Reason / Science / Religion

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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#61  Postby Will S » Jun 24, 2010 12:00 pm

nunnington wrote:WillS

Isn't Kant saying that some things can be known empirically, and some things, such as time and space, are pre-conditions for knowing anything? Or they are part of the structure of knowledge itself.

There are also things such as geometry which are not 'known' in the conventional sense, but engineered axiomatically. Thus you can set up non-Euclidean geometries.

I am not familiar with Kant's views on God, and so I don't know whether he would say that God is something set up axiomatically, or maybe something intuitively and directly experienced.

All you Kantians, au secours!

I really can't see any point in discussing what Kant said. Well ... let's rephrase that! Surely, any discussion of Kant's philosophy, as such, is a subject for another topic, or another forum.

Of course, if Kant said something which illuminates, or demolishes, what I, or anybody else, has said ... then, let's hear it. But the fact that Kant said it (and not, say, yourself, or Grahbudd) seems irrelevant. Indeed, it might totally contradict what Kant said - and still be both true, and highly relevant to this discussion.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#62  Postby grahbudd » Jun 24, 2010 1:11 pm

Hmm, I wish these issues were easier to think and write about.

WillS, you wrote, quoting a hypothetical, but plausible theist (ie one can imagine theists sounding like this):

Science is all very well. It is enormously powerful; it has solved lots of problems. But it has its limits; there are issues which scientific method cannot address, and problems which it cannot solve.
Of course, this statement is almost invariably followed by a 'therefore'. Sometimes it's a stupid and crude non sequitur, for example:

Therefore, we must believe what's in the Bible.
Or sometimes it may sound more reasonable. Often it's along these lines:

Therefore, we must recognise that there are other ways of finding out about reality, such as our intuitions or our emotions, and we should use these to supplement or even to correct what we learn from science.


First off, I agree with the first part, and have tried to sketch some Kantian arguments why that is the case. Specifically, reason and empiricism are bed-fellows, and when you take away one, the other gets very unhappy. We can only reason/do science about possible objects of perception; and e.g. the universe as a whole, or ourselves considered as persons, or God, simply aren't.

I also think you would agree with propositions like "it is true that...(Say) New Zealand is near Australia" and "it is false that all swans are purple".

What I find problematic in your hypothetical theist's approach is that there is some sort of continuum between the empirical things of science, and the "other stuff" like human free will: that science reaches along the scale up to a fuzzy point at the end, at which point your theist would have us switch methods. This puts Russell's teapot at one end of the scale, and (say) God at the other; and reasonably demands the same approach to both. And it is this approach that makes propositions like "it is true that Russell's Teapot exists" and "it is true that God does not exist" on the same continuum, as just the same sort of question, differing only in the technical limitations of science. But whereas Russell's teapot is a possible object of experience, God is not; and as a result, they simply do not belong on the same scale at all. Or, if God is too disturbing here, replace it with "the entire universe". No matter how big our telescopes get, we will still, as parts of the universe, be able to view it somehow "from the outside". And similarly, in my view, no matter how great NMR gets, it will never be able to view us "from the inside".

We thus have the paradoxical situation that although we know of at least two things that exist, and that we can even make assertions about, we cannot investigate them empirically; and nor can we make rational deductions about them. They thus fail Hume's Fork:

Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.


Yet we all talk about the universe and ourselves the whole time. On what basis?

It is not that it is somehow "axiomatic" that we exist and are free; rather, it is a view that we simply cannot escape from. Now Kant also thought that because we have a moral perspective (which is inescapably tied to our sense of freedom), and that this sense of morality is tied to the idea of God; not as a divine rule-giver, but ultimate bringer-about of the supreme good. Thus, although he himself punched big holes in the traditional theoretical "proofs" of God's existence, he nevertheless thought that, just like free will, the idea of God was in the end kind of inevitable for anyone who thought rationally about the world and our freedom in it (also not proven!).

I don't want to necessarily endorse Kant's view here (indeed, there are significant problems with it!); but nevertheless, it at least potentially points a way towards thinking about god in the same way as other transcendental things: something that cannot be empirically investigated, and thus in a sense neither exists nor does not exist, is neither in time nor timeless, etc etc; but yet is something that acts as a regulative principle. We act as if we were free; we act as if there were a god; etc.

Would you agree here that, at least in the case of the free will example, it doesn't add anything extra to the phrase "we constantly behave as if we have free will", such as "...and furthermore, we really do as well!"? Given we cannot in the end empirically investigate it, what function does the added-on bit actually play?
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#63  Postby Cito di Pense » Jun 24, 2010 1:19 pm

grahbudd wrote:Specifically, reason and empiricism are bed-fellows, and when you take away one, the other gets very unhappy.


I disagree with that. You're claiming each is necessary to the other, but empiricism was always sufficient. Even a paramecium can swim up a nutrient gradient, even though it has no fancy words for "nutrient gradient".

