Saturday, December 04, 2004

Some Thoughts on an Aristotelian View of Propositional Logic

How would propositional logic fit with regard to the Aristotelian Organon? By the Aristotelian Organon, I mean the extended (medieval) Organon, which numbers the books of logic as nine:

1) Isagoge (Porphyry's)
2) Categories
3) Peri Hermeneias (De Interpretatione)
4) Prior Analytics
5) Posterior Analytics
6) Topics
7) Sophistical Refutations
8) Rhetoric
9) Poetics

We can set aside 1,7, 8, and 9 as not relevant to the question. Now, of the rest, we can roughly say that logic qua Categories discusses terms; logic qua De Interpretatione discusses the structure of non-complex propositions; logic qua Prior Analytics discusses the formal structure of deduction; logic qua Posterior Analytics discusses demonstrative argument; and logic qua Topics discusses dialectical argument. In a philosophy of logic structured according to the Organon, where would propositional logic fit?

There's a sense, of course, in which all formal structures fit into Prior Analytics, but that's not really a very interesting thing. But there is more to logical argument than formal structure alone on this view (there is beyond this the actual application of the structure to subject-matter), so that's not the whole answer. Demonstrative reasoning according to this view proceeds terministically: that is, it is in virtue of the terms of the premises that the deduction goes through. Propositional logic, however, is (by definition) non-terministic. So it can't be demonstrative, which means it would have to be dialectical. The application of propositional logic to actual subject-matter is a matter of dialectical reasoning rather than demonstrative reasoning. And this is exactly the Aristotelian view. So how does this sort of thing work?

Let's take as true a single complex proposition like (p -> q), i.e., q if p. One can reasonably ask why, given p, q follows; but this cannot be answered in purely propositional terms, since the answer to this question would require looking at the terms of the proposition. To say why (p -> q) is true requires looking at the terministic and operational structure of p and q. So what good is q if p in argument? An Aristotelian would reply in this way. Without complex propositions like these, one would have to argue directly for q. If, however, we can take (p -> q) as a principle agreed upon by all relevant persons, we can then argue for q indirectly by arguing for p. This radically increases the flexibility of our argumentative resources. So suppose we were arguing that Something is caused. If we can take it as agreed upon by all relevant persons that If something begins to exist, something is caused, we can then argue for our conclusion by arguing for the conclusion Something begins to exist. On some views (e.g., Aristotelian, or Shepherd's), If something begins to exist, something is caused is a necessary proposition, since something's beginning to exist is just its being caused (under a different description). But this is not necessary for the propositional logic itself; all we need for that to work is to be able to posit the complex proposition (p -> q). If that taken as agreed upon, our dialectical resources have been expanded.

This suggests something about what is going on in the so-called 'special topics'. Every special science is held to have (in addition to the general topics that govern all sciences) its own 'special topics' peculiar to it. Our little meditation on the dialectical work of complex propositions suggests that what these special topics usually (always?) do is provide inferential guidelines to expand our dialectical resources in that particular field. In other words, because they draw connections between different propositional truths, they allow us to substitute one thing for another. For instance, one might have in physics a special topic devoted to saying how one gets a proposition expressed in terms of energy from a proposition expressed in terms of matter. If one needs to know or prove something about energy, this sort of complex proposition allows one to tackle this problem by way of what one knows or can prove about matter. Such a complex proposition has increased one's resources for concluding things about energy. Now, it's possible that this complex proposition expresses a necessary truth; but this requires terministic analysis that the special sciences do not in their normal progress usually require, unless one wishes strictly to demonstrate something in an Aristotelian sense. All the special sciences require is that the complex propositions we choose not be arbitrary, but chosen due to their aptness for rendering true conclusions. This is all dialectical reasoning: we don't need to show the premises to be strictly necessary; all we need is for the premises to be agreed upon, for expert reasons, by the relevant experts.

[UPDATE: In a revision slip I originally stated that on an Aristotelian view or on Shepherd's view 'beginning to exist' is equivalent to 'being caused'. This, of course, is blatantly false; so I've fixed the error.]

