Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is belief in moral realism properly basic?

Yes, you can argue that belief in moral facts is properly basic, and use something like Plantinga's Reformed epistemology to justify moral beliefs. But if you object to Reformed epistemology for God, then why accept it for morality?

Also the existence of a moral fact doesn't seem to follow logically from anything we know or can know scientifically. Bertrand Russell makes this argument:

I conclude that, while it is true that science cannot decide questions of values, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.

Making moral beliefs properly basic is difficult to square with a science-based epistemology.

Furthermore, this kind of moral realism is also hard to square with ontological naturalism, at least as I understand it. The naturalism I am concerned about holds that physics is causally closed, physics is non-normative, and everything else supervenes upon and is determined by the physical.

I'm inclined to think that basic moral beliefs are properly basic. But when the ontological and epistemological implications of this are spelled out, this "fits" well with a theistic world-view, and does not fit well with a naturalistic one.

Friday, September 22, 2017

When religion ruled the world, they called it the dark ages

This is a popular meme, and its a pile of manure. It trades on

a) identifying the entire Middle Ages are the Dark Ages

b) presuming that religion (that is, the Catholic Church) had power over everyone during that time.

First, dark meant originally dark to historical knowledge. Thus, Darkest Africa isn't dark because it was a bad place, or because the people had dark skin, it was dark because we were in the dark about it.

Second, the Catholic Church as an institution was so weak during the early middle ages that the papacy was often sold to the highest bidder. Secular political leaders exercised a great deal of power over the church, not vice versa. The Investiture Controversy, one of the great issues of the 11th and 12th Centuries, was generated when a pope decided to put a stop to the installation of bishops and other church leaders by monarch. Is this religion ruling the world?

Yes, in the early 13th Century, Pope Innocent III could tell King Henry of France to take his wife back, or else. In the 14th Century, the king of France kidnapped the pope and forced the relocation of the papal palace to Avignon.

Third, there was considerable technological advance throughout the Middle Ages, as recounted here. 
The university system was developed in medieval times, and the university system is the reason why a global scientific community developed. That is why science didn't get off the ground in ancient Greece, but did get off the ground in Christian Europe.

If assisted suicide is legalized, will vlunerable people be less protected

I can understand the case for legalizing assisted suicide. I can. But will suicide be put forward as the preferable option not to save those who are dying from suffering, but for the convenience of the rest of us? It is easy to imagine, for example, insurance companies refusing payment for end of life care because, well, you had the right to commit suicide, and if you don't avail yourself of that, we shouldn't have to make any more payments.

(My trust in insurance companies is extremely limited).

Margaret Battin did a study where she claimed that vulnerable persons are not at risk in assisted suicide. But not everyone is convinced.

Moreland's Defense of Dualism


Lydia McGrew on the Naturalistic Induction

The naturalistic induction goes something like this:

Science has made and continues to make such great progress throughout history, gradually whittling away at the set of things that were previously not scientifically understood, that whatever it is that you are presently bringing forth as evidence against naturalism, I am sure that science will eventually get to that in time and explain it, as well, as entirely the product of natural causes.

McGrew is not impressed. 

Are we conquering nature?

Or is nature conquering us?

HT: Helen Flaherty-Hammond.

From Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Was there a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam? I doubt it

In assessing whether the war in Iraq was justified, some argue that there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and therefore there was a 9/11 justification of the war. So far as I have been able to tell, the evidence for that is not very good. But if you think otherwise, feel free to provide some counter-argumentation.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Outsider Test for Human Rights, or OTHR

We might ask what evidence there is that rights exist. You have a feeling that everyone ought to be treated equally. Isn't that just your social conditioning? If you grew up in India, and were raised to believe that people occupy different positions in the caste system based on the Law of Karma, wouldn't you think that the idea that everyone was created (or evolved?) equal was slightly ridiculous?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Why physicalism isn't true

My argument is an attempt to show, not assume, that minds exist first, on the grounds that if they don't exist first, they cannot emerge. Mental states have to be a complexity-fact about the physical world if physicalism is true. But let's take the claim that "I am Victor Reppert" and the claim "I am Hugo Pelland." It seems perfectly conceivable that there is a world physically identical to this one in which you are me and I am you. If you say that such a world is impossible, you need to prove it, since it is conceivable. There is nothing about the physical world that guarantees that I will be me and you will be you. So physicalism cannot be true.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Exchange with Keith Parsons on the mind

