A Reply to Edward Feser

Edward Feser has replied to my earlier post about some of the responses to Thomas Nagel’s new book. Feser took exception to my remarks. Let’s have a look.

EvolutionBlog’s Jason Rosenhouse tells us in a recent post that he hasn’t read philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. And it seems obvious enough from his remarks that he also hasn’t read the commentary of any of the professional philosophers and theologians who have written about Nagel sympathetically — such as my own series of posts on Nagel and his critics, or Bill Vallicella’s, or Alvin Plantinga’s review of Nagel, or Alva Noë’s, or John Haldane’s, or William Carroll’s, or J. P. Moreland’s. What he has read is a critical review of Nagel’s book written by a non-philosopher, and a couple of sympathetic journalistic pieces about Nagel and some of his defenders. And on that basis he concludes that “Nagel needs better defenders.”

This is like failing to read serious, detailed defenses of Darwinism like Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, or Kitcher’s Abusing Science — and then, on the sole basis of what some non-biologist has said in criticism of Darwinism, together with a journalistic article summarizing the views of some Darwinians, concluding that “Darwinism needs better defenders.”

This is typical of Feser’s level of pettiness. We’ll see more of it as we go along. My post was mostly about criticizing two specific responses to Nagel’s book that appeared in especially prominent venues: one in The New Republic, the other in a cover story for The Weekly Standard. Since those are both very well read publications, I felt the articles they published merited a reply.

A far better analogy for what I was doing would be to read books on atheism by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, decide they are not very good but important because of their prominence, and then criticize them under a title such as, “Atheism Needs Better Defenders.” Would anyone consider that title unreasonable? Would anyone see in it an implication that there were no other people out there defending atheism? Of course not.

But never mind Nagel’s defenders. Not having read Mind and Cosmos doesn’t stop Rosenhouse from criticizing it too. He writes:

[H]ere is part of a quote from Nagel, as presented by [reviewer H. Allen] Orr:

I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are expected to abandon this naïve response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/chemical explanation but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for explanation, supported by some examples.

From what I understand, the level of argument in the book never gets much beyond this. But these sentences are absurd. On what possible basis does Nagel decide that it is “prima facie” highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents?

End quote.

In a moment we’ll see Feser’s reply. I recommend sitting down before you read it, because it’s stunningly stupid. First, though, we should note that Feser chose a strange place to cut off my quote. It’s standard etiquette to at least provide the whole paragraph in which a statement appears. If he had, his readers would have seen this:

From what I understand, the level of argument in the book never gets much beyond this. But these sentences are absurd. On what possible basis does Nagel decide that it is “prima facie” highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents? What natural causes can do over the course of billions of years is not the sort of thing about which we can reasonably claim to have intuitions. The only way to decide if it is plausible or not is to do the hard scientific work, precisely as biologists have been doing for the past century and a half. Moreover, the theory is supported by a good deal more than a few examples. Rather, it is supported by a mountain of confirmed predictions and retrodictions, along with numerous experimental successes.

Plainly, I had two objections to what Nagel wrote. The first was his use of the term “prima facie.” To say that something is “prima facie highly implausible” is precisely to say that you don’t need a book-length argument to explain why it’s implausible. It says that the burden of proof lies with those who would deny that it is implausible. That’s what I was describing as absurd. There is nothing nontrivial about human evolution that can reasonably be described as obvious prima facie.

My second objection was to Nagel’s caricature of the evidence for evolution. It is, yes, absurd to say that evolution is just a schema for an explanation, coupled with a few examples.

So I think my objections are clear enough. Now let’s savor Feser’s response:

Now Rosenhouse says that “from what [he] understand[s], the level of argument in the book never gets much beyond this.” But Nagel isn’t giving any argument in the passage in question in the first place; he’s just telling the reader, in the book’s Introduction, what he will argue for in the book. (That’s what book Introductions are for.) Nor does Nagel simply assert in the book that the materialist neo-Darwinian account of the world is prima facie implausible, full stop. He holds that it is implausible as an explanation of certain specific aspects of the world, such as consciousness, rationality, and moral value; and he gives reasons for thinking it cannot account for these phenomena. Nor does Nagel claim that the materialist neo-Darwinian account of the world is false merely because it seems prima facie implausible as an explanation of these phenomena. He isn’t using the claim about what is prima facie implausible as a premise. He isn’t saying: “It’s prima facie implausible, therefore it is wrong.” Rather, he’s saying: “It’s wrong for these independent reasons that I will spell out in the book; and it turns out that these independent reasons vindicate the judgment of common sense about what is prima facie plausible.” What are these independent reasons? What is the “possible basis” Rosenhouse demands to know? Well, you need to, you know, actually read the book to find out, which is why Nagel wrote it. Awful luck for guys like Rosenhouse, who apparently thinks you should be able to say everything in a single short paragraph in the Introduction to a book, but there it is. (Emphasis Added).

Do you see the problem? To assert that something is true “prima facie” is to assert it full stop. It is to say that the facts speak so clearly in favor of the conclusion in question that it is the skeptics who are immediately on the defensive. And that was precisely what I was challenging. The claim that human beings are the result of a series of physical accidents coupled with natural selection is not prima facie implausible. Nor is it prima facie plausible. It is not prima facie anything, because we have no intuition about or experience with anything related to the grand sprawl of natural history. It is simply not the kind of thing to which you can reasonably apply the notion of common sense.

The rest of Feser’s tantrum has no connection to anything I wrote. I neither said nor implied that the assertion in question was the entirety of Nagel’s argument. I neither said nor implied that he dismisses Neo-Darwinism because it is prima facie implausible, or that he uses it as a premise in his argument, or that he does not go on to give more detailed arguments to support the things he believes. Feser just made up all of that.

And I certainly never suggested that I did not have to read the book to fully understand its argument. In fact I specifically said this:

I have not read Nagel’s book, so I don’t have a strong opinion about it. Based on what I’ve read about it, however, I suspect I wouldn’t like it.

Feser didn’t quote that part, for obvious reasons, since then he would not have been able to pretend that I was simply dismissing the book or judging it based on one paragraph. In responding to the Nagel quote I presented, I said specifically, “[T]hese sentences are absurd.” Indeed they are, and nothing Feser wrote makes the paragraph I quoted seem reasonable. Notice that I did not say, “Since these sentences constitute the entirety of Nagel’s argument, and since there is absolutely nothing in the remainder of the book that needs to be addressed in any way at all, I feel absolutely confident now in placing this book directly into the garbage.”

Then I sealed the deal by writing, “So I’m not optimistic that I will like Nagel’s book once I’ve had the chance to read it, but that is not the subject of this post. Instead, I wish to address the response from some of Nagel’s defenders.” I even concluded my post by saying that I’m not necessarily against Nagel’s suggestion that there are teleological laws of matter, though for now I find such ideas vague and unhelpful.

Gives rather a different impression from Feser’s screeching, doesn’t it? A reasonable paraphrase of what I wrote is, “Many people whose opinion I respect say it’s a bad book, and here’s a specific paragraph from the book that makes clearly dubious assertions, and this makes me suspect that I will not like the book when I read it, but for now I don’t have a strong opinion.” An unreasonable paraphrase is, “He’s arrogantly dismissing a book based on one paragraph!! He doesn’t know what a book’s introduction is for!!! He puts all sorts of crazy words into Nagel’s mouth!!!!”

We now move on to other things. In my original post I presented a long quotation from Ferguson, the beginning of which said this:

In a dazzling six-part tour de force rebutting Nagel’s critics, the philosopher Edward Feser provided a good analogy to describe the basic materialist error—the attempt to stretch materialism from a working assumption into a comprehensive explanation of the world. Feser suggests a parody of materialist reasoning: “1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has. 2. Therefore we have good reason to think that metal detectors can reveal to us everything that can be revealed” about metallic objects.

It is clear from this that, in Ferguson’s telling, Feser was addressing materialists generally. I objected to this, describing it as a caricature of materialist argumentation. Here’s Feser’s reply:

For starters, what Rosenhouse dismisses as a “caricature of materialist thinking” was not directed at materialists in general in the first place, but rather at a certain specific line of argument put forward by Nagel critics Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg — as Rosenhouse would have known had he bothered to read the post of mine that Ferguson was citing.

Well, if I made a mistake here it was in assuming that Ferguson presented Feser accurately. I’m glad to hear that Feser wants no part of Ferguson’s version of his argument, and I look forward to reading the indignant letter to the editor he will no doubt fire off to The Weekly Standard.

As it happens, though, it hardly matters. Feser’s little metal detector analogy fares no better against Leiter and Weisberg than it does against materialists in general. Leiter and Weisberg’s review is available here. The excerpt that triggered Feser’s analogy is this:

Naturalists… defend their view by appealing to the extraordinary fruitfulness of past scientific work, including work growing out of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. So what should we make of the actual work in biology that supports the “materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature” that Nagel thinks “is almost certainly false”? Defending such a sweeping claim might seem to require a detailed engagement with the relevant science, yet in a striking admission early on, Nagel reveals that his book “is just the opinion of a layman who reads widely in the literature that explains contemporary science to the nonspecialist.” And a recurring objection to what he learned from his layman’s reading of popular science writing is that much science “flies in the face of common sense,” that it is inconsistent with “evident facts about ourselves,” that it “require[s] us to deny the obvious,” and so on…

[S]urely we have some reason for thinking, some four centuries after the start of the scientific revolution, that Aristotle was on the wrong track and that we are not, or at least not yet. Our reasons for thinking this are obvious and uncontroversial: mechanistic explanations and an abandonment of supernatural causality proved enormously fruitful in expanding our ability to predict and control the world around us. The fruits of the scientific revolution, though at odds with common sense, allow us to send probes to Mars and to understand why washing our hands prevents the spread of disease. We may, of course, be wrong in having abandoned teleology and the supernatural as our primary tools for understanding and explaining the natural world, but the fact that “common sense” conflicts with a layman’s reading of popular science writing is not a good reason for thinking so…

That sounds pretty measured and reasonable to me. Not so to Feser:

Third, it also merely begs the question to suggest that the “fruitfulness” of “mechanistic” explanations in other domains — where fruitfulness involves the ability to “predict and control” natural phenomena — gives us reason to think that such explanations might be given of the phenomena at issue in Nagel’s book (consciousness, intentionality, etc.). For one thing, Nagel has, as I have said, given reason elsewhere to think that such explanations cannot succeed. For another, Leiter and Weisberg are here committing a fallacy similar to the one which, as we saw in an earlier post, Alex Rosenberg commits in his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. In particular, they are essentially arguing as follows:

1. The predictive power and technological applications of [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore we have good reason to think that [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science can explain everything that there is to explain.

And that sort of argument is no better than this one:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore we have good reason to think that metal detectors can reveal to us everything that there is to be revealed.

In fact, of course, metal detectors are as successful as they are in finding coins, lost keys, etc. precisely because they focus only on those specific aspects of coins, keys, and the like which might be detected via their methods (i.e. the metallic nature of these objects) and ignore everything else (the shape, color, etc. of the objects). And the methods of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science are as successful as they are in predicting and controlling natural phenomena precisely because they focus only on those aspects of nature susceptible of strict prediction and control (especially those aspects which might be modeled mathematically) and ignore everything else (e.g. any irreducibly qualitative or non-quantifiable features that might exist in nature, such as teleological features, the phenomenal feel of heat and cold, the phenomenal look of colors, and so forth). But just as metal detectors are inevitably going to fail to capture non-metallic phenomena, so too are the methods of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science inevitably going to fail to capture any aspects of nature not susceptible of prediction and control, nor capable of being captured via the mathematical techniques that make prediction and control possible.

It is tautological to say that if there are aspects of reality that are not amenable to scientific investigation, then scientific investigation will not reveal them. That, however, is nonresponsive to Leiter and Weisberg’s point. As I see it, Leiter and Weisberg were making an argument about the burden of proof. When a particular point of view has been proven wrong in case after case; the centrality of teleology and the supernatural in our understanding of the natural world, for example; the burden shifts to the people defending that point of view. A better analogy than Feser’s metal detector would be to the boy who cried wolf. Every time previously that the boy had cried wolf there was no wolf. So the people concluded that when he cried wolf this time there also was no wolf. Does anyone think the people’s reasoning was utterly fallacious? Were they wrong to think that the boy’s consistent track record of lying gave them a good reason for thinking he was lying this time?

Of course, in the story, there really was a wolf at the end. That’s why Leiter and Weisberg are very measured in their conclusions. They say only that the extraordinary, consistent success of mechanistic explanations give us some reason for thinking that they will continue to be successful, and then go on to state clearly that this conclusion could well be wrong. By contrast, it is Nagel and his defenders who make the most audacious, confident pronouncements about what they have shown, and then never back them up with anything more than dubious armchair argument. Nagel was the one who subtitled his book, “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.” Leiter and Weisberg are simply saying that in light of the enormous past success of Nagel’s foil, he will need a mighty good argument to meet his burden. Casual invocations of common sense and popularizations of science do not cut it.

Nor does it help to argue that Nagel was doing philosophy, and therefore does not need anything more than a rudimentary (indeed, if he even needs that much) understanding of science. Surely it is obvious that philosophical argument alone cannot possibly get you to dramatic conclusions about what matter can and cannot do. Arguments for the nonphysicality of the brain typically take the general form: The brain can do X; Physical processes cannot account for X; Therefore there is a nonphysical component to the brain. Can you spot the premise about which science has rather a lot to say?

At most, philosophy can explore the consequences of certain assumptions about what matter can and cannot do. The trouble is that science is constantly changing our view of what matter is. The “material” out of which the world is made looks very different today than it did a century ago. It wasn’t that long ago that atoms were thought to be solid balls. Today they are vastly more complicated, to the point where even physicists have trouble wrapping their heads around what they do. Nowadays it is common to speak of the universe as having emerged from a quantum foam. Is quantum foam material? I don’t know.

It is not materialists who are being arrogant and dogmatic in this discussion. We’re just saying we should stick with what works until someone comes up with something better, or at least comes up with a very good reason for abandoning what we’ve been doing. If you want arrogance and dogmatism you have to look to the Feser’s and Nagel’s of the world. They’re the ones claiming, on the basis of some asinine armchair cogitation, that they have refuted an enormously successful scientific paradigm.

Actually, Feser makes one more claim. In response to Ferguson, I wrote in part:

Almost all of that is wrong, starting with Feser’s caricature of materialist thinking. What materialists actually say is that if you are going to hypothesize into existence something immaterial, it is on you to provide evidence for your hypothesis. Of course it’s possible that there are immaterial entities that influence matter in ways that are undetectable by science, but can you do anything more that just assert their possible existence? Given some phenomenon you assert to be incomprehensible under materialism, can you show how it becomes comprehensible under immaterialism? Ferguson tells us that science just ignores “everything else” beyond the material aspects of reality, but the very point at issue is whether there is anything else to ignore.

It seems like all the immaterialists ever do is make assertions! Ferguson concedes that his feelings are intimately bound up with his bouncing neurons. Then he just asserts that reductive materialism cannot account for his feelings. But why not? And if it’s not just bouncing neurons, then what else is it? After all, saying that emotions and senses of obligation are ultimately produced by complexly organized matter in no way suggests they aren’t real.

Feser replies:

For another thing, the suggestion that the difference between materialists and their critics is that the former give arguments and the latter merely make assertions is, well, simply too preposterous for words, and cannot possibly have been made by someone who both (a) has a shred of intellectual honesty, and (b) knows what the hell he is talking about. Say what you will about books like John Foster’s The Immaterial Self, W. D. Hart’s The Engines of the Soul, David Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind, William Hasker’s The Emergent Self, Robert Koons’ and George Bealer’s The Waning of Materialism, or Richard Swinburne’s The Evolution of the Soul, to name only the first few things that happen to pop into my mind — not to mention my own books, articles, and blog posts — they are absolutely brimming with arguments. You may or may not agree with those arguments, but they are there.

With this we come full circle, since Feser is just being petty again. More precisely, he is pretending not to understand the use of exaggeration to make a point. Absolutely no reasonable person could have read my exasperated statement that, “It seems that all the immaterialists do is make assertions!” and thought that I intended it as a measured and considered summary of the state of the academic literature. Obviously I was just expressing my frustration with Ferguson’s relentless, unsupported assertions; frustrations I have often had with writing in this area. I think that’s perfectly clear from what follows my statement, though Feser strangely declined to quote that part.

For the record, I am perfectly aware that people like Feser make arguments for what they profess, and I’m sure I speak for everyone in saying that I am terribly impressed by all the books he has read.

But even if you take my statement literally, how on earth do you get anything like the view that Feser attributes to me? How does saying that immaterialists just make assertions imply anything at all about what materialists are doing? Where on earth did he come up with the idea that I was holding forth on the difference between materialists and immaterialists, and locating that difference in their relative fondness for arguments over assertions? Feser simply invented all of that; such views are not even remotely suggested by anything that I wrote, no matter how much you twist them.

Well, that’s it. The stupidity continues in the comments to Feser’s post, but this has definitely gone on long enough.

Comments

  1. #1 Bilbo
    bilbos1.blogspot.com
    March 25, 2013

    Hi Jason,

    I read your first post on Nagel’s book, then Feser’s, then I started to read this one, then I stopped and thought, “Oh no, what if Feser replies, then Rosenhouse replies, then….will Jason ever read the book?” It’s not that long a book. By the time you and Ed reply to each other again you could read it and then tell us what you think of the book, yourself.

  2. #2 Roger
    March 25, 2013

    I’ve been enjoying this saga.

    A reminder, though: while he may be taking your quotes out of context, and applying an intentionally disingenuous lens to his interpretations, you are calling him “stupid.” Like, not out of context, or misquoted: stupid. Multiple times. So, he doesn’t exactly have much of an agenda to play nice.

    Hey, you’re probably right and all, but he clearly identifies with you as the enemy, and you’re not really giving him a reason not to do so.

    Feser and Nagel clearly take an anti-Materialist stance beyond what is merely necessary to believe that conscience itself transcends Materialism, but the invective that flies back and forth means that they will never accept any of your reasoned, technical, and plainly laid out points (which all seem pretty clear to me…but then, I’m not a philosopher, so maybe I simply lack the higher level of understanding required to misinterpret your work).

  3. #3 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    “Can you spot the premise about which science has rather a lot to say?”

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “Can you spot the premise about which scientists have rather a lot to say?”

  4. #4 Blaine
    March 25, 2013

    Immaterialism is always based on the argument from incredulity which is also the basis for Nagel’s critique.

    That a first order system with an infinite model can never enforce uniqueness is the nightmare that Lowenheim-Skolem has bequeathed to us. I go in for orbiting tea pots myself.

  5. #5 Jordan
    Bloomington, IN
    March 25, 2013

    Blaine–Arguments from incredulity aren’t always bad, are they? For instance, an argument from incredulity is sufficient to disprove orbiting tea pots. As for materialism, J.B.S. Haldane expresses his incredulity this way: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” That incredulity seems perfectly reasonable: what’s not to like?

  6. #6 JimR
    March 25, 2013

    There is a nonscientific presentation on animal intelligence in:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323869604578370574285382756.html?
    This body of research shows material inroads into explaining the current immaterial areas of intelligence and consciousness

    I have a neighbor who believes the alien origin explanation for homo sapiens in opposition to evolution. Go figure.

  7. #7 Blaine
    March 25, 2013

    “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . ”

    That does not follow. Neural nets, once trained, can make true statements about the world and as far as I know my computer lacks understanding. Why can’t material process embody knowledge.

    Nagel just can’t fathom how humans evolved from slime in a mere 3 billion years, therefore they haven’t.
    Nagel just can’t understand how mind evolved from slime therefore it didn’t…because his intelligence is the standard.

    Because a first grader with the IQ of Nagel can’t understand how e=mc^2 can be right, therefore it isn’t.

    If one of the space shuttle space walkers let a tea pot loose in space wouldn’t it orbit?

    I’m not sure they can serve as disproofs. That’s the problem. They may serve as motivators to prod investigation. Although in this case, the tea pot space junk is probably already being tracked by NASA.

  8. #8 AL
    March 25, 2013

    A reminder, though: while he may be taking your quotes out of context, and applying an intentionally disingenuous lens to his interpretations, you are calling him “stupid.” Like, not out of context, or misquoted: stupid. Multiple times. So, he doesn’t exactly have much of an agenda to play nice.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Feser is a big boy. He can take it. He can certainly dish it as well. He did, aftera all, refer to this blog as an “intellectual slum.”

  9. #9 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    “That does not follow. Neural nets, once trained, can make true statements about the world and as far as I know my computer lacks understanding. Why can’t material process embody knowledge.”

    But doesn’t that just raise the question again?

    “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs about neural nets (and their statements) are true…”

    I’m not endorsing the argument here because I haven’t read about it. But the question still remains IMO.

    “Nagel just can’t fathom how humans evolved from slime in a mere 3 billion years, therefore they haven’t.”

    I don’t think he has a problem with the whole of evolution and natural selection. His problem is with explaining things like reason and consciousness, not just in humans, but in all life.

  10. #10 Tulse
    March 25, 2013

    How does Nagel know his beliefs are true? How would a non-materialist notion of “truth” ensure that there is a correspondence between that notion and the material world?

    It seems to me that Nagel has very strong intuitions about non-material things like truth and morality, but provides no evidence that such things exist in the manner he wants.

  11. #11 Blaine
    March 25, 2013

    A: My mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain.
    B: Therefore, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true.

    Neither B nor not-B follows from A because you are providing unstated assumptions about what A means. You would have to state those assumptions before you could conclude B.

    Let me restate the argument
    a1) My mental processes are determined wholly be the motions of atoms
    a2) Whirling atoms cannot embody beliefs
    b) Therefore, my brain cannot embody beliefs.

    Or lets try this:
    a1) My mental processes are determined wholly be the motions of atoms
    a2) I am completely ignorant of how whirling atoms can embody beliefs
    a3) I have true beliefs.
    c) Therefore, My belief that I am completely ignorant of how whirling atoms can embody beliefs is a true belief.

