01 December, 2006
29 November, 2006
The Bel Canto Co. will give its annual Xmas concerts on Dec. 1, 2, & 4 at Christ United Methodist church in Greensboro, NC. All programs begin at 7:30 pm. More information is available here.
The Kensington Consort will give its Xmas concert on Dec. 22nd at St. Andrews Episcopal church in Greensboro, NC. This program will begin at 7:00 pm. More information is available here.
If you're in the Greensboro, NC area, please do attend one or both of these concerts. The Bel Canto Xmas concert is an area tradition and is the perfect way to start the holiday season while the Kensington Consort concert will be a refreshing tonic after weeks of frenetic holiday shopping!
28 November, 2006
Chopra offers this argument which he apparently considers to "close the case" against materialism:
Think of a yellow flower. Can you see it? Are you sure of the color and the fact that it's a flower and not a fish that you can see? If so, then the experiment has been successful. You have made a major strike at the root of materialism. When you see a flower in your mind, there is no flower inside your brain. That seems simple enough. But where is the flower? There's no picture of it in your cerebrum, because your brain contains no light. How about the color yellow? Is there a patch of yellow inside your brain's gray matter? Obviously not.
Did you miss it? The argument against materialism, that is. Just in case, here are the bare bones of Chopra's reductio (including the hidden premises):
- According to materialism, the nature of consciousness is physical
- Assume materialism is true (arguendo)
- For a materialist consciousness to imagine an existent, there must be a physical representation of that existent in the brain.
- There are no yellow flowers or images of yellow flowers to be found in the brain, neither is any part of the brain "yellow" or "flowery"
- Therefore, people cannot imagine yellow flowers
- But people can and do imagine yellow flowers
- Therefore, materialism is false
Yet you assume--as do all who fall for the superstition of materialism--that flowers and the color yellow exist 'out there' in the world and are photographically reproduced by the brain, acting as a camera made of organic tissue. In fact, existence of flowers shifts mysteriously once it is closely examined. The experience of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell is created in consciousness. Molecules don't assemble in your head to make the sound of a trumpet blaring in a brass band, for example. The brain is silent. So where does the world of sights and sounds come from?
Materialists cannot offer any reasonable explanation. The fact is that an enormous gap exists between any physical, measurable event and our perception. If I talk to you, all I am doing is vibrating air with my vocal cords. Every aspect of that event can be seen and measured, but turning those vibrating air molecules into meaningful words has never been seen or measured. It can't be.
Well, to begin with, this isn't completely correct. The connection between external stimuli and brain events HAS been seen and measured. Neurophysiologists have located specific regions of the brain that react to particular types of perceptual stimulation (sights, sounds, smells) and used MRI scanning to record images of the brain reacting to those stimuli. They've also been able to map particular regions of the brain that respond to memory recall of those stimuli (so, for example, they can show what parts of the brain respond when a subject is recalling a particular experience).
That aside, there is no doubt that consciousness does represent a "hard problem" in the philosophy of mind. However, it's no more a problem for the materialist than it is for the immaterialist for there are numerous unanswered questions on both sides.
Let's return to Chopra's "anti-materialist" argument for a moment. What can we say about the following reductio:
- According to non-materialism, the nature of consciousness is non-physical
- Assume non-materialism is true (arguendo)
- For a non-materialist consciousness to imagine an existent, there must be a non-physical representation of that existent in the consciousness
- There are no yellow flowers or images of yellow flowers to be found in the consciousness, neither is any part of the consciousness "yellow" or "flowery"
- Therefore, people cannot imagine yellow flowers
- But people can and do imagine yellow flowers
- Therefore non-materialism is false
It seems to me that one of Chopra's mistakes is assuming that we should be able to "see" images or pictures of the objects of consciousness by looking into the "container" of that consciousness. But why would we imagine that to be the case? Why should we expect first-person experiences to be third-person accessible, regardless of paradigm (materialism/non-materialism)? What's likely to be involved is not any actual image but a representation of an image and I see no reason to believe that images cannot have physical representations. Indeed, we have particular experience with such things in the case of digital photographs.
If I take a picture of a yellow flower, I certainly won't see any yellow flowers or pictures of yellow flowers inside my digital camera. The image is represented therein by sequences of 1's and 0's. So we can have a physical representation of a non-physical thing. And this has important implications for Chopra's original argument.
It's not clear exactly what Chopra believes would be the case given a non-material consciousness, but it would seem to be true that some theory of representation is needed (wherein objective existents are represented subjectively). Obviously Chopra believes that materialism cannot sustain such a theory, but on this his reasoning is (characteristically) opaque. However, it does seem clear that at the least, he assumes that the materialist position (all that exists is matter) is necessarily coincident with reductive physicalism (the mind is the brain). But is this true?
To begin with, materialism is not necessarily the position that "all that exists is matter". More broadly, it could be defined as the position that "all that exists is either matter or dependent upon matter for its existence." No sensible materialist would deny the existence of abstract concepts (universals), they would likely only fail to affirm their objective (external to the mind) existence. So it is necessary in our definition to accomodate this reality.
But this distinction vitiates Chopra's argument. If it is the case that the mind is non-physical, but is dependent upon the physical for its existence, then we have our materialist answer: the image of the yellow flower is "encoded" in the physical structure of the brain where it can be accessed by the consciousness and consciousness is an emergent property of the physical brain. Chopra's argument may retain force against reductive physicalists (I say "may" only because of the logical possibility; there are very likely physicalist schema that may undercut it as well c.f. Daniel Dennet).
So much for Chopra's "argument" against materialism. But what about the possibility that the mind is a non-material substance, and not dependent upon matter for its existence (as Chopra apparently believes). Does this view avoid these or other types of problems entirely? I don't think so. Where does a non-material consciousness "live"? How does it interact with the brain? Where is the evidence for its existence? Of what is it composed? How does it come into being? &c. Materialist schema can provide answers for many of these questions and for the ones where it cannot, there are usually no good answers on the non-materialist side as well.
