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Stolen Concepts: All Materialist Arguments Are Self-Refuting

The stolen concept fallacy is a form of self-refutation.

From Wikipedia: Stolen Concept – the act of using a concept while ignoring, contradicting or denying the validity of the concepts on which it logically and genetically depends.

In an ongoing, multi-thread sub-debate at The Skeptical Zone, I have been making the case that when materialists argue, they necessarily employ stolen concepts, such as those referred to by the following terms and more: “I”, “we”, “prove”, “evidence”, “reason”, “logic”, “determine”, “conclude”, “error”, “fact”, “objective”, “subjective”, etc.

Generally agreed upon by many of those at TSZ (although now I suspect we’ll get a barrage of disagreement via DDS), human beings are material computations of physics, meaning that everything a human does, says, thinks, believes, concludes, etc. is generated by a non-linear and largely unpredictable cause and effect sequence of physics. Also agreed to is that seemingly unrelated material input, both interior and exterior, can be necessary (but not sufficient) causes for any output of the physics computation – IOW, a butterfly can flap its wings in Brazil, or a person can eat a pizza on Wednesday, and through a sequence of effects those things can be the necessary element required to get the materialist to say, think, conclude or do a particular thing (chaos theory).

When a person that believes in Libertarian Free Will (LFW) says “I conclude, by using logic and reason, that the evidence directly implies X”, the concepts they are employing that underlie those terms give such a statement significant meaning. “I” is taken as an autonomous, uncaused source of free will that is not compelled by physics or anything else to reach any particular conclusion.  “Using logic and reason” implies that this locus of LFW has the capacity to utilize an absolute arbiter of true statements towards sound conclusions (even if such use is imperfect, what is being used is considered perfect and non-arbitrary). “Evidence” is taken as something that should be recognized as such by other such entities.  That the evidence “directly implies” a particular conclusion is definitely not a statement that “butterfly wind and pizza” may have caused me to think such, but rather that other LFW individuals can access the same absolute means of arbitration and should (if properly used) reach the same conclusions via the same implications by the same consideration of the evidence.  The movement from premise to inference to conclusion is considered directly linear and causal by absolute standards, and any imperfections lie in quality of evidence and argument, not in the tool (logic) that is being used.

But, none of those supporting concepts are available to a materialist when they say the same sentence: “I conclude, by using logic and reason, that the evidence directly implies  X.”  They are (under a charitable reading) mistakenly constructing a claim out of terminology that relies upon concepts they have no right to employ because of their ideology.

Unpacking the same statement using materialist-available grounding concepts, what has the materialist said?  What is the “I”?  The “I” is a both the product of and the ongoing, local, idiosyncratic computation of physics.  The “I” is whatever the computation is and outputs.  A “conclusion” generated by the computation is just whatever the computation happens to label as “conclusion”.  Logic and reason are nothing more than whatever that particular, idiosyncratic, local computation defines those things as, and how it uses that bit of programming, with no absolute standard to judge it by. If a local computation puts the label “logic” on a bit of programming that compares all ideas and inferences and conclusions against what is written in the Bible, or against whatever tiles one draws from a pile of Scrabble tiles, that is what “logic” is for that individual, and it is as much “logic” as any other individual computation.  Evidence is whatever the computation labels with that word, and the “evidence bin” of one’s computation is whatever the computation happens to put in there.  The “implied conclusion” is – again – whatever the computation internally labels as “implied conclusion”, by whatever means it happens to produce the so-labelled output.

So, if the materialist were to rephrase the statement using terms that do not steal foundational concepts from ideologies he/she has no right to, the corrected statement would read: “This particular, local computation of physics has produced output X.” Nothing more, and nothing less, has occurred.  “Logic and reason” are just locally labelled, idiosyncratic portions of the computation. “I” is the same. “Evidence” is the same.  There is nothing but the computation, and all of those stolen concept words serve only to hide this fact from others, or from the materialists themselves.  “Knowledge” and “science” are nothing more, and cannot be anything more (under materialism) than whatever any particular arrangement of physics defines them as, and populates those memory bank categories with. Even the idea of external consensus of views and definitions cannot be anything more than what any particular, individual computation computes it to be.  “Objective” is just a term that means, and is populated by, whatever any particular subjective computation holds it as. Under materialism, every individual is a computational solipsist without any exterior standards that can be accessed or used.

When materialists argue, all they can be doing under materialism is, under compulsion of physics, outputting strings of words (whether they make sense to anyone else or not) for the supposed purpose of getting another local computation to change its output.  But how do they expect to accomplish this?  Since such outcomes, under materialism, cannot be predicted, and all computations are non-linear and unpredictable, there’s no way to determine how any particular string of words might affect the other computation.  It might be more effective, as far as changing its output, to feed it pizza and beer and send it a jazz CD.  Yet, materialists argue as if particular strings of words have the predictable capacity to alter the processing configuration of another computation.

