Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Argument from Mental Causation

The Argument from Mental Causation
The third of my arguments is the Argument from Mental Causation. If naturalism is true, even if there are propositional states like beliefs, then these states have to be epiphenomenal, without a causal role. Now careful reflection on rational inference, if we think about it, commits us to the idea that one mental event causes another mental event in virtue of its propositional content.
Now if events are caused in accordance with physical law, they cause one another in virtue of being a particular type of event. A ball breaks a window in
virtue of being the weight, density, and shape that it is in relation to the physical structure of the window. Even if it is the baseball that Luis Gonzalez hit against Mariano Rivera that won the 2001 World Series, its being that ball has nothing to do with whether or not it can break the window now.
So let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts. If anything not in space and time makes these thoughts the thoughts that they are, and if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. Only that property of the brain can be relevant to what the brain does, according to a naturalistic account of causation.
What this means is that those forms of substance materialism that accept property dualism invariably render the “mental” properties epiphenomenal. If the physical properties are sufficient to produce the physical effect, then the mental properties are irrelevant unless they really are physical properties “writ large,” so to speak. And mental states that are epiphenomenal cannot participate in rational inference.
Carrier’s account of mental causation clearly presupposes a reductive, rather than a nonreductive, materialism. He writes:
Every meaningful proposition is the content or output of a virtual model (or rather: actual propositions, of actual models; potential propositions, of potential models). Propositions are formulated in a language as an aid to computation, but when they are not formulated, they merely define the content of a nonlinguistic computation of a virtual model. In either case, a brain computes degrees of confidence in any given proposition, by running its corresponding virtual model and comparing it and its output with observational data, or the output of other computations. 15
Now if Carrier had successfully provided a physicalist reduction of intentional states, so that the intentional characteristics could be in causal connection, then perhaps this part of his argument would work. But since the reduction seems to be unsuccessful, the proposed solution to the problem of mental causation must also be a failure.
But more than that, here again we find Carrier explaining one kind of mental activity in terms of another mental activity and then explaining it “naturalistically” by saying “the brain” does it. My argument is, first and foremost, that something exists whose activities are to be fundamentally explained in intentional and teleological terms. In order for talk about the brain to play its proper role in a physicalistic (non-intentional and non-teleological in the final analysis) analysis of mental events, we have to be sure that we are describing a brain that is mechanistic and part of a causally closed physical world. What I wrote in response to Keith Parsons in Philosophia Christi applies here as well: (Parsons had argued that we could simply take all the characteristics that I wanted to attribute to the non-physical mind and attribute them to the brain).
But we should be careful of exactly what is meant by the term “brain.” The “brain” is supposed to be “physical,” and we also have to be careful about what we mean by “physical.” If by physical we mean that it occupies space, then there is nothing in my argument that suggests that I need to deny this possibility. I would just prefer to cal the part of the brain that does not function mechanistically the soul, since, as I understand it, there is more packed into the notion of the physical than just the occupation of space. If on the other hand, for something to be physical (hence part of the brain) it has to function mechanistically, that is, intentional an teleological considerations cannot be basic explanations for the activity of the brain, then Parsons’ suggestion (and Carrier’s as well-VR) is incoherent.16
I think that a many people fail to see the difficulties posed by the arguments from reason because they think they can just engage in some brain-talk (well, the brain does this, the brain does that, etc.) and call that good. I call that the Mr. Brain fallacy. The question should always be, “If we view the brain as a mechanistic system in the full sense, does it make sense to attribute this characteristic to the brain?” Otherwise, I am inclined to say in response, “Interesting fellow Mr. Brain. Remarkable what he can do.” Using brain-talk doesn’t mean that the work of physicalistic analysis has really been done.
15 Carrier, op. cit.
16 Victor Reppert, Causal Closure, Mechanism, and Rational Inference (Philosophia Christi, Series 2, vol. 3. no. 2)

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Carrier on Intentionality

This is a redated post on Carrier on intentionality

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Carrier on The Argument from Intentionality
This is a version of part of the paper I presented in England. I am bumping it up to today to help understand some of the intentionality issues we have been discussing.

