Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nagel and his critics, Part II


Whereas my First Things review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos accentuated the positive, the first post in this series put forward some criticisms of the book.  Let’s turn now to the objections against Nagel raised by Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg in their review in The Nation.  

First some stage setting is in order.  As I indicated in the previous post, Mind and Cosmos is mostly devoted to the positive task of spelling out what a non-materialist version of naturalism might look like.  The negative task of criticizing materialist forms of naturalism is carried out in only a relatively brief and sketchy way, and here Nagel is essentially relying on arguments he and others have developed at greater length elsewhere.  Especially relevant for present purposes is a line of argument Nagel put forward in what is perhaps his most famous piece of writing -- his widely reprinted 1974 article “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” -- and developed further in later works like The View From Nowhere.
  
Nagel on appearance and reality

Nagel’s argument in the article in question is often discussed in conjunction with Frank Jackson’s “knowledge argument” against materialist theories of the mind.  Naturally, attention also often focuses on the ideas referred to in the article’s title -- on Nagel’s theme that there is “something it is like” to be conscious, and on his example of the bat as a creature whose conscious states are radically unlike our own.  But the heart of Nagel’s argument really goes much deeper than any of this, to the nature of scientific method itself as that has been understood since Galileo and Descartes.  

Take a stock example of reductive scientific explanation like the reduction of sound to compression waves, color to surface reflectance properties, or heat and cold to molecular motion.  The way these explanations work is by treating the appearance that sound, color, heat and cold present to us in conscious experience as mere appearance, as a projection of the mind that corresponds to nothing in objective, mind-independent reality.  What common sense understands by color, sound, heat and cold -- the way red looks, the way a musical note sounds, the way a hot stove feels, and so forth -- is held to have no objective reality, any more than the redness a person unknowingly wearing red-tinted contact lenses thinks he sees in all the objects around him really exists in those objects.  Instead, color is for scientific purposes essentially redefined by the method in terms of the surface reflectance properties that cause in us the subjective appearance of color; sound redefined in terms of the compression waves that cause in us the subjective appearance of sound; and heat and cold redefined in terms of the molecular motion that causes in us the subjective appearance of heat and cold.  

Thus, as common sense understands color, sound, heat and cold, etc., the reductive method ends up treating the world as essentially colorless, soundless, devoid of temperature, etc.  What the method calls “color,” “sound,” “heat” and “cold” is in fact something different from what the man on the street thinks of when he hears these terms.  The “red” that the method says exists in the material world is just the tendency of an object to absorb certain wavelengths of light and to reflect others.  The “red” that the man on the street thinks exists in the object does not really exist in the object itself at all but only in his perceptual experience of the object.  The “heat” that the method says really exists in the material world is just the motion of molecules.  The “heat” that the man on the street thinks exists in the object does not really exist in the object at all but only in his perceptual experience of the object.  And so forth.

Now, Nagel’s point is not that there is something wrong per se with overthrowing common sense in this way.  It is rather that whatever value this method has, it cannot coherently be applied to the explanation of conscious experience itself.  If the reductive method involves ignoring the appearances of a thing and redefining the thing in terms of something other than the appearances, then since our conscious experience of the world just is the way the world appears to us, to ignore the appearances is in this case just to ignore the very phenomenon to be explained rather than to explain it.  Consciousness is for this reason necessarily and uniquely resistant to explanation via the same method scientific reductionism applies to everything else.  For the application of the method in this case, writes Nagel, “does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it.”  To treat the appearances as essentially “subjective” or mind-dependent is precisely to make them incapable of explanation in entirely “objective” or mind-independent terms.

Hence “in a sense,” Nagel continues, “the seeds of this objection to the reducibility of experience are already detectable in successful cases of reduction.”  As I have put it myself in several places, the reductive method in question is like the method of getting rid of all the dirt in the house by sweeping it under a certain rug.  While this is a very effective way of getting rid of the dirt everywhere else, it is not a strategy that could possibly be used to get rid of the dirt under the rug itself.  On the contrary, it only makes the problem of getting rid of that dirt even worse.  And that is exactly why the mind-body problem as it is understood today essentially came into existence with Galileo, Descartes, and Co. and has remained unsolved to the present day.  What these early modern thinkers wanted (for certain practical and political ends) was a completely quantitative, mathematical description of the world.  Irreducibly qualitative features -- secondary qualities, final causes, and the like -- since they would not fit this model, were thus essentially defined away as mere projections, “swept under the rug” of the mind as it were.  But that only makes the idea of dealing with the mind itself in the same manner even more hopeless.  For these early moderns, the mind just is, you might say, the holding tank for everything that doesn’t fit their quantitative method.  Naturally, then, that method cannot coherently be applied to the mind itself.

Now the lesson Nagel drew from this in the 1974 article was not that physicalism is false so much as that “physicalism is a position we cannot understand because we do not at present have any conception of how it might be true.”  But the early moderns who inaugurated this conceptual revolution tended to draw the stronger conclusion.  Indeed, writers like Cudworth and Malebranche saw that the method in question can be used to argue for a kind of mind-body dualism.  For if you maintain that color, sound, heat, cold, odor, taste, etc., as common sense understands these features, do not exist in matter, then they do not exist in the brain or body any more than they exist in the material world external to the brain and body.  If they do exist in the mind, though, then the mind must not be material.  Dualism can hardly be refuted by the reductive method, then, precisely because dualism follows from that method.

Now that conclusion is actually a bit too strong, though the Cudworth/Malebranche style of argument has had defenders down to the present (e.g. Richard Swinburne in The Evolution of the Soul).  For one could argue instead, as Berkeley did, that only the qualities we know of in conscious experience are real and the mathematically-redefined material world is a mere fiction -- idealism rather than dualism.  Or one could argue, as Russellians do, that the sensory qualities presented to us in conscious experience are what “flesh out” the abstract structure described by physics -- thereby putting something like color, sound, etc. as common sense understands them back into matter after all, but in a way that is very different from the way common sense supposes them to be there.   (As David Chalmers suggests, though, this really amounts to a kind of riff on property dualism.)  And of course, we Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers would reject the assumptions that lead to this tangle in the first place, dismissing Cartesianism and materialism alike as riffs on the same fundamental error of treating what are really just physics’ useful mathematical abstractions from concrete material reality as if they were the whole of concrete material reality.

What you cannot coherently be, consistent with the reductive method described, is any sort of reductive materialist, which has been at least historically the standard form of materialism.  And this, I would say, is why materialism was so rare in modern philosophy before the late twentieth century.  It takes real historical ignorance seriously to think that the scientific revolution somehow supports reductive materialism and that Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, et al. were non-materialists merely because they didn’t have the courage and/or foresight to follow out the implications of that revolution.  In fact, they were the ones who were consistently following out those implications, while materialists like Hobbes were the wishful thinkers.  Perhaps the proud ignorance of the history of philosophy that some (though by no means all) of the early analytic philosophers exhibited made it possible for materialism widely to come to seem plausible by the 1960s.  (To paraphrase Newman, to be deep in the history of philosophy is to cease to be a naturalist.  That’s certainly what led me away from naturalism, anyway.)  

Be that as it may, the only way to be a materialist consistent with the method Nagel describes is to be a materialist of the eliminative rather than reductive kind.  Contemporary non-reductive materialism fails as a third option because it fails to be materialist.  To acknowledge that higher-level features of the natural world are as real as the lower-level features but irreducible to them is either property dualism or an implicit Aristotelianism -- essentially a recapitulation of Aristotle’s critique of the ancient atomism that is the ancestor of modern materialism.  

The most perceptive naturalists -- Nagel, John Searle, Galen Strawson, David Chalmers, and Alex Rosenberg, for example -- see that the only real choice is either to embrace eliminativism or give up materialism in anything like the extant forms.  Rosenberg takes the first option, while Nagel, Searle, Strawson, and Chalmers in their different ways take the latter.  Eliminativism, however, cannot possibly be right.  Insofar as it denies the existence of intentionality, it cannot so much as be coherently formulated.  Insofar as it denies the existence and/or reliability of conscious experience, it undermines its own evidential base (a problem which, as I noted in an earlier post, Democritus saw over two millennia ago and Erwin Schrödinger and E. A. Burtt saw in the 20th century).  That leaves us with the latter option -- which in Searle leads to an implicit property dualism, in Chalmers to an explicit property dualism, in Strawson to panpsychism, and in Nagel to an implicit Aristotelianism.  But whether any of these views are in an interesting sense “naturalist” is something both naturalists and non-naturalists might doubt.  And the Aristotelian option is, as I would argue, when followed out consistently going to lead to a Scholastic form of theism. 

Leiter and Weisberg on science and common sense

But that is an argument for another time.  Let’s turn now to Leiter and Weisberg, who write:

Nagel opposes two main components of the “materialist” view inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The first is what we will call theoretical reductionism, the view that there is an order of priority among the sciences, with all theories ultimately derivable from physics and all phenomena ultimately explicable in physical terms. We believe, along with most philosophers, that Nagel is right to reject theoretical reductionism, because the sciences have not progressed in a way consistent with it. We have not witnessed the reduction of psychology to biology, biology to chemistry, and chemistry to physics, but rather the proliferation of fields like neuroscience and evolutionary biology that explain psychological and biological phenomena in terms unrecognizable by physics. As the philosopher of biology Philip Kitcher pointed out some thirty years ago, even classical genetics has not been fully reduced to molecular genetics, and that reduction would have been wholly within one field. We simply do not see any serious attempts to reduce all the “higher” sciences to the laws of physics…

So far so good, though Leiter and Weisberg do not seem to realize how large a concession this is.  As I have said, to affirm the reality of irreducible levels of the natural world above the level described by physics is essentially to affirm either property dualism or Aristotelianism -- and as I indicated in my previous post, the neo-Aristotelian implications of anti-reductionism are in fact recognized and embraced by a number of prominent contemporary philosophers of science and metaphysicians.  It will not do, then, merely to insinuate (as Leiter and Weisberg go on to do) that Nagel is attacking a straw man when he attacks reductive materialism.  For what matters is not whether most contemporary naturalists in fact explicitly affirm the reductionism Nagel rejects.  What matters is whether they can consistently reject that reductionism themselves without also moving in a property dualist, neo-Aristotelian, or other non-materialist direction.