Also, why even try to change the output, or outputting configuration, of another computation?  It is no different in nature than a maple leaf attempting to get a fig leaf to change its configuration; the fig leaf is configured exactly as physics has produced. There is no “error” because there is no “standard” other than whatever physics happens to produce. If beliefs are simply configurations generated by physics, there is no “erroneous” belief, any more than there is an “erroneous” shape of a rock.  The term “erroneous” in this sense is a category error using a concept unavailable under materialism.  There is no means by which to determine what beliefs are “true” or “false” because the conditions and capacity for making such determinations lie entirely within the computation that produced the terms, and attached them to output, in the first place.

The ideas represent by the terms “error” and “truth” cannot be extracted from materialism, where such terms only mean whatever any particular, local, biological automaton (individual expression of physics) says they mean, and are applied wherever the biological automaton applies them.   “It is true” and “It is false”, correctly stated under materialism, becomes “output = X”. And, as we all know with computers, Garbage In = Garbage Out (GIGO), and there is no means or resource for the computations to escape the GIGO problem, because that’s all that exists.  Additionally, computations of physics are not necessarily “true” or “accurate” in any meaningful sense of those words; the “program” can be one that continually produces “false” or nonsensical output – but then, those terms would only have meaning if there was an absolute arbiter.

Suffice it to say, a local computation of physics can produce what we call madmen, fools, sages, scientists, Dahmer, Hiter, Gandhi, Darwin and Billy Graham, and whatever they believed and thought and did, whatever they considered true and false and logical and nonsensical, a dime for a dozen.  So, not only does GIGO apply, but the computational system itself can be programmed to produce garbage even if there is good input (acknowledging that “garbage” and “good”, as used here, are terms that only apply outside of materialist ideology.

The problem is that virtually every post a materialist makes is constructed in a way that relies upon concepts unavailable to their ideology, whether they admit it or not, whether they realize it or not.  Certainly if they make an argument, where they expect their opponents to be able to freely arbit the soundness of their logic, and to be able to freely examine the quality of the evidence, and reach a justified conclusion, they are necessarily assuming that butterfly wind and pizza cannot be necessary causal contributors, and are assuming (even if unknowingly) both are using an absolute standard of arbitration and not whatever any chaotic and non-linear permutations of physics happens to produce in each case. They depend on the individual capacity to supercede the GIGO problem and the individuals free capacity to access absolute standards and resources.

TL;DR: All materialist arguments, if materialism is true, amount to nothing more – fundamentally – than monkeys flinging feces at other monkeys, blindly hoping that this act will make the other monkey submissive to them.  Any other understanding requires concepts unavailable to the materialist, regardless of the words and terms they use. When materialists argue as if they are making sound arguments their opponents should understand and accept, they are necessarily refuting their own metaphysical position.

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18 Responses to Stolen Concepts: All Materialist Arguments Are Self-Refuting

  1. Behind every great materialist principle stands an even greater self-referential inconsistency.

  2. And now, we see, behind any materialist claim stands an uneliminable self-referential inconsistency.

  3. Nicely laid out, WJM. The dissent is uncommon in its absence. If I were a materialist, I certainly wouldn’t want to engage this challenge. The stolen concepts in any real argument against it are too easy to identify and expose.

  4. 4
    Kantian Naturalist

    Once, just once, it would be nice to see someone here actually specifying just which “materialists” they have in mind. I don’t mean nincompoops like Dawkins — I mean, serious naturalists who have done the hard work of re-conceptualizing rationality, meaning, and agency within naturalistic terms. It shouldn’t be that hard to track down, say, work by Quine, Sellars, Churchland, Haack, Kitcher, McDowell, Millikan Rouse, Flanagan, and maybe a few dozen others. I mean, you wouldn’t want to be accused of beating up a straw-man, wouldn’t you?

    (Also: don’t rely on the Objectivists for your theory of concepts. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas.)

  5. Ah yes, Churchland’s “reconceptualizing” of rationality:

    “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive…. . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

  6. And then there’s Quine’s “reconceptualizing” of meaning which holds that the meaning of thoughts is indeterminate (ie, that there’s actually no objective fact of the matter about the content of any of our thoughts), which in turn means that there’s no fact of the matter about whether any thought is rational or irrational, or true or false.

  7. And don’t forget Rosenberg, who wrote a whole book to basically say that everything William said about the incoherence of naturalism is true, but that we are obligated to believe it anyway (even though there’s no such thing as beliefs), because we must prioritize following the “logical implications” (even though logic isn’t actually absolute) of the “evidence” (which doesn’t exist any more than beliefs) revealed by science to the “truth” (which doesn’t exist and isn’t a real property of beliefs, which also don’t exist).

    (Some fun at his expense here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.....undup.html)

  8. 8
    Kantian Naturalist

    Actually, I had in mind Paul Churchland, not Patricia Churchland. And I think that if you look at the whole article from which that little quote is drawn, you’ll find that she’s well on her way to naturalizing epistemology, not rejecting epistemology. Though that article was written in 1987; neuroscience has changed a lot since then, and so has our understanding of the philosophical problems it poses.

    As for Quine, his thesis is the indeterminacy of translation, given that he rejects “meanings” