of 'nothing' to a special meaning all his own according to which nothing is something. So instead of answering the question he baited us with -- the old Leibniz question -- he substituted a different physically tractable question and then either stupidly or dishonestly passed off the answer to the physically tractable question as the answer to the philosophical question.
He is doing the same thing with the homosexuality question. He is equivocating on 'right' and 'wrong' as between nonnormative and normative senses of the term. Avoid that confusion and you will be able to see that a practice cannot be shown to be morally acceptable by showing that the practice is engaged in. Slavery and ethnic cleansing are practices which have proven to be be very effective by nonnormative criteria. World War II in the Pacific was ended by the nuclear slaughter of noncombatants. Questions about moral acceptability and unacceptability cut perpendicular to questions about effectiveness, survival value and the like.
There is also this Kraussian gem:
. . . that many moral convictions vary from society to society means that they are learned and, therefore, the province of psychology. Others are more universal and are, therefore, hard-wired – a matter of neurobiology. A retreat to moral judgment too often assumes some sort of illusionary belief in free will which I think is naive.
Three non sequiturs in two sentences. That's quite a trick!
A. Yes, moral convictions vary from society to society, and yes, they are learned. But Krauss confuses moral convictions as facts (which belong to psychology and sociology) with the content of moral convictions. For example, I am convinced that rape is morally wrong. My being so convinced is a psychological fact about me. It is an empirical fact and can be studied like any empirical fact. We can ask how I cam to hold the conviction. But my being convinced is distinct from the content of the conviction which is expressible in the sentence 'Rape is morally wrong.' That sentence says nothing about me or about any agent or about the psychological state of any agent. Confusing convictions and their contents, Krauss wrongly infers that moral questions are in the province of psychology as an empirical science when all he is entitled to conclude is that things like the incidence, distribution, and causes of moral beliefs belong in the province of psychology, sociology and related disciplines.
B. With respect to universal moral beliefs, Krauss falls into the same confusion. He confuses the moral belief or conviction qua psychological fact about an agent with its content. Even if my being convinced that X is morally wrong falls within neurobiology, because the being convinced is a state of brain, the content doesn't. A further problem with what he is saying is that moral beliefs cannot be identical to neural states. It is obvious that my moral convictions, as facts, belong to psychology; but it is the exact opposite of obvious that some of my moral convictions -- the universal ones -- belong to neurobiology. No doubt they have neurobiological correlates, but correlation is not identity.
C. Krauss thinks that the belief in free will is "illusionary." This is a nonsensical view shared by other scientistic types such as Jerry Coyne. ( See here.) It is also difficult to square with Krauss' own apparent belief in free will: "We have an intellect and can therefore override various other biological tendencies in the name of social harmony." So, holding social harmony to be a value we freely restrain ourselves and override out biological tendencies when we get the urge to commit rape. The man cannot see that his theory is inconsistent with the course of action he is recommending.
There is a bit more to the Krauss-Baggini discussion, but the quality is so low that I won't waste any more time on it.
Some say philosophy lacks rigor. Well, some does, but the best doesn't. People who bemoan a lack of rigor in philosophy are typically unacquainted with its best authors. The problem with philosophy is not lack of rigor but lack of cognitivity. The lack of cognitivity, however, does not detract from philosophy's value. Is there no value in the Socratic docta ignorantia?
If everything in the universe is contingent, does it follow that the universe is contingent? No it doesn't, and to think otherwise would be to commit the fallacy of composition. If the parts of a whole have a certain property, it does not follow that the whole has that property. But it is a simple point of logic that a proposition's not following from another is consistent with the proposition's being true.
And so while one cannot straightaway infer the contingency of the universe from the contingency of its parts, it is nevertheless true that the universe is contingent. Or so I shall argue.
The folowing tripartition is mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive: necessary, impossible, contingent. A necessary (impossible, contingent) being is one that exists in all (none, some but not all) possible worlds. I will assume an understanding of possible worlds talk. See my Modal Matters category for details.
Our question is whether the universe U, all of whose members are contingent, is itself contingent. I say it is, and argue as follows.
1. Necessarily, if U has no members, then U does not exist. (This is because U is just the totality of its members: it is not something in addition to them. If U has three members, a, b, and c, then U is just those three members taken collectively: it is not a fourth thing distinct from each of the members. U depends for its existence on the existence of its members.)
2. There is a possible world w in which there are no concrete contingent beings. (One can support this premise with a subtraction argument. If a world having n members is possible, then surely a world having n-1 members is possible. For example, take the actual world, which is one of the possible worlds, and substract me from it. Surely the result, though sadly impoverished, is a possible world. Subtract London Ed from the result. That too is a possible world. Iterate the subtraction procedure until you arrive at a world with n minus n ( = 0) concrete contingent members. One could also support the premise with a conceivability argument. It is surely conceivable that there be no concrete contingent beings. This does not entail, but is arguably evidence for, the proposition that it is possible that there be no concrete contingent beings.)
3. W is a world in which U has no members. (This follows from (2) given that U is the totality of concrete contingent beings.)
4. W is a world in which U does not exist. (From (1) and (3))
5. U is a contingent being. (This follows from (4) and the definition of 'contingent being.')
6. The totality of contingent beings is itself contingent, hence not necessary.
What is the relevance of this to cosmological arguments? If the universe is necessary, then one cannot sensibly ask why it exists. What must exist has the ground of its existence in itself. So, by showing that the universe is not necessary, one removes an obstacle to cosmological argumentation.
Now since my metaphilosophy holds that nothing of real importance can be strictly proven in philosophy, the above argument - which deals with a matter of real importance -- does not strictly prove its conclusion. But it renders the conclusion rationally acceptable, which is all that we can hope for, and is enough.
Academic philosophy too often degenerates into a sterile intellectual game whose sole function is to inflate and deflate the egos of the participants. But this is no surprise: everything human is either degenerate or will become degenerate.
Addendum: 2:45 PM
Long-time blogger-buddy and supplier of high-quality links and comments, Bill Keezer, comments:
Academic anything eventually degenerates either into ego battles or battles for status as grant securers. In addition to tuition inflation the big money-maker for universities is the administration overhead awarded within grants and the supplement to salaries in some cases that allow them to forego raises or to reduce their portion of the payroll.
Government corrupts all that it touches.
I agree with Bill's first point, but not with his second. The source of moral corruption is not government, but the human being, his ignorance, his inordinate and disordered desires, and his free but wayward will. Everything human beings are involved in is either corrupt or corruptible, and government is no exception, not because government is the unique source of corruption, but because government is a human, all-too-human, enterprise.
On my view, government is practically necessary. Anarchism is for adolescents. Some of what government does is good, some bad. Governments in the free world defeated the Nazis; communist governments murdered 100 million in the 20th century. (Source: Black Book of Communism.) Some of what is bad are unintended consequences of programs that were set up with good intentions. Federally-insured student loans made it possible (or at least easier) for many of us to finance our educations. (It is of course a debatable point whether it is a legitimate function of government to insure student loans.) But lack of oversight on the part of the Feds, and the greediness of university administrators coupled with the laziness and prodigality of too many students has led to the education bubble.
What has happened is truly disgusting. The price of higher education has skyrocketed, increasing out of all proportion to general inflation, while the quality of the product delivered has plummeted in some fields and merely declined in others. There are young people graduating from law schools today with $150 K in debt and little prospect of a job sufficiently remunerative to discharge the debt in a reasonable time.