Leiter and Weisberg continue:

The second component of the thesis Nagel opposes is what we will call naturalism, the view that features of our world—including “consciousness, intentionality, meaning, purpose, thought, and value”—can ultimately be accounted for in terms of the natural processes described by the various sciences (whether or not they are ever “reduced” to physics)…

This is perhaps a bit too proprietary a use of “naturalism” given that Nagel himself claims to be a kind of naturalist, but let that pass.  In their first main criticism of Nagel, our authors go on to write:

Naturalists… defend their view by appealing to the extraordinary fruitfulness of past scientific work, including work growing out of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. So what should we make of the actual work in biology that supports the “materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature” that Nagel thinks “is almost certainly false”? Defending such a sweeping claim might seem to require a detailed engagement with the relevant science, yet in a striking admission early on, Nagel reveals that his book “is just the opinion of a layman who reads widely in the literature that explains contemporary science to the nonspecialist.” And a recurring objection to what he learned from his layman’s reading of popular science writing is that much science “flies in the face of common sense,” that it is inconsistent with “evident facts about ourselves, that it “require[s] us to deny the obvious,” and so on…

[S]urely we have some reason for thinking, some four centuries after the start of the scientific revolution, that Aristotle was on the wrong track and that we are not, or at least not yet. Our reasons for thinking this are obvious and uncontroversial: mechanistic explanations and an abandonment of supernatural causality proved enormously fruitful in expanding our ability to predict and control the world around us. The fruits of the scientific revolution, though at odds with common sense, allow us to send probes to Mars and to understand why washing our hands prevents the spread of disease. We may, of course, be wrong in having abandoned teleology and the supernatural as our primary tools for understanding and explaining the natural world, but the fact that “common sense” conflicts with a layman’s reading of popular science writing is not a good reason for thinking so…

Now, there are three main problems with this line of response to Nagel.  First, it is unfair or at least uncharitable to suggest that Nagel’s complaint in the lines Leiter and Weisberg quote here is merely that the views he rejects are contrary to common sense, as if it were a mere prejudice in favor of the opinions of the man on the street that leads Nagel to resist materialist explanations of consciousness, intentionality, etc.  As we have seen, the implication of Nagel’s position on the mind-body problem is that it is incoherent, and not merely counterintuitive, to apply to consciousness and the like the methods science employs in the explanation of other phenomena.  It is no good, then, merely to point to cases where science has upended common sense, for Nagel has offered reasons to think that such upending could not in principle occur in the case of consciousness, intentionality, and the like.  His claim is precisely that the latter phenomena are necessarily resistant to the same mode of explanation, given the nature of that mode of explanation.  In fairness to Leiter and Weisberg, and as I have already conceded, Nagel does not recapitulate in Mind and Cosmos all the arguments of his earlier work.  All the same, those arguments are well-known, and it is only fair for Nagel’s critics to take account of them when interpreting the claims he makes in the new book.

Second, it is for the same reason a mistake to assume that the dispute between Nagel and his critics is essentially a scientific dispute and that Nagel’s status as a layman dependent on popularizations of science casts doubt on his claims.  For in fact the dispute concerns the philosophy of science and the philosophy of nature that contemporary scientists tend to take for granted.  Does the essentially mathematical conception of nature we have inherited from Galileo, Descartes, and Co. capture all aspects of nature?  Is the methodology associated with that conception an appropriate means of discovering and studying all aspects of nature?  These are essentially metaphysical and epistemological questions rather than empirical scientific questions, and Nagel’s position is that they must be answered in the negative.  Of course, Leiter and Weisberg might insist (after the fashion of “naturalized” epistemology, metaphysics, etc.) that all such philosophical questions must ultimately be answered through scientific means, but merely to insist on that is simply to beg the question against Nagel rather than to refute him.

Third, it also merely begs the question to suggest that the “fruitfulness” of “mechanistic” explanations in other domains -- where fruitfulness involves the ability to “predict and control” natural phenomena -- gives us reason to think that such explanations might be given of the phenomena at issue in Nagel’s book (consciousness, intentionality, etc.).  For one thing, Nagel has, as I have said, given reason elsewhere to think that such explanations cannot succeed.  For another, Leiter and Weisberg are here committing a fallacy similar to the one which, as we saw in an earlier post, Alex Rosenberg commits in his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In particular, they are essentially arguing as follows:

1. The predictive power and technological applications of [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore we have good reason to think that [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science can explain everything that there is to explain.

And that sort of argument is no better than this one:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore we have good reason to think that metal detectors can reveal to us everything that there is to be revealed.

In fact, of course, metal detectors are as successful as they are in finding coins, lost keys, etc. precisely because they focus only on those specific aspects of coins, keys, and the like which might be detected via their methods (i.e. the metallic nature of these objects) and ignore everything else (the shape, color, etc. of the objects).  And the methods of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science are as successful as they are in predicting and controlling natural phenomena precisely because they focus only on those aspects of nature susceptible of strict prediction and control (especially those aspects which might be modeled mathematically) and ignore everything else (e.g. any irreducibly qualitative or non-quantifiable features that might exist in nature, such as teleological features, the phenomenal feel of heat and cold, the phenomenal look of colors, and so forth).  But just as metal detectors are inevitably going to fail to capture non-metallic phenomena, so too are the methods of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science inevitably going to fail to capture any aspects of nature not susceptible of prediction and control, nor capable of being captured via the mathematical techniques that make prediction and control possible.   

Of course, the naturalist might deny that there are any such aspects, but the point is that to appeal to science in order to support such a denial is utterly fallacious -- as fallacious as appealing to the success of metal detectors in order to support the claim that only metal exists.  If there are any non-metallic aspects of nature, you should not expect to find them using metal detectors; and if there are any aspects of nature that elude strict prediction, control and mathematical modeling, you should not expect to find them using the methods of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science.

Leiter and Weisberg on rationality and consciousness

In response to Nagel’s argument to the effect that rationality, specifically, cannot be explained in purely Darwinian terms, Leiter and Weisberg write:

There is a response to this kind of challenge, one that is widely embraced by philosophical naturalists (though, again, not mentioned by Nagel). This response starts by noting that we determine what is “rational” or “justified” simply by appealing to the most successful forms of inquiry into the world that human beings have developed. Paradigmatic examples of those successful forms of inquiry are, of course, physics, chemistry and biology. They are successful precisely in the way that Aristotelian science was not: they enable us to navigate the world around us, to predict its happenings and control some of them. To confuse one’s intuitive confidence in the logical and epistemic norms that make these sciences possible with some kind of a priori access to the “rational order of the world,” as Nagel puts it, is to forget whence that confidence derives—namely, the very success of these sciences. For philosophical naturalists, the charge of circularity is empty, akin to suggesting that the need for a usable table to have legs requires some justification beyond the fact that the legs actually do a necessary job.

There are several problems with this response.  Start with the claim that “we determine what is ‘rational’ or ‘justified’ simply by appealing to the most successful forms of inquiry into the world that human beings have developed” (emphasis added) -- where “success” entails prediction and control of the sort characteristic of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science.  Whom exactly do Leiter and Weisberg mean by “we”?  They seem to mean “we, that is, people in general, or at least people who have an opinion about these matters.”  But in that case their claim that “we” determine standards of rationality and justification in this way is false, since Nagel and others who reject Leiter and Weisberg’s brand of naturalism do not in fact agree that our standards of rationality and justification are entirely determined by the considerations of what is conducive to prediction and control.  Indeed, that claim is (pretty obviously) precisely part of what is at issue in the present dispute between Nagel and his critics.  So by “we” do Leiter and Weisberg instead mean “we, namely Leiter and Weisberg, and like-minded naturalists”?   In that case they may be accurately representing the views of the “we” in question, but they will have given no reason to think that those views are correct.  For why should anyone agree that success vis-à-vis prediction and control alone determines what is rational or justified?  Leiter and Weisberg do not tell us (other than by insinuating the fallacious Rosenberg-style argument already criticized above).

A second problem is that this essentially Quinean pragmatist claim about what ought to determine our standards of rationality and justification is simply not at all plausible.  Take an inference rule like modus ponens, or a principle like the law of non-contradiction, or an elementary truth of arithmetic such as 2 + 2 = 4.  Are we really expected to believe that there was no rational justification for any of these until they were somehow worked into a body of scientific theory that passed the test of empirical prediction and control?  Why would anyone take such a proposal seriously for a moment, unless they saw it as necessary to salvaging naturalism from objections like Nagel’s?  Say what you will about the empirical credentials of the work of Pre-Socratic natural philosophers, Euclidean geometers, and the like -- they were certainly engaged in a rational enterprise at least insofar as they were capable of evaluating each other’s arguments vis-à-vis standards of consistency, deductive validity, and the like, and we did not need to wait upon the rise of modern science in order to know that much.

Nor would it do to suggest that it was prediction and control in everyday, ordinary non-scientific contexts that justified at least the elementary truths of logic and mathematics before the rise of modern science.  For one thing, logically fallacious forms of inference are notoriously useful in everyday life for purposes of control, but they remain fallacious for all that.  For another, even in ordinary, non-scientific contexts we judge our beliefs and practices by reference to standards of logic and mathematics, not vice versa.  For example, we judge that hypocrisy is bad because it involves a logical inconsistency between one’s expressed opinions and one’s actual practice; we don’t judge that logical inconsistency is bad because it is evident in things like hypocrisy, which we dislike for independent reasons.