Another Shepherd Summary

At Houyhnhnm Land I have put up a passage in which Lady Mary Shepherd summarizes her view of the psychological process involved in causal reasoning. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the style of the page; but when I get it to where I want it, I'll finalize it (e.g., double-check for browser compatibility, etc.) and use it as the basic format for all my additional pages. The idea is eventually to have a set of pages devoted to Lady Mary Shepherd's causal theory, with a number of key passages, commentaries, cross-referencing to passages in Locke and Hume, and so forth. I also want to start doing something similar with Malebranche, although that's a bit more complicated due to translation issues. (I've already translated the Preface to his Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion; this (French) Preface is unavailable in English, since Jolley and Scott oddly refused to translate it as being 'philosophically uninteresting'. I'll put it up as soon as I've gone over it, and in particular have reworked my translation of the Latin quotations, which are many and difficult to translate. It is this difficulty that I suspect is what 'philosophically uninteresting' really means!)


The April 2004 edition of Faith and Philosophy (journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers) arrived here yesterday. It looks interesting. There's an article about various positions cur Deus Homo, i.e., views about the purpose of the Incarnation. The biggest question in this, of course, is whether God would have become man had there been no sin. I've only looked briefly at it; it doesn't look like she really focuses on the only genuinely strong argument for the affirmative position (Scotus's argument from the predestination of Christ). There is also what looks like an interesting article contrasting Aquinas's and Aristotle's accounts of the virtue of magnanimity.

Friday, December 03, 2004


There was a talk on Boethius of Dacia today; I couldn't go because I was meeting with students in a class for which I'm grading. But I've been very surprised at how many graduate students don't know that Boethius of Dacia is different from Ancius Manlius Severus Boethius. The latter is the Boethius, the one who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy. The former is a Latin Averroist, often associated with Siger of Brabant. Now, I can understand not being able to place Boethius of Dacia; but confusing them entirely just seems to me to be a bit odd. But perhaps that's just me?

For Reading

* At "Science and Politics", Coturnix has a series on biological time in Darwinian perspective, which looks at biological methodology. It's a bit long, so you might find it useful to print it out and read it at leisure away from the computer screen.

* A post on students at "Bitch Ph.D."

* The Maverick Philosopher gives a Kantian analysis of four kinds of pride.

* Hugo Schwyzer posts an Auden poem. I rather suspect that the upper room at midnight is one of those perpetual and inevitable iterations of human society, like taxes or death or the oldest profession.

UPDATE: Also, there's a good post on the nature of scientific explanation at "prosthesis".

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Planck on the Metaphysical Foundations of Science

The essential point of the positivist theory is no other source of knowledge except the straight and short way of perception through the senses. Positivism always holds trictly to that. Now, the two sentences: (1) there is a real outer world which exists independently of our act of knowing and (2) the real outer world is not directly knowable form together the cardinal hinge on which the whole structure of physical science turns. And yet there is a certain degree of contradiction between those two sentences. This fact discloses the presence of the irrational, or mystic, element which adheres to physical science as to every other branch of human knowledge. The effect of this is that a science is never in a position completely and exhaustively to solve the problem it has to face. We must accept that as a hard and fast, irrefutable fact, and this fact cannot be removed by a theory which restricts the scope of science at its very start. Therefore, we see the task of science arising before us as an incessant struggle toward a goal which will never be reached, because by its very nature it is unreachable. It is of a metaphysical character, and, as such, is always again and again beyond our achievement.

