Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review of TLS -- a preface

I'm starting a multi-part project today, my first in almost a year (the last one would be a critique of Nagel's paper, if I recall correctly). I will be reviewing/critiquing/responding to Dr. Feser's The Last Superstition for probably the next couple of weeks, at least. I'm going to start this post with a preface of my own, and then look at the preface in the book.

My main purpose will be to look at one thing only: does Dr. Feser present any sort of proof that atheism is untenable, and in particular for his version of God? I have read a variety of comments on Dr. Feser, his variations on the teaching of historical figures, his own associations, etc., from comments on this blog and elsewhere. I understand that many of them are probably legitimate, but I'm not going to address them. Other topics, such as the nature of morality or the practical and political applications thereof will creep into the discussion only because Dr. Feser insists that his proof is evidence that his own particular brand of theism offers these positions obvious rational support. I'm also not going to address the judgemental rhetoric, except to examine any underpinnings they seem to be stemming from, as I don't particularly care what Dr. Feser's opinions are nor how he states them. Further, my goal is to address Dr. Feser's argument on his own ground, in his own terms. Any argument crafted with so much effort deserves at least that much.

Dr. Feser starts with a quote of Plato and then follows with this quote from Aquinas, "A small error in the beginning of something is a great one at the end." I find it ironic that even at the beginning (the preface) of his book, we find errors of category and an error of fact. Now, I don't think these particular errors will be overly relevant to Dr. Feser's argument (certainly not the error of fact), but that just makes them small errors. Whether they have blossomed into great ones at the end, I don't know yet (I'm still in Chapter 2). Both of these errors appear in the same passage:
It is no more up the courts or "the people" to "define" marriage or to decide whether religion is a good thing than it is up to them to "define" whether the Pythagorean Theorem is true of right triangles, or whether water has the chemical structure H2O. In each case, what is at issue is a matter of objective fact that it is the business of reason to discover than democratic procedure to stipulate.

Just in case you were wondering whether Dr. Feser means that the Pythagorean Theorem is actually true, he leaves no doubt of that in chapter 2 when discussing Platonic Forms: he does indeed mean the Pythagorean Theorem is true as a real-world proposition. This is of course an error. In a formal system where all of Euclid's postulates hold, the Pythagorean Theorem is deducible. However, not all of Euclid's postulates hold in reality (in particular, the postulate regarding lines crossed by a transversal meeting on the side of line where the sum of the interior angles is smaller than 180 degrees, the equivalent to the parallel postulate, does not hold). So, for the followers of realism (as is Dr. Feser), the Pythagorean Theorem is actually false.

The second error is more subtle, and I doubt Dr. Feser would even agree. The types of knowledge used, and the ways that we decide, what marriage is and whether religion is good is completely different from how we derive the Pythagorean Theorem, and the knowledge that H2O is water is a third way of knowing what is true. The three are not comparable. In fact, we aren't completely certain H2O is the formula for water, the Pythagorean Theorem is not real (nor any other purely mathematical concept), and my strong suspicion is that there can be no demonstration of a proper definition for marriage or the goodness of religion.

To their minds (or what is left of them) sexual libertinism and contempt for religion, as public, mass phenomena (rather than the private eccentricities of a decadent elite, which of course have always been with us) constitute the final victory of reason ...


Isn't nostalgia great? How all those ordinary people were so sexually moral that prostitution was practically unknown, were so religious that they never cursed God and went to church every day. Not to mention, and maybe he missed this, but a modern lower-middle class family of today would be part of the elite back in the days of Aquinas. So, even if his position is true, the modern libertinism and contempt represent no change at all from previous times except for the higher percentage of the population in the elite status.

92 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any comment from me is totally premature at this point, but I aint gunna let that stop me.

I have never really heard of Feser before, and my only acquaintance with his book is by way of a couple of brief reviews I just read.

I get the sense that he is something of an ideologue and that his polemical style no doubt diminishes the appeal of his book (such as it may be).

I think you have selected the least defensible aspect of his claims to attack, Eric, if you wish to focus on whether his arguments imply the existence of a particular kind (christian) of God.

It does sound like he has some worthwhile observations to make concerning the philosophical (not, as they like to think, scientific) underpinnings of the thought of what he call the "new atheists."

Without having read Feser's work, I'm inclined to think I agree with him that rigid reductionistic, mechanistic materialism generates incoherencies and contradictions.

Perhaps of most potential interest to me would be his analysis and claims about the impossibility of abandoning all teleological notions as evolutionists (for example) insist upon, while, it seems, always bringing teleology in through the back door.

Anyway, I will await further reports from you on this topic. I don't intend to read the book.

One Brow said...

While I can't speak to the marketing directly, I don't think being polemical has ever hurt the sales of bokks by Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck, etc. If anything diminishes the books popular appeal, it's the insistence laying a meticulous foundation and discussion of philosophical issues rather the polemics. Unless by "appeal" you meant to the personal tastes of the reviewer, or of you.

Discussing whether Feser's arguments will indeed support his Catholic dogma is only intended to be a sub-consideration of the more general refutation of atheism, not the primary goal. My apologies if my text mislead you.

As for rigid reductionims generating incoherencies and contradictions, that just seems to put it in the same boat as any other philosophical system I have any moderate knowledge of. I think choosing a preferred philosophical system is much like choosing a preferred mathematical system: regardless of whether you allow/disallow the Axiom of Choice or the existence of universals, you have gto contend with the ridiculous implications of your choice, and your choice is a matter of which ridiculous situation you are more willing to tolerate.

I still see it as a lack in the English language that the vocabulary of evolution has no good terms for processes which behave in a manner that, as part of a feedback loop, cycle through differentials in population that have greater reproductive success.

The book is checked out at the O'Fallon public library by me, but you could either read it after I return it or find it in a different library, it it were a matter of cost. I would certainly be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

On an unrelated matter, any change of heart about getting a Blogger login? They are free.

Anonymous said...

Blogger log-in? I didn't know I had a heart to change on this. I don't know what it is, but I don't like givin out my email address, and generally don't.

One Brow said...

I used my Yahoo! address one_brow(at)yahoo.com. You could create a Yahoo!, Hotmail, or Google email account to use for a login, and it would have no connection to your main email address. That's even the address I use at JazzFanz.