That brings us to another point, which is that Leiter and Weisberg’s proposal is not merely counterintuitive and ill-founded; it is also incoherent.  For basic logical notions like truth, consistency, entailment, and the like and are simply more fundamental than notions like predictive success or technological control, insofar as the latter presuppose the former.  To test a theory’s predictions is to determine what the theory entails, to determine whether what it entails is consistent with what is observed, to judge that this consistency with observation is a mark of truth, and so forth.  To apply a theory practically by way of technology or other means of control is also to determine what the theory entails, to determine whether a proposed technology is consistent with what it entails, and so on.   And of course both prediction and control also involve measurement, and thus adding, subtracting, and the like.  We cannot coherently regard logic and mathematics as deriving their rational justification from empirical science, then, because empirical science itself presupposes logic and mathematics.  To Nagel’s objection that Darwinian justifications of standards of rationality are circular, then, Leiter and Weisberg in effect offer in response nothing more than a further circular argument.  

We should also note that Leiter and Weisberg’s sweeping dismissal of “Aristotelian science” threatens to run together issues which need to be carefully distinguished.  We can agree that geocentrism, the theory of the four elements, and other specific empirical claims to which Aristotelian scientists of the past were committed have been falsified.  But it doesn’t follow that the philosophical notions contingently associated with (and sometimes illustrated by reference to) these erroneous claims -- immanent teleology, essentialism, and the like -- have also been falsified.  Aristotelian physics is one thing, Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature quite another.  Certainly it would simply beg the question yet again to insinuate that the falsification of the former by itself casts doubt on the latter.

Leiter and Weisberg also object to Nagel’s claim that consciousness cannot be explained in Darwinian terms, and they seem to think that Nagel’s reasons for making this claim have essentially to do with the question of whether the rise of conscious organisms could have been predicted from the state of the material universe prior to their origin.  Hence they write:

Philosophers of science have long argued that explanation and prediction cannot be fully symmetrical, given the importance of probabilities in explaining natural phenomena. Moreover, we are often in a position to understand the causes of an event, but without knowing enough detail to have predicted it. For example, approximately 1 percent of children born to women over 40 have Down syndrome. This fact is a perfectly adequate explanation of why a particular child has Down syndrome, but it does not mean we could have predicted that this particular child would develop it. Causes alone are frequently deemed sufficient to explain events; knowing enough to predict those events in advance is an important scientific achievement, but not essential to explanation.

But this simply misses Nagel’s point entirely, at least if we read Mind and Cosmos in light of the earlier work of Nagel’s cited above.  If the argument of “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” is correct, then it is not merely improbable that what Nagel there calls “objective” facts should by themselves give rise to “subjective” facts, but impossible, for they differ qualitatively rather than merely quantitatively.  To borrow an example used by the Thomist William A. Wallace in another context, a polygon is just a different sort of thing from a circle, no matter how closely you approximate a circle by adding sides to a polygon.  And that a circle might arise from nothing more than the successive addition of sides to a polygon is therefore not merely improbable or unpredictable; it is impossible in principle.  Similarly, given the difference between “objective” and “subjective” facts as Nagel characterizes them, you are simply not going to get the latter from the former alone even in principle.  At any rate, if Nagel is wrong about this, Leiter and Weisberg haven’t done anything to show that he is, but have merely implicitly assumed that he is.

Leiter and Weisberg also make some remarks about Nagel’s views about ethics which I think do not get to the nub of his position, but since my own views on meta-ethics are perhaps a bit further from Nagel’s than my views on general metaphysics are (and since this post has already run on long enough) I’ll leave it at that for now.

86 comments:

Crude said...

Isn't there a... kind of philosophical version of the grue problem at work here?

Loosely, isn't far and away the majority of the evidence that Leiter and company calls upon as evidence that supports materialism/naturalism, also evidence for substance/cartesian dualism?

I mean, my understanding is that Descartes and company's views were not merely about the mind, but the material world as well. So insofar as science achieves success with the mechanistic view - while I understand and actually agree with the Thomist reply on this front - it seems like that's evidence for the cartesian dualist understanding of nature as well.

Right?

monk68 said...

"For example, approximately 1 percent of children born to women over 40 have Down syndrome. This fact is a perfectly adequate explanation of why a particular child has Down syndrome . . ."

Can anyone explain to me how merely gathering and then noting the statistical fact that 1 percent of children born to women over 40 have Down syndrome, can possibly constitute an explanation of *why* a particular child has Down syndrome?

"My child, you have down syndrome because 1 percent of children born to women over forty have down syndrome and I am a woman over 40"

How does that help the child understand *why* he has Down syndrome? Perhaps the issue here is ambiguity with respect to the meaning of the term "explanation".

Eduardo said...

Well is pretty obvious.

There is in the world this outlinig rule, that says that for every 1000 kids of mothers over 40, 10 will have down syndrome. So ... errr therefore, this rule is the cause of his or her Down syndrome. Shit happens also work just as beautifully.

monk68 said...

"Shit happens also work just as beautifully."

exactly :>)

Eduardo said...

Well, personal opinion but I think it is a good start in grasping what we humans mean by explanation.

I think explanation is simply to contextualize a fenomena within given parameters. For instance, let's say that we decide that all there is are Minecraft blocks tha build all reality. These blocks have a series of innate characteristics.

So to explain the phenomena is simply to... use the blocks to explain it. Why are there mountains? Well is just a bunch of blocks together. Why is there dust? Well is just blocks that detached from cluster of blocks or blocks there have been flying out there. Why is water wet? Because the Water-Blocks have that chracteristic.

Well you know the deal...

Daniel Smith said...

The heart and soul of Darwinism (at least as embraced and expanded upon by modern scientific thought) is a reductionist account of the organism - not only as reduced to the constituent parts of the organism, but also as reduced to the divergence in evolution of the organism from a common ancestor. Thus, what it is to be a bat is explained in terms of the evolutionary path that produced the bat (bat-like traits were "selected for" because they served the proto-bat well, therefore: bat). The same "evolutionary" argument is used to explain consciousness - as well as virtually everything in the cosmos in some regard (like the formation of planets).

At the heart of these arguments is a mistaken belief in "mindless teleology" - that is that teleology (the form "bat", the form "planet") can be explained by mindless processes (natural selection of bat-like qualities, dust particles collecting together due to random forces). Thus, it would seem, the effective argument against Darwinistic naturalism would be ala the Fifth Way.

The Fifth Way proves that nature is not reducible to its constituent parts and that it requires a supernatural mind. Immediately then, "mindless teleology" is destroyed and the bat (and the planets) can no longer be explained by anything other than "purposeful form". The processes of evolution then (like all natural processes) are not mindless but well thought out (dare I say "designed"?) thus nothing is reducible to process or parts - everything is reducible, ultimately, to Mind.

I'm wondering then, why the Fifth Way is not employed more in these types of discussions?

Eduardo said...

Shouldn't we blame the positivists for their extreme love to science * read scientism *, and their disdain for Aesthetics, Ethics, Metaphysics and whatever stuff that can't be measured in a lab ?

Eduardo said...

Hmmm, Danny boy, careful or the ID folks will listen to you XD

Daniel Smith said...

Hmmm, Danny boy, careful or the ID folks will listen to you

Well that's my background - I was an increasingly disillusioned ID proponent before I stumbled upon Dr. Feser and this website.

I think, however, that there is some common ground between Thomism and ID via the Fifth Way.

The goal of ID is to show that mindless processes are incapable of producing complex systems such as life. The Fifth Way proves that there is no such thing in Nature as a mindless process. So, it would seem, there is some common ground to be found between the two - though I've had no luck convincing Thomists or ID proponents of that!

Eduardo said...

You are starting to sound like Jime, a guy that use to post here.

Well, sort of. He thinks there is no reason for Thomists to be against ID in principle.

Anonymous said...

It is so cute when philosophers talk about science or anything in the real world. It reminds me of little kids putting on Daddy's hat, jacket, and briefcase and pretending to go to the office. Adorable really, but not to be taken very seriously.

tazmic said...

Dr Feser,

TLS is one of the most enlightening books I've come across in many years (if only you could have written it twenty years ago...) Consequently, I am now happily embarrassed by my miseducation, and enjoying a review period. Thank you.

And it's posts like this that really help clarify the issues for me, and bring me back to the book for more enlightenment, so to speak.

However I have a little problem that started with considering the notion of 'heat' as qualia, as you use the example a lot, and I'm not convinced that the problem belongs to it alone. (Although I admit it may just belong with me.)

"The 'heat' that the man on the street thinks exists in the object does not really exist in the object at all but only in his perceptual experience of the object. And so forth."

But, it seems to me, the experience of heat is the experience of getting warmer. The sensual body part in contact with an object gets warmer if it is at a lower temperature than that object, and, vice versa, colder. (As Descartes infamous experiment showed all too clearly, despite the irony of him thinking he was being fooled by his senses.) The experience relates to this change. There is no experience if there is no such change (no transfer of energy). It is incoherent to talk of heat, in this sense, separate from this kind of interaction. So there is no question of this 'heat' existing in an object outside of such an interaction.

Moreover, the thing being experienced is the change in the sense organ, not the change in the object (maybe it has its own feelings about this, but they would be the opposite of yours). So heat as qualia, whether it exists only in the mind (whatever that means), or in the sense itself (whatever than means) cannot exist in the object, as it is an effect of the object on the sense, one that is strictly undefined without it (and vice versa, in opposition, which means if the experience was at all existing at the point of interaction, then there would have to be two experiences, one of warmth and one of cold).

Of course none of this addresses how *experience* of change occurs, or indeed exactly where, but just points out the interactive nature of the change which, in the case of 'heat' at least, is simply not existent beyond the interaction giving rise to it.

All of this does highlight the more general issue. Which is why has the debate not been formulated as whether, for example, the experience of sound exists only in the mind, or does in fact exist in the vibrations of the ear drum? Is it not the case that we experience our senses, and not the world? (Why would we hear the sound in the air but not that of the resonating ear drum?) It should be clear from the 'heat' example, that we in feeling (and all senses are senses of touch), experience instead, ourselves, and how we are changed by the world around us.

Funny to think that a sentient raging fire would experience itself as freezing...

Untenured said...

@Anon 2:07:

You have so many intelligent and insightful contributions to make to this discussion. Won't you please keep posting more of this sorts of comments, because we are all dying to hear more your radical, ground-breaking ideas.

Eduardo said...

Nothing like good and old Science Fetishism!!! yay!! I blame pop science for this intelectual evil that has risen in the West.

It was taking a bit for them to show up.

-------------------------------------
Actually is the sentient fire had a human mind and behaved like us, he would just feel the variation in temperature. If you keep the combustion going it wouldn't feel a thing.

Actually ... just like we do.

rank sophist said...

There is another line of attack open against those, like these reviewers, who point to the "success" of science under this or that pragmatic definition: what shows that their definition is right? If I defined science as "the search for tribbles", I could call the whole enterprise a titanic, 400-year disaster. "But," these reviewers might say, "tribbles are not a useful idea." But this brings us back to square one: how do we define such things? How do we define "science", "usefulness"--even "pragmatism"? The reviewers seem to assume that it is possible to explain this, but it isn't. As it stands, they beg the question by starting with the presupposition that usefulness can be defined.

But suppose they claim that usefulness can be cashed out in evolutionary terms, like those who offer "evidential arguments from evil". On this view, what gives an evolutionary (survival, reproduction, dominance, etc.) advantage is seen as "useful". If they did this, they could claim that science was objectively useful, because it gives us such advantages. However, this is a not-so-thinly disguised instance of the naturalistic fallacy, a failure to escape Hume's is-ought/fact-value distinction. (Attempts to escape this through talk of "goal-directed" behavior end either A) in radical relativism or B) in Aristotelianism.) Further, belief in and study of evolution would themselves, under the reviewers' scheme, have to be defined as "useful", which is impossible under their terms on pains of circularity. It cannot be evolutionarily useful to believe in evolution unless evolution itself is presupposed.

They are left with only one option: completely subjective, relative pragmatism with no arguments in its favor. Rather, they merely believe that it is true and end there. But they cannot criticize Nagel from this vantage, because his own pragmatic beliefs might differ from theirs, and there is no way for them to argue him over to their side without begging the question, which is whether or not one person's relative pragmatism can be measured against another's. In the end, they have their private, unjustifiable beliefs, and Nagel has his. Science is nothing more than a game played by those who, for personal reasons, find it entertaining. Not a very satisfying conclusion.

Eduardo said...

You mean that asking: What is the most useful way to define useful?

Will come out circular ...

rank sophist said...

Pretty much, Eduardo.

TheOFloinn said...

approximately 1 percent of children born to women over 40 have Down syndrome. This fact is a perfectly adequate explanation of why a particular child has Down syndrome

I see I am too late, but I'll add my comment that a probability is never an explanation of anything. At best it may give some notion of where explanations might be found. It's like claiming to have explained crime because some percentage of a certain ethnic group's actions have been criminal. A more interesting statistic would be what percentage of Downs syndrome babies are born to women over 40.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

Just a couple of quick comments.

1. Daniel Smith made an interesting point about the Fifth Way refuting Darwinism, and "mindless teleology" in general. I'm a little more cautious about this claim. It has become popular among certain evolutionary naturalists (e.g. James Shapiro) to impute a kind of "intelligence" to evolution, but if you read the fine print, you realize that what is meant by intelligence is built-in dispositions towards effects which occur NOW, rather than in the future - in other words, "feeling intelligence" rather than long-range, future-oriented "seeing intelligence," as someone has put it. Only the latter requires a mind to account for it. Sophisticated naturalists might admit that things contain built-in dispositions, but maintain that the apparent future-orientedness of living things is ultimately explicable in terms of present-oriented dispositions. To refute that claim, the Fifth Way will need some revamping, along the lines of: "Even a present-oriented disposition is still a prescriptive or normative feature of reality rather than a merely descriptive one, and norms can only come from a mind."

2. Re the question, "What is it like to be a bat?" or "What is it like to see red?", I'm just as much against teleological reductionism as I am against mathematical reductionism. The "redness" of the color red is no more explained by its telos (whatever that may be) than by its wavelength. Qualia are irreducible. That means God has to be able to somehow experience them too. I understand Linda Zagzebski has written a paper on "Omnisubjectivity" in which she defends the view that God knows what it is like for us to see colors. See http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/39971.pdf . What do readers think?

reighley said...

@TheOFloinn,
"I see I am too late, but I'll add my comment that a probability is never an explanation of anything. "

I would be interested in reading your views on what exactly constitutes an "explanation" of something. @Eduardo's system (see 10/27 8:34am) is appealing to me, but turns out to be fraught with difficulties.

I have been occasionally stymied by the freedom with which some interchange the terms "to cause", "to explain", "to entail" as though they were the same thing when surely they are not.

Eduardo said...

u_u oh well, one has to crack some eggs to do an omelet

Glenn said...

A more interesting statistic would be what percentage of Downs syndrome babies are born to women over 40.

Less than 20%, based on:

a) "80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age." -- National Association for Down Syndrome, Facts about Down Syndrome (see under 'Cause')

b) If 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35, then 20% of children with Down syndrome are born to women 35 or over.

c) Assuming some children with Down syndrome are born to women in the 35-40 age range, it follows that less than 20% are born to woman over 40.

- - - - -

Dear Leiter and Weisberg,

I recently gave birth to a child with Down syndrome. I am 23 years old, and there is no known history of Down syndrome in either my or my husbands' family. Why did this happen?

Perplexed Mother


Dear Perplexed Mother,

...approximately 1 percent of children born to women over 40 have Down syndrome. This fact is a perfectly adequate explanation of why a particular child has Down syndrome.

Leiter and Wiesberg

Dear Leiter and Weisberg,

Hi. Perplexed Mother here. Remember me? I've since found out that that the National Association for Down Syndrome says that 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35. I'm baffled that your 'perfectly adequate explanation' for these incidents is nothing more than that 1% of births to women over 40 result in a child with said syndrome!

Stunned Mother


Dear Stunned Mother,

We were quoted out of context. You may be 100% confident that our statement had nothing to do with explaining to a 23-year old mother why she might have given birth to a child with Down syndrome. We were, in fact, reviewing Thomas Nagel's latest book, and attempting to show that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Leiter and Wiesberg

Crude said...

Yeah, the "explanation" of an occurrence of Down Syndrome being tied to a statistic seems downright loopy. I actually had to read it a couple times to be sure they were saying what I thought, because it seems so obviously wrong. I wonder what they were thinking.

Anonymous said...

There is another line of attack open against those, like these reviewers, who point to the "success" of science under this or that pragmatic definition: what shows that their definition is right?

Under pure pragmatism, you don't. Either a theory is useful or it isn't (for whatever purposes people have in mind for it). If it's useful it will be used, if not, not. Whether you can give a precise definition of "useful" is one of those questions that obsess philosophers and nobody else.

They are left with only one option: completely subjective, relative pragmatism with no arguments in its favor. Rather, they merely believe that it is true and end there. But they cannot criticize Nagel from this vantage, because his own pragmatic beliefs might differ from theirs...

What are "pragmatic beliefs"? You are obviously very confused.

At any rate, we are saved from this decay into atomized subjectivism because humans have a lot in common and have to live in a shared world, so despite their varying belief systems are at some level pursuing the same ends.

You seem to have identified pragmatism with subjectivism whereas it is aimed in precisely the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

>There is another line of attack open against those, like these reviewers, who point to the "success" of science under this or that pragmatic definition: what shows that their definition is right?

Under pure pragmatism, you don't. Either a theory is useful or it isn't (for whatever purposes people have in mind for it). If it's useful it will be used, if not, not.


Would you agree that the pragmatist needn't shy away from using the word true either? As it can be used in the carpenters sense - as in, well aligned. In fact, what other meaning can we have for it?

> It cannot be evolutionarily useful to believe in evolution unless evolution itself is presupposed.

If it is often useful to have theories that are well aligned with reality (meaning your tools work), and if evolution was true, then it could be useful to develop theories of evolution. Whether that then becomes evolutionarily useful, remains to be seen, but it could.

I don't see the circularity there.

rank sophist said...

Under pure pragmatism, you don't. Either a theory is useful or it isn't (for whatever purposes people have in mind for it). If it's useful it will be used, if not, not.

What I find useful is different from what you find useful. Hence, science is defined by the search for tribbles, and it's been very bad at it for the past 400 years.

Whether you can give a precise definition of "useful" is one of those questions that obsess philosophers and nobody else.

Considering that pragmatism is a philosophy propounded by philosophers, I would assume that the problem of defining "usefulness" is indeed close to home. In fact, it is problems like these that destroyed pragmatism and its successors in the first place.

What are "pragmatic beliefs"? You are obviously very confused.

You seem to have missed the point. Why should I believe in evolution? Because it's pragmatic: it gives us results. This is one of the core pillars behind the circular quasi-verificationism peddled by people like the reviewers. But how do we define these "results"? In my hypothetical scenario, they are defined according to evolutionary advantage. It gives me an evolutionary advantage to believe in evolution, and so I do. This cannot be the case, though, because the idea of evolution itself is something that we have arrived at pragmatically under this system. You can't say that belief in evolution is justified by its conferring to me an evolutionary advantage, unless you presuppose the truth of evolution ahead of time. Typical pragmatist pretzel logic.