This is from Max Planck's discussion of the issue in Positivism and External Reality (for some reason I didn't put any further information in my notes; I think it was quoted in Jaki's The Road of Science and the Ways to God - in the Planck chapter, of course). This conception of science pervades his writings on the subject, as can easily be seen by looking at the Scientific Autobiography and The Philosophy of Physics. Consider the following passage from Scientific Autobiography:

In any case, we may say in summary that according to what exact natural science teaches us, the entire realm of nature, in which we human beings on our tiny mote of a planet play only an infinitesimally small part, is ruled by definite laws which are independent of the existence of thinking human beings; but these laws, insofar as they can at all be comprehended by our senses, can be given a formulation which is adapted for purposeful activity. Thus, natural science exhibits a rational world order the inner essence of which is and remains unknowable to us, since only our sense data (which can never be completely excluded) supply evidence for it. Nevertheless, the truly prolific results of natural-scientific research justify the conclusion that continuing efforts will at least keep bringing us progressively nearer to the inattainable goal, and they strengthen our inner hope for a constant advancement of our insight into the ways of the omnipotent Reason which rules over Nature. (tr. by Frank Gaynor, Greenwood Press (1971) pp. 181-182)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Election Question for Non-U.S. Readers

On my New Mexico ballot for this past election, these were the things I had to vote for:

1) President/Vice President ticket
2) U. S. Representative
3) Justice of State Supreme Court (one to elect)
4) Justice of State Supreme Court (two, whether to retain)
5) Judge of the Court of Appeals
6) State Senator
7) State Representative
8) Public Regulation Commissioner
9) District Judge (two)
10) District Attorney
11) County Commissioner
12) County Clerk
13) County Treasurer
14) Director of Flood Control Authority
15) Bond questions (five)
16) Amendments to the State Constitution (three)

I'm just curious; for those who vote in elections other than those in the U.S., what sort of choices do you vote for when you go to the polls each election (and how many)? I realized recently that I probably just assume that people in other nations face similar sorts of choices, but never having voted in any other elections, I wouldn't actually know.

Response to Grupp's Response

One of the valuable things about blogging is unexpected discussion; I keep forgetting that sometimes it might be useful to check for further information online. For instance, I noted in my musings on Grupp's article in Dialogue that I hadn't been able to read his earlier article on the subject; but he has it online. Even if I turn out to be entirely wrong (and I might), I, at least, will have had the benefit of being alerted to an interesting paper I might not otherwise have been able to read. Those who want to read the more recent Dialogue paper, can also find it online. [UPDATE: I just realized that I didn't provide a link for Grupp's response, to which I'm responding; it's found in a prior post, but for ease it should be here as well. Here's the link.]

I should clarify what I'm trying to do; Grupp is right that my original comments are a bit cryptic in parts. I'm having difficulty seeing how his argument actually works, so my arguments shouldn't be considered categorically as attempts at refutation but rather as doubts or problems I'm having with the argument. They might, in the end, turn out to be refutations; but they might also turn out to be something else entirely. So I'm not going for a very strong claim with my arguments.

Grupp's argument (which can be found in the online articles) is that the positing of a Platonic exemplification tie introduces apparent contradictions having to do with the attachment of a located and an unlocated entity. Now, this is roughly the course the argument takes in the Dialogue article (as I summarized it in my original comments):

1. Suppose we have a wholly spatially located entity, L, e.g., a lion, and a wholly unlocated platonic universal, S, e.g., sublimity, which L exemplifies.

2. Since L is wholly spatially located, L only exemplifes n-adic properties, such as S, at x and nowhere else, because L is nowhere else but at x.

3. Therefore an exemplification not at x is an exemplification that does not have to do with L.

4. Since S is wholly spatially unlocated, it cannot fail to be spatially unlocated (Grupp calls this 'being at y'), S only involves a direct attachment to the exemplification tie at y, and nowhere else, because S is nowhere else but at y.

5. Therefore an exemplification not at y is an exemplification that does not have to do with S.

6. If L exemplifies n-adic properties only at x, if S involves a direct attachment to the exemplification tie only at y, and if the exemplification tie does not cross realms, since x is not y, L and S apparently cannot have any dealings with each other: for L to tie to S, S, which is wholly at y, must be at x, and thus be both located and unlocated, or L, which is wholly at x, must be at y, and thus both located and unlocated.