And this is what I see as a primary difficulty with this, and actually all such (in my experience) simplistic arguments against materialist philosophies of mind. Proponents attack what they see as motes in the materialist's eye while missing the planks in their own. There are simply too many gaps in our knowledge of the brain, the mind, and the structure of existence in general to provide any definitive answers. Right now, the majority of evidence from biology, neurophysiology, & psychology appears to be on the materialist side so there is simply no reason to assume that there's any magic required. That's not to say that there are no good critiques of the materialist position in the philosophy of mind. David Chalmers and William Hasker have provided some very on-point and stimulating criticisms of the materialist and reductive physicalist positions. But Chopra and those like him who believe that blathering about flowers and pictures inside the brain represents any serious threat to materialist schema are...well...just blathering.
23 November, 2006
While the comics can be quite (unintentionally) humorous (albeit in a rather sad, sick sort of way), there are numerous parodies available on the web that are intentionally funny and some quite so indeed. You can find some good ones here, and now a new one combining the Marvel universe created by Stan Lee and Chick's inimitable style. Enjoy!
17 November, 2006
One of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century, his contributions to economics and the cause of liberty cannot be overestimated and will long be remembered. I can still remember reading Capitalism and Freedom just after college and being struck with how approachable the work was (for an economics neophyte). Friedman excelled at explaining complex ideas in relatively simple language.
His career will doubtless be celebrated at length on various economics, libertarian, and political blogs. I'll update this post with links as I locate them.
Obituaries: Financial Times, Reuters, New York Times (may require login)
Blogs: Reason magazine, Positive Liberty, Cato-at-Liberty (1,2,3,4), The Volokh Conspiracy, Andrew Sullivan, The Agitator, Jim Lippard
Other: Cato Institute, Mises Institute, Atlas Society
08 November, 2006
07 November, 2006
25 October, 2006
Wolcott's conclusion (and the money quote):
Rather clever comeback, that. It seems indeed that D'Souza has more in common with the Islamo-"fascists" than he lets on. Who exactly is it that hates our freedom? Could it be...oh, I don't know....D'SATAN?!?
What D'Souza proposes in The Enemy at Home is that American conservatives join hands with traditional Muslims to keep gays and women subjugated and subservient. D'Souza opposes radical Islam because they want to destroy us. But Muslim restrictions on sexual freedom and strict enforcement of patriarchal diktats--those he kinda likes. Those he can work with. "What disgusts them [i.e, devout Muslims]is not free elections but the sights of hundreds of homosexuals kissing one another and taking marriage vows."
It clearly disgusts D'Souza too. Maybe he should convert.
D'Souza seems to share with the Christian Right the rather bizarre opinion that gay relationships somehow "destroy the family" and will lead to the downfall of civilation. According to Wolcott he observes:
In America, sad to say, we are inured to the debris of the broken family. We accept that the traditional family is no longer the norm, it is now something like an 'alternative lifestyle.' We invite Edgar and Austin to our dinner parties.How in the world does "invit[ing] Edgar and Austin to our dinner parties" signal that "the traditional family is no longer the norm?" What connection exists between Edgar and Austin and "the debris of the broken family?" This mantra is chanted non-stop by morons and demagogues like Pat Robertson and James Dobson but there is simply no logic which, granted the first, will lead you to the second. D'Souza has not only drunk the Kool-Aid, he's now participating in preparing it. It is ironic indeed that this screed intended to demonstrate how the cultural left is to blame for 09.11 instead demonstrates how much D'Souza and his fellow travelers share with those who truly hate America and are intent on destroying it.
On why we invite Edgar and Austin to our dinner parties, Ed Brayton observes:
Edgar and Austin are human beings, and may well be smart and funny and good conversationalists. And your alternative to this is...what? To ostracize them and shut them out? To throw them in prison? To put them to death by stoning, as the radical Muslims do? I'm sure that would make the terrorists like us more, but it would require destroying the very notion of human liberty. That is a tradeoff that is only worth making to the Bin Ladens of the world, on whose side you have firmly placed yourself with this book.Indeed. Who is it that apparently truly hates our freedom? Self-righteous, pseudo-intellectuals like Dinesh D'Souza, that's who.
HT: Dispatches from the Culture Wars
12 October, 2006
However low the pundits might themselves stoop, one doesn't, however, expect to see credentialed scholars getting in on the act, regardless of political bias. And yet today I discover that Dinesh D'Souza of the Hoover Institution will be publishing a new book with the distinctly Coulter/Ponnuru/Goldberg-ish title: The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.
Huh? Wazzat? Is this the same Dinesh D'Souza who wrote "Letters to a Young Conservative?" Whose principled defenses of free market economics and classical liberalism almost made reading the National Review worthwhile? Granted, he regularly attacks "Liberal" viewpoints and I will admit that on occasion some of his post 9.11 writings have strayed close to the "Blame the Lefties!" edge (witness "10 Things to Celebrate"), but generally (it seemed to me) in the spirit of the free exchange of ideas, without vituperative accent, as one should generally expect of a scholar (as opposed to a mere talking head).
Of course, I've not seen a copy of the book (it's not scheduled for publication until January), but James Wolcott has and from his comments, it appears to be as vile a book as its title might suggest:
"I realize that this is a strong charge," D'Souza writes, "one that no one has made before."
The reason it hasn't been made before is that it's a sleazy, shameless, ignorant, ahistorical, tendentious, meretricious lie, one that was waiting for the right brazen liar to come along to promote it, and here he is, and his name is Dinesh D'Souza, who's fatuous and fuddy-duddyish enough to think that it's Britney Spears, the rap lyrics of 2 Live Crew, and the buggering photographs of the late Robert Mapplethorpe that have Islam in a tiz. This is someone so out of touch with pop culture that he thinks liberals look down on risque sitcoms like Will & Grace because "their moral depravity is not highbrow enough for their taste." Does that description fit anyone you know?
Wolcott doesn't just critique the book, he savages it. It reminds me of a Dorothy Parker review: "This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force."