You're just arguing for special sauce with the special sauce's specific mechanism of indirection, language. You have a bootstrapping problem. Or, perhaps, a stolen concept problem, which is that reason is not something detected empirically, but in a first-person fashion. At least that's the way Kant wanted it. Ah, if wishes were horses...

We can only reason/do science about possible objects of perception; and e.g. the universe as a whole, or ourselves considered as persons, or God, simply aren't.


Thus reducing the problem to an interpersonal issue. Try transactional analysis, or some other kind of pseudo-woo. Yes, it's about how people relate to each other. You can please some of the people some of the time...

We can only reason/do science about possible objects of perception; and e.g. the universe as a whole, or ourselves considered as persons, or God, simply aren't.


Making tentative friends with lifegazer, jamest and UE, are we? Strange bedfellow strange.

And similarly, in my view, no matter how great NMR gets, it will never be able to view us "from the inside".


In your view? Well, that's your view then. Bend a spoon with "your view". Bend me to thy will.

he nevertheless thought that, just like free will, the idea of God was in the end kind of inevitable for anyone who thought rationally about the world and our freedom in it (also not proven!)


So Kant constructed a spurious tautology between his personal definition of freedom under rationality and what he took to be the idea of God. Happily, we have learned a bit since those times about limiting the remit of rationality to spoon-bending.

Given we cannot in the end empirically investigate it, what function does the added-on bit actually play?


It's a wibble launched by a wibbling take on "reality".

a way towards thinking about god in the same way as other transcendental things: something that cannot be empirically investigated, and thus in a sense neither exists nor does not exist, is neither in time nor timeless, etc etc; but yet is something that acts as a regulative principle.


Regulating WTF, exactly? Maybe you meant "wibblative principle". If it doesn't regulate anything empirically, why use the word "regulate"? More stolen concepts. Tautologies, stolen concepts, and question-begging. If you can't bend any spoons, it all starts to look rather tawdry. If rationality is to bend anything besides spoons, it ought to turn away at least these fallacies.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#64  Postby grahbudd » Jun 24, 2010 2:10 pm

wibble. wibble.

It's odd. You see, I *think* I remember that as well from somewhere.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#65  Postby Will S » Jun 24, 2010 3:02 pm

Grahbudd -

I feel a bit disappointed! :( I took some trouble ( general-faith/reason-science-religion-t8646-40.html#p297578 ) to compose what I thought was a challenging message. And I made careful use of the 'play-back' technique to confirm that I really understood what you were saying,

Above all ... I carefully placed my neck on the chopping block, and was willing to find out by experience whether your axe is made of steel or of cob webs.

Yet you didn't respond. Instead of rising to the challenge, you invite me to a join a discussion of Kant's philosophy.

I'm sure that it's always a mistake in discussions of this kind to play psychologists, and to start discussing what unconscious or semi-conscious motivations other people may have ... but you tempt me ... oh, how you tempt me! :(
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#66  Postby Cito di Pense » Jun 24, 2010 5:54 pm

grahbudd wrote:wibble. wibble.

It's odd. You see, I *think* I remember that as well from somewhere.


And yet, you seem so sure about all sorts of other nonsense. Will wonders never cease? Instead of personalizing the discussion, why not engage with my suggestions? Bend a spoon, or something. Your feeling of sanctification is coming across like an Italia corner kick. Easily headed away.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#67  Postby PhiloKGB » Jun 24, 2010 6:45 pm

grahbudd wrote:What I find problematic in your hypothetical theist's approach is that there is some sort of continuum between the empirical things of science, and the "other stuff" like human free will: that science reaches along the scale up to a fuzzy point at the end, at which point your theist would have us switch methods. This puts Russell's teapot at one end of the scale, and (say) God at the other; and reasonably demands the same approach to both. And it is this approach that makes propositions like "it is true that Russell's Teapot exists" and "it is true that God does not exist" on the same continuum, as just the same sort of question, differing only in the technical limitations of science. But whereas Russell's teapot is a possible object of experience, God is not; and as a result, they simply do not belong on the same scale at all. Or, if God is too disturbing here, replace it with "the entire universe". No matter how big our telescopes get, we will still, as parts of the universe, be able to view it somehow "from the outside". And similarly, in my view, no matter how great NMR gets, it will never be able to view us "from the inside".

We thus have the paradoxical situation that although we know of at least two things that exist, and that we can even make assertions about, we cannot investigate them empirically; and nor can we make rational deductions about them.

I don't understand how you come to these conclusions. Well, that's not quite true. It looks like your "thing" category is somewhat arbitrary, or at least you have set up arbitrary criteria for deciding whether or not things are amenable to empiricism. The universe is non-empirical because we can't see the whole thing, and the self is non-empirical because we can't see smaller bits where we have decided they should be. So what's the problem with empirically investigating the smaller bits of the universe and the whole of the self?
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#68  Postby grahbudd » Jun 24, 2010 8:11 pm

WillS:

Sorry, I did not mean to ignore your thoughtful message, indeed I did try to respond to it, albeit somewhat indirectly. So let me try to address it more directly then. First off, no I was not specifically thinking about religious beliefs, although they would fall into the same category. Nor was I complaining about your insistence on asking whether these things are actually true or not.