7. Therefore L and S cannot be tied by exemplification.

My first doubt about this was that the way Grupp has phrased the argument here gives it a superficial plausibility it does not strictly have. That is, the argument as it is put forward on p. 495 of the Dialogue article, makes the attribution of locatedness to the exemplification tie look parallel to the attribution of unlocatedness. L exemplifies S; L is wholly at x, so the exemplification must be at x; S is wholly at y, so the exemplification must be at y; hence the contradiction. However, suppose we grant that since L is located wholly at x, the exemplification tie must be at x. It does not follow from this that since S is unlocated, the exemplification tie must be unlocated. The cases are not parallel, although putting it in terms of 'being at x' and 'being at y' makes them look so. Grupp has given the Platonist no argument or reason to believe that she is committed to the exemplification tie's being unlocated, even if she agrees that she is committed to the exemplification tie's being located. In other words: Grupp claims that "A direct attaching with the exemplification tie that is not at y is a direct attaching that does not have to do with S" (p. 495), but this just means that an exemplification tie that is not unlocated can't have anything to do with S because S is unlocated. Now, it is by no means clear to me that a Platonic realist needs to accept such a claim without an argument. (Some might be committed to it, of course; but the question, I take it, is whether all positings of exemplification ties are committed to it.)

There is, I think, good reason to think that at least some Platonic realists would be inclined to deny such a claim. Two of the metaphors which Platonists of various stripes have occasionally used to describe the exemplification tie (or something analogous to it) are imitation and mental intention. Take imitation. Suppose we have an ectype, E, like a painting, and an archetype, A, like the person the painting depicts. E imitates A. Now E is wholly at x; and therefore the imitation of A is wholly at x. It has to be if E is an imitation of A, because E is wholly at x. But the imitation is of A. Now, it follows from nothing in this mix that the imitation tie has to be wherever A is. Or take mental intention or perception (e.g., Whitehead's ingression of eternal objects). P thinks about O. P is wholly at x; therefore the thinking about O is wholly at x. But it follows from nothing in this that the thinking about O is wholly wherever O is. And we can extend this to other properties besides location. So these sorts of metaphors suggest that we can conclude nothing about the exemplification tie as such directly from the properties of S. But this does seem to be what Grupp is trying to do in the argument.

If this is so, then whatever one's particular view about whether the exemplification tie is where L is, at x, we have no reason to believe that any contradiction ensues from the exemplification tie's attaching a located with an unlocated entity. Some Platonic realists might be committed to something like such a contradiction, if they characterize the attachment of the exemplification tie in a certain way; but there doesn't seem to be enough here to regard it as a general problem for Platonic realists. Platonic realists in general do not appear to be committed to a view in which S's being unlocated has any implications for the characteristics of the exemplification tie; the only thing that is essential is that L's exemplification of S actually be of S. Grupp seems to assume that to be of S the exemplification has to be unlocated; but I see no reason why this would be plausible to most Platonic realists. If this is so, then the Platonic realist can agree with #1, #2, and #3 above; but deny that #4 and #5 are true (and hence #6 and #7).

My 'further thought' [i.e., in the original comments - ed.] on the topic is (on further further thought!) somewhat irrelevant to the argument as such. I do want to clarify it, though. I said:

S may be wholly unlocated in itself, as a Platonic universal, but it does not follow from this that S cannot be located in any way; particularly if you think 'being exemplified by' is one way something can be located somewhere. In this case, S would be wholly unlocated in itself, but located in L by L's exemplification of S.

Grupp responds to this:

The author of the Siris entry is discussing my work as if we can avoid the problems I outline in my article by merely maintaining that either the exemplification tie, or the property S, is located where physical particular L is located at. With respect to S, this however is not platonistic metaphysics and platonistic property possession, but, rather, some sort of minimalist realist or Aristotelian property possession (which I very briefly discuss earlier in my article).