UnBeguiled said...

Good start sir.

I too was struck by the irony of Dr. Feser's "small error" quote in the preface. As you continue to read, Dr. Feser's errors accumulate exponentially, until the reader is buried in a tsunami of non-sense. But you judge for yourself.

I think you will learn that when you point out a factual error, Dr. Feser's strategy will be to retreat into metaphysics, and claim that it does not matter if his understanding of math or physics is incorrect, because he is making a metaphysical argument. But again, judge for yourself.

Looking forward to the rest.

Thomas said...

Onebrow,

If you ever wish to study Aristotle directly -- which I would recommend above reading defenses of Aristotle, no matter how good they may be -- the place to start would be with Joe Sach's translation of the Physics. The Physics is a good place to start on these sorts of questions, because it puts forward the Aristotelian view of nature, and introduces the argument for the prime mover.

Sach's translation is hugely preferable for several reasons. First, the translation avoids the technical vocabulary that has built up around Aristotle over time, but was foreign to Aristotle himself. This takes away the burden of having to use strange words divorced from everyday speech, imitating the way Aristotle wrote. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, is that Sach's translation has an excellent introduction and several pages of explanatory notes after each section, specifically addressing the concerns that we moderns have about such an "outdated" form of physics, as well as helping the reader keep track of the dialectal development of the work.

Without understanding the physics as a whole, the argument for the prime mover will not be very convincing, simply because that argument presumes most of the arguments earlier in the book, as well as the dialectal direction the work takes.

J said...

The types of knowledge used, and the ways that we decide, what marriage is and whether religion is good is completely different from how we derive the Pythagorean Theorem, and the knowledge that H2O is water is a third way of knowing what is true. The three are not comparable.

Good point. I have only read excerpts of TLS on his blog, yet I find that Feser routinely insists that religious and moral "truths" hold just as scientific or mathematical ones do: a rather audacious if not ludicrous claim. H20 is the chemical description of water. That empirical finding required years of experimentation to establish.

There was no innate or divine molecular theory: humans established it over decades if not centuries of observation and working out formulas, equations, so forth. Where is a similar empirical process leading to some definite religious discovery? No-where.

At best, Feser may summon up the scholastics and point at what he takes to be order or continuity (acorns to oaks, ice to liquid water, egg to rooster etc), and posit a divine Intelligence. He cannot prove that it is monotheistic or related to judeo-christianity. The black plague or spanish influenza also shows a remarkable uniformity and regularity.

Moreover, he tends to use obvious examples, which show the "intrinsic" order, rather than "extrinsic" or macro if you will. How does Aristotelian causality relate to hurricanes, or atmospheric physics? (apart from the obvious efficient cause--itself called into question by some findings of quantum physics) The Sun, planets, stars etc? I don't pretend to be Einstein, but Feser seems a bit ill-equipped to deal with modern science--say the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which itself could be interpreted as a counterargument for some ultimate Teleos. Bertrand Russell thought as much.

UnBeguiled said...

"Feser seems a bit ill-equipped to deal with modern science"

This is an understatement. Feser uses an Aristotelian theory of motion in one of his "proofs". But for Feser it is not important if his arguments actually correspond to reality.

But concerning teleology: there is no arguing the committed Thomist out of that view. Any regularity for them indicates a divine origin. I once pointed out to a Thomist that if you flip a fair coin, a certain pattern emerges: the ratio of heads to tails trends closer and closer to one, while the absolute difference between heads and tails tends to increase.

This pattern from randomness indicated to the Thomist that only a divine mind could explain the order that emerges. If a person perceives design and purpose behind pure randomness, in what situation will they not perceive design and purpose?

Thomas said...

Unbeguiled,

You do realize that the Aristotelian account of motion is essentially a phenomenological analysis of the kind of existential structure that characterizes composite being, which is getting at something very different than modern physics is when it talks about "motion"? There really is little overlap between the two concepts. They use different methodologies and don't really aim at the same sort of thing.

J said...

Yes, UnBeguiled, you have overlooked.....the Ether!

Feser often relies upon this sort of crypto-Ad Auctoritas as well: you haven't memorized Aristotle's ancient, anachronistic works on physics, or those of Eusebius IV of Macedonius, so you can't speak on the matter, even if you're discussing Newton, Einstein, Bohr, etc.

Even Archimedes had already begun to falsify Aristotle's scientific work in what 200 bc or so. Gallileo mostly finished the job. As a philosopher Aristotle may still have some interest (but let's not forget he advanced a "might makes right" political theory--beloved by Roman emperors--and Mussolini); as a scientist Aristotle was archived sometime in the 17th century.

One Brow said...

Unbeguiled,

Thanks for returning. I do recall your conversaiton with Dr. Feser on his blog. I am well into chapter 3, and I can see why you interpret his use of simoultaneity to be incorrect with physics, and to that degree you are correct. I also see where Dr. Feser is not refering to temporal simoultaneity, but rather simoultaneithy in causal chain, and so I agree with Dr. Feser that your correction on the temporal matter does affect his argument from the causal chain. I see a few wealnesses in the argument so far, but not that particular one.

I agree completely that people dedicated to a world wiew, like many Thomists, will use any observation as evidence of that view based upon how they interpret that evidence. I have no doubt Dr. Feser does, just as I have no doubt I also do it from time to time.

One Brow said...

Thomas,

Welcome, and thank you for commenting. I wish I had sufficient time to devote to simply reading Aritotle, but as the holder of two full-jobs and father of five, I can barely find the time to read popular books based on these arguments. Fortunately, Dr. Feser provided a primer on the notion of form and material, action and potentiality, etc. based on these arguments, so I at least have his version of that background. I can't vouch for how precise you would find it.

Your blog seems to be of a high quality. I will definitely take some time to read it this weekend to supplement Dr. Feser's text. I really hope you will stay around and offer constructive criticisms as I make my way through his book. Nothing sharpens a mind like a careful, knowledgeable respondent with a different worldview.

One Brow said...

J,

Glad to see you haven't been chased away. Dr. Feser is indeed a stauch realist, to him moral truths and mathematical truths are every bit as real as emipircal truths (I'd even grant him the former, withthe caveat that you really can't demonstrate a proper list of moral truths).