At any rate, we are saved from this decay into atomized subjectivism because humans have a lot in common and have to live in a shared world, so despite their varying belief systems are at some level pursuing the same ends.

This completely fails to rebut the objection. You say that, because humans have "a lot in common" and "have to live in a shared world", they escape radical subjectivism. But you've stepped outside of pragmatism to do that. How do we define "a lot in common", and why should living "in a shared world" put any kind of restriction on what people deem pragmatically useful? With regard to the first, you've assumed that there is a way to define something non-pragmatically under a purely pragmatic system; with regard to the second, you've merely committed the naturalistic fallacy by assuming that an "is" (living in a shared world) comes packaged with an "ought" (behaving in this or that way).

Certainly, you can say that, if an individual X wants to achieve a goal, there is an objective way of going about this. For example, if X wants to survive, then it is objectively a good idea to eat, drink and so on. But you cannot explain, under pragmatism, why someone should want to do one thing rather than another. If I want to blow up Canada, then a nuclear missile is an objectively good choice. You can't give me an objective reason to avoid blowing up Canada. Even if you say, "Because you'll be executed as a result", I can just say that I have no interest in living. Hence, I have no pragmatic reason to do something that will keep me alive.

You seem to have identified pragmatism with subjectivism whereas it is aimed in precisely the opposite direction.

It may be aimed in the opposite direction, but it veers dramatically off course.

rank sophist said...

Would you agree that the pragmatist needn't shy away from using the word true either? As it can be used in the carpenters sense - as in, well aligned. In fact, what other meaning can we have for it?

"Well aligned" cashes out as "pragmatically useful", which brings back all of the radically subjective problems from before.

If it is often useful to have theories that are well aligned with reality (meaning your tools work), and if evolution was true, then it could be useful to develop theories of evolution.

"Evolution is true" means "evolution is well aligned", which means "evolution is useful". Hence, you are saying that it is useful to have useful theories--but you haven't given "useful" any kind of objective definition.

Whether that then becomes evolutionarily useful, remains to be seen, but it could.

My point related to one possible scenario that involved defining "useful" as "evolutionarily advantageous". I refuted this possibility by pointing out that it cannot be evolutionarily advantageous to believe in evolution unless you presuppose the truth of evolution. Imagine trying to convince an evolution-denying pragmatist to believe in evolution on the grounds that it is evolutionarily useful. He could simply respond that you've begged the question, because he does not believe that there is any such thing as "evolutionary usefulness" in the first place. This means that "useful" cannot be cashed out in evolutionary terms. And, in any case, it commits the naturalistic fallacy to say that an evolutionary advantage ("is") entails an "ought".

TheOFloinn said...

Re: probability as an explanation.
To say that there is a 50% chance of rain does not explain why it rains. It does not even explain why the chance of rain is "50%" (under some model).

Q: Why did this child have Downs syndrome?
A: Because 2.5% of children born to women over 40 have Downs syndrome.
Q: But then 97.5% of such children do not have Downs syndrome, so how does that explain anything? Furthermore, less than 20% of all Downs syndrome children are born to women over 40, so how does "the mother is over 40" explain anything about Downs syndrome?

Anonymous said...

>Why should I believe in evolution? Because it's pragmatic: it gives us results [...] But how do we define these "results"? In my hypothetical scenario, they are defined according to evolutionary advantage. It gives me an evolutionary advantage to believe in evolution, and so I do.

To accept the theory that our capacity for theory building developed due to evolutionary advantage is to exercise your theory building capacity, not develop an evolutionary advantage.

Daniel Smith said...

Vincent Torley: It has become popular among certain evolutionary naturalists (e.g. James Shapiro) to impute a kind of "intelligence" to evolution, but if you read the fine print, you realize that what is meant by intelligence is built-in dispositions towards effects which occur NOW, rather than in the future - in other words, "feeling intelligence" rather than long-range, future-oriented "seeing intelligence," as someone has put it. Only the latter requires a mind to account for it. Sophisticated naturalists might admit that things contain built-in dispositions, but maintain that the apparent future-orientedness of living things is ultimately explicable in terms of present-oriented dispositions. To refute that claim, the Fifth Way will need some revamping, along the lines of: "Even a present-oriented disposition is still a prescriptive or normative feature of reality rather than a merely descriptive one, and norms can only come from a mind."

Hi Vincent,

My understanding of the Fifth Way is that it already does that. There is no distinction between future-oriented teleology and present-oriented teleology built into the Fifth Way. Both types require a mind on Aquinas' view.

My interpretation of his argument is simply this: matter alone does not account for what matter does. We cannot, for instance, point to the properties of the carbon atom as an explanation for why one carbon atom is part of the Sun and another part of my dog. The carbon atom has the same properties whether it is part of the Sun or part of my dog. In fact, the further we reduce matter - to the quantum level for instance - the more alike it becomes. Thus "matter" is no explanation without "form". And form (even "normative" form) requires a mind - at least that's how I interpret Aquinas.

Eduardo said...

You are not getting. The is to aim for actions that are the most useful according to some measurement. Making and testing the model is simply to follow that idea

You make and test the model because it is useful.

Rank is going for the meaning of useful and how that is determinated.

reighley said...

@OFloinn,

"To say that there is a 50% chance of rain does not explain why it rains."

I take @Eduardo's point to be that the statement "there is a 50% chance of rain" can be taken as a crude model of the universe. It isn't complete by any means, but if we ask a question "why did it rain for 48 days out of the last 100, rather than much more than that or much less", then "because there is a 50% chance of rain" might be taken as an answer to that question.

I suppose that does not sit well with you, what would? If I offered you an explanation for why it rained today, how would you tell that it did the explaining you wanted it to? What are the criterion for an "explanation"?

TheOFloinn said...

In the case of the rain, an explanation might take the form of an evaporation-condensation-precipitation cycle. In the case of Downs syndrome, some sort damage to a particular chromosome. But probability alone is no explanation.

Q: Why do you keep the hammer in the refrigerator?
A: We keep the hammer in the refrigerator 20% of the time.

Maybe it's just my background in prob-stat.

Eduardo said...

it seems that the word explanation is either just contextualize something or to discuss the nature of an explanation.

You prob-stat background is not to be blammed Floinn. Reighley's question is more towards that second option up there.

Anonymous said...

Considering that pragmatism is a philosophy propounded by philosophers, I would assume that the problem of defining "usefulness" is indeed close to home. In fact, it is problems like these that destroyed pragmatism and its successors in the first place.

It is news to me that pragmatism is "destroyed". In contrast to scientific theories, philosophical systems, good or bad, seem to never die completely but are always coming back like the walking dead. The devotion of this blog to Aristotle is a case in point.

Of course we are in danger of conflating the philosophical school of pragmatism with "pragmatism" as a descriptive label for the kind of thinking that scientists and mathematicians actually do. That is to say, they somehow manage to get through their work usually without being troubled by the metaphysical foundations of the objects under study. Usually they do this without having previously read any Peirce or James or Dewey or Rorty. And they will continue to do so even if philosophical pragmatism is "destroyed".

Eduardo said...

Aristotle and Aquinas U_U damn it!

But, Rank is referring to a contradiction or inconsistency in pragmatic school of thought. Although Anon is correct that Schools of thought do tend to come back every once in a while.

reighley said...

@OFloinn,

"A: We keep the hammer in the refrigerator 20% of the time. "

If, rather than "why do you keep the hammer in the refrigerator?", the question had been "why is there a hammer in the refrigerator?".

Isn't the statement "it rains 50% of the time" just as much a statement about the nature of the world as "water evaporates of the ocean and condenses in clouds". If, rather than assigning a constant, I said "at constant temperature the probability of rain is proportional to the barometric pressure", would you find that more acceptable? Why should the mere assignment of variables rob a thing of its status as an explanation?

My question is what is it, in particular that makes one thing an explanation another not. Must our explanation involve rain at all? Does "because the sky is blue" work? Must it involve some term other than rain? Does "because every other time I go outside I get hit by water falling from the sky" work?

The reason I bring it up is that, once one has nailed down the kinds of statements that are acceptable explanations

reighley said...

that last sentence was an incomplete thought and I retract it.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Yeah, the "explanation" of an occurrence of Down Syndrome being tied to a statistic seems downright loopy. I actually had to read it a couple times to be sure they were saying what I thought, because it seems so obviously wrong. I wonder what they were thinking.

They were thinking "scientifically", of course! Why did the photon go through this slit instead of that one? Because it had a 50% chance of doing so. That's all physics can say on the matter, and physics is the Ultimate Extreme Knowledge (please, nobody point to the mathematician behind the curtain, that's so gauche), hence offering up percentages is the last word in Explanation.

(That the superstitious find this less than adequate of course only goes to show how Mediaeval they are in their thinking. (We can find statistics for that, too.) For fun, one can break down some sets of percentages into smaller sets of percentages, though why one should care to do so remains unclear….)

Mr. Green said...

Untenured: we are all dying to hear more your radical, ground-breaking ideas.

Ooh, be careful of feeding the trolls… they might lose their fear of man! (Besides, the only thing worse than a scientismamist who disdains philosophy is one who tries to engage in it.)

TheOFloinn said...

Isn't the statement "it rains 50% of the time" just as much a statement about the nature of the world as "water evaporates of the ocean and condenses in clouds".

A statement about the world is only a statement about the world. A description is not an explanation. It is a thing to be explained.

If I said "at constant temperature the probability of rain is proportional to the barometric pressure", would you find that more acceptable?

That still does not explain the rain, only some conditions under which rain might occur. How do temperature and barometric pressure interact to cause rain?