Neither of us, I believe it is accurate to say, are dimwitted after all, and so I think the reason we do not see eye to eye on these matters is that we are approaching the same questions from different directions. i would say that I do approach matters differently from CS Lewis as well, without doubt.

Your original posting was about whether or not reason and science have limits that they cannot stray beyond, and if so, whether anything else can. And in my response, I have said in effect: i) yes, and Kant showed (or at least tried to show) what those limitations were; and ii) no. Hume first, and then Kant basically made it hard to do traditional metaphysics, to make quasi-scientific remarks about non-phenomenal things (considered as a concept, ie whether there actually are such things or not). So I agree with you that when we want to do science, we can only do science; and, to paraphase, everything else we must be silent about - at least as a scientific investigation goes.

Nevertheless, there are at least some metaphysical concepts - such as the freedom of the will - which we can't do without. Human life simply doesn't make any sense at all if we actually take seriously the view that free will is actually impossible. So Kant also tried to develop a view of the compatibility between free will (which would have to be transcendental) and the causality of the material world. Whether or not he was ultimately successful in this endeavour is of course unclear: but it is a view that has to be taken seriously at least. Kant also thought that the existence of God, as a supreme good, was also an unavoidable consequence of taking human moral life seriously. Again, one can argue about his arguments; but they also (I think ) need to be taken seriously.

In other words, Kant is aiming for consistency in approach to our life. It is simply not consistent, say, to deny human free will and yet at the same time accept we have moral responsibility (he thought, and I agree). As we all do seem at a practical level accept moral responsibility, it follows that as a practical concept, we also accept we have free will, even though we have no empirical evidence for this proposition, nor (it seems) will any ever be forthcoming. Note that in Kant's construction of transcendental free will, there is no empirical consequence of human free will: if there were, it would immediately conflict with the brutal causality of the material world and as such be impossible, together with all its consequences. I am not sure if you think we do have moral responsibilities; but if we do, Kant argues, the only consistent view of human will is that it is free.

So answer the brutal question: do humans have free will? the answer is: we cannot know; but in practice, all our lives are lived as if we do; and that is in a sense the only thing that matters. And similarly with other matters such as the existence of God: Kant's argument here is just the same, that when we analyse how humans live, the only consistent view with it is that God exists, even though we also cannot have empirical evidence for it.

Now I am not sure what your views about these specific matters are, but to point things up, I'll have a go at summarising what I think Cito di Pense's views are on them, which I would think are something like this:

First off, of course Cito di Pense accepts that there is a material world, and that everything in it works by causal relationships. And as a result, and as a sort of direct challenge to Kant, (s)he would say that we simply must give up all the consequences that flow from them. Ie, no, humans do not have free will, and thus they do not have moral responsibilities, or indeed any type of significance at all, which would be seen as simply wishful-thinking inspired woo. Given that the whole of human life is predicated on such significance, it follows that there is just a flat contradiction between how we see helplessly see life, full of willed decisions and significance, and how it actually is. And the knowledge of this conflict, which has relentlessly emerged since the scientific revolution, is in a sense unbearable. As a result, what human life thus becomes is an attempt to stop, as was sometimes once said by someone, "the tops of our heads blowing off". As there is no solution to solve the conflict between our hopes for the significance of life and the actual and obvious knowledge that science has shown it cannot possibly have any, it follows that all these attempts are simply an attempt at willful self-deception, which (s)he understandably finds somewhere between embarrassing and pathetic. Never was anything called wibble more appropriately. I suspect that in this world view - which I appreciate in that it is at least internally consistent - if you want to "solve the conflict" you should simply just top yourself, or alternatively if this is too messy or embarrassing, wait around more or less patiently until mother nature does it for you anyway.

So so far we have two alternatives before us: i) muddle through saying things like "there is no God or ultimate significance in life, but we can still see life as a wonderful gift and opportunity that we should live gratefully; ii) recognise that the lack of God and significance is a radical ship-wreck of human life, and just cope as well as one can until the moment comes when you don't need to bother any more. If I understand him/her correctly, it is not clear that the first of these to Cito di Pense is much less embarrassing than the various religious/Kantian offerings.