KP: Victor,
I would like to resume this conversation after this long gap. I was out of my office for the eclipse (wonderful!) and for the hurricane (horrific!).
The meaning of "physical" I am presuming is simply the physical universe as it is presently understood by fundamental physics. There is nothing in postulating the physical realization of the mental that requires new laws or "emergence" in any mysterious sense. Why should it? Why is thinking in principle any different from any other physical activity? Why can it not be something we do with our brains just as we sing or dance with our physical components? Does a brain have mental properties? No. Just as a larynx does not have musical properties while it is engaged in the act of singing, so brains do not have mental properties when engaged in the act of thinking. The sensation of redness, for instance, is an adverbial property describing how I see something. I see "redly." It is not a property of my brain or the physical components of my brain. Perceiving, redly or otherwise, is something I accomplish with my brain. The redness pertains to the doing, not the doer. The whole point of realization physicalism is that the mental is an accomplishment or performance, just as singing is a performance. The musicality is in the performance, not the hardware that does the performing. A mind is defined functionally as whatever it is that performs mental actions such as thinking, feeling, imagining, etc. For human beings the brain is the mind since it is what performs the mental functions for us.
Frankly, your objections puzzle me. I do not see how they are relevant. You seem to be drawing conclusions not implied by anything I have said or by anything entailed by what I have said. Once again, I cannot help but get the impression that what is operating here is a highly recalcitrant intuition or set of intuitions that I simply reject. I do not see "the mental" as a set of properties mutually excluded by "the physical" any more than than I see "the musical" as being excluded by "the physical." Being musical is something that (some) physical things can do, as is being logical.
Or maybe I am the one badly confused. If so, please be so kind as to point out exactly why and how.

VR: The musicality, I am afraid, is a function of its connection to minds. That is how, in the first place, modern physics avoided the claim that their understanding of the world removed everything interesting from it. Heat is the mean kinetic energy of gases. But that has nothing to do with the feeling of hotness. So what is the feeling of hotness? It is in your mind. A physical description of Sam Cooke's singing of "Wonderful World" doesn't, on the face of things, entail that it sounds a lot better to me than today's gangsta rap, but it does sound a whole lot better.
What makes something singing as opposed to sound? It is the intentions of the singer and the understanding of the listener that makes the difference. It is the same as the economic and the physical.
Consider heat. From the physical side, heat is the mean kinetic energy of gases. But what that tells you nothing about the feeling of heat, which can make you want to stay inside, or fear like virtually nothing else (if you live in the Phoenix area) the breakdown of your air conditioning system. That's not in the physics, because it was "siphoned off" to the mind. Base-level physics leaves out the mental. The sound waves that make up the sound of Sam Cooke's voice are physical, and can be described without any reference to mental states. But my understanding and appreciation of the music requires a mind, and part of my appreciation involves my appreciation of the minds of the singer and the songwriter.
Physical phenomena in the world can be of two types. One type of physical phenomenon are mind-independent realities, things that would be the way they are whether or not there minds reacting with them. They have certain characteristics which are described by basic physics, or by "grouping" A planet's going around the sun is not mind-dependent. But my computer program that is running a chess program isn't playing chess in and of itself, it is playing chess relative to programmers and players who recognize it as such. I happen to have the Komodo chess program running on my computer as we speak. It is a far better chessplayer than I am. But its strength as a player exists as an extension of the playing and programming abilities of human beings with minds. Its output, in and of itself, is not playing chess in and of itself. When I play chess, I play chess from my own perspective. Komodo doesn't play chess from its own perspective. When it clobbers me, it does so from my perspective, not its.
Adverbs modify verbs, and verbs describe what persons, places, and things do. And what physical things do has to be in accordance with physical, not logical, law.
KP: I do not see "the mental" as a set of properties mutually excluded by "the physical" any more than than I see "the musical" as being excluded by "the physical." Being musical is something that (some) physical things can do, as is being logical.
VR: The musical is mind-dependent, and a purely physicalist world, there would be no music, even if the sound waves identical to those coming over my radio when "Wonderful World" comes on.
To be logical is not merely to think in accordance with reason, it is to think "from reason." Evidence and reason have to actually make a difference in what we think. Otherwise, we are not reasoning. The brain states not only have to "realize" a rational process, they have to be what they are because of the relevant logical relationships. Those logical relationships have to make a difference. But since logical relationships do not have particular locations in space and time, and since they make a difference in what we think, the causal closure of the physical has to be thrown out, or else the physical is mental at the basic level. This is what Nagel has been arguing, and orthodox naturalists have been reading him out of their camp for so arguing.