  12. #12 Another Matt
    March 25, 2013

    As for materialism, J.B.S. Haldane expresses his incredulity this way: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” That incredulity seems perfectly reasonable: what’s not to like?

    Exactly the same incredulity is warranted for beliefs about souls as well: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the actions of an immaterial soul I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . And hence I have no reason for supposing my mind to be immaterial.”

  13. #13 Jordan
    March 25, 2013

    Right, the assumption of Haldane is that there’s a yawning chasm between our mental processes and the motions of atoms, which in no way appears bridgeable. As philosopher of mind Jerry Fodor has quipped, “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be *like* to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious.”

    Imagine a plane flying from L.A. to D.C. navigated by computer chips which in turn had been programmed by a hail storm. No one would trust the randomly programmed chips to fly the plane from West to East, and by analogy we’d have no reason to trust the human mind programmed by a flurry of atoms.

    This is a problem that gave pause to the likes of Hume, Locke, and Darwin; it can’t be easily dismissed.

  14. #14 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    One problem is that the quote isn’t complete. I think this is the whole quote:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

    Not sure what to make of it though, because I thought the quote came from a larger argument.

  15. #15 Tulse
    March 25, 2013

    “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.” And nobody has the slightest idea of how anything non-material could be conscious (or reliably guarantee truth, or morality, etc. etc. etc.), either. Merely invoking dualism doesn’t actually solve anything.

  16. #16 Another Matt
    March 25, 2013

    Imagine a plane flying from L.A. to D.C. navigated by computer chips which in turn had been programmed by a hail storm. No one would trust the randomly programmed chips to fly the plane from West to East, and by analogy we’d have no reason to trust the human mind programmed by a flurry of atoms.

    The plane itself is a flurry of atoms. Does that mean we should trust it no more than a hail storm to fly? Again, by analogy: “If the plane is composed of nothing but atoms, I have no reason to suppose it could fly.”

    You might have a point if you could show some kind of physical isomorphism between a hail storm and the activities of a brain.

  17. #17 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    I think the difference is that atoms vs flight is an issue of physics, whereas the truth or falsity of beliefs is a matter of logic.

    And it’s problematic to say that the brain is “programmed,” because programs depend on symbols and syntax. And the problem with symbols and syntax is that they do not exist until some intelligence invents them.

  18. #18 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    And to follow up, if that intelligence depended on symbols and syntax in order to invent symbols and syntax, then you need to explain the symbols and syntax that the intelligence depended on. Either you have in infinite regress, or you have some process that can produce symbols and syntax without relying on symbols and syntax.

  19. #19 MNb
    March 25, 2013

    “it’s stunningly stupid”
    As stupid as what Feser writes about physics?

    “To assert that something is true “prima facie” is to assert it full stop.”
    JR, you better get used to it. No matter that science has thrown in out of the window, intelligent believers love their teleology. They know what they want to conclude. Apologetics and the whole thing called philosophy of religion is meant to get there, no matter how believers deny it. That’s why Feser embraces his beloved bud utterly view on physics. True, apologists try to avoid it, but as such they hardly can avoid logical fallacies – including strawmen.
    These people are smart. So the question arises: go faith and skepticism together? I don’t want to answer this question prima facie, but Feser confirms the negative.

    “Nor does it help to argue that ….”
    But JR, that’s exactly how Feser justifies his badly outdated writings on physics: “I’m a philosopher and thus can safely neglect what physicists say.”

    “We’re just saying we should stick with what works until someone comes up with something better.”
    This is a nice summary of the materialist argument in the Nagel thread.

    “how on earth …..”
    Teleology.

  20. #20 MNb
    March 25, 2013

    @2 Roger: Feser has identified JR as an enemy before JR used the word stupid. Such are his ways. JR is far from the first. It doesn’t matter if JR gives a reason or not.

    “they will never accept any of your …”
    Of course not. Because of teleology.

    @13 Jordan: ““Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.”
    Fodor is wrong. I refer to swarm theory, ants and feromones.

    @17 Zia: “the truth or falsity of beliefs is a matter of logic.”
    Don’t think so. Since Euclides we know that the truth of a statement is only as strong as the truth of its assumptions. Change one of Euclides’ axioma and Pythagoras’ Theorem is not true anymore.
    That’s why we need empirical data.

  21. #21 MNb
    March 25, 2013

    @18 Zia: “Either you have …”
    And that might be a false dichotomy, as it a priori excludes the option of gradual development. Guess what? Gradual development is the core of evolution.

  22. #22 BeingItself
    March 25, 2013

    Edward Feser is making stuff up again? Read his book The Last Superstition. He conjures up his own physics to prove his god. He does not realize all imaginary physics can prove is an imaginary god. He’s relentlessly adorable with his cluelessness.

  23. #23 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    “Don’t think so. Since Euclides we know that the truth of a statement is only as strong as the truth of its assumptions. Change one of Euclides’ axioma and Pythagoras’ Theorem is not true anymore.
    That’s why we need empirical data.”

    If you change a premise/axiom, then the conclusion changes because of the logical relationship between the premises/axioms, not due to any sort of physical relationship. That’s what I was getting at.

    “And that might be a false dichotomy, as it a priori excludes the option of gradual development. Guess what? Gradual development is the core of evolution.”

    But wouldn’t gradual development fall under the second option?

  24. #24 Jordan
    March 25, 2013

    “And nobody has the slightest idea of how anything non-material could be conscious…”

    Well, we do have the slightest idea about how we, who are conscious, could perceive non-material realities. For instance the human mind can grasp universals: dogginess, as opposed to Fido, or triangularity, as opposed to any particular triangle. Our sensate knowledge is all of individual things; physicality entails individuality, and individuality entails materiality. But we can abstract from individual, material objects to universal classes or species. And thus our power of conceptual thought is an immaterial power, since no physical or corporeal thing is also a universal.

    That hardly delivers us to the realm of the numinous or supernatural; but it opens the door to it while at the same time closing the door on materialism.

  25. #25 Roger
    March 25, 2013

    @AL, @MNb,

    No argument here. I’m not saying his irritation isn’t justified. But the argument that Feser “Started it!” is the exact same thing you’d expect to see made fun of here. If you expect civility from your opponents, you should extend it yourself.

    I, personally, would be just as irked, and probably even more likely to decry Feser as “stupid.” But then, I’m unprofessional and childish, and I’m not attempting to make an argument. I’d prefer to read Rosenhouse’s opinion on the matter, but the manner in which he displayed it is only preaching to the choir (that should be clear).

    In which case – if this is celebrating the idiocy of the opposition, vice attempting to sway them – then mock on! I’m certainly not saying it’s misplaced, or not fun. :)

  26. #26 Another Matt
    March 25, 2013

    For instance the human mind can grasp universals: dogginess, as opposed to Fido, or triangularity, as opposed to any particular triangle.

    Nobody has ever defined “dogginess” in a way that captures all things we’re willing to call a dog. It may not even be possible in principle to do so.

    Meanwhile, nobody has ever observed a triangle — “triangularity” is a concept we have defined, and it’s defined in such a way that a “real triangle” is exceedingly unlikely to actually exist in the world.

    Our sensate knowledge is all of individual things; physicality entails individuality, and individuality entails materiality. But we can abstract from individual, material objects to universal classes or species. And thus our power of conceptual thought is an immaterial power, since no physical or corporeal thing is also a universal.

    I really wish I could understand this intuition. I’ve heard it enough — especially from Thomists — but I have never heard a defense of the assertion that because we can define concepts to use in our models of the world, our consciousness can’t arise from matter. It just seems to be self-evident to some people, and I can’t understand why.

    Here’s a question for dualists. What, in your opinion, would it be like — and what would humans be like — if materialism were true?

  27. #27 John
    March 25, 2013

    Another Matt, read the Phaedo. You seem to be ignorant of the basic arguments for realism.

    When it comes to Rosenhouse’s reply is pitiful. Aside from still not having read a book he keeps strongly criticising, the whole reply is essentially just a claim that because materialistic science has, apparently, been very successful and therefore we can assume it can explain everything, and can ignore any arguments that suggest it can’t explain something.

    As I said before, also, Rosehouse, like almost all materialists and naturalists, hasn’t properly defined matter or nature. How the heck can he claim the burden of proof is on immaterialists when he hasn’t even given a proper definition of matter?

  28. #28 John
    March 25, 2013

    I love how the likes of MNb and BeingItself are utterly clueless on the divisions between science and philosophy of nature and metaphysics and randomly assert Dr.Feser is ignorant of physics due what is actually their own incompetence and ignorance of basic philosophical distinctions.

  29. #29 BeingItself
    March 25, 2013

    John,

    Yes, I am aware of Dr. Feser’s weaselly attempts to immunize his arguments from criticism by lamely claiming he is talking metaphysics, not physics. But that just won’t work. Balls and sticks and hands are real physical objects. And so Feser makes a fool of himself when he writes about physics. His naive folk physics is just dead wrong. And so his feeble arguments never get off the ground.

  30. #30 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    I think it was Chomsky who said that we don’t fully understand matter, and then asked how we could possibly argue for either materialism or immaterialism. After all, if we do not know all there is to know about matter, how can we know what it can explain and what it cannot explain?

  31. #31 William Hendrixson
    March 25, 2013

    Jason,

    I am curious why you found it necessary to involve yourself in this discussion at all, let alone to this extent. I have come to the conclusion that the mind of a scientist is best left to interact with the minds of other scientists and potential scientists. I understand that, in the parlance of the internet, “feeding trolls”, can be viewed as either some irresistible compulsion, or frankly, sado-masochistic sport, but I am left legitimately curious as to what your reasons are.

    I think you might find sweeping a beach with a push-broom a less frustrating endeavor.

  32. #32 Lenoxus
    March 25, 2013

    Jordan:

    Imagine a plane flying from L.A. to D.C. navigated by computer chips which in turn had been programmed by a hail storm. No one would trust the randomly programmed chips to fly the plane from West to East, and by analogy we’d have no reason to trust the human mind programmed by a flurry of atoms.

    Then it’s a good thing the mind isn’t totally structureless. Why should we expect it to be? That’s like assuming that anything made of atoms has to be a liquid. If this airplane argument held up, then real-world computer guidance systems (which are only made of mere atoms) wouldn’t work either. So what’s the special ingredient in real-world guidance systems that makes them work without validating materialism? Is it that they are secretly conscious, or (I’m guessing) the fact that they were intentionally designed?

    Zia:

    I think the difference is that atoms vs flight is an issue of physics, whereas the truth or falsity of beliefs is a matter of logic.

    And it’s problematic to say that the brain is “programmed,” because programs depend onsymbols and syntax.

    “Programmed” is being use semi-metaphorically, like the phrase “laws of nature” is. You don’t need a “lawgiver” for those laws, despite some theists latching on to the terminology as if it were an argument. Similarly, our brains result from an enormous and complex process of variation and filtering, called evolution. “Programming” is one of many ways to say that succinctly. Maybe it would be better to say “filtered.” Snowflakes are filtered to be hexagonal in structure, and brains are filtered to function in they ways they function.

    I do think there are interesting epistemic problems in “What is knowledge? What is logic?” and “Do brain-states actually correspond to truths, and if so, how?” But there’s a thin line between that and a rather less interesting (or at least, a more-answered) question, “How is it possible that brains can enable organisms to function like they do, navigating around obstacles and communicating with one another and playing music and so forth?” You don’t need magic to explain computers, do you?

    To me, the only mystery here is the “me-ness” mystery, the way in which sentience seems fundamentally different from all other phenomena and yet exists anyway, in a direct correlation with physical phenemona. I do think that any real answer will be materialistic, almost by definition: immaterialism is more like a restatement of the question.

  33. #33 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    ““Programmed” is being use semi-metaphorically, like the phrase “laws of nature” is.”

    Oh in that case it’s fine. And yes, “laws” are just behaviors and features of matter.

  34. #34 Roger
    March 25, 2013

    John,

    That’s evasive and disingenuous. When the subtitle of Nagel’s book is “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False,” that’s a hell of a claim. It’s not, “Hey, I’ve Done Some Good Philosophizing Up In This, And I Think I’ve Got An Alternative.”

    THAT is why the burden of proof falls on Nagel: because he’s making an impressively one-dimensional declaration.

    The rejection of philosophy in favor of physics isn’t due to some inherent bias; it’s due to the structure of these specific arguments. It can basically be boiled down to:
    -Physicist A: “We have consistent evidence that our technique can and does explain and predict existence. We are constantly learning more – every single day – so to assume that conscience cannot be based on matter – even if we do not have proof of that right now – is overly simplistic. Maybe we’ll never have proof of that, and maybe it isn’t rooted in Materialism; when a new theory comes along that has better support, we’ll run with that (as we always do).”
    -Nagel: “I have a concept that I think is really cool, but I don’t have proof, or even any way TO prove or test it out. Therefore, everyone else is demonstrably wrong (despite “demonstrably” actually meaning quite the opposite). I’d like you to take my theory on faith – which is the only way to take it, since, you know…unprovable and all. In the mean time, kindly reject everything that has proven effective and accurate over the years.”

    I’m sorry, but if Nagel had subtitled his book, “Why the theory of airplanes in flight is almost certainly incorrect,” I’d still go with the body of evidence that supports that airplanes do, in fact, fly, and I wouldn’t shy away from booking my next trip.

  35. #35 Vincent Torley
    Japan
    March 25, 2013

    Professor Rosenhouse,

    I’d like to make a few points in response to your post.

    1. I recently wrote a post responding to three critical reviews of Thomas Nagel’s book, including Leiter and Weisberg’s. You can read it here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/thomas-nagel-vs-his-critics-has-neo-darwinian-evolution-failed-and-can-teleological-naturalism-take-its-place/

    It’s very different in style and tone to Professor Feser’s posts.

    2. You repeatedly criticize the dogmatism of those whom you refer to as “armchair philosophers,” who claim to have an ironclad proof that mind is irreducible to matter. But it is not dogmatic to insist on not confusing terms drawn from two categories of thought. It would be absurd to claim, for instance, that a joke can have wheels. Anyone arguing that a joke could have wheels would be making a category mistake. Nagel’s point is that it is just as absurd to claim that subjectivity (or first-person terminology) can be explained in objective, third-person terminology. No matter how many third-person terms you pile on, you’ll never generate a first-person perspective. The categories of the subjective and objective are distinct. In a similar vein, philosopher James Ross argues that mental concepts which are inherently precise (as many of our concepts are), can never, in principle, be explained in terms of physical phenomena, which are inherently imprecise. The categories of the formal and material are distinct. You, as a mathematician, surely know that. If I were to claim that chemistry could explain mathematics, you would laugh, and rightly so.

    3. You write: “Arguments for the nonphysicality of the brain typically take the general form: The brain can do X; Physical processes cannot account for X; Therefore there is a nonphysical component to the brain.” But dualists don’t argue that the brain is non-physical. We argue that the mind is non-physical, not the brain. And what’s wrong with these arguments, from a scientific standpoint?

    (a) The workings of the brain can be described completely in third-person terminology. However, third-person terminology is inherently incapable of accounting for the first-person terminology we need to describe the mind. Therefore the brain cannot account for the mind.
    (b) The workings of the brain can be described completely in terms of physical phenomena which are inherently imprecise (see Heisenberg’s principle). However, at least some of our mental concepts are perfectly precise (e.g. our mathematical concepts and the concepts of formal logic). Therefore the brain cannot account for the mind.

    4. You argue that the progress of science down the ages has strengthened the case for materialism. Not so. There were plenty of materialist philosophers in antiquity, and many of the problems that appear insoluble to us now (e.g. the origin of the cosmos, and the origin of life) were not at all puzzling to the ancients, who believed in an eternal world and in spontaneous generation. So there certainly hasn’t been a one-way march of science in the direction of materialism.

    5. Finally, you ask what the better alternative to materialism is. The answer is staring you in the face, Professor: (i) everyday language, which explains human actions in terms of mentalistic concepts such as intent and motive; (ii) formal logic and mathematics, which is the language we use to describe abstract concepts. You may object that this still leaves the origin of mind unexplained. But even taking the category of the mental as a brute fact (as Nagel does) would be better than trying to shoehorn it into the category of the physical, when it won’t fit. Alternatively, if (as I believe) there is a Mind larger than our own that explains our capacity to think, how could we possibly understand it, anyway?

  36. #36 Another Matt
    March 25, 2013

    John, why the Phaedo? It had been some years since I read it, so I just read it again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Socrates/Plato assumes the dualism, essentialism, the existence of universals and absolutes and teleologies — all the things that are at issue in the present discussion — as premisses from which to argue. He never actually argues for any of those things, and none of his interlocutors ever challenge him on those points.

    It’s rather brilliant in its own way, but I think Socrates/Plato would blush if he were given a modern 12th-grade science education.

  37. #37 Another Matt
    March 25, 2013

    The workings of the brain can be described completely in terms of physical phenomena which are inherently imprecise (see Heisenberg’s principle). However, at least some of our mental concepts are perfectly precise (e.g. our mathematical concepts and the concepts of formal logic). Therefore the brain cannot account for the mind.

    Oh, come on.

    “The workings of a computer can be described completely in terms of physical phenomena which are inherently imprecise. However, at least some software is perfectly precise (e.g. adding and multiplying integers between -10 and +10). Therefore, software can’t run on computers.”

  38. #38 Jordan
    March 25, 2013

    @AnotherMatt: “Here’s a question for dualists. What, in your opinion, would it be like — and what would humans be like — if materialism were true?”

    I don’t think we’d be having this conversation, for one! I simply can’t imagine a materialist cosmos which contains rational beings reflecting on the nature of things. Perhaps I have a weak imagination, but I share the incredulity of Locke and innumerable others for whom it is inconceivable that “bare incogitative matter” should give rise to metaphysical bipeds.

    “Nobody has ever defined “dogginess” in a way that captures all things we’re willing to call a dog. It may not even be possible in principle to do so.”

    If you don’t like “dogginess”, just take “dog”. The mere fact that we can classify a certain group of animals as “dogs” and another as “hippopotami” demonstrates that we can abstract from particulars to a universal.

    @Lenoxus: “So what’s the special ingredient in real-world guidance systems that makes them work without validating materialism? Is it that they are secretly conscious, or (I’m guessing) the fact that they were intentionally designed?”
    Well, yes, the AI of the computer chips is derivative from human intelligence. In fact, all AI is derivative from human intelligence, which is why appeal to AI in support of materialism seems to fail—artificial intelligence only leads us back to the mystery of intelligence; we don’t find information technology falling from trees in the Amazon.

    Or let me throw out another example while I’m at it. The British Council of National Arts placed a computer in a cage with six monkeys. Over the course of a month they typed fifty pages but not a single word, in addition to using the computer as a toilet. The Israeli scientist Gerard Schroeder calculated the likelihood of getting one letter randomly from the monkeys, which comes to one chance out of 27,000. There are 488 letters in a Shakespearean sonnet. So for the monkeys to hammer out a sonnet, the likelihood is 26 to the 488th power, or 10 to the 690th. It is supposed that the number of particles in the universe is 10 to the 80th. Thus, if every particle in the universe were converted into a computer chip spinning out random letters, you would still not even be close to a sonnet.

    If material processes can’t randomly produce a sonnet, on what grounds do we suppose that they can produce a human mind?

  39. #39 Zia
    March 25, 2013

    I don’t think its “precise vs imprecise,” but rather “determinate vs indeterminate.”

  40. #40 Another Matt
    March 25, 2013

    If you don’t like “dogginess”, just take “dog”. The mere fact that we can classify a certain group of animals as “dogs” and another as “hippopotami” demonstrates that we can abstract from particulars to a universal.

    This is somewhat true, but not quite. This fails when there are any sufficient conditions for the label which is not met by all members of the label (see Wittgenstein’s “family resemblances”). Are wolves dogs? Werewolves? Were Tasmanian wolves dogs, or no? Sock-puppet dogs? Were Pluto and Goofy dogs? Why or why not? Could reasonable people agree or disagree?

    It might be possible to hold onto some kind of essentialism to the extent that one is willing to think of “universals” and “essences” as conceptual tools having very fuzzy boundaries which are always subject to change.

    If material processes can’t randomly produce a sonnet, on what grounds do we suppose that they can produce a human mind?

    Evolution is not a random process. The “monkeys typing a sonnet” analogy is not apt because at no point is there variance in the success or failure of a given string to resemble a sonnet, nor preservation of the successes upon which to base successive attempts.

  41. #41 Vincent Torley
    Japan
    March 25, 2013

    AnotherMatt:

    In reply to my syllogism purporting to show that the precision of mental concepts can’t be accounted for in terms of physical processes, which are imprecise, you offer the following counter-syllogism:

    “The workings of a computer can be described completely in terms of physical phenomena which are inherently imprecise. However, at least some software is perfectly precise (e.g. adding and multiplying integers between -10 and +10). Therefore, software can’t run on computers.”

    Sorry, but that doesn’t follow. All that follows is that software can’t be explained in terms of computer hardware.

    You may object that the hardware still gives us a precise answer: two times three is precisely six. But the precision here is entirely in the mind of the person who reads and understands the answer. It isn’t a property of the hardware. A digit (“6″) appearing on a screen after I input “2×3=” might be described as a determinate result (if we conveniently ignore freakish indeterministic quantum processes, which may disrupt the workings of the computer), but if we examine the digit’s physical properties, we will not find any that are precise. It is only on the formal level that we can speak of precision as such.

    So I’m sorry, but your counter-analogy fails.

  42. #42 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Vincent Torley,

    Well, we agree on a lot, except the following:

    All that follows is that software can’t be explained in terms of computer hardware.

    But you and I may hold different ideas of what “explain” means.

    This we agree on:

    but if we examine the digit’s physical properties, we will not find any that are precise. It is only on the formal level that we can speak of precision as such.

    I guess that’s how I would interpret brain-states as well. Lots of physical imprecision (I don’t think my brain is doing exactly the same physical thing every time I multiply 2×3), but it delivers results that are precise enough to use in formal contexts.

    I’m not sure I see how this could be a problem for materialism — different human brain states or processes are able to arrive at the same abstraction (to within the relevant contours that abstraction operates within).