Wolcott has much more to say, and it's worth the read. I must say I'm somewhat taken aback. While I haven't been following him regularly, I remember reading D'Souza's articles in the National Review and watching appearances on C-Span or other TV shows in the 90s and as a young libertarian/conservative found myself greatly sympathetic with many of his arguments. To see him seemingly sliding down into the same poison-pen morass as cretins like Coulter and her ilk is disappointing to say the least.
HT: Hit and Run
Update: Radley Balko agrees, and now Ed Brayton does as well.
21 September, 2006
20 September, 2006
It should be said that the audience was most likely not the "norm" for these types of events, which are usually hosted by Campus Crusade or some similar student ministry. This debate was the finale of a meeting of the Society of Humanist Philosophers and was co-sponsored by the Campus Freethought Association. All told, probably a little more sympathetic to Jeff Lowder's position. Still, both debaters were treated courteously and aside from a couple of obvious audience reactions during the Q&A, all arguments were given serious attention. Fernandes remarked on this himself during the Q&A. It should also be said that the video does not include all of the Q&A, although if memory serves, there's not that much lost.
At any rate, you can watch the video from the link at Jeff Lowder's website and see for yourself (oh, and if you look very hard during the first few moments of intro and later during the Q&A, you can see me on the far left hand side of the auditorium, about halfway down).
HT: The Uncredible Hallq via The Lippard Blog
14 September, 2006
Of course, this has been going on for some time now...this is merely the latest example.
Senator Bill Frist (R - TN, the scumbag who abused his authority as a doctor when he gave an unqualified opinion on Terri Schiavo's medical condition and then later tried to downplay his unethical behavior) is not only supporting an utterly useless bill to ban internet gambling, he's attempting to append it to a defense appropriation bill in order to blackmail his fellow legislators into voting to approve it. See, it's election time and a vote against the bill will give Republicans a nice lie to use against their opponents: "See, the Democrats don't support the war on terror! They voted against this defense appropriation! Why do they hate our freedom?!"
Is this to be the legacy of conservatism? Degenerate nanny-statism and deceit?
Vote Libertarian and toss the whole bloody lot of them out on their asses!
HT: Radley Balko via Cato-at-liberty
13 September, 2006
HT: Cafe Hayek
07 September, 2006
A "low-rank" nerd. Hmmm....in terms of social stature, is it better to be a high-ranking or low-ranking nerd?
17 July, 2006
I'm not generally prone to reading fiction, except science fiction and fantasy, but this summer proved to be an exception with only one of the four books I read coming anywhere close to the science fiction/fantasy genre:
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. Morrow's books tend to have a philosophic undertext that he illustrates through the telling of his stories. For example, his "Jehovah trilogy" (Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abbaddon, & The Eternal Footman) sets a story of the death of God and the disposition of his two-mile-long corpse against a backdrop consisting of the Problem of Evil, the foundation of morality, and the meaning of life. I highly recommend them as thoughtful and engaging explorations of this philosophic topic and just as highly recommend this, his latest work.
Here's the basic plot (from School Library Journal by way of Amazon): England in the late 17th century is an exciting–if dangerous–home for Jennet Stearne, a teen whose family is a microcosm of the country's philosophical and religious conflicts. Though she is enthralled by Isaac Newton's theories and her progressive Aunt Isobel's scientific experiments, she also takes pride in her father, Walter, who is a highly regarded professional witch-hunter. Jennet's filial piety and belief system are overturned abruptly when blameless Isobel is burned at the stake because Walter labels her a witch. The girl vows to prevent other unjust executions by using science to prove witchcraft nonexistent. Her stubborn quest goes on for decades, leading her into wild adventures that include being captured by pirates, becoming an adoptive Native American, witnessing the Salem witch craze, and carrying on an affair with the young Ben Franklin. Jennet and her companions dash through an energetic narrative that re-creates the period believably, thanks to the author's admirable linguistic and historical research. While the protagonist is an appealing character, the real star is Newton's Principia Mathematica, whose amusing commentary provides a new twist to notions about the power and endurance of the printed word.
Yes, it really is as interesting as it sounds and Morrow's ability to weave history and fantasy together in his engaging narrative style makes this book a real pleasure to read as well.
26 May, 2006
In the dialogue Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the nature of holiness, arriving finally at the well-known ( among philosophers and students of philosophy, anyway!) dilemma:
- Are things holy because they are loved by the gods?
- Or are things loved by the gods because they are holy?
Although Socrates and Euthyphro are discussing "holiness", the dilemma is extendable to other concepts, most commonly that of good:
- Is "good" that which is commanded by God?
- Or are things commanded by God because they are good?
But rather than solving the dilemma, this sort of brings us right back to it. Even in this more sophisticated version of DC, there would seem to be no epistemic difference between "God commands that which is good, based on his nature" and "God's commands are good." This is so because we have no independent means of verifying that God's commands reflect something external to His will (His nature) and thus, epistemically speaking, both versions are really equivalent.
There are certainly other means of grounding morality in God's nature, but the theist intent on paring this grounding with the certification of God's alleged commands as "good" regardless of any external verification would seem to have to deal with Euthyphro's dilemma.
Well, this year some friends and I struck out on our own and formed a vocal ensemble dedicated to music of the Mediaeval, Renaissance, & early Baroque periods. The group is called the Kensington Consort and so far this year we've had two performances, both in Greensboro. There will be at least one more, on June 9th in Burlington. Details are available at our web site.
Additionally, just this day I was asked to join a small group that will perform at the Magnolia Baroque festival, held in Winston-Salem. I'll be singing on the June 22d concert in some Monteverdi madrigals and on the June 24th concert as part of the chorus in Vivaldi's Gloria. Details are available at the Magnolia Baroque website.
If you're in the Burlington or Winston-Salem areas, please do attend one of these concerts. I guarantee you won't be disappointed!