Can we blame the federal government for the education bubble? Of course, if there had been no federally-insured loan program the bubble would not have come about. But there was no necessity that the program issue in a bubble. So we are brought back to the real root of the problem, human beings, their ignorance, greed, prodigality, and general lack of moral and intellectual virtue.
Compare the housing bubble. Government must bear some of the blame through its bad legislation. But no bubble would have occurred if consumers weren't stupid and lazy and greedy. What sort of fool signs up for a negative amortization loan? Am I blaming the victim? Of course. Blaming the victim is, within limits and in some cases, a perfectly reasonable and indeed morally necessary thing to do. If you are complicit in your own being ripped-off through your own self-induced intellectual and moral defectiveness, then you must hold yourself and be held by others partially responsible. And then there are the morally corrupt lenders themselves who exploited the stupidity, laziness, greediness and general lack of moral and intellectual virtue of the consumers. A fourth factor is the corruption of the rating agencies.
So, contra my friend Keezer, we cannot assign all the blame to government. We need government, limited government.
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, vol. 13, part II, p. 10, #48:
It is the first operation of philosophical training to instill doubt, to free the mind of all those numerous suggestions and distortions imposed on it by others since childhood and maintained by its own slavish acceptance, total unawareness, or natural incapacity.
Or as I have put it more than once in these pages: Doubt is the engine of inquiry, the motor of mental development. Of course, doubting and questioning are not ends in themselves, but means to the attainment of such insight as it is possible for us to attain.
One cannot be a philosopher without believing in the power of reason. But one cannot be a conservative without doubting its power to order our affairs and ameliorate our condition.
Equally, one cannot be a philosopher without doubting -- doubt being the engine of inquiry -- and one cannot be a conservative without believing, that is, without accepting as true much that one cannot prove.
To live well we must somehow tread a razor's edge between unexamined belief and beliefless examination.
A new reader (who may not remain a reader for long) wrote in to say that he enjoyed my philosophical entries but was "saddened" by the invective I employed in one of my political posts.
I would say that the use of invective is justifiable in polemical writing. Of course, it is out of place in strictly philosophical writing and discussion, but that is because philosophy is inquiry into the truth, not defense of what one antecedently takes to be the truth. When philosophy becomes polemical, it ceases to be philosophy. Philosophy as it is actually practiced, however, is often degenerate and falls short of this ideal. But the ideal is a genuine and realizable one. We know that it is realizable because we know of cases when it has been realized. By contrast, political discourse either cannot fail to be polemical or is normally polemical.
Let me then hazard the following stark formulation, one that admittedly requires more thought and may need qualification. When philosophy becomes polemical, it ceases to be philosophy. But when political discourse ceases to be polemical, it ceases to be political discourse.
A bold pronunciamento, not in its first limb, but in its second. The second limb is true if the Converse Clausewitz Principle is true: Politics is war conducted by other means. Whether the CCP is true is a tough nut that I won't bite into just yet. But it certainly seems to be true as a matter of fact. Whether it must be true is a further question.
Another possible support for the second limb is the thought that man, contrary to what Aristotle famously said, is not by nature zoon politikon, a political animal. No doubt man is by nature a social animal. But there is no necessity in rerum natura that there be a polis, a state. It is arguably not natural there be a state. The state is a necessary evil given our highly imperfect condition. We need it, but we would be better off without it, given its coercive nature, if we could get on without it. But we can't get on without it given our fallen nature. So it is a necessary evil: it's bad that we need it, but (instrumentally) good that we have it given that we need it.
Of course my bold (and bolded) statement needs qualification. Here is a counterexample to the second limb. Two people are discussing a political question. They agree with each other in the main and are merely reinforicing each other and refining the formulation of their common position. That is political discourse, but it is not polemical. So I need to make a distinction between 'wide' and 'narrow' political discourse. Work for later.
Now for a concrete example of an issue in which polemic and the use of invective is justified.
Can one reasonably maintain that the photo ID requirement at polling places 'disenfrachises' blacks and other minorities as hordes of liberals maintain? No, one cannot. To maintain such a thing is to remove oneself from the company of the reasonable. It is not enough to calmly present one's argument on a question like this. One must give them, but one must do more since it is not merely a theoretical question. It is a crucially important practical question and it is important that the correct view prevail. If our benighted opponents cannot see that they are wrong, if they are not persuaded by our careful arguments, then they must be countered in other ways. Mockery, derision, and the impugning of motives become appropriate weapons. If you don't have a logical leg to stand on, then it becomes legitimate for me to call into question your motives and to ascribe unsavory ones to you. For, though you lack reasons for your views, you have plenty of motives; and because the position you maintain is deleterious, your motives must be unsavory or outright evil, assuming you are not just plain stupid.
Under protracted consideration every philosophical question inevitably raises questions about the nature, methods, and goals of philosophy. All philosophical roads lead to metaphilosophical Rome. Not that we will find in Rome what we could not find on the way there.
Here is a list of the most useful and useless college majors:
The top 10 most useful college majors: 1. Nursing 2. Mechanical engineering 3. Electrical engineering 4. Civil engineering 5. Computer science 6. Finance 7. Marketing and marketing research 8. Mathematics 9. Accounting 10. French, German, Latin and other common foreign languages.
The top 10 most useless college majors: 1. Fine Arts 2. Drama and theater arts 3. Film, video and photographic arts 4. Commercial art and graphic design 5. Architecture 6. Philosophy and religious studies 7. English literature and language 8. Journalism 9. Anthropology and archeology 10. Hospitality management
Philosophy comes in at #6 of the useless. Those who fill their belly from teaching philosophy (or rather from conducting philosophy classes, which is not the same) will be strongly tempted to defend philosophy by arguing that it really is useful after all.
I say that's a mistake. I take the classical line. Of course philosophy is useless, and therein lies its nobility and dignity. The merely utile is ancillary to the non-utile. Failure to appreciate this shows a lack of nobility of soul. What follows is the meat of my Should One Stoop to a Defense of Philosophy?
What I object to . . . is the notion that philosophy needs to justify itself in terms of an end external to it, and that its main justification is in terms of an end outside of it. The main reason to study philosophy is not to become a more critical reasoner or a better evaluator of evidence, but to grapple with the ultimate questions of human existence and to arrive at as much insight into them as is possible. What drives philosophy is the desire to know the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. Let's not confuse a useful byproduct of philosophical study (development of critical thinking skills) with the goal of philosophical study. The reason to study English literature is not to improve one's vocabulary or to prepare for a career as a journalist. Similarly, the reason to study philosophy is not to improve one's ability to think clearly about extraphilosophical matters or to acquire skills that may prove handy in law school.
Philosophy is an end in itself. This is why it is foolish to try to convince philistines that it is good for something. It is not primarily good for something. It is a good in itself. Otherwise you are acquiescing in the philistinism you ought to be combating. Is listening to the sublime adagio movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony good for something? And what would that be, to impress people with how cultured you are?
To the philistine's "Philosophy bakes no bread" you should not respond "Yes it does," for such responses are patently lame. You should say, "Man does not live by bread alone," or "Not everything is pursued as a means to something else," or "A university is not a trade school." You should not acquiesce in the philistine's values and assumptions, but go on the attack and question his values and assumptions. Put him on the spot. Play the Socratic gadfly. If a philistine wants to know how much you got paid for writing an article for a professional journal, say, "Do you really think that only what one is paid to do is worth doing?"