The issue in my further thought is the 'with respect to S'. As I said, I've come to think that it's actually not relevant to Grupp's argument, strictly speaking. But I want to point out that Grupp's conclusion here ("this however is not platonist metaphysics and platonistic property possession, but, rather, some sort of minimalist realist or Aristotelian property possession") is not necessarily true. Again, perhaps my comment is a bit cryptic. Let's detour slightly to consider the case of action at a distance. Now, it is an old maxim that everything is in some sense present or located wherever it acts. If action at a distance is possible, then, with the maxim it would mean that objects capable of acting at a distance can be (in a looser sense) present or located in places where they are not (in a stricter sense) present or located. And this seems quite reasonable; it is not location in the strictest sense, but it is an entirely plausible way of thinking about the matter: acting-on-O is a way to be located where O is, in an extended sense of 'location'. It's the looser sense/ stricter sense that makes it irrelevant to Grupp's argument, since (I take it) the argument is only about location in the stricter sense, and wouldn't be concerned with the looser sense at all. But the thought still can serve a (small) function in the discourse by reminding us that even if a Platonic realist were to allow that S is in some sense located, they would not necessarily be committed to an Aristotelian view. For while S, as a Platonic universal, is strictly speaking unlocated (and necessarily so), there is nothing to prevent the Platonic realist from allowing that in a looser sense of location it can be located wherever it is exemplified. And this does have some small importance, beyond the purely semantic point, because of one reason for talking this way that I suspect would perhaps be somewhat plausible to anyone who found Platonic realism itself plausible. If location (in the strict sense) is a derivative property of some sort, and necessarily presupposes exemplification (it being impossible for something exemplifying no properties to be located anywhere), then the reason for the apparent plausibility of speaking of exemplification ties as in some way located would become very clear: all location presupposes exemplification, and (naturally) we find that universals are exemplified in the world largely (some might say wholly) in located things, so by a very easy metonymy we can shift between the two. And if this is the case, then it would seem that Platonic realists need not be committed to #2 and #3; i.e., the exemplification tie cannot be (and does not need to be) strictly characterized as located, because it is what location itself presupposes. But I only bring this up as a possibility. My point is that it is possible for a Platonic realist to allow that S is in some completely reasonable sense located even though (because he is a Platonic realist) in a strict sense he must say it is not; but, as I noted, this is not in itself relevant to Grupp's argument, so I'll leave the clarification of what I originally intended at that.

This is an interesting discussion, and I'd like to thank Grupp for picking my original comments up and responding to them. Even if I turn out to be way off base, I've already found it to be excellent mental exercise and quite thought-provoking; even to lose this argument would still leave me happy and heavily benefited by having engaged in it. I hope the above clarifies my position somewhat; it's still possible that I'm misunderstanding or missing something in Grupp's approach. (It's also possible, given that my own sympathies are Aristotelian, that I'm attributing things to Platonic realists that no Platonic realist would ever hold; but this is the less likely danger.) In any case, as I said, it's been an enjoyable conversation.

A Higher Flight in More Exalted Regions

Man in his present state, feels occasional aspirations towards another, prompted by the craving want of some unknown unimaginable good, of which he has no intimation but from the consciousness of an unsatisfied capacity:--Let him not then too easily reject the belief that this capacity has a corresponding object, that his nature is capable of a nobler manifestation, a higher flight in more exalted regions than this, and enlarged as to every power of action, thought, and enjoyment.

Lady Mary Shepherd, Essays on the Perception of an External Universe, p. 159 (in the chapter on the "Difference Between Body and Mind").

This paragraph occurs shortly after her comment, "I confess I think the further we extend our views into the regions of metaphysics, the more possible and probable does the resurrection from the dead appear; or at least an existence analogous to it" (p. 157). It is clear from Shepherd's essay on the eternity of the mind that she doesn't think immortality of the soul or resurrection from the dead is demonstrable; she simply argues that philosophically it is possible and that there are philosophical arguments that give it some probability. She then goes on to say what she hopes will be the case:

As for myself, though I think that, independant of the inference from scripture, the reunion of memory to future consciousness presents no philosophical difficulty, yet I could be well content in the trust that, the inquiry for truth should be rewarded by the finding it, whether the present labour in its search be remembered or not; that the charity which sympathizes in witnessing pain, should be enlarged only to promote or to delight in the perception of pleasure, whether former misery be obliterated from the fancy, or not;--that an instinctive devotion towards God should meet with higher demonstrations of his presence than our faint conceptions here are able to embrace, though the satisfaction arising from the comparison should then be denied; and that the conflict here with doubt, difficulty, suffering, temptation, and the observation of evil, should terminate as well as the memory of it, in the personal consciousness, and the notice of surrounding happiness; in a secure and perptual possession of truth; in the love and the enjoyment of the practice of every noble and kindly virtue.