17 May, 2006
For both Aristotleian and Thomistic NL, the telos of an existent is what informs the morality of its agency or use. But the argument as pressed against gay marriage fails because the Thomistic construction (or, at least as it appears often to be used) relies too heavily on biology as an indicator of teleology. To be sure, the proponents will deny that this is what they are doing. They will point to Biblical and Church-traditional rationales that support the ideal of a man-woman relationship as somehow metaphysically required or superior. By doing so they effectively deny any possibility of a metaphysical telos for the homosexual, summarily declaring him or her as acting outside of proper function. But if "proper function" is metaphysically, not biologically, determined, upon what rationale does their declaration rest? The only way they can justify it is to turn to some form of revelation, but doing so negates their claim to be basing their argument on NL.
John Corvino, the author whom Rowe cites, exposes this flaw in their reasoning by calling attention to the blatant inconsistency with which the Church will endorse non-procreative heterosexual sex but condemn non-procreative homosexual sex. As this forms part of a common argument one finds against gay marriage (from non-Catholics as well), it's good to see an explicit calling-out of this hypocrisy. Corvino writes:
Why the apparent inconsistency? Catholic natural law theorists answer that such acts can still be of “the reproductive kind.” But it is difficult to make sense of this claim, except as a lame attempt to deny unpalatable conclusions that clearly follow from the Church’s position. If a sexual act cannot result in procreation and the couple knows it, then how is the act “of the reproductive kind”?Indeed. "Lame" is an excellent word to describe this misleading and dishonest tactic. I agree with Rowe when he further points out:
In many ways, the Catholic position on sex is downright immoral and irresponsible. Even married couples can only handle so many children at once. Couples ought not bring more children into a family than they can responsibly handle. There are some couples, those on the right end of the fertility Bell Curve, who will literally have over a dozen children in a lifetime marriage. And for most couples, excluding the Bill Gates and Donald Trumps who could not only support all the children but hire as many nannies as needed to assist the wife, that’s just a bad, irresponsible life-plan to say the least.Catholics obviously rely on God to sort it all out; to ensure that children aren't born to families that cannot care for them. I'm sure that works just fine for celibate clergy, but over here in the real world family planning isn't just a good idea; it's a moral necessity. The telos of procreative sex need not necessarily include overpopulating the world and neither need the telos of sex itself be procreative.
16 May, 2006
15 May, 2006
If I invoke Godwin's Law, can I get out of reading this book?
It it even necessary to read this book in order to review it? What type of author expects to be taken seriously when the cover of his book equates its target with Hitler?
Did "Liberals" murder six million people? Did "Liberals" invade sovereign nations without cause? did "Liberals" drag the world into a war of conquest that cost the lives of millions of innocents?
Is there anything resembling intellectual honesty left in the world of right-wing punditry?
This type of blatant demonization has become an all-too-familiar tactic of the extreme right. I see it in the Op-Ed pages of newspapers & magazines, see it on television, hear it on the radio, and read it in conservative blogs. The level of political discourse in this nation was never all that high, but it's declined considerably in the last two decades or so. I keep hoping that at some point Americans will rise up in disgust, recognize the power-hungry cynicism that feeds this manipulative and degrading approach and reject it utterly. But, as Barnum said, no one ever went broke underestimating the American public...
On a bright note: Ann Coulter can relax. Although a close second, she is apparently no longer the whackiest Conservative shill on the block...
(HT: Andrew Sullivan)
04 May, 2006
When I first encountered this argument several years ago, I was quite taken with the novelty of its approach. Like Anselm’s Ontological Argument it appears quite convincing at first blush, but upon deeper reflection, the flaw at its heart becomes evident. It is my hope that this essay will allow me to explain and demonstrate why it is that I believe TAG to be not only unsound, but also self-defeating in exactly the same sense as TAG proponents claim non-Christian worldviews to be.
However, even assuming my utter success, it’s important to note that a defeat of TAG does not demonstrate the non-existence of the Christian God. In fact, given my philosophy of religion, I believe that TAG is more likely to be false if it is the case that God actually exists. I expect that my rationale for this will become clear as we proceed. At any rate, suffice it to say here that this essay is not about the existence of God, merely the soundness of this particular argument for His existence (although it is true that if I were to become convinced of the soundness of TAG, I would appear to have no rational grounds to deny God’s existence).
Burden of Proof
Tthe primary component of TAG that its proponents assert (and one which I am attacking) is that no non-Christian worldview can provide sufficient warrant for human intelligibility. To meet their burden of proof, TAG proponents must therefore do one of two things:
1) Demonstrate that every possible worldview fails to meet the test(s) for warrant.
2) Demonstrate that it is impossible in principle for any worldview other than the Christian one to meet the tests for warrant.
Given that #1 would necessarily involve subjecting every possible worldview to the test(s) in question to see if they pass or fail, and given that there are hundreds if not thousands of possible worldviews (and would therefore seem highly unlikely if not impossible to accomplish), I will I will confine my discussion to #2. My job, therefore, is to provide reason to believe that whatever principle the TAG proponent might propose to vitiate non-Christian worldviews is insufficient to that task.
Therefore, in addition to demonstrating that TAG is itself unsound, in the course of these remarks I will also outline a positive case for a non-Christian worldview that provides sufficient warrant for the intelligibility of human experience, thus vitiating in principle any attack the TAG proponent might contend.
In the course of any discussion, there it is generally the case that both "sides" will make certain assumptions. In pressing my negative attack, I will attempt to make as few as possible, as the only necessity is to provide rational grounds to reject TAG. On the other hand, for my positive case I will adopt several of the key assumptions made by TAG proponents. In particular, the argument rests upon an assumption of some form of realism: the belief that reality is in some sense objective. That is, existents are instantiated and sustained external to the mind. TAG also appears to assume a form of foundationalism: the belief that “all knowledge and justified belief rest ultimately on a foundation of noninferential knowledge or justified belief.(1)” For the purpose of this discussion, I will also stipulate to these assumptions. I do this because it will render the argument easier to follow, but also because I also happen to believe them more likely true than not (as I believe my positive case will demonstrate).