What I have been arguing for is that there is a genuine third alternative to these two, on the face of it, rather depressing alternatives. Depressing because after all, does anyone really want to spend life either wallowing in self-deception or just waiting to get it out of the way? And the Kantian at least way round this ( a point developed by theologians such as Karl Rahner), is to argue for the whole premise of the problem -that science has revealed that there is a basic conflict between science and a meaningful life - being based on a false conflation of the phenomenal and the transcendental. After all, free will is only incompatible if it somehow interferes with naturalistic causality; but that is surely an unproved assumption. How did we come to such a conclusion? What empirical evidence is there for it? Nothing we can reveal by understanding the phenomenal world shows this conflict actually: it is just a determination we have decided to make. [I put the question of free will at the centre of the discussion quite deliberately: without it and the associated rationality, none of the above even arises of course, which is why animals, plants etc seem to be able to live rather happily without the tops of anything blowing off]. One reason (to myself play amateur psychologist here for the moment!) I suspect we have made this decision is because we don't want to be dupes: that if we choose to choose consistency in life, and thus adopt the unprovable claims of the existence of free will, morality, God etc, and that in the end Cito di Pense turns out to be right anyway, then we feel that in a fundamental way we have been bloody idiots. But this strikes me as living life like someone who refuses to ever enter relationships in case they turn out not to be "the one" and get dumped.

This may sounds like Pascal's Wager; and indeed perhaps this sort of thing was something that he was actually trying to get at. But in the end, life is after all, all we have, and it seems entirely reasonable to me to try to come to an understanding of how we can live it without self-deception and with dignity and joy - even with love. The unprovable but traditional understanding of ourselves of free but flawed creatures that religion universally provides in my view a consistent view of ourselves without adopting the doom-view of Cito di Pense that in my view we are in no way forced to accept. Nor do I view adopting such a world view as some sort of macho test of virility that only wimps would avoid...
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#69  Postby Cito di Pense » Jun 25, 2010 12:39 am

grahbudd wrote:But in the end, life is after all, all we have, and it seems entirely reasonable to me to try to come to an understanding of how we can live it without self-deception and with dignity and joy - even with love. The unprovable but traditional understanding of ourselves of free but flawed creatures that religion universally provides in my view a consistent view of ourselves without adopting the doom-view of Cito di Pense that in my view we are in no way forced to accept. Nor do I view adopting such a world view as some sort of macho test of virility that only wimps would avoid...


All of the flavour, and none of the guilt. Religion lite! Flawed? Oops. Missed that one, first time round.

Flawed relative to what? Consistent with what? What else are you asking us to swallow with that one? Yes you can have something deathless. Shame. If you want to argue for free will, the choice is between shame and doom. I know which one I choose. I don't give it a second thought.

Flawed? Or fraud? Where do you get this "flawed" shit, man? You flawed me with that one. :lol:
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#70  Postby grahbudd » Jun 25, 2010 4:14 am

Flawed relative to what? Relative to what we ourselves know or hope we could be? As soon as we perceive ourselves as moral agents (which we do), we must inevitably recognise that our acts and inclinations are often at odds with our moral intuitions? I actually don't think it 's rocket science, this one...
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#71  Postby grahbudd » Jun 25, 2010 6:57 am

PhiloKGB wrote:
grahbudd wrote:What I find problematic in your hypothetical theist's approach is that there is some sort of continuum between the empirical things of science, and the "other stuff" like human free will: that science reaches along the scale up to a fuzzy point at the end, at which point your theist would have us switch methods. This puts Russell's teapot at one end of the scale, and (say) God at the other; and reasonably demands the same approach to both. And it is this approach that makes propositions like "it is true that Russell's Teapot exists" and "it is true that God does not exist" on the same continuum, as just the same sort of question, differing only in the technical limitations of science. But whereas Russell's teapot is a possible object of experience, God is not; and as a result, they simply do not belong on the same scale at all. Or, if God is too disturbing here, replace it with "the entire universe". No matter how big our telescopes get, we will still, as parts of the universe, be able to view it somehow "from the outside". And similarly, in my view, no matter how great NMR gets, it will never be able to view us "from the inside".

We thus have the paradoxical situation that although we know of at least two things that exist, and that we can even make assertions about, we cannot investigate them empirically; and nor can we make rational deductions about them.

I don't understand how you come to these conclusions. Well, that's not quite true. It looks like your "thing" category is somewhat arbitrary, or at least you have set up arbitrary criteria for deciding whether or not things are amenable to empiricism. The universe is non-empirical because we can't see the whole thing, and the self is non-empirical because we can't see smaller bits where we have decided they should be. So what's the problem with empirically investigating the smaller bits of the universe and the whole of the self?


There's no problem at all. It is just that we can't test scientific theories concerning things we can't get any empirical evidence about. To take the example of the universe as a whole, we can of course investigate more and more of it (at least within our present event horizon). And we can form more and more general theories about the universe as a whole based on those observations. But every time we falsify one of them, and replace it with another, we simply go one step further in a series that we can never get to the end of. For if we did, we would have a theory that could not possibly be wrong - ie it would not be vulnerable to any further scientific discoveries. And this theory would thus be logically and not contingently necessary: and thus it would stop being science and simply be a logical deduction from...from what though? Even logic is based on axioms. In fact, the effort of making theories about the universe as a whole run into contradictions the whole time, which Kant takes as a surefire indicator that we are misapplying empirical science when we talk about the universe as a whole.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#72  Postby grahbudd » Jun 25, 2010 7:19 am

Cito di Pense wrote:
grahbudd wrote:Specifically, reason and empiricism are bed-fellows, and when you take away one, the other gets very unhappy.


