Wednesday, June 03, 2009

An early statement of Lewis's in response to Russellian Naturalism

In his [Bertrand Russell’s] “Worship of a Free Man” I found a very clear and noble statement of what I myself believed a few years ago. But he does not face the real difficulty -- that our ideals are after all a natural product, facts with a relation to all other facts, and cannot survive the condemnation of the fact as a whole. The Promethean attitude would be tenable only if we were really members of some other whole outside the real whole: wh[ich] we’re not. (Saturday, 5 January, 1924; before he was a Christian)

The idea is that if you say the universe is bad, and the universe produced you and the very thought that the universe is bad, isn't your thought tainted at the source?

The link is to Jim Slagle's blog.

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13 Comments:

At 6/06/2009 05:51:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

What naturalist would accept that the universe is bad?

 
At 6/06/2009 11:27:00 AM , Blogger Hiero5ant said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw the phrase "survive the condemnation of the fact as a whole" and wondered whether it meant anything at all.

As far as I can see, it's an expression of a general emotive attitude that New-Agers and fundamentalists and wishy-washy theistic liberals all share: a contempt for reality with all its messiness and burping and farting and cold empty interstellar distances. On some level, real life just isn't good enough for these people.

It's a feeling I can sympathise and even empathise with. But the thing to do is point out that logically speaking, it's not an argument, it's a complaint.

 
At 6/06/2009 10:58:00 PM , Blogger Crude said...

What naturalist would accept that the universe is good? And there does seem to be plenty of naturalists who view the universe as "meaningless" or "pointless" [Which, frankly, is pretty damn close to 'bad' anyway], then turn around and act as if meaning also can magically appear so long as you close your eyes, think real hard, and click your heels together - and most importantly, try to forget the previous claim about what the universe is.

Either way, there's no shortage of naturalists making claims like this about the universe - and Russell himself tended to engage in a bit of deluded sleight-of-hand. Along the lines of arguing that the universe is meaningless, pointless, and ultimately hopeless - but at least we should have the courage to accept what Russell is saying! But then comes the obvious reply - why? Since when did courage become valuable?

Lewis has Russell dead to rights.

 
At 6/07/2009 09:59:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude: Most naturalists would claim that the universe as a whole is neither (morally) good nor bad.

That, of course, is different from saying that there is no meaning to be found anywhere in the universe (whatever that means), or that morality doesn't exist anywhere in the universe. To make the inference from the universe as a whole to parts of the universe would be the fallacy of division (the converse of the fallacy of composition).

The entire universe may not be conscious either, but that doesn't mean that consciousness doesn't exist in the universe.

 
At 6/07/2009 03:03:00 PM , Blogger Crude said...

Sorry, BDK - what you're saying here tends to fall apart upon actual examination.

The 'morality' that naturalists permit to exist in the universe isn't the real deal. It's purely subjective, empty, "When you wish upon a star" morality. The same goes for meaning - click your heels, wish really hard, and voila. Meaning! Or rather, call the result meaning if you want. Call it banana pudding if you want too, as it hardly matters. Again, empty meaning. Sweet-n-low meaning.

The very kind of 'meaning' and 'morality' Russell implies he's resting on is the kind he explicitly rejects. It's a shell-game, nothing more. If it were more than a shell-game, Russell would be making a very different argument.

And consciousness doesn't exist in the universe? Depends on the naturalist you're talking to. ;)

 
At 6/07/2009 11:34:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude: I am pointing out a mistake in the logic of your original claim. Even if we assume that naturalists would claim the universe doesn't have an overarching meaning, that doesn't imply that there is no meaning in the universe. That's a bad argument, it doesn't follow. Now, you can make a separate argument that there is no meaning (whatever that means) in a naturalistic universe, but that conclusion won't follow from the lack of meaning of the univeres as a whole. I think you missed the point of my consciousness example. It's the fallacy of division.

That said, this is an anachronistic discussion, as no contemporary naturalist would say the universe is "bad" anyway (my point was that even if they did, nothing interesting would follow).

At any rate, the terms aren't being defined particularly well here. It started out with "good" and "bad" and then Crude starts to talk about "meaning". That is a slippery term sure to confuse the issue.