Reply from Keith Parsons


                Thanks for checking in! We are OK. My immediate neighborhood did not flood, though areas less than a mile from me were completely inundated. The Marines were using huge amphibious vehicles to rescue people from their roofs. Fifty inches of rain in three days defies comprehension. The university just reopened today, so this is the first I could get back to my e-mail. Thanks much for checking in!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Keith Parsons

Keith Parsons, a longtime personal friend of some 40 years, and teaches at the University of Houston at Clear Lake. Because of Harvey, I am concerned, since he has not responded to my e-mail. Jeff Lowder thinks he is in a shelter somewhere without internet access.

He may be an atheist, but he is in my prayers.

Reply to Johnson on nonmental reasoning

Johnson also says I missed the relevance of non-mental forms of reasoning.38 He says that “His argument explicitly claims that purely physical, nonmental processes—the kind he says naturalism insists are ultimately explanatory—cannot reliably produce true beliefs.”39 I wish he had quoted me on this, because I can’t find a statement to that effect in my own essays myself.  I replied that what is needed for my argument is that we sometimes go through explicit mental reasoning processes, and that this is critical for the kind of knowledge on which naturalism is grounded. Perhaps I did not make that as clear as I might have in the debate, but that is the point I want to make. There can be noninferential forms of knowledge, such as my direct awareness that I am in front of a computer screen right now. As a long-time, though intermittent, tournament chessplayer, I can agree with Kasparov that not every step in a chessplayer’s mind is an explicit rational inference, and this is even more the case in something like basketball. If LeBron were to rely on explicit reasoning to decide whether to shoot or pass the ball to Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers would never get into the NBA playoffs, much less reach the Finals. Whether these processes are purely physical or not probably depends upon your theory of mind, but we can come to some true beliefs without explicit, premise-to-conclusion reasoning. He also mentions computers, but he misses my central point that computers are by necessity products of intelligent design, and their reasoning processes are dependent upon the thoughts of their builders, programmers and users. The template of meaning that makes a computer’s process mean rook to f6 can only exist if there are humans who invest the computer’s activity with the meanings associated with chess. Now, once we do that, certainly the computer can slaughter me in a chess game. But what computers have is what philosophers call derived intentionality, not original intentionality. 

Bob Prokop's Eclipse Experience

The first comment here. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Is there anti-white racism?

 Is there anti-white racism? Some have argued that there can't be anti-white racism because whites are privileged in society as a whole.

I have never understood this. We don't just live in society as a whole. we live in subgroups, and within some subgroups, whites can be discriminated against. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Skeptical Threats and Best Explanations

Let me explain the difference between a Skeptical Threat argument and a Best Explanation Argument.  If I were giving an STA I would be saying that a non-naturalist position allows you to refute the skeptic but a naturalist position does not. I don’t like this kind of argument because I am not sure you can refute the skeptic in any event. In fact when I first read Plantinga’s EAAN I thought his argument was a skeptical threat argument.
A BEA says that both we and our opponents depend upon the existence of certain mental states. In particular, we believe some things because the evidence is good. Let’s take a statement that is typical of atheists:
Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say. –Dawkins
Here he presupposes that some people, unlike those religious people who believe based on tradition, authority, and revelation, some people believe things based on evidence. Every atheist I know is going to accept as an agreed upon datum that some people form beliefs based on the evidence. If Dawkins says he believes in evolution by natural selection based on the evidence, he is implying that he believes because the evidence for it is present and wouldn’t believe it if it were absent. Hence coming believe something based on evidence is something both sides are going to have to explain, not explain away. On pp. 64-65 of CSLDI I argue that statements that a belief is based on evidence entails claims about how those beliefs were caused. The existence of mental causation, the fact of someone coming to believe something because the evidence for it is good, is something both sides are going to have to be able to explain.
Lewis’s theistic solution to the problem is this:

