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Sunday, 07 October 2012

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Quite a lot of the noisier and more vigorous demonstrators these days seem to go on about Philosophical issues. Although it is often not at all clear what they are driving at. So is it necessary to be a yob first and philospher second or the other way round?

I don't know for sure, Demetrius, but if I smack you in the gob first, you can't talk only listen. Ergo something or other . . .

Feser's picture on his blog looks like the school bully. The American equivalent of Flashman, I'd say. I wouldn't mess with him.

Perhaps a lifetime of watching people cower before his level gaze and broad muscular shoulders has given him the idea that he has got something important to say.

Well, like Deogolwulf, I'm sure he has something important to say but I can't understand half of it. My reaction to them both is rather similar to that I experience with those salesmen of high tech products whose spiel is to me indecipherable gobbledegook. If they can't speak in plain English is it worth listening?

In my view, Shakespeare was a better philosopher than most of the academics before or since.

The trouble is, there are mountains of philosophical dross with which to build yet more meaningless narratives. That's often why so much philosophy is difficult to understand - it doesn't mean anything. Not always, but often enough to be a problem.

The other problem is complex language used to embed simple concepts. That's just a standard professional technique - a barrier to entry.

You can't discover anything about the real world simply by fiddling around with language. That's one thing philosophers have discovered, but it took a while.

I don't know others experience but personally I've found a significant proportion of those in pure science, and I suspect the same is true (in spades) with philosophy, are OCD or even high function autistic. I'd guess therefore that the 'lack of social graces' and communication 'difficulties' might be a result of their abilities as opposed to their just being rude, obnoxious gits (think Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory).

[NB that's not to insinuate that any of the names mentioned is in any way included in that statement (a tall, blond, stunning looking female solicitor friend advised me to add that on the end of everything I say from now on after witnessing a 'discussion', on Quantitative Easing mk 3 if your interested, in the pub last evening. She insinuated it might stop me having to move house/job/etc as often - can't think why!)]

"a tall, blond, stunning looking female solicitor friend"

All my solicitor friends are short, pudgy, male, stinking rich and tight as a duck's arse! You are so, so, lucky, Able.

You are right about Shakespeare's philosophic abilities, AK, and even if he is sometimes exceedingly elliptical, it is such a joy to tese out the meaning. As opposed to, say, Mr. Feser.

It's not the same to be a philosopher (very few of them every century) than to be a philosophy professor (probably too many).

You do like stirring it up Mr Duff.

To Law, I recommend 'The Golden Rules of Advocacy' by Keith Evans (buy a bar of carbolic soap as well). In a short readable book he describes the realities of courtroom practice. A flavour, - 'In the Common Law Countries a trial is NOT an exercise designed to discover the truth'. Of course you knew that. Furthermore - 'The rules of evidence are mainly designed to exclude. They often operate to prevent the evidence presented from showing the truth of the matter at all'. Worth a read.

To Philosophers and Theologians. The key for me is the experiment. The traditional philosophers and theologians parted company with 'natural philosophers' just as the Middle Ages drew to a close. Then experiment and observation became key to progress.

Our recent discussion of theological argument was interesting and seemed to me to involve very high grade 'semantic watchmaking' , a very precise way of arguing picking apart all meaning and reassembling into what looks like a cogent argument. Good stuff and very hard work but has it got us anywhere? I for one felt I came out by the much the same door I went in. I don't mind hard mental work but I have to feel it is worth the bother.

The difficulty I have is that one can work long and hard on a chain of logic, equations and reasoning only to find it fails at the experiment. The tiniest flaw can lead one astray from reality. But in matters of traditional philosophy there seems no experiment to keep one's ship on a true path.

Now without spending many years study one cannot fairly ridicule any philosophy. Similarly long study is needed before criticising pharmacology, medicine, surgery and so on. But what the honest observer can do is look for the results, look around you.

I think C S Lewis probably had the rights of this discussion worked out many years ago.
"I would rather play cards with a man who had been brought up on the maxim "Gentlemen don't cheat"'. Than with a professor of ethics (however highly qualified) who was not.