Admittedly, this is a lofty conception of philosophy and I would hate to have to defend it before the uncomprehending philistines one would expect to find on the typical Board of Regents. But philosophy is what it is, lofty by nature, and if we are to defend it we must do so in a way that does not betray it.
It might be better, though, not to stoop to defend it at all, at least not before the uncomprehending. It might be better to show contempt and supercilious disdain. Not everyone can be reasoned with, and part of being reasonable is understanding this fact.
The locus classicus of the Euthyphro Dilemma (if you want to call it that) is Stephanus 9-10 in the early Platonic dialog, Euthyphro. This aporetic dialog is about the nature of piety, and Socrates, as usual, is in quest of a definition. Euthyphro proposes three definitions, with each of which Socrates has no trouble finding fault. According to the second, "piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what all the gods hate." To this Socrates famously responds, "Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?" In clearer terms, do the gods love pious acts because they are pious, or are pious acts pious because the gods love them?
What interests me at the moment is the notion of metaphysical grounding which I want to defend against London Ed and other anti-metaphysical types. (For it is his failure to understand metaphysical grounding that accounts for Ed's failure to appreciate the force of my circularity objection to the thin theory of existence.) Thus I will not try to answer a question beyond my pay grade, namely:
Q. Does God command X because it is morally obligatory, or is X morally obligatory because God commands it?
My concern is with the preliminary question whether (Q) is so much as intelligible. It is intelligible only if we can make sense of the 'because' in it. Let' s start with something that we should all be able to agree on (if we assume the existence of God and the existence of objective moral obligations), namely:
1. Necessarily, God commands X iff X is morally obligatory.
(1) expresses a broadly logical equivalence and equivalence is symmetrical: if p is equivalent to q, then q is equivalent to p. But metaphysical grounding is asymmetrical: if M metaphysically grounds N, then it is not the case that N metaphysically grounds M. For example, if fact F is the truth-maker of sentence s, then it is not the case that s is the truth-maker of F. Truth-making is a type of metaphysical grounding: it is not a causal relation and its is not a logical relation (where a logical relation is one that relates propositions, examples of logical relations being consistency, inconsistency, entailment, and logical independence.)
(1) leaves wide open whether God is the source of the obligatoriness of moral obligations, or whether such obligations are obligatory independently of divine commands. Thus the truth of (1) does not entail an answer to (Q).
The 'because' in (Q) cannot be taken in a causal sense if causation is understood as a relation that connects physical events, states, or changes with other physical events, states, or changes. Nor can the 'because' be taken in a logical sense. Logical relations connect propositions, and a divine command is not a proposition. Nor is the obligatoriness of the content of a command a proposition.
So I say this: if the content of a command is morally obligatory because God issued the command, then the issuing of the command is the metaphysical ground of the the moral obligatoriness of the content of the command. If, on the other hand, the content of the command is morally obligatory independently of the issuing of the divine command, then the moral obligatoriness of the command is the metaphysical ground of the correctness of the divine command.
Either way, there is a relation of metaphysical grounding.
My argument in summary:
1. (Q) is an intelligible question.
2. (Q) is not a question about a causal relation.
3. (Q) is not a question about a logical relation.
4. There is no other ordinary (nonmetaphysical) candidate relation such as a temporal relation or an epistemic relation for (Q) to be about.
5. (Q) is an intelligible question if and only if 'because' in (Q) expresses metaphysical grounding.
6. 'Because' in (Q) expresses metaphysical grounding.
7. There is a relation of metaphysical grounding.
OK, London Ed, which premise will you reject and why?
Ludwig Wittgenstein had no respect for academic philosophy and steered his students away from academic careers. For example, he advised Norman Malcolm to become a rancher, a piece of advice Malcolm wisely ignored. And yet it stung his vanity to find his ideas recycled and discussed in the philosophy journals. Wittgenstein felt that when the academic hacks weren't plagiarizing his ideas they were misrepresenting them.
The paradox is that his writing can speak only to professional philosophers, the very people he despised. Ordinary folk, even educated ordinary folk, find the stuff gibberish. When people ask me what of Wittgenstein they should read, I tell them to read first a good biography like that of Ray Monk, and then, if they are still interested, read the aphorisms and observations contained in Culture and Value (Vermischte Bemerkungen).
Only professional philosophers take seriously the puzzles that Wittgenstein was concerned to dissolve. And only a professional philosopher will be exercised by the meta-problem of the origin and status of philosophical problems. So we have the paradox of a man who wrote for an audience he despised.
"There is less of a paradox that you think. Wittgenstein was writing mainly for himself; his was a therapeutic conception of philosophy. His writing was a form of self-therapy. He was tormented by the problems. His writing was mainly in exorcism of his demons."
This connects with the fly and fly bottle remark in the Philosophical Investigations.
Why does the bug need to be shown the way out? Pop the cork and he's gone.
Why did Wittgenstein feel the need to philosophize his way out of philosophy? He should have known that metaphilosophy and anti-philosophy are just more philosophy with all that that entails: inconclusiveness, endlessness . . . . He should have just walked away from it.
If the room is too smoky, there is no necessity that you remain in it. You are free to go, the door is unlocked. This figure's from Epictetus and he had the quitting of life in view. But the same holds for the quitting of philosophy. Just do it, if that's what you want. It can be done.
What cannot be done, however, is to justify one's exit. (That would be like copulating your way to chastity.) For any justification proffered, perforce and willy-nilly, will be just more philosophy. You cannot have it both ways. You either walk away or stay.
Fred Sommers' "Intellectual Autobiography" begins as follows:
I did an undergraduate major in mathematics at Yeshiva College and went on to graduate studies in philosophy at Columbia University in the 1950s. There I found that classical philosophical problems were studied as intellectual history and not as problems to be solved. That was disappointing but did not strike me as unreasonable; it seemed to me that tackling something like "the problem of free will" or "the problem of knowledge" could take up one's whole life and yield little of permanent value. I duly did a dissertation on Whitehead's process philosophy and was offered a teaching position at Columbia College. Thereafter I was free to do philosophical research of my own choosing. My instinct was to avoid the seductive, deep problems and to focus on finite projects that looked amenable to solution. (The Old New Logic: Essays on the Philosophy of Fred Sommers, ed. Oderberg, MIT Press, 2005, p. 1)
Sommers says something similar in the preface to his The Logic of Natural Language (Oxford, 1982), p. xii:
My interest in Ryle's 'category mistakes' turned me away from the study of Whitehead's metaphysical writings (on which I had written a doctoral thesis at Columbia University) to the study of problems that could be arranged for possible solution.
What interests me in these two passages is the reason that Sommers gives for turning away from the big 'existential' questions of philosophy (God, freedom, immortality, and the like) to the problems of logical theory. I cannot see that it is a good reason. (And he does seem to be giving a reason and not merely recording a turn in his career.)
The reason is that the problems of logic, but not those of metaphysics, can be "arranged for possible solution." Although I sympathize with Sommers' sentiment, he must surely have noticed that his attempt to rehabilitate pre-Fregean logical theory issues in results that are controversial, and indeed just as controversial as the claims of metaphysicians. Or do all his colleagues in logic agree with him?