To say that 1 birth in 100 to mature women is of a Downs syndrome child does not explain Downs syndrome. It's no different in principle than saying "Stuff happens." It is a small percentage of births to mature women and in addition is only a small percentage (<20%) of all Downs syndrome births. Even as a statistic, it provides no fodder. We usually look for the Pareto principle before we start rolling over rocks looking for causes.

Now, if you wanted to say that something related to age has something to do with trisomy-21 abnormalities you are on the trail of a possible causal factor. Again, age itself is not a cause. (Otherwise, we would say that "youth causes crime.") The chart showing the probability of Downs as a function of maternal age at birth looks suspiciously regular. A statistician might expect a bit of jitter in the precise data.

rank sophist said...

You are not getting. The is to aim for actions that are the most useful according to some measurement. Making and testing the model is simply to follow that idea

You make and test the model because it is useful.

Rank is going for the meaning of useful and how that is determinated.


Exactly. The other Anon doesn't seem to understand this point, even though I explained it in detail. "Useful" cannot mean "evolutionarily useful"--so what does it mean?

It is news to me that pragmatism is "destroyed". In contrast to scientific theories, philosophical systems, good or bad, seem to never die completely but are always coming back like the walking dead. The devotion of this blog to Aristotle is a case in point.

Pragmatism and its descendents-- verificationism, logical positivism and suchlike--have indeed lost major ground in the last 60 years. And, unlike with Aristotelianism, it isn't because people don't understand it. It's because they do understand it.

Of course we are in danger of conflating the philosophical school of pragmatism with "pragmatism" as a descriptive label for the kind of thinking that scientists and mathematicians actually do. That is to say, they somehow manage to get through their work usually without being troubled by the metaphysical foundations of the objects under study.

Moving the goal posts will not help your case. Even scientific pragmatism suffers from complete relativism when understood properly. You can provide an objective measurement of "useful methods" for getting from A to B, like the "nuking Canada" example, but you cannot explain why a scientist should want to do one thing rather than another. Hence, your "scientific pragmatism" not only has no objective definition, but it is completely devoid of ethical restrictions. Why shouldn't we have thousands of Eduard Wirths wannabes? Your "pragmatism" can't answer. Why should scientists study one thing rather than another? Again, you have no answer.

Mr. Green said...

Reighley: I have been occasionally stymied by the freedom with which some interchange the terms "to cause", "to explain", "to entail" as though they were the same thing when surely they are not.

True, they aren't exactly the same… a "cause" refers to the thing, while an "explanation" refers to our understanding of it. But it's close enough that we can often ignore the difference. A statement of percentages is a description of effects rather than of causes, although of course even that tells us something about the causes. (For example, that something has the potential to cause such an effect in the first place. A hammer is the kind of thing that can be inside a refrigerator, or else the incidence would be 0%.) Statistics are useful because we can slice them and dice them in various ways and with any luck notice some patterns, some clues that point us towards the causes. (If rain is highly correlated with the presence of dark clouds, we can figure out that clouds are part of the explanation.) But counting by itself is not enough to tell us about the formal, material, efficient, or final causes at work.

Anonymous said...

Logical positivism is a descendent of pragmatism? You are weird. I thought you at least knew something about philosophy, but it seems you are as ignorant of its history as you are about everything else.

All this relativism that you people delight in finding -- it is a feature, not a bug. Or rather, it is a feature of reality, of our situation. Pragmatism (and its actual descendants) acknowledge this. What does your side have to offer? Just because you lay a claim to some kind of non-relative Absolute doesn't mean you actually posses it.

rank sophist said...

Logical positivism is a descendent of pragmatism? You are weird.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism#Pragmatism_in_other_fields_of_philosophy

All this relativism that you people delight in finding -- it is a feature, not a bug. Or rather, it is a feature of reality, of our situation.

Begs the question. Where's your argument, buddy? Also, this is a 180 from your earlier position that pragmatism was not relativistic.

What does your side have to offer? Just because you lay a claim to some kind of non-relative Absolute doesn't mean you actually posses it.

Try to wiggle out of the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle without presupposing them. It's impossible.

Eduardo said...

Sure, if we have identified that reality is just completely dependant on the sentient being experiment then, or the cluster of Minecraft blocks reacting to them... we can pretty much give up on all and every discussion too.

reighley said...

Why is it that whenever I ask what an explanation or a cause IS people are happy to tell me what an explanation or a cause IS NOT. As if I could infer the answer to my question by process of elimination.

@TheOFloinn
"A description is not an explanation. It is a thing to be explained."

An explanation must be a description too must it not? For the connection between a fact and its explanation is a real feature of the world and not just something we made up (otherwise what's the point).

Q : Why is there a hammer in the refrigerator?
A : Because it is 4 o'clock.

Now, I think you and I will agree that this does not constitute an explanation. The thing is I'm not quite sure how I know that. I was hoping someone would illuminate it.

@Mr. Green,
"But counting by itself is not enough to tell us about the formal, material, efficient, or final causes at work."

We aren't just counting though. The statement is suggesting that the statistic we got from a small sample can be generalized as a feature of the world. As I read it, it isn't a statistic but a probability. The probability yields a model. Why doesn't the model constitute an explanation?

Crude said...

The statement is suggesting that the statistic we got from a small sample can be generalized as a feature of the world. As I read it, it isn't a statistic but a probability.

What makes it a probability instead of a statistic? The decision to extrapolate for whatever reason?

TheOFloinn said...

Why doesn't the model constitute an explanation?

Because with seven variables you can model any finite set of data. That does not mean any of the variables in the model have any sort of causal influence on the effect. Cf. the storks of Oldenburg. http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2012/06/against-storks-of-oldenburg.html

reighley said...

@Crude,

A statistic is a function of the data. You see a set of data and you compute some numbers, that's a statistic. The most familiar statistic is the mean. It is a piece of information we got from our observations.

The probability is a feature of the underlying process. It is true of the world whether we gather data and try to estimate it or not. The details, as you can imagine, are subject to some dispute. It turns into an epistemological question.

A statistic is known for certain, since it came out of an analysis of your data. It is uninteresting by itself, what your really want is a probability : you are trying to build a model of the world. Probability is unknown to you and estimating it depends on assumptions you take on faith.

Fortunately for us all, the statistic (which is what we see) can be used to estimate the probability.

Anyway, that's how I've always thought of those words. O'Floinn might be able to express it better, apparently it's his field.

The point I was trying to make is that this 1% is not just a number, it is a statement about a relationship between age and Down's syndrome which is believed to hold even in cases we have not directly observed..

reighley said...

@TheOFloinn,

"Because with seven variables you can model any finite set of data. That does not mean any of the variables in the model have any sort of causal influence on the effect."

It seems to me that essentially this same criticism can be leveled at any statement I put forward as representing a cause. Are you sure you aren't some sort of Humean agent provocateur?

Crude said...

Fortunately for us all, the statistic (which is what we see) can be used to estimate the probability.

Right, but how? The way you're saying it, any statistic becomes a probability the moment someone says so. Here's by now an old favorite: Bam.

Does that explain global warming? It's certainly a statistic. I can certainly extrapolate it and treat it as a probability if I want. Is that all there is to it?

reighley said...

@Crude

"Does that explain global warming? It's certainly a statistic. I can certainly extrapolate it and treat it as a probability if I want. Is that all there is to it?"

I think so. If you make the declaration that pirates and sea temperature are correlated as a rule and not just as an accident of the data then you have made the transition from talking about observations to talking about facts of the matter.

How you got there is a question of epistemology, Why did you do that? Why do you ever extrapolate from what you know? The point is once you cross that line, for better or worse, you are making statements about the real world which may or may not include causal relationships.

I might not like your model, but if I say "why was I attacked by pirates" and you say "because pirate attacks are fundamentally related to sea temperatures", you have gone at least part of the way to offering me an explanation.

My question is, how good does your just-so story have to be before I accept that it is a legitimate explanation and our difference of opinion springs from differing assumptions about reality, rather than from differing assumptions about what is meant by "an explanation".

Crude said...

I might not like your model, but if I say "why was I attacked by pirates" and you say "because pirate attacks are fundamentally related to sea temperatures", you have gone at least part of the way to offering me an explanation.

I think there's a pretty important difference with how you worded that.

Let's go back to the original example. Consider the following question.

"Why was child X born with Down Syndrome?"

And now, two different replies.

1: "1% of all births to women over 40 result in a child with Down Symdrome."

2: "Because down syndrome births are fundamentally related to the age of the mother."

1 is just a description of statistic. It's not even a claim that any of these things are related - statistics, on their own, won't get you there.

2 IS a claim of correlation. But then the question is going to come, 'Alright. Why?' You won't be able to simply point at the statistic in reply, since the statistic doesn't come with any reasoning related to it.

Crude said...

2 IS a claim of correlation.

Rather, 2 is a claim of deeper relation.

rank sophist said...

I might not like your model, but if I say "why was I attacked by pirates" and you say "because pirate attacks are fundamentally related to sea temperatures", you have gone at least part of the way to offering me an explanation.

Actually, this is only a fairly obvious case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

TheOFloinn said...

a) In some models where orthogonal factor analysis is used the resultant factors correspond to no actual real-world factors at all. Recall George E.P. Box: "All models are wrong. Some are useful." http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2012/01/autumn-of-modern-science.html

b) The "1% of births to 40 yrs old mothers" is simply a statement of fact. It is not an explanation; it is the thing to be explained, neo-Pythagorean number woo-woo notwithstanding. It cannot explain the Down syndrome birth because it does not explain the 99% of non-Down syndrom births. A successful theory, we teach in basic problem-solving, must not only explain what happened but also what does not happen.

reighley said...