On these terms the Theist's position must be a chimera nearly as outrageous as the Naturalist's. (Nearly, not quite; it abstains from the crowning audacity of a huge negative). But the Theist need not, and does not, grant these terms. He is not committed to the view that reason is a comparatively recent development moulded by a process of selection which can select only the biologically useful. For him, reason--the reason of God--is older than Nature, and from it the orderliness of Nature, which alone enables us to know her, is derived. For him, the human mind in the act of knowing is illuminated by the Divine reason. It is set free, in the measure required, from the huge nexus of non-rational causation; free from this to be determined by the truth known.  And the preliminary processes within Nature which led up to this liberation, if there were any, were designed to do so.
Accusing Lewis’s argument of the genetic fallacy seems to be a mistake. The genetic fallacy occurs when I say a belief has to be wrong based on how it was produced. Not every belief has to be rationally inferred in order to be justified. But a belief which is based on evidence, (and you atheists insist that you have some of those), needs to have evidence amongst its causes. But if the physical world is causally closed and mechanistic, then the use of evidence, which involves the logical relationship between the evidence and the evidenced proposition, never happens.
So, this is how I would rebut the two strategies you offer the naturalist. The high price of naturalism, or part of it, is that you have to give up science as a means to truth, and give up the claim that you believe anything based on evidence. I suppose there are some naturalists out there willing to pay that price. I don’t think I’ve met one, however.

Lovell on the Euthyphro dilemma


Thursday, August 24, 2017

What are the targets for the argument from reason?

The mental need not be supernatural if nature is inherently mental. But as I indicated earlier, a view of the world that places the mental at the basic level from the beginning, such as Absolute Idealism, is not an Argument from Reason target. Panpsychism, I take it, would also not be an Argument from Reason target. However, if reason is a byproduct of a universe that is, at bottom, nonmental, then it is an Argument from Reason target.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Paley on whether perfection is necessary for design

II. Neither, secondly, would it invalidate our conclusion, that the watch sometimes went wrong or that it seldom went exactly right. The purpose of the machinery, the design, and the designer might be evident, and in the case supposed, would be evident, in whatever way we accounted for the irregularity of the movement, or whether we could account for it or not. It is not necessary that a machine be perfect in order to show with what design it was made: still less necessary, where the only question is whether it were made with any de- sign at all.


My existence, here and now

At the end of the day there has to be an "us," a me, and a you, as actual beings. But if physicalism what there is are particles, and people can add those particles up and call them a "me" or a "you." It is often said that physicalism threatens the idea of a future existence beyond the grave, and we don't like that. Actually, it threatens my present existence here and now. I don't see you avoid reducing it to some kind of "user illusion."

An Inquiry from the Secular Outpost

Yair Rezekl: Victor, can you clarify why "you have to account for this at least by positing emergent laws"? If I say that the valve opened because of high pressure built up (an emergent phenomena), do you mean by this that I posited an emergent law? The analogy here is that the underlying neurology of understanding the propositional content precisely is one microscopic realization of "understanding the propositional content", just like the molecules hitting the valve are a microscopic realization of "high pressure buildup". Why can we have a meaningful talk about how pressure caused the valve to open (which we clearly do), but not how the macroscopic property we call "understanding the propositional content" caused us to agree that God did not exist?

VR: Because in the valve opening case the emergence adds up from the bottom. Sure, what you postulate of the valve isn't mentioned in the physics, but it follows necessarily from the physics. In the case of about-ness, normativity, first-person perspective, and purpose, the content of the physical level doesn't add up to these, because it can't. Besides, logical relationships have to be relevant to how we think. But in a causally determined universe, all the causes are in space and time. But logical relationships are not in space and time, therefore they cannot be relevant to anything we think, if physicalism is true. You need something like Plato's doctrine of recollection to explain this, or Augustine's doctrine of divine illumination.

Plantinga's paper on being an anti-realist

This is the link to Plantinga's How to Be an Anti-Realist.

So what we really have here is a sort of antinomy. On the one hand there is a deep impulse towards anti-realism; there can't really be truths independent of noetic activity. On the other hand there is the disquieting fact that anti-realism, at least of the sorts we have been considering, seems incoherent and otherwise objectionable. We have here a paradox seeking resolution, a thesis and antithesis seeking synthesis. And what is by my lights the correct synthesis, was suggested long before Hegel. This synthesis was suggested by Augustine, endorsed by most of the theistic tradition, and given succinct statement by Thomas Aquinas: "Even if there were no human intellects, there could be truths because of their relation to the divine intellect. But if, per impossible, there were no intellects at all, but things continued to exist, then there would be no such reality as truth." (De Veritate Q. 1, A.6 Respondeo). The thesis, then, is that truth cannot be independent of noetic activity on the part of persons. The antithesis is that it must be independent of our noetic activity. And the synthesis is that truth is independent of our intellectual activity but not of God's.