The problems that Sommers tackles in his magisterial The Logic of Natural Language are no more amenable to solution than the "deep, seductive" ones that could lead a philosopher astray for a lifetime. The best evidence of this is that Sommers has not convinced his MPL (modern predicate logic) colleagues. At the very most, Sommers has shown that TFL (traditional formal logic) is a defensible rival system.
If by 'pulling in our horns' and confining ourselves to problems of language and logic we were able to attain sure and incontrovertible results, then there might well be justification for setting metaphysics aside and working on problems amenable to solution. But if it turns out that logical, linguistic, phenomenological, epistemological and all other such preliminary inquiries arrive at results that are also widely and vigorously contested, then the advantage of 'pulling in our horns' is lost and we may as well concentrate on the questions that really matter, which are most assuredly not questions of logic and language — fascinating as these may be.
Given that the "deep, seductive" problems and those of logical theory are in the same boat as regards solubility, Sommer's' reason for devoting himself to logic over the big questions is not a good one. The fact that philosophy of logic is often more rigorous than 'big question' philosophy is not to the point. The distinction between the rigorous and the unrigorous cuts perpendicular to that between the soluble and the insoluble. And in any case, any philosophical problem can be tackled as rigorously as you please.
Sommers' is a rich and fascinating book. But, at the end of the day, how important is it to prove that the inference embedded in 'Some girl is loved by every boy so every boy loves a girl' really is capturable, pace the dogmatic partisans of modern predicate logic, by a refurbished traditional term logic? (See pp. 144-145) As one draws one's last breath, which is more salutary: to be worried about a silly b agatelle such as the one just mentioned, or to be contemplating God and the soul?
And shouldn't we philosophers who are still a ways from our last breaths devote our main energies to such questions as God and the soul over the trifles of logic?
It would be nice if we could set philosophy on the "sure path of science" (Kant) by abandoning metaphysics and focusing on logic (or phenomenology or whatever one considers foundational). But so far, this narrowing of focus and 'pulling in of one's horns' has availed nothing. Philosophical investigation has simply become more technical, labyrinthine, and specialized. All philosophical problems are in the same boat with respect to solubility. A definitive answer to 'Are there atomic propositions?' (LNL, ch. 1) is no more in the offing than a definitive answer to 'Does God exist?' or 'Is the will libertarianly free?'
Ask yourself: what would be more worth knowing if it could be known?
Philosophers always refer to their arguments as 'arguments' and never as 'proofs'. This is because there is nothing in the entire, nearly three thousand year history of philosophy that would count as a proof of anything. Nothing.
This obiter dictum illustrates how, by exaggerating and saying something that is strictly false, one can still manage to convey a truth. The truth is that there is very little in the history of philosophy that could count as a proof of anything. But of course some philosophers do refer to their arguments as proofs. Think of those Thomists who speak of proofs of the existence of God. And though no Thomist accepts the ontological 'proof,' there are philosophers who refer to the ontological argument as a proof. The Germans also regularly speak of der ontologische Gottesbeweis rather than of das ontologische Argument. For example, Frege in a famous passage from the Philosophy of Arithmetic writes, Weil Existenz Eigenschaft des Begriffes ist, erreicht der ontologische Beweis von der Existenz Gottes sein Ziel nicht. (sec. 53)
These quibbles aside, an argument is not the same as a proof. 'Prove' is a verb of success. The same goes for 'disprove' and 'refute.' But 'argue' is not. I may argue that p without establishing that p. But if I prove that p, then I establish that p. Indeed, I establish it as true.
Why has almost nothing ever been proven in the history of philosophy?
It is because for an argument to count as a proof in philosophy -- I leave aside mathematics which may not be so exacting -- certain exceedingly demanding conditions must be met. First, a proof must be deductive: no inductive argument proves its conclusion. Second, a proof must be valid: it must be a deductive argument such that its corresponding conditional is a narrowly-logical truth, where an argument's corresponding conditional is a conditional proposition the protasis of which is the conjunction of the argument's premises, and the apodosis of which is the argument's conclusion.
Third, although a valid argument needn't have true premises, a proof must have all true premises. In other words, a proof must be a sound argument. Fourth, a proof cannot commit any infomal fallacy such as petitio principii. An argument from p to p is deductive, valid, and sound. But it is obviously no proof of anything.
Fifth, a proof must have premises that are not only true, but known to be true by the producers and the consumers of the argument. This is because a proof is not an argument considered in abstracto but a method for generating knoweldge for some cognizer. For example, if I do not know that I am thinking,then I cannot use that premise in a proof that I exist.
Sixth, a proof in philosophy must have premises all of which are known to be true in a sense of 'know' that entails absolute impossibilty of mistake. Why set the bar so high? Well, if you say that you have proven the nonexistence of God, say, or that the self is but a bundle of perceptions, or that freedom of the will is an illuison, or whatever, and one of your premises is such that I can easily conceive its being false, then you haven't proven anything. You haven't rationally compelled me to accept your conclusion. You may have given a 'good' argument in the sense of a 'reasonable' argument where that is one which satisfies my first four conditions; but you haven't given me a compelling argument, an argument which is such that, were I to reject it I would brand myself as irrational. (Of course the only compulsion here at issue is rational compulsion, not ad baculum (ab baculum?) compulsion.)
Given my exposition of the notion of proof in philosophy, I think it is clear that very little has ever been proven in philosophy. I am pretty sure that London Ed, as cantankerous and contrary as he is known to be, will agree. But he goes further: he says that nothing has ever been proven in philosophy.
But hasn't the sophomoric relativist been refuted? He maintains that it is absolutely true that every truth is relative. Clearly, the sophomoric relativist contradicts himself and refutes himself. One might object to this example by claiming that no philosopher has ever been a sophomoric relativist. But even if that is so, it is a possible philosophical position and one that is provably mistaken. Or so say I.
Or consider a sophist like Daniel Dennet who maintains (in effect) that consciousness is an illusion. That is easily refuted and I have done the job more than once in these pages. But it is such a stupid thesis that it is barely worth refuting. Its negation -- that consciousness is not an illusion -- is hardly a substantive thesis. A substantive thesis would be: Consciousness is not dependent for its existence on any material things or processes.
There is also the stupidity of that fellow Krauss who thinks that nothing is something. Refuting this nonsense hardly earns one a place in the pantheon of philosophers.
Nevertheless, I am in basic agreement with London Ed: Nothing of any real substance has ever been proven in philosophy. No one has ever proven that God exists, that God does not exist, that existence is a second-level property, that there is a self, that there is no self, that the will is free, that the will is not free, and so on.
Or perhaps you think you have a proof of some substantive thesis? Then I'd like to hear it. But it must be a proof in my exacting sense.
When I began to read your “Who doesn't need philosophy?” post, I immediately started to think of reasons why adherents of religious and nonreligious worldviews need philosophy as inquiry. Indeed, one can think of many good reasons why such adherents (especially the dogmatic ones) need philosophy.
However, as I continued to read, I noticed the irony of your post (particularly the final paragraph). It seems at least possible that your entry is a dialectic antiphrasis to make the point that we all need philosophy as inquiry, including sincere believers and religious and nonreligious dogmatists. Humanity needs to inquire because humanity needs truth. As Aristotle put it in the first sentence of the Metaphysics, all humans by nature seek to know.
Over the weekend, I found myself wondering whether your post is antiphrastic or literal. Do you really think philosophy as inquiry is unnecessary for the religious person? Or do you think the religious person should philosophize? I think the latter; I am curious to know what you think; either way I appreciate the thought provoking post.
