Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Which Laws Govern?

t is not enough that one mental event cause another mental event in virtue of its propositional content. Someone who engages in rational inference must recognize the correctness of the principle of sound reasoning, which one applies to one's inference. Modus Ponens works, affirming the consequent does not. Our inferences are supposed to be governed by the rules of reasoning we recognize to be correct. However, can these rules of inference ever really govern our reasoning process? According to physicalism, all of our reasoning processes are the inevitable result of a physical substrate that is not governed by reasons. ¶ So we might ask this question: "Which laws govern the activity we call rational inference?" We might stipulate, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that laws of physics are accounts of the powers and liabilities of the objects in question. If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics apply to the assemblage of particles we call human beings, then those particles are not what (mechanistic) physics says they are, and we have admitted a fundamental explanatory dualism. If however, the laws are the laws of physics, then there are no powers and liabilities that cannot be predicted from the physical level. If this is so there can be a sort of emergence, in that the basic laws governing a sleeping pill will not mention that the pills tend to put you to sleep. Nevertheless, the pill's soporific effectiveness can be fully and completely analyzed in terms of its physical powers and liabilities. If this is so, then we will be rational if and only if the physical configurations of matter guarantee that we are physical, and in the last analysis, the laws of logic do not govern our intellectual conduct.


redated from 2011. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Repent of your religious beliefs, or you are going straight to......the kid's table

Well, atheists don't say that our eternal destiny hangs on our decision, but I do hear atheists say that everything depends on our abandoning religious beliefs. See the late Victor Stenger:
"When belief in ancient myths joins with other negative forces in our society, they hinder the world from advancing scientifically, economically, and socially at a time when a rapid advancement in these areas is absolutely essential for the survival of humanity. We now may be only about a generation or two away from the catastrophic problems predicted to result from global warming, pollution, and overpopulation. Our children and grandchildren could be faced with flooded coastal areas, severe climatic changes, epidemics caused by overcrowding, and increased starvation for much of humanity. Such disasters would generate worldwide conflict on a scale that is likely to exceed that of the great twentieth-century wars, possibly with nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable nations and terrorist groups."
So, unless faith ends, the WORLD IS COMING TO AN END. Why should someone who believes this refrain from using force to end religion?
Religion matters to people, and so the "devil" can tempt us to use force to support it. But the devil can tempt unbelievers to use force to the end of religious belief by any means necessary. Atheists tend to get upset when atheism is called a religion. But it is a position concerning the great issues, and it profoundly affects how we live our lives. Atheists may not consign you to hell for not agreeing with them, but they will consign you to the kid's table, and for some people that is an even worse fate.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Parsons on irrationality charges

To accuse people of irrationality is the charge them with a moral as well as an intellectual failure. This is, of course, what makes the charge of irrationality so inflammatory. To accuse someone of irrationality is tantamount to charging that he has sacrificed intellectual integrity. It is a way of saying that someone has formed a belief irresponsibly or dishonestly—through self-deception, say, or perhaps by ignoring easily available contrary evidence. To call someone irrational is to say that he has settled for a belief that he knows, deep down inside, not to be the most reasonable one.

God and the Burden of Proof, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989) p.32. 

Reply to Parsons on Religion and Violence

  • Parsons' comments are  here

  • I think you misunderstood my point. People can be tempted to kill for what they think is really important. If you are religious, this might be really important, though with Christianity you do have an argument against supporting religion with violence, originally made by Lactantius:
    "Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone; in this matter it is better to employ words than blows [verbis melius quam verberibus res agenda est]. Of what use is cruelty? What has the rack to do with piety? Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty . . . . It is true that nothing is so important as religion, and one must defend it at any cost [summa vi] . . . It is true that it must be protected, but by dying for it, not by killing others; by long-suffering, not by violence; by faith, not by crime. If you attempt to defend religion with bloodshed and torture, what you do is not defense, but desecration and insult. For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion. (Divine Institutes V:20)"
    Surely there has been plenty of religiously motivated violence, and Christians have, sadly, not always followed Lactantius' excellent advice. But you need something more than religion to justify violence. You need to accept the claim that force can and should be used to advance one's religion. It might lead you to violence if you think somehow you can promote religion by the use of political power. As I have argued, it's a lot harder for Muslims to reject this premise than for Christians, since Islam was founded through the use of political power.
    But what about atheism? Could people really convinced that our society, if it to advance, needs to embrace atheism, be tempted to use political power, and ultimately violence, to achieve that goal? If you buy in on all the "mind virus" and "delusion" rhetoric that the New Atheists are fond of using, if you are convinced that raising a child as a Christian or a Jew is to abuse that child, etc. etc. etc., wouldn't there be a temptation to "use the ring" and force people to abandon their faith? Why not? Dawkins has already supported using the fear of ridicule to peer-pressure people out of their beliefs. Ever hear of the League of the Militant Godless in the former Soviet Union? Ever hear of the Cult of Reason during the French Revolution.
    What I object to is the idea that somehow abandoning religious belief is going to eliminate violence, and that atheism somehow is going to leave us all with, as John Lennon put it, "nothing to kill or die for." As I see it, THAT view is delusional, and you have to smoke a lot of pot and drop a lot of acid believe that. My answer to Lennon comes for George Strait, as follows:
    If we consider something important, then we can be tempted to decide that the end justifies the means. And that includes the end of faith.