I. The Argument from Intentionality
The first of the arguments that I presented is the Argument from Intentionality. Physical states have physical characteristics, but how can it be a characteristic of, say, some physical state of my brain, that it is about dogs Boots and Frisky, or about my late Uncle Stanley, or even about the number 2. Can’t we describe my brain, and its activities, without having any clue as to what my thoughts are about?
To consider this question, let us give a more detailed account of what intentionality is. Angus Menuge offers the following definition:
1) The representations are about something
2) They characterize the thing in a certain way
3) What they are about need not exist
4) Where reference succeeds, the content may be false
5) The content defines an intensional context in which the substitution of equivalents typically fails
So, if I believe that Boots and Frisky are in the back yard, this belief has to be about those dogs, I must have some characterization of those dogs in mind that identifies them for me, my thoughts can be about them even if, unbeknownst to me, they have just died, my reference two those two dogs can succeed even if they have found their way into the house, and someone can believe that Boots and Frisky are in the back yard without believing that “the Repperts’ 13 year old beagle” and “the Repperts’ 8 year old mutt” are in the back yard.
It is important to draw a further distinction, a distinction between original intentionality, which is intrinsic to the person possessing the intentional state, and derived or borrowed intentionality, which is found in maps, words, or computers. Maps, for example, have the meaning that they have, not in themselves, but in relation to other things that possess original intentionality, such as human persons. There can be no question that physical systems possess derived intentionality. But if they possess derived intentionality in virtue of other things that may or may not be physical systems, this does not really solve the materialist’s problem.
The problem facing a physicalist account of intentionality is presented very forcefully by John Searle:
Any attempt to reduce intentionality to something nonmental will always fail because it leaves out intentionality. Suppose for example that you had a perfect causal account of the belief that water is wet. This account is given by stating the set of causal relations in which a system stands to water and to wetness and these relations are entirely specified without any mental component. The problem is obvious: a system could have all those relations and still not believe that water is wet. This is just an extension of the Chinese Room argument, but the moral it points to is general: You cannot reduce intentional content (or pains, or "qualia") to something else, because if you did they would be something else, and it is not something else." (Searle, Rediscovery p. 51).
Admittedly, this is merely an assertion of something that needs to be brought out with further analysis. It seems to me that intentionality, as I understand it, requires consciousness. There are systems that behave in ways such that, in order to predict their behavior, it behooves us to act as if they were intentional systems. If I am playing chess against a computer, and I am trying to figure out what to expect it to play, then I am probably going to look for the moves it think are good and expect the computer to play those. I act as if the computer were conscious, even though I know that it has no more consciousness than a tin can. Similarly, we can look at the bee dances and describe them in intentional terms; the motions the bees engage in enable the other bees to go where the pollen is, but it does not seem plausible to attribute a conscious awareness of what information is being sent in the course of the bee dance. We can look at the bees as if they were consciously giving one another information, but the intentionality as-if intentionality, not the kind of original intentionality we find in conscious agents. As Colin McGinn writes:

I doubt that the self-same kind of content possessed by a conscious perceptual experience, say, could be possessed independently of consciousness; such content seems essentially conscious, shot through with subjectivity. This is because of the Janus- faced character of conscious content: it involves presence to the subject, and hence a subjective point of view. Remove the inward-looking face and you remove something integral—what the world seems like to the subject.If we ask what the content of a word is, the content of that word must be the content for
some conscious agent; how that conscious agent understands the word. There may be other concepts of content, but those concepts, it seems to me, are parasitical on the concept of content that I use in referring to states of mind found in a conscious agent. Put another way, my paradigm for understanding these concepts is my life as a conscious agent. If we make these words refer to something that occurs without consciousness, it seems that we are using the by way of analogy with their use in connection with our conscious life.

The intentionality that I am immediately familiar with is my own intentional states. That's the only template, the only paradigm I have. I wouldn't say that animals are not conscious, and if I found good evidence that animals could reason it would not undermine my argument, since I've never been a materialist about animals to begin with. Creatures other than myself could have intentional states, and no doubt do have them, if the evidence suggests that what it is like to be in the intentional state they are in is similar to what it is like to be in the intentional state that I am in.