To answer the reader's question I will write a commentary on my post.
Philosophy: Who Doesn't Need It?
The title is a take-off on Ayn Rand's Philosophy: Who Needs It? Rand's rhetorical question is not intended to express the proposition that people do not need philosophy, but that they do. So perhaps we could call the question in her title an antiphrastic rhetorical question.
Who doesn't need philosophy?
I don't approve of one-sentence paragraphs in formal writing, but blogging is not formal writing: it is looser, more personal, chattier, pithier, more direct. And in my formal writing I indent my paragraphs. That too is a nicety that is best dropped in this fast medium.
People who have the world figured out don't need it. If you know what's up when it comes to God and the soul, the meaning of life, the content and basis of morality, the role of state, and so on, then you certainly don't need philosophy. If you are a Scientologist or a Mormon or a Roman Catholic or an adherent of any other religious or quasi-religious worldview then you have your answers and philosophy as inquiry (as opposed to philosophy as worldview) is strictly unnecessary. And same goes for the adherents of such nonreligious worldviews as leftism and scientism and evangelical atheism.
The first two sentences are intended literally and they are literally true. 'Figured out' is a verb of success: if one has really got the world figured out, then he possesses the truth about it. But in the rest of the paragraph a bit of irony begins to creep in inasmuch as the reader is expected to know that it is not the case, and cannot be the case, that all the extant worldviews are true. So by the end of the paragraph the properly caffeinated reader should suspect that my point is that people need philosophy. They need it because they don't know the ultimate low-down, the proof of which is the welter of conflicting worldviews.
(The inferential links that tie There is a welter of conflicting worldviews to People don't know the ultimate low-down to People need philosophy as inquiry all need defense. I could write a book about that. At the moment I am merely nailing my colors to the mast.)
He who has the truth needn't seek it. And those who are in firm possession of the truth are well-advised to stay clear of philosophy with its tendency to sow the seeds of doubt and confusion.
Now the irony is in full bloom. Surely it cannot be the case that both a Communist and a Catholic are in "firm possession of the truth" about ultimate matters. At most one can be in firm possession. But it is also possible that neither are. There is also the suggestion that truth is not the sort of thing about which one side or the other can claim proprietary rights.
Those who are secure in their beliefs are also well-advised to turn a blind eye to the fact of the multiplicity of conflicting worldviews. Taking that fact into cognizance may cause them to doubt whether their 'firm possession of the truth' really is such.
The final paragraph is ironic. I am not advising people to ignore the conflict of worldviews. For that conflict is a fact, and we ought to face reality and not blink the facts. I am making the conditional assertion that if one values doxastic security over truth, then one is well-advised to ignore the fact that one's worldview is rejected by many others. For careful contemplation of that fact may undermine one's doxastic security and peace of mind. (It is not for nothing that the Roman church once had an index librorum prohibitorum.) Note that to assert a conditional is not to assert either its antecedent or its consequent. So it is logically consistent of me to assert the above conditional while rejecting both its antecedent and its consequent.
The reader understood my entry correctly as "a dialectic antiphrasis to make the point that we all need philosophy as inquiry, including sincere believers and religious and nonreligious dogmatists."
In saying that I of course give the palm to Athens over Jerusalem. But, if I may invoke that failed monk and anti-Athenian irrationalist, Luther: Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders.
Brand Blanshard, On Philosophical Style (Indiana University Press, 1967), pp. 49-50. Originally appeared in 1954. Emphasis added. The most distinguished recent example of imaginative prose in philosophy is certainly George Santayana. Santayana was no man's copy, either in thought or in style. He consistently refused to adopt the prosaic medium in which most of his colleagues were writing. To read him is to be conducted in urbane and almost courtly fashion about the spacious house he occupies, moving noiselessly always on a richly figured carpet of prose. Is it a satisfying experience as one looks back on it? Yes, undoubtedly, if one has been able to surrender to it uncritically. But that, as it happens, is something the philosophical reader is not very likely to do. Philosophy is, in the main, an attempt to establish something by argument, and the reader who reads for philosophy will be impatient to know just what thesis is being urged, and what precisely is the evidence for it. To such a reader Santayana seems to have a divided mind, and his doubleness of intent clogs the intellectual movement. He is, of course, genuinely intent on reaching a philosophic conclusion, but it is as if, on his journey there, he were so much interested also in the flowers that line the wayside that he is perpetually pausing to add one to his buttonhole. The style is not, as philosophic style should be, so transparent a medium that one looks straight through it at the object, forgetting that it is there; it is too much like a window of stained glass which, because of its very richness, diverts attention to itself.
There is no reason why a person should not be a devotee of both truth and beauty; but unless in his writing he is prepared to make one the completely unobtrusive servant of the other, they are sure to get in each other's way. Hence ornament for its own beautiful irrelevant sake must be placed under interdict. Someone has put the matter more compactly: "Style is the feather in the arrow, not the feather in the hat."
It seems to me that far too much Continental philosophy is plagued by the same "divided mind" and "doubleness of intent."
People who have the world figured out don't need it. If you know what's up when it comes to God and the soul, the meaning of life, the content and basis of morality, the role of state, and so on, then you certainly don't need philosophy. If you are a Scientologist or a Mormon or a Roman Catholic or an adherent of any other religious or quasi-religious worldview then you have your answers and philosophy as inquiry (as opposed to philosophy as worldview) is strictly unnecessary. And same goes for the adherents of such nonreligious worldviews as leftism and scientism and evangelical atheism.
He who has the truth needn't seek it. And those who are in firm possession of the truth are well-advised to stay clear of philosophy with its tendency to sow the seeds of doubt and confusion.
Those who are secure in their beliefs are also well-advised to turn a blind eye to the fact of the multiplicity of conflicting worldviews. Taking that fact into cognizance may cause them to doubt whether their 'firm possession of the truth' really is such.
Throughout his life he wrote circumstantial, occasional, studies, in which he went straight to the point, to say something, to communicate to the reader -- a very particular reader, whose figure gradually changed over the course of time -- certain truths, certain warnings, certain very concrete exhortations. To do so he had to put into play the totality of his philosophical thought . . . . (Julian Marias, Jose Ortega y Gasset: Circumstance and Vocation, tr. Lopez-Marillas, University of Oklahoma Press, 1970, p. 235.)
I have spoken more than once of the fruitful tension between Athens (philosophy) and Jerusalem (Biblical revelation). But there is also a tension, and it is also a fruitful one, within Athens. It is depicted, if such a thing can be depicted at all, in Raphael's School of Athens. Take a gander at the close-up below. Plato points up, Aristotle, the younger man, points down. The Forms are, in a manner of speaking, up yonder in a topos ouranos, in a heavenly place; his star pupil would, again in a manner of speaking, bring them down to earth. In a terminology I do not wholly endorse, Plato is an extreme, while Aristotle is a moderate, realist.
The vitality of the West is due, in part, to the fruitful tension between Athens and Jerusalem. And much of the vitality of philosophy derives from the fruitful tension between the Platonic and Aristotelian ways of thinking, not just as regards the problem of universals, but on a wide range of issues.
As a follow-up to Anti-Intellectualism in Conservatives, here is an old post from the Powerblogs site. A surprising number still languish there in cyber-limbo awaiting their turn to be brought back to life.