In order to examine this topic, it will be necessary to establish standards, or a methodology by which we can determine success or failure.
The general idea I'm attacking could be stated as “only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience.” I want to spend a little time parsing this notion in order to ensure that readers will understand exactly what I mean when I argue against it. In particular, there are three terms the definitions of which I see as crucial to ensuring a common understanding: “worldview”, “preconditions”, and “intelligibility”.
Worldview – A worldview is more commonly known (in philosophy, anyway) as a “metaphysic”. In short, a theory that seeks to provide a “comprehensive account of the most general features of reality as a whole; the study of being as such (2)”. These features I understand to be:
1) Ontology (the study of existence and the nature of existents)
2) Epistemology (the study the nature and grounds of knowledge)
3) Ethics (a theory or system of moral values)
Preconditions – It is my contention that “preconditions” should be defined as the element or elements that are understood as the minimum necessary in order to support the belief or concept in question. As an example, necessary preconditions for spoken language would include a mind capable of prepositional thought and a means of vocalization.
In the context of this discussion, and related directly to the understanding of “worldview”, I would define “preconditions” to be:
Existence: a minimum requirement for ontology.
Logic: a minimum requirement for epistemology.
Meta-ethics: a minimum requirement for ethics.
Intelligibility – Understanding this component is critical to the discussion at hand. One of my suspicions regarding the usage of TAG is that its proponents are engaged in a subtle form of circular reasoning. NOT in that they assume God to prove God, but rather that their definition of “intelligibility” assumes something that is ipso facto impossible to demonstrate without the existence of God. IOW, TAG proceeds as a reductio in order to demonstrate how non-Christian worldviews cannot provide sufficient warrant for intelligibility, but the TAG proponent defines “intelligibility” as something only the Christian worldview can supply, thus rendering the argument circular.
To my way of thinking, “intelligibility” means nothing more nor less than “a context in which X can be understood”. Many TAG proponents seem to define it as “comprehensible in the same manner as a Christian would understand it” (I say seems as that is how it appears to me). For example, it’s commonly asserted that the meta-ethical theory known as emotivism (3) does not render moral judgements intelligible. But as emotivism does indeed provide a context in which moral judgements can be understood, it does in fact render them intelligible. What the opponent of emotivism likely means is that emotivism does not satisfy her own particular intuitions as to the meaning of moral judgements (i.e., that moral judgements reflect an objective moral code) which, in effect, is presupposing that only her preferred manner of intelligibility will suffice. But this is essentially to assume exactly what she’s attempting to prove: that her context is the correct one. We shall see as we proceed whether that perception is realized in this discussion, but for now, I’ll proceed under the assumption that intelligibility is contextual, regardless of the actual context involved.
So, to sum up this section I can restate the idea I'm attacking in terms of the definitions I’ve provided:
Only a Christian ontology, epistemology, and ethical theory can provide the minimum necessary support for existence, logic, and meta-ethics to enable a context within which human experience can be understood.
This is how I parse the basic idea behind the use of TAG and the issue central to this discussion.
Overview of TAG
I would provide a "syllogisation" of TAG as follows:(4)
(a) CW is the orthodox Christian Worldview.
(b) HE is human experience
(c) P is some person
(d) Q is some proposition or set of propositions
P1) If CW is true, then HE is intelligible (to be proved)
P2) Assume arguendo that CW is false, yet HE is nevertheless intelligible
P3) If HE is intelligible, then P can have contextual knowledge of Q
P4) If P can have contextual knowledge of Q, then Q is true AND P believes that Q is true AND P is warranted in believing that Q is true (including the definition of knowledge as justified true belief)
P5) If P is justified in believing that Q is true, then P can have transactions with abstract entities (such as laws) AND P can have transactions with concrete differentiated entities (like the referent of Q) AND P can relate these transactions to each other (including a necessary condition for warrant)
P6) However, it is not the case that P can have transactions with abstract entities OR it is not the case that P can have transactions with concrete differentiated entities OR it is not the case that P can relate these transactions to each other (this is the central claim being made by my opponent; the one for which he bears a primary burden of proof)
C1) Therefore, it is not the case that P can have contextual knowledge of Q
C2) Therefore, it is not the case that HE is intelligible
C3) Therefore, it is not the case that HE is intelligible and yet CW is false
C4) Therefore, it is not the case that HE is intelligible OR it is the case that CW is true
C5) Therefore, if HE is intelligible, then CW is true
This is certainly longer than the paragraph that contains its central principle, but the claim is the same: if human experience is intelligible, the Christian Worldview is true. P6 constitutes the essence of the TAG proponent's claim that only the Christian Worldview can justify human intelligibility.
Strength of TAG
As the title of the argument suggests, TAG proponents are transcendental foundationalists. That is to say that they are foundationalists who believe that the non-inferential basis for knowledge must be transcendental. TAG proponents argue that this must be so in order to prevent a grounding in, as my opponent says, “subjectivism and relativism.”
Although I’ve never seen a TAG proponent explicitly state it, it seems reasonable to understand this assertion as stemming from Kant’s notion of the synthetic a priori. That is to say that the non-inferential basis for knowledge must be both synthetic (genuinely informative; non-tautologous) and a priori (based on reason alone, independent of sensory experience).(5) If so, I take this as a basic strength of TAG for, like its proponents, I agree that only such a basis can adequately ground a foundationalist epistemology. Further, I also agree (at the very least for the sake of this discussion)that only a transcendental approach is likely to successfully avoid the problem of infinite regress and rebut the types of skeptical assault that have been used in the past to vitiate other foundationalist epistemologies.(6) However, where the TAG proponent and I part ways is their insistence that the transcendental foundation be supernatural. As I hope to make clear, this is a wholly unnecessary requirement.
Weaknesses of TAG
As I mentioned above, TAG proponents insist that the only transcendent foundation that can provide satisfactory warrant for the intelligibility of human experience is a supernatural one. But exactly why seems unclear. I have participated in several exchanges with proponents, but I've yet to see the reasoning clearly expounded. At any rate, as the “transcendence” of the Kantian metaphysic isn’t supernatural, it seems that at the very least TAG proponents should provide some argument as to why they believe it must be so.