Ortega, as always you are succinct and accurate.

Roger, I think you are right. Science has done for the bishops and the popes, and the theistic philosophers have been forced to construct an inverted brick pyramid of apparently impeccable reasoning until one stands back and realises that it is inexplicably floating on air - I demur from cheap cracks about 'hot air', that sort of cheap crack is beneath our dignity, here at the very high-minded D&N!

Edward, if that is typical of C. S. Lewis I must try, in amongst my efforts to read up on Disraeli and Gladstone, to fit him into my reading list as well.

“inexplicably floating on air”

Even you, Mr Duff, might appreciate that empirical premises are not “air”. Logic is not “fiddling around with language” as your half-witted friend so delightfully puts it. (Was it “fiddling around with language” which led him and the rest of you to this conclusion?) Logic, as you all should be aware, is truth-preserving, i.e., if the premises are true, then the conclusion cannot fail to be true so long as the process thereto is logically valid.

Here we might consider another of the perennial questions: why are the ignorant so cocksure? But instead, if I might just interrupt you all whilst you recite fairy-tales about the history of science and philosophy, I should like to try and impress upon you the rational incoherence of your stance. I hold out little hope, but still, “eternal springings” and all that.

Let us make a reductio ad absurdum from the central claim around here. We might call it the Argument from Godforsaken Irrationalism.

I. A statement which is logically inferred from at least one empirically-demonstrable statement but which is not itself empirically demonstrable is the result of mere word-juggling, semantic watch-making, pyramid-building-in-the-air, or some other kind of exercise unconnected with reality.
II. Statement (I) is not itself empirically demonstrable.
III. If a statement is demonstrably grounded in empirical reality, then it must either be itself empirically demonstrable or be logically inferred from at least one empirically-demonstrable statement.
Therefore,
IV. If statement (I) is demonstrably grounded in empirical reality, then it must be the result of mere word-juggling, semantic watch-making, pyramid-building-in-the-air, or some other kind of exercise unconnected with reality.

I believe your favourite philosopher would call this “being hoisted by your own petard”. Still, I suppose one of the pleasures of being rationally incoherent is that one gets to pick and choose whatever one likes to believe. My guess is that most of you believe, for instance, in Popper’s falsificationism. If so, it would be at odds with what you otherwise claim to believe, since falsificationism is the result of philosophical-logical argumentation, the conclusion of which cannot itself be empirically demonstrated (either by falsification or verification), and hence, by your own lights, is mere word-juggling, semantic watch-making, or somesuch. Popper noted that the process of verification in science couldn’t be valid for the simple, logical reason that it commits the fallacy known as affirming the consequent. Falsification, on the other hand, proceeds by the valid principle of inference known as modus tollens. (Neither logical fallacies nor logical principles are, of course, empirically demonstrable, but rather logically so. If you are rationally consistent (!), you will reject their existence too.) Now, whether or not you agree with Popper, no empirical observation makes the case. The matter is decided by logical argument with a conclusion that is not itself empirically demonstrable. Hence, mere word-juggling, pyramid-making-in the air, etc, as far as you lot are concerned.

The lowly species of logical positivism (which, note, is philosophical, not scientific) with which you are afflicted is easily refuted:

I. A statement is meaningful (or significant, valid, truthful, worthy of attention, etc) only if it is empirically demonstrable.
II. Statement (I) is not empirically demonstrable.
Therefore
III. Statement (I) is not meaningful (or significant, valid, truthful, worthy of attention, etc).

If you were rational, you would reject this metaphysics. But unfortunately you are irrationalists. Far from being free of metaphysics, you are in fact ignorant slaves of bad instances of it.

Deogolwulf, welome back although I am somewhat ill-prepared as I reached home at 3.00 am this morning and my third-rate brain is misfiring even more than usual. Whilst I try to decipher your comment above please just answer this question which became somewhat lost in our last exchange:

Who or what, in your opinion, created that first collection of hydrogen and helium particles from which all else has flowed?

You do not have to justify it, I am just seeking a simple answer to a simple question in order to be sure of your views.