I disagree with that. You're claiming each is necessary to the other, but empiricism was always sufficient. Even a paramecium can swim up a nutrient gradient, even though it has no fancy words for "nutrient gradient".

You're just arguing for special sauce with the special sauce's specific mechanism of indirection, language. You have a bootstrapping problem. Or, perhaps, a stolen concept problem, which is that reason is not something detected empirically, but in a first-person fashion. At least that's the way Kant wanted it. Ah, if wishes were horses...


A friend of mine does work on light "perception" in marine plankton, and they showed that there was essentially a mechanical system (very cartesian!) between light falling on a light sensitive cell and the subsequent movement of the cilia and thus the larva as a whole. Behaviour then becomes a purely mechanical response to stimuli. But does the larva have "knowledge" about its environment? Does a thermostat (as Jerry Fodor has argued) have knowledge about its environment?

What Kant is getting at is that we at least never just get "raw" data from the world; it is always structured. When we look at a room, with, say, a cage with a boa constrictor in (I am doing so right now), we don't see a flat sheet full of blobs of colours. We automatically see depth and recognisable object: in other words, our sensory input is shaped from the start by a rational structure that our minds impose on it. While we might mechanically respond to an environment, like a reflex, we don't learn anything about it in doing so without mental input. The empiricists (with whom he had a lot of sympathy with) that Kant was attacking, like Hume, simply thought that sensory inputs and mental states were just two ends of a single spectrum (e.h. the idea of a rose is the same thing as seeing a rose, only somewhat "faded"). Kant, conversely, thought that all of our sensory inputs were structured by our minds, and that sensory input was not only meaningless but inconceivable without this structuring.

It's obvious that organisms with minds like ourselves evolved from ones without one, and how the evolutionary transition took place is subject to some interesting discussion (e.g. this puppy http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20558182). I freely admit to being clueless. Again.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#73  Postby grahbudd » Jun 25, 2010 8:08 am

Incidentally, all this drone about Kant is to try to get at something that WillS addressed in his first post: how is it possible to know things that we neither empirically find out (all swans are green etc) nor are analytically true (2 +2 = 4)? That was Kant's whole thrust in his three critiques. Examples of the sort of things he is talking about are: i) all events are in time; ii) nothing happens without a cause; iii) Humans have free will; iv) it is wrong to kill; etc. And his point is that in accepting these truths, we show that admirable though the empiricist programme is (which it seems is one endorsed by a great number of people here) it has its limitations.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#74  Postby Will S » Jun 25, 2010 8:40 am

Grahbudd -

I have a real problem with your last long message - the one directed at me, and on which you clearly must have spent a lot of time and effort, for which I'm grateful. It's this: I find that I can't respond without the risk of sounding churlish.

I think, though, that the best I can do is to stand on my big flat feet, and say what I think - and, if need be, sound churlish.

When I try to extract the gist of your message, what I get is this: There are things which we don't understand (agreed!). There are probably things which we're incapable of understanding (agreed!).

You then seem to draw the conclusion: Therefore, life must be an unsatisfactory, even miserable, business. It's here that we begin to pull apart, because I can only agree with that if I define 'unsatisfactory' and 'miserable' in very weak ways.

To illustrate. At this moment I'm watching the swallows swooping around in our courtyard. Am I to say, 'Poor little buggers! What miserable lives they have - they don't understand aerodynamics! All they can do is fly around in an utterly graceful way, not knowing, at least not knowing in full, how they do it.' I suppose you might argue that, in a sense, that's true, but it seems to be a strange thing to say. Of course, a swallow might have an utterly miserable life, but I can't see that not understanding aerodynamics would contribute much to his misery. Also, I can imagine a thoughtful swallow agonising for days over the Problem of Flight, realising that there are some really crucial ideas here which are, somehow, for ever beyond his intellectual grasp - and feeling a bit frustrated and gloomy in consequence.

Reverting to what you were saying, you propose a remedy for the ill which you've diagnosed. You specifically mention, and disown, Pascal's Wager, but I'm bound to say that it sounds very much like Pascal's Wager to me. But with this difference: in Pascal's case, it was a strategy for avoiding being clobbered by a vengeful God; in your case, it's a strategy for having a happy and fulfilled life.

Unfortunately, it still seems to me that both Pascal and yourself fall foul of C S Lewis's stern admonition that you mustn't value an opinion for anything other than truth. (And I think he would have added that you mustn't try to redefine truth as a way of getting off the hook.)

And (don't get me wrong!) it's a very stern, iron-clad admonition! One to be applied with a good deal of charity, I'd say. (Indeed, the thought has only just struck me: was Lewis being exceptionally shrewd when he attributed it to a senior Devil? Would the angels which feature in some of his other books have said something different?)