@Crude,

"1 is just a description of statistic. It's not even a claim that any of these things are related - statistics, on their own, won't get you there. "

I agree that statistics on their own won't get us there, but I think that, by using the word "all" and by offering the statement in the context of an explanation it was intended to express a relationship rather than be purely a description of the data.

@rank sophist,
"Actually, this is only a fairly obvious case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy."

The fallacy is in the way my interlocutor has interpreted the data. Once they have done so, and come to believe that there is in fact a fundamental relationship between pirate attacks and sea temperature I can't really fault them for using one to explain the other.

The question is, what makes the fallacy so obvious. Isn't every just-so story that I try to pass off as an explanation just as vulnerable at the bottom? Total scepticism isn't coherent, so there is a reality and there are some causes for things. The problem is the way I got there didn't offer me much in the way of a test for telling a true causation from an accidental correlation.

TheOFloinn said...

Crude
And now, two different replies.

1: "1% of all births to women over 40 result in a child with Down Symdrome."

2: "Because down syndrome births are fundamentally related to the age of the mother."


And 2 isn't quite there, either. Since 80% of Down syndrome births are to women under 35, and only 20% above 35, there is clearly something besides "age of mother" at work. But also because the age-adjusted rate shows a steady increase in the rate of Down syndrome births as the mother grows older -- it looks exponential or logistic to me -- there is clearly some causal factor that increases with age. Age doesn't explain it, but it does identify a pond within which a causal fish is swimming.

But the mere citation of one point on the curve does not serve as an explanation since, as I said, it does not explain why the other 99% of births are NOT Down syndrome.

Illustrative example from squawk lists submitted by USAF pilots after flights:
Squawk: Engine #1 is seeping oil.
Maintenance: Seepage is normal on this class of engine.
Resubmitted squawk: Engines #2, 3, and 4 lack normal seepage.
IOW, an explanation will make clear why the problem is here but not there and why it is now but not then.

reighley said...

@TheOFloinn,
"A successful theory, we teach in basic problem-solving, must not only explain what happened but also what does not happen."

This is much to stringent a requirement. It eliminates any explanation which does not end with a certainty, which is to say most of them.

If I have a theory of coins that says "heads and tails are symmetric so about half of all coin flips come out heads" and you ask why out of your last 10000 coin flips 4982 of them came up heads, I feel I have a pretty good explanation for you.

Anonymous said...

"All models are wrong. Some are useful."

I'm sorry, according to rank sophist, you are not allowed to talk that way unless you can define "useful" in terms of fundamental pataphysical principals.

Crude said...

This is much to stringent a requirement. It eliminates any explanation which does not end with a certainty, which is to say most of them.

I don't see how the mentioned standard requires certainty.

Also, what's your explanation if out of your last 10k coin flips, 7k came up heads?

Eduardo said...

Lol. Pataphysical? Hahahhaha is this all because we are talking about the fundamentals of an explanantion?

Glenn said...

reighley,

If I have a theory of coins that says "heads and tails are symmetric so about half of all coin flips come out heads" and you ask why out of your last 10000 coin flips 4982 of them came up heads, I feel I have a pretty good explanation for you.

Suppose after flipping a coin that comes up heads I ask you why that result occurred. You may explain your theory of coins to me, smile and believe the matter to be settled. But I may or may not be satisfied with your explanation.

If I am satisfied with your explanation, it may be for the reason that I now realize that my coin flip landing heads is not an unusual, rare or out of the ordinary outcome.

But if I am not satisfied with your explanation, it probably will be for the reason that I had asked why that particular coin flip came up heads rather than whether it was likely or not for it to do so, and so feel that my actual question was skirted around rather than legitimately answered.

This last example may seem trivial. For if a coin can come up heads or tails when flipped, and either result is equally likely, why care why a particular flip came up heads rather than tails? So, yes, the last example is trivial. But it is trivial so that the principle involved may be more easily seen. And the principle involved is that an explanation sometimes serves less to adequately account for the cause(s) of a particular event, and more to--for want of a better way to put it--quell curiosity about or forestall further inquiry into the matter.

The other side of the coin, so to speak, is that sometimes a request for an explanation is less inspired less by a genuine desire to know the cause(s) of its occurrence, and more prompted by a curiosity over the fact that something occurred. If this is the case, then the explanation which shows that the occurrence itself isn't really deserving of my curiosity (i.e., isn't startling, remarkable or extraordinary in the way I might have initially thought it to be) may be received by me as a perfectly adequate 'explanation'--even though it fails to address the underlying cause(s) of the occurrence.

Adam Zur said...

where was your post about the six or more forms of modern Thomism? I forgot to make a link to it.

TheOFloinn said...

"A successful theory, we teach in basic problem-solving, must not only explain what happened but also what does not happen."

This is much to stringent a requirement. It eliminates any explanation which does not end with a certainty, which is to say most of them.

Odd. Then why have so many problem-solving teams been so successful at improving their processes?

Example: a plant making a fluoropolymer in four horizontal cylinder reactors experienced a 2% failure rate on the reaction curve. One of the symptoms was that half the failures occurred on Reactor C. So there must be a cause that explained why there were so many more failures on C but NOT on A, B, and D. This turned out to be the manner in which the catalyst was piped into the reactor. On C, the piping ran across the reactor and, the reaction being exothermic, the catalyst was being warmed up (and therefore activated) prior to charging. This spoiled the reaction for various chemical reasons.

In addition, there was a seasonal fluctuation in failure rates, for which a successful theory must explain why there were so many more failures in the winter than in the rest of the year. That suggested cold weather outside, which led to the discovery that some of the piping was exposed on the roof. There was also a third cause that was specific to one particular grade of polymer.

When Reactor C was re-piped and a shed was built on the roof to enclose the exposed piping at a constant temperature, the failure rates plummeted to almost zero. Notice that the exposed piping explained "why failures in winter and not in summer?" and the catalyst piping explained "why failures on C and not on A,B, and D?"
+ + +
If I have a theory of coins that says "heads and tails are symmetric so about half of all coin flips come out heads" and you ask why out of your last 10000 coin flips 4982 of them came up heads, I feel I have a pretty good explanation for you.

No, you don't. (Unless you are going to say "design of the coin" is the cause, which I will allow.) But you only have the outcome of assuming a particular mathematical distribution of results, the which is only an approximation of reality. (No coin is perfectly symmetric; nor is it always tossed with the same spin rate to the same height at the same orientation in the same air density, etc.) If the statistical model is true, a certain probability can be postulated. I knew a guy at a client plant one time who could make the coin come up heads every time.

A distribution means only that there are a great many small causes operating simultaneously, no one of which is dominant. The net result of these common causes is a distribution of results (approx. normal if the causes are additive; lognormal if they are multiplicative; extreme value if they are polynomial; etc.) But this is simply a way of saying that there is no particular cause why the coin landed as it did; or rather, that there are many possible reasons and it is neither practical, economical, nor in many cases physically possible to identify which.

The situation is different for assignable causes.

Hope this helps.

dguller said...

This has nothing to do with this post, but if Josh is reading this, I think that your critique of my arguments against analogy were correct. I was misunderstanding a few things. However, I think that I have come up with a better formulation of my argument that incorporates your criticisms.

Have a look, and let me know what you think.

You can read it here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2012/09/the-divine-intellect.html?commentPage=3

At October 24, 2012 7:25 PM and October 24, 2012 7:27 PM.

Thanks.

Mr. Green said...

Reighley: We aren't just counting though. The statement is suggesting that the statistic we got from a small sample can be generalized as a feature of the world

Well, right; we take data and a hypothesis and try to put them together to come up with a cause (be it formal, material, efficient, or final). An explanation is a description of a cause, so "Why is the hammer in the fridge? Because someone put it there!" is a perfectly good explanation of the efficient cause (although context or common sense suggests that's probably not the cause we were looking for in this case). If in the article they had said that age was a causal factor that would at least be a partial explanation. (How correct or useful an explanation it is depends on many other factors, of course. It certainly isn't a "perfectly adequate" explanation, and they seemed confused when they say we can know the causes but not enough detail — we may know the general causes for this type of event, but if we don't know all the details in this particular case, then that just means we do not know the particular causes in detail.)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: The Fifth Way proves that there is no such thing in Nature as a mindless process. So, it would seem, there is some common ground to be found between the two - though I've had no luck convincing Thomists or ID proponents of that!

Yes, there certainly is a connection. The Profeser has previously pointed out that the actual scientific aspects of ID (to whatever extent they work out) are of course unobjectionable per se — it's the philosophical interpretation that's the problem. I think it would be worthwhile to work out a Thomist interpretation. That stacked decks can be detected and the "language" of biological processes can be read are not the same argument as the Fifth Way, but they start off from a common root.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: it's the philosophical interpretation that's the problem.

Yes, but even the science is troubling. It seeks to take the most complex things God has made and, for the sake of science, interpret them in a way that requires "some form of intelligence - not necessarily God" to explain them. It's like arguing in reverse.

I think it would be worthwhile to work out a Thomist interpretation. That stacked decks can be detected and the "language" of biological processes can be read are not the same argument as the Fifth Way, but they start off from a common root.

I actually think the Fifth Way is enough on its own. In fact it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the ID crowd when I start arguing that even rocks show design! It's so counterintuitive for them from an ID perspective - yet from a Christian perspective they know it's true.

What I often argue for (on the ID website I frequent) is 'theistic science'. So much of ID science is wasted trying to show that this or that 'might be' designed (ID is like 99% origins focused). I say stop looking at origins (the Fifth Way settles that) and start doing science from a theistic perspective! What I envision is scientists working at Christian colleges and seminaries who interpret evidence from a theistic perspective. A 'competing interpretation' of sorts that would seek to produce results superior to those of scientists who are bogged down with atheistic/materialist interpretations of evidence.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: So much of ID science is wasted trying to show that this or that 'might be' designed (ID is like 99% origins focused). I say stop looking at origins (the Fifth Way settles that) and start doing science from a theistic perspective!

