In Philosophers Who Compartmentalize and Those Who Don't, I drew a distinction between
1. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (defend and rationally justify) an antecedently held thesis or worldview whose source is extraphilosophical
2. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (by generating) a thesis or worldview that is not antecedently held but arrived at by philosophical inquiry.
But we need to nuance this a bit inasmuch as (1) conflates the distinction between
1a. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (defend and rationally justify) an antecedently held thesis or worldview whose source is extraphilosophical, a thesis or worldview that will continue to be maintained whether or not the defensive and justificatory operations are successful
1b. Philosophical inquiry pursued in order to support (defend and rationally justify) an antecedently held thesis or worldview whose source is extraphilosophical, a thesis or worldview that will continue to be maintained only if the defensive and justificatory operations are successful.
Alvin Plantinga may serve as an example of (1a). I think it is fair to say that his commitment to his Dutch Reformed Christian worldview is such that he would continue to adhere to it whether or not his technical philosophical work is judged successful in defending and rationally justifying it. For a classical example of (1a), we may turn to Thomas Aquinas. His commitment to the doctrine of the Incarnation does not depend on the success of his attempt at showing the doctrine to be rationally acceptable. (Don't confuse rational acceptability with rational provability. The Incarnation cannot of course be rationally demonstrated.) Had his amanuensis Reginald convinced him that his defensive strategy in terms of reduplicatives was a non-starter, Thomas would not have suspended his acceptance of the doctrine in question; he would have looked for a defense immune to objections.
There are of course atheists and materialists who also exemplify (1a). Suppose a typical materialist about the mind proffers a theory that attempts to account for qualia and intentionality in purely naturalistic terms, and I succeed in showing him that his theory is untenable. Will he then reject his materialism about the mind or suspend judgment with respect to it? Of course not. He will 'go back to the drawing board' and try to develop a naturalistic theory immune to my objections.
The same thing goes on in the sciences. There are climate scientists who are committed to the thesis that anthropogenic global warming is taking place. They then look for evidence to buttress this conviction.
According to Susan Haack, following C. S. Peirce, the four examples above (which are mine, not hers) are examples of pseudo-inquiry:
The distinguishing feature of genuine inquiry is that what the inquirer wants is to find the truth of some question. [. . .] The distinguishing feature of pseudo-inquiry is that what the 'inquirer' wants is not to discover the truth of some question but to make a case for some proposition determined in advance. (Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 8)
Haack, again following Peirce, distinguishes within pseudo-inquiry sham inquiry and sham reasoning from fake inquiry and fake reasoning. You engage in sham reasoning when you make "a case for the truth of some proposition your commitment to which is already evidence- and argument-proof." (8) Characteristic of the sham 'inquirer' is a "prior and unbudgeable commitment to the proposition for which he tries to make a case." (9)
There are also those who are indifferent to the truth-value of the thesis they urge, but argue for it anyway to make a name for themselves and advance their careers. Their reasoning is not sham but fake. The sham reasoner is committed to the truth of the thesis he urges; the fake reasoner isn't: he is a bullshitter in Harry Frankfurt's sense. I will not be concerned with fake inquiry in this post.
The question I need to decide is, first of all, whether every case of (1a) is sham inquiry. And the answer to that is No. That consciousness exists, for example, is something I know to be true, and indeed from an extraphilosophical source, namely, introspection or inner sense. Those who claim that consciousness is an illusion are frightfully mistaken. I would be within my epistemic rights in simply dismissing their absurd claim as a bit of sophistry. But suppose I give an argument why consciousness cannot be an illusion. Such an argument would not count as sham reasoning despite my mind's being made up before I start my arguing, despite my "prior and unbudgeable commitment to the proposition" for which I argue.
Nothing is more evident that that consciousness, in my own case at least, exists. Consider a somewhat different case, that of other minds, other consciousnesses. Other minds are not given in the way my own mind is given (to me). Yet when I converse with a fellow human being, and succeed in communicating with him more or less satisfactorily, I am unshakably convinced that I am in the presence of an other mind: I KNOW that my interlocutor is an other mind. And in the case of my cats, despite the fact that our communication does not rise to a very high level, I am unbudgingly convinced that they too are subjects of consciousness, other minds. As a philosopher I want to know how it is that I have knowledge of other minds; I seek a justification of my belief in them. Whether I come up with a decent justification or not, I hold fast to my belief. I want to know how knowledge of other minds is possible, but I would never take my inability to demonstrate possibility as entailing that the knowledge in question is not actual. The reasoning I engage in is genuine, not sham, despite the fact that there is no way I am going to abandon my conviction.
Suppose an eliminative materialist claims that there are no beliefs or desires. I might simply dismiss his foolish assertion or I might argue against it. If I do the latter, my reasoning is surely not sham despite my prior and unbudgeable commitment to my thesis.