Essays on the Perception of an External Universe, "Eternity of Mind," pp. 384-385.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


I'm trying to meet quite a few deadlines this week, so this week blogging will be light (for me - I still have lots to blog about compared to all you lazy once-every-few-day-ers!), particularly since I want to get some things up at Houyhnhnm Land. But here are some things to look forward to in the next few weeks:

1) I'll be responding to Grupp's response - I need to do a bit of reading, but I should be clarifying the doubts (I wouldn't call them refutations) I originally expressed about his argument. This should happen this week (I hope).

2) I've been invited to present a paper for a panel on early modern accounts of mind-body union at the Canadian Philosophical Association next term. Here's my very rough, tentative working title and abstract:

God in the Works: The Ethical Focus of Malebranche's Account of Mind-Body Union

We normally don't think of mind-body union as primarily an ethical topic; that is, however, precisely Malebranche's view. In this paper I will examine how Malebranche's concern to provide a remedy against the sin of idolatry shapes his discussion of two major aspects of an account of mind-body union: our knowledge of the mind and mind-body interaction. Looking at these ethical issues will clarify why Malebranche deviates in important ways from his fellow Cartesians: his account of mind-body union is intended not merely as a true account of human beings but also as an antidote for our primary moral failings.

The paper is what I call 'quasi-written' - i.e., I have the barebones and most of the material for the general discussion, and just need to actually write it and develop some particular issues at greater length. I'm thinking I'll wrestle with one or two of these points here in the next few weeks. (Incidentally, if anyone has come across discussions of ethical implications of, or ethical influences on, other accounts of mind-body union, particularly in unexpected places I might not think to look, let me know, because I'm definitely interested in any parallels I could find.)

3) I want to try to get another quasi-written paper, on Lady Mary Shepherd's critique of Hume, into order by January, so expect something on Shepherd's views of mathematical causation.

4) I've been intending for some time to write a bit about William Whewell's ethics. I don't know if I'll get to it in the next few weeks, but I'm hoping to do so.

5) For a very, very long time, I've been intending to post something on Locke, Newman, and Price on the question of whether there really are degrees of assent or belief (I incline to Newman's view that there aren't). This is on my list of 'It would be nice to blog about, but it requires checking out Price's Belief and Newman's Grammar of Assent and re-reading the relevant sections first, and I don't know if I'll have the time given everything else I have to do.' I will blog about it sometime; I'm hoping I have a chance in the next few weeks, but very likely it will be postponed yet more.

And of course, there will always be occasional posts, i.e., posts on the occasion of something I've read or come across. And I have some old notes that I might post, too, just to do something different from what I usually do.

Pelikan and Ricoeur

I see from Cliopatria that Jaroslav Pelikan and Paul Ricoeur are sharing the Kluge Prize. Since I've been on a Gifford Lectures kick recently, I'll note that both are former Gifford Lecturers:

Ricoeur, Oneself as Another. Edinburgh, 1985-1986.

Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture. Aberdeen, 1992-1993.

I've read both (about two years ago, I think), although both are authors who really deserve (and, especially in the case of Ricoeur, need) to be read more than once, so I have to go back and read them again at some point. Based on (what I recall of my) first impressions, though, both are worth reading. I wouldn't put either in the top tier of a list of best Gifford Lectures (which for me would include the likes of William James, Etienne Gilson, Stanley Jaki, and Iris Murdoch); but they would both be high up on the list.

Here's an interesting reflection by Pelikan on being a Christian historian. The SEP has a helpful entry on Ricoeur's philosophical views.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Upcoming Philosophers' Carnival

The next Philosophers' Carnival will be up at Melbourne Philosopher Monday, Dec. 6; so if you have a post that would suitable for inclusion, it's getting time to submit it.

