Saturday, December 29, 2012

One More Reason Why Russellian Descriptivism is False

Russellian descriptivism about proper names can be summarized rather roughly in terms of the following four theses. For any object O, where 'O' is a proper name of O:

(1) There is a unique definite description D associated with the term 'O'.
(2) The speaker believes that D is uniquely true of O.
(3) D uniquely picks out O.
(4) The proposition expressed by "If O exists, then O is D" is knowable by the speaker a priori.

So, very roughly, in the case of Barack Obama one might associate with this name the definite description 'the president of the United States from 2008 to 2016' and believe that this picks out Barack Obama uniquely; this is how one refers to Barack Obama, by means of the associated description.

There are many excellent reasons to believe a theory like this is false. Kripke, Donnellan, and others have pretty much put it to rest. But one more reason is that it entails another false thesis known as the identity of indiscernibles (or at least a somewhat modified and equally false version of this thesis). The identity of indiscernibles basically states that if two things share all the same features then they are the same object. [On the falsity of this thesis, check out Max Black's famous paper.]

The basic line of reasoning which leads me to say descriptivism of the described sort entails this principle is, informally, as follows (taking Barack Obama again as our example): By clause (3), 'the president of the United States from 2008 to 2016' uniquely picks out Obama; and by Russell's analysis of definite descriptions it follows from this that anything having the feature *being the president of the United States from 2008 to 2016* will be Barack Obama. Now, suppose two things x and y both have all the same features, and x has this feature. Then so does y. But since anything which has this feature is Obama, y is Obama. We can apply similar reasoning in any other case, since by (3) everything will have a feature P which uniquely picks it out, so if two things x and y have the same features then both of them will have P, and thus both will be identical to x.

There are two qualifications to be made. First, there is a sense in which the identity of indiscernibles can be trivially true. If we include among the features of a thing x the property *being identical to x* then it is obviously and trivially true that two things having all the same features will be identical. Even excluding features such as these the argument still goes through though, since presumably on a descriptivist theory the relevant description for, say, Barack Obama is not going to be 'the thing which has the feature of being Barack Obama'. Descriptivist theories aim to not be blatantly circular.

Second, the descriptivist might say that his thesis only applies to those referents which are nameable, whereas the identity of indiscernibles applies to all things regardless as to whether they can have names applied to them. However, the identity of indiscernibles is still false even when restricted to nameable things. You can give names to Max Black's two spheres and this provides a counter-example to the restricted form of the identity of indiscernibles.

For those not satisfied with my rather informal "proof" I've made a more formalized proof (with cheap symbols and lines, since OpenOffice does not appear to have any quantifiers). It should be pretty easy to interpret but if not please tell me. The first premise says for all x, if x is nameable, then there is a feature P such that for all y, if y is P then y = x, and x is P. The conclusion states that for any two nameable objects x and y, the identity of indiscernibles holds. Hence, if I have made no mistakes, descriptivism entails a restricted but still false identity of indiscernibles.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reply to William Lane Craig on Divine Simplicity


Dr. William Lane Craig has made a response to my previous post where I argued that his own view of divine sovereignty entails the truth of divine simplicity. Now, Craig is actually correct about one thing: My argument does not by itself entail that God is identical to all his parts. This only follows from the conclusion of my argument if you grant that God really has a will, intellect, etc. Craig does not grant this, since he doesn't think talk about things having parts is metaphysically substantive.

There are a lot of things to say about Craig's response here. Maybe the first is to simply note that he is denying that anything really, in the metaphysically deepest sense, has any parts. This is surely an unacceptable conclusion. Personally I would think it's better to simply deny God has any parts rather than to deny anything has parts. Absent this option, if I didn't believe in divine simplicity I would even modify my account of divine sovereignty just to save parthood. For otherwise I honestly don't know how Craig explains kidneys, brains, legs and their relations to the people who have them. This is just a datum of experience, that there are at least some parts.

Craig tries to use an argument by Peter van Inwagen to back up his thesis. However, the problem is that Van Inwagen's argument only demonstrates the falsity of the doctrine of arbitrary undetached parts, which is the idea that any region of a body can be taken to be a proper part. His argument can only go through if we are dealing with 'parts' like Dottie* which are constituted by enough matter in such a form that a person can survive by becoming identical to them. It's not obvious though that I could ever become identical to, say, my heart. So his argument would not go through with those sorts of proper parts.

Now, I'm inclined to reject the doctrine of arbitrary undetached parts anyway so I'm happy to accept the soundness of the argument. But it just doesn't demonstrate that there are no proper parts. And if it did entail that, then--like Peter Geach did with Tibbles the Cat--I would just take the argument to establish the relativity of identity rather than the complete lack of proper parthood. More importantly, it's not even obviously sound. We might just deny the premise that Dottie becomes identical to Dottie*, since Dottie seems to be an animal (or a soul) and Dottie* seems to be a 'lump'. In virtue of their falling under different sortals these two objects have different identity conditions associated with them, and thus by Leibniz's law they are non-identical. They are merely constituted by the same matter.

There's also something to be said about Craig's underlying Carnapian sympathies. There is intense debate about taking this sort of view about language and metaphysical methodology (cf. the Chalmers volume on metametaphysics), and suffice it to say for now that I'm not too sympathetic. I will criticize this neo-Carnapian line of thought later, but this post should be enough to see why Craig's response is inadequate.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Minimal Divine Simplicity and the Trinity

Just a note: I will probably be laying kind of low for a while, since I am now moved in at my new school and taking summer courses. I will be kind of busy for the next two months, so please do not be offended if I don't reply to comments quickly on this blog. I will get back to you eventually. Anyway, enjoy the post!

For Catholics, belief in the doctrine of God's simplicity is dogmatically defined to be held by all the faithful just as much as the doctrine of the Trinity (see the Fourth Lateran Council as well as Vatican I). Does the official dogma of divine simplicity contradict the revealed truth about the Holy Trinity? Not necessarily, at least on a certain construal of divine simplicity. Call this the "minimal doctrine of divine simplicity":

(MDS) God has no proper parts, either metaphysical or physical.

