The reality of rational inference
VI. The Reality of Rational Inference
The argument from reason focuses on cases where we infer one proposition from another proposition. I will not deny that there are other ways of acquiring true and justified beliefs. Many have argued that, for example, I can have a justified belief that my eyeglasses are here on my computer table without drawing any inferences at all, but rather, just by perceiving my glasses. I should add that this “direct realist” view of perception is by no means universal amongst philosophers; there are many who maintain that what we are directly aware of are “sense data” and that we infer physical objects from sense data. The reason this entire issue can be sidestepped for the sake of this discussion is that an “error theory” concerning rational inference leads inevitably to skepticism about some beliefs that naturalists cannot give up.
Naturalists maintain, of course, that what is real are the sorts of things that lend themselves to scientific analysis, but they also cannot escape believing that there are scientists and mathematicians whose minds are capable of performing those scientific analyses. Consider, for example, a doctrine I call “hyper-Freudianism,” the view that all beliefs are the product on unconscious drives, and that no one believes anything they believe for the reasons that they think they believe it. An atheist could say of the theist “You think you believe in God because of the arguments of Christian apologists, but you really believe it because you are searching for a cosmic father figure to calm your fears.” Or, a theist can say “You think you are an atheist because of the evidence of evolution and the problem of evil, but I know that you just want to kill your father. But this, of course, can be pushed still further to include all beliefs. But that’s just the trouble, if it is pushed that far, then it has to be extended to the belief in hyper-Freudianism itself. If someone tries to present evidence for hyper-Freudianism, they are doing something that can only be done if hyper-Freudianism is false.
Consider the classic syllogism:
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
If it is a consequence of naturalism that nothing like this ever happens, that no one ever draws these types of conclusions from premises, then naturalism is in a lot of trouble. Consider, for example, the role of mathematics in science. Mathematical inferences were critical in making it possible for Newton to discover gravity and Einstein to discover relativity. If we believe that natural science gets the truth about the world, then we must not deny that mathematical inferences exist. If we are persuaded that the argument from evil is a good argument against theism, then we must not accept a position that entails that no one is ever persuaded by an argument.
In my previous treatment of the argument from reason, I presented nine presuppositions of rational inference.
1. States of mind have a relation to the world we call intentionality, or about-ness.
2. Thoughts and beliefs can be either true or false.
3. Human can be in the condition of accepting, rejecting, or suspending belief about propositions.
4. Logical laws exist.
5. Human beings are capable of apprehending logical laws.
6. The state of accepting the truth of a proposition plays a crucial causal role in the production of other beliefs, and the propositional content of mental states is relevant to the playing of this causal role.
7. The apprehension of logical laws plays a causal role in the acceptance of the conclusion of the argument as true.
8. The same individual entertains thoughts of the premises and then draws the conclusion.
9. Our processes of reasoning provide us with a systematically reliable way of understanding the world around us.
It seems to me that naturalists and theists can agree that these things actually occur. Naturalists can't afford to deny them. They must, therefore, try to explain them, and to show that their understanding is the best explanation of the data.
Labels: The Argument from Reason