However, in chapter 3 he does acknowledge to some degree the difference between the ypoe of proof you see in physics versus that in mathematics. However, he seems to feel that since the starting propostions are empirical rather than abstract, the conclusions of metaphysics reflect reality to a degree mathematics, as an abstract undertaking, does not. I did chortle.

J said...

Another weirdness of Feser: he insists the Paley/ID types are mistaken because they hold to an "extrinsic" teleology. Aquinas/catholic tradition does not make that mistake, says Feser, because they hold (only ?) to intrinsic teleology (or hylomorphism, as the bizarre doctrine is sometimes called).

Even Trollski should be able to note the logic problems entailed with Feser's views: is he thereby suggesting that God (assuming He exists for sake of argument) is not omnipotent, or omniscient??? (Feser doesn't even suggest He is loving, Good, etc). By definition, God would have override rights over all phenomena, wouldn't He?

So, being omniscient, He not only allows flora and fauna to flourish, He controls the weather, and everything (and obviously He would thereby bring natural disasters, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues about, killing thousands for ...some unknown reason. The problem of evil/suffering in any form doesn't trouble Doc Feser, however)

I think the theological businessmen call that occasionalism; yet the traditional definition of a monotheistic God seems to imply occasionalism (really, a variation on the Argument from contingency, as Feser must realize). If it's not occasionalism, then it would it be pantheism

Even some christians realized the problems with hylomorphism centuries ago, and Aristotle was considered a type of pagan blasphemy--assuming all these different substances are sort of acting "intrinsically" and independently (--the 10,000 names of Vishnu!!).

Anonymous said...

J said: "Aquinas/catholic tradition does not make that mistake, says Feser, because they hold (only ?) to intrinsic teleology (or hylomorphism, as the bizarre doctrine is sometimes called)."

Why would you call this "bizarre," given your seemlingly strong objections to religion? I can't speak for Aquinas or Catholics, but Aritotlean teleology was always "intrinsic," i.e., inherent in nature (including living creatures) itself, not directed by an active agent (God). This would presumably seem less "bizarre" to atheists than extrinsic (agent-directed) teleology.

J said...

First off I am a skeptic, not an atheist per se, though I don't attend sunday school (atheist being a typical ad hom now). Not believing in traditional judeo-christian dogma does not at all mean one thereby holds to pantheism, or mysticism or occult views, and hylomorphism does verge on the occult--certainly in pre-copernican days it was, and Aquinas himself approved of divination. And St. Thom was one of the Flying Saints!

The Summa is chockful of discussions of odd, supernatural practices, ala Exorcism 101. Aquinas indeed differs signficantly from Aristotle in terms of holding to the supernatural. Aristotle might have been wrong in some regards (ie physics), but those of us who have read him know that he is essentially an empiricist. There may be some hints at myths (homeric, etc) but little witch-doctor BS as with the scholastics (Hegel also said that about Aquinas, whom he did not care for).

The power of Khrust compels thee!

Anonymous said...

J said: "...intrinsic teleology (or hylomorphism, as the bizarre doctrine is sometimes called)."

Do you mean "hylemoprhism?" If so, that term does not seem to refer to intrinsic teleology, per se. Not that it really matters, but when esoteric, specialized terminology is thrown about, I generally want some explanation for the layman of what is intended.

Accordin to Feser: "hylemorphism: the Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic view that material substances are composites of form and matter."

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/12/oderberg-on-hylemorphic-dualism.html

Anonymous said...

I said: "Perhaps of most potential interest to me would be his analysis and claims about the impossibility of abandoning all teleological notions...'

I read Feser's lengthy reply to your blog entry, Eric, and it was not the explanation I was expecting. In essence he simply says: "The claim so far is only that where there is an efficient causal connection between A and B, then generating B is the final cause of A in the sense that A inherently “points to” B or is “directed at” B as its natural effect. That’s it." http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/09/teleology-revisited.html

Not sure how meaningful this notion of teleology is...but I guess I can see how, under this scheme, one cannot have efficient causes without final causes, because one implies the other as a matter of definition.

J said...

You just proved my point, and also misspelled hylomorphism (google it). According to Feser: "hylemorphism: the Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic view that material substances are composites of form and matter."

Yeah, that's it. Ergo, Trees have souls! Holy Pocahontas-idealism, batman. I don't think you realize how strange a view that really is, Trollski. And for that matter, I don't think you understand catholic dogma (ie the Mass--which Feser is basically attempting to justify). For if substance is both Matter and mysterious Form, why JC hisself could like live (inhere, as they say) in a ritz cracker on Domingo day. Capiche? It's an interesting Weltanschauung, or was like 1200 AD or so, but has little to do with life after-Mendeleev.

Merry Ganeshamas

Anonymous said...

J said: "You just misspelled hylomorphism (google it)."

Misspelled, eh? Mebbe you should oughta google hylemorphism, ya know? You would find things like this here, if ya done that:

"The term "hylemorphism" is made up of two Greek words, hyle "matter" and morphe "form," and refers to the theory on the ultimate constitution of bodies as proposed by the Perennial Philosophy, that is, those who are within the tradition of Aristotle, Aquinas, and other commonsense philosophical realists. This theory holds that a body is composed of primal matter and substantial form."

http://www.radicalacademy.com/jdcosmology2.htm

By the way, J, I see you have quite the fanclub over at Feser's blog (and apparently many others, eh?). I gotta admit, though, ya utterly demolished Feser and his toadies when ya whipped out this here jewel, eh!?:

"In fact, when Feser's subpoena'd by the LA DA for like his "alleged" neo-nazi connections, you'll probably need an attorney."

Heh.

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8954608646904080796&postID=8746884765203640034

J said...

Got a problem with that, Trollski? Can't really deal with arguments, so just spam in some non sequiturs. You don't understand the issues, puto. This thread was about hylomorphism (the spelling used all over the Net, including wiki). "Hyle" is matter.



Feser quotes/admires vichy clerics such as Garrigou-Lagrange. Fascist elements have appeared on his site (Opus Dei, etc). He and his cronies supported BushCo, the IWE and right-wing, born-again republicans at Right Reason, consistently. I don't lost sleep over it (I'm a moderate, and Jeffersonian not leftist), but I suspect you approve of that as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey, J, there...just curious, eh? Ya ever come cross the word "projection" as it's used in a Freudian context, eh?