This means that God possesses of course no physical parts, but also no properties, ontological constituents, tropes, accidents, immanent universals, distinct intellectual parts (e.g. distinct will and intellect), etc.

Is this what the Church intends to define when it says God is simple? Arguably so. The definition of simplicity must be strong enough to rule out theistic personalist views of God, for this is not found in the teaching of the Fathers and is arguably inconsistent with the other divine attributes which are mentioned in connection with simplicity in these Councils (e.g. God's being immutable, incomprehensible, infinite in will). Hence, it must mean more than that God is simply non-physical; God isn't just simple in the sense that an angel is. On the other hand it must be weaker than simply identifying God's essence with his existence. For if the Church meant to endorse dogmatically the Thomistic teaching on simplicity, this would make anyone who did not hold to this view in substance to be heretical; hence, the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers as well as St. Maximus the Confessor, and likely even Bl. Duns Scotus, would be heresy. This is why MDS seems to be a likely candidate for the minimal required belief in divine simplicity for orthodoxy.

But given MDS, this is a truth about the Trinity:

(TR) It is not the case that the persons of the Trinity are proper parts, either metaphysical or physical.

For the persons of the Trinity all share fully in the divine essence; the Father is fully God, just as the Son is fully God, just as the Holy Spirit is fully God. To suppose the persons are proper parts of God would mean there is something G which is fully God, and that each person of the Trinity does not fully share in the essence of G (since, after all, G essentially has as proper parts each of the persons of the Trinity, whereas the same does not hold for each of the individual persons). Hence, the persons of the Trinity cannot be understood to be proper parts of God in any sense; hence, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity cannot contradict the minimal doctrine of divine simplicity.

This seems to show that the Church's teaching here is consistent; it is a separate matter whether Aquinas's teaching which includes the doctrine that God's essence = his existence, as well as that God is pure actuality, can be made consistent with the Trinity.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is Promise-Breaking Lying?

Eric brought this question up to me. I tend to think promise-breaking is lying. Here's the form a promise to someone takes: "I promise that I will do x." In effect, this is a guarantee that you will do x. And since 'I will do x' is equivalent to 'it is true I will do x', it follows 'I promise that I will do x' is equivalent to 'I promise that it is true I will do x'. To intentionally break a promise then is a form of lying; for you are guaranteeing something is true when you know it is not. In fact it may be an even worse form of lying, since you are not only saying intentionally what is false, but by promising it to the other person you are guaranteeing to someone that it is true. This is probably why people are even more disappointed when someone breaks a promise than when they tell a lie without a guarantee of its truth.

Of course, unintentionally, something may hinder you from fulfilling your promise. But then you are not morally culpable for failing to fulfill the promise. This is just a more specific case of telling someone something you believe to be true but, through no fault of your own, you don't know the details and it actually turns out to be false. When you promise something to someone you don't know that, while you are on your way to fulfill your promise, a large set of goons determined to stop people from fulfilling promises will pop up out of the corner. So it's not your fault for not being able to fulfill the promise.

These sorts of cases show that lying should be construed more subtly as intentionally telling a false-hood. And promise-breaking should be construed as intentionally failing to fulfill a promise. With this in mind it is plausible to think of promise-breaking as a more specific form of lying.

William Lane Craig on God and Analogy

William Lane Craig, as with most contemporary analytic philosophers of religion, objects to the classical Thomistic idea that God cannot be said to be a being in the sense that we can. I aim to argue that at least some of his claims here are unreasonable.

Craig objects: "One of the aspects of Thomas Aquinas’ thought that I find most disturbing is his claim that we can speak of God only in analogical terms. Without univocity of meaning, we are left with agnosticism about the nature of God, able to say only what God is not, not what He is."

This does not follow in the slightest; in fact, I wonder if Craig actually understands what analogy is, since it is one of the main points of Aquinas's theory of analogy to avoid this problem. Aquinas sought to show, in contrast to Maimonides, that though we can't predicate attributes of God in the same sense as us we can still speak meaningfully and make positive predications about him. Craig fails utterly to show how from the semantic analogy of the term 'being' we are left only with negative theology.

Next, Craig says: "When in discussions with atheists I affirm, 'God exists' and they reply, 'God does not exist,' we may need to be sure that we mean the same thing by 'God,' but there is no equivocation on the meaning of 'exists.'"

I guess what Craig is trying to say here is something like this: If the word 'exists' is analogical, then when I affirm God exists and when atheists affirm God does not exist, we are both equivocating past each other. But this is a genuine ontological dispute and so there is no equivocation; hence, 'exists' is not analogical. The problem is that the main premise is simply not true; if analogy is true, then we affirm that God exists in one sense, and the atheist simply denies that God exists in any sense, including the one I am predicating of God.

In the next paragraph, Craig says this: "The problem you pose brings us to the heart of my current work on divine aseity. What makes God more than just one being among many is precisely His aseity: God alone is self-existent; everything else exists contingently. Only God exists of Himself (a se); everything else exists through another (ab alio). That makes God the source of being for everything apart from Himself."

Now, I really like this, and I agree with this completely. The only problem is that Craig himself doesn't; for if what Craig says is literally true then divine simplicity is true, from which it is a small step to the doctrine that talk about God is analogous. Here's why:

(1) Whatever is non-identical to God is created by God. [conceded by Craig]
(2) If God has metaphysical proper parts ('parts' hereafter), then at least one of these parts is not created by God. [prem]
(3) Either God has parts or he doesn't. [LEM]
(4) Suppose he does have parts. [assp]
Then
(5) All of God's parts are created by God. [by 1]
But
(6) One of God's parts is not created by God [by 2,4]
This is a contradiction. Hence, we must reject our assumption. Hence:
(7) God has no parts.

So by 'metaphysical proper parts' here I mean things like ontological constituents, such as a property-instance (or trope or accident or whatever). (1) is just Craig's own thoughts on the matter, and (2) is true because clearly God doesn't create his essential properties; he depends on those for his existence, since if they didn't exist then neither would he. The rest follows by the meanings of the terms and the rules of logic.

Craig says that he considers God to be a substance, presumably in the same manner we are: "Not a physical substance, of course, but a spiritual substance like a mind."