“Who or what, in your opinion, created that first collection of hydrogen and helium particles from which all else has flowed?”

The question demonstrates once again that you haven't grasped what is being discussed. (You also seem to be suggesting that everything could flow from hydrogen and helium without the laws of physics.) But the answer to the question of what I believe is easy and obvious to grasp, and hence it is odd that you would ask it, since you must surely already know it, the answer being: the first necessary ontological ground of everything (i.e., God). (“You do not have to justify it” — arrrrgh!) But I am certainly not going to try and justify the answer to you again. You are not capable of following the argument. I finally decided that it was pointless when, after all that I had written, you wrote: “let me accept the proposition you put forward that everything has a cause”. At least it made me laugh.

Deog, I am told by various scientific swots that the universe and everything in it began with a burst of hydrogen/helium particles and that everything, including the laws of physics, flowed from that event. I assume you agree with that.

And thank you for making it clear that *you* have grounds for believing that it was God who began the process on the ontological grounds that God is 'aliquod quo nihil maius cogitari possit', or, God is 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived'.

I, on the other hand, would dismiss that as mere assertion. For example, I could conceive of, and assert, the existence, of a 'God of Gods'. All the ontological arguments in favour of your God would then apply to my God of Gods, would they not? I believe that in cosmologial theistic gambling circles they call that sort of thing 'doubling up'!

But before you flounce off - again - I would be grateful for an answer to another question further up the line of reasoning. Do you believe that your God chose to reveal Himself via Christianity, or do you believe that all the monotheistic religions share a piece of the revelation?

I must admit to ignorance here. I planned to ask Deogolwulf to which school of philosophical thought he belonged. That begged the question 'to which school did I belong' - answer = I don't know - I will think about it - the list seems pretty long. But I will put the question to Deogolwulf - to which school of philosophical thought do you belong please?

I would also ask to which school of theological thought do you belong? Here I think I am clearer regarding my own position, I don't believe in any Gods or anything beyond the world of actual or potential observation. So Deogolwulf, to which school of theological thought do you belong?

However, the very statement of my beliefs rings a slight alarm bell, could I observe actually or potentially the moment of creation? Possibly not. Was there a creation event, or did our universe start in some other way? All sorts of ideas come to mind but I cannot see a convincing way of proving any of them. Perhaps it all depends on which school of philosophy I end up with.

Mr Duff,

You are now confusing the ontological and the cosmological arguments without understanding either — hooray!

"I . . . would dismiss that as mere assertion"

I have presented to you the cosmological argument, the conclusion of which states the existence of a necessary being, which is indeed "that than which nothing greater can be conceived", ground of all being, etc, aka God. But since you cannot follow the argument, or it seems any other argument, the conclusion may as well be an assertion to you.

"I could conceive, and assert the existence, of a 'God of Gods'."

Then the "Gods" would not be God.

"All the ontological arguments [sic] in favour of your God would then apply to my God of Gods, would they not?"

There wouldn't be any ontological argument for "my God" (i.e., a lesser being to your "God of Gods") since this lesser being would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Here you show that you do not understand the ontological argument either — which is a very different argument from the cosmological argument. (Regarding the latter argument: if x is a secondary cause of another being, then x is not the first necessary ontological cause of all being (dare I use the word "ontological" for fear that you will go off to the ontological argument again?); and if x is not the first necessary ontological cause of all being, then x is not God. The very idea of x being the first necessary ontological cause and the secondary cause of another being is incoherent.)

I am not a Christian — though who knows what the future holds. And the question here is natural theology, not revealed theology. I am aware, however, that you are not too good at making distinctions.

“to which school of philosophical thought do you belong please?”

Metaphysical realism (i.e., the view that reality — or at least some part of it — is ontologically independent of our beliefs, conceptual frameworks, linguistic structures, etc); and, in a broad sense, Platonism (strongly marked by Aristotelianism). Perhaps the most famous anti-realist (or at least, epistemic relativist) amongst scientists today is Stephen Hawking — although he likes to call his position “model-dependent realism”.