A Story About the Word 'Superstition'

Once upon a time, the word 'superstition' meant something, namely, a vice, opposed the virtue of religion (rendering what is owed to God) by excess: what should be rendered to God is rendered to more than God or to God in an undue way. Since the virtue of religion was to render right devotion to God, the first type of superstition was the rendering of devotion to the wrong sort of thing. This was called idolatry. Insofar as the virtue of religion had to do with following the teaching of God, the second sort of superstition was called divination, the following of non-divine teaching as if it were divine. Insofar as the virtue of religion directed human actions according to divine precepts, the third sort of superstition was superstitious observance, as in the use of amulets and the like.

Then the word became opposed to what was called 'rational religion', which was not a virtue in the old sense but a set of principles, and it was applied to anything that deviated from this standard, even if it would not have counted as superstition before. Thus 'superstition' became a less robust word, more vague, and while it continued to carry hints of irrationality and vice, it became more an insult than anything.

Then someone came along with the bright idea of abolishing religion altogether, because it was all superstition. And this use of the word 'superstition' meant almost nothing; it was a word like 'damned' or 'stupid' in ordinary conversation. It lent a flavor of irrationality to anything to which it was applied, but nothing more. They would still say the same things as when 'superstition' had been opposed to 'rational religion', but now instead of meaning anything significant by it, they just meant, 'It's stupid,' often saying it in a tone of voice indicating peremptory dismissal. And so the word, which had once been applied with such careful distinction and deliberation, became an excuse for not doing any critical thinking at all. In particular, it was a way of dismissing things that seemed less minimalist than one would like. When people would bring up the suggestion that there was more than a particular minimalist view would allow, they were dismissed; and the anathematization applied: "That's just an outdated superstition." And the people who used this cliche in order not to have to reason out any precise objections would go on and be satisfied in an absolute certainty of their eminent rationality.

Different Seasons and Festivals

There was a discussion sometime back on Prosblogion on 'counterpart theodicy'. I was browsing the various proverbs of ben Sira (i.e., the book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus) last night, and came across this:

Chapter 33
7 Why is one day more important than another,
when all the daylight in the year is from the sun?
8 By the LORD's wisdom they were distinguished,
and he appointed the different seasons and festivals.
9 Some days he exalted and hallowed,
and some he made ordinary days.
10 All human beings come from the ground,
and humankind was created out of the dust.
11 In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them
and appointed their different ways.
12 Some he blessed and exalted,
and some he made holy and brought near to himself;
but some he cursed and brought low,
and turned them out of their place.
13 Like clay in the hand of the potter,
to be molded as he pleases,
so all are in the hand of their Maker,
to be given whatever he decides.
14 Good is the opposite of evil,
and life the opposite of death;
so the sinner is the opposite of the godly.
15 Look at all the works of the Most High;
they come in pairs, one the opposite of the other.

It occurred to me that this is actually something vaguely like an aesthetic argument (focusing on God's right to do this). I don't really have anything to say about it, but I thought it interesting.

Epistle to the Americans

Adam Kotsko is continuing his Epistle to the Americans; worth reading, as was the first part, to which I had already linked at some point. (Hat-tip: Ralph Luker at Cliopatria)

* Andy at "Under The Sun" has a response, also worth reading, to Kotsko's assumptions in this part.

A Small Vindication for an Early Modernist

Chris has a great post summarizing some of the current cog. sci. theories on humor. I was reading it, and where he first describes incongruity-resolution theories, I thought, "Wow, that sounds a little bit familiar." And then came this quotation:

Laughter arises from the view of two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in one complex object or assemblage, or as acquiring a sort of mutual relation from the peculiar manner in which the mind takes notice of them.

And I thought, "Hey, that sounds really familiar." So I followed the footnote to the citation:

Beattie, J. (1776) . An essay on laughter, and ludicrous composition. In Essays. William Creech, Edinburgh, Reprinted by Garland, New York, 1971. Quoted in Raskin, V. (1985). Semantic Mechanisms of Humour. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985.