J said...

Hey cowboy, as I told you before: step in a ring, legal and proper. In fact name the date and time, macho man--anywhere, LA area. Capiche zionist-puto? I don't care what Feser or his little loyola altar boys think whatsoever: most out in blogland have no idea what the El Lay "Catholics" Inc are about. I do.


You simply don't know what this is about.

Anonymous said...

Hey, J, there....could ya, mebbe, like, gitz just a lil more punkier, ya think? I mean, like, would that be possible? That would ROCK!

How didja know I was a zionist, I wonder, eh, Punk?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Eric, if ya think I'm disturbing your blog here, eh? I realize I should just ignore the punkier aspects of this punk, but, like I done said, me and know-it-all types just never seem to git long so good, ya know?

J said...

Hey thar, Bubba, I don't give a rat's a**. Put your addy up there, psycho. You da punk, cowgrrl. I bet you're even on the Newtie Gingrich punk l-serv.

J said...

One Brow, scuzi for the rude remarks but your Trollbum has now reached the irritating-thug stage. I'll leave if you want, but I think it's fairly obvious that, one, he can't deal with the arguments in any meaningful way, and two, he simply attacks and trolls for no other reason than to irritate those he doesn't understand. Not even an entertaining troll for that matter

(capichay Trollbum?)

Anonymous said...

Conor H said (at Feser's blog): "Dr. Feser, I am a regular reader of your blog...I've watched "J" flail and sputter and generally make an ass of himself on a semi-monthly basis. His pattern is as follows: address the topic of the blog-post somewhat civilly, be countered by one of your other commentators, respond with an increasingly illogical and ill-tempered series of comments, and then finally descend into a red haze of invective and ad-hominen attacks. As I recall, he once even challenged another commentator to a boxing match!...So please Dr. Feser, do this regular and somewhat comment-shy reader a favor: Ban this troll!"

Feser, wisely, I think, refrained from indulging the plea of his devoted reader by banning J. J's gracious response to Feser was: "Sammy Harris and gang got Herr Doktor Feser's number btw, and his little Intro to Vichy-Thomism schtick may be ending, pronto."

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8954608646904080796&postID=8746884765203640034

Kinda ironic that J quickly calls for the "moderation" of others when he is charitably afforded so much slack elsewhere, doncha think?

aintnuthin said...

lemme try this here, eh?

Looks like it gunna work. There, I gotz me a name, eh?

J said...

Gosh, I'm wounded. Logic, verification, democracy does often produce that effect on the dogmatists. That's how right-wing altar boys work, Bubba McDreck. Maybe a few years of latin, mass, and catechism, and you could join 'em.

One Brow said...

aintnuthin,

Nice to see your name again. No apologies needed. I figure eventually you two will work this out or tire of each other. I don't expect anyone to to behave in ways unnatural to them.

J,

No apologies needed, I'm not running a place for the faint-hearted. However, if youthink aintnuthin is actually in favor of the agendas of the Fesers of the world, you have misunderstood him. To the degree they are even more dogmatic than you or I, aintnuthin would disagree with them even more. Sometimes AI think he worships the Golden Mean (no, not really).

thomas said...

Onebrow,

I always appreciate blog traffic, but -- if you don't mind me suggesting it -- you would probably be better served to read Joe Sach's introduction to Aristotle's physics. It's about thirty pages long, but you'll find it interesting and relevant. The first 25 or so pages are on Google books (http://books.google.com/books?id=6ychtCR4TZUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=joe+sachs+physics&ei=AWvPSreJPIWSNfvgkN8F) and I can get you the last few pages electronically. Let me know if you're interested.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I think he worships the Golden Mean."

Actually, Eric, I just worship the gold. I don't really care if it's nice gold, mean gold or nuthin like that, as long as it's 64 carat, ya know?

J said...

from Hegel's treatment of Aristotle's causality:

"""In regard to the general conception of nature. we must say that Aristotle represents it in the highest and truest manner. For in the Idea of nature Aristotle (Phys. 11. 8) really relies on two determinations: the conception of end and the conception of necessity. Aristotle at once grasps the whole matter in its principles, and this constitutes the old contradiction and divergence of view existing between necessity (causæ efficientes) and end (causæ finales), which we have inherited. The first mode of consideration is that in accordance with external necessity, which is the same as chance – the conception that all that pertains to nature is determined from without by means of natural causes. The other mode of consideration is the teleological, but conformity to end is either inward or outward, and in the more recent culture the latter has long retained the supremacy. Thus men vibrate in their opinion between these two points of view, seek external causes, and war against the form of an external teleology which places the end outside of nature...."""

Wunderbar. Hegel doesn't just merely use the ancients to prop up any and all theological speculations (as does Aquinas--or Feser) but deals with the text directly, and in depth.


http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hp/hparistotle.htm

aintnuthin said...

J said: "http://www.marxists.org"

Like, who woulda guessed that you git your material from a site like this, eh, J?

J said...

Well, Bubba, you done fell for eet! Hegel's probably linked from one of yr fave neo-nazi sites as well. That Hegel's lectures are posted on marxists.org does not mean one approves of Marxy Marx. Merely a comparison: GWF Hegel presents a German view of Aristotle, rather than scholastic/catholic.

Of course much easier to post some little Ad Hom than to actually read the essay, ain't it now. Du bist dreck .

One Brow said...

Thomas,

After I finish Chapter 3 and before I review Chapter 2 of TLS, I will read the 25 pages you suggest, and would be greatly appreciatvie if you would send the last five to the email address in the upper right-hand corner.

thomas said...

Onebrow,

I'll get my scanner out and get it to you soon.

Often -- particularly on the internet -- people are more concerned with winning and less concerned with understanding the opposing side. Seeking to understand those with whom you disagree (and more importantly, taking the time to do so), even when it is to sharpen one's critique is the sign of a philosophical soul, and often the beginning of a very worthwhile discussion. That's high praise coming from me.

Thomas said...

J.,

Hegel's system is as much about theology as it is about theology; in fact, Hegel pretty much rejected the distinction. It's no coincidence that Hegel was trained in theology.