  43. #43 Vincent Torley
    Japan
    March 26, 2013

    Hi Another Matt,

    Thanks for your response. If I understand you rightly, what you are saying is that no two human beings ever really have the same concept of six, say. They simply have different brain processes which dispose them to give verbal responses (“Six!”) that sound virtually identical, when they are both given the same stimulus, in a wide variety of circumstances (e.h. “What’s two times three?”, What’s twelve divided by two?” and so on). Moreover, you would also hold that no-one ever has a precise concept of six: my concept of six in my brain today may be subtly different from the concept I had of six yesterday, as my neuronal connections instantiating this concept get strengthened or weakened with time.

    Now, I grant that our two concepts of six are not in all respects the same: for instance, you might understand “six” in Fregean terms, as S(S(S(S(S(S(0)))))), while I might never have even heard of Frege. In that case, your concept of six is richer than mine. Despite these differences in our understanding, it is still true that in certain vital respects, our concepts of six are equally sharp, or precise. When someone asks me what tow times three is, I know that it’s exactly six, not 5.9999999974, and not 6 plus or minus 0.0000001. So do you. I knew that yesterday, I know it today, and hopefully I’ll know it tomorrow. It is this exactitude which poses a real puzzle for physicalism. Precision is a common feature of our mental concepts, but it is never found in the physical realm. The inherently imprecise cannot generate the precise.

  44. #44 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Thanks for your response. If I understand you rightly, what you are saying is that no two human beings ever really have the same concept of six, say.

    Nope, not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that the underlying brain processes need not be identical to arrive at the same macro-concept of “six,” even within a given individual brain over multiple instances.

    It’s hard to come up with analogies, but we see this kind of thing all the time in computer science. The “same sound file” on a computer will have utterly different properties depending on whether it’s stored on a CD or on the hard drive or in RAM — but when fed to the DAC (digital-analog converter) and loudspeakers it will produce identical (that is, identical enough to comply with the label “identical”) sound waves.

    This has very little to do with intelligent agents interpreting what’s going on in the computer, but everything to do with the underlying physical structures. It’s rather lucky that such precision can arise from such seemingly messy physical processes.

  45. #45 John
    March 26, 2013

    AnotherMatt writes;

    “but I think Socrates/Plato would blush if he were given a modern 12th-grade science education.”

    Words fails me.

    Anyway, I would read it alongside the Meno,Theaetetus, and Sophist as well. Plato doesn’t simply assume what you suggest he does.

    Plato is not an essentialist. Platonism is at odds with Aristotelian essentialism. I’m thinking you need to do some very basic reading.

  46. #46 John
    March 26, 2013

    “This is somewhat true, but not quite. This fails when there are any sufficient conditions for the label which is not met by all members of the label (see Wittgenstein’s “family resemblances”). Are wolves dogs? Werewolves? Were Tasmanian wolves dogs, or no? Sock-puppet dogs? Were Pluto and Goofy dogs? Why or why not? Could reasonable people agree or disagree?”

    You are confusing the concept and the label. You are also ignorant of basic aspects of the debate on realism versus nominalism. Pluto and Goofy and sock puppet dogs are images of dogs. Plato goes into the nature of images at great depth in the Sophist.

    There are multiple levels of ideas, from the One, then the One and the Dyad, down to particular ideas that provide the basis for individuation. If we acknowledge that in the world of becoming all is in flux, there is nothing precise or changeless, so we can indeed say that dogs are always changing and the term an imprecise one, then trying to derive any concept simply from that world of becoming will make it indeterminate. This is the central message of the Phaedo’s Second Voyage. To say something corporeal causes something corporeal is ultimately, therefore, to say indeterminate causes indeterminate effects, indeterminately. Nominalism, as Dr.Feser himself has noted, either ends in incoherency or in relying on realism.

  47. #47 Ça alors!
    March 26, 2013

    @Another Matt: “What, in your opinion, would it be like — and what would humans be like — if materialism were true?”

    For me, the question doesn’t make sense because the world wouldn’t exist if it was only a physical phenomenon. Self-awareness wouldn’t be possible if materialism were true.

  48. #48 Mickey Mortimer
    March 26, 2013

    “The inherently imprecise cannot generate the precise.”
    “third-person terminology is inherently incapable of accounting for the first-person terminology we need to describe the mind.”

    These are mere assertions without empirical evidence. They remind me of the famous “everything has a cause” argument that sounds good to philosophers, but which most physicists would agree is false. Surely quantum mechanics and other areas of science have shown us that we can’t depend on our intuitive logic to derive how the universe works. Just because a statement has semantic truth doesn’t mean it’s true for reality.

    When consciousness is explained scientifically, it will probably be in the form of theories and equations that the layman can’t comprehend without training in that field, people with a science education understand a vague analogical explanation for, and the experts can work with mathematically but don’t truly grasp. It’s not something people having semantic or philosophical arguments will be able to make headway on.

  49. #49 bad Jim
    March 26, 2013

    It’s unkind to mock philosophers, but I can’t resist. The conviction that humans are rational, so dear to the hearts of philosophers and economists, is so obviously false that it’s a tribute to the resolute irrationality of the practitioners of those professions that they maintain their convictions in the teeth of the evidence.

    We have some stuff that works, and we have ways to figure out what works, and we came by that know-how comparatively recently, not by ratiocination but by practice. Math and science don’t come naturally; they’re skills we acquire by immersion in part of our culture.

    We may already be at the point at which we can say that philosophy has no more to teach us about consciousness than it did about physics. Recall that Galileo didn’t refute Aristotle’s reasoning, but his results, and that proved sufficient.

  50. #50 bad Jim
    March 26, 2013

    It’s worth pointing out that logic is only reliable to the extent that its conclusions reliably replicate the premises of the argument. You can’t get anything out of it that you didn’t originally put into it. You can only prove God if you assume God; otherwise you made a mistake somewhere.

  51. #51 John
    March 26, 2013

    bad Jim, how are we to make sense of this evidence? How are we even to identify it?

    I wish people would take the time to think before making asinine comments.

  52. #52 bad Jim
    March 26, 2013

    John, you could start by stating your objections specifically.

    Citing ancient philosophers whom you suppose we haven’t read doesn’t actually advance your argument. Aristotle claimed than men had more teeth than women, despite having two wives whose jaws he might have had occasion to intimately examine.

    My opinion of logic is the product of my B.A. in math; L is what we called it. It’s a language, and a serviceable tool, but only when used very carefully.

    Long ago, Henry Kissinger used to write pieces which appeared in my Sunday paper, and at first I wondered why my mind would go fuzzy when I read them. Eventually I figured out that there was nothing wrong with my brain, rather he was habitually, obstinately obfuscating.

    I tend to get the same impression from some, though not all, philosophers. By now I have a handy intellectual tool kit that helps me quickly sort out nonsense. I actually feel slightly vindicated to learn that evidence disfavors a fourth neutrino.

  53. #53 bad Jim
    March 26, 2013

    Amongst all that rambling I don’t actually see an answer to my questions.

    I thought we were to dismiss reason and therefore arguments in favour of evidence? Why now are you talking about the advancing of arguments, then?

  54. #54 John
    March 26, 2013

    I accidentally put my name as bad Jim instead of prefacing the post to him , of course.

  55. #55 John
    March 26, 2013

    Of course, you’re conflation of Aristotle’s natural scientific speculations and his philosophy just underscores your utter confusion on these subjects (a confusion paralleled by Rosenhouse and many, many scientistic types).

  56. #56 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    @27 John: “Rosehouse hasn’t properly defined matter”
    Guess what? No physicist ever has properly defined matter – or mass or time. The latter two are basic quantities in the SI-system.
    This “problem” hasn’t prevented physicists from having some success, like finding the higgs-boson.

    ” ignorance of basic philosophical distinctions.”
    It makes me laugh how people like John think they can find knowledge by pure philosophical means that flat out contradicts physics as we know it since about 3, 4 centuries.

    @ 35 Vincent T: “what’s wrong with these arguments, from a scientific standpoint?”
    That they don’t have predictive power and if they have predictive power, that materialism has the far superior predictive power. You know, that’s what science is about.
    You know, you can also argue that everything consists of the four elements as put forward by the Ancient Greeks and build a consistent concept around the idea. I’d rather go with the 19 or 20 elementary particles as put forward by modern physics, for exactly the same reason.

  57. #57 John
    March 26, 2013

    MNb,I don’t think you understand what materialism is. Materialism says matter is all that exists: that everything is reducible to a basic, quantitative material building block that produces everything simply according to combination and mechanistic relationships.

    The attempt of a description of matter you give makes it hard to understand in what sense you are trying to defend materialism? Or what it is the likes of you and Rosenhouse are actually trying to say.

    I’m not sure what you mean by contradicting physics- or whether you just like to claim anyone who disagrees with you disagrees with the science – but how do we know this physics?

  58. #58 cmp
    UK
    March 26, 2013

    To Mr Rosenhouse and other, um, sincere seekers after truth, Prof Feser responds:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/rosenhouse-keeps-digging.html

  59. #59 bad Jim
    March 26, 2013

    I originally adopted that name because I assumed anyone else would instinctively recoil from calling themselves “bad”.

    It ought not to be controversial than any result that can be derived from X can be stronger than X.

    Anyone who asserts confidently that the earth is the center of an assortment of crystalline shells moving in perfectly circular motion, and that no other arrangement is conceivable, and who also asserts that men and women have different numbers of teeth, ought not to be taken seriously. We might as well admit the advocates of the invasion of Iraq into private company.

    Bonne nuit. Morpheus calls.

  60. #60 bad Jim
    March 26, 2013

    R! “can NOT be stronger than X”

    Brahmsian futzing does as much harm as good. R!

  61. #61 John
    March 26, 2013

    I thank bad JIm for a textbook demonstration of why scorn for philosophy and clear thinking leads to gross fallacy and inanity. I’m sure his criticisms of Aristotle must breach some sort of record for fallacies.

  62. #62 David
    March 26, 2013

    This is just hilarious! What a bunch of ignorant peabrains. Feser’s response to this garbage is hilarious. I do recommend y’all go and read it.

  63. #63 David
    March 26, 2013

    “To assert that something is true “prima facie” is to assert it full stop.” Oh, the inanity! Time to get out the old dictionary, Rosenhouse.

  64. #64 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    You are confusing the concept and the label. You are also ignorant of basic aspects of the debate on realism versus nominalism. Pluto and Goofy and sock puppet dogs are images of dogs. Plato goes into the nature of images at great depth in the Sophist.

    Yep. Sock puppet dogs are images of dogs, and it’s important to distinguish “concept” and “label,” I agree. But then nobody gets to use the fact that natural languages apply labels as evidence of the reality of universals. If I say “go get the dog from the shelf in the next room; I want to show you the inscription,” if you reply, “I didn’t see a dog on the shelf — only an image of a dog,” I would say, “don’t be a dick — you knew what I meant well enough to be a dick for the sake of being a dick.”

    The Platonic Forms, Aristotelian Essences, and all sufficiently similar approaches to carving reality are useful, pragmatic technologies. They don’t work very well when you try to ask questions like, “what day was the first dog born?” or “what is the diameter of Betelgeuse?” or “is this skin cell part of my hand or my wrist?” — these technologies cease to be of much use when boundary conditions are too fuzzy to define. Unfortunately, this includes nearly all biological speciation (viable polyploidal mutations could be an exception) — there was no first dog, no first mammal, no first human. Neither the labels nor the concepts apply at the edges.

  65. #65 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Also, John:

    You might better fulfill your objectives if you took your pal Socrates as an example and used these discussions to educate rather than abuse other readers. Or maybe your objective is to be abusive, in which case carry on; but don’t expect many replies.

  66. #66 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    @38 Jordan: “If material processes can’t randomly produce a sonnet”
    http://www.jesse-anderson.com/2011/09/a-few-million-monkeys-randomly-recreate-shakespeare/
    http://www.jesse-anderson.com/2011/08/a-few-more-million-amazonian-monkeys/

    Another horse race won by materialism. But I have a hunch that no dualist will be convinced – because of teleology.
    Sorry guys, I don’t feel repeating the whole debate as found beneath the Nagel review, so I’m out.

  67. #67 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    @58 CMP: “For Rosenhouse it was also “arrogant,” “dogmatic,” “stupid” and “petty” of me to respond to what he actually wrote, rather than to what he now wishes he had written.”

    is not the same as

    “Feser took exception to my remarks. Let’s have a look.”
    That’s Feser for you, somewhere between a strawman and a straightforward lie.
    Not worth responding imo – not even worth reading. I concur though this is not stupid. It’s malicious.

  68. #68 Jordan
    March 26, 2013

    Thanks for the reference MNb, that’s fascinating.

  69. #69 Jared
    March 26, 2013

    @66, except that this didn’t actually happen. A bunch of random words were generated, and if they matched anything in the existing work of Shakespeare, they were then put in the right order by a human written program. This isn’t at all impressive, nor does it make the materialists’ case.

  70. #70 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    @69 — “because of teleology,” as predicted. :)

  71. #71 Jared
    March 26, 2013

    @70, – :), no because the experiment doesn’t even match the original problem. It’s a fun exercise, but it’s not the same thing.

  72. #72 David
    March 26, 2013

    @MNb:
    “For Rosenhouse it was also “arrogant,” “dogmatic,” “stupid” and “petty” of me to respond to what he actually wrote, rather than to what he now wishes he had written.”

    is not the same as

    “Feser took exception to my remarks. Let’s have a look.”

    Very perceptive! That is a true statement!

    “That’s Feser for you, somewhere between a strawman and a straightforward lie.”

    Very stupid and hypocritical! Feser never said or implied that the two statements were the same, so you’ve committed a stupid straw man – or is it a straightforward lie? No, but certainly malicious. Isn’t hypocrisy fun?

  73. #73 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    no because the experiment doesn’t even match the original problem. It’s a fun exercise, but it’s not the same thing.

    It doesn’t match the original problem, but the original problem itself is not a good metaphor for evolution. The experiment that was actually run is much closer to natural selection than the original monkey problem. There are lots of differences, of course — in natural selection there are no targets (the targets are not predefined, but are sussed out by selection), but with the virtual monkeys the experiment comes with predefined targets.

  74. #74 Vincent Torley
    Japan
    March 26, 2013

    Mickey Mortimer writes that my claims that “the inherently imprecise cannot generate the precise” and that “third-person terminology is inherently incapable of accounting for the first-person terminology we need to describe the mind” are “mere assertions without empirical evidence.” That’s because they don’t need it. They’re categorical statements, like Hume’s dictum that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is,” or for that matter, his claim that a wholly necessary being is incapable of accounting for the contingency of Nature. (Read Paul Herrick’s essay at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_herrick/parsons.html if you want to know how a theist would reply to that one.) Ditto for the dualist argument that semantics can’t be reduced to syntax.

    Mnb writes that the anti-materialist arguments I cited above don’t have predictive power. Neither do the above two claims by Hume, yet many atheists accept them uncritically and treat them as Gospel.

    Another Matt writes that “there was no first dog, no first mammal, no first human.” That’s debatable. But there certainly was a first quark, a first proton, a first hydrogen atom, and a first protein molecule. Categories in physics and chemistry do have clear boundaries. Many scientists, including materialist Nicholas Humphrey, would also argue that there was a “first Christmas of consciousness.”

    Regarding precision, all I wanted to say was that we can have a precise mental concept of a number (say, 6.574) even if nothing in the material universe is capable of precisely instantiating it. Likewise, we can have an ideal concept of something which is precisely straight (e.g. the side of a polygon) even if nothing in the cosmos is capable of being perfectly straight. What that suggests to me is that some of our concepts are purely formal.

    Finally, I’d ask materialists to consider the concepts of “true” and “false.” Now ask yourselves: “What material structure(s) could possibly correspond to the concept of “true”? To keep the discussion as simple as possible, let’s restrict the term “true” to mathematical truths. What physical construct is equivalent to such a general concept?

  75. #75 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Another Matt writes that “there was no first dog, no first mammal, no first human.” That’s debatable. But there certainly was a first quark, a first proton, a first hydrogen atom, and a first protein molecule. Categories in physics and chemistry do have clear boundaries. Many scientists, including materialist Nicholas Humphrey, would also argue that there was a “first Christmas of consciousness.”

    I agree! These hard categorical approaches actually do work fairly well for molecules and smaller under everyday circumstances. This is one reason why scientific reductionism works as well as it does.

    That there was no first dog or human or mammal is no longer debatable, except by crackpots and creationists who still insist on debating it.

  76. #76 David
    March 26, 2013

    “in natural selection there are no targets (the targets are not predefined, but are sussed out by selection)” – in other words, there are ‘targets,’ but no targets; and so there is ‘selection,’ but no selection… Interesting theory, very… mysterious.

  77. #77 Oliver
    March 26, 2013

    @MNb: “That’s Feser for you, somewhere between a strawman and a straightforward lie.
    Not worth responding imo – not even worth reading. I concur though this is not stupid. It’s malicious.”

    Well Hanlon’s razor says never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. But I guess, since he doesn’t have a problem with quote-mining (a proof of knowledgable dishonesty if there ever was one), that he could be an exception to the rule.

    Regardless, he’s not worth it, except maybe for lulz. I don’t know why I keep having to say this, but there’s a reason scholasticism is ignored, except for historical interest, in serious philosophy (actually, many: essentialism is useless, its physics are dated, Natural Law is not a valid basis for morality, and on and on). When Thomists get out of the thirteenth century, then maybe I’ll listen to what they have to say.

  78. #78 David
    March 26, 2013

    @another matt: “The plane itself is a flurry of atoms.” – Planes are flurries of atoms? Really?
    “Does that mean we should trust it no more than a hail storm to fly?” – If that’s all it was? Yes! You can’t exactly board a ‘flurry of atoms,’ can you? – never mind trust one to fly!
    “Again, by analogy: “If the plane is composed of nothing but atoms, I have no reason to suppose it could fly.”” – Right, flurries of atoms (and nothing-but-atoms’s) don’t fly (not the way planes do, anyway).

    “Here’s a question for dualists. What, in your opinion, would it be like — and what would humans be like — if materialism were true?” – If materialism were (per impossibile) true, then it would BE true, and ‘it’ (and humans) would BE exactly like ‘it’ is now. But that is entirely beside the point.

  79. #79 David
    March 26, 2013

    @Oliver: “Well Hanlon’s razor says never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity” – so how can we tell whether or not your apparent malice can be explained by sheer stupidity? I tend to think, no one could be that stupid (but is that true?), so Oliver is probably malicious. Tough one.

  80. #80 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    @another matt: “The plane itself is a flurry of atoms.” – Planes are flurries of atoms? Really?
    “Does that mean we should trust it no more than a hail storm to fly?” – If that’s all it was? Yes! You can’t exactly board a ‘flurry of atoms,’ can you? – never mind trust one to fly!
    “Again, by analogy: “If the plane is composed of nothing but atoms, I have no reason to suppose it could fly.”” – Right, flurries of atoms (and nothing-but-atoms’s) don’t fly (not the way planes do, anyway).

    Yes, this is exactly my point. If you don’t get to make such claims about planes, then you are certainly not warranted to make such claims about brains the way the reader who brought up hail storms and “flurries of atoms” did.

    Hold the phone, though — what part of an airplane is anything but atoms?

  81. #81 Lenoxus
    March 26, 2013

    Jordan:

    Well, yes, the AI of the computer chips is derivative from human intelligence. In fact, all AI is derivative from human intelligence, which is why appeal to AI in support of materialism seems to fail—artificial intelligence only leads us back to the mystery of intelligence; we don’t find information technology falling from trees in the Amazon.

    Yes, but you have to acknowledge that because we have a physical example of non-sentient “intelligence”, the mystery has been lessened. Prior to Deep Blue, some people felt that a computer could never beat a grandmaster at chess — that there were a priori reasons that only a human brain/mind was capable of properly playing the game.

    Nowadays, most people know better than to put such limits on machines; the only remaining limit is one which, if it were overcome, might possibly be un-confirm-able — a machine which has internal experience. (No matter what the machine is observed to do, a naysayer can always say “it’s just programmed to behave that way!” Of course, a naysayer could always say that about a human to, which is the so-called zombie argument.)

    But setting that aside, it’s clear that the only possible “special”/immaterial thing about existing AI is its origin. The strength of the older claim — that any intelligence must somehow have that irreducible, non-material vital essence in it — has diminished. Only the structure is thought special now, not the substance.

    I’m reminded of how chemistry changed our whole conception of matter; it turns out that water isn’t a fundamental building block but instead a compound of atoms that are in turn built from basic parts. Someone might insist that you still need an intelligence, such as a deity or a human scientist, to put those compounds together in the first place, but they’d be wrong. The intelligence thing, I believe, differs only in the magnitude of complexity. At the end of the day, the right arrangements can and will happen, especially given evolution. Our brains aren’t qualitatively different from a chimpanzee’s, and you can build a chain of extinct brains and proto-brains, each of which lies on a continuum from us to a sea-worm.

    The British Council of National Arts placed a computer in a cage with six monkeys. Over the course of a month they typed fifty pages but not a single word, in addition to using the computer as a toilet. The Israeli scientist Gerard Schroeder calculated the likelihood of getting one letter randomly from the monkeys, which comes to one chance out of 27,000. There are 488 letters in a Shakespearean sonnet. So for the monkeys to hammer out a sonnet, the likelihood is 26 to the 488th power, or 10 to the 690th. It is supposed that the number of particles in the universe is 10 to the 80th. Thus, if every particle in the universe were converted into a computer chip spinning out random letters, you would still not even be close to a sonnet.

    If material processes can’t randomly produce a sonnet, on what grounds do we suppose that they can produce a human mind?

    Do you really not see the enormous fallacy in what you wrote? You are assuming that entirely random processes are the only possible material processes. Why? And if you want to interject that yes, you understand about natural selection but think it only makes a small difference, then why use such a remote analogy as monkeys with typewriters? That’s like my arguing that heavier-than-air flight must be impossible without supernatural powers, and by example I refer to the cardboard wings I built this morning, emphasizing that I flapped the wings really, really hard (akin to emphasizing the vast number of monkeys it would take to write Hamlet).