Central to the claim in P6 (as I have limned the argument) is the alleged inability of non-Christian worldviews to account for abstract concepts (specifically universals). TAG proponents will often raise this issue, specifically targeting the laws of logic. They seem to believe that unless these laws exist objectively (in a Platonic fashion, perhaps?) that they cannot exist as absolute and universal. Why they make this claim is clear: it lends direct support to their requirement of supernaturalism. However, it seems to me to be based on a mistake of reasoning known as “reification”(7). I think I can illustrate this most clearly with a brief discussion on the nature of truth.
The incident that sparked me to write this essay was in fact an encounter on the nature of truth. Truth, properly understood, is an abstract concept; it is not a “real” thing in the sense of having concrete existence. Stated another way, truth is a property of propositions, not reality in that only propositions about reality can be true or false, reality itself just is. The statement “this object is a rock” may be true or false; the object itself, however, it cannot be said to be “true” or “false”. This seems to be a basic difference that appears to be ignored by TAG, the difference between “truth-bearers” and “truth-makers.” That is to say, the difference between a proposition as a “truth-bearer” and reality itself as a “truth-maker.” We evaluate the truth or falsity of propositions by comparing them to reality.(8) With what would we compare reality?
Now we’re in a position to evaluate the flaw in the TAG proponent’s claim that logic must exist objectively in order to be universal and absolute. Logic is an abstract conception, a description of reality. It is not reality itself. Reality itself is indeed universal and absolute and the language of logic, as a truth-bearer, reflects this truth. And as the TAG proponent will agree, we can directly apprehend the truth of logic because it is impossible to argue against it.
Finally, a fundamental flaw at the heart of TAG is that, properly parsed, it is self-defeating in exactly the same way as it’s proponents claim all non-Christian worldviews are.
To see why, we need to understand first that the Christian worldview stipulates that God is the absolute, universal, transcendent ideal upon which all of existence depends. So far, so good, but TAG goes a step further in declaring that intelligibility itself depends upon God’s existence. God is an “enabler” of rational thought and without Him, there can be no rational thought.
The claim that I'm attacking is that “only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience.” TAG, therefore, is making the claim that the Christian God, and only the Christian God, can supply those necessary preconditions. But how are we to understand this claim? There seem to me to be two possibilities:
1) God creates the necessary preconditions where they did not previously exist
2) The necessary preconditions are dependent upon God’s nature
#1 necessitates that these “necessary preconditions” aren’t in fact necessary. If God needed to create them, it is necessarily the case that they aren’t universal or absolute. But if they aren’t universal or absolute, the TAG proponent loses her ability to argue against “subjectivism and relativism” and thus the argument fails. We would also still be left with the question, “why God? Why not Siva, or Allah, or Odin?” Any attempt to answer that question will likely lead directly to #2, so this possibility would seem to be a non-starter.
#2 is a bit of a more complex case. If it’s God’s nature that provides the necessary preconditions (and not His will), then God must have certain characteristics that enable Him to function as the transcendent foundation the TAG proponent argues He is.
Put simply, and in terms of our primary focus, God must be logical. His nature must be expressible in terms of the primary laws of logic (non-contradiction, identity, excluded middle, etc). And moreover, His nature cannot be subject to His will; if it were, logic could not be said to be absolute and universal (and we’d be back at #1).
But now we’re in a position once again to ask “why God? Why not Siva or Allah or Odin?” There are several possibilities inherent in the alleged characteristics of these deities upon which the TAG proponent might draw in formulating an answer, but let me step back for a moment to my claim that TAG is self-defeating and expand upon that as a rebuttal to any possible argument the TAG proponent could offer. Because it seems to me that in arguing that the laws of logic are dependent upon God’s nature TAG proponents are essentially conceding the argument to their opponents. To see why, we need to unpack the semantic concepts inherent in “God.”
In proposing, “God exists”, we are committing ourselves to the proposition that “X exists”, where X is understood to be some entity describable in terms of it’s characteristics. In essence, we’re saying, “some set of characteristics is instantiated in X”. “God”, as defined by orthodox Christianity, has several characteristics (all-loving, all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, etc), but in terms of our primary focus, the one we’re interested in is “being logical” (or something to that effect). All-loving, all-good & all-knowing may indeed be part of God’s nature, but they don’t seems to be applicable to logic and hence to the intelligibility of human experience (with the possible exception of ethics, but that’s not strictly at issue yet).
But why does “being logical” require God to instantiate it? Once the TAG proponent has conceded that the laws of logic are dependent upon God’s nature, that God’s nature is not dependent upon His will, and that God’s nature is a set of characteristics only one of which applies, it is not at all clear why the instantiation of this particular characteristic requires the instantiation of “God”. Further, remembering the difference between truth-bearers and truth-makers, it’s also not clear why the truth-bearer must exist objectively. Why can it not simply be the case that existence itself is amenable to order and logic? Why can it not be the case that features of objective reality give rise to the descriptive laws of logic? Indeed, in presupposing that God can have such characteristics independent of His will, that’s essentially what they are arguing.
So it would appear that at the heart of TAG there is the same sort of self-contradiction that it claims exists at the heart of every non-Christian worldview. TAG proponents must presuppose that the nature of existence (God or not) itself is amenable to order and logic, before supposing God.
With all of the preceding out of the way, I can begin to outline my own TA; a transcendental argument for the intelligibility of human experience that doesn’t require God. This will be somewhat abbreviated as it’s only ancillary to my overall argument. I’ll do so in terms of the components of a worldview that I stated earlier:
It’s cliché, but: Existence exists. Reality exists external to and independent of our perceptions of it. All existents have a nature (characteristics) that dictates the manner and context of their existence. Note that this is actually the same ontology employed by TAG proponents.
Simply put, perceptual realism and nominalism. Our perceptions of reality are actual interactions with externally existing objects (this comes directly from my ontology). The mind imposes form and order on reality in the form of language (nominalism), but this is reflective of the nature of reality. In other words, all existents have a nature that dictates the manner and context of their existence and this is reflected in our perceptions of reality. I can perhaps illustrate this by a defense of the principle of induction. Because the laws of non-contradiction and identity are true propositions about the nature of reality (an ontological presupposition), there exists in nature a uniformity that can be observed, recorded, and utilized in the formation of knowledge. An oxygen atom will always be an oxygen atom and will always behave as an oxygen atom does. Thus the empirical principle of induction is justified as a means of gaining knowledge of the external world. Note again that this epistemology is likely similar in form (if not in context) to that employed by TAG propoenents. They would likely defend induction as viable as well, based on the same reliability of logical principles. It is only in the warrant for logic where we differ and, as I’ve already shown, there is no reason to grant their argument in that area.
As I stated earlier, I think the meta-ethical theory of Emotivism would serve to vitiate the TAG proponent's ethical claims, but I’m not a proponent myself. So, my meta-ethical stance is one based on virtue and natural law (in the Aristotleian, not the Thomistic, sense). Like every other existent, Man has a nature and moral agency is part of that nature. Man qua man exists as an end unto himself and moral value flows from that understanding. Succinctly, Euadaimonia, as outlined by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, is Man’s highest moral goal.(9)
TAG is unsound because while the argument holds that God is necessary for the intelligibility of human experience, the premise making that claim is impossible to prove without engendering a contradiction. Even when granted the assumptions of foundationalism and realism, its proponents have still been unable to demonstrate any necessary connection between the Christian God and the existence of those features of reality that give rise to the laws of logic.
2) Garth Kemerling's Philosophy Pages
3) Emotivism is “[t]he meta-ethical theory according to which the meaning of moral language is exhausted by its expression, evocation, or endorsement of powerful human feelings. Thus, for example, saying ‘Stealing is wrong,’ is just an especially strong way of reporting that I disapprove of stealing, evoking a similar disapproval from others, and thereby attempting to influence future conduct—both mine and theirs. Although its origins lie in the non-cognitivist morality of Hume, emotivism reached its height early in the twentieth century, with the work of the logical positivists and Stevenson.” Source: Garth Kemerling's Philosophy Pages
4) A “syllogization” of TAG was presented by David Byron on the VanTil mailing list in February of 1998. I presented a greatly simplified version of his presentation, removing what I considered to be some minor redundancies, logical jargon, and his explication of the logical steps involved. Mr. Byron’s original post can be retrieved from the VanTil list archives.
5) This explanation of synthetic a priori is based upon Garth Kemerling’s discussion of ideas in Kant’s Prologomena which can be found here.
6) For a discussion of objections to foundationalist approaches, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
7) The act of treating an abstract concept as if it were a real, concrete thing. For more, see Wikipedia.
8) Assuming a correspondence theory of truth, which seems reasonable given a realist/foundationalist epistemology. See Garth Kemerling’s definition here.
9) For a full definition, see Wikipedia.
03 May, 2006
On the Today show this morning, Matt Lauer was interviewing Rex Tillerson, the Chairman & CEO of Exxon-Mobil. Of course the issue of increasing gas prices was the main topic. In a response to a question on whether or not the gas companies were going to give consumers "a break", Tillerson responded that the primary goal of Exxon-Mobil was to return value to its shareholders. He said quite explicitly: "to make money".
I actually found myself applauding. Especially after I listened to an NPR call-in show last night with caller after caller demanding that the government seize the oil company's "excess profit" and use it to fund public transportation or refund it to consumers.
I found Mr. Tillerson's statement of fact to be refreshing, but is it really the case that anyone needed to say it? Isn't it something we should already know? Is economics not even an elective at high schools and colleges anymore? Is it really the case that the average American (and no, I don't mean the average Jerry-Springer-watcher) doesn't understand supply and demand? Doesn't understand basic Capitalism 101? Or is it just the usual, lazy, "I don't care what's going on unless it touches me. Then, I don't care who I hurt, what laws I have to break, or what principles I must violate in order to get rid of it."
I, for one, am dead-dog tired of hearing citizens and politicians alike whine about high gas prices and blame it on gasoline companies. According to various sources, oil company profit margins tend to be around 7-10%. And they haven't changed much if at all through this latest "crisis". The fact is that oil companies earn a lot less profit (as a percentage of total revenue) than a great many other American businesses and yet we don't accuse other businesses of gouging and try to organize government-sponsored theft of their earnings.
Let's pick a couple of companies more or less at random and do some "back-of-the-envelope" calculations to compare profit margins: Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, & McDonalds. We'll compare them to Exxon-Mobil, BP, and Shell. All figures are in millions of dollars and all are from the companies 2005 10k filings (G.Rev is Gross Revenue & N.Inc is Net Income).
First let's look at the oil companies:
If oil companies are "gouging us" for their 8-10% profits, what does that say about these companies? Where's the outrage, I ask?
In reality, of course, there's no "gouging" at all, merely the law of supply and demand in operation. But why on earth should we let facts get in the way of public opinion?
01 May, 2006
Accent: Southern, but not "too" Southern...
Booze: Is wine considered booze? If so, I'll say wine. Mostly Bordeaux, Riesling, or sweet dessert wines (like Eiswein (ah, Botrytis!) or Sauternes). If not, then Gin (Hendricks) and Vodka (Grey Goose or Ciroc)
Chore I hate: All of them, but mostly yardwork.
Dog or Cat: Dog. We have two, both poodles, one a toy white and the other a miniature red.
Essential Electronics: Palm, iPod, Cell Phone. I know they haven't always been around, but I especially don't know what I'd do without the latter.
Favorite Cologne: Crabtree & Evelyn's Essence of Mysore Sandalwood & L'Occitane's Eau de Quatre Voleurs.
Gold or Silver: Gold, although not in the "blingy" sense...
Hometown: Born in Atlanta, GA. Raised in Lynchburg, VA.