“to which school of theological thought do you belong?”

Classical theism.

“I don't believe in any Gods . . . ”

Ditto for many classical theists. But, of course, God is not a god.

“. . . or anything beyond the world of actual or potential observation.”

And what is the rational justification for that? And are you quite sure it doesn’t exclude what you take for granted?

Deog (and do please feel free to call me David, we're all friends here, well, most of the time), you *assert* that there is a 'First Causer' that you call 'God' (the FCG) defined as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Am I right to describe your view of the history of being as a series of linked causal effects going back in time (and presumably going forward into the future) ending in a mass of sub-atomic particles unleashed by this FCG who is, according to your (grammatical) logic, the full stop of all existence. That there is nothing beyond this FCG.

The term "that than which nothing greater can be conceived", of course, carries its own impeccable logic within its own grammatical structure but I fail to see why you should, arbitrarily, place your 'full stop' at that particular point in the time line. It does not alter the main assertion of your argument (belief?) that a FCG does exist but, of course, in the creation of our universe the being you describe as the FCG might be just an incorrectly named sub-FCG confined, like an underling, to the creation of just this universe and that above him there is an über-FCG who has 'created' him and several others for the purpose of creating multi-verses - I mean, it's heavy work all this creation and the *real* FCG might have decided to spread the load! It does not invalidate your assertion but it does open up the difficulties of deciding exactly where in the time-line the Grand Title of FCG should be allotted!

(I give you, as a semi-serious example, the original beliefs of some primitive natives who, on seeing a white man armed with a gun, might have thought, not unreasonably, that they had seen a God; unaware, of course, of the 'real' 'Great White Goddess Over the Sea'. In other words, you may well be right in conception but wrong in application!)

But let me accept your proposition as you stated it. Then, let me ask, does your impeccable reasoning, or any scientific observation in the history of Man, provide us with any other clues as to the nature of this FCG? For example: Did he mean it? Is there a purpose behind it? Can the end be deduced from the beginnings? That sort of thing. (And I'm asking out of genuine curiosity not in any attempt to catch you out - as though I could!)

"you *assert* that there is a 'First Causer'"

There you again, Mr Duff. Are you trying to be funny?

"Am I right to describe your view of the history of being as a series of linked causal effects going back in time . . . ?"

No. But how often have I told you now? I tried to help you over this hurdle — this imported assumption of yours — days ago:

"this particular species of argument does not deal with a temporal first cause, but an ontological first cause. The argument does not depend upon the impossibility of an infinite causal series ordered per accidens, but rather only upon that of an infinite causal series ordered per se. (You can look them up.) The argument is logically independent of the truth or falsehood of the big-bang theory, the steady-state theory, or any other scientific theory one might propose for the beginnings or otherwise of the universe. In other words, it is compatible with (because not logically dependent upon) an eternal universe or a time-bounded universe."

But you can repeat to yourself: ontological, not temporal, ontological, not temporal . . . and see if it sinks in.

"I fail to see why you should, arbitrarily, place your 'full stop' at that particular point in the time line."

You do indeed fail to see. It's not arbitrary. It is the necessary first cause (ontological, not temporal) of a causal series ordered per se. Think dependency. Think of a cog with no power to move itself. Mentally fit another mere cog to it. And another one. And another one. Would even supposing the dependency multiplied to infinity (here and now) add motion? (Clue: No!) The illustration may help, but I doubt it.

Well, it's been fun of sorts, but I cannot waste any more time on this.

"Well, it's been fun of sorts, but I cannot waste any more time on this."

Please don't think I'm not grateful, Deog, it is very generous of you to share your brain with us.

(Honestly, I think I'm in touch with my masochist side which is ridiculous at my age! Why do I put up with his rudeness? Well, the fact is that I just love the lash of that en haut intellectual whip of his. It's all bollocks, of course, because if any of it made any sense Deog and his ilk would be able to express it in plain simple English - for plain, English simpletons like me to understand. But they can't, and that is a fact because if they could, they would! I thank the Prime Mover God daily that I never attended a university!)

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