      Against property dualism

      A redated post

      What if you accept irreducibility arguments that defend the claim that mental states are ineliminable and irreducible to physical states. Many philosophers buy these arguments without denying an overall philosophical naturalism. What they accept, instead, is dualism of properties but a monism of substances. At least when I was in graduate school, it seemed to me as if the mainstream position amongst secular philosophers was a non-reductive materialism based on the supervenience of mental states on physical states. There were numerous opposing views about what kind of supervenience relationship had to obtain between mental and physical states.
      William Hasker, in his response to me in Philosophia Christi, entitled “What about a Sensible Naturalism,” is talking about just this kind of naturalistic position. He describes a sensible naturalism as “a naturalism that makes a serious effort to accommodate, or at least makes sense of, our ordinary convictions about the mind and its operations—the things we think we all “know” about the mind, when we are not doing philosophy.”
      The difficulty here is that the mental and the physical are defined in such a way as to exclude one another. So reductionist accounts of the mental have a tendency to be either fully or partly eliminativist. We have to back off from what we thought were out common-sense conceptions of what the mental is in order to accept a reduction to the physical. To accept reductionist accounts of the mental, for Hasker, is not to be a sensible naturalist.
      There is, it seems to me, a paradoxical difficulty for naturalistic philosophies of mind. If you can reduce the mental to the physical, then the issue of mental causation, I think, becomes easier for the naturalist. If the naturalist is inclined in a reductionist/eliminativist direction, then the argument from propositional content becomes the main focus. However, many naturalist philosophers do not think reductionism is plausible. But if the naturalist buys a nonreductive materialism, which means that we accept a dualism of properties, then the argument from mental causation becomes the key argument.
      Edward Feser presents the case against the non-reductivist view on mental causation as follows:
      …Property dualism seems if anything to have a worse problem with epiphenomenalism than does Cartesian dualism. Recall that the Cartesian dualist who opts for epiphenomenalism seems to be committed to the absurd consequence that we cannot so much as talk about out mental states, because if epiphenomenalism is true, those mental states have no effect at all on our bodies, including our larynxes, tongues and lips. But as Daniel Dennett has pointed out, the property dualist seems committed to something even more absurd: the conclusion that we cannot even think about our mental states, or at least about our qualia! For if your beliefs—including your belief that you have qualia—are physical states of your brain, and qualia can have no effects on anything physical, then whether you have qualia has nothing to do with whether you believe that you have them. The experience of pain you have in your back has absolutely no connection to your belief that you have an experience of pain in your back; for, being incapable of having any causal influence on the physical world, it cannot be what caused you to have beliefs about it.

      Wednesday, August 27, 2014

      Dion DiMucci's Catholic Testimony

      Inspiring to, I think, all of us, Catholic or Protestant. Here.  

      Monday, August 25, 2014

      C. S. Lewis on the Socratic Club

      “In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”

      Lewis Scholar Christopher Mitchell on the Oxford Socratic Club

      This seem to me to be the model for discussion that Christians and their opponents ought to strive for.


      In this post, I made the mistake of saying that Lindsay was implying that believers are stupid or idiots. He never actually explained the existence of educated believers in terms of stupidity. But he claiming that theism is a stupid position, undeserving of serious discussion, and supported by  no evidence whatsoever. There is a tone of intellectual superiority in these sorts of statements, which  is why I used the word "idiot." But it's important to be accurate. Of course, IDiot is a common term used for ID advocates, but they don't strike me as stupid.