Well, it's not simply a question of "the Fifth Way settles that": how to deduce a design empirically is a valid and interesting subject in its own right, regardless of whether we already know the answer. That's precisely why I think Thomists should pursue it from the metaphysical perspective (as, indeed, they should with all science). But I agree with you that individual scientists do not always take this in a productive direction.

I also agree that scientists should approach their work from a theistic perspective (at least the ones who are theists!) — athough in practice, this doesn't always make much difference (i.e. the scientific method works the same way whether you believe in God or not). However, there's no reason not to situate bare scientific facts in their true theological context.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but over on Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella criticizes an aspect of the Thomist position on the status of universals. Vallicella is asking for Thomists to comment. Would be great to see what Ed Feser has to say. http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/10/aquinas-meets-frege-analysis-of-an-argument-from-de-ente-et-essentia.html

Austin said...

Hi Professor Feser,

Didn't know where to bring this up, but I'd thought you'd be interested to see a post on Biologos which absolutely bashes Aristotle as the reason for science not being efficacious until modern times.

"His admirers did not just claim that he was right, they said he had to be right. In effect, Aristotle’s most dedicated followers were agreed that God Himself was bound by what Aristotle thought because, despite His omnipotence, even the Deity could not defy logic. But, in reality, most of Aristotle's natural philosophy was wrong. Science could go nowhere until the dead hand of the Greek sage was lifted from it."

Thought you might like to respond with a post of your own.

http://biologos.org/blog/medieval-christianity-and-the-rise-of-modern-science-part-1

Eduardo said...

I thought it was his scientific theories were completely wrong. Was there a argument talking about natural philsophy or they simply assumed it was wrong because they have another natural philosophy of their own... Or they don't even know what they are talking about?

TheOFloinn said...

The scientific argument is that natural selection may not explain every instance of evolution. Sorta like gravity may not explain every instance of motion. (Electro-magnetism is also useful.) Philosophically, it is not necessary that theokinetics be required where natural selection fails. There may be other entirely natural mechanisms. In fact, Thomas supposes that natural telos requires a divine intelligence no less so than apparent exceptions. He would have regarded Darwin's theory, to the extent that it is a scientific theory, to be another modest evidence of God's design.

Anonymous said...

To add to Rank's excellent criticism of the intellectual banality of darwinian naturalism, one must also note the intrinsic circularity in the notion of natural selection itself (irrespective of naturalized epistemology/pragmatism/etc).

The notion that somehow this "feral spirit" (thank Eduardo) of darwinism "selects" is first and foremost an intensional fallacy. Second the idea that property confers survival is vague and empty. There is strictly no scientific way to explain "selection-for" as Fodor explains in his book What darwin Got Wrong. Not only many traits of an organism may not necessarily confer survival as being their primary reason for being "selected" but may even hinder it. So strictly speaking any co-extensive trait may simply be a ride-along on another trait, which is a ride-along on yet another trait.

Finally we come to the circularity objection I raise... That being the fact that when probed what confers survival one find that the only answer provided is simply a restatement of the question in disguise of an answer. Simply put, who is the fittest? The organism which survives (taking into account its traits). So, then we ask, which organism survives? The organism which is fittest. And round and round the darwinian fool goes in a circle. I will save my commentary of the just-so stories that have been much of the driving force of darwinism for another time but that is yet another issue that cannot be adequately addressed and is thus simply swept under the rug.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green :I also agree that scientists should approach their work from a theistic perspective (at least the ones who are theists!) — although in practice, this doesn't always make much difference (i.e. the scientific method works the same way whether you believe in God or not). However, there's no reason not to situate bare scientific facts in their true theological context.

Your last sentence hits the nail on the head. It's in the interpretation of raw data where the metaphysical rubber meets the road. I often use the example of scientists finding obviously designed alien artifacts on Mars. If they assume design from the start, they get to the more interesting questions about the race of beings that designed them in the first place. If they assume that these artifacts can only be explained by mindless processes, they'll be wandering down dead-end rabbit trails forever.

Anonymous said...

Another nasty review of Nagel from someone who actually knows something.

Black Luster said...

Austin, the article was quite nice, if what he says about the history of science and religion is true, then that indeed is a far cry from the relationship which is depicted today.

He seems to object to Aristotle's use of deductive logic in scientific inquiry. I think that's fine. As for his critique of Aristotle's doctrine of motion, he misses the mark. "Motion" in the Aristotelian sense does not merely mean displacement or change in spatial location, but rather ALL change. Regular posters can correct me if I'm wrong, but "Unmoved Mover" would mean "Unchanged Changer" in today's sense.

Crude said...

I'd love to see Ed do a critique of the NDPR review. This section, to me, says it all:

A more sensible materialism goes no further than the rejection of spooky stuff: whatever kinds of stuff there may turn out to be and whatever they turn out to do, they are, as long as this turning out is empirically grounded, ipso facto not spooky. Such a materialism is quite untouched by Nagel's arguments.

What a surprise: a materialism so broadly defined that, quite plausibly, it arguably includes Thomism, Idealism, panpsychism and anything else (prepare to argue about what is 'spooky' and what is 'empirically grounded'), is untouched by Nagel. If that's what materialism now is, then materialism died a long time ago and philosophers are now keeping the death a secret so they can continue to cash its social security checks.

There's more wrong here, but something about these critical reviews of Nagel is absolutely wonderful to me. In their haste to knock down Nagel's criticisms, they not only basically endorse a fair share of his criticisms, but largely deflect it by saying "well, that's reductionist materialism, which all but the crazies think is bunk anyway".

I can only imagine how the reductionist materialists, to say nothing of the eliminative materialists, are taking these criticisms of Nagel.

Anonymous said...

@anomymous

It doesn't matter how many nasty reviews of Nagel's book there are. They do not in the least undermine what he is saying. Reductionism and materialism are incoherent and intellectually bankrupt, all the flames and wrath of materialists won't change that fact

Anonymous said...

@Crude

For years now, every month there is a new flavor of naturalism, with each model being broader that its predecessor. The loonies will soon call Theism "the new materialism" and try to sell it to the rest of us as a secular metaphysic.

It just doesn't add up. Never did in the days of the Greek atomists and doesn't to this day (even with all the idiotic posturing of the faithful of scientism). Materialism is as dead now as it was back in ancient Greece. It's time people realized that and stopped polluting society with their nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Just got done reading dupre's ("who-actually-knows-something") review of Nagel's book and it's as irrelevant as it can be. He does not respond adequately to Nagel, commit strawmen fallacies galore and as Crude mentioned redefines materialism in the most pedantic - nay idiotic - way that I have ever seen. He reject reductionism, which only vindicates Nagel and then tells us that in science no such thing (reductionism) is at work. Of course it's not at work Charlie Brown, if it was science would be impossible. Without formal and final causes science becomes unintelligible.

One thing is telling though, the speed by which naturalists and materialists are running away (as if it's the plague) from what is in fact the logical conclusions of their metaphysics. Spell out the absurdity of the atheist and he will deny his own mother before he abandons his blind faith.


I should send Nagel and Christmas card (pun intended since he is no a Theist) just to thank him for all the laughs he's given me by writing this book.

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn: The scientific argument is that natural selection may not explain every instance of evolution. […]
Philosophically, it is not necessary that theokinetics be required where natural selection fails. There may be other entirely natural mechanisms.


That's the biological application of the general principle, that (roughly) some things are too specific to be random (e.g. random mutations are not themselves directed to producing certain organisms or certain traits, but the outcome was nevertheless directed). Miraculous intervention is a possibility, of course, but as you say, there could also be some other natural mechanism at work. However, we needn't even go that far — it might be possible that there is no other mechanism, and that the naturally-selected mutations were directed.

Consider: a magician can shuffle a deck of cards into order in different ways. He could simply swap out one deck for another, intervening and "overriding" the laws of the order of the original deck (by replacing it with a whole other deck — not quite a miracle, but close enough for this analogy). Or he can use sleight of hand to manipulate the deck in some way apart from the shuffling, i.e. by applying another natural mechanism. But some people are so practised in manipulating cards that they can actually count them with their fingertips, they can cut a deck at any desired point, and so on. Such a person can go through all the moves of shuffling, without adding any hidden moves, but yet precisely control how the cards gets sorted.

Thus, even though mutations are not in themselves directed towards producing certain traits, they could be directed externally by some being who had suitable power (say, perhaps, by choosing the very laws of physics or the precise initial conditions, etc. to ensure a specific outcome).

Mr. Green said...

Crude: If that's what materialism now is, then materialism died a long time ago and philosophers are now keeping the death a secret so they can continue to cash its social security checks.

I'm saving that line for future quotability!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green,

The type of evolution that is semi-directed that I think you might have in mind is something akin to Conway Morris' 'Life's Solution'. However, as I mentioned earlier talk of any type of "selection" allegedly conducted by blind naturalistic forces (whatever they may be) to me as well as to Fodor is fallacious. I have long abandoned talking of selection. I simple speak of change over time in biological organisms and the impact the environment may have on said organisms. But that's as far as it goes. Talk of 'natural selection' creates a subtle but monstrous anthropomorphic fallacy in the minds of ignorant darwinists that does nothing more than obfuscate scientific research into a simplistic and irrational meta-narrative.

Also, I am surprised I missed it in my previous post... If as per the critic of Nagel, materialism is simply the denial of spooky stuff then I suppose it's been empirically refuted by quantum physics... Spooky actions at a distance as one famous scientist once put it.

It's sad seeing the materialists/naturalists grasping for whatever straw they can find to keep their pathetic faith afloat. ;-)