In reading Carrier’s critique of my book we find, in his response to the argument from intentionality, terms being used that make sense to me from the point of view of my life as a conscious subject, but I am not at all sure what to make of them when we start thinking of them as elements in the life of something that is not conscious. His main definition of “aboutness” is this:
Cognitive science has established that the brain is a computer that constructs and runs virtual models. All conscious states of mind consist of or connect with one or more virtual models. The relation these virtual models have to the world is that of corresponding or not corresponding to actual systems in the world. Intentionality is an assignment (verbal or attentional) of a relation between the virtual models and the (hypothesized) real systems. Assignment of relation is a decision (conscious or not), and such decisions, as well as virtual models and actual systems, and patterns of correspondence between them, all can and do exist on naturalism, yet these four things are all that are needed for Proposition 1 to be true.
Or consider the following:
Returning to my earlier definition of aboutness, as long as we can know that "element A of model B is hypothesized to correspond to real item C in the universe" we have intentionality, we have a thought that is about a thing.
Because the verbal link that alone completely establishes aboutness--the fact of being "hypothesized"--is something that many purely mechanical computers do.
Or again
Language is a tool--it is a convention invented by humans. Reality does not tell us what a word means. We decide what aspects of reality a word will refer to. Emphasis here: we decide. We create the meaning for words however we want. The universe has nothing to do with it--except in the trivial sense that we (as computational machines) are a part of the universe.
Now simply consider the words, hypothesize and decide that he uses in these passages. I think I know what it means to decide something as a conscious agent. I am aware of choice 1 and choice 2, I deliberate about it, and then consciously choose 1 as opposed to 2, or vice versa. All of this requires that I be a conscious agent who knows what my thoughts are about. That is why I have been rather puzzled by Carrier’s explaining intentionality in terms like these; such terms mean something to me only if we know what our thoughts are about. The same thing goes for hypothesizing. I can form a hypothesis (such as, all the houses in this subdivision were built by the same builder) just in case I know what the terms of the hypothesis mean, in other words, only if I already possess intentionality. That is what these terms mean to me, and unless I’m really confused, this is what those terms mean to most people.
Again, we have to take a look at the idea of a model. What is a model? A model is something that is supposed to resemble something else. But if we explain “X is about Y” at least partially in terms of “X is a model for Y,” I really don’t think we’ve gotten anywhere. How can X be a model for Y if it isn’t about Y in the first place.

Nevertheless we may be able to work though the critique and find how he proposes to naturalize the concepts.
Material state A is about material state B just in case “this system contains a pattern corresponding to a pattern in that system, in such a way that computations performed on this system are believed to match and predict behavior in that system.”
In correspondence with me Carrier said this:
As I explain in my critique, science already has a good explanation on hand for attentionality (how our brain focuses attention on one object over others). Combine that with a belief (a sensation of motivational confidence) that the object B that we have our attention on will behave as our model A predicts it will, and we have every element of intentionality.
But I am afraid I don’t see that this naturalization works. My objection to this is that in order for confidence to play the role it needs to play in Carrier's account of intentionality that confidence has to be a confidence that I have an accurate map, but confidence that P is true is a propositional attitude, which presupposes intentionality. In other words, Carrier is trying to bake an intentional cake with physical yeast and flour. But when the ingredients are examined closely, we find that some intentional ingredients have been smuggled in through the back door.

Here is another illustration:
The fact that one thought is about another thought (or thing) reduces to this (summarizing what I have argued several times above already): (a) there is a physical pattern in our brain of synaptic connections physically binding together every datum about the object of thought (let's say, Madell's "Uncle George"), (b) including a whole array of sensory memories, desires, emotions, other thoughts, and so on, (c) which our brain has calculated (by various computational strategies) are relevant to (they describe or relate to) that object (Uncle George), (d) which of course means a hypothesized object (we will never really know directly that there even is an Uncle George: we only hypothesize his existence based on an analysis, conscious and subconscious, of a large array of data), and (e) when our cerebral cortex detects this physical pattern as obtaining between two pieces of data (like the synaptic region that identifies Uncle George's face and that which generates our evidentially-based hypothesis that the entity with that face lives down the street), we "feel" the connection as an "aboutness" (just as when certain photons hit our eyes and electrical signals are sent to our brain we "feel" the impact as a "greenness").
Now did you notice the word “about” in step A of Carrier’s account of intentionality? If there is something in the brain that binds together everything about Uncle George, and that is supposed to explain how my thought can be about Uncle George, then it seems pretty clear to me that we are explaining intentionality in terms of intentionality.

