Monday, September 17, 2007

The argument from objective cognitive values

This is another version of the argument from reason which occurs to me.

1. Probably, if naturalism is true, there are no objective epistemic values.
2. There are objective epistemic values.
3. Therefore, probably, naturalism is false.

The idea here is that there is a problem in the area of cognitive values similar to the problem of moral values. Only, in the case of moral values, a subjectivist response seems plausible. In the case of cognitive values, a subjectivist response doesn't seem available.

Thomas Nagel wrote:

Reason, if there is such a thing, can serve as a court of appeal not only against the received opinions and habits of our community, but also against the peculiarities of our personal perspective. It is something each individual can find within himself, but at the same time has universal authority. Reason provides, mysteriously, a way of distancing oneself from common opinion and received practices that is not a mere elevation of individuality—not a determination to express one’s idiosyncratic self rather than go along with everyone else. Whoever appeals to reason purports to discover a source of authority within himself that is not merely personal, societal, but universal, and that should persuade others who are willing to listen to it.

Consider this statement, from the Talkorigins website.

Science is wedded, at least in principle, to the evidence. Creationism is unabashedly wedded to doctrine, as evidenced by the statements of belief required by various creationist organizations and the professions of faith made by individual creationists. Because creationism is first and foremost a matter of Biblical faith, evidence from the natural world can only be of secondary importance. Authoritarian systems like creationism tend to instill in their adherents a peculiar view of truth.

Now this is not something that someone can say who is a subjectivist about epistemic value. If some social group, such as a creationist organization, says that their goal is to reconcile whatever scientific evidence there is to the Word of God, and that is considered a worthwhile goal in that society (as it most certainly is), then all ground for complaining about it is removed. All you can say is "This language game is played."

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8 Comments:

At 9/17/2007 02:20:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

It seems every argument against naturalism you see is a reformulation of the argument from reason. :p

 
At 9/17/2007 05:45:00 PM , Blogger mattghg said...

I assume the naturalist will want to deny 1) rather than 2)...

 
At 9/18/2007 09:10:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

That's the idea--when objective moral values are in questions, the naturalist response is very often to deny that they exist. Here, they normally go reconciliationist.

 
At 9/18/2007 02:36:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

You are forgetting step zero.

0. Assume some shared, rational subclass of epistemic values which enable us all to process and make sense of this syllogism.

(1) is unchanged.

(2) is false, and should be replaced with:

2. There are shared assumptions about epistemic values.

And, of course, (3) doesn't follow.

But let's play this same game for supernaturalism. What makes epistemic values objective under supernaturalism? Assumption?

If you're going to assume (for free) that epistemic values are objective under supernaturalism, why shouldn't we do the same under naturalism (for free)?

Personally, I don't think the assumption is remotely sensible for either naturalism or supernaturalism. Epistemic values are intersubjective, not objective.

Here's a simple proof. You cannot even define or know what an epistemic value is, nor evaluate an epistemic value, without referring to an epistemic value.

 
At 9/18/2007 10:44:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

You know some agreed upon epistemic values that are valued cross-culturally? What are they/

 
At 9/19/2007 01:48:00 AM , Blogger mattghg said...

What makes epistemic values objective under supernaturalism?

If we are meant to think in certain ways because out cognitive apparatus exists for a specific purpose, then certain objective values result. It then makes sense to talk about proper and improper use of our minds.

I don't think your 'simple proof' touches objective epistemic values at all. We may go on evaluating epistemic values on the basis of other epistemic values until by regress we reach some value behind which you can't get, like, say, 'We ought to care about what the truth is'.

 
At 9/19/2007 08:57:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

You know some agreed upon epistemic values that are valued cross-culturally?

Not across all cultures, no. But I don't see why that is important.

Rational discourse about philosophy presumes the participants share a common subset of epistemic values. For example, non-contradiction would be one thing such persons value.

So, every syllogism is like a sign that says "If you can read this sign, you are sufficiently close." :)

The persuasiveness of step 2 relies on the shared values of the participants who would not be engaged in the conversation if they did not share those values. I'm saying that we should not mistake shared values for objective ones.

 
At 9/19/2007 09:08:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

mattghg,

We may go on evaluating epistemic values on the basis of other epistemic values until by regress we reach some value behind which you can't get, like, say, 'We ought to care about what the truth is'.

I don't see how you can ever hit bottom.

Epistemic values light the path to knowledge. So you cannot rely on knowledge to light the path to epistemic values.

The same applies to moral values. The moral values tell us what we ought to do, and so we cannot identify what moral values we ought to accept without moral values.

If we are meant to think in certain ways because our cognitive apparatus exists for a specific purpose, then certain objective values result.

How can we know epistemic values are made objective by a moral choice of a creator? Doesn't that presume epistemic values?

Even if my previous points did not work, why is it the case that what our creator wants us to do is what we ought to do? Surely, we can only say that what our creator wants us to do is what our creator prefers we do.

 

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