However, the case is even more clear if Craig thinks God's mind and will are distinct; for if he does, granting Craig's doctrine of aseity, then from (1) it follows God's will must be created by God. But it is absurd to suppose God creates his own will; after all, he must have a will to do that! So, either Craig's doctrine of aseity is false (which I agree with Craig it isn't) or God is not distinct from his will (which I think is right, but is really only intelligible given divine simplicity).

Craig thinks getting rid of Platonism will solve the problems concerning God's aseity; but it doesn't, since even if there are no abstract properties in us there are clearly ontological constituents (my brownness, my height, my shape, etc.). Even taking 'parts' in this sense, I think the above argument shows that if he wants to hold on to the strong doctrine of aseity set out in the quote above he needs to get rid of the idea that God has any parts at all. And if God has no parts in the metaphysical sense then it can be shown speech about God is analogical; for in our case, to say I am good is to say the quality of goodness inheres in me as an accident (or is exemplified as a property, or inheres as a trope or whatever). But since God has no parts in any of these senses, to say God is good cannot be to say this about him. And the same with any of the divine attributes. Thus our terms must be said analogically of God.

[Edit: Craig's reply here. My reply here.]

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is 'Existence' Univocal Because 'All' Is Univocal?

In this post, Bill Vallicella presents another argument by Peter van Inwagen for the univocity of existence and questions it (he posted and refuted the first argument here). I think Vallicella has a point. Still, I might grant that the Quinean like Van Inwagen can translate a singular existential statement so as to have the same form as a general existential statement and argue the conclusion still does not follow. Quine, in his famous paper "On What There Is," proposes that we treat for instance the relation '__ = Pegasus' as a single-place predicate '=Pegasus'; one can call this 'pegasizing' or formally 'P'. Then 'Pegasus exists' will just be 'something pegasizes', which will just be translated to, '(Ex)(Px)'. Even ignoring the problematic aspects here I would pose a different objection. I would accuse Van Inwagen's argument of being a 'non sequitur'. Vallicella states the argument thus:

(1) 'Every' is univocal.

(2) 'Exist(s)' and 'every' are interdefinable: 'Fs exist' is equivalent to 'It is not the case that everything is not an F.'

Therefore

(3) 'Exist(s)' is univocal.

Clearly, as is, this argument is not valid. To make it valid we need some further premise. I'm not sure what sort of plausible premise Van Inwagen is using to get to his conclusion, but maybe it is something like

(2.5) If two terms are interdefinable then each of the terms' uses share the same sense relation.

(Just a clarificatory point: Sense relations are things like 'univocity' or 'equivocity', and Van Inwagen thinks that all the uses of 'exists' are univocal.) How are we to understand 'interdefinable' here? Surely not as meaning that for each 'exists' statement there is a semantically identical 'every' statement, i.e. one with the exact same meaning, for that would be utterly question-begging. We must construe it then as something like 'for each 'exists' statement there is a logically equivalent 'every' statement'. The problem is that (2.5) is not obviously true on this interpretation. I'll explain.

I think we can admit that 'some' and 'every' are univocal, that these two are interdefinable in the sense that logically equivalent statements can be expressed in terms of each, but still say that 'some' doesn't fully capture the meaning of 'exists', and thus neither does 'every'. Of course, every 'some' statement is logically equivalent to another 'there exists' statement, but that does not imply they are semantically identical.

On the idea that 'exists' is analogical, the natural language quantifier 'there exists' has many senses, but all beings can be said to exist in one of those senses; thus the range of this quantifier includes all beings (regardless as to which sense of 'being' can be said of them). And since there are no non-existent beings, the range of the quantifier 'some' is over all beings. So the two quantifiers range over the same domain of discourse; and since for any 'some' statement there is a logically equivalent 'there exists' statement, it follows that we can translate logically equivalent statements involving either of them with the same symbol in predicate-logic, '(Ex)'. This is also why they are each logically equivalent to at least one 'all' statement. But it simply doesn't follow that they all share the same sense relation (univocal, equivocal, etc.). It is true that our 'some' quantifier ranges over only and all beings, but it ranges over them regardless as to which of the many analogous senses of 'being' can be said of them. So it's consistent with both 'some' and 'all' being univocal that 'being' or 'exists' are not.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thomistic vs. Molinist Predestination Part III

In the last post I discussed whether a Thomist could preserve both the efficacy of God's will and the libertarian freedom of our actions, and it seems to me that he can. Hence, the Molinist objection that God's causing a free action is impossible doesn't work, so we are left with the Thomist view which better preserves God's sovereignty.

The problem then, as brought up in the original post, is in how we can reconcile God's ability to cause anyone to freely choose him with the fact that God doesn't do so. For the teaching of Scripture is that God wills that all men be saved. Now, Aquinas distinguishes between God's antecedently willing that all be saved and his consequently willing that only some be saved, which I explained in the original post. The problem with Thomas' example is that God's will, unlike that of the judge example he uses, is intrinsically efficacious, even in the case of free action.

We can state the problem equivalently as follows. God wills that all men be saved, as we know from Scripture and the teaching of the Church. Since God's will is efficacious, it follows that all men are in fact saved. But it is false that all men are saved. So it seems we have a straight contradiction. Hence, we must understand the 'antecedent' will as willing in some other sense--according to Aquinas this would be a willingness rather than a simple willing--since it is clearly God's consequent will which is actually satisfied (some people are not saved and are damned). The problem is that I have difficulty understanding how God could have a "willingness" distinct from a simple willing if he is absolutely and most simple. Let me explain:

God should be construed as lacking any potentiality to be fulfilled. Now, the way I understand this consequent will, being a willingness, is as a sort of "background desire" to have everyone be saved. But a desire is something that can be fulfilled. So God has a potentiality to be fulfilled, which is false. Hence there is no such willingness.