What I think the deepest problem is in assigning intentionality to physical systems is that when we do that norms of rationality are applied when we determine what intentional states exist, but normative truths are not entailed by physical facts. In the realm of ethics, add up all the physical, chemical, biological, psychological, and sociological facts about a murder for hire, and nothing in that description will entail that it was a wrongful act. Similarly, scientific information about what is will not tell you what an agent ought to believe, but we need to know what an agent ought to believe in order to figure out what he or she does believe. According to Searle, for example, intentionality cannot be found in natural selection, because “intentional standards are inherently normative,” but “there is nothing normative about Darwinian evolution.” So any attempt to naturalize intentionality will end up bringing intentionality in through the back door, just as Carrier’s account does. When you encounter a new or unfamiliar attempt to account for intentionality naturalistically, look it over very carefully, and you should be able to find our where the bodies are buried.
posted by Victor Reppert @ 3:56 PM

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Another look at that controversial paragraph in Lewis

Talking about the evolutionary explanation of reason, Lewis wrote:

But the very attempt is absurd. This is best seen if we consider the humblest and almost the most despairing form in which it could be made. The Naturalist might say, 'Well, perhaps we cannot exactly see--not yet--how natural selection would turn sub-rational mental behaviour into inferences that reach truth. But we are certain that this in fact has happened. For natural selection is bound to preserve and increase useful behaviour. And we also find that our habits of inference are in fact useful. And if they are useful they must reach truth'. But notice what we are doing. Inference itself is on trial: that is, the Naturalist has given an account of what we thought to be our inferences which suggests that they are not real insights at all. We, and he, want to be reassured. And the reassurance turns out to be one more inference (if useful, then true)--as if this inference were not, once we accept his evolutionary picture, [33] under the same suspicion as all the rest. If the value of our reasoning is in doubt, you cannot try to establish it by reasoning. If, as I said above, a proof that there are no proofs is nonsensical, so is a proof that there are proofs. Reason is our starting point. There can be no question either of attacking or defending it. If by treating it as a mere phenomenon you put yourself outside it, there is then no way, except by begging the question, of getting inside again.

Look at the last sentence. It seems that this is a Thomas Nagel point that thought cannot be understood from the outside, that apart from the perspective of "what it is like to be" a reasoner. (See ch. 2 of The Last Word: Why Can't Understand Thought from the Outside). The doubt arises because in giving a naturalistic account we invariably look at it as opposed to along it; we view it from a third person rather than a first-person perspective.

Read in this way, I think this makes Lewis's point to be something that isn't just a crass error.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hasker on externalism on ham-fisted empiricism

A final escape route for the physicalism might be the adoption of a thoroughly externalist view of justification. What determines the justification of a belief, on this view, is not internal cognitive processes such as were described above, but rather one simple question: was the belief produced by a a reliable belief-forming process? If it was, then no further questions about justification--those asked by the Argument from Reason--need be asked.

It is of course true that a belief, in order to be justified, needs to have been formed and sustained by a reliable epistemic practice. But in the case of rational inference, what is this practice supposed to be? The reader is referred, once again, to the description of a reasoning process given a few paragraphs back. Is this not, in fact, a reasonably accurate description of rational inference and assessment? It is, furthermore, a description which enables us to understand why in may cases the practice is highly reliable--and why the reliability varies considerably depending on the specific character of the inference drawn and also on the logical capacities of the epistemic subject. And, on the other hand, isn't it a severe distortion of our actual process of reasoning as taking place in a "black box," as the externalist view in effect invites us to do? Epistemological externalism has its greatest plausibility in cases where the warrant of our beliefs depends crucially on matters not accessible to reflection--for instance, on the proper functioning of our sensory capacities. Rational inference, in contrast, is the paradigmatic example of a situation in which the factors relevant to warrant are accessible to reflection; for this reason, examples based on rational insight have always formed the prime examples for internalist epistemologies.

There is also the question for the thoroughgoing externalist: How are we supposed to satisfy ourselves as to which of our inferential processes are reliable? By hypothesis, we are precluded from appealing to rational insight to validate our conclusions about this. One might say we have learned to distinguish good reasoning from bad by noticing that good inference-patterns give rise to true conclusions, while bad inference-patterns give rise to falsehood....But this sort of "logical empiricism" is at best a very crude method for assessing the goodness of arguments. There are plenty of invalid arguments with true conclusions, and plenty of valid arguments with false conclusions. There are even good inductive arguments with all true premises in which the conclusions are false. These are just the sort of distinctions which the science of logic exists to help us with; basing this science o n the kind of ham-fisted empiricism described above is a hopeless enterprise.