The charge of hairsplitting has always been one of the weapons in the arsenal of the anti-intellectual. One root of anti-intellectualism is a churlish hatred of all refinement. Another is laziness. Just as there are slugs who will not stray from their couches without the aid of motorized transport, there are mental slugs who will not engage in what Hegel calls die Anstrengung des Begriffs, the exertion of the concept. Thinking is hard work. One has to be careful, one has to be precise; one has to carve the bird of reality at the joints. It is no surprise that people don't like thinking. It goes against our slothful grain. But surely any serious thinking about any topic issues in the making of distinctions that to the untutored may seem strained and unnecessary.
Consider the question of when it is appropriate to praise a person.
Should we praise a person who has merely done his duty? Should we praise people who feed, clothe, house, and educate their children? Should wives praise their husbands for being faithful, as I once heard Dennis Prager recommend? Of course not. For this is what they ought to do. We ought not praise them for doing such things; we ought to condemn them for not doing them. Praise is due only those actions that are above and beyond the call of duty. Such actions are called supererogatory. So we have a distinction between the obligatory and the supererogatory. The former pertains to those actions that must be done or else left undone, while the latter to those actions that are non-obligatory but such that if they are done they bring moral credit upon their agents.
Is that hairsplitting? Obviously not. We are in the presence of a genuine distinction. One would have to quite obtuse not to discern it. Clarity in moral matters demands the making of this distinction, and plenty of others besides.
A second example. The phrase, 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,' will strike some as containing redundant verbiage. But there are three distinct notions here since one can tell the truth without telling the whole truth, and one can tell the whole truth without telling nothing but the truth. This is not hairsplitting, but the making of necessary distinctions. Necessary for what? Necessary for clarity of thought. Why is that a good thing? Because clarity of thought is required for ethical action and for prudent action.
So what is hairsplitting if this is supposed to be something objectionable? One idea is that it is to make distinctions that correspond to nothing real, distinctions that are merely verbal. The 'distinction' between a glow bug and a fire fly, for example, is merely verbal: there is no distinction in reality. A glow bug just is a firefly. Similarly there is no distinction in reality between a bottle's being half-full and being half-empty. The only possible difference is in the attitude of someone, a drunk perhaps, who is elated at the bottle's being half-full and depressed at its being half-empty.
But this is not what people usually mean by the charge of hairsplitting. What they seem to mean is the drawing of distinctions that don't make a practical difference. But whether a distinction makes a practical difference depends on the context and on one's purposes. A chess player must know when the game is drawn. One way to draw a chess game is by three-fold repetition of position. But there is a distinction between a consecutive and a nonconsecutive three-fold repetition of position, a distinction many players do not appreciate. When it is explained to them, as it is here some react with hairsplitting!
The truth of the matter is that there are very few occasions on which the charge of hairsplitting is justly made. On almost all occasions, the accuser is simply advertising his inability to grasp a distinction that the subject-matter requires. He is parading before us his lack of culture and mental acuity and his churlish refusal to be instructed.
I am looking into the dictionary fallacy for an essay, and your blog post is the only thing I could find. Do you happen to know some other sources on the fallacy?
As far as I know, I invented the dictionary fallacy, or rather, I invented the label and provided some preliminary analysis of this typical mistake in reasoning. If anyone knows of something similar in the literature, please shoot me an e-mail.
I've been studying Jaegwon Kim's Physicalism, or Something Near Enough (Princeton UP, 2005). Here are some notes and questions.
1. It's clear that mental causation must be saved. If Kim is right that nonreductive physicalism is not viable, then by his lights our only hope of saving mental causation is via "physical reductionism." (159). It is of course easy to see how such reductionism, if true, would save mental causation. Surely my desire for a beer together with my belief that there is beer in the reefer are part of the etiology of my getting out of my chair and heading to the kitchen. If beliefs and desires are physical states, then there is no in-principle difficulty in understanding the etiology of my behavior. Reductionism insures the physical efficacy of the mental. What was a thorny problem on dualist approaches is no problem at all for the physical reductionist.
2. At this point some of us are going to wonder whether reductionism collapses into eliminativism. I tend to think that it does. Kim of course must disagree. His project is to find safe passage between nonreductive physicalism and eliminativism. But first I want to concede something to Kim.
3. Kim rightly points out (160) that we cannot assume that the mental cannot be physical in virtue of the very meaning of 'mental.' We cannot assume that 'mental' means 'nonphysical.' The following argument is not compelling and begs the question against the physicalist:
Beliefs and desires are mental Whatever is mental is nonphysical Ergo Beliefs and desires are not physical.
The physicalist finds nothing incoherent in the notion that what is mental could also be physical. So he will either reject the second premise, or, if he accepts it, deny the first and maintain that beliefs and desires are not mental in the sense in which his opponents think they are. It seems clear, then, that one cannot mount a merely semantic argument against the physicalist based on a preconceived meaning of 'mental.'
4. Is my present state of consciousness real and yet reducible to a pattern of electrical activity in a network of neurons? Can we secure reduction without elimination? Reductionist: there are Fs but what they are are Gs. Eliminativist: There are no Fs. There at least appears to be a difference in these two sorts of claims. Kim claims that "There is an honest difference between elimination and conservative reduction." (160) Phlogiston got eliminated; temperature and heat got reduced. Witches got eliminated; the gene got reduced. The reductionist thinks he can secure or "conserve" the reality of the Fs while reducing them to the Gs. In the present case, the physical reductionist in the philosophy of mind thinks that he can maintain both that mental states are real and that they reduce to physical states.
5. Let's note two obvious logical points. The first is that identity is a symmetrical relation. The second is that reduction is asymmetrical. Thus,
I. Necessarily, for any x, y, if x = y, then y = x. R. Necessarily, for any x, y, if x reduces to y, then it is not the case that y reduces to x.
It is clear, then, that identity and reduction are not the same relation. And yet if particular a reduces to particular b, then a is nothing other than b, and is therefore identical to b. If you think about it, reduction is a strange and perhaps incoherent notion. For if a reduces to b, a is identical to b, but, since reduction is asymmetrical, b is not identical to a! Reduction is asymmetrical identity. Amd that smacks of radical incoherence. This is what inclines me to say that reduction collapses into elimination. For if a reduces to b, and is therefore identical to b, while b is not identical to a, then it follows that there simply is no a. And so if my present mental state reduces to a pattern of electrical activity in a network of neurons, then my mental state does not exist; all that exists is the electrical activity.
6. Kim wants to have it both ways at once. He wants mental states to be both real and reducible. He wants to avoid both eliminativism and dualism. My claim is that it is impossible to have it both ways. Kim thinks that reduction somehow "conserves" that which is reduced. But how could it? If my desire for a beer is nothing other than a brain state, then then it is a purely physical state and everything mental about it has vanished. If 'two' things are identical, then there is only one thing, and if you insist that that one thing is physical, then it cannot also be mental.
7. My present thinking about a dog is intrinsically intentional, intrinsically object-directed. But no physical state is intrinsically object-directed. So, by the Indiscernibility of Identicals, my present thinking about a dog simply cannot be identical to any brain state, and so cannot reduce to any brain state. Kim of course thinks that intentional properties are functionalizable. I have already argued against that view here. Whatever causal role my thinking about a dog plays in terms of behavioral inputs and outputs, causal role occupancy cannot be make makes my thinking intentional. For it is intentional intrinsically, not in virtue of causal relations.