Insomnia: Occasionally; especially when either my wife or I travel and I'm forced to sleep alone.
Job title: Sr. Business Analyst. That's "corporate speak" for "general flunky who has a lot of diverse yet useful skills and upon whom we can depend to get stuff done that none of our more highly paid "experts" know how to do"
Living arragements: House in Summerfield, NC.
Most admirable traits: Hmmm..."truthiness"...
Not going to cop to: Yeah, right...nice try.
Overnight hospital stays: The usual stuff as a kid, I suppose (tonsils). As an adult, only an appendectomy. I suppose I've been quite lucky in that respect.
Phobias: Heights. Big time.
Quote: "When in danger, fear, or doubt, run in circles, scream and shout" -- Robert Heinlein.
Religion: None. I'm a Humanist.
Siblings: Two brothers and two sisters, all younger.
Time I wake up: During the week, around 0630. On the weekends, usually before 0900.
Unusual talent or skill: Hmmm..."unusual"...well, I can tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue. Is that unusual enough? Well, freakishness aside, I have a gift for mimicry and can pick up foreign languages and accents rather quickly.
Vegetable I love: Although I like most vegetables, my favorite is probably Broccoli. There should also be a "vegetable I hate" category, but since there's not, I'll add mine here: Okra. Disgusting.
Worst habit: I'll take procrastination as well. The meager number of posts to my blog should be evidence enough...
X-rays: Most recently, of my back to determine whether or not I actually had a ruptured disc (I do).
Yummy foods I make: I'm a pretty good cook. I make a mean marinara sauce that we usually bottle and give away as Xmas gifts. I also make pretty good chili.
Zodiac sign: I think astrology is complete and utter bollocks.
Oh, and I'm a Virgo.
02 March, 2006
However, despite appearances to the contrary, there may yet be reason to hope. In the context of a discussion about an encounter with a particular creationist, a commenter at A Somewhat Old, But Capacious Handbag notes that the current shift from creationism to "intelligent design" may well signal a recognition from the opponents of rationalism that they have lost the battle on its traditional metaphysical field. By attempting to don the mantle of science, they are acknowledging that their previous attempts to hijack faith as a tool to force their narrow anti-reason ideology on science education have failed miserably. I can't say it better than the commenter, so I'll just quote:
In the past, the biblical literalist was content to argue from a spiritual ivory tower, throwing out the same old arguments from authority and tradition that you see here, but from a foundation of assumed superiority. Their status as theologians raised them above mere scientists like yourself, in their own eyes and, more significantly, in the eyes of the rest of the world.Whether he's correct or not certainly remains to be seen, but it may indeed be reason for a tad more optimism.
That the Soapy Sams of the 21st century have to pass their tribal myths off as scientific theory is an indicator of how well rationalists are doing. Their framing of creationism as science is a tacit admission that they cannot fight this battle on their home turf anymore, because people frequently listen to scientists more than theologians.
All the arguments remain the same tiresome fallacies, and scientists are more than equal to shooting them down; the only difference is you're playing at home now, and as the Dover trial showed, you stand a very good chance.
Chin up! You can't win the war overnight, but I think you might have won a few battles you weren't even aware you were fighting.
01 March, 2006
The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.Heroic sentiments, indeed. Doubly so perhaps when one remembers that Jyllands-Posten is the same newpaper that originally published the now infamous drawings.
Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.
The signatories are notable intellectuals & writers, many of whom are members of the religious and ethinic Muslim community. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, & Ibn Warraq. The sad fact is that while such statements are needed now more than ever before, they will likely fall on ears deafened by the hate-filled cries of fanatics and fail to be acknowledged by minds destroyed by dogmatic, fundamentalist ideology.
10 January, 2006
Here are the results I obtained:
Achtung! You are 38% brainwashworthy, 31% antitolerant, and 33% blindly patriotic
Congratulations! You are not susceptible to brainwashing, your values and cares extend beyond the borders of your own country, and your Blind Patriotism does not reach unhealthy levels. If you had been German in the 30s, you would've left the country.
One bad scenario -- as I hypothetically project you back in time -- is that you just wouldn't have cared one way or the other about Nazism. Maybe politics don't interest you enough. But the fact that you took this test means they probably do. I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt.
Did you know that many of the smartest Germans departed prior to the beginning of World War II, because they knew some evil shit was brewing? Brain Drain. Many of them were scientists. It is very possible you could have been one of them.
Conclusion: born and raised in Germany in the early 1930's, you would not have been a Nazi.
It could have been worse; other possible results were "The Foot Soldier", "The Everyday German", "Der Kommandant", even "Adolf Hitler"! On the other hand, I might have also gotten "The Resistance" had I answered the questions in such a manner as to indicate that I would have fought the Nazi regime rather than simply emigrated. I, like many others I'm sure, would like to think that I would have done so in such a situation.
Of course, there's certainly a likelihood that the quiz design doesn't correspond exactly with how I might myself interpret or respond to the questions, and I certainly don't give ultimate credence to an internet quiz. However, in light of the fact that my worldview demands a strong response to moral evil, such a "non-committal" outcome gives me opportunity to pose a question with which I often struggle: faced with the reality of such a sitution, would I actually find the courage to live up to the principles I value so highly and which I believe myself to have?
As a high school student, I remember seeing the movie The Hiding Place, a dramatization of the true story of a Dutch family that hid Jews from the Nazis during WWII. Like many others, I also read The Diary of Anne Frank. Many years later, I can still feel the impact such stories had on the development of my moral sense. I do hope that, faced with such implacable and overt evil, I would respond as I believe myself obligated, but even so, I am forced to admit that we often do not know how we will respond to any given situation until we are in fact faced with it.
follow me on Twitter
- ► 2009 (42)
- ► 2008 (39)
- ► 2007 (94)
- ▼ 2006 (32)
- ► November (7)
- ► October (4)
- ► September (6)
- ► May (9)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Imagine the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse-gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasuredome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag. Diane Ackerman