William Hasker The Emergent Self (Cornell, 1999) pp. 73-5

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Christian quasi-naturalism and the argument from reason

There is an important and key difference between what I might call Christian quasi-naturalism (Van Till style functional integrity, etc.) and naturalism per se, and it is that for naturalism per se the physical is not only closed after creation but also the initial conditions are design-free, while for CQN (the position, I take it, that people like Weekend Fisher are trying to defend, as well as Christian materialists in the philosophy of mind like Nancey Murphy) at least the initial conditions are designed. Now there are a couple of different ways of looking at these initial conditions. We might think, on the one hand, that these not only were designed, but that they show evidence of design (and therefore accept some version of the fine-tuning argument) or we might say that while we believe them to have been designed, we might think that God did it in such a way as not to leave fingerprints that science can discover, and so we might accept the idea that even though we think those initial condition are there by design, it is just as reasonable to suppose that they are what they are as a result of, say, our happening to be in a universe that supports life because all of them really exist, and we happen to be in a life-permitting one and not a life-hostile one (big surprise there). People committed to CQN must believe that the universe as it began is the result of design, the question is whether this can be made evident to science or not. Now it looks like there are some versions of the argument from reason that, if they work, require something more than just a designed beginning. For example, if our knowing necessary truths requires causal interaction with eternal realities, this is going to undermine the causal closure of the physical, since the physical realm is a temporal and not an eternal realm. So if that argument works, it's an argument against CQN as well as naturalism. But do all the arguments require this? Are any of the arguments from reason arguments against naturalism but not against Christian quasi-naturalism?


Friday, February 16, 2007

Here's another post on defining materialism

Posts on defining naturalism

These are the posts I have done on defining naturalism.


Reply to Weekend Fisher

Hi there

I'm an occasional reader finding my way here through CADRE Comments, with an interest in the "Dangerous Idea" to a greater degree and the Lewis/Anscombe debate to a lesser degree, only as it relates to the larger question.

I have to say that, on review of the argument, I disagree with Lewis about whether a naturalistic universe necessarily leads to a distrust of mind.

I'm not what you would call a naturalist, more what you would call a Christian with a high view of material creation.

I was wondering if I could ask you one thing: if you had to state succintly the strongest version of that argument that you knew, if you were trying to show me logically that logic itself or reason itself falls apart in a naturalistic world, what would you say? What would be your opening move?

Are you interested in exchanging posts to explore a little more? I'm interested in hammering out the argument to see where it goes.

Take care & God bless

There is a first step in the argument, which is getting a definition of a naturalistic world-view, the proper target for the argument. I have a definition for a naturalistic world-view: A naturalistic world-view has there characteristic:

1) At the level of the most fundamental particles, the universe is free of purpose, free of normativity, free of intentionality (aboutness) and fully describable from a third-person perspective. In short, there is a "physical" level which is complete mechanistic, not in the sense of being deterministic, but in the sense of being purposeless.

2) That level is causally closed. There is nothing at any other level of analysis the provides an independent cause of events over and above the physical level.

3) Whatever else exists supervenes on the physical. Given the state of they physical, every other level (chemical, biological, psychological, sociological), must be the way that it is.

Now the first thing I want to ask is that if the "naturalism" you have in mind to defend meets this description, or not?

I'm not sure I want to talk about distrusting reason. I vastly prefer Best Explanation versions of the Argument from Reason as opposed to Skeptical Threat arguments. There is reason, the question is whether the kind of universe I just described can explain it. (No skyhooks allowed, just cranes).


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On the Lewis-Anscombe Controversy

Why did the exchange with Anscombe upset C. S. Lewis?

This is a follow-up on the post I did a couple of weeks back on the impact of the Anscombe exchange on Lewis. On the one hand we do have Lewis in various communications expressing discouragement about his debating experience with Anscombe, and also a certain amount of avoiding of apologetic controversy after that. And we even have some comments to the effect that he had been proven wrong at least reported by people like Sayer.

At the same time there is clear and overwhelming evidence that Lewis, at least from fairly early on after the exchange with Anscombe, did not consider his argument refuted. Of course there is the 1960 revision of the relevant chapter, in which he expanded the relevant chapter. It makes no sense to expand the very chapter of one's book which is thought to have been disproved.