Enough! Are we getting anywhere?
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#75  Postby Cito di Pense » Jun 25, 2010 1:28 pm

grahbudd wrote:It's obvious that organisms with minds like ourselves evolved from ones without one, and how the evolutionary transition took place is subject to some interesting discussion (e.g. this puppy http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20558182). I freely admit to being clueless. Again.


All of the great wibblers of these boards (lifegazer-jamest, UE, yourself, and probably several others) tend to take Kant for a ride he has no say in. That's fine, but you're writing literature (at best) and literary criticism (in all likelihood).

You're talking about "creatures with minds" following a long line of people who used the term, so all you're doing is carrying on a tradition. You mean "creatures with souls", but bless yore pea-pickin' heart, you're embarrassed to say it. Language is on the table. Creatures with brains evolved. Creatures with language evolved. Creatures with "reification" evolved. There's a word, for you.

And then you slip "I freely admit to being clueless" in at the end to try to recover some of your lost humility. False modesty is really of no value to me, friend.

But does the larva have "knowledge" about its environment? Does a thermostat (as Jerry Fodor has argued) have knowledge about its environment?


Is "knowledge" a magic word to you? You're certainly using it that way above. You can define it in any way you want, so as to make it so. You're trying to sort out the knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. That last bit is what Wittgenstein may have been warning of, the basic content of wibble.

What I wrote to Hnau von Thulcandra in another thread is that the way to show that you know something is to design a plumbing system to isolate your sewage so that you're not constantly standing around knee-deep in it. Hnau, of course, is worried about whether or not we're killing somebody when we suck them out of the womb prematurely, or whether zebras should be given the vote, and trained to use voting machines, and asking why we don't criminalise predatory behavior in carnivores. Hnau, with his head full of woo, thinks that he will be remembered unfavorably by a prematurely-terminated fetus for standing silently and doing nothing.

We automatically see depth and recognisable object: in other words, our sensory input is shaped from the start by a rational structure that our minds impose on it.


And you want to analogize that with your hypothetical "moral sense"? Don't make me laugh.

And this theory would thus be logically and not contingently necessary: and thus it would stop being science and simply be a logical deduction from...from what though? Even logic is based on axioms. In fact, the effort of making theories about the universe as a whole run into contradictions the whole time, which Kant takes as a surefire indicator that we are misapplying empirical science when we talk about the universe as a whole.


If you start out by assuming that "logic" is a product of "reason" and not arrived at by having already experienced a world subject to the logic you write down, then you've already assumed something transcendental about "reason". Don't you lot ever get tired of assuming your conclusions (question-begging)? Do you really assert that symbolic representations are exact replicas of something exact that "exists" out there? Fucking metaphysics!

Take question-begging for example. How did we come up with this idea? Isn't it just a recapitulation of "identity", in this case identifying the premise with the conclusion? You suppose identity is not a symbolic representation of something empirical? How could you have "that" (or "the other", or "something else") if you didn't have "this"? I'm not reifying, yet, but...

If it's not Bing, it's Frank
Gotta be this or that.


Yes, some folks will try to tell you that the base "substance" is binary information. So you start asking what it "is" that has attracted your "attention", and all of a sudden you're doing metaphysics, because you decide to reify your "attention". You wibble about it for awhile, and then decide to try Buddhism, to see if you can bend a spoon with it, or dry a wet blanket, or something.

Flawed relative to what? Relative to what we ourselves know or hope we could be? As soon as we perceive ourselves as moral agents (which we do), we must inevitably recognise that our acts and inclinations are often at odds with our moral intuitions? I actually don't think it 's rocket science, this one...


According to whom? Some pompous prick in a fancy collar? I don't "perceive" us as moral agents because I don't first define us as moral agents. I know what you're getting at here, but can only ask you pointedly and rhetorically why it makes you unhappy, and answer that it's because you've been fed a line of crap, and have adopted it. But why?

Underneath all your wibble and obfuscation is the same old Christianoid teleology. So why not cut to the chase and answer the question about the prize in the bottom of that crackerjack box? If you just confess (!) that it feels good to you personally to believe in such nonsense, and to battle against the dichotomous opposite view that is part of that belief, so be it, as they say. As you know, I take a much more cynical view, that of viewing this teleology as a flim-flam to try to cajole people into imagining that you are somehow "better" for your values. It apparently is not enough for you to maintain your values silently. Thus it is always with moralizers. The world is crawling, also, with secular humanists who do all the same things you're doing but leave out the named transcendent symbol. They haven't given up the teleology, yet, though. Human destiny.
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Translation by Elbert Hubbard: Do not take life too seriously. You're not going to get out of it alive.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#76  Postby grahbudd » Jun 26, 2010 8:29 am

C d P: no, I simply don't accept what is understandable from above. For a start, it is an observation that humans behave as if they are moral agents. Whether they actually are (= whether or not humans can actually act freely and thus be responsible) is unknowable. To everyone apart from yourself apparently. Perhaps you would care to let us in on the secret?
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#77  Postby grahbudd » Jun 26, 2010 8:33 am

WillS; hmm, as you know I am not an uninhibited admirer of CS Lewis, so that even if my views happen to conflict with his here, one possible reaction would be "so what?" - but I don't think that is really interesting.