    “To assert that something is true “prima facie” is to assert it full stop.” Oh, the inanity! Time to get out the old dictionary, Rosenhouse.

    What’s the key distinction you have in mind here? Jason’s point was that if someone asserts “X is true prima facie”, then there’s no need to delve into their further arguments before addressing the claim that it is true prima facie; there may well be elaboration, but “prima facie” means no elaboration is needed. Otherwise, we have a situation like the old joke: a math professor writes a formula on the board for his students, points out part of it and says “That’s obvious, of course.” He then pauses, asks himself “Is it obvious?” leaves the room, comes back with a large book and consults the book, closes his eyes, opens them, and says “Yes, it is obvious.” (Both “prima facie” and “obvious” can mean “true on its face.”)

    Vincent Torley:

    Another Matt writes that “there was no first dog, no first mammal, no first human.” That’s debatable. But there certainly was a first quark, a first proton, a first hydrogen atom, and a first protein molecule.

    I wouldn’t be so certain. By the time you’re talking about such things, it’s the Big Bang and most of phsyics is not to be understood as we usually understand it. (Well, maybe the protein molecule is clear-cut.)

  82. #82 Oliver
    March 26, 2013

    @David:

    Thank you for your thoughtful, well-reasoned, mature response. I have been so convinced by your sublime use of logic and clever articulation of reasons, than I will now be joining the Dominican Order and preaching both the Gospel and 13th Century philosophy to a modern world desperately in need of both.

  83. #83 David
    March 26, 2013

    @Another Matt: The structure of a plane, and the principles by which it was put together so as to *be* a plane, are more than atoms. (Or do you think that not even planes are products of intelligent design? ;) ) If it wasn’t more than ‘just atoms’, it wouldn’t be a plane and it wouldn’t fly.

    @Lenoxus: Please consult a dictionary. ‘Prima facie’ does *not* mean ‘obvious’ any more than it means ‘full stop’.

    @Oliver: You go girl! (And you’re welcome.)

  84. #84 David
    March 26, 2013

    @Another Matt: Why do you think it is relevant to consider whether we can identify the first dog or whether there was a first dog? Do you believe that ‘essentialism’ crucially depends on giving a particular answer to these questions? If so, why?

  85. #85 Oliver
    March 26, 2013

    Perusing the comments on Feser’s reply, I see a load of BS cropping up in them.

    Feser seems to have an affinity for name calling (as much as at least one of his supporters/trolls here). In addition to dismissing various atheist bloggers as “ideological hacks” (with no arguments against them), he goes on to say this:

    “… it is important to hammer home occasionally that high intelligence — which these people often have — does not by any means entail greater wisdom, intellectual honesty, or decency. A fool with a Ph.D. remains a fool. ”

    All of which Feser obviously has in abundance, and if you disagree with his supreme wisdom, you’re a fool! How very decent indeed!

    The rest of it is no better; one commenter said Nagel was “dangerous” because he dared to speak out against materialism. Yes, how else shall materialism survive Nagel’s brilliant onslaught? Quick, fellow materialist conspirators, keep persecuting this heretic! Or not.

    In these kinds of arguments, as soon as one side starts dropping the claims of persecution and heresy, you can bet they’re talking BS. Saw it in Jason’s original post about the defenders of Nagel. Pop quiz: when was the last time a materialist or a naturalist claimed persecution for being criticized?

  86. #86 David
    March 26, 2013

    @Lenoxus: btw, ‘prima facie’ NEVER means ‘true on its face’ – you’re thinking of ‘prima facie true.’ Again, if you’re not sure, the dictionary is your friend. Then, unlike Rosehouse, you can more easily avoid the embarrassment of calling smart people stupid because of your own ignorance, which is a plus for all of us.

  87. #87 David
    March 26, 2013

    @Lenoxus:
    “I’m reminded of how chemistry changed our whole conception of matter; it turns out that water isn’t a fundamental building block but instead a compound of atoms that are in turn built from basic parts.” – How does that constitute ‘changing our whole conception of matter’? (It doesn’t.)

    “Our brains aren’t qualitatively different from a chimpanzee’s” – Who ever said they *were* (aside from the ways in which they ARE qualitatively different)?? It’s our intellectual abilities that are qualitatively different, not our brains. Or do you know of a chimp who can compare to, say, Oliver in producing crudely anti-intellectual outrage? They might get angry if you steal their bananas, but this more elevated feat, I tell you, they just cannot do.

  88. #88 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    The structure of a plane, and the principles by which it was put together so as to *be* a plane, are more than atoms.

    Yes, the structure and principles are an account of how its constituent atoms are arranged. Planes are still composed of atoms. Brains too. This whole side discussion started when Jordan at #13 said:

    Imagine a plane flying from L.A. to D.C. navigated by computer chips which in turn had been programmed by a hail storm. No one would trust the randomly programmed chips to fly the plane from West to East, and by analogy we’d have no reason to trust the human mind programmed by a flurry of atoms.

    If brains count as “flurries of atoms” so do planes. That’s all.

    Why do you think it is relevant to consider whether we can identify the first dog or whether there was a first dog? Do you believe that ‘essentialism’ crucially depends on giving a particular answer to these questions? If so, why?

    Again, this side conversation was started by a poster above who wanted to call “dogginess” a universal, which I took to mean something like “all dogs participate in the Form Of Dog” or “there is some Essence Of Dog that all dogs have” — something common to all dogs which cleaves the world into dogs and not-dogs.

    But there’s no point in the evolution of dog species where we can point and say, “ah ha, here’s where the Essence arose!” That’s a context in which the collection of essential qualities which pick out dogs from other things is no longer useful.

    “Essences” and “universal forms” are best thought of as modest, pragmatic epistemic tools, not entities with real ontological significance. Just like Wittgenstein’s “family resemblances.” They’re a way of regimenting the messy world just enough to get some handles to allow us to turn it over and see it from other angles.

    I’m using up my comment quota on this thread. Have a nice day, everyone.

  89. #89 David
    March 26, 2013

    @Another Matt: “If brains count as “flurries of atoms” so do planes. That’s all” – Sure, but neither does, and in any case, that’s clearly a straw man of the argument to which you were responding.

    RE. essences: my point is that principles/concepts/forms are not composed of atoms. It seems to me that Wittgenstein’s discussion of family resemblances does not yield the dogmatic conclusion you think it does: that there is no real ontological significance to our understanding of the essences of things. In any case, you haven’t even tried to offer any real argument for your dogmatic assertion to the contrary, but if you wish to try I’ll be interested to observe the attempt.

  90. #90 David
    March 26, 2013

    I’ll just quickly add, in explanation of my assertion that you have presented no real argument for your position: If there are dogs now (and there are), this fact is not changed by the distinct fact that there have not always been dogs, or by the distinct fact that there are (or have been) some things which may or may not be (or have been) dogs.

  91. #91 Jordan
    March 26, 2013

    @AnotherMatt: “If brains count as ‘flurries of atoms’ so do planes. That’s all.”

    Brains do not count as a flurry of atoms; that was the point. If we wouldn’t trust computer chips programmed by a hail storm to navigate an airplane, then on the same ground it’s absurd to think that a “mere collocation of atoms” can give rise to the human mind. The two things are incommensurable.

    @Lenoxus: “Do you really not see the enormous fallacy in
    what you wrote?”

    I really don’t.

    “You are assuming that entirely random processes are the only possible material processes. Why?”

    Well the opposite of “random” is “purposive”, “goal-oriented”, and “intentional”–all words that entail consciouness, no? So I don’t see how material processes as such could be anything but random, unless one reverts to an Aristotelian view in which the cosmos contains not only material and efficient causes but also formal and final causes–and I’m guessing that’s not what you’re driving at.

    But you’re concerned that I’ve stacked the deck in favor of immaterialism with the analogy–what do you think would be a more legitimate one?

  92. #92 Martin
    March 26, 2013

    Lenoxus,

    >Yes, but you have to acknowledge that because we have a physical example of non-sentient “intelligence”, the mystery has been lessened

    The problem is that computers have derived “aboutness”, whereas minds have original “aboutness”. The symbol “dog” on a computer screen only represents (or is “about”) the canine species because we chose to assign that meaning to it. Without us around, the word “dog” doesn’t mean anything. It’s just some meaningless squiggles. Or history could have gone differently and the symbol “dog” could have referred to what we now call elephants.

    But unlike with computers, no one is assigning meaning to the neurons in our head. The neurons in our head represent things without anyone saying “OK, these neurons over here will represent X”. And even if their were, you would then go around in a circle because you would be explaining mental representation in terms of another mind.

    So computers do not furnish an example of material intelligence.

  93. #93 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    @85 Oliver: “if you disagree with his supreme wisdom, you’re a fool!”
    That’s the very core of Feser’s entire philosophy.

  94. #94 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Brains do not count as a flurry of atoms; that was the point. If we wouldn’t trust computer chips programmed by a hail storm to navigate an airplane, then on the same ground it’s absurd to think that a “mere collocation of atoms” can give rise to the human mind. The two things are incommensurable.

    I’m trying to understand what you’re saying. Here’s how I initially read what you wrote:

    1) A hail storm is an arrangement of atoms.
    2) Brains are arrangements of atoms.
    3) We would not trust a hail storm to navigate an airplane.
    4) Therefore, since brains are arrangements of atoms just like hail storms, we should not trust brains (attached to living human bodies) to navigate airplanes.
    5) Since we see people with brains navigating airplanes, it follows that the minds which navigate airplanes do not arise from brains.

    I took “flurry of atoms” to be a colorful metaphor for “collections of atoms in motion,” as when Douglas Wilson (I think it was him) sometimes used “riot of atoms” to describe persons and brains and hurricanes.

    But now I can’t understand what you’re saying at all — you seem now to have said that brains are irrelevant to the discussion because they are not such arrangements of atoms after all. Perhaps my understanding of “flurry” is where I’ve gotten off track?

  95. #95 John
    March 26, 2013

    Another Matt, I don’t suffer fools gladly, and this place is full of fools, like most Gnu haunts. Dr.Feser’s blog actually has some very intelligent and thoughtful comments – this juxtaposition alone should tell us something.

    Anyway, your comments on realism have little to do with its validity as opposed to nominalism.

  96. #96 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Well the opposite of “random” is “purposive”, “goal-oriented”, and “intentional”–all words that entail consciouness, no?

    None of those concepts separately or together is the “opposite of random.” Also none of those words necessarily entail consciousness the way we usually understand it. The zombie hypotheses assumes that they don’t.

  97. #97 John
    March 26, 2013

    MNb appears to enjoy making barely coherent attacks, whilst never actually backing up what he says. Not worth responding to. indeed.

    Will he care to answer my post, # 57.

    If not, will he stop spreading pure idiocy.

    Look at the combox on Feser’s blog, then look at the one here. Another Matt is actually an intelligent poster by the standards of this blog!

  98. #98 John
    March 26, 2013

    Oliver, your post, #77, is awash with fallacy. Philosophy is not a discipline that simply “progresses” – there is no necessity or even likelihood that what the majority of analytical philosophers today believe is more correct than what was believed in the Universities of the Middle Ages or the Academy.

    Can you please try and make a post without a glaring fallacy, or at least be more entertaining about it if you must vomit forth nonsense.

  99. #99 John
    March 26, 2013

    Let’s forget Mind. Can a materialist please explain to me how materialism can explain shape?

    Remember, materialism reduces all reality to pure quantitative building blocks which make up everything in existence according to combination and purely mechanistic relationships. If you start invoking other things as “matter” then you have already left materialism behind.

    So, please explain how the triangle is different from the square on a purely quantitative basis?

    Or please explain how extension or direction can be explained purely quantitatively.

    Materialism is incoherent in a most fundamental way.

  100. #100 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    John, are you saying that as soon as someone starts making descriptions and models of configurations of matter they’ve already left materialism behind?

    If that’s so, then zero people are materialists.

    For me, though, I would say that the description of something’s shape is covered by “mechanistic relationships.”

  101. #101 John
    March 26, 2013

    No, what I’m saying is that materialism is the snark hunt for pure quantity. It reduces all reality, all quality, to pure quantitative building blocks arranged mechanistically. These building blocks must ultimately be pure, quantitative, discontinuous number. If you’re “matter” is not pure quantity, if it is full of time and energy and all sorts of qualitative aspects then you are not a materialist.

    The mechanistic relationships utilise or participate in shape and direction, so they cannot explain them. So, try again.

    How can the difference between a square and a triangle be reduced to pure quantity?

  102. #102 Mickey Mortimer
    March 26, 2013

    @74: “Mickey Mortimer writes that my claims that “the inherently imprecise cannot generate the precise” and that “third-person terminology is inherently incapable of accounting for the first-person terminology we need to describe the mind” are “mere assertions without empirical evidence.” That’s because they don’t need it. They’re categorical statements, like Hume’s dictum that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is,” or for that matter, his claim that a wholly necessary being is incapable of accounting for the contingency of Nature. (Read Paul Herrick’s essay at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_herrick/parsons.html if you want to know how a theist would reply to that one.) Ditto for the dualist argument that semantics can’t be reduced to syntax.”

    Which doesn’t address my point that reality doesn’t necessarily work in a way that respects our language or logic, particularly at scales and in conditions we’re not accustom to.

    In this case, what we see as categorical differences may actually just be due to our not understanding how the differences are generated, and thus an aspect of our language that doesn’t correspond to reality. I can easily see someone claiming “no uncolored material can generate a colored material” before we knew what causes color, or “no non-living object can give rise to a living object” before we had ideas about abiogenesis. But what if subjectivity is like color or life, and you can get it with the proper organization of objective components (i.e. emergence)? What distinguishes you from someone claiming you can pile up as many particales as you want, since they don’t have the property of ‘color’ or are even the kind of thing that can be colored, you’ll never get a colored object? Without knowledge of wavelengths, reflection, absorbtion, refraction, etc., it can sound plausible, but wouldn’t get us any closer to understanding reality. And that’s all you’re doing now- claiming to have knowledge of how subjectivity and mental states can or can’t be formed without knowing about the equivalent of their wavelengths and refraction.

  103. #103 John
    March 26, 2013

    That is to say, shape is qualitative, as is direction, time and extension.

  104. #104 John
    March 26, 2013

    Mickey Mortimer, the mechanical aspects of coloured objects do not explain colour completely.

    If our logic cannot understand something then we cannot understand something. Our knowledge stops there. But let me ask you. What does it mean to not be able to know something? How can we know that we can’t know something? What does a wall against which our knowledge cannot pass look like? How can we know of it?

  105. #105 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    If you’re “matter” is not pure quantity, if it is full of time and energy and all sorts of qualitative aspects then you are not a materialist.

    Whoa, we don’t even get to use energy and time? Now I’m even more sure that there no materialists.

  106. #106 John
    March 26, 2013

    Well, you can use them if you are trying to ultimately reduce them to quantity, but not otherwise. This is what materialism is. Otherwise, the materialist would have accept different qualities and therefore that reality was not reducible to one particular, quantitative building block in a bottom up fashion.

    What you are referring to is naturalism, not materialism.

  107. #107 John
    March 26, 2013

    -And the pure quantity must, logically, be pure quantitative, discontinuous number. But this obviously cannot explain all of reality – it doesn’t even exist in itself in our level of being.

  108. #108 John
    March 26, 2013

    Or put it another way. Materialism is like an indefinite amount of grey lego bricks, representing purely quantitative building blocks. Their combinations and purely mechanistic relationships are supposed to explain every – every quality, every intellectual elements of reality.

    The problem is not only do they have obvious problems explaining time, or mind, or qualities like colour, but they cannot explain basic qualities like shape, extension, structure, and direction, hence the entire endeavour of materialism is incoherent.

  109. #109 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    @97 John: just reread @66. It applies to you as well. If you neglect what I write, why should I answer your questions? Especially if I already did beneath the Nagel review, as I mentioned as well in 66.
    Unlike you I get tired of repeating myself. Hence I haven’t read about half of your posts; nor do I intend to.
    Also reread Roger’s @34, Mickey Mortimer @48, Bad Jim @59, Oliver @77 and especially BeingItself @29.
    “Balls and sticks and hands are real physical objects.”
    I have read Feser’s article to which this quote remarks. It contradicts physics as we know it since Newton and that is a friendly way to say that Feser produces manure.

    Of course the next link doesn’t prove materialism either:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-brain-on-trial/308520/

    Point is that dualism has nothing to offer that can even vaguely compare. So I why should we be bothered with Feser’s subtle or less subtle pondering? As soon as he – or John for that matter – can show some results like this I’ll pay attention.

  110. #110 Jordan Bissell
    March 26, 2013

    @AnotherMatt: I was trying to give an illustration of my earlier quote of Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

    So in the illustration, the hailstorm programming the computer chips is to the motions of atoms (or ‘flurry’ of atoms) as the computer chips are to the human mind. 1) Just as we would not trust a computer chip programmed by a hail storm to safely transport us from LA to DC, so we would not trust the human mind to attain insight about anything if it’s reducible to mere material particles. 2) But since we do trust the human mind to attain insight (One who denies that the human mind can attain insight concedes the claim he is concerned to deny), 3) materialism must be false.

    That’s about as far as I can press the point I think. You might find Mortimer Adler’s book Mind Over Matter instructive. C. S. Lewis’s Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism (the 3rd chapter in his book Miracles) is also very good.

  111. #111 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    “remarks” = “refers”
    Internet dyslexia.

  112. #112 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Well, you can use them if you are trying to ultimately reduce them to quantity, but not otherwise. This is what materialism is.

    Very well. I’ve lost the thread completely, and it may even be you’re the only person here who understands what you are trying to mean when you say “reduce them to pure quantity — pure quantitative, discontinuous number.”

    All you’re doing is trying to convince those of us who call ourselves materialists not to do so anymore. I don’t think that’s helpful, but fine.

  113. #113 John
    March 26, 2013

    MNb, your response to me was more than usually incoherent. You appear to like to make random accusations, that suffer from basic flaws in logic, and then not support them. Good luck with that.

    How your babbling about monkeys and teleology, and providing random, idiotic links, answers my points or supports yours I’m at a loss to understand. I’m still waiting for the reason Dr.Feser doesn’t understand science and support for your various other assertions.

    By the way, without acting for the good, that is without teleology and being end driven, we cannot understand regular and orderly cause and effect. We cannot understand how one effect must regularly and orderly follow a particular cause, as both Aquinas and Hume pointed out. So, I for one don’t consider teleology a dirty word.

  114. #114 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Hi Jordan,

    So I think my original interpretation was correct. What I still haven’t understood — what does “made of atoms” have to do with whether or not we would trust a hail storm to navigate an airplane? A computer is made of atoms and I would trust it thoroughly to beat me at chess, but I don’t think a hail storm could even play in the first place. That’s the leap I don’t get.

  115. #115 John
    March 26, 2013

    Another Matt, apart from laughing at the fact you so called materialists haven’t even given proper thought to your position, or researched its history, I’m, firstly, trying to point out what materialism really is and then, secondly, that the line you are drawing between materialists and immaterialists is flawed: we’re all immaterialists now.

    At the least I want you to explain what you are really objecting to when you object to immaterialists. Is it just really a vague dislike of religion and anything that isn’t scientistic that motives the likes of you?

  116. #116 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    “If your “matter” is not pure quantity, if it is full of time and energy and all sorts of qualitative aspects then you are not a materialist.”
    I guess I have to quit my job as a teacher physics. Apparently I am completely wrong when telling my pupils that they can use clocks to measure, ie quantify time. And on the exam physics at the end of 4th grade they usually have to calculate, ie quantify heat, work, potential energy and kinetic energy. Today I have learned that this is not possible as they are qualitative aspects.
    Or some people could open an elementary book on physics of course.

    “Now I’m even more sure that there no materialists.”
    The fine, subtle and sophisticated distinction between materialists and naturalists apparently is of immense interest to some dualists on this page.
    It tells us exactly zero why human beings should have a soul as an immaterial component to the brain. As if semantic debates can answer scientific questions.
    Well, then I’m not a materialist. The dualists can call me what they prefer: materialist/naturalist/scientismist/physicalist. I don’t frigging care. They may call me this all at the same time too.
    Feser still doesn’t want to understand anything of natural sciences and there still is no single reason to assume any form of dualism.

  117. #117 John
    March 26, 2013

    When I say reduce to pure quantity, I mean what I keep saying: that materialism is the attempt to find a purely quantitative building block whose quantitative combination and mechanistic relationships explains all.

    This building block can only be pure, quantitative, discontinuous number. By quantitative number I’m just underlining that I do not mean Pythagorean or Ideal numbers. Discontinuous number refers to non-extended number or quantity, which is already qualitative. Obviously, discontinuous quantity or number doesn’t exist in itself in our realm of being.

  118. #118 Mickey Mortimer
    March 26, 2013

    @104- “Mickey Mortimer, the mechanical aspects of coloured objects do not explain colour completely. ”

    I disagree. I think everything we experience, believe and feel about color is ultimately explained by physics.

    “But let me ask you. What does it mean to not be able to know something? How can we know that we can’t know something? What does a wall against which our knowledge cannot pass look like? How can we know of it?”

    Apparently parts of quantum mechanics which have been supported via empiricism suggest there are things we cannot know, like the position of a particle once we know its velocity, or exactly which atom of a substance will radioactively decay next. So we can know of these things because equations that have been supported by empirical data suggest them to be so, provisional as with all knowledge of course.

  119. #119 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    At the least I want you to explain what you are really objecting to when you object to immaterialists. Is it just really a vague dislike of religion and anything that isn’t scientistic that motives the likes of you?

    No, it’s just that I don’t see any reason to believe that anything other than the physical world exists. Descriptions and models of it use all kinds of relationships. We can even say, via definition and logic, things like “if a cylinder or a sphere could exist, here is how they would behave,” and then use them as pragmatic approximations for things that actually do exist.

    I don’t see any reason to believe in the existence of souls, spirits, fairies.