But more importantly, Lewis's own response printed in the Socratic Digest later that year showed that he didn't think the argument itself refuted. He wrote:

I admit that valid was a bad for what I meant; veridical (or verific or veriferous) would have been better. I also admit that the cause and effect relation between events and the ground and consequent relation between propositions are distinct. Since English uses the word because for both, let us use Because CE for the cause and effect relation ('This doll always falls on its feet because CE its feet are weighted') and Because GC for the ground and consequent relation ('A equals C because GC they both equal B'). But the sharper this distinction becomes the more my difficulty increases. If an argument is to be verific it must be related to the premises as consequent to ground, i.e. the conclusion is there because GC certain other propositions are true. On the other, our thinking the conclusion is an event that must be related to previous events as effect to cause, i. e. this act of thinking must occur because CE previous events have occurred. It would seem, therefore, that we never think the conclusion because GC it is the consequent of its grounds, but only because CE previous events have happened. If so, it does not seem that the GC sequence makes us more likely to think the true conclusion than not. And this is very much what I mean by the difficulty in Naturalism.

The red-lettered passage suggests that Lewis actually thought that when you draw the Anscombe-type distinctions more sharply, you actually get more trouble for naturalism, not less. Although it would have seemed to the outside observers of the debate that Anscombe helped the naturalist defend naturalism against Lewis's attacks, what Lewis is saying that she did was actually provide ammunition for the case against naturalism.

Lewis also seems to concede some points to Anscombe that I am not sure he really should. For example, valid is a term that has more than one sense. In logic a valid argument is one that is structured in such a way that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true, but it also can be used to refer to reliability or legitimacy. Anscombe objects to the use of the term irrational causes to refer to non-rational causes, but actually in The Abolition of Man Lewis distinguishes between two senses of irrational; he writes: "It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational." In a previous post I looked up a dictionary and found that Lewis could not be faulted by the way he used "irrational" in the first edition.

The philosophical upshot of the exchange with Anscombe, as Lewis saw it, was that the argument surely needed some cleaning up, but after that cleaning up the argument was, if anything, in better shape than it was before Anscombe criticized it. Given all this, it is amazing to me that Lewis would have given so many signals to other people suggesting that this exchange was some kind of huge defeat for him. I have a distinct impression that there are parts of this story that are below the surface, maybe that we will never fully understand.

I have created a link to a search of my blog for "Anscombe," so that you can see my reflections on that controversy that I have put up here. See also the discussion by Ed Cook on the exchange.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Depoe on Internalism and the AFR

This is in response to Depoe's recent blog post on the AFR.

I don't have Hasker's book with me at the moment, but Hasker does say that a thoroughgoing externalism would be incompatible with his version of the AFR. Though on my multi-track model Plantinga's argument would be a way to get the argument going if you were an externalist.

Still, the argument is not about general theories of epistemic justification, but is rather about the fact when an atheist uses the argument from evil, or a scientist uses a mathematical equation to support a thesis in math, in order for it to be what the arguer from evil says it is, or in order for it to be the kind of mathematical inference the scientist says it is, there has to be an understanding of the propositions, a perception of a logical rule, and the reaching of the conclusion through a process of inference, the perception of what Lewis calls a ground-consequent relationship. Simply having a "black-box" reliable belief-producing mechanism is not enough to make these processes "as advertised." Internalists are good at these kinds of inferences. What they are not so good at are cases like, well, Steven Nash knowing when to pass the ball to Shawn Marion to get a dunk against the Spurs. :)

I'm not sure I have a general theory of epistemic justification that covers all cases. But reliabilism doesn't cut the mustard in the cases of scientific and philosophical inference. Link


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Inquiry from Johnny-Dee on the AFR