And it is simply false to say that Aquinas did not deal with Aristotle in depth, or that he used Aristotle to prop up any and all theological speculations. Aquinas' work on Aristotle was quite extensive, and he was more than forthright about where Aristotle's thoughts were incompatible with Christian thought.

J said...

Hegel's system is as much about theology as it is about theology.

Holy Tautology batman! Yes, Hegel the philosopher was concerned with theology, but it's not catholic dogma; for one, he accepts Copernicus,Newton, modern science, empiricism to some degree (not all of it). I don't worship Hegel, but find his ideas conceptually amusing. Either way his theology is not tradition. He affirms a type of immanence, not transcendence, at least usually (it's not completely consistent). Hegel says "existents must be perceivable"--so a type of empirical realism, a bit different than Aristotle's essencia. There is process---the Idea unfolds, dialectically, in History, more or less.

Aquinas refers to The Philosopher (meaning Aristotle), but he's also referring to all the church fathers, scripture, St Augie, etc. He's not an Aristotelian, per se: he uses it to support his arguments, or quasi-arguments.

aintnuthin said...

Thomas said: "Often -- particularly on the internet -- people are more concerned with winning and less concerned with understanding the opposing side. Seeking to understand those with whom you disagree (and more importantly, taking the time to do so), even when it is to sharpen one's critique is the sign of a philosophical soul..."

Ya know, there was a time when I seen Eric as mainly a zealous ideologue, but, Thomas, you're right. Here lately he seems to have taken a more philosopical turn. I guess that's a good thang, but, ya know:

“Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.” (Mencken)

J said...

Yeah, why not pass that bon mot of Mencken's along to Feiser, Bubba. Mencken's sort of a "jus' the facts" guy: no pal of theologians either.

aintnuthin said...

Ambrose Bierce had this to say about christians, eh?:

“CHRISTIAN, n: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbors.”

J said...

That he did. Maybe a few more months with Ambrose and HL, and you'll get that goldang GED, Bubba! Some of us have been reading Bierce for years, dude. That's not the sort of satire and skepticism that Feserites or Sir Thomas here approve of, however: that be the Dark Side, Luke Skywalker, aka bubba.

aintnuthin said...

I said: "Perhaps of most potential interest to me would be his analysis and claims about the impossibility of abandoning all teleological notions as evolutionists (for example) insist upon, while, it seems, always bringing teleology in through the back door."

Eric responded: "I still see it as a lack in the English language that the vocabulary of evolution has no good terms for processes which behave in a manner that, as part of a feedback loop, cycle through differentials in population that have greater reproductive success."

Well, Eric, I make no pretense to nuanced philosophical analysis on this point--in fact that kinda casuistry tends to bore me in a hurry. I'm more of a common sense, gut feelin kinda guy, I spoze. That said, it seems to me that much more that linguistic inadequacies are at issue here.

In another thread, I noted that estimates of the number of cells in the human body range from 10 to 100 trillion (quite a "range," eh?). Each on these cells has genetic instructions, regulatory on/off switches, etc., and is amazingly complex in its own right.

Somehow, all 10-100 trillion of these cells tend to act in concert toward various purposeful goals (whether they "know" it, or "plan" it or not). They do not simply behave randomly and they are not the equivalent of mindless matter in motion in the void, subject to, and directed by, only impersonal natural forces in a predetermined, strictly contingent manner.

This is an entirely different type of phenomenon than oxygen and hydrogen atoms binding to form a water molecule, eh? I really have trouble understanding how readily some people are to see it as essentially just that, though, ya know?

One Brow said...

Somehow, all 10-100 trillion of these cells tend to act in concert toward various purposeful goals (whether they "know" it, or "plan" it or not). They do not simply behave randomly and they are not the equivalent of mindless matter in motion in the void, subject to, and directed by, only impersonal natural forces in a predetermined, strictly contingent manner.

In just about any human that lives long enough, some of these cells, at least for a brief period of time, will ignore or set aside the goals of the organism and propagate wildly, causing cancer. It can seemingly happen with any sort of cell.

I agree that not all the natural forces are impersonal.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "In just about any human that lives long enough, some of these cells, at least for a brief period of time, will ignore or set aside the goals of the organism and propagate wildly, causing cancer. It can seemingly happen with any sort of cell."

Yeah, and after more than half a century of extremely intense research, no one seems to know why. If ya had ta guess, Eric, ya figure this is a case of the old "spontaneous generation" theory of disease, or sumthin that would fit in with the germ theory of disease?

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I agree that not all the natural forces are impersonal."

I find this comment rather surprising, comin from you, and I'm not sure what you mean. Can you give me an example of a natural force that is not impersonal?

Thomas said...

J.,

You're right to say Hegel was not a Catholic, but he was a Protestant (very much a Protestant in his thinking, actually). He was deeply influenced by Christian tradition through his theological training and reliance on thinkers such as Luther and Eckhardt (and Scripture itself).

You seem to be trying to draw a distinction between philosophy and theology that Hegel himself would not draw, and that's not very perceptive to the issues.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Do you note any specifically theological language in the Hegel quote above? Nyet. Nor in the link. Im not into long-winded BS sessions over the classics, but Hegel was not really a theologian. He's a historian as much as he was philosopher.

-------

Note how Feser sets up his arguments in favor of his odd, anachronistic essentialism as well. Evolutionary theory holds that species develop, over centuries, indeed, hundred of centuries--descent with modifications. That can be readily inferred from the fossil record, and confirmed with the modern dating techniques. Nowhere does Feser address the descent with modifications. He actually sounds like one of the young-earth wingnuts. The world started with, like, greek philosophers, and maybe some old testament patriarchs! Nyet. It took thousands of years of cavemen and hunter-gatherers before humans donned togas and sauntered around the Parthenon.

Many species have gone extinct as well, due to poor adaptation, or even poor design one might say. (some perfect divine intelligence there). Feser also neglects to discuss that fact--at least on his blog he doesn't. I wouldn't spend the price of a cup of espresso on his Aquinas cliffsnotes, or other books. Really he's even a mocker of the sort of pragmatic believer. Bogus with a capital B, One Brow--that's Eddie Feser.

One Brow said...

Yeah, and after more than half a century of extremely intense research, no one seems to know why.