Suppose David Lewis comes along and asserts that unrealized possibilities are physical objects. I know that that is false. Suppose a student doesn't see right off the bat that the claim is false and demands an argument. I supply one. Is my reasoning sham because there is no chance that I will change my view? I don't think so.
Suppose someone denies the law of noncontradiction . . . .
There is no need to multiply examples: not every case of (1a) is sham inquiry. Those who claim that consciousness is an illusion or that there are no beliefs and desires can, and perhaps ought to be, simply dismissed as sophists or bullshitters. "Never argue with a sophist!" is a good maxim. But deniers of God, the soul, the divinity of Christ, and the like cannot be simply dismissed as sophists or bullshitters.
So now we come to the hard cases, the interesting cases.
Consider the unshakable belief held by some that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) Some of those who have this belief claim to have glimpsed the unseen order via mystical experience. They claim that it lies beyond the senses, outer and inner, and that is also lies beyond what discursive reason can grasp. And yet they reason about it, not to prove its existence, but to show how it, though suprarational, is yet rationally acceptable. Is their reasoning sham because they will hold to their conviction whether or not they succeed in showing that the conviction is rationally acceptable?
I don't think so. Seeing is believing, and mystical experience is a kind of seeing. Why trust abstract reasoning over direct experience? If you found a way out of Plato's Cave, then you know there is a way out, and all the abstract reasoning of all the benighted troglodytes counts for nothing at all in the teeth of that experience of liberation. But rather than pursue a discussion of mystical experience, let's think about (propositional) revelation.
Consider Aquinas again. There are things he thinks he can rationally demonstrate such as the existence of God. And there are things such as the Incarnation he thinks cannot be rationally demonstrated, but can be known to be true on the basis of revelation as mediated by the church's teaching authority. But while not provable (rationally demonstrable), the Incarnation is rationally acceptable. Or so Thomas argues. Is either sort of reasoning sham given that Aquinas would not abandon belief in God or in the Incarnation even if his reasoning in either case was shown to be faulty? Russell would say yes:
There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. (Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, p. 463)
It is easy to see that Haack is a sort of philosophical granddaughter of Russell at least on this point.
In correspondence Dennis Monokroussos points out that "Anthony Kenny had a nice quip in reply to the Russell quotation. On page 2 of his edited work, Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays (London, 1969) (cited in Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 19), he says that the remark “comes oddly from a philosopher who took three hundred and sixty dense pages to offer a proof that 1 + 1 = 2.”
Exactly right. This is yet another proof that not every instance of (1a) above is an instance of sham reasoning or sham inquiry.
It is certainly false to say that, in general, it is unphilosophical or special pleading or an abuse of reason to seek arguments for a proposition antecedently accepted, a proposition the continuing acceptance of which does not depend on whether or not good arguments for it can be produced. But if we are to be charitable to Lord Russell we should read his assertion as restricted to propositions, theological and otherwise, that are manifestly controversial. So restricted, Russell's asseveration cannot be easily counterexampled, which is not to say that it is obviously true.
Thus I cannot simply cite the Incarnation doctrine and announce that we know this from revelation and are justified in accepting it whether or not we are able to show that it is rationally acceptable. For if it really is logically impossible then it cannot be true. If you say that it is actually true, hence possibly true whether or not we can explain how it is possible for it to be true, then you beg the question by assuming that it is actually true despite the opponent's arguments that it is logically contradictory.
It looks to be a stand-off.
One can imagine a Thomist giving the following speech.
My reasoning in defense of the Incarnation and other such doctrines as the Trinity is not sham despite the fact that I am irrevocably committed to these doctrines. It is a question of faith seeking understanding. I am trying to understand what I accept as true, analogously as Russell tried to understand in terms of logic and set theory what he accepted as true in mathematics. I am not trying to decide whether what I accept is true since I know it it to be true via an extraphilosophical source of knowledge. I am trying to understand how it could be true. I am trying to integrate faith with reason in a manner analogous to the way Russell sought to integrate arithmetic and logic. One can reason to find out new truths, but one can also reason, and reason legitimately, to penetrate intellectually truths one already possesses, truths the ongoing acceptance of which does not depend on one's penetrating them intellectually.
What then does the Russell-Haack objection amount to? It appears to amount to a rejection of certain extraphilosophical sources of knowledge/truth such as mystical experience, authority, and revelation. I have shown that Russell and his epigones cannot reject every extraphilosophical source of knowledge, else they would have to reject inner and outer sense. Can they prove that there cannot be any such thing as divine revelation? And if they cannot prove that, then their rejection of the possibility is arbitrary. If they say that any putative divine revelation has to validate itself by our lights, in our terms, to our logic, then that is just to reject divine revelation.
It looks to be a stand-off, then. Russell and his epigones are within their rights to remain within the sphere of immanence and not admit as true or real anything that cannot be certified or validated within that sphere by the satisfaction of the criteria human reason imposes. And their opponents are free to make the opposite decision: to open themselves to a source of insight ab extra.