Way to go, Beattie! I've read the work in question (it develops some ideas of Hutcheson). I find I never posted any passages from the work in question on Siris, although I thought I had; but it gives me a chance to link to other things I've posted on Beattie. You can go here for Beattie on association of ideas (from another of the essays, on memory and imagination), here on political liberty and genius, here on taste, here on moral problems with determinism. Here is a note on his taxonomy of evidentness.

A brief passage that touches on one theme Hutcheson develops in his (brief) account of laughter can be found here.

In any case, it always warms my heart to see that someone has been reading something of Beattie's and found it useful.

(At HL, here's an old post with just some online resources on Beattie.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ruminations on Vallicella's Chastened Kant

I've finally managed to get the reading done I needed to do to compose some thoughts on the debate between Vallicella and Forgie in Faith and Philosophy. My comments won't be particularly deep - just some things occasioned by the discussion.

What is at issue in the debate is Vallicella's suggestion about the cosmological argument (CA), taken as consisting of the following steps:

1) A move from the existence of a contingent fact to the existence of a necessary ground or cause (ens necessarium or EN for short);
2) A move in which one identifies EN with God, i.e., the maximally perfect being (ens realissimum or ER for short).

Vallicella argues that this type of argument depends on the ontological argument, taken as having the followign structure:

1) ER is possible.
2) Either ER is impossible or ER exists.
Therefore, ER exists.

This is the ontological argument from possibility (OA), and is to be distinguished from the ontological argument from concept that Kant actually tries to use. Vallicella's particular claim is that CA depends on OA for its probativeness, in that the CA is only probative if the OA is probative. The probativeness of a deductive argument requires five things:

1) The argument must be formally valid;
2) The argument must have true premises;
3) These premises must be known to be true;
4) The argument must avoid petitio principii;
5) The premises must be relevant to the conclusion.

The claim then is that the CA is then both superfluous and unavailing: superfluous, because, given the dependence of the CA on the OA, the arguer could just run OA; and unavailing, because ER cannot be proven from a contingent fact. This is close to Kant's view, although not strictly (hence it is 'Kant Chastened but Vindicated').

As I said, I don't have too much to say on the subject, but here are some thoughts occasioned by it:

* The 'unavailing' aspect requires that ER not be provable from a contingent fact, and on the CA's being a two step move, first to EN and then proving that EN is ER. The idea is that to make the latter move, the arguer must presuppose the possibility of ER. But what if some property of EN implies that it is maximally perfect? Then proving the existence of EN would be proving, ipso facto, the existence of ER. Consider, for instance, Aquinas's Fourth Way: roughly, it argues, on the basis of limited perfections, that there must be a maximally perfect ground of all perfections. This sort of argument would seem either to be just a different type of argument than the CA considered by Vallicella, or to be a counterexample (I'm not sure which). The same would hold for the others, though, although the exact path would be more complex for them, because Aquinas goes on later to examine what is actually required for something to be a first unmoved mover, first uncaused cause, etc.; and what he gets is certainly that it must be a being whose possibility implies its actuality. Conceivably, the Angelic Doctor could have overstepped the limits of his premises somewhere; but I don't really see where that could be.

* Vallicella holds that onto-cosmological arguments are not affected by the quasi-Kantian argument. Onto-cosmological arguments (OCAs) do not argue from contingent facts but (for example) from the possibility of contingent facts. This reminds me of Scotus, some of whose objections to prime mover arguments were at least roughly similar, and who preferred to argue from possibilities of contingent facts himself. But the reason we know contingent facts are possible, is that we know contingent facts actually exist; and the same sorts of causes would seem to be responsible for something's being possible that are responsible for its being actual (after all, it is the fact that they can be responsible for its being actual that is what makes it possible for it to be actual). If you trace this back to an ultimate source, though, it would seem to mean that what you get at the very root of it all would be the same result as in an OCA.

I don't know how strong these points are; as I said, they were just occasioned by the reading, and I haven't thought them through completely. But that will take a while, so I thought I'd post them anyway, in case anyone has anything to say about them.