While cancer is too varied to have a single "why", there seems to be a reasonable amount known about various whys and hows.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer

Can you give me an example of a natural force that is not impersonal?

I think human decision-making is a real process that exerts real effects on the surrounding environment, and humans fit just about any definition of person in common use.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I think human decision-making is a real process that exerts real effects on the surrounding environment, and humans fit just about any definition of person in common use."

OK, I guess that's not what I thought you had in mind by "natural force," but I agree. I think I agree, but aint sure, because I got the idea that you were of the opinion that there is no free will. Without free will, there really is no "decision-making," is there? Just an illusion of decision-making, as Dawkins might say.

One Brow said...

The non-existence of free will would mean there is an illusion that an alternate decision might be reached in identical circumstances. However, even very simple computer programs make decisions based upon variables, so whatever our process actually is, I feel safe in saying we make decisions.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "However, even very simple computer programs make decisions based upon variables, so whatever our process actually is, I feel safe in saying we make decisions."

If we are just programmed and predestined to make every decision and take every action we ever make/take without choice, how could you call the "force" behind it "personal?" Are you suggesting that the programmer behind it all acts in a "personal" manner?

I mean, as far as the "simple machines" you refer to go, I don't see a personal element to the "choices" they make, but if you look deeper, to the designer, then yeah, on that level, sure.

aintnuthin said...

Put another way, I wouldn't say computer programs "make decisions," they simply follow orders, very obediently. If we are just robotic pre-progammed machines, then I would say we don't make "decisions" either, although maybe our programmer does (for us).

J said...

The non-existence of free will would mean there is an illusion that an alternate decision might be reached in identical circumstances.

It seems so, but by arguing for libertarian freedom you thus suggest "free will" interrupts bio-chemical order itself--you imply that human thinking itself is anomalous, if not the existence of a soul. So a decision means every event does NOT have a cause?? (that quaint Kantian rule still holds for normal science, excepting a few mostly negligible quantum events, radioactive isotopes, etc) .

While I agree strict determinism poses some problems, obviously many if not most "choices" are necessitated, even determined by a pre-existing situation (or cause) in some sense. I think decisions are more along the lines of compatibilism, or what we might call impulse- driven decisions (volitionism, I think Hobbes said). What appears to be "Intentionality" follows from situations/need/cause--Sally's obviously not free to not be hungry (or go to the bathroom afterwards).

When Sally decides to go to Taco Hell for lunch, she certainly responds to an impulse (sensation, biological need, etc): hunger, more or less. At lunch time she does seem to have choices (possibly an illusory), but does head over to Taco Hell, instead of McBurgers. So one might say she was driven at that exact point by bio-chemical factors to head over to Taco Bell, even if she insists she could have done differently (like tomorrow when she goes to McBurgers).
Not pretty, but the ghostly alternative quite odd.



However, even very simple computer programs make decisions based upon variables, so whatever our process actually is, I feel safe in saying we make decisions.

Well, the program doesn't make a decision. Humans wrote the algorithm (granted, that does seem to suggest intentionality), and specify the parameters. So when the clock hits a certain number or doesn't--input of whatever type--a certain result might follow. But that isn't a decision, really, man.

aintnuthin said...

J said: "So when the clock hits a certain number or doesn't--input of whatever type--a certain result might follow. But that isn't a decision, really, man."

Exactly. If I make the cue ball mash into the 8 ball, I know the 8 ball will move, but I would be hard-pressed to claim that it moved because it "decided" to, ya know?

aintnuthin said...

J said: "...you imply that human thinking itself is anomalous..."

Yeah, of course. So? Human thinking is indeed "anomalous" if you take the "normal" to be billiard balls on a table.

aintnuthin said...

J said: "So one might say she was driven at that exact point by bio-chemical factors to head over to Taco Bell.."

"Driven" at "that exact point," eh? I guess ya could say that some Ghandi-type who has been on a 30-day hunger strike, resisting and ignoring the "impluse" created by hunger, was also "driven" to not eat, at the exact moment, by bio-chemical factors. But what is this really sayin?

J said...

Maybe google free-will/determinism for starters, Bubba. Or the old Descartes vs Hobbes chessmatch. It's a rather difficult and even somewhat sublime problem--not just HL Mencken hack and slash.

aintnuthin said...

Google this, eh, J, ya pompous fool.

J said...

You're a pompous foo, puto. An embarrassment to reason, puto. You don't have a clue what this is about: that's probably due to inheritance--like inheriting the genes of a maricon.

aintnuthin said...

Hey, J, there....my old-ass eyes don't see so good no more, ya know? Couldja, like, mebbe, put that "PUNK" sign you're wearin in 4-foot high letters, instead of just 3, ya figure? Thanks!

J said...

Chinga tu madre, zionist-sabana

One Brow said...

If we are just programmed and predestined to make every decision and take every action we ever make/take without choice, how could you call the "force" behind it "personal?" Are you suggesting that the programmer behind it all acts in a "personal" manner?

No, I am suggesting "personal", and more generally "person", is a fractionally applicable description based upon the number and types of inputs that into making a determination. Much as some people would consider chimpanzees to be persons, or nearly persons, while few would put mushrooms in that category.

I mean, as far as the "simple machines" you refer to go, I don't see a personal element to the "choices" they make, but if you look deeper, to the designer, then yeah, on that level, sure.

What lacking in that analysis is the evidence that the difference is qualitative rather than quantative.

Put another way, I wouldn't say computer programs "make decisions," they simply follow orders, very obediently.

If you intended the definition of decision to require free will in the first place, you could have made a statement rather than a question.

If we are just robotic pre-progammed machines, then I would say we don't make "decisions" either, although maybe our programmer does (for us).

Or, on that definition, perhaps decisions don't exist.

Well, the program doesn't make a decision.

Since you and aintnuthin prefer to use a different definition of decision than I, I can go along with it.

Exactly. If I make the cue ball mash into the 8 ball, I know the 8 ball will move, but I would be hard-pressed to claim that it moved because it "decided" to, ya know?

I don't think anything I said implied an eliminatavist position.

J said...