Maybe the problem here is that we should reject this understanding of "willingness." I may simply be misunderstanding Thomas' notion here. This interpretation may be somewhat uncharitable anyway, since Aquinas explicitly argues that the order between antecedent and consequent is in God's effects and not in his absolutely simple will itself. So my question then is how this can be. One way I'm thinking of construing this willingness is as follows: God absolutely wills the existence of human beings; the natural end of each human being is union with God; so in some sense God wills their salvation just by willing their existence. So God wills their salvation in one respect, though by not willing their predestination does not will it in another respect. Hence, no contradiction. Another way might be to say that God gives men sufficient grace to choose him; (sufficient grace on the Thomistic view is grace which gives one the ability to choose God, but which does not entail one actually does); hence God wills that all men have the means to salvation; so in some sense God wills that all are saved. I am not so sure about either of these options, either as to whether they are what Thomas intended or whether they work.

The key then is to find some notion of 'antecedent will', distinct from God's simple and absolute willing. And this is where I'm stuck at. It appears that the Molinist view doesn't work since Thomism can preserve freedom and perfect sovereignty (not even mentioning the other problems with Molinism); the Thomist view seems inadequate insofar as it is not clear what God's antecedent will is, this being a willing apart from God's efficacious, absolute, and simple will. Is there some third way that I'm missing? I don't think Congruism can help here, since there is still the question of why God doesn't elect all people he creates, and from my reading Scotus's doctrine here is not much different from Thomas' or Augustine's. Maybe this is a good theological reason to accept a weaker version of God's sovereignty in favor of Molinism? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thomistic vs. Molinist Predestination Part II

In my last post I explained that God does not cause1 our free actions, but only cause2's them; hence, there can be no conflict between God's efficaciously willing that one do an action and our doing it libertarianly freely. I'd argue that one's free actions being caused is only inconsistent if we are using 'caused' in the sense of cause1. This is how I understand physical determinism:

(PD) The past state of the world, together with the laws of nature are sufficient to render necessary one unique future.

Clearly then God doesn't determine my next action A in this sense in cause2ing it, since God could have just as well created everything with the laws of nature and the past state up to my current time and yet cause2ed me to do ~A. It's only the case that I must do A under the supposition that God wills I do A, but it's not absolutely speaking necessary that I do A, since God could have willed otherwise.  In other words, libertarian freedom is possible, since even given the laws of nature + the past state of the world I could have done otherwise if God had so willed.

But maybe God's cause2ing me determines me in some morally relevant sense (where a form of determinism is morally relevant just in case if it were true it would preclude moral responsibility and freedom) since his causing is 'logically prior' to my acting. So we can generalize determinism from physical determinism to 'logical determinism' as follows:

(LD) An event E is logically determined by some state S just in case (a) necessarily the proposition expressing E (i.e. the proposition that E is the case) is true if the proposition p expressing S is true and (b) p is true.

Since necessarily if God wills that I do A then I do A, and God wills I do A, by this definition I'm logically determined to do A. So if this is a genuine morally relevant form of determinism, then God's cause2ing determines our actions and removes freedom. The problem with LD however is that it's not clear that it is a morally relevant form of determinism. After all, necessarily, if I do A then God wills I do A, and I in fact do A, but I don't determine God in any relevant sense to will that I do A. But if LD was a morally relevant form of determinism then I would.

I would simply hold to this: necessarily, God wills I do A if and only f I do A. This is true, but this is only meant to secure the efficacy and dependence of everything else for its existence on God's will.  This is similar to supervenience relations, and just like supervenience relations it only implies a necessary covariance; it does not necessarily imply any causal priority either of God's willing or my acting. To come back to the original point, we are working on different "causal plains" so to speak; I cause only in the sense of cause1, and God causes only in the sense of cause2. There is no causal priority of either of God's willing or my acting to the other.

Hence, I'm not sure this form of determinism, viz. logical "determinism", is a genuine form of determinism. I mean we can call it determinism (nomina significat ad placitum) but the question is whether it is a morally relevant kind, i.e. one which removes free will and moral responsibility. In the next and final post I'll come to the point about whether Aquinas's picture of predestination works.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thomistic vs. Molinist Predestination Part I

This post comes out of a very large and high-quality discussion on predestination on Facebook. If you don't have Facebook you should really get it, if only because (among other things) we have a thriving Thomism group on there. I will be posting in three parts.

So, I'm kind of agnostic between Thomistic and Molinist views of predestination at the moment (though sympathetic to the Thomistic view). I'm worried about the Thomistic view since if God's will is efficacious then he should be able to bring about the salvation of all, and so the only explanation for why not all are saved is that God does not will it, which is contrary to Scripture. Aquinas replies by distinguishing between God's consequent and antecedent will. So God in general ('antecedently') wills that all men be saved, but taking all things into consideration ('consequently') wills that only some are saved; just as a judge wills that all men should live but taking into consideration particular cases wills that some should die. However, the difference between the two cases is that God's will can never be thwarted or perverted.

The problem with the Molinist view in my book is that I don't think it fits well with God's providence/omnipotence. The Molinist will reply that there's no problem, since it's not contrary to God's omnipotence if God can't bring about something that's impossible, and God's causing someone to freely choose him is impossible, since a free action can't be determined. But here I see no reason why God cannot bring about either of two contraries of a person's choice (i.e. either action A or not-A) and the action still be free--for God and creatures are working on different causal plains so to speak; God creates 'ex nihilo' by giving the whole of existence to particular states of affairs, whereas creatures cause in the sense of interacting with each other. It is only causing in the latter sense of interacting with by coercing or forcing that is incompatible with free will, and this is not the sense in which God is a cause.

To elaborate on the Thomistic point about how God can cause free actions we must distinguish different senses of the word 'cause.' First there is the sense of 'cause' in terms of interacting. Let's call this 'cause1'. So, for instance, this is what it means when I push you and 'cause' you to fall down, or when neurons cause arms to move, or if Cartesianism is true what happens when the soul causes the body to move. God does not cause in this sense; God does not cause1.

There is another sense of cause which means to create ex nihilo at evey moment, to 'sustain' or give being to things (although I have some reservations about the word 'sustain' since I think it can be misleading, since God isn't in time). We can call this cause2. God causes in this sense by being the cause of all being other than himself. He gives existence or 'esse' to everything. This is a very central doctrine to Thomism. God is the only person who causes in this sense; God is the only person who can cause2. God can cause2 anything that is possible. And on libertarian free will either of two contraries--i.e. either of action A or ~A--is possible, so God can cause2 either. Though I would agree he can't cause1 them, since that would entail determinism.