8. Kim speaks of the functional reducibility of intentional/cognitive properties. But surely it is not properties that need reducing but particular meetal acts. Properties are not conscious of anything. Nor are causal roles. It is the realizers of the roles that are bearers of intentionality, and it simply makes no sense to think of these as purely physical.
9. Once one starts down the reductive road there is no stopping short of eliminativism. The latter, however, is surely a reductio ad absurdum of physicalism as I explain in this post on Rosenberg's eliminativism.
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.
By nature, the philosopher is attuned to the strangeness of the ordinary. By experience, he encounters the hostility of those who don't want to hear about it. "What's the problem?" they ask querulously. I had a colleague who sneeringly dismissed Milton Munitz's The Mystery of Existence by its title alone. He bristled at the word 'mystery.'
There is a certain sort of prosaic, work-a-day mind that thinks that all is clear or can be made clear in short order. Overreacting to the mystery-monger, he goes to the opposite extreme. Recoiling from the portentousness of a Heidegger, he may adopt the silly stance of a Paul Edwards.
Being? Existence? What's the big deal? Existence is just a propositional function's being sometimes true!
1. All genuine problems are soluble. 2. No problem of philosophy is soluble. 3. Some problems of philosophy are genuine.
I claimed that "(2) is a good induction based on two and one half millenia of philosophical experience." The inductive inference, which I am claiming is good, is not merely from 'No problem has been solved' to 'No problem will be solved'; but from the former to the modal 'No problem can be solved.' From a deductive point of view, this is of course doubly invalid. I use 'valid' and 'invalid' only in connection with deductive arguments. No inductive argument is valid. No news there.
Peter Lupu's objection, which he elaborated as best he could after I stuffed him with L-tryptophan-rich turkey and fixin's, was along the following lines. If the problems of philosophy are insoluble, then so is the problem of induction. This is the problem of justifying induction, of showing it to be rational. So if all the problems are insoluble, then we cannot ever know that inductive inference is rational. But if we cannot ever know this, then we cannot ever know that the inductive inference to (2) is rational. Peter concludes that this is fatal to my metaphilosophical argument which proceeds from (2) and (3) to the negation of (1). What he is maintaining, I believe, is that my argument is not rationally acceptable, contrary to what I stated, because (2) is not rationally acceptable.
Perhaps Peter's objection can be given the following sharper formulation.
(2) is either true or false. If (2) is true, then (2) is not rationally justifiable, hence not rationally acceptable, in which case the argument one of whose premises it is is not rationally acceptable. If, on the other hand, (2) is false, then the argument is unsound. So my metaphilosophical argument is either rationally unacceptable or unsound. Ouch!
I concede that my position implies that we cannot know that the inductive inference to (2) is rationally justified. But it might be rationally justified nonetheless. Induction can be a rational procedure even if we cannot know that it is or prove that it is. Induction is not the same as the problem of induction. If I am right, the latter is insoluble. But surely failure to solve the problem of induction does not show that induction is not rationally justified. Peter seems to be assuming the following principle:
If S comes to believe that p on the basis of some cognitive procedure CP, then S is rationally justified in believing that p on the basis of CP only if S has solved all the philosophical problems pertaining to CP.
I don't see why one must accept the italicized principle. It seems to me that I am rationally justified in believing that Peter is an Other Mind on the basis of my social interaction with him despite my not having solved the problem of Other Minds. It seems to me that I am rationally justified, on the basis of memory, that he ate at my table on Thursday night despite my not having solved all the problems thrown up by memory. And so on.
The old questions are still debated. The problems remain unsolved after millenia: there is no consensus among the competent. But what does interminable debate and lack of consensus show? That philosophical problems are genuine but insoluble or that they are not genuine because insoluble? Or something else?
Our metaphilosophical problem may be cast in the mold of an antilogism:
1. All genuine problems are soluble. 2. No problem of philosophy is soluble. 3. Some problems of philosophy are genuine.
Each limb of this aporetic triad lays serious claim to our acceptance. (1) will strike many as self-evident, especially if soluble means 'soluble eventually' or perhaps 'soluble in principle.' (2) is a good induction based on two and one half millenia of philosophical experience. Or can you point to a central or core problem that has been solved to the satisfaction of all able practioners? Give me an example if you think you have one, and I will blow it clean out of the water. (3) certainly seems to be true, does it not? The main problems of philosophy when carefully and rigorously formulated are as genuine as any problem. And yet the triad's limbs cannot all be true. The first two limbs, taken together, entail the negation of the third. So one of them must be rejected.
Think about this metaproblem. Is it not genuine and important?
For every antilogism there are three corresponding syllogisms, and so our antilogism gives rise to the following three syllogistic arguments:
1. All genuine problems are soluble. 2. No problem of philosophy is soluble. ----- ~3. No problem of philosophy is genuine.
1. All genuine problems are soluble. 3. Some problems of philosophy are genuine. ----- ~2. Some problems of philosophy are soluble.
2. No problem of philosophy is soluble. 3. Some problems of philosophy are genuine. ----- ~1. Some genuine problems are not soluble.
Each of these syllogisms is valid. But only one can be sound. Which one? Is there any rational way to decide? The first syllogism encapsulates the view of the logical positivist Moritz Schlick as expressed in his "The Turning Point in Philosophy." His thesis is that the problems of philosophy are pseudo-problems. But if so, then the metaproblem we have been discussing, which of course is a philosophical problem, is a also a pseudo-problem. But if it is a pseudo-problem, then it has no solution. But it does have a solution for Schlick, one that consists in denying (3). So the Schlick solution is incoherent. On the one hand, he maintains that the problems of philosophy are pseudo-problems. On the other hand, he thinks that the metaproblem of whether philosophical problems are pseudoproblems has a solution. Thus his position leads to a contradiction.
Many will plump for the second syllogism. They will be forgiven for so plumping. They are the optimists who fancy that in the fullness of time solutions will be upon us.
I put my money on the third syllogism. I reject (1), thereby maintaining that some genuine problems are insoluble. Indeed, I want to go further. I want to maintain that all genuine philosophical problems are insoluble. I consider the above metaphilosophical problem to be an example of a genuine but insoluble problem. So I am not claiming that my rejection of (1) solves the metaphilosophical problem. If I made that claim then I would be contradicting myself. I would be claiming that philosophical problems are insoluble but that the metaproblem (which is a philosophical problem) is soluble. So what am I saying?
Perhaps what I am saying is that I have no compelling reason to prefer the third syllogism to the other two, but that my preferring of the third is rationally acceptable, rationally supportable, and may well lay bare the truth of the matter.
Peter Lupu left the following comment which deserves to be separately posted. I supplement Peter's thoughts with a quotation from Mary Midgley and some commentary.
In philosophical discourse the phrase "I do not understand" when stated about a philosophical position can mean either
(i) this position is so obscure that there is nothing in it to understand; or
(ii) this position is subject to several obvious objections (which I need not spell out) and therefore I fail to see how anyone can hold and/or propose it; or
(iii) this position is so difficult, abstract, and/or complex that I am unable to wrap my head around it.
Sense (iii) is not philosophical trash-talk. It is typically stated by a philosophical novice who really does not yet grasp the nature of philosophical positions or by a professional who is grappling with a genuinely difficult position and attempts to make sense of it.
Senses (i) and (ii), on the other hand, are too often used by opponents of a position as philosophical trash-talk. Their purpose is to intimidate the proponents of a position. The method goes something like this.