OB, does a mousetrap (made by humans) make a decision? Nyet. It's been programmed to respond to a certain input (ie a mouse taking the bait---) And an algorithm is sort of a fancy mousetrap. The program doesn't decide. It doesn't have a brain. Your CPU is not thinking, merely following routines set by humans.

Now, I might agree the actual programming and coding involves some decisions, thought, concepts (but I think those were sort of caused in some sense as well--technology as a tool, response to the environment, etc). But the products of a human mind, even complex sort like equations, programs, don't themselves think--at least not yet. That's just simulation.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "If you intended the definition of decision to require free will in the first place, you could have made a statement rather than a question."

Well, Eric, two things:

1. What started out as a discussion of (im)personal forces was turned into a assessement by you of whether people engage in "decision-making." As I said, I wasn't sure what you were gittin at, so I axxed.

2. Well, it's not just a matter of definition to me. There is a significant, inherent difference, in my mind, between making a "selection" (as ya might say a coin does when it "selects" heads to land face-up on) and making a decision. I wasn't sure if you acknowledged that difference or not. Some people seemingly don't.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I don't think anything I said implied an eliminatavist position."

Well, mebbe ya did, and mebbe ya didn't, eh, Eric? Dunno....

One Brow said: "Or, on that definition, perhaps decisions don't exist."

J said...

So what is it, Bubba Nuthin'? People do make decisions and have something like "free-will", OR they are just programmed meat-popsicles, following bio-chemical orders...

aintnuthin said...

Well, J, ya know, I aint gotz no clue. Unlike your highly educated, super-intelligent self, I can't "respond" to question by droppin names like Descartes and Hobbes, and I aint read enough wiki articles to even know what the subject is about, eh?

aintnuthin said...

I will say this though...unlike summa my homies, no matter how hungry I got, I never stold a dog's bowl of dog food and et it. I would just resist them kinda impulses and truck on down to the dumpster behind the Waffle House, eh? Seems like free will to me, but what do I know, eh?

J said...

Not about wikis, Bubba McNuthin'; it's about a somewhat challenging conceptual problem, ie free-will vs determinism. Sort of like algebra: if you can't solve a linear equation problem, don't try derivatives.

Anyway, you're far too moralistic and conservative to have really understood the deterministic viewpoint. Maybe jus' stick to your Good Book, Bubba McSabana and Rush Limbaugh quotes. Ay ay

thomas said...

J,

So if you can produce a quote where Hegel doesn't mention theology, then theology is not a big concern for Hegel? That's some quality scholarship. And if you read your own link, Hegel addresses Aristote's theology from the latter part of the physics.

Not only have you obviously not read Hegel in any depth, but you didn't even read your own link.

aintnuthin said...

thomas said: "Not only have you obviously not read Hegel in any depth, but you didn't even read your own link."

Ya tryin ta say J just frontin, Thomas? Like, whooda thunk, I ax ya?

J said...

You haven't read Hegel in depth, Tommy, or, one, you would realize that his "theology" is heretical (as the Catholics, Inc themselves say), and a type of historical process. Really, Hegelian dialectic has similarities to eastern thought (Hinduism in particular). .

And again, you simply ignore my points--such as Hegel respects the greek rationalists (unlike protestant tradition--Luther says toss out Aristotle along with Aquinas). Hegel's Notion does not exactly follow from Scripture. So I can only assume you're trying to score points with Bubba McGump here.

J said...

Anyway, I didn't claim to be a Hegelian, did I, Tom. Over the last few years I've read most of Phil. of History, the Lectures, and Sci. of Logic, a few other things. I don't really agree with his metaphysical starting points (dialectic), but I do approve of his historicism--mostly absent in say a Feser or most fundies.

The point was to give another perspective on the Aristotelian klassix. At least Hegel understands and agrees with Copernicus (and modern scientists), unlike St. Thomas.

One Brow said...

OB, does a mousetrap (made by humans) make a decision? Nyet. It's been programmed to respond to a certain input (ie a mouse taking the bait---) And an algorithm is sort of a fancy mousetrap. The program doesn't decide. It doesn't have a brain. Your CPU is not thinking, merely following routines set by humans.

J,

That may be one of the worst comparisons I've seen. Mousetraps, at least of the sort you buy at the local gas station, are not programmed at all. To be programmed you at least require the ability to store and retrieve data, while mousetraps at best store and release energy. If you want to say decisions, thinking, etc. rely on having a non-deterministic mind, I'll agree to use other words. However, there is a difference in the inforamtional response to information versus the purely physical response to purely physical stimuli.

One Brow said...

2. Well, it's not just a matter of definition to me. There is a significant, inherent difference, in my mind, between making a "selection" (as ya might say a coin does when it "selects" heads to land face-up on) and making a decision. I wasn't sure if you acknowledged that difference or not. Some people seemingly don't.

aintnuthin,

Coins don't select to fall on heads, they just operate by physical laws. I'll grant you the difference, at least for this discussion, between a selection (such as using IF-THEN-ELSE in BASIC) versus a decision, but coins don't do either. At the very least, making a selection requires information on which the selection is based.

One Brow said: "I don't think anything I said implied an eliminatavist position."

Well, mebbe ya did, and mebbe ya didn't, eh, Eric? Dunno....

One Brow said: "Or, on that definition, perhaps decisions don't exist."


Determinism does not imply eliminativism.

I will say this though...unlike summa my homies, no matter how hungry I got, I never stold a dog's bowl of dog food and et it. I would just resist them kinda impulses and truck on down to the dumpster behind the Waffle House, eh? Seems like free will to me, but what do I know, eh?

If we agree the computer can make a selection but not a decision, what differentiates your selection into a decision?

aintnuthin said...

One Brow asked: "If we agree the computer can make a selection but not a decision, what differentiates your selection into a decision?"

Well, what doesn't, I ax ya? Computers follow orders, there is no "alternative" open to them. J seems to argue that our decisions are compelled by outside forces, like hunger, and seems to conclude that therefore we have no real choice, either.

Of course I don't argue that human beings have the unbridled power to choose to do anything they want, such as fly, for example, or that their available choices are not constrained by externally imposed limitations. But that aint the point.

Until it is demonstrated to me that I have been "ordered" by a designer to act in pre-programmed, immutable (by me) ways, I don't see why the burden is on me to argue that I aint no computer, ya know?

One Brow said...