The problem is not about what we don't know, but about what we (allegedly) do. Ie, we have known since roughly the time of the enlightenment that the world is unenchanted: that there are no Gods, or pixies, or afterlife, or...or...or...or meaning or purpose to life. The world in this view is simply a bunch of energy and atoms in motion which we just happen, by some admittedly hard-to-understand path of evolution, get to view for a bit. That is the view of Cito di Pense - and to its credit it is consistent and possible. I mean, Cito di Pense might be right in this view. Given that our ability to view the world also gives us the ability to invest meaning in our actions, appreciate beauty and be moral, the conflict between what our whole unfortunate set up gives us and what the reality of reality is is a recipe for endless despair and top-of-head-blowing-offness which we can respond to either by blowing the tops of our heads off or by somehow just toughing out the rather short period of time we have to until we no longer have the problem. A view that can't be right, one might think, is the compromise view that despite all this, life is meaningful and worth living etc anyway, popular though it is. Perhaps I have mischaracterised your and Cito di Pense's views on this (quite possible); but if not, I would suggest you two have it out with each other, and not me.

However, the whole point of the Kant-rant I have been doing is to argue that this alleged conflict is apparent, and not real. And that is the beef with what can understand of Cito di Pense's postings as well: he assumes this conflict must be true. When pressed on this, he'll probably talk about spoon-bending (bridge building is also popular). Humans, even Kantian ones, can bend spoons of course.

And now we come to the problem of what one actually means by "something being true", which has not yet been defined here, either by me, or WillS, or CS Lewis, or even Cito di Pense. If we mean "something that is empirically demonstrable", then I cheerfully accept that any kind of hope for or belief in significance is not true. But so much the worse for this concept of truth. For, as Kant tries to show, there are plenty of things that we accept as true - in the sense that it is inconceivable that they could not be the case - which are not in fact empirically demonstrable. And one of these is the idea that humans have free will (and another is something like: all events happen in time). We cannot empirically demonstrate these to be true; but nor can we rationally treat them as false. So: are they true or not?

There is thus in Kant-world a third category of true statements as well as the well-known ones of the a priori true (ie true by definition) and the synthetic a posteriori true (true by empirical demonstration: e.g. the Earth has a moon); and that is his category of the synthetic a priori. These truths are not analytically true; but nor are they vulnerable to experience (e.g. having an experience of something happening but not in time). If you accept Kant's arguments here, then you are surely forced to ask: in what sense does CS Lewis use the word "true" in his Screwtape Letters? I am fairly sure that he does not elaborate on this point there. I know CS Lewis disapproved of Kant's view of ethics (which he thought was a bit killjoy - in that he had the unlikely company of Ayn Rand; but I am not aware of what he thought of his critique of pure reason.

Now one might think this is just playing with words: I am fairly sure that Cito di Pense, say, would certainly do so: word play in the desperate (and indeed pathetic, in the full sense of the word) attempt to avoid what we all know to be actually true; ie that the Cito di Pense world-view is obviously correct. But the question arises: how do we know in turn that the Cito di Pense world view is true? Is it empirically true? Is it analytically true? Is it, indeed, given that it seems to conflict with most of our basic intuitions, true at all? How can we find out its truth? etc. And that is the basic problem with all empiricist viewpoints: they assume a huge load in order to function. By claiming that all there is to know can be found out empirically, and there are no other truths available, they forget that in order to "find things out empirically" presupposes a huge amount of baggage. I think Cito di Pense just somehow dismisses this baggage (convenient); hence reference to amoebae etc. But humans really aren't amoebae. Humans really can think, they really can reason; and these are just different to what amoebae do. At the very least, if Cito di Pense wants to defend the view that they are not, he should feel free to go ahead and do so.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#78  Postby katja z » Jun 26, 2010 10:03 am

grahbudd wrote:
The problem is not about what we don't know, but about what we (allegedly) do. Ie, we have known since roughly the time of the enlightenment that the world is unenchanted: that there are no Gods, or pixies, or afterlife, or...or...or...or meaning or purpose to life. The world in this view is simply a bunch of energy and atoms in motion which we just happen, by some admittedly hard-to-understand path of evolution, get to view for a bit. That is the view of Cito di Pense - and to its credit it is consistent and possible. I mean, Cito di Pense might be right in this view. Given that our ability to view the world also gives us the ability to invest meaning in our actions, appreciate beauty and be moral, the conflict between what our whole unfortunate set up gives us and what the reality of reality is is a recipe for endless despair and top-of-head-blowing-offness which we can respond to either by blowing the tops of our heads off or by somehow just toughing out the rather short period of time we have to until we no longer have the problem.