Example of Philosophical Trash-Talk:
"You and I agree that I am not a philosophical novice; given this assumption, if your position were not irreparably obscure, I would understand it; I do not understand it; therefore, it is irreparably obscure."
Now the proponent of the position so challenged has two options: he can defend the coherence of his position or else he must challenge the credentials of the opponent who uses a version of trash-talk exemplified above. Since many gentle souls would prefer not to opt for the later option, they are forced to defend the coherence of their position against challenges not yet stated. This achieves the intended purpose of the opponent to turn the burden on the proponent without having to do much except trash-talk.
Trash-talk has no place in philosophical discourse. A phrase such as "I do not understand" should be used only in sense (iii) either by a philosophical novice or by a professional who uses it to express their genuine effort to understand a difficult position and give it the most charitable reading. If a professional uses it in any other sense, they are trash-talking which, I hope we all agree, betrays the essence of philosophical inquiry.
Mary Midgley in The Owl of Minerva: A Memoir, Routledge, 2005, p. 13, reminisces about her headmistress, Miss Annie Bowden:
I also remember something striking that she had said when I had complained that I knew the answer to some question but I just couldn't say it clearly. 'If you can't say a thing clearly,' she replied, 'then you don't actually know what it is, do you?' This is a deep thought which I have often come back to, and it is in general a useful one. It lies at the heart of British empiricism. Though it is not by any means always true, I am glad to have had it put before me so early in life. It's a good thought to have when you are trying to clarify your own ideas, but a bad one when you are supposed to be understanding other people's. Philosophers are always complaining that other people's remarks are not clear when what they mean is that they are unwelcome. So they often cultivate the art of not understanding things -- something which British analytic philosophers are particularly good at. (Bolding added.)
My added emphasis signals my approbation.
We owe it to ourselves and our readers to be as clear as we can. But the whole point of philosophy is to extend clarity beyond the 'clarity' of everyday life and everyday thinking. The pursuit of this higher clarity, the attempt to work our way out of Plato's Cave, results in a kind of talking and thinking that must appear obscure to the Cave dweller. Well, so much the worse for him and his values. To demand Cave clarity of the philosopher is vulgar and philistine.
Self-styled neo-Aristotelian Richard Hennessey's response to my three posts concerning his theory of accidental predication is now online.
He graciously declines my suggestion that he make use of accidental compounds or accidental unities in his theory despite the excellent Aristotelian pedigree of these items, a pedigree amply documented in the writings of Frank Lewis and Gareth Mathews. Following Mathews, I characterized accidental compounds as 'kooky' objects with as little pejorative intent as I found in Mathews who defends these items. Hennessey, however, apparently takes the label pejoratively:
I cannot help but agree that the seated-Socrates in question, as a being other than Socrates, is a “‘kooky’ or ‘queer’ object.” And I cannot help but wonder how anyone who rejects universals could be tempted to multiply entities and accept such a “‘kooky’ or ‘queer’ object.”
So before examing the meat of Hennessey's response to me, in a later post, we must first tackle some preliminary matters including the nature of Occam's Razor, its use and abuse, and the role of explanation and explanatory posits in philosophy.
On Brandishing the Razor
I am not historian enough to pronounce upon the relation of what is standardly called Occam's Razor to the writings of the 14th century William of Ockham. The different spellings of his name will serve as a reminder to be careful about reading contemporary concerns into the works of philosophers long dead. Setting aside historical concerns, Occam's Razor is standardly taken to be a principle of theoretical economy or parsimony that states:
OR. Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.
It is sometimes formulated in Latin: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. The principle is presumably to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively, thus:
OR*. Do not multiply TYPES of entity beyond necessity.
Thus it is not individual entities that are not to be multiplied, but types or kinds or categories of entity. To illustrate. Some criticized David Lewis' extreme modal realism on the ground that it proliferates concreta: there are not only all the actual concreta , there are all those merely possible ones as well. He responded quite plausibly to the proliferation charge by pointing out that the Razor applies to categories of entity, not individual entities, and that category-wise his ontology is sparse indeed.
'Multiply' is a picturesque way of saying posit. (Obviously, there are as many categories of entity as there are, and one cannot cause them to 'multiply.') And let's not forget the crucial qualification: beyond necessity. That means: beyond what is needed for purposes of adequate explanation of the data that are to be explained. Hence:
OR** Do not posit types of entity in excess of what is needed for purposes of explanation.
So the principle enjoins us to refrain from positing more types of entity than we need to explain the phenomena that need to be explained. It is obvious that (OR**) does not tell us to prefer theory T1 over theory T2 if T1 posits fewer types of entity than T2. What it tells us is to prefer T1 over T2 if T1 posits fewer types of entity AND accounts adequately for all the data. So there is a trade-off between positing and accounting.
Our old pal Ed over at Beyond Necessity often seems to be unaware of this. He seems to think that simply brandishing the Razor suffices to refute a theory. Together with this he sometimes displays a tendency to think that whole categories of entity can be as it were shamed out of existence by labeling them 'queer.' I picked up that word from him. A nice, arch, donnish epithet. But that is just name-calling, a shabby tactic best left to the ideologues.
Hennessey is perhaps not guilty of any name-calling or entity-shaming but I note that he too seems to think that merely waving the Razor about suffices as a technique of refutation. One piece of evidence is the quotation above where he states in effect that to posit accidental compounds such as seated-Socrates is to multiply entities. But this is to ignore the crucial question whether there is any need for the positing.
What is offensive about Razor brandishing is the apparent ignorance on the part of some brandishers of the fact that we all agree that one ought not posit types of entity in excess of the needs of explanation. What we don't agree on, however, is whether or not a given class of entities is needed for explanatory purposes. That is where the interesting questions and the real disagreements lie.
Hennessey eschews universals in the theory of predication, and elsewhere. Fine. But he cannot justify that eschewal solely on the basis of Occam's Razor which is a purely methodological principle. In other words, the Razor does not dictate any particular ontology. Taken as such, and apart from its association with the nominalist Ockham, it does not favor nominalism (the view that everything is a particular) over realism (the view that there are both particulars and universals). It does not favor any ontology over any other.
Nor does it rule out so-called 'abstract objects' such as Fregean propositions. I gave an argument a while back (1 August 2010 to be precise) to the conclusion that there cannot, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, be nothing at all, that there must be at least one abstract object, a proposition. Hennessey commented on that post, Thinking about Nothing, and made the objection that I was multipying entities. But again, the salient question is whether the entity-positing is necessary for explanatory purposes. If my argument was a good one, then it was. One cannot refute such an argument simply by claiming that it introduces a type of entity that is less familiar than one's favorite types.
To sum up. Philosophy is in large part, though not entirely, an explanatory enterprise. As such it ought to proceed according to the methodological principle formulated above as (OR**). This principle is not controversial. Hence it should not be presented to one's opponents as if it were controversial and denied by them. Nor is it a principle that takes sides on the substantive questions of ontology. Thus the following argument which is suggested by Hennessey's remarks is invalid:
1. OR** 2. Accidental compounds are a category of particular distinct from both substances and accidents. Ergo 3. There are no accidental compounds.
Non sequitur! He needs a premise to the effect that the positing of accidental compounds is otiose since the explanatory job can be adequately done without them. He needs such a premise, and of course he needs to defend it.
What I am objecting to is the idea is that by earnest asseverations of a wholly uncontroversial methodological principle one actually advances the substantive debate.