  120. #120 John
    March 26, 2013

    MNb, time is not uniform. Time is necessarily qualitative as any particular moment in time is not the same as any other, ie., different things occur each moment.

    Besides, your response is just generally embarrassing for you. Why would you think that measuring something reduces it to what you use to measure? If I measure my table that does not mean I have automatically reduced my table, and all that makes it up, to this measurement of length and width and height.

    All clocks do is give a relative measure of time in terms of movement. They do not reduce time to quantity in any absolute sense. A moment’s pause for thought should have told you this.

  121. #121 John
    March 26, 2013

    Another Matt, but now you have brought into the conversation the physical world, without defining it.

    Does it involve qualities irreducible to pure quantity? Does it involve intellectual elements, like logic, mathematical entities and so forth?

  122. #122 John
    March 26, 2013

    Mickey Mortimer, that doesn’t really tell us what a complete wall for our knowledge is, does it. It doesn’t tell us how we can know of this wall of what we cannot know.

  123. #123 MNb
    March 26, 2013

    John, pay attention for once. Just once.
    When I scrolled for AnotherMatt’s posts, who actually writes interesting things, from which I easily can conduct which track you and your fellow dualists follow, I noticed you mentioned me twice. That doesn’t mean I read your posts. I only read that you wondered if I would answer your question.
    So I wrote: “I don’t intend to read the half of your posts I haven’t read until now. Because I get bored of repeating myself.” You asked me a question; I gave you some hints where you could find the answer. If you don’t want to follow these hints, then by all means don’t. If you are not satisfied with this answer, too bad for you.
    Btw the ratio of your posts I don’t read is rapidly increasing. Of your last few posts I only read one sentence: the one in which you whine that I’m getting increasingly incoherent. The rest doesn’t interest me. Haven’t read it. Won’t react to it.
    But if you so eagerly want to pose as a troll I can’t prevent you; neither will I try.
    Bye.

  124. #124 John
    March 26, 2013

    The interesting thing about MNb, apart from the fact he has the gall to insinuate others are trolling whilst he is himself incapable of writing anything but nonsense and proudly proclaims he doesn’t bother to read posts, is he actively brings down the naturalistic side here. They’d do far better with the likes of Another Matt and Mickey Mortimer defending them without the barely coherent rantings of a half-educated hack like him.

    I’m still waiting to see how Dr.Feser has misunderstood physics. It seems MNb’s accusations have lost what little credibility they might have once had by his utter inanity and refusal to support them.

  125. #125 Jordan Bissell
    March 26, 2013

    @AnotherMatt: “. . .what does ‘made of atoms’ have to do with whether or not we would trust a hail storm to navigate an airplane? A computer is made of atoms and I would trust it thoroughly to beat me at chess, but I don’t think a hail
    storm could even play in the first place. That’s the leap I don’t get.”

    A random assembly of atoms, or an “accidental collocation of atoms”, as Bertrand Russell puts it, is as reliable to produce mental insight as a random hail storm is to program computer chips for a plane flight, which is to say not at all—that’s the comparison.

    Just as an accidental collocation of hail can’t program computer chips to play chess, so an accidental collocation of atoms can’t equip a mind to attain insight.

    Thus, even if we have no idea how mind could give rise to matter we at least know that matter cannot give rise to mind.

  126. #126 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Jordan, you’ve just sneaked in “random” and “accidental.” Those weren’t there before, and they’re doing all the work.

  127. #127 John
    March 26, 2013

    Without teleology, without things acting for the good, there is no orderly cause and effect. This is what Hume understood, as had Aquinas and the Church Fathers and Greek philosophers before him. So, without teleology, which any worthwhile naturalism – that ever ambiguous term- surely must rule out, all is random and we cannot understand how any effect can regularly and orderly follow a particular cause.

    The problems of materialism and naturalism are fundamental.

  128. #128 Jordan Bissell
    March 26, 2013

    @Another Matt: If you refer back to my original post you’ll see that I used the word “random” there, and it’s been implied in everything I’ve posted since. “Accidental” I take from Bertrand Russell’s description of the origin of man. Do you disagree with Russell that we are the result of an “accidental collocation of atoms”? If you are a materialist, on what grounds could you disagree? But if you do agree with him, you are left with the problem of explaining how an accidental collocation of atoms can give rise to the human mind—it can’t.

  129. #129 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    Jordan, you said that the hail storm was random enough not to trust. You haven’t said why we should believe the same thing about brains.

    And if Bertrand Russell said that, I don’t think he would now, given what is accepted as true in modern biology.

  130. #130 Mickey Mortimer
    March 26, 2013

    @122: “Mickey Mortimer, that doesn’t really tell us what a complete wall for our knowledge is, does it. It doesn’t tell us how we can know of this wall of what we cannot know.”

    What’s a “complete wall”? One that encompasses all of the things about reality which we can’t know? Why should we expect there to be any one principle that does this, or for us to already know about all of the examples? I already gave the “how we can know” part though, for however many examples we find- “equations that have been supported by empirical data suggest them to be so.”

    You still haven’t replied to my contention that apparent categorical differences could be due to not understanding how emergent properties form.

  131. #131 John
    March 26, 2013

    I am answering your contention now. Another Matt wished me to act more Socratically, so that is what I’m doing. I have already, also, noted that if we cannot understand something because it is beyond the capacities of our minds, then we will never understand it and science stops there.

    Your examples do not prove an absolute inability for knowledge, they simply bring up instances where, according to certain contemporary methods, we lack knowledge.

    When I say a wall I mean that the claim we can never potentially know something is fundamentally flawed. To say we cannot, in principle, know something is to say there is a barrier to our knowledge, but we cannot know this barrier that exists in our knowledge, thus undermining all our knowledge. To say we have objective knowledge is to say we have access to unlimited knowledge. Besides, to say we cannot know something and then to talk of a particular thing we cannot know is simply contradictory.

  132. #132 John
    March 26, 2013

    What I don’t think is being grasped is the truly extraordinary nature of objectivity, or objective knowledge.

    It is often foolishly argued that man is dwarfed by the universe, whereas in reality man dwarfs the universe as he can comprehend, he can no it. The universe is nothing beside man, yet there are more and more fools who appear to think our time is only well spent investigating minute particles or distant galaxies.

  133. #133 Another Matt
    March 26, 2013

    I am answering your contention now. Another Matt wished me to act more Socratically, so that is what I’m doing.

    Hi John — I really don’t wish to play “tone patrol” (I hate it, in fact), but on a human level I really do appreciate the effort.

    Your examples do not prove an absolute inability for knowledge, they simply bring up instances where, according to certain contemporary methods, we lack knowledge.

    In the case of Heisenberg uncertainty, if I’m understanding the principle correctly, it’s not just that we lack knowledge, and not even that we don’t have a way of attaining it, but that the definitions of velocity and momentum don’t actually allow arbitrary precision in both even for an omniscient being.

    This is a case where classical logic fails so long as we think of momentum and position as real, independent properties of some particle. It’s a place where, as Mickey Mortimer has been suggesting in this thread, some categories codified by language do not in fact quite “carve nature at the joints.”

  134. #134 John
    March 27, 2013

    What do you mean by definitions here? An omniscient being would surely know things as they are, in the Platonic sense, and not through definitions or words.

  135. #135 Mickey Mortimer
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt is precisely right about Heisenberg uncertainty and radioactive decay- the theory says that even in principle the data is unknowable. It’s not just that our measurements aren’t good enough or that there are hidden variables that could tell us these things. The equations actually say no hidden variables can exist, and the equations have been supported by huge amounts of empirical data so far. This is how we can “know” about these barriers that exist in our knowledge

    And this is exactly the kind of philosophizing I was criticizing in the first place. Much of reality when we get down to the basics is “simply contradictory” if we use normal language and logic. Yet empirical results suggest that’s the way it is regardless, and all the philosphical argumentation in the world won’t change that. This is how I see consciousness being worked out in the future. How subjectivity emerges from objectivity might not seem possible using philosophers’ methods, but empiricism will suggest it happens that way regardless.

    As an aside, I disagree things we cannot understand due to our mental limitations stop science. There are plenty of examples in physics of things involving higher numbers of dimensions and such that no one can really comprehend, but which can be modeled mathematically and tested, so remain part of science.

  136. #136 John
    March 27, 2013

    I should go on to note that all words and all mental conceptions are limited – they rely on a gulf between the thing itself and our knowledge of it. The theory of gravity in a textbook and gravity itself are not identical. It is the thing itself that is the basis of true knowledge, and it is, in some sense, captured or assimilated by our Minds. But then how can we not know it in full? If we can know of tigers, how can we, in principle not know of their colour? How can we coherently assimilate a thing and yet be denied an irreducible part of it?

  137. #137 John
    March 27, 2013

    Empiricism as a proper philosophical and epistemological position ends in the shipwreck of the various puzzles Hume brought up.

    How, exactly, are you to make sense of, evaluate, recognise, and categorisation this empirical evidence? It wouldn’t be reason and logic would it.

    Your example of science using what we can’t understand is flawed – those examples are about using just the parts we can understand.

    Natural science relies on humans to understand and conduct it. If our logic and reason ends, so does our ability to conduct natural science. I do find it interesting, though, just how much scientists start to look like mystics when more stringent scientistic types are pushed. The difference is that real mystics do not tend to be illogical, or at least the best sort avoid it.

  138. #138 Mickey Mortimer
    March 27, 2013

    Any puzzle for empiricism is based on rationalism, which my argument here shows doesn’t work when explaining reality (e.g. light always traveling a constant speed relative to the observer regardless of the observer’s speed seems ridiculous based on reasoning alone, yet is true). The alternative is what? Idealism? Which is based on mental/subjective/etc. phenomena being the basis of our reality. Thus it presupposes such phenomena aren’t derived from material forces, which is the entire debate we’re having. If you’re an idealist, we’re at an impasse since I don’t think reason alone can support fundamental aspects of reality nor is there any empirical evidence I could provide that could dissuade you.

  139. #139 John
    March 27, 2013

    I think you have a rather limited view of the confrontation between reason and empiricism. Empirical evidence simply cannot be made sense without reason, and you indeed dodged the question about how you were going to make sense of, evaluate, recognise, and categorisation this empirical evidence without reason.

    One can try and say that our reason is based in experience, in the empiricist sense, but, even if we grant that for the sake of argument, it is still reason through which we make sense of the rest of empirical experience, especially the kind of speculative science and empirical data you are referring to. It is reason that lets us understand what is evidence, how it is evidence, and what to make of evidence. Without reason and logic empirical evidence is meaningless, as is all natural science. Indeed, as you allude to, modern empiricism is beset by the puzzles of Berkeley and the Idealists, as well as those of Hume I mentioned.

    Even your examples illustrate my point, as there is nothing strictly irrational in what you said – all one may say is that from a certain common sense position we would not expect light to move at a constant speed: the illustrations you are referring to are all explained by reason.

    I’m a Platonic Christian, I do not subscribe to modern alternatism like rationalism versus empiricism; however, I will say that discursive reason is not self-sustaining and must be grounded in Nous or Intellectus,

  140. #140 John
    March 27, 2013

    Also, a thorough going empiricism should surely run most obviously into an initial division between our own subjectivity and the external world.Surely, a phenomenological approach, though not necessarily identical to that of Husserl and the continental philosophers, is at least as valid as empirical investigations into natural science. Yet modern empiricism is tellingly one-sided and races to grasp hold of any inductions and deductions from the most speculative and remote natural science whilst totally neglecting our subjective experience on its own terms (except for racing to explain it away in terms of natural science).

  141. #141 MNb
    March 27, 2013

    @133 Another Matt: “if I’m understanding the principle correctly”
    You are understanding Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle correctly. Here we see another common trick. I fell for it once some five years ago. Feser and co, who need to defend causality as the fundamental principle of the Universe (you know, teleology), prefer to start a semantic discussion of what uncertainty, probability and unpredictability mean. What they try to hide is that semantics don’t change anything about the meaning of the mathematical formula that expresses Heisenberg’s Principle. The meaning is that it is a fundamental feature of the Universe that it is impossible to determine exactly velocity and place of a particle simultaneously. This is the version I learned:

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onzekerheidsrelatie_van_Heisenberg

    with momentum p equalling mass m times velocity v.
    We can in theory – not in practice – determine either velocity or place exactly, but if we do the other quantity will be undetermined completely. This is accepted by all modern physicists a fundamental natural law of the universe.
    Einstein couldn’t accept it with the argument “God doesn’t play dice”. So he tried to find a deterministic, ie causal alternative theory, in vain. Others have had some more success, but their interpretations have their problems too. So 25 years ago I thought, if god doesn’t play dice and the universe actually does that I’d better call myself an atheist. That was rather an existential decision, not meant as conclusive evidence.
    But yeah, if you rather prefer the physics of Thomas of Aquino and Aristoteles of Stagira you can’t accept this and you have to find a way to wriggle around it – because you know, teleology.
    So Mickey Mortimer is spot on as well.
    You probably aware of some attempts to derive god from quantummechanics as well. They are laughable. But again yeah, science doesn’t prove anything conclusively, so qm doesn’t prove atheism and materialism etc. either.

  142. #142 MNb
    March 27, 2013

    @136 Mickey M: “This is how I see consciousness being worked out in the future”
    That’s what I have thought as well for quite a long time. Simulations by Victor Stenger indicate that brain processes are on a too large scale that we need to incorporate quantum effects. Alas. We’ll have to wait for the conclusions of neurobiologists.

    @138: “Any puzzle for empiricism is based on rationalism”
    When debating guys like John you must chose your words very carefully. Empiricism refers to observations, experiments and induction. Rationalism refers to math, presuppositions and deduction. The nice thing about science is that it uses both methods. Hence there are theoretical physicists and experimental physicists. They perfectly get along (unlike some of their philosophical counterparts), because they have decided that if they agree that they have established knowledge.
    The finest example imo is superconductivity. Theoretical physicists (ie BCS theory; Nobel price in 1972) disagree with experimental physicists (the experiment of Bednorz and Müller; Nobel price in 1986). Anyone who wants to win a Nobel price too could try to find reconcilement here.
    Stating that we don’t understand the human brain properly hence a soul is as much an argument from ignorance as stating we don’t understand superconductivity hence god is the god of the gaps.
    Only semantic debates about Heisenberg’s Principle (I have come to the conclusion that the Uncertainty part is a bit unfortunate) are sillier.

  143. #143 MNb
    March 27, 2013

    So yes, Heisenberg very much defined a wall of knowledge, except that we know we can’t know. That’s why I don’t think the idea very interesting. I am more interested in things we don’t know yet but may know in the future – like how the human brain works.

  144. #144 Verbose Stoic
    March 27, 2013

    When a particular point of view has been proven wrong in case after case; the centrality of teleology and the supernatural in our understanding of the natural world, for example; the burden shifts to the people defending that point of view.

    The problem is that when we are talking things that are in fact teleological or intentional or subjective, trying to claim that an approach that leaves all of those things out is actually going to be able to explain them is surely the claim that needs defending. It’s kinda like the claim that because all of the mechanistic things are determined it is plausible that the things that are explicitly intentional are deterministic as well. There are no issues introduced by treating mechanistic things mechanically, but many issues with treating intentional and teleological things mechanically.

  145. #145 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Hi VS.

    The problem, as I see it, is not whether or not there are things which are teleological, intentional, or subjective; “persons” qualify on all three, and I would guess insects to (but to a much lower degree). No, the problem is whether teleology, intentionality, or subjectivity need to apply all the way down for them to be “real.” I don’t think they do, and I don’t see any reason to think of them as hard and fast binaries. This is at least one reason why the zombie argument is so perplexing to me.

  146. #146 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    “The problem is that when we are talking [about] things that are in fact teleological or intentional or subjective, trying to claim that an approach that leaves all of those things out is actually going to be able to explain them is surely the claim that needs defending.”

    That is fractal wrongness. Dennett best lays out why in his book Consciousness Explained. If you are trying to explain consciousness, and if any part of your “explanation” includes the concept of consciousness, you have not explained anything.

    If teleology or intentionality or subjectivity are to be explained, then those concepts must be left out of the explanation.

    If you are trying to explain to someone the meaning of a word, you cannot use that word in your explanation.

  147. #147 E.H. Munro
    Larrytown
    March 27, 2013

    If you’re going to be lecturing people about how stupid they are it would behoove you to proofread your temper tantrums before hitting the “publish” button. Nothing makes you look dumber than multiple grocer’s apostrophes in a single post.

  148. #148 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    BeingItself,

    >If you are trying to explain consciousness, and if any part of your “explanation” includes the concept of consciousness, you have not explained anything.

    See here for why Dennet eliminates consciousness, rather than explaining it: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/01/can-consciousness-be-explained-dennett-debunked.html

    From the article:

    “Do you see how Dennett is contradicting himself? On p. 454 he states that a successful explanation must leave something out, which seems plausible enough. Then he half-realizes that this spells trouble for his explanation of consciousness — since what is left out when we explain consciousness in unconscious terms is precisely the explanandum, consciousness itself! So he backpedals and implies that nothing has been left out, and suggests that someone who affirms the irreducibility of qualia is like a lady who hides her ‘kwalia kitties’ under her skirt where no mean neuroscientist dare stick his nose.

    The whole passage is a tissue of confusion wrapped in a rhetorical trick. And that is the way his big book ends: on a contradictory note. A big fat load of scientistic sophistry.”

  149. #149 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Nonetheless — even if Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is wrong, he’s right in saying that anything which invokes consciousness doesn’t count as an explanation of it.

  150. #150 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    Wow. Amazing job of missing the point. What Another Matt said.

  151. #151 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >Amazing job of missing the point. What Another Matt said.

    Wow. Amazing job of…not offering any response at all.

    Another Matt said that anything which invokes consciousness does not explain it, which the article agrees with (“a successful explanation must leave something out, which seems plausible enough”)! And which is why he concludes that consciousness cannot be explained, contra Dennet.

    The article gets at the core point that Nagel has been defending all these years: if physicalism ignores subjective experience and opts for an objective “observer neutral” stand point in all its explanations, then there will never be a physicalist explanation of subjective experience, AKA consciousness.

  152. #152 Verbose Stoic
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt,

    The problem, as I see it, is not whether or not there are things which are teleological, intentional, or subjective; “persons” qualify on all three, and I would guess insects to (but to a much lower degree). No, the problem is whether teleology, intentionality, or subjectivity need to apply all the way down for them to be “real.” I don’t think they do, and I don’t see any reason to think of them as hard and fast binaries. This is at least one reason why the zombie argument is so perplexing to me.

    Well, you have to admit that one problem is indeed how you can build things that have intentionality or teleology out of things that don’t have that, or a full-on subjective viewpoint out of things that don’t have that at all. Materialists assert that they can do it, but when they try they tend to leave out all of the teleological and intentional and subjective parts and essentially say “And here, magic occurs.” But it’s the link between the non-teleological and the teleological that we’re interested in here. If you look at people like Feser, they argue that how you could get from the non-teleological to the teleological is to stop thinking that there ARE things that are interestingly non-teleological; teleology is a fundamental power in the universe. This wouldn’t cause much problems for science, but it would cause problems for Darwinian approaches that insist that there is no teleology there. And then there are other options that say that these teleological things are just different than the non-teleological, and so participate in different entities or the like to get it to work, which are the dualist options (not all of which deny materialism writ large, but deny materialism when looking at traditional materialist properties).

    Note that I disagree with Chalmers’ zombies, but do think that the external behaviour part of zombies is right. I have a page on my blog outlining this in some detail, if you’re interested.

    BeingItself,

    That is fractal wrongness. Dennett best lays out why in his book Consciousness Explained. If you are trying to explain consciousness, and if any part of your “explanation” includes the concept of consciousness, you have not explained anything.

    If you’re trying to explain material things, and if any part of your “explanation” includes the concept of materiality, you have not explained anything, right?

    The issue here is this: I am trying to explain instances of teleology, intentionality, consciousness, etc, etc, not the concept. Thus, if I am going to explain how this is an instance of those things, I have to be able to refer to that concept. If you claim to have explained how those are instances of those concepts completely through means that don’t in any way talk about the properties of the concepts, then it’s hard to see how you can claim that those are instances of those concepts at all; they are totally divorced from the concept and have none of the conceptual properties and so don’t participate in the concept at all, and so are not instances of that concept. And so wouldn’t be instances or, perhaps, examples of teleology etc at all. That … would be bad [grin].

    You might be able to make a bridge between, say, the non-teleological and the teleological, but you can’t just leave the teleological out completely and expect to have explained purported instances of teleology.

  153. #153 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Martin — you could conclude that nothing can be explained on the same basis. Here’s a little informal syllogism:

    1) Anything which does not leave out what it is trying to explain does not count as an explanation of it.
    2) Anything which requires that it be left out of its explanation can’t be explained.
    3) It’s impossible for a would-be explanation to meet both criteria simultaneously, so therefore nothing counts as an explanation and nothing can be explained.

  154. #154 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt,

    1 is false. No one ever said that. In physicalist explanations, the subjective experience is left out, as the article makes clear. The blue flash of lightning, the loud clap. And it explains it in terms of the movement of electrons and so forth, not caring if it’s blue, red, loud or quiet. Because subjective experience is just that: subjective. And it can vary from person to person. Physicalism seeks to get at the core reality that underlies that subjective experience.

    But in that case, when physicalism tries to explain subjective experience, it leaves out the explanandum because that’s what physicalism does.

    That is the point Nagel has been making all these years.

  155. #155 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Well, you have to admit that one problem is indeed how you can build things that have intentionality or teleology out of things that don’t have that, or a full-on subjective viewpoint out of things that don’t have that at all. Materialists assert that they can do it…

    Here’s the snarky answer: I build things that have intentionality and subjective experience out of things that don’t every time I eat and digest a sandwich.

  156. #156 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Martin, you said that the article agrees with 1) — anything which invokes (i.e. does not leave out) that which it is trying to explain does not count as an explanation.

    It’s also worth noting that saying an immaterial soul can explain consciousness and subjective experience is fraught with the same problems, because there’s very little anyone can say about how it accomplishes this.