Now, maybe one can argue that even in the sense of cause2, this counts as a form of determinism which limits moral responsibility, and hence we should revert to the Molinist response. In Part II I'll respond to this point.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Thomistic Critique of Religious Evidentialism

There is a certain view among Christian philosophers that in order to be justified in one's belief in Christianity one must have studied the best philosophical arguments and come to the conclusion of Christianity through a process of discursive reasoning. Call this "religious evidentialism." The obvious problem is that this would seem to consign anyone who doesn't come to belief in God by studying the arguments into the class of epistemically "unjustified" believers. And that seems to be most believers. I don't think Aquinas would endorse this at all, and I think we can produce a good argument for thinking why this is not the case, on Thomistic grounds:

If this evidentialist approach is right, and most people are unjustified in their belief in Christianity because they didn't study arguments, then at least on a Thomistic view these people are to that extent intellectually failing because their cognitive faculties are failing in some respect and they intentionally act contrary to them. Moreover, to the extent they grow in faith, to the same extent do they grow in being unjustified in their beliefs, and thus grow in intellectual vice. But if Thomism is true, grace perfects nature, and does not destroy or act contrary to it. God doesn't make us do evil things in the process of salvation. He doesn't destroy our nature, but perfects it, i.e. sanctifies us (and on the Thomistic view this is the same as to justify us, in the theological sense). So it can't be true that those faithful who have not studied the arguments are unjustified in their beliefs.

This may provide some warrant for thinking something like Alvin Plantinga's picture of religious epistemology is correct.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

All Perfections are Possibly Instantiated

My logic teacher and I were reflecting on the ontological argument and we came up with this. Forgive the cheap operators. A perfection is a property which it is better to have than to lack. Let A be any perfection (say, being perfect) and let B be any non-perfection (like being imperfect) and let 'PA' mean 'A is a perfection' and 'PB' mean 'B is a perfection'. Then let PP be the principle that perfections only imply perfections:

(PP) For any property J and any property K, [PJ & [](x)(Jx --> Kx)] --> PK

Since A is a perfection and B is a non perfection:

[Prem] PA & ~PB

Now, assume for reductio that ~<>(Ex)(Ax). This is equivalent to []~(Ex)(Ax) which is equivalent to [](x)~(Ax). Since necessarily A is not exemplified by anything, then trivially [](x)(Ax --> Bx). So by our premise, [PA & [](x)(Ax --> Bx)] But by (PP) [PA & [](x)(Ax --> Bx)] --> PB. It follows that PB. But by our premise, ~PB. This is a contradiction. So we must reject our assumption. So ~~<>(Ex)(Ax). So <>(Ex)(Ax).

Monday, April 30, 2012

Advice for Aspiring Philosophers

I normally do not do posts like this because I am not primarily interested in writing about the careerism of contemporary philosophy. Hopefully this will be my first and last such post. Nevertheless, it is a reality, and it is something any prospective philosopher is going to have to deal with. Here is some advice that I wrote to a friend who is considering a career in philosophy. I've invested some time researching these issues, so I thought it might be helpful for others. I should note, I'm not an expert and I have not had years of experience in the field: I myself am a mere undergrad after all! However, most of this information is just stuff handed on to me from personal talk with my professors and from reading things written by other professionals in the field. So take the advice on their authority and not mine.

First, there is the problem of getting into a top PhD program. It is extremely difficult to get into one of the top 20 or so programs from anything less than, well, a top 20 program. (For the rankings, see here.) This is because of at least two things: PhD committees are (a) prestige-oriented and (b) lazy. They attach a lot of significance to the title of the university one is coming from, and they know they can get good students if they just pick from the top programs. Hence, if one is not from one of those schools the committee doesn't bother reading the writing sample very carefully. For more info on how difficult it is to get into a top program from a non-top program, see here.

Second, there is the problem of landing a job. In the humanities more generally 40% of graduates end up without jobs. Most philosophers do end up with jobs at community colleges at least, though not necessarily a dream job. One may have to try for a couple of years but it usually happens. For more on all that see here. Nevertheless it is still more difficult to get a job unless one is coming from a top program. Even those coming from a top program will often end up teaching at small liberal arts colleges or less prestigious universities. And of course, all this isn't to say getting a job is guaranteed. For more info on this one might want to check out this blog. The blog gets a little feisty because these people are so frustrated, but it paints an accurate picture of how bad it can be at times. The job market is especially bad at this moment.

What I have mentioned are serious concerns. I don't want to under-emphasize that. If you don't think you are going to have to deal with them, you're wrong. However, I should note that it is not all hopeless if one isn't coming out of a top school. Most people who aren't coming from top schools as undergrads are able to get into good PhD programs via a good MA program. Having a graduate degree under one's belt makes it much more likely that a PhD committee will take one's application and writing sample seriously. There are a couple of problems with this strategy though. First, many terminal Master's programs do not fund their students. Going into debt is almost always not worth it. Second, it makes a difference which MA program one is coming from. Some good terminal Master's programs are listed here. Finally, this essentially takes up two more years of one's life which could have been spent in a PhD program.

Another good thing to do is to work very hard on a writing sample. Most schools offer independent study so one can work with a professor on it. Also, one may want to see if one's department has an honors program. Usually that doesn't require more than having a good GPA and doing a writing sample. Applying for honors gives one motivation to make a good sample; it also makes one look much better when applying to graduate schools.

So what is my ultimate advice? I would tell anyone considering philosophy as a career to try to do as many of the following things as possible: (1) Go to a prestigious and high-ranked undergraduate school; (2) Get to know professors with big names, and impress them, so they can write you good letters of recommendation; (3) Make connections with important people in the field; (4) Write an excellent sample paper, maybe taking independent study time to do so; (5) Try to receive departmental honors; (6) If you are not able to go to a prestigious university, try to find a way to get a Master's degree from a good program. (7) Get into a top PhD program in order to get a job when coming out.