And later:

By way of conclusion then: the fundamental anti-realist intuitionthat truth is not independent of mind-is indeed correct. This intuition is best accommodated by the theistic claim that necessarily, propositions have two properties essentially: being conceived by God and being true if and only if believed by God. So how can we sensibly be antirealists? Easily enough: by being theists.

Vallicella on define or drop, and the concept of faith

While Vallicella uses this as a critique of the left, I suspect it has a wider use. I suggest that in discussions between atheists and theists, once the word "faith" is spoken, the opponents ought to determine whether they can agree on the meaning of the term or not. In many cases I suggest they can't, in which case they ought to agree to use substitute phrases to express what mean on whose meaning the debaters can agree.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Robust moral realism and acts done from duty

I have been trying to develop the idea by using the Kantian idea of acts done from duty.  Whether or not no moral action has any moral worth unless it is done from duty, it is at least intuitively true that if morality is to have any real influence on human conduct, it has to be possible for our actions to be actions done because it is our duty. Something like this needs to be true on significant occasions in our lives: If I had not been wrong to steal money, I would have stolen it." But if naturalism is true, it seems as if this never happens, and since Wielenberg says that these moral facts have no causal power, he seems to accept this implication of naturalism.

Of course, he might argue that even as a naturalist, he can say that people do some things because they believe it to be their duty. But then, can they also say that we can believe that something is our duty because it is our duty?

Paraphrasing Lewis:

Even if moral truths do exist, what have they got to do with the actual occurrence of moral choice as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretched back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of moral grounds prevent the choice's occurrence and how could the existence of moral grounds promote it?

Turns out I thought of this three years ago. when I was in a rehab center recovering from a car accident.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The mereological fallacy

This is from Michael Egnor's article "Neuroscience" in Zondervan's Dictionary of Christianity and Science, ed. Paul Copan. (2017). I have the articles on the Argument from Reason and Thomas Nagel in this dictionary. 

Another conceptual confusion in neuroscience is the mereological fallacy. The mereological fallacy is the unwarranted attribution of attributes of the whole to its parts. Neuroscientist Max Bennett and philosopher Peter Hacker have pointed out that the very common claim in neuroscience that the brain “sees” or the brain “understands” or the brain “chooses” and so forth commits the mereological fallacy. Only a person sees or understands or chooses. There are indeed brain processes that correlate with seeing and understanding and choosing, but the brain itself is an organ and has neither sight nor understanding nor choice in itself. 

VR: To which I like to say, "Interesting fellow Mr. Brain. Remarkable what he can do.

Horgan on the British emergentists

The British emergentists were not substance-dualists; they held that all particulars are physical entities wholly constituted out of physical entities as their parts. But they were not full-fledged materialists either, because they denied that physics is a causally complete science. They maintained that at various junctures in the course of evolution, complex physical entities came into being that had certain non-physical, "emergent", properties. These properties, they claimed, are fundamental force-generating properties, over and above the force-generating properties of physics; when such a property is instantiated by an individual, the total causal forces operative within the individual are a combination of physical and non-physical forces, and the resulting behavior of the individual is different from what it would have been had the emergent force(s) not been operative alongside the lower-level forces… Furthermore, there is no explanation for why emergent properties come into being, or why they generate the specific non-physical forces they do. These facts are metaphysically and scientifically basic, in much the same way that fundamental laws of physics are basic; they are unexplained explainers, which must be accepted (in Samuel Alexander's striking phrase) "with natural piety". Putative examples of emergent properties included (i) chemical-bonding properties of molecules, which were held to be emergent from physical properties of atoms or their constituents; (ii) self-maintenance and reproductive properties of living things, emergent from physical and chemical properties; and (iii) mental properties of creatures with consciousness, emergent from physical, chemical, and biological properties.11

Friday, August 18, 2017

The intuition behind anti-realism

How could there be truths totally independent of minds or persons? Truths are the sort of things persons know; and the idea that there are or could be truths quite beyond the best methods of apprehension seems peculiar and outre and somehow outrageous. What would account for such truths? How would they get there? Where would they come from? How could the things that are in fact true or false propositions, let's say-exist in serene and majestic independence of persons and their means of apprehension? How could there be propositions no one has ever so much as grasped or thought of? It can seem just crazy to suppose that propositions could exist quite independent of minds or persons or judging beings. That there should just be these truths, independent of persons and their noetic activities can, in certain moods and from certain perspectives, seem wildly counterintuitive. How could there be truths, or for that matter, falsehoods, if there weren't any person to think or believe or judge them?

From Alvin Plantinga's "How to be an anti-realist."