    If it’s metaphysically true that Consciousness Can Never Be Explained (in principle, full stop), then no intuitions about it were ever warranted in the first place. This isn’t a very satisfying conclusion for anyone but the mysterians.

    OK, I think I’ve written more than half of the posts here. Probably time for me to step away for a while.

  157. #157 Verbose Stoic
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt,

    Here’s the snarky answer: I build things that have intentionality and subjective experience out of things that don’t every time I eat and digest a sandwich.

    But, of course, the snarky answer is just plain wrong. While eating and digesting a sandwich powers your physical processes, that could be done for something that had no intentionality or subjective experience at all … unless you want to claim that, say, lamps have those things, since they have a similar process for producing behaviour …

  158. #158 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >It’s also worth noting that saying an immaterial soul can explain consciousness and subjective experience is fraught with the same problems, because there’s very little anyone can say about how it accomplishes this.

    See here for why that won’t work as an objection: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/churchland-on-dualism-part-iii.html

    Specifically: “…the chief proponents of dualism historically have not defended their position as an “explanatory hypothesis” put forward as the “best explanation” of the “empirical data.” That just isn’t what they are up to, any more than geometers or logicians are. They are attempting instead to provide a strict demonstration of the immateriality of the mind, to show that it is metaphysically and conceptually impossible for the mind to be something material. Their attempts may or may not succeed – again, that is another question. But that is what they are trying to do, and thus it simply misses the point to evaluate their arguments the way one might evaluate an empirical hypothesis.”

    >If it’s metaphysically true that Consciousness Can Never Be Explained (in principle, full stop)

    Or…it’s primitive. A fundamental feature of the universe.

  159. #159 Michael Fugate
    March 27, 2013

    What is the purpose of the universe?
    What is the purpose of life on earth?
    What agent is responsible for giving either its purpose?
    How do you know the answer to any of these questions?

  160. #160 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    Whether or not Dennet’s explanation succeeds is not the point. Whether or not consciousness can be explained is not the point.

    The point is that any explanation of X cannot use X as part of the explanation.

    I thought Molier put an end to this nonsense. The explanation of how opium puts people to sleep is because of its sleep-making power. Doh!

    Likewise, invoking immaterial conscious wonder stuff as an explanation of human consciousness is no explanation at all.

  161. #161 David
    March 27, 2013

    @Another Matt: “A computer is made of atoms and I would trust it thoroughly to beat me at chess, but I don’t think a hail storm could even play in the first place. That’s the leap I don’t get.” — Right, I don’t follow Jordan’s argument either. It seems, however, that you want to say that you’re a materialist, which entails what? – that you believe that everything is made of atoms (or at least ‘material stuff’)? So you literally believe the proposition ‘playing chess is made of atoms’? (Aren’t you the guy who brought up Wittgenstein??) Or what are you trying to say?

  162. #162 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    “you have to admit that one problem is indeed how you can build things that have intentionality or teleology out of things that don’t have that”

    Is that a joke? Apples have the property of being red. Apples are made out of atoms, none of which are red.

  163. #163 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    It seems, however, that you want to say that you’re a materialist, which entails what? – that you believe that everything is made of atoms (or at least ‘material stuff’)? So you literally believe the proposition ‘playing chess is made of atoms’?

    Dammit. I couldn’t let this one go.

    We use gerunds as nouns to conform to linguistic syntax, but that does not mean that they refer to material objects. When I say “I think swimming is fun” I am not calling out some object in the world (“swimming”) — I’m saying the equivalent of “whenever I swim I become amused.” So no, I don’t think that “playing chess” would be found in the set of all objects — but I do believe things which play chess are made of atoms. I hope this is clear.

  164. #164 David
    March 27, 2013

    @BeingItself: “immaterial conscious wonder stuff”? Where are you getting this crap? Did someone actually say something like that? (Or – forgive my irresponsible speculating – are you just one of those all-too-human humans who is so in love with his own ignorance – and so afraid of moving beyond its boundaries – that he can’t resist lobbing out yet another straw man argument? I had a prof once who tried to argue that Descartes’ ‘immaterial substance’ actually just meant ‘immaterial matter’ – dumb, duh dumb dumb…)

  165. #165 David
    March 27, 2013

    @Another Matt: Ah, excellent. So when you say that you are a materialist, you just mean that you believe that all *material objects* are made of matter… I guess that makes all the rest of us ‘materialists’ too! Problem solved.

  166. #166 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    David,

    Invoking something mysterious, like an immaterial soul, to explain the mystery of consciousness, is not an explanation.

    This is an important point that for some reason woo-meisters cannot understand.

  167. #167 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    BeingItself,

    “Is that a joke? Apples have the property of being red. Apples are made out of atoms, none of which are red.”

    Is that a joke? “Red” is a secondary property. It’s a function of how our eyes distinguish frequencies of light. The red light that reflects off apples is not a property of apples. It’s light. Besides, dogs might dispute the idea that those apples are “red.”

  168. #168 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    On Feser’s:

    “And the methods of post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic science are as successful as they are in predicting and controlling natural phenomena precisely because they focus only on those aspects of nature susceptible of strict prediction and control … and ignore everything else (e.g. any irreducibly qualitative or non-quantifiable features that might exist in nature, such as teleological features, the phenomenal feel of heat and cold, the phenomenal look of colors, and so forth).”

    One of Feser’s favorite ploys is to claim an opponent begs the question. Yet he never applies this criticism to his own arguments. So I’ll point it out for him. Here he begs the question. He merely assumes mechanistic science cannot one day explain the phenomenal look of colors and so forth.

  169. #169 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >He merely assumes mechanistic science cannot one day explain the phenomenal look of colors and so forth.

    He doesn’t assume it. He argues it. For example, here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/10/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part.html

    “Given the materialist’s own (mechanistic-cum-quantificational) conception of matter, colors, odors, tastes and the like as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself; but these qualities do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world; therefore, there exist features of the world – namely these sensory qualities or “qualia” that characterize our perceptual experiences – that are not material or physical features. “

  170. #170 MNb
    March 27, 2013

    Not that it hasn’t been mentioned a thousand times before, but dualism, including a la Feser, doesn’t explain the phenomenal look of colors (whatever that means for someone who is colour blind) and so forth either.

  171. #171 DonJindra
    Los Angeles
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    Feser: “Given the materialist’s own (mechanistic-cum-quantificational) conception of matter, colors, odors, tastes and the like as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself; but these qualities do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world; therefore, there exist features of the world – namely these sensory qualities or “qualia” that characterize our perceptual experiences – that are not material or physical features.“

    Two things: Either the materialist Feser describes is no materialist, or, Feser is offering a poor attempt to hide his question begging. Because I would say my phenomenal experiences do exist in the material world — since I’m made of material. He merely assumes it can’t be so.

  172. #172 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >Because I would say my phenomenal experiences do exist in the material world — since I’m made of material.

    Whether you are material or not is exactly what is in question. You can’t just say “since I’m material”, since that is precisely what is in question in the context of that argument.

  173. #173 DonJindra
    Los Angeles
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “Whether you are material or not is exactly what is in question. You can’t just say “since I’m material”, since that is precisely what is in question in the context of that argument.”

    We do know the material world exists. That’s isn’t in question — at least I hope we can keep that much sanity. The question is really whether a non-material plane exists. Whichever side we take, we’re going to have to make some assumptions. That’s the nature of arguments like this. IMO, Feser’s whole case relies on making a fantastic assumption and then accusing the materialist of the fantasy.

  174. #174 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    The anti-materialist arguments always look the same to me: I cannot understand how atoms bouncing around could ever produce phenomenon X. Therefore, X must be immaterial.

    The people who find such arguments congenial have always been mysterious to me. But that does not make me think such folks are not made of matter.

  175. #175 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >Feser’s whole case relies on making a fantastic assumption and then accusing the materialist of the fantasy.

    Except I just showed you that he provided an argument, not an “assumption”. The materialists say that matter does not possess qualitative properties. That is all “just in our mind.” So, as Feser says, OF COURSE you won’t be able to explain the mind in terms of matter, if you do that.

  176. #176 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >I cannot understand how atoms bouncing around could ever produce phenomenon X. Therefore, X must be immaterial.

    But that’s not how the argument works. The fact that you have to transform it into an easy-to-beat strawman tells volumes. Rather, the argument is:

    1. Given the materialist’s own (mechanistic-cum-quantificational) conception of matter, colors, odors, tastes and the like as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself
    2. But these qualities do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world
    3. Therefore, there exist features of the world – namely these sensory qualities or “qualia” that characterize our perceptual experiences – that are not material or physical features.

  177. #177 Tulse
    March 27, 2013

    We do know the material world exists. [...] The question is really whether a non-material plane exists.

    Paging Mr. Descartes — Mr. Descartes to the white cogito phone, please…

    Arguably, the only thing we know for certain is that we have subjective states.

  178. #178 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    1. Given the materialist’s own (mechanistic-cum-quantificational) conception of matter, colors, odors, tastes and the like as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself
    2. But these qualities do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world
    3. Therefore, there exist features of the world – namely these sensory qualities or “qualia” that characterize our perceptual experiences – that are not material or physical features.

    Here’s how this sounds:

    1. Given the materialist’s own conception of matter, fictional characters such as Sherlock, Santa, and Cupid as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself.
    2. But these characters do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world (Santa lives on in the hearts and minds of children!).
    3. Therefore, there exist features of the world — namely these fictional characters — that are not material or physical features.

  179. #179 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    I was making a joke. But (1) needs to be unpacked to have any force.

    I am a materialist in the sense that I see no reason to believe in souls or ghosts or gods. I acknowledge the real existence of subjective experience. I cannot understand how mere atoms bouncing around give rise to my experience of colors and the like. But that does not prompt me to make the extraordinary claim that there is a ghost in the machine, which only serves to raise the homunculus problem.

  180. #180 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >I am a materialist in the sense that I see no reason to believe in souls or ghosts or gods.

    And therein lies one of the problems. This idea that the dichotomy is materialism vs ghosts and psychics. Bertrand Russell, for example, defended neutral monism: the idea that neither mind NOR matter are fundamental, but rather some other kind of stuff that when arranged one way gives rise to matter, and when arranged another way gives rise to mind.

    >But that does not prompt me to make the extraordinary claim that there is a ghost in the machine

    Feser is always criticism substance dualism for a similar reason. Again, there is not just this simplistic dualism. There is property dualism (emergence) and hylomorphic dualism, among others. The idea that the mind is something fundamentally different from matter does not entail that there are ghosts.

  181. #181 Eric
    March 27, 2013

    “The anti-materialist arguments always look the same to me: I cannot understand how atoms bouncing around could ever produce phenomenon X. Therefore, X must be immaterial.”

    That’s not at all how they proceed.

    There’s a distinction between intelligibility/unintelligibility on the one hand and coherence/incoherence on the other. If some notion is incoherent, it’s necessarily unintelligible, but if some notion is unintelligible, it doesn’t follow that it’s incoherent.

    Here are a couple of common examples:
    (1) I can’t make sense of the notion that space has a boundary — i.e. it’s unintelligible — but it doesn’t follow that it’s incoherent.
    (2) However, I can see that a prime number cannot have a boundary, and hence that it is incoherent.

    The anti-materialist isn’t generally running an argument similar to the fallacious form of (1) (e.g. I can’t see how X could be material, so the notion that it’s material is incoherent, and hence X must be immaterial), but rather an argument similar to (2) (e.g. given the nature of corporeal bodies and given the nature of intentionality/intensionality, I can see that the former cannot be a bearer of properties denoted by the latter).

    You may of course criticize these arguments, but you first have to understand the sorts of logical moves they’re making.

  182. #182 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    “Except I just showed you that he provided an argument, not an “assumption”.”

    You did no such thing. As I explained, that was no argument. He restated his assumption.

    “The materialists say that matter does not possess qualitative properties. That is all “just in our mind.” So, as Feser says, OF COURSE you won’t be able to explain the mind in terms of matter, if you do that.”

    If I understand what you’re saying, you’re misrepresenting what the materialist says. The qualitative property doesn’t exist in the material of the red apple. Red “exists” in the material brain.

  183. #183 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Tulse,

    “Paging Mr. Descartes — Mr. Descartes to the white cogito phone, please”

    As I said, let’s try to keep on this side of sanity. If you want to argue we’re brains in a jar or tricked by an evil spirit, go ahead. I’ll throw tomatoes in response.

  184. #184 John
    March 27, 2013

    As far as I can see, this uncertainty principle proofs nothing. It is just an empirical finding. How to interpret it is completely open. In microcosm it proves the problem with empirical evidence and the always central role of reason.

    Anyway Another Matt, or any other so called materialist, did not answer my questions. As none of them here are apparently materialists in following the snark hunt of pure quantity, then;

    What is the definition of the physical world or whatever concept of matter you are using?

    Does it involve qualities irreducible to pure quantity? Does it involve intellectual elements, like logic, mathematical entities and so forth?

    Why the inane talk of opposition to anything immaterial as ghosts or spirits if you allow for these basic, non-material aspects of reality? As, apparently, you do by not hunting the snark of pure quantity.

  185. #185 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >As I explained, that was no argument.

    Sure he did. It was of the following form:

    1. No X are Y
    2. All Z are Y
    3. Therefore, no Z are X

    A logically valid argument, not an assumption.

    >The qualitative property doesn’t exist in the material of the red apple. Red “exists” in the material brain.

    As you’ll see if you read the article, red doesn’t exist in the material brain either because matter is devoid of such qualitative properties, per materialism. He explains the history behind this. See John Lock re: secondary and primary properties.

  186. #186 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >As I said, let’s try to keep on this side of sanity. If you want to argue we’re brains in a jar or tricked by an evil spirit, go ahead. I’ll throw tomatoes in response.

    The point is that we are more familiar with the mind than we are with matter. We don’t even know what matter really IS, strictly speaking. But we do know the mind because we are intimately familiar with it. This was Bertrand Russell’s point as well. See here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/road-from-atheism.html

    “Russell emphasized that physics really gives us very little knowledge of the material world. In particular, it gives us knowledge of its abstract structure, of what can be captured in equations and the like. But it gives us no knowledge of the intrinsic nature of matter, of the concrete reality that fleshes out the abstract structure. Introspection, by contrast, gives us direct knowledge of our thoughts and experiences. The upshot is that it is matter, and not mind, that is the really problematic side of the mind-body problem. “

  187. #187 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Eric,

    Thanks. That looks like a distinction without a difference. I acknowledge that there might be some kind of argument that an anti-materialist could make, but so far, they all look like arguments from ignorance and/or claims to knowledge they cannot have (for example: “given the nature of corporeal bodies and given the nature of intentionality/intensionality, I can see that the former cannot be a bearer of properties denoted by the latter”).

    I might be wrong.

  188. #188 John
    March 27, 2013

    I do love the inanity of the standard materialist arguments.

    Materialist: I going to (beg the question and) assume materialistic science is obviously going to explain the Mind.

    Anti-Materialist: But surely it logically cannot explain the Mind.

    Materialist: That is just an argument from ignorance.

    If you’re going to try and make the inane claim that something downright illogical might be true, but we just can’t understand it, then we won’t ever understand it: science ends there. Such a position is also indistinguishable from the Scientologist or anyone else who might claim illogical things are true, but we just can’t understand them.

    I’m still waiting for the materialists to explain shape according to pure quantity, let alone the “I”.

  189. #189 John
    March 27, 2013

    I’m always amused how so called empirical and skeptical individuals are so beholden to naturalism, and so anti-religion and any kind of traditional realism and morality, that instead of being willing to be skeptical of naturalism itself, they would rather abandon logic and reason and essentially undermine any meaningful science.

  190. #190 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Antimaterialist: “You have to accept my premisses.”
    Materialist: “No, I don’t.”

  191. #191 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    As much as you might wish it to be true, there is nothing illogical or contradictory about expecting that science one day might find a materialist account of [insert favorite mystery X].

    It seems to me this dispute is perfectly analogous to the vitalism vs materialism debates of 100 years ago. How did that turn out?

  192. #192 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >so far, they all look like arguments from ignorance

    They aren’t. And you should know this by now.

    Take the classical argument, which has roots in Plato. Oderberg gives it here:http://www.newdualism.org/papers/D.Oderberg/HylemorphicDualism2.htm

    “Concepts, propositions, and argu­ments are abstract; potential material loci for these items are concrete. The former are unextended; the latter are extended. The former are universals; the latter are particular. Nothing that is abstract, unextended, and universal could be embodied, located, or stored in anything concrete, extended, and particular. Therefore, the proper objects of intellectual activity can have no material embodiment or locus.”

    That would be like saying the Prime Minister could be a prime number. The Prime Minister is a concrete, extended being that is located in space. A prime number is abstract, unextended, and not located anywhere. So it is impossible for the Prime Minister to be a prime number. It isn’t saying that we just can’t see HOW the Prime Minister could be a prime number because we need to gather more info. It is saying that it is logically IMPOSSIBLE for him to be one. Similarly, the argument above is saying that it is logically impossible (broadly, at least) for the intellect to be brain activity.

    And it won’t do to bring out examples of computers, either. The electrons whizzing around in a computer only mean “1″ and “0″ because we assign that meaning to them, but in virtue of just their physical properties (spin, charge, mass, momentum, etc), they are just electrons with no meaning at all.

  193. #193 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    As I’ve explained above, “No X are Y” is either A) Feser’s misrepresentation of the materialist position or. B) Feser’s own assumption.

    “red doesn’t exist in the material brain either because matter is devoid of such qualitative properties,”

    And you continue begging the question. The question is whether “red” can be explained by the cellular relationships in the brain. I don’t care what Locke said or didn’t say. His science is dated. He certainly has no power to tell me what to think as a materialist. Neither does Feser.

  194. #194 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “A prime number is abstract, unextended, and not located anywhere.”

    Wrong. A prime number exist only in our brains. As far as we know, humans are the only things in the universe that understand the concept. As soon as we disappear, so will prime numbers.

  195. #195 Eric
    March 27, 2013

    “That looks like a distinction without a difference.”

    It’s most certainly not a distinction without a difference — indeed, it’s a pretty basic distinction.

    “I acknowledge that there might be some kind of argument that an anti-materialist could make, but so far, they all look like arguments from ignorance and/or claims to knowledge they cannot have”

    As I said, if you look a little more carefully at them, you’ll notice that they’re making a move to incoherence, not unintelligibility.

    Think about it this way: someone like Professor Feser is more than willing to grant that the doctrine of the Trinity is unintelligible, but not that it’s incoherent, since (as far as he’s concerned) no one has been able to demonstrate that it’s inherently contradictory. (*Whether* it is or isn’t is besides the point; the point is to bring out the real distinction between the unintelligible and the incoherent.) However, since he thinks that it can be shown that corporeal bodies cannot be bearers of certain properties we regularly attribute to certain mental states, and hence that certain mental states must be immaterial. Now you may disagree *whether* this has been shown, but don’t confuse *that* legitimate disagreement with, say, an argument from ignorance. (Here’s an example: Suppose I think that I can show that a prime number can’t be President of the United States, given both the nature of a prime number, and the nature of whatever we denote by the phrase, President of the United States. The issue here rather obviously wouldn’t be whether I’ve fallaciously moved from ignorance about the relevant natures we’re discussing, but whether in fact the the former cannot be attributed the properties of the latter…does that help?)

  196. #196 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >As I’ve explained above, “No X are Y” is either A) Feser’s misrepresentation of the materialist position or. B) Feser’s own assumption.

    And as Feser explains, see history. John Locke’s primary/secondary quality distinction. This still holds today. Materialists do not believe that secondary properties really exist “out there.”

    >The question is whether “red” can be explained by the cellular relationships in the brain.

    The premise in question is that materialism denies that qualitative properties exist “out there”. That they exist only as a projection of the mind. This is a fact. If you deny it, then you are not a materialist.

    >I don’t care what Locke said or didn’t say. His science is dated.

    It has nothing to do with science. The scientific revolution came about partially because the early moderns refocused their efforts on just the aspects of nature that can be measured mathematically. Since qualitative properties cannot, they went onto the “mind” side of the equation.

    >He certainly has no power to tell me what to think as a materialist.

    If you accept that qualitative properties really do exist in matter, independently of a person perceiving them, then you are not a materialist.

  197. #197 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John

    “I’m always amused how so called empirical and skeptical individuals are so beholden to naturalism, and so anti-religion and any kind of traditional realism and morality, that instead of being willing to be skeptical of naturalism itself, they would rather abandon logic and reason and essentially undermine any meaningful science.”

    I count seven straw men in that sentence.

  198. #198 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    The electrons whizzing around in a computer only mean “1″ and “0″ because we assign that meaning to them

    Wait, why isn’t that enough? Why does anything have to have meaning independent of whether or not there some someone for it to mean something to?

  199. #199 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Sorry — published too soon.

    Why does anything have to have meaning independent of whether or not there is someone there for it to mean something to?

    I don’t see what the point of having meaning be inherent to anything is.

  200. #200 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >I don’t see what the point of having meaning be inherent to anything is.

    Because otherwise you go to infinite regress. If A has its meaning assigned by B, but B’s meaning (“that A has meaning”) is assigned by C, and C’s meaning is assigned by D, then at some point you have to have the source of meaning. It makes no sense to say that A receives meaning, but that there is no giver of meaning. If there is no giver, then there can be no receiver.

  201. #201 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin

    “The point is that we are more familiar with the mind than we are with matter.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. I’m not sure it’s more than an anecdote. Yes, I’m very familiar with my own mind. I’m not at all familiar with yours. Regardless of what a philosopher like Russell asserts,, we have a much more detailed knowledge base concerning matter than we do with brains (or minds). Brains may be the most complex structures in the universe and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

  202. #202 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Eric,

    Yes, there is a difference between incoherence and unintelligibility.

  203. #203 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >Brains may be the most complex structures in the universe and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

    Russells point is that we are more intimately familiar with MINDS, not brains. We are more familiar with pain, beliefs, desires and so forth than we are with matter, which is abstractly described by math but…who knows what matter really IS?