Johnny-Dee wrote: Hey Vic, I'm currently taking a grad seminar on Descartes, and I've been grappling with the "problem of the circle." This has led me to consider whether AFR arguments have a similar circularity. For Descartes, the circle goes something like this:(1) I am certain that God exists only because I am certain of whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive.(2) I am certain of whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive only because God exists.How do AFR arguments avoid a similar problem of circularity. Of course, the AFR circle (if one exists) would be different, perhaps it would go something like this:(1*) I am justified in believing my cognitive faculties function rationally only because God exists.(2*) I am justified in believing God exists only because my cognitive faculties function rationally.With all of this stuff on Descartes, this gave me a perfect opportunity to raise this question, which I've been meaning to ask you.An excellent question, and one that I have come to terms with in my own work. I think I handle this issue better in my essay, “The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues,” from Christian Scholar’s Review in 1989 than I do in my book. Or at least I shortened the discussion when I wrote my book. I cover it on pp. 58-60 of CSLDI. It has to do with the distinction between Skeptical Threat Arguments and Best Explanation Arguments. The idea is this: If we begin by raising skeptical questions about reasoning and argue from there to the conclusion that theism can refute skepticism but atheistic views cannot, then we run into trouble. If we, for example, raise skeptical questions about whether the law of noncontradiction is really a sound logical principle, and then we argue that if there is a God then God’s agency can justify the status of the principle of noncontradiction, then all we have to do is look at the fact that we are presenting an argument that is at the same time using the law on noncontradiction to see that we are caught in a circle. A Best Explanation argument takes it as a fact that we do reach truths through inferences. Only if our opponent, say an eliminative materialist, says “Well, of course, there’s no such thing as rational inference, but so what,” then we point out the disastrous epistemological consequences of denying that there are rational inferences. The AFR as I construe it does not justify our confidence in rational inference with an appeal to anti-materialist metaphysics. What it does is insist that both sides in the dispute agree that there is rational inference, but while one side is trying to explain the rational in terms of the non-rational, our side is not. So I would never answer the question “Why do you believe that modus ponens is good logic?” by saying that God has created me and therefore that belief is true. If, on the other hand, I am asked why I think I am able to recognize that modus ponens is good logic, then I might give a theistic explanation at that point. Steve Lovell's account in the linked paper on naturalism is very helpful as well. Johnny-Dee's comment is here.

A redated post. Click on the link for some comments.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Darek Barefoot responds


Lewis's philosophical instincts were good. He didn't develop his thought adequately in this case, but I think he sensed a genuine incoherence problem. I will admit that I have struggled with it mightily.

The key to the argument is that it pertains to naturalistic assumptions that occur epistemologically prior to speculations about the relationship between true beliefs and advantageous ones. Any natural account of reason begins with the assumption of processes that have no inherent sensitivity to truth; specifically, truth cannot be seen as the goal of the great sequence of chemical reactions that constitute evolution. If we stipulate beforehand that we owe our beliefs exclusively to processes that have no teleological dimension, then whether we realize it or not we are left to bootstrap ourselves up to coginitive reliability when it comes to our thoughts about the relationship between natural processes and truth.

Natural selection, specifically, can be sensitive to truth only indirectly. Where beliefs are concerned nature's imperative is their advantageousness in the struggle for survival. The natural perspective must put advantageousness before truth in evaluating human cognition, and therein lies the snag.

To illustrate, suppose that our only way to detect fire was by the smoke that usually accompanies it. Our only fire detector in that case would be a smoke detector. But while a smoke detector might keep us away from fire, it would be nonsensical to try to use a smoke detector alone to discover or verify that smoke usually accompanies fire. In fact, if our sole means of detecting fire were smoke, it is hard to imagine how we could know about fire. To know that smoke comes from fire, we must have some means of detecting fire other than simply by the smoke it produces.

If natural selection is the sole architect of human cognition, the brain is a detector of advantageous behavioral options. Our beliefs are screened only for their contribution to survival. The overlap between advantageous beliefs and true beliefs would be like the overlap between smoke and fire. The only thing we can know about our beliefs, given this account, is that they are advantageous. To know that advantageousness and truth usually go together when it comes to beliefs, we would have to have some means of distinguishing between advantageousness and truth. And that, in turn, would require the ability to detect the two values separately, just as with fire and smoke.

In fact, without the ability to distinguish truth we could not even know that our beliefs were advantageous, since that itself requires truth-detecting ability. The account based on natural selection alone reduces to a purely behavioral theory excluding knowledge of any kind. To make room for our knowledge--of natural selection or anything else--we have to bring in a non-naturalistic source of human reason.

Victor, you proposed the counter-example of supernatural beings who planted thoughts in our minds. But for such an example to be comparable to natural selection, you would have to propose that such beings not only plant thoughts in our minds but that they do so without any conscious regard for the truth or falsehood of the thoughts they are planting. Given those conditions it would indeed be incoherent to speculate that some blind mechanism happens to be aligning the planted thoughts with genuine reason. To know such an alignment could occur we would have to know genuine reason first-hand.

The argument against natural selection as the architect of reason is not a skeptical threat for the same reason that the liar's paradox is not a skeptical threat. If a speaker says to a listener, "I never tell the truth," it is not grounds for either party to conclude that the speaker never tells the truth. It is grounds for both parties to conclude that the speaker has not expresssed himself coherently. The speaker in the present case is naturalism, and to be taken seriously naturalism at a minimum must pass the test of coherence.