For anyone considering going on in philosophy I would recommend seriously talking to academic advisers and professors. The ones who are youngest will likely have the most information since they have only recently gotten out of the whole fray. I'm fortunate that I had professors who pulled me aside and let me know about all these problems. I'll be transferring to UCLA in the Fall as a result. This in conjunction with good letters would give me a decent shot. However, if I had decided to continue my education where I am currently at my prospects would have been far worse. I might have just chosen a different, less treacherous, path.

Some of this may sound Machiavellian. However, I am not saying it is okay to slit throats in order to do all these things. Nor am I saying I approve of the way the system works. Nor am I recommending that one view professors as nothing more than means to getting good letters of recommendation. Nor would I want to impress upon other students the idea that "prestigious philosophy program" equates to "good philosophy program"; quite frankly I think my philosophical education would be just as good with my current professors as with those at UCLA, since at most "prestigious" universities the department is far more impersonal and large in size. I am simply describing the "facts", minus the "values." One can do all the things I've listed and accept all the realities without descending into barbarism. I hope this information will be helpful to some people!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Critique of 'The Critique of Pure Reason' II: Preface to the Second Edition

In this post I'll note some areas of concern I have from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (henceforth just 'Aristotelian') point of view with Kant's B-edition preface. Again, as I said in my first post, this isn't really meant to be a summary of Kant's views, but more along the lines of a set of notes.

One thing which already indicates Kant has a different conception of reality than an Aristotelian realist view is his description of logic toward the beginning. Kant says that logic is "the science that exhaustively presents and strictly proves nothing but the formal rules of all thinking." But a realist will want to ask why logic is defined in terms of its applicability to our thoughts rather than to mind-independent propositions or even objects. After all, since Kant's time, many different logics have been developed, and we can think in terms of any of these if we want to. But this says nothing about which one more correctly describes reality. Of course, what Kant will want to argue is that what I am calling "reality" is actually a product of human cognitive capacities. So the difference to note here between the two views is not so much of whether logic is to be applied to reality, but rather, what reality refers to.

A second point of interest is Kant's discussion of mathematical knowledge at Bxii, where he takes as his example that of a Euclidean triangle. Kant uses this point to illustrate how he thinks it is that we acquire mathematical knowledge. What I would focus on though is his view that, more generally, Euclidean geometry is necessary. For Kant, a judgment is necessary if and only if it is a priori. The problem is that we now know that Euclidean geometry is not, in fact, necessary, since it doesn't even accurately describe the physical universe. So either euclidean geometry is not a priori or Kant was wrong to include necessity as part of something's being a priori. But it seems rather clear euclidean geometry was formulated a priori if anything was. So it must follow that not all a priori cognitions are necessary. But this is okay for the Aristotelian. The Aristotelian method of doing metaphysics or science has never been equivalent to discovering necessary truths which are wholly a priori; rather, it is empirical. We can delineate what is metaphysically possible and impossible through a priori reasoning and we see whether our theories correspond to empirical reality.

Kant's view of the a priori goes with his view of metaphysics. He defines metaphysics as "a wholly isolated speculative cognition of reason that elevates itself entirely above all instruction from experience." Not according to an Aristotelian view however. As Aquinas states in 'De Veritate', "Whatever is in the intellect was first in the senses." Of course, the reason Kant wants to make metaphysics a wholly a priori discipline is because he wants the certainty which he thinks the method of previous thinkers cannot provide. In his own words Kant thinks that "up to now [i.e. up until Kant] the procedure of metaphysics has been a mere groping, and what is the worst, a groping among mere concepts." But the Aristotelian wants to ask why it has only been a "mere groping among concepts"? For one, the metaphysician does not need to limit the scope of his inquiry to concepts, at least if we don't hold to the view that metaphysics must be a priori. As regards "mere groping," admittedly, we cannot be absolutely certain our metaphysical theories are true; but this is a far too strict condition upon knowledge which, were it not for Descartes, we would not think was necessary.

In the next post I will focus on the second half of the preface, examining Kant's solution to the problem of metaphysical knowledge as he sees it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Critique of 'The Critique of Pure Reason' I: Preface to the First Edition

As I study Kant's Critique of Pure Reason I am taking notes and trying to identify the points where someone sympathetic to a generally Aristotelian (particularly Thomist) view of metaphysics and knowledge would have reservations. So I will be essentially transferring my notes and other thoughts here as an ongoing commentary on Kant's great work. I will not be going line for line and explaining all his ideas. Rather, I will be picking out parts that I think are particularly pertinent to distinguishing him from, and criticizing him from the perspective of, a view which an Aristotelian is likely to take. I should note that, though I am coming from a decidedly realist picture and hence not particularly sympathetic with all aspects of Kant's thought, I certainly consider it a huge step up from Hume and a work of ingenious creativity. Kant definitely has my respect as one of the greatest thinkers to have lived, and I think he needs to be taken much more seriously than he is today.

With that said, let's look at the preface to the first edition of Kant's treatise. Though it does contain important information, since it is relatively short I will say more about the preface to the second edition. As a general remark, Kant seems to be primarily concerned here with the problem of metaphysical knowledge, whereas in the second edition preface he focuses in more on his own "Copernican revolution". Kant wants to know how it is possible for metaphysics to be justified. After all, in the very first paragraph Kant admits that metaphysics certainly deals in perennial problems which reason is always tempted to come back to.

One might wonder why we need any justification for thinking that we can have metaphysical beliefs. But Kant lays out a story as to what has happened to metaphysics up to the time of his writing:

"In the beginning, under the administration of the dogmatists, her rule was despotic. Yet because her legislation still retained traces of ancient barbarism, this rule gradually degenerated through internal wars into complete anarchy..."