  204. #204 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    I’m not sure I understand your question. When I say I’m a materialist, I’m saying there is nothing except those things that can be sensed and measured in some way, even if that’s only theoretical for the time being (as in say, love or beauty). Numbers, math and logic have no existence outside our brains. Once we’re gone, so are they (unless other life creates the same concepts).

  205. #205 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    “who knows what matter really IS?”

    Vic Stenger gave the best definition I have seen:
    Matter can be defined as stuff that kicks back when you kick it.

    Minds seem to qualify.

  206. #206 H.H.
    March 27, 2013

    Jordan said “If material processes can’t randomly produce a sonnet, on what grounds do we suppose that they can produce a human mind?”

    But material processes did produce a sonnet, just not through such a ridiculous route as your example.

    Matter, interacting with itself, is chemistry. Life is a special form of chemistry. Humans are mammals, which is a kind of evolved life. Intelligence is an evolved trait. One intelligent ape penned a sonnet. There have it. A sonnet from completely material processes.

    I don’t know what point you think seeing a monkey type a sonnet would prove about the truth of materialism since we are already hairless monkeys and we type sonnets. Or was your point that complete random noise will never produce a sonnet? Well, no shit. But randomness is not a synonym for materialism.

  207. #207 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >Matter can be defined as stuff that kicks back when you kick it.

    That doesn’t answer the question. Yes, electrons orbiting atoms repel the electrons of the matter when you kick it, thus making it “solid”. But this is all described mathematically, in terms of charge, spin, and so forth. But what IS it that is being described thusly? That was Russell’s point that physics describes things abstractly but does not give us information about what it is that is being so described. That fills out that abstract mathematical description. Like describing a box in terms of its length width and height, but still not knowing if the box is wood, metal, plush, etc.

  208. #208 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “Russells point is that we are more intimately familiar with MINDS, not brains.”

    At the time Russell said this, the quackery known as psychoanalysis was the rage. Russell overstated his case a great deal, imo.

  209. #209 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >One intelligent ape penned a sonnet. There have it. A sonnet from completely material processes.

    This of course doesn’t answer the question at all. Admittedly, perhaps Jordan didn’t phrase it very well.

    The problem goes much deeper than this whole randomness vs natural selection issue. There are many issues involved that would need to be treated, but one example would be that a sonnet would be about some topic. Say, a forest. But “forests”, considered as a concept, does not refer to a particular forest located somewhere, but rather just forests in general, apart from any particular forest. An abstract concept not extended, or concrete. And see above for the Oderberg article: nothing concrete and extended can contain or embody something that is abstract and unextended. And so the intellect doing the composing of the sonnet about forests is, therefore, not a material intellect.

  210. #210 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >At the time Russell said this, the quackery known as psychoanalysis was the rage. Russell overstated his case a great deal, imo.

    I don’t know what psychoanalysis has to do with anything. And that is guilt-by-association anyway. Whether psychoanalysis is quackery or not has little to do with the fact that you have intimate familiarity with pain (and other mental events), but you do not have intimate familiarity with electrons. You only have abstract mathematical knowledge of electrons.

  211. #211 John
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt, which premises? Logic? reason?Not relying on complete inanity and nonsense?

    BeingItself, it is illogical to think that pure quantity can produce quality. It is illogical to think that what lacks secondary qualities, like colour, can create them. It is illogical to think that objectivity and consciousness can be created by non-conscious physical material. What is being asserted by the materialists is that 2+2 will equal 5 in the future. It is the very definition of illogical.

    If someone said to you they had an intuition that in the future it will be proved that 2+2 will equal 5, I think you’d be a little skeptical, although, of course, the skepticism of most naturalists stops when it comes to naturalism itself.

    At no time, here or elsewhere, have I seen a glimmer of a suggestion otherwise.

    DonJindra, You have just moved the problem of qualities and intellectuals to the Mind; you haven’t even begun to explain it or reduce these aspects to matter or the physical world, or however you wish to define it.

    Anyway, in what sense do we measure something? We measure in terms of something else. That means measure is relative and explains nothing absolute in itself. Besides, it is impossible to measure the extension of anything with any precision as a point is indefinitely large and indefinitely small.

    And will a materialist please explain how to reduce the difference between shapes to pure quantity? If they can’t do this, how can they even begin to explain Mind?

  212. #212 John
    March 27, 2013

    The universe, at a basic level, is not randomly arranged and operates according to teleology. We see this in regular and orderly cause and effect. As has been recognised since ancient times, and was forcefully put by both the Angelic Doctor and that great fat fellow (Hume), if there was no teleology, if things did not act for the good or according to final causation, and only operated according to efficient or immediate causation, there would be no reason why one particular effect should follow, regularly and orderly, a particular cause. It is only because there are basic, end orientated causal processes in the very fabric of existence that there is basic cause and effect.

  213. #213 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “I don’t know what psychoanalysis has to do with anything.”

    We’re discussing mind and what we know about it. Psychoanalysis claimed to unlock the mysteries of the mind. It was bogus science. That’s the era Russell lived in. They knew virtually nothing about mind. Russell was familiar with his own mind like a chimp is familiar with a banana. That is completely unrelated to knowledge of what mind is and how it works.

    “You only have abstract mathematical knowledge of electrons.”

    Yet this “abstract” knowledge allows us to make extremely consistent and accurate predictions about how matter will behave. We’re nowhere close to that ability with objects governed by minds. So what does this so-called familiarity with our own minds really get us? What sort of knowledge do we have? I think we have virtually none. The jumbled mess that comes out of schools of psychology, sociology, philosophy and politics confirms our ignorant state concerning ourselves. Position that against what comes out of biology, chemistry and physics.

  214. #214 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    To add to what John is saying:

    >DonJindra, You have just moved the problem of qualities and intellectuals to the Mind

    And there is another criticism of materialism. They remove what doesn’t fit the materialist picture of the world and relocate it to the mind. Purpose doesn’t really exist “out there”. It’s all just in our minds. Abstract objects don’t really exist. They are just in our minds.

    And this technique is what will make the mind nothing less than completely inexplicable in materialist terms.

    As Feser says, this is like cleaning a house by sweeping all the dirt under a single rug, and then claiming that you will get rid of the rug using the same method.

    See The Materialist Shell Game: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/06/materialist-shell-game.html

  215. #215 John
    March 27, 2013

    . “But randomness is not a synonym for materialism.”

    Yes, it is, in a sense. Materialism is mechanistic, therefore it rules out any form of teleology or final causation – see above fo what that means.

  216. #216 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >Yet this “abstract” knowledge allows us to make extremely consistent and accurate predictions about how matter will behave.

    Yes, that is exactly the point. They wanted to be able to predict and control nature, and the best way to do this is to measure what can be measured, and write off all the other features of the world as just projections of the mind. The mind served as the convenient “rug” under which to sweep everything else that didn’t fit that mold. Secondary properties, purpose and meaning, abstract objects? They don’t really exist out there. They are just projections of the mind.

    Feser:

    “This both facilitated the giving of “naturalistic explanations” – since whatever wouldn’t fit the naturalistic-cum- mechanistic explanatory model was simply defined away as a mere mental projection in the first place, not part of the material world at all – but also guaranteed that the mind would be uniquely resistant to the same sort of explanatory procedure. For the mind was made the rug under which everything that wouldn’t fit the naturalistic model could be swept. By definition, as it were, the same “sweeping” strategy cannot possibly be applied to the mind itself.”

    From here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/06/materialist-shell-game.html

  217. #217 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    But “forests”, considered as a concept, does not refer to a particular forest located somewhere, but rather just forests in general, apart from any particular forest. An abstract concept not extended, or concrete. And see above for the Oderberg article: nothing concrete and extended can contain or embody something that is abstract and unextended. And so the intellect doing the composing of the sonnet about forests is, therefore, not a material intellect.

    I’m sorry, but does anyone really find this convincing? “Nothing concrete and extended can contain or embody something that is abstract and unextended.” Why? I just read through the Oderberg; he keeps coming back to the idea that either there is an “ontological mismatch” (he does not seem to say why it matters), or to the idea that an abstract idea is “too big to fit” in the amount of brainstuff we have, or that there is a “potential infinity” of concepts the human mind can store and no material brain could store an infinity of anything. This just seems to be an intuition that isn’t obvious at all to everyone.

    And still there’s no sense of why we would expect anything immaterial to have the right kind and amount of storage capacity.

    1. “A brain could not store a potential infinity of abstractions. What is needed is something immaterial that can store a potential infinity of abstractions and matches them ontologically.”
    2. “A soul is something immaterial which has potential-infinity-of-abstractions-storing-power and is abstraction-ontology-matching, as desired.”
    QED

  218. #218 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “And see above for the Oderberg article: nothing concrete and extended can contain or embody something that is abstract and unextended. And so the intellect doing the composing of the sonnet about forests is, therefore, not a material intellect.”

    Oderberg misses the obvious. The abstract concept of a forest is within me. I’m material. Therefore I have empirical evidence that something concrete and extended can “contain” or “embody” something that is abstract and unextended.

    This is simply how brains work. They could not function if they were not designed to form generalizations from particulars. That goes down to insect brains.

  219. #219 John
    March 27, 2013

    “So what does this so-called familiarity with our own minds really get us?”

    Have you read Shakespeare? Have you read Plato? Have you visited the Hagia Sophia or Winchester Cathedral?

    Personally, as I’m not a rabid, natural science obsessed loon or begging the question in favour of the kind of success granted by the scientific methods, I’ll take these as representing far more important kinds of knowledge than anything provided by natural science.

    King Lear is worth more than centuries of natural science, and you will learn more of humanity from Shakespeare than you ever will from biology or psychology.

  220. #220 John
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt, again you seem to miss the entire point in the realism versus nominalism discussions.

    Forest is all material forests and it is none. It is an abstraction out of these forests. It is the defining feature of them as forests, without they’d just be part of an endless process of which we could not draw out any such definitions.

    The point about immaterial storage is nonsensical. The intellectual is non-extended and non-individuated. It seems you lack basic knowledge on this topic, so why are you discussing it?

  221. #221 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >“too big to fit” in the amount of brainstuff we have

    That’s not it at all. It’s that an abstract object is not material, by definition. So a thought about something abstract cannot be something material.

    Try to draw a picture of “forests”, the concept. Not A forest, mind you, but “forestness.”

    You can’t do it. As soon as you try to draw “forestness”, the concept, you will find that you have drawn a particular forest. A concrete individual, not an abstract concept.

    It’s impossible to make a material representation of an abstract concept.

  222. #222 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    >The abstract concept of a forest is within me. I’m material.

    Whether you (your mind) IS material or not is precisely the view in question, so you cannot assume this is true to defeat the argument. You are just arguing in a circle:

    1. Materialism is true
    2. Therefore, dualism is false

  223. #223 John
    March 27, 2013

    To go back to Plato, if there were no Forms (the word abstract is not the best word) then all would be flux. There would be no changeless, ultimate causes. We couldn’t say such and such was red because redness itself would simply be flux. All we could say is indeterminate X is indeterminately indeterminate. Any science, natural or intellectual, would be useless.

    This is why the Second Voyage was required, because any true understanding and knowledge requires intellectual causes – it presupposes them.

  224. #224 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    Here is an empirical exercise you can do to prove the immateriality of the human intellect:

    Task #1: Picture a circle in your mind. Make it, I don’t know, red. Can you see it? Good.

    Task #2: Understand what circularity is. Don’t necessarily picture a circle (although you can if you want). Just think about the definition of a circle. What it is for something to be a circle. The general concept of circularity. Understand it. Consider how you understand what it is to be a circle rather than a triangle. Got it? Good.

    Now, try the following two tasks:

    Task #1A: Draw a picture of the red circle you imagined above. Can you do it? No problem.

    Task #2A: Draw a picture of circularity. Not an individual circle, but the concept of “circularity”. Draw it. Can’t do it, can you? As soon as you try, you will have drawn a single, individual circle, but not circularity itself. It’s impossible.

    Thus showing, empirically, that the imagination (picturing a circle in your mind) is a material brain process, but the intellect or understanding (to grasp what it is to be circular) is not.

  225. #225 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “Have you read Shakespeare? Have you read Plato?”

    Yes, I was an English major during some weak semesters.. I’ve read The Republic three times in the last year. I’ve read many of the other dialogues recently. If you’ve read Plato yourself you know Socrates doesn’t really provide answers. He asks questions. He hopes to get his students to uncover truths already inside them. Well, it’s interesting stuff but it doesn’t pass for knowledge. Modern science left that sort of endless, rootless questioning behind it centuries ago. Bacon was right.

    “Personally, as I’m not a rabid, natural science obsessed loon or begging the question in favour of the kind of success granted by the scientific methods,”

    Me neither.

    “you will learn more of humanity from Shakespeare than you ever will from biology or psychology.”

    Hopefully biology doesn’t try to teach humanity. I would hesitate to defend psychology against anything. Yes, King Lear is better than Skinner.

  226. #226 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    You can’t do it. As soon as you try to draw “forestness”, the concept, you will find that you have drawn a particular forest. A concrete individual, not an abstract concept.

    It’s impossible to make a material representation of an abstract concept.

    There are lots of ways this could happen without having to draw a picture. A set of sufficient conditions would work fine; plenty of other approaches work, too.

    Have you heard of “machine learning?” Consider the various representation of the capital letter Q in as many handwriting styles and typefaces. Presumably they all embody some kind of “Q-ness” that, according to you, can’t be represented materially.

    The thing is, you can train a computer by feeding it examples and tell it “this is a Q” (the label doesn’t matter). It eventually learns to recognize Q’s as well as any human even in handwriting and typefaces it has never seen. It’s generalized from individuals and stored the concept enough to be competent with new examples.

    Usually the computer’s models of a concept are extremely difficult to tease apart post-hoc because the concept is distributed across lots of data structures.

  227. #227 Martin
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt,

    I already said why comparison to computers will not work: The electrons whizzing around in a computer only mean “1″ and “0″ because we assign that meaning to them, but in virtue of just their physical properties (spin, charge, mass, momentum, etc), they are just electrons with no meaning at all.

  228. #228 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt,

    “I just read through the Oderberg; he keeps coming back to the idea that either there is an “ontological mismatch” (he does not seem to say why it matters), or to the idea that an abstract idea is “too big to fit” in the amount of brainstuff we have, or that there is a “potential infinity” of concepts the human mind can store and no material brain could store an infinity of anything.”

    I agree with you. Oderberg has that exactly wrong and it’s one reason why these A-T philosophers muddle everything.

    If brains were not designed to generalize they could never make sense of the world. No brain would be big enough. They would have to know every particular. No chimp could find bananas except through blind chance. Everything animals experience would be new — a different time, place, or object.

    We see the sun rise today. Tomorrow we see another. If brains didn’t automatically relate that those experiences, somehow connect they are similar, every sunrise would be disconnected from the others. How would such a brain function?

  229. #229 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “The electrons whizzing around in a computer only mean “1″ and “0″ because we assign that meaning to them, but in virtue of just their physical properties (spin, charge, mass, momentum, etc), they are just electrons with no meaning at all.”

    In an artificially intelligent machine — one that learns — those 1s and 0s whizzing around are trained by experience.

    So are we.

    That ability to grasp “forest” in a general sense is innate but we are not born with the knowledge of what a forest is. If, supposedly, a universal cannot be embodied by the material, why does it require the material world to “program” this concept in us in the first place? What is the fundamental difference between *forming* a concept and *containing* a concept? Where is this concept contained as it forms? It seems nonsensical, if not contradictory, to claim the very material world that is *required* to form the universal cannot also *contain* it.

  230. #230 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    In an artificially intelligent machine — one that learns — those 1s and 0s whizzing around are trained by experience.

    Moreover, in many cases it’s turned out to be easier, more efficient, and more reliable to program a computer to learn to recognize things like written or spoken words experientially rather than to try to program it to operate directly.

  231. #231 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    “Task #2A: Draw a picture of circularity. Not an individual circle, but the concept of ‘circularity’.”

    (x−h)^2+(y−k)^2=r^2

  232. #232 John
    March 27, 2013

    The kind of knowledge that Socrates and Plato wants us to uncover is the only real knowledge, it is the knowledge of the essence of things imprinted in our being. It is a knowledge of things in themselves, in the changeless, ultimate causes- which is true knowledge and wisdom. Natural science does not provide knowledge as it is aimed only at the flux of becoming, which we can have no certain knowledge of, as it is indeterminate and always in change.

    Socratic Elenchus is not aimed at simply creating puzzles. It is aimed at creating an intuitive grasp of essential truth, although, as the written works of Plato were never meant to stand on their own.

    Besides, natural science provides no knowledge of anything truly worthwhile: Goodness, virtue, beauty, purpose, and so forth.

  233. #233 John
    March 27, 2013

    How can the material world program (why, oh why must inane computerised phrases be used?) into us what we don’t already have the potential for?

    The electrons are not trained to give meaning by experience. The meaning is in us, not in the computer.

    I think the nominalists here really need to learn the first thing about the topic. This sort of commentary is embarrassing:

    “If brains were not designed to generalize they could never make sense of the world. No brain would be big enough. They would have to know every particular. ”

    How brains generalise and what it means for something to be general and particular is just what is in dispute. You are just borrowing from realism.

  234. #234 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    Your thought experiment does not show what you think it shows.

    Even if I were to grant that “circularity” exists immaterially somehow independently of our brains and independently of circles, that does not mean my thoughts about and understanding of circularity is also immaterial.

  235. #235 John
    March 27, 2013

    “Even if I were to grant that “circularity” exists immaterially somehow independently of our brains and independently of circles, that does not mean my thoughts about and understanding of circularity is also immaterial.”

    Don’t you ever feel embarrassed after you post? Seriously.

  236. #236 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    Oderberg has that exactly wrong and it’s one reason why these A-T philosophers muddle everything.

    I think so, too. For instance, I think of the concept “oblate spheroid” as a useful approximation of things in the world, like planets. Others’ intuition on this seems to run in the opposite direction — planets are “imperfect oblate spheroids,” (or substitute whatever phrasing you want). I suppose I could get it figuratively, but they seem to take it literally.

  237. #237 John
    March 27, 2013

    ““Task #2A: Draw a picture of circularity. Not an individual circle, but the concept of ‘circularity’.”

    (x−h)^2+(y−k)^2=r^2″

    If I describe a human being in writing, is that description identical to humanity?

  238. #238 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    The electrons are not trained to give meaning by experience. The meaning is in us, not in the computer.

    Are you saying that a chess-playing computer doesn’t really play chess, because the meaning of the chess moves it takes is not in the computer?

    Or that those cars which drive themselves across various terrains without human assistance aren’t really navigating or responding to their environments?

  239. #239 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    Are my thoughts about a pony a pony?

    If (and that is a big if) circularity exists immaterially, that does not mean my thoughts about circularity are immaterial.

  240. #240 John
    March 27, 2013

    I’m saying that, in the same way as writing on paper only has meaning in relation to human recognition of that meaning, the meaning in computers derives from meaning in the human mind.

    This is pretty basic stuff. A computer can be programmed to calculate 2+2=4, but the only meaning of those symbols which represent numbers in in the human mind. They have no meaning for the computer and could just as easily be 2+2=233.

  241. #241 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    I don’t care about 2+2=4 without context. If the self-driving car finds itself in a situation where it needs to depend on 2+2=4 meaning 2+2=4 in order to respond appropriately to its environment, then that’s what it means, just in virtue of its having successfully navigated its terrain. No symbols “2+2=4″ need to show up on any screen, and no human need know that it used the flow of electrons to make the calculation.

  242. #242 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “The kind of knowledge that Socrates and Plato wants us to uncover is the only real knowledge, it is the knowledge of the essence of things imprinted in our being.”

    You’ve make a value judgment. If it works for you, go for it. But what you call “knowledge” may not be. It may be nothing more than a collection of opinions and feelings. One thing is certain. If you can’t communicate your “knowledge” in a more compelling way than Plato did, we’ll have no idea if you’ve stumbled on anything at all.

  243. #243 John
    March 27, 2013

    BeingItself

    It isn’t a big if. Nominalism and materialism are utterly incoherent. As has been shown in this combox repeatedly. Indeed, we no decent definition of what you mean by immaterial has been given.

    Can you please explain how a lump of matter can be about another lump of matter? Please explain how your a physical brain could think of a pony? How can this relationship exist?

    If we can grasp circularity, and this is what we grasp when we try to produce circularity or have any idea of it or dialectical explanation of it, then it is immaterial. We cannot have grasped this knowledge materially, because circularity does not exist materially. The same is true of equality. This doesn’t exist in the material world. There are no two exactly equal things, yet we have knowledge of equality and it informs what we consider ‘equal’ in the material world.

  244. #244 John
    March 27, 2013

    Another Matt, please try and post without begging the question.

    The point is about understanding and meaning. You are simply assuming a computer does this. If a computer does not carry on its function according to the meaning of the inputs, then for the computer they have no meaning. If a computer adds 2+2=4 not according to the mathematical meaning of these symbols, then they have no meaning for the computer. If we could just as easily change the computer to add 2+2=233, then the meaning is only our own.

  245. #245 John
    March 27, 2013

    Personally, I’m still waiting for the so called materialists here to show how we can reduce shape to pure quantity.

  246. #246 John
    March 27, 2013

    Don Jindra, you give no explanation of how I was making value judgments.

    Plato is the most influential philosopher in Western history. I think he communicated his meaning quite well, although he was well aware, as you clearly are not, of the limits of the written word.

  247. #247 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “You have just moved the problem of qualities and intellectuals to the Mind; you haven’t even begun to explain it or reduce these aspects to matter or the physical world”

    I moved those problems to the brain. Of course I haven’t explained how the brain does what it does. And you haven’t explained how your position offers better hope for an explanation. At least I know the brain exists. What do you have? You *feel* there must be more to it than that? You’re impatient because you think we should have figured out how we generalize and how to cure cancer by sometime last week? Sorry, I’m not buying.

  248. #248 John
    March 27, 2013

    You couldn’t make this stuff up.

    You moved logic, number (qualitative), and all similar qualitative and intellectual elements to the brain. You don’t really define what you mean by the brain, but we are to gather it ultimately is made up of stuff devoid of actual or potential qualitative and intellectual properties. You give no explanation of how we can even imagine such an organ bringing to being these intellectual and qualitative elements.