I'll take a stab at this if I may. I think you're right in using the word "unenchanted" rather than the usual "disenchanted". This is just a play on words, of course, but it is convenient to introduce my point: the world had never been enchanted (although it was perceived as such). Nothing was taken away from us which we should somehow strive to get back by assuming god. We're products of natural processes. As such, I don't see why we should assume anything more than these processes in order to make our position "bearable" (except that our minds evolved to look for patterns and agents and are therefore very inclined to infer them even where there are none); it is bearable; we've borne it, else we would not be around any more :grin: On a more serious note, a practical resolution to existential angst is not necessarily to assume god (in contrast to the free will, which is useful to assume, say, in legal contexts). This is because the world as it is is only "an unfortunate set up" if you implicitly compare it to a hypothetical "more fortunate" set up which you wish to be true (and there's a range of such hypothetical setups which have been conjured up by various groups of people); the fact that "meaning and purpose" are not transcendent, conferred from the outside, is only unfortunate if you think that meaning and purpose can only come from the outside. I would argue that it is perfectly possible to clearly see ourselves as products of evolutionary processes, recognise the consequences of that, and go on to construct our own purposes and meanings - indeed, that's what our minds, shaped through evolutionary processes, excel at.


Humans really can think, they really can reason; and these are just different to what amoebae do.

Granted; and they can also be fooled by their own minds which use tricks acquired through evolutionary processes, such as looking for patterns. These have been useful more often than not, but can just as easily lead to wrong conclusions: look at the curtains! a disembodied entity is waving them to try and tell me something! nah, it's just the draught. We can use the general ability of reasoning to spot and resist those tricks - not assume they necessarily suggest any "truth", as you seem to do when you refer to "our most basic intuitions". Also, I honestly can't see what "humans really can think" has to do with the different kinds of true statements according to Kant and with your reasons for assuming god. I'm confused, and I strongly suspect that my confusion is not just a result of me not being up to discussing Kant's writings.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#79  Postby Cito di Pense » Jun 26, 2010 12:27 pm

grahbudd wrote:C d P: no, I simply don't accept what is understandable from above. For a start, it is an observation that humans behave as if they are moral agents. Whether they actually are (= whether or not humans can actually act freely and thus be responsible) is unknowable. To everyone apart from yourself apparently. Perhaps you would care to let us in on the secret?


Suppose I allow that human beings discourse as if they are moral agents? Then what? But you're saying people actually behave that way, and it is a classic ex recto assertion. Katjaz has already noted that mass societies (since the enlightenment, say) constructed legal systems that codified personal responsibility for illegal acts, mainly aimed at greasing the wheels of commerce, and commenced to decriminalise offenses against God by permitting what is humorously referred to as "freedom of conscience" by such as yourself. What other sorts of behaviour did you have in mind? What do you suppose it means to decriminalise offenses against God?

I'm not limiting your freedom of conscience. I'm just making fun of your evident need to wibble about it in public. So there it is again, "human nature is mysterious to us". How did those old-timey buggers first start in with the god-talk? They made shit up.

All your metaphysical/ontological speculation speaks to the "unknowable". Why pass yourself off as having reasoned logically to some point you think you've made? You're not going to get a prize from me for saying so until you actually demonstrate something with a valid argument.

I don't know what you're on about when you say people behave as if they are moral agents. They cheat on their spouses and try to rob each other blind, each little businessman trying to pile up as much stuff in one place as he can before he dies.

You're talking about justifying the apparent "choice" between my cynicism and your obfuscation, and make metaphysics out of the preferences that people express in their hopes. At best, you're still arguing that fifty billion flies can't be wrong by hoping for something better. Just state plainly what "better" you are on about, and blow off the obfuscation for an afternoon.

What's the minimum of what you call "moral responsibility" you think we can get away with? Peel away the layers, and let us in on your secret knowledge of how much freedom you really think people can exercise! I would say it's the freedom to butt out of other people's business. Do they exercise it? Not by a lamb chop. Your wibble is DOA.

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Down in Arabia
The courts don't baby ya.
If you cheat on your spouse
While they're outta the house
They cut off yer dick or yer labia.
Хлопнут без некролога. -- Серге́й Па́влович Королёв

Translation by Elbert Hubbard: Do not take life too seriously. You're not going to get out of it alive.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#80  Postby katja z » Jun 26, 2010 12:56 pm

Cito di Pense wrote:
I don't know what you're on about when you say people behave as if they are moral agents.

I do (I think so); although it would perhaps be better to say that they believe they should behave that way, and judge their (and others') actions accordingly. But the objection is simple; the sense of morality, indeed the concept of morality itself, is a result of socialization - it doesn't come prepackaged in the mind of a newborn Homo sapiens. We generally tend to naturalise our society's standards as objective morality, but there's really no need to assume morality is something transcendent. A moral code is basically a bundle of strategies to regulate ingroup relations, and there's no need to wax metaphysical over our ability/tendency to follow it - we are, after all, social animals. We don't need to assume god in order to behave this way (some may feel the need to assume it in order to rationalize this behaviour, but that is another story).
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