Here the dogmatists represent the continental rationalists, especially people like Descartes, Leibniz, and Wolff. The anarchy was brought about by skeptical empiricists, Hume in particular. Kant considers the skeptical criticisms of rationalist philosophy to have been something of a deathblow, at least given rationalist assumptions about knowledge (such as a correspondence theory of truth or the doctrine of innate ideas). This is the background within which Kant hopes to provide a new, certain and complete theory which will solve the empiricist objections and provide a basis for metaphysics. Of course, right off the bat it is clear that no room between the rationalists and empiricists has been made for something like a more Aristotelian view of the matter, so it appears that Kant's argument will be a non-starter at least in terms of disproving the Aristotelian type of metaphysics and knowledge. This is a theme which will come up often, viz. that Kant, working within a certain philosophical movement, will fail to consider the Aristoteliean view which could solve the same problems he wants to without the seismic shift in our analyses of knowledge, objectivitiy, necessity, truth, etc.

In part II I'll examine the preface to the second edition of Kant's Critique and bring up some more specific points and objections.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Classical Theism vs. Neo-Theism I: Divine Simplicity

In contemporary debates about the existence of God it is common to hear reference to 'the traditional divine attributes.' These include properties like omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, immateriality, eternality, and personality. It is supposed that if God exists he 'exemplifies all of these great-making properties'. This is the 'orthodox' conception of God in contemporary philosophy of religion and philosophical theology as heard from Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne, and most others.

Unfortunately, right from the get-go, there is a perfectly good sense in which this conception of God is unorthodox. According to the Fourth Lateran and First Vatican Councils of the Catholic Church, the doctrine that God is a perfectly simple being--one without any composition--is defined as infallible, binding dogma, denial of which amounts to heresy. Hence, the doctrine has some degree of pedigree in that it has been held by billions of Christians to be a very important doctrine. But even aside from this I would argue that the contemporary view--what I will call 'neo-theism'--is directly contrary to the truly 'classical theistic' view of God's nature. Classical theism has been the majority opinion for thousands of years. It is the view of the great pagan philosophers like Aristotle and Plotinus, the Christian Saints Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and Bl. Duns Scotus, as well as other monotheistic thinkers like Maimonides, Averroes, and Avicenna. Such classical theists would deny that God is 'personal' or 'perfectly good' or 'eternal' in the sense that neo-theists take God to be. Distinctively classical theistic doctrines which are unpopular among the neo-theists of today include divine immutability, timelessness, and simplicity. I will focus on this last doctrine as an example of a fundamental difference between the two views, and argue that the classical theist view maintains God's perfection in a way which the neo-theist view does not.

The way that God's attributes are defined in contemporary philosophy of religion as above implicitly contradicts divine simplicity from the start. According to the contemporary view, when we predicate perfect moral goodness of God as in the sentence 'God is good', the referent of the term 'God's goodness' is the property of goodness. Likewise, if we say 'God is omniscient', the referent of the term 'God's omniscience' is the property of omniscience, and similarly for omnipotence, immateriality, and so on. However divine simplicity says that the referents of all intrinsic predications about God are identical, for to say otherwise would be to introduce metaphysical complexity into God. Hence, it is common to hear classical theists saying that God's goodness IS his omniscience, which IS his omnipotence, and so on. But it would seem to follow that omnipotence and goodness are the same property, which is clearly false; indeed, it would follow that God is himself a property!

Obviously the classical theist doesn't want to commit himself to such seemingly absurd claims, and it would be stupid to suppose 2,000 years of great thinkers were simply willing to accept a manifest falsehood. The more reasonable inference is that contemporary and classical thinkers are working with very different metaphysical presuppositions, and this is correct.

One neo-theist assumption is the Platonist, relational ontology within which Plantinga phrases the objection presented above. For Plantinga and other contemporary detractors reality consists of concrete individuals, platonic properties, and relations of exemplification. The platonic properties are abstract objects, which means they lack efficient causal power, while the causally efficacious concrete individuals exemplify these properties. Clearly God is an individual, since as creator of the universe he possesses causal power, in which case it follows he could not be an abstract object; hence he could not be identical to any of his properties, and thus divine simplicity is false. But certainly none of the classical presenters of simplicity accepted this ontological framework. Rather, following Aristotle, they would take a thing's features to be ontological constituents of a subject. This is the picture found in Aristotle's Categories for instance, where accidents such as color or size are said to be 'present in' a subject. Among contemporary philosophers D.M. Armstrong's theory of universals seems to be an example of a constituent ontology as well. Within such a framework it's not obviously incoherent to suppose that God is identical with his constituents so long as we can admit the idea of an improper constituent (analogous to an improper part or improper subset), since it doesn't follow from the very meaning of the term 'ontological constituent' that the constituent in question is a property; 'ontological constituent' is a category-neutral term, and doesn't necessarily imply Plantinga's relational ontology.

More generally though we can make sense of divine simplicity in terms of truthmakers. The neo-theist assumes that the referents of abstract singular terms like 'Alfredo's audacity', or in our case 'God's goodness', are platonic properties. This is what makes it impossible for God's to be identical with his goodness, for this to be identical to his omniscience, and so on. However, those who embrace divine simplicity can deny this account of predication. Rather, a classical theist will accept a truthmaker account, which says that if an intrinsic predication of the form 'a is F' is true, then a’s F-ness exists, where this entity is to be understood as the truthmaker for 'a is F.' So divine simplicity says God is identical with the truthmakers for each of his intrinsic predications. This makes sense because a truthmaker is an entity in the world in virtue of which a proposition is true. Clearly by this understanding truthmakers need not be properties (they can sometimes be). They can also be substances, as is the case with God--to deny this would at least have to be argued for and such a denial is on the face of it implausible. Hence, it is perfectly coherent to say God is his omniscience, which is his omnipotence, and so on. All this is saying is that God is identical to that in virtue of which he is omnipotent, that he is identical to that in virtue of which he is omniscient, and so on; and moreover, by the transitivity of identity, these things are each identical to each other. This picture shows that divine simplicity is not obviously contradictory and deserves much more than the charges of 'unintelligibility' and 'incoherence' ignorantly thrown at it today.