      Well, besides stupid, there is ignorant, wicked, and insane. Some people argue that educated theists are simply unwilling to consider evidence that calls their beliefs into question. But I remember choosing philosophy as a major largely because I thought that if there were good arguments to be made against Christianity it wanted to know about them sooner as opposed to later. I have been a Christian minority in most of the philosophy departments I studied and taught at.

      Then there is the line "faith makes intelligent people seem stupid." But I got my credentials in philosophy working mostly on issues relevant to my religious beliefs, and my dissertation had to pass a committee of people skeptical of my line of argument.

      Sunday, August 24, 2014

      Lecture notes on the multicultural problem in ethics

      Ethics: The Multicultural Approach
      How moral issues arise in our culture
      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
      Perhaps no statement captures the moral consciousness of our country. On the one hand, human equality is a powerful idea. On the other hand, the author of those words owned slaves, nor was he particularly known for treating women as equals.
      Moral debates in America
      A lot of moral issues arise in America in an attempt to apply the concept of equality. Consider the issue of slavery, which ripped the country in half in the 19th Century. Or consider the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and even the gay rights movement. The idea in all of these movements is that people shouldn’t be treated as inferiors because of differences that are not morally relevant, or for differences that are not under the person’s control.
      Equality and multiculturalism
      Our belief in equality is perhaps one of the most significant motivation for looking at things multiculturally. If people are equal, then we might want to avoid treating people or ideas as inferior if they came from some culture other than our own.
      Blum’s motives for multicultural educaton
      Lawrence Blum mentions three values motivating a multicultural approach: antiracism, a sense of interracial community, and treating persons as individuals.
      These values are more common in our own culture than they are in many others. In many other countries race (and gender) is a basis for treating others as inferior, there is no interracial community, and people are not treated as individuals.
      Arranged marriages and female genital mutilation
      Something that reflects the individualism of our own society is the fact that we select our own mates. We do not countenance the idea, for example, of being given in marriage by one’s parents. But in some cultures not only are marriages are arranged, but people are forced into them as children. Similarly, in some cultures women are forced into genital mutilation, which is the subject of Martha Nussbaum’s essay.
      The value of tolerance
      We value tolerance in our culture quite a bit. I think historically we found ourselves having to live in a democratic society with many different religious standpoints, so we needed tolerance to get along with one another.
      One idea that people think will encourage tolerance is the idea of relativism. If morals are relative, and there is no truth about what is really right or wrong, then we will be less inclined to be judgmental toward others.
      Or will it?
      One surprising result is that if relativism is true, then it is a virtue to be tolerant of other cultures just in case your culture approves of tolerating other cultures. If it doesn't, then you are supposed to be intolerant. So relativism doesn't lead to tolerance, it can just as easily lead to intolerance.
      Dealing with other cultures
      How should we respond to things going on in other cultures. One side of us wants to say that we shouldn’t be critical of what other cultures do. On the other hand, sometimes in other societies we find that some people are treated as inferiors, and what we would consider to be their rights are violated. So, how do we respond to that?
      The paradox of multiculturalism
      The paradox of multiculturalism is the fact that the values that drive us toward multiculturalism are exactly those values that are rejected in other cultures.
      For example, we have a conviction that people should be treated as equals, regardless of their origin or background. Otherwise we could look at other cultures and just say “those barbarians.” But other cultures often approve of treating certain peoples as inferiors.
      The Caste system in India
      Prohibiting women from driving in Saudi Arabia
      Arranged marriages, and even child marriages, in India and other countries.
      Anti-gay laws in Kenya and Uganda: Both male and female homosexual activity is illegal. Under the Penal Code, "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" between two males carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment and executions/torture are allowed with no legal liabilities for the executioners.”
      Criminal punishment for rape victims in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Somalia, and India.
      Executing people for adultery in places like Afghanistan
      Female Genital Mutilation
      The Good Old USA
      Well, we had slavery until the Civil War, and women got the right to vote in the 1920s, which means that during most of our country’s history, women have NOT had this right. The civil rights movement culminated in the 1960s, in my lifetime.
      Two ways of responding
      1)It’s their culture. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong
      2)People’s rights are being unjustly violated. It’s wrong no matter whether the culture approves or not.
      It comes down to the whole issue of moral objectivity.