Until it is demonstrated to me that I have been "ordered" by a designer to act in pre-programmed, immutable (by me) ways, I don't see why the burden is on me to argue that I aint no computer, ya know?

No burden, indeed, except the one self-imposed by a choice to convince someone else you are not a "computer".

J said...

A mousetrap still takes input of a sort, and was built by humans to perform a certain task, so in that sense relevant. Or consider an adding machine--really a computer may be viewed as just an advancement on an adding machine. The data storage sort of a side-issue (really libraries and file cabinets are databases, just not digitalized). And adding machine merely does what the human tells it to--it was built to take commands.

At no point does the adding machine or computer think, ie make decisions. Deep blue is not a Kasparov: it's merely a human-built machine which has been programmed with chess rules. Yet the CPU does greatly improve calculation speeds--but it's not really thinking, just running moves through some type of optimization algorithm, which computes the best way to win. It's not a human, feels no anxiety or joy or anything whether it wins or loses. Arguably a chess engine has some shortcomings in terms of "hunches" or something like feeling for the game, but I think they program openings, and strategy hints into chess programs now (control the center, etc).

A decision implies human thinking. A program merely follows a routine invented/coded by humans: the human-programmer made decisions, and coded them into a file, which runs. A computer merely follows rules specified by humans.

One Brow said...

The data storage may be a side issue, the reading and interpreting of data is not.

I agree that humans feel and do many things computers don't. I see no eivdence that the difference is qualitative instead of quantative.

J said...

Read Searle on the "chinese room" example. Even granting data-storage or HD as a type of memory, a DB does not store anything like human memories. Even the HD can be set to save certain things, and discard/delete others (delete on exit, etc). It's nothing like a memory of being at the beach 10 years ago with Daisy Mae: it's merely a recording of bits. Not a sensation; just some information encoded. So qualitatively AND quantitatively different: really, there is no quality to the HD files.

A computer has no idea what say "salty" is, or even "blue". There might be a program which associates a number with a color, but the CPU doesn't experience "blue"--it has no "qualia". I am not saying qualia is transcendent, but neurologically-speaking the sensation of say being at the beach cannot be reproduced mechanically. Maybe in a few centuries--Kurzweil, etc want to synthesize a human brain. But even then not really a human.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "No burden, indeed, except the one self-imposed by a choice to convince someone else you are not a "computer"."

If someone accused me of bein a buffalo, I wouldn't feel too compelled to convince them otherwise, for sum damn reason, eh, Eric?

Course, if they took me in front of a mirror, and I suddenly had the appearance of a buffalo, I might change my tune, but, still....

Thomas said...

J,

So heretical "theology" is not theology because it focuses on God as an historical process? I suggest you acquaint yourself with Robert Jenson (or any of a number of other Protestant theologians who are heavily influenced by Hegel).

You seem to be confusing theology with orthodox Christian theology, and one might make an argument that Hegel can fit with orthodoxy (though ultimately that's incorrect, in my view).

http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2006/08/hegel-trinitarian-theology-of-cross.html

One Brow said...

J,

Read Searle on the "chinese room" example.

I have. We can put aside for a moment the idea that you can have a Turing-test passing Chinese room that doesn't hold references to all the exact prior conversations. My question has always been: what is the qualitative difference to what we do versus the Chinese room? How do we know humans are not Chinese rooms?

Even granting data-storage or HD as a type of memory, a DB does not store anything like human memories. Even the HD can be set to save certain things, and discard/delete others (delete on exit, etc). It's nothing like a memory of being at the beach 10 years ago with Daisy Mae: it's merely a recording of bits. Not a sensation; just some information encoded. So qualitatively AND quantitatively different: really, there is no quality to the HD files.

How do you think sensations are recorded in memory (not that memory is a recording as much as a reconstruction anyhow), if not in electro-chemical bits and the various shapes of neuron connections?

A computer has no idea what say "salty" is, or even "blue". There might be a program which associates a number with a color, but the CPU doesn't experience "blue"--it has no "qualia". I am not saying qualia is transcendent, but neurologically-speaking the sensation of say being at the beach cannot be reproduced mechanically. Maybe in a few centuries--Kurzweil, etc want to synthesize a human brain. But even then not really a human.

When we begin to build biological computers, this may be an interesting distinction to expolore. Right now, it's no more meaningful than saying an abacus can't make a selection based on criteria (which I think we agree is a quantative difference). We have no evidence the difference is qualitative.

One Brow said...

aintnuthin,

Course, if they took me in front of a mirror, and I suddenly had the appearance of a buffalo, I might change my tune, but, still....

Or, if you act like a fancier buffalo, maybe...

J said...

My question has always been: what is the qualitative difference to what we do versus the Chinese room? How do we know humans are not Chinese rooms?

Actually I don't completely approve of the analogy--it doesn't take qualia into account, really. Searle's point was primarily semantic regardless. The computer merely processes syntax, commands, bits, routines, etc. It never actually understands them. It's not a mind; it has no "personhood"--and personhood does relate to meaning, to perception, memory, to connotation (not only denotation, or quantitative reasoning). However I think the analogy could be expanded:being human means having a nervous system, and brain, senses, and experiencing certain things. The computer merely simulates (or duplicates) our quantitative nature, not our qualitative experiences (and even the number crunching is human too--a point some techies forget. Chess rules are not part of nature like trees or clouds. So really the computer or chess app. is merely a surrogate to human thinking--it didn't create itself).

One Brow said...

Is the difference a matter of programming source (the directed programming of computers versus the emergent paterns of the brain), hardware (biological versus electronic), sophistication (no computer program is withing a few magnitudesof complexity compared to human thinking, last I heard), some combination, or something truly different? You really have to rule out the first three giving a definitive answer that the difference is qualitative.

Still, it's fun to talk about.

J said...

A combination of those factors, but really hardware more than anything. Neurology is not merely circuitry. Duplicating the quantitative via computing (say chess playing, or statistics, accounting, robotics etc) has been solved, in a sense. Automatons and drones are here, and could result in some matrix like world soon (not saying that's good, nor that they will really be "conscious"--perhaps viral)

It's the duplicating of the human-animal with memories, sensations, emotions, desires --qualia--that isn't close.

One Brow said...

I agree there.