You never answered my original question, but just started spewing out rhetoric about clicking heels and such. That's quaint, and might work with the converted, but let's see some substance to back up the big talk.

At any rate, if you insist on transposing to the problem of "meaning" (whatever that is--at least Lewis didn't resort to such muddled writing), we've already discussed this over at DI in the the Parsons-Craig thread.

 
At 6/07/2009 11:42:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

It is funny to see a theist invoke the trope of a childish land-of-make-believe to make fun of naturalists. On the other hand, it must look silly to want to ground things in the natural world, when all you need to do is invoke a supernatural all powerful being that wants you to worhip it. That is much more reasonable. Instead of clicking your heels just pray that it will all work out. lol

 
At 6/08/2009 01:00:00 AM , Blogger Crude said...

By all means, BDK, tell me what kind of "meaning" a naturalist would say is "in the universe". I think we both know that it's quickly going to become exactly the kind of meaning I've described here - illusory meaning. Sweet-n-low meaning. "Whatever you say, man" meaning.

And I did answer your original question - I was simply flippant. As you said, a naturalist isn't going to call the universe "good" or "bad" - I'd agree, at least on the grounds that they aren't going to do so in any meaningful sense. Just as there are plenty of naturalists who will rage about the immorality of this and evil of that, but when you ask them what they really mean by those words it all melts away.

By the way, I notice how you whimper about 'spewing rhetoric' - and then whip around and spew out some of your own. Odd, especially since I advanced no claims about God, much less a God who demands worship, here. What sort of meaning or morality exists in non-theistic but non-naturalist worldviews is an interesting subject, but successes there are not going to put the naturalist in any better position. Incidentally, why not man up like and admit this - like Russell suggests you should? I know why I think his call to do that is a load of bunk - what's your excuse?

But oh well. At least you've convinced me of one thing - Ilion has you pegged.

 
At 6/08/2009 08:10:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude: you are the one that introduced meaning without defining it. Define your terms. I never whined about your attempts at being cute. I just pointed out the irony and think it is funny. Don't start crying when I do the same back to you. If you dish it ya' gotta be able to take it.

Clearly my blocking of your fallacy of division flows, as you haven't addressed it. If you want to see my thoughts on meaning and such, you can go to the thread on Parsons as I already mentioned. That is a different issue than the illicit argument you initially made.

At any rate, you and Ilion are trolls in a pod. Have fun with that.

 
At 6/08/2009 01:07:00 PM , Blogger Crude said...

Oh, don't be such a wimp, BDK. You're the one trying to change the subject, making a desperate claw at 'theism' out of nowhere. You're the one who refuses to defend naturalism on this front - because you know it's going to end up exactly as I say. A whole lot of nothing, maybe with some flowery rhetoric attached.

And if you think questions of meaning entail a "different thread" than this one, then clearly you haven't even read the Russell paper Lewis is talking about - I suggest you do. I disagree with Lewis about it, since I see it as good for a laugh but nothing more.

We're trolls in a pod? That's nice. If your worldview meant things like that actually mattered, maybe I'd even be concerned. ;)

 
At 6/08/2009 08:41:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude: when you provide some arguments, I will respond to them. Thanks for the entertainment.

 
At 6/09/2009 10:51:00 PM , Blogger Crude said...

I've provided plenty here, BDK. I also provided an exhausted list of commentary in another thread on these sites.

Oh, that second's not good enough? I agree.

 
At 10/13/2009 02:38:00 AM , Anonymous Mark said...

Hmm. the phrase 'condemnation of the fact as a whole' certainly is ambiguous (what fact?), but I think I can make some sense of what is said.

it seems that what Lewis is accusing Russell of is proposing Objectively valuble ideals.
ie. proposing the 'the nobility of Man' to be an Objective truth rather than a Subjective disposition. (aka. the "Promethean attitude")

It seems as if Lewis is saying that nothing in Nature is intrinsically (that is objectively) Valuble - for all Evaluations are only a natural product.
Thus no ideal can be said to have Objective Value. (aka. 'the condemnation of the fact')

thus Lewis contends that, Russell would have to look outside his universe to maintain his 'Promethean attitude'.

'Promethean' = 'bold/corageous'; i had to look it up.

not sure if this is the right reading so feel free to critique.

 

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