With these charges of absurdity put to one side we can see that divine simplicity is at least prima facie coherent. Certainly we will need to be given better arguments than Plantinga's cavalier dismissal of 2000 years of philosophy based on the presupposition of his own anachronistic ontology. But to argue something is logically coherent isn't to argue that it's true. In another post I will provide an argument to the effect that only a  simple God can truly be said to exist of himself and thus be perfect.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Naturalness in the World

I'm currently taking a course on a newly concocted discipline in analytic philosophy called metametaphysics. For Aristotle or Aquinas the topics grouped under this heading would probably just fall under the science of metaphysics. We are primarily reading from the recent Chalmers volume and Ted Sider's new book Writing the Book of the World. In the latter book quite a bit turns on a distinction which Sider calls variously 'naturalness', 'fundamentality', 'structure', and 'carving at the joints'. My professors claim to not understand what Sider is talking about. Admittedly, Sider could be quite a bit more clear. However, I think that an Aristotelian would want to agree at least in some respects with his general point insofar as we'd admit some boundaries in reality to be privileged over others.


Consider an example Sider gives which is represented in the figure above (I'll paraphrase these examples a little bit). Suppose there is a world filled with red and blue liquid. There are many true ways that we can divide this world up when we describe it. We can divide it into those parts satisfying the normal understanding of our predicates 'red' and 'blue' as in the first figure. We could also divide it into those parts satisfying different predicates, call them 'bled' and 'rue', which correspond respectively to the portions left and right of the diagonal in the second figure. Both of these ways of describing the world are true. There are indeed bled and rue portions of the world just as much as there are red and blue ones; or, to put it another way, there are divisions of the world along the lines of both the first and the second figure. Yet the first way of speaking seems in some way to be natural while the second seems bizarre. Sider wants to assert that the first way of dividing up the world, i.e. dividing it up along the lines of our 'red' and 'blue' predicates, is better because it describes those features of reality which are in some way privileged; to put it in his terms, it describes those features which are natural/ fundamental/carve at the joints/are part of the structure of reality.

It seems like Sider gets a lot of his account from David Lewis's work. It is at least similar to the natural vs. non-natural distinction Lewis makes in his paper "New Work for a Theory of Universals." Consider two properties: being green and being grue, where grue is defined here as the property of being green and observed before 3000 A.D. or blue and not examined before 3000 A.D. This property which we have called grue appears "gerrymandered" in a way the property green is not. In Lewis's term grue is a "less natural" property than green is. Sider agrees on this point with Lewis. It should be noted that what makes grue a less natural property is not the syntactic complexity of its definition--after all, we can just give it a simple name like grue--but rather that it is in some way privileged over these other properties as being a more fundamental feature of reality. (Lewis may actually disagree here but I think his view is highly implausible and Sider does not seem to endorse it.)

Take a final example. Consider two classes of things: the electrons, and the electron-or-cows (EoC's), the latter class consisting of everything which has the property of being an electron or a cow. The things in the first group seem to go together quite well in a way which the objects in the latter group do not. The electrons do not go together better simply because they share many properties. For one, the EoC's share many properties. In fact, the EoC's share infinitely many properties: they each have the property of being an EoC or four feet long, the property of being an EoC or five feet long, the property of being an EoC or six feet long...and so on.  So it's not simply the number of properties shared which distinguishes the two. It's the fact that a grouping of things into electrons and cows gets the way reality fundamentally is, whereas a grouping of things into electron-or-cows does not.

So these are just a few examples where we can contrast fundamental/natural features of reality in opposition to gerrymandered or non-natural ones. It is necessary to use such illustrations since fundamentality is taken to be a primitive distinction which is likely not definable in more basic terms. There are a lot of questions that can be asked here: is fundamentality/naturalness/carving at the joints/structure of reality/etc. itself fundamental? Is fundamentality supposed to be a property? Is fundamentality a feature of our thoughts and concepts, of entities, or both? What is fundamental? How can we know? Is the same notion at work in each case? These are all good questions, some of which are discussed in the book.

However my primary concern is this: Is Sider really getting at some objective distinction or not? What I mean by 'objective' is whether his distinction between the fundamental/non-fundamental really corresponds to something in the external world. Personally I think he is onto something and makes an interesting case regardless as to the connections with Aristotelianism. However, I think an Aristotelian would want to admit the distinction even if he might disagree about what the fundamental things are. I will try to explain why in later posts.

If anyone is reading, I'd especially like to hear your thoughts on (1) whether you think Sider's distinction makes any sense and (2) whether the examples illustrate the point.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Aristotelian-Thomism vs. Quineanism on Ontological Commitment

I recently got the Chalmers volume dealing with the foundations of ontology. I've been interested in this question for the last few months, and here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

Most philosophers these days accept the Quinean view that one is committed to whatever one quantifies over. If I say there are colors, i.e. (Ex)(x is a color),  and I think my saying is true, then I am committed to the existence of colors, end of story. Most contemporary debates as in the Chalmers volume are between those who hold to this Quinean view and a few people who want to revive some of the distinctions of Carnap.

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective, the dominant Quinean view is incorrect for a few reasons. First of all it is wrong to say that metaphysics is just about finding what there is or listing an ontology. As this volume shows, many if not most philosophers these days accept this definition. Rather, ontology is just one part of metaphysics, the ultimate purpose of metaphysics being, in the spirit of Aristotle, the study of being qua being, i.e. the study of the fundamental nature of reality. This involves not only ontology, but also finding the essences of things and finding the various relations of ontological dependence these things stand in to each other.

Also, I think there is some confusion in the modern Quinean conception of existence, where being quantified over is taken to be being simpliciter (in Thomistic terms). On the contrary, there is being simpliciter, then the various diminished senses of being (being secundum quid, in Thomistic terms), as for example the being privations have or being in potentiality. Many of the things we quantify over might have being in one of these imperfect and diminished senses, but just because we quantify over them doesn't mean we have to conclude they have being simpliciter. This makes ontological questions quite trivial. For instance, of course there are numbers and numbers have being; one need only observe the fact that 2 is a number. The real question is finding out whether they have being simpliciter or being secundum quid, what categories of being they fall under, and in what relations of ontological dependence do they stand? Interestingly, in this volume, Kit Fine and Jonathan Schaffer seem to come to similar conclusions, though I don't think Fine is rigorous enough to be convincing to other philosophers already steeped in Quineanism. I'd like to write a paper on this at some point so as to make the Aristotelian position a bit more clear than Fine does.