    I think a better solution would be to avoid basic stupidity and foolishness. That would be a start.

    My position recognises that saying I’m sure 2+2 will eventually be recognised to equal 5 is bloody stupid. My position recognises that if you define all intellectual and qualitative elements out of something you can hardly expect that something to produce these elements.

  249. #249 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    I realize that it irritates you that I don’t find question begging arguments and arguments from ignorance persuasive.

    If you guys had a knock down argument against physicalism, then would not the overwhelming majority of philosophers know about it?

  250. #250 Another Matt
    March 27, 2013

    If you guys had a knock down argument against physicalism, then would not the overwhelming majority of philosophers know about it?

    They don’t know about it because they love sinning so much. ;)

  251. #251 John
    March 27, 2013

    BeingItself, I see you utterly ignored basic questions about your position and just repeated senseless accusations that you didn’t even bother to try and link to the arguments against you in any clear sense (which questions were begged? We are left totally in the dark – which is clear proof you are just making stuff up and putting your fingers in your ears).

    Why not take some time to actually investigate the issues, instead of being a blind ideologue?

    From ancient times until the 1960s pure materialism was considered utterly incoherent. So, yes, an overwhelmingly majority of philosophers have realised this. It is simply a lack of knowledge of the history of thought and a childish awe of natural science that has caused many analytical so called philosophers to accept materialism.

  252. #252 John
    March 27, 2013

    “They don’t know about it because they love sinning so much. ”

    Essentially yes. Apart from just plain ignorance of the history of thought and having a massive happy for natural science, a major reason is a massive animus to religion and traditional morality and anything like that. Materialism has a larger following amongst contemporary analytically trained philosophers (who are far from the only kind today), to a degree, because otherwise they fear they might be forced to admit it is not okay not to put your genitals wherever you feel like it or that voting for left-liberals isn’t always the right choice.

  253. #253 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    Martin,

    I’m very familiar with Feser’s ideology. I’m familiar with his rhetorical games and outright lies. I’m familiar with his hypocritical critique of materialism. When he accuses materialists of sweeping things under a rug, I have to laugh. His “explanations” are exactly that. Why does glass break? It’s final cause! Yeah, that explains it. He throws a rug of vague, mystical descriptions over fundamental questions.

    Final cause explains nothing. Dualism explains nothing.

  254. #254 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “Don Jindra, you give no explanation of how I was making value judgments.”

    I thought it was obvious. When you claim your sort of truth is more important than, say, Einsteins sort of truth, that’s a value judgment. Or maybe you could provide me with a objective measure we could apply to these “truths.” We could start by asking how true they are or if they’re true at all.

  255. #255 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “The point is about understanding and meaning. You are simply assuming a computer does this.”

    No, that was not the point. The issue was generalization. It was denied that the purely material could form generalizations. It could be that meaning is merely an advanced form of generalization but that’s another issue. Clearly a computer can generalize. It can recognize handwriting and spoken language. So the original assertion is false. The material computer can “contain” an ability to recognize universals.

  256. #256 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “Personally, I’m still waiting for the so called materialists here to show how we can reduce shape to pure quantity.”

    I’d take a stab at it but I have no idea what you mean. Shape is an arrangement of quantities as far as I can tell.

  257. #257 John
    March 27, 2013

    And I thought it was obvious because I was talking about truths more important to humans in their whole nature. It is also the case that the knowledge I’m talking about is a more complete knowledge of things in themselves and of higher ontological realities.

    We have been discussing a lot of these truths in this thread.

  258. #258 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “If I describe a human being in writing, is that description identical to humanity?”

    The challenge concerned circles, not people. People can’t be easily described with language. But yes, they can be described. Their humanity can be described, even if clumsily (as compared to math). You admitted so yourself. You mentioned King Lear specifically.

  259. #259 John
    March 27, 2013

    So the difference between a triangle and a square is reducible to pure quantity?

  260. #260 John
    March 27, 2013

    The computer only recognises universals if it can recognise anything or k now any meaning. If it is just a mechanical thing that reacts to certain other mechanical things, then it recognises nothing.

  261. #261 John
    March 27, 2013

    Don Jindra, you appear not to be able to see a difference between description and the thing itself, that is the point. That description of circularity is not circularity. The theory of gravity as a written thing is not gravity itself. This should be obvious.

  262. #262 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John

    “a major reason is a massive animus to religion and traditional morality and anything like that.”

    That is such a crock.

    You drag out your New Age crystal ball and imagine why we want to be materialists. But you’re totally clueless about our moral behavior. I’d be willing to bet, if such a measure were possible, that I’d come out as good as you on that issue. When people have to throw around pointless and toothless accusations then I know they’re losing the argument.

    It may sound corny but truth is my only motivation.

  263. #263 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    Do you have any understanding of burden of proof?

    We both agree that I am in some sense a physical body with a physical brain, and that my thoughts and intellect have some relation to my physical brain. So we agree somewhat about the furniture of the universe.

    But you want to posit something additional. Something immaterial about my thoughts and intellect, that we do not yet agree on. It is your burden to convince me that this additional furniture exists.

    I cannot answer all of your questions. I am comfortable not knowing. I would like to answer the questions, but as of yet I cannot. I do not pretend to know things I do not know.

  264. #264 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    Also, you hang too much on the real existence of universals. A person can be a Platonist about abstractions and a physicalist about the mind.

  265. #265 John
    March 27, 2013

    Don Jindra,

    This argument has been won by the immaterialists. The so called materialists have just ended up looking incoherent, foolish, and out of depth.

    My point was about why many analytical philosophers today are materialists, as someone brought up this point. I could just as easily ask why almost all philosophers before the 60s thought materialism was incoherent. I know I’ll be treated to ignorant nonsense, though, about advances in science, as if they basic issues were not known as far back as archaic Greece.

  266. #266 DonJindra
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    “Don Jindra, you appear not to be able to see a difference between description and the thing itself, that is the point.”

    You’re jumping to a false conclusion. The issue I’m talking about is universals. No universal is the thing in itself. So I think you’re bringing up a false issue. OTOH, maybe you’re a platonist and actually do think forms are ultimate reality. In that case I’ll say you don’t understand things in themselves.

  267. #267 John
    March 27, 2013

    BeingItself, what is this definition of physical bodies you are using? Until you define that then babble about the burden of proof is meaningless.

    And actually, most people agree that intellectual and qualitative aspects are not identical to matter, so you basic framework doesn’t hold up.

  268. #268 John
    March 27, 2013

    I like how you admitted you don’t know what you’re talking about thought, BeingItself.

    As Mind is synonymous with intellectual and qualitative elements, you can hardly admit these into reality and not into mind.

  269. #269 BeingItself
    March 27, 2013

    John,

    Never mind. If you refuse to even acknowledge that tiny sliver of common ground I offered, then any dialogue between us is hopeless.

    So, I will declare victory and go to bed.

  270. #270 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    John

    “This argument has been won by the immaterialists. The so called materialists have just ended up looking incoherent, foolish, and out of depth.”

    No position you’ve taken has been won by immaterialists. And that’s the core of the problem. When non-material aspects sneak their way in, then soon all objective standards are abandoned. In that environment there can be no winners.

  271. #271 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    John,

    “So the difference between a triangle and a square is reducible to pure quantity?”

    I’ll assume you’re referring to the abstractions, not physical instances. The difference between the abstractions is not reducible to pure quantity because abstractions reduce to definitions (whether in English, math or geometry). Definitions are not strictly quantity — like an unknown variable in math is not strictly a quantity. It’s a stand-in for quantities to be specified (or solved) later. It usually specifies a set of relationships, actual data to be determined later.

  272. #272 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    John,

    “The electrons are not trained to give meaning by experience. The meaning is in us, not in the computer. I think the nominalists here really need to learn the first thing about the topic. This sort of commentary is embarrassing:”

    There’s no reason for me to be embarrassed since it’s you who changed to topic from recognition of universals to “meaning.”

    You still haven’t answered my question: How come our recognition of universals absolutely depends on experience?

    We form our concept of apples only by experiencing apples or physical representations of apples. So the universal “apple” cannot exist without experiencing material instances of some sort. Those experiences form “apple.” So how can anyone claim “apple” suddenly detaches from the material world after the material world formed it? What would instigate this separation?

  273. #273 MNb
    March 28, 2013

    Of course the immaterialist John has won the debate. I knew that would happen after reading @27 “When it comes to Rosenhouse’s reply is pitiful.”
    His goal is to win debates – others want to gain knowledge.

  274. #274 Verbose Stoic
    March 28, 2013

    BeingItself,

    Apples have the property of being red. Apples are made out of atoms, none of which are red.

    Someone else already addressed this, but I want to take the example and run with it, because it seems that the standard materialist way of using this argument is to essentially say that you don’t need to worry about or have an explanation for how to get from one set of properties to the other, relying on everyone accepting that you can get from the properties of atoms to the red experience. But the issue with the example is that we all accept that simply because we HAVE the explanation we’re looking for. We can point to the properties of the atoms in the object that lead it to absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, and point out that the wavelength of light that remains is the wavelength that when it hits the retina produces red experiences through the visual processing explanation. We therefore, HAVE the full explanation, and so accept it. That in no way suggests that we should accept ANY case where you posit that you go from one set of properties to another property that the original set doesn’t possess.

    In short, it doesn’t demonstrate that you don’t need an explanation, but rather the opposite: for all the cases where materialism won, it was BECAUSE we had that explanation that it won. Without that explanation, you aren’t even in the ball game.

    On a related note:

    MNb,

    Not that it hasn’t been mentioned a thousand times before, but dualism, including a la Feser, doesn’t explain the phenomenal look of colors (whatever that means for someone who is colour blind) and so forth either.

    But the thing is … we don’t have to. We are not saying that mental properties are really physical properties, or are necessarily defined by physical properties. All forms of dualism simply say this: there are entities and/or properties that can be properly called “mental” and cannot be properly called physical. So the project for dualists is actually a descriptive one: list out all the mental properties and define out what they are. The materialist, on the other hand, if they want to make the conceptual argument can’t do this. They have to either reduce or eliminate mental properties to or in favour of physical properties. And that requires you to explain how you can indeed reduce the mental properties to those physical properties. You can’t just give a list and go on your merry way, but dualists can because they treat them as distinct properties.

    Now, if the materialist argues that those mental properties are simply IMPLEMENTED by physical properties — supervenience, functionalism, and emergence tend to take that tack — in certain specific cases then that’s not as controversial, but still requires you to demonstrate that they are actually implemented by that, preserving the mental properties as distinct properties in their own right.

    Another Matt,

    1. Given the materialist’s own conception of matter, fictional characters such as Sherlock, Santa, and Cupid as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself.
    2. But these characters do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world (Santa lives on in the hearts and minds of children!).
    3. Therefore, there exist features of the world — namely these fictional characters — that are not material or physical features.

    Yes, and even in that case if the materialist wants to claim that everything that exists is material and also that fictional characters exist, they have some ‘splaining to do; either their conception of materialism is wrong, or it isn’t the case that everything that exists is material, or else the argument is wrong for reasons the materialist can provide.

    DonJindra,

    We form our concept of apples only by experiencing apples or physical representations of apples. So the universal “apple” cannot exist without experiencing material instances of some sort. Those experiences form “apple.” So how can anyone claim “apple” suddenly detaches from the material world after the material world formed it? What would instigate this separation?

    This doesn’t follow. We do come to understand or apprehend the universal “appleness” through experiencing apples, but that does not mean that the concept or universal of appleness doesn’t exist without experiences of apples, and depends on that for its existence. For example, it is possible to have concepts for which there are no instances, and can never be instances (say, actual square circles or anything that is logically impossible). So you have no reason to think that because we learn about apples by experiencing apples that therefore the concept of “apple” does not exist without actual apples, and from there we return to all of the previous arguments for why the universal apple can’t be the material apple, for better or for worse.

  275. #275 David
    March 28, 2013

    @Verbose Stoic: “Yes, and even in that case if the materialist wants to claim that everything that exists is material and also that fictional characters exist, they have some ‘splaining to do; either their conception of materialism is wrong, or it isn’t the case that everything that exists is material, or else the argument is wrong for reasons the materialist can provide.” – I believe I already addressed this issue with Another Matt. What he believes – I gather – is that materialism is true, meaning that *all material objects are made of matter*. (If only he was more clear in expressing his view, instead of obfuscating its triviality.)

    @BeingItself: “Invoking something mysterious, like an immaterial soul, to explain the mystery of consciousness, is not an explanation.” – So you’re saying that consciousness is a mystery? What makes it a mystery? The fact that you can’t explain it in your (materialist) conceptual framework? What you are failing to understand is that it is not a mystery in non-materialist frameworks (i.e., you are stuck in the mental rut of your dogma and simply begging the question without realizing it).

  276. #276 David
    March 28, 2013

    @BeingItself: “Do you have any understanding of burden of proof?” – oo, oo, I do! (You don’t.)

    “We both agree that I am in some sense a physical body with a physical brain, and that my thoughts and intellect have some relation to my physical brain. So we agree somewhat about the furniture of the universe.” – Right.

    “But you want to posit something additional.” – So do you! (You want to posit your evidence-free dogma about the purely material nature of thoughts and the intellect.)

    “Something immaterial about my thoughts and intellect, that we do not yet agree on.” – Right – so what was your point about ‘burdens of proof’? (You don’t understand how they work.)

  277. #277 David
    March 28, 2013

    …and neither does Rosenhouse, as is obvious when you look at his utterly inept attempt to analyse the meaning of the term ‘prima facie’.

  278. #278 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    Verbose Stoic,

    “For example, it is possible to have concepts for which there are no instances, and can never be instances (say, actual square circles or anything that is logically impossible).”

    That’s a can of worms. I think you cannot conceive of or imagine that squared circle. Saying you can is not the equivalent of actually doing it.

    But even if I grant that you can imagine squared circles, you still depend on the concepts of circle and square. Those you learned through experience. There is simply no way around this. You can mix and recombine concepts (universals) you already possess but these are no more than combinations of past experience.

    All universals are gained only through experience and absolutely dependent on experience. But you say it doesn’t follow that the universal itself is therefore material in nature. I’d like you to explain how this is possible. How can the immaterial use the material to create copies of itself? What’s the mechanics of this interaction? If the immaterial acts upon the material, doesn’t this imply force and doesn’t this make the immaterial material?

    Is memory immaterial?

    Universals are formed in our brains by collecting a sample of memories. One memory of an apple doesn’t create a universal. Maybe it takes two memories of separate apples. Maybe it takes a dozen. But at some point we grasp the concept of “apple.” We form this universal from those memories. Those are physical (material) memories. Surely you won’t deny memory is immaterial. After all, I have a gig of it in this computer. It cost about $25.

    So how do these material memories in our brains suddenly coalesce into a supposed non-material universal? If something new is added to the mix — a secret ingredient — when was it slipped in and how did it occur?

    I’m looking forward to your explanations.

  279. #279 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    Verbose Stoic

    “n short, it doesn’t demonstrate that you don’t need an explanation, but rather the opposite: for all the cases where materialism won, it was BECAUSE we had that explanation that it won. Without that explanation, you aren’t even in the ball game.”

    Now apply this same reasoning to the universal. What is your explanation for the change in properties? going from material experience to immaterial universals?

  280. #280 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “What you are failing to understand is that it is not a mystery in non-materialist frameworks”

    Sure it is. The immaterialists have offered nothing but mystery piled upon mystery.

  281. #281 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    Verbose Stoic,

    “So the project for dualists is actually a descriptive one: list out all the mental properties and define out what they are.”

    I’m really glad you admitted that. It’s what I’ve been saying for years. Dualists like Feser offer definitions. They aren’t interested in explanations. I often accused Feser’s cronies of arguing through finer and more obscure definitions — of playing rhetorical games. Of course it was denied. But as you admit, I was right all along.

  282. #282 David
    March 28, 2013

    @Don Jindra: “The immaterialists have offered nothing but mystery piled upon mystery.” – Oh? That *would* be mysterious. Is it true? *Can* a brain-fart like that be true? I doubt it, seems like a category mistake, but please feel free to explain.

  283. #283 David
    March 28, 2013

    “Dualists like Feser offer definitions. They aren’t interested in explanations.” — Wow, seriously? And people still wonder why Feser might regard this blog, together with the typical denizens commenting on it, as an intellectual slum?

  284. #284 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    “Wow, seriously? And people still wonder why Feser might regard this blog, together with the typical denizens commenting on it, as an intellectual slum?”

    Yes, seriously. Maybe you ought to try it.

  285. #285 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “It’s our intellectual abilities that are qualitatively different, not our brains.”

    Wow, that’s some nonsense. Some of that mystery piled upon mystery.

  286. #286 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “If there are dogs now (and there are), this fact is not changed by the distinct fact that there have not always been dogs, or by the distinct fact that there are (or have been) some things which may or may not be (or have been) dogs.”

    It does raise questions. Where did the essence of dogs come from? Did that essence precede physical dogs? Did that essence evolve with dogs? Is it also subject to evolution? Or do the blind forces of evolution operate under the controlling eyes of these wistful essences? Or are there an infinite number of them floating through the ether just waiting to latch into some new life-form nature creates?

    Essentialism is absurd. It’s meaningless nonsense for lazy minds. Unfortunately it’s wielded by authoritarians like Feser.

  287. #287 David
    March 28, 2013

    @DonJindra: “Wow, that’s some nonsense.” — Translation: “I’m dumb and I didn’t understand the perfectly obvious distinction you made.” Or: “I’m a jackass so I’m going to pretend I didn’t understand the perfectly obvious distinction you made”

    “Some of that mystery piled upon mystery.” — A notion which you have mysteriously (not really) still failed to explain.

  288. #288 David
    March 28, 2013

    “It does raise questions.” – Sure, any assertion may raise questions. Do you think that any of your questions imply a significant challenge to the truth of my assertion? Certainly your fifth and sixth questions suggest that you haven’t the first clue what you’re talking about and that you’re an ignorant bigot whose stock in trade is moronic straw man pseudo-arguments. Unless, again, you’re just intentionally being a perverse jackass.

  289. #289 David
    March 28, 2013

    …and I’m pretty sure you are just intentionally being a perverse jackass, which is the kind of thing which makes this place rather an intellectual slum.

  290. #290 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “A notion which you have mysteriously (not really) still failed to explain.”

    I see, I’m supposed to explain the obvious meaning of “mystery” while you throw lame ad hominems because I point out you have no way of explaining how brains are disconnected from intellectual abilities. How convenient for you.

  291. #291 David
    March 28, 2013

    …although again, your perverse jackassery is probably a symptom of your ignorant bigotry, not an alternative to it. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

  292. #292 David
    March 28, 2013

    That be another straw man, Don – see #282.

  293. #293 David
    March 28, 2013

    Don, if I point out that your arguments are egregiously stupid straw man caricatures, that is hardly a lame ad hominem. It may be a false characterization, in which case *show me*, but otherwise it is a perfectly legitimate explanation of why it is impossible to have an intelligent discussion with someone like yourself.

  294. #294 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “Don, if I point out that your arguments are egregiously stupid straw man caricatures, that is hardly a lame ad hominem.”

    That’s not what you did. You put these words in my mouth: “I’m dumb” and “I’m a jackass.” You attack the man because you don’t see how else the man can miss your point.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’ve been called far worse. But it’s lame and ineffectual — just in case you’re interested.

  295. #295 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “…although again, your perverse jackassery is probably a symptom of your ignorant bigotry, not an alternative to it.”

    Now I’m a bigot. Well done.

  296. #296 David
    March 28, 2013

    Don, explicating, or giving a translation of, your statement is not the same as putting words in your mouth. Sorry, bud, it’s just not. So that’s another straw man. I can’t force you to see distinctions that you’re blind to, but your blindness doesn’t make those distinctions any less real. If you weren’t *voluntarily* so closed-minded, though, maybe you wouldn’t have such a hard time seeing…? Ignorance really only becomes ugly when its self-imposed. Don’t do that to yourself.

  297. #297 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “Don, explicating, or giving a translation of, your statement is not the same as putting words in your mouth. ”

    Sorry but it is. Those are not my words. They’re your words, words you wish I said. At least show some integrity an own up to it.

    “I can’t force you to see distinctions that you’re blind to, but your blindness doesn’t make those distinctions any less real.”

    Maybe you ought to clear up the matter. In context, exactly what distinctions do you think you made clear?

  298. #298 David
    March 28, 2013

    btw, Don, a bigot is just a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices – I think most people are bigots, at least some of the time (although most people aren’t as bad as you and Rosenhouse, I hope…). I don’t point out your bigotry to condemn you, but to criticize your mode of argumentation. I don’t expect you *will*, but I believe it is *possible* for you to modify your ridiculous mode of argumentation (straw man after straw man… it gets so tiresome!).

  299. #299 David
    March 28, 2013

    Don, “They’re your words, words you wish I said.” – that’s plainly false. Like Rosenhouse, you need to consult a dictionary and make sure you know what the words you use mean before spouting obviously false statements. I certainly won’t waste time explaining the meanings of words to you – that’s the kind of ‘research’ you need to do on your own.

  300. #300 David
    March 28, 2013

    “In context, exactly what distinctions do you think you made clear?” – Don, in context, just re-read our discussion! How is my repeating myself going to cure your incomprehension??

  301. #301 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 28, 2013

    Well, I think this conversation has gone on long enough.

  302. #302 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    “Don, in context, just re-read our discussion! How is my repeating myself going to cure your incomprehension?”

    Get back to me when you actually want to explain yourself.

  303. #303 David
    March 28, 2013

    Jason’s probably right. Unless you’ve got some specific, substantive, non-question begging, non-straw man-implying question, I’ll end it here. All the best to you, Don. I hope there are no hard feelings.

  304. #304 DonJindra
    March 28, 2013

    David,

    No hard feelings on my part. I have too much fun in these sorts of encounters.

  305. #305 David
    March 28, 2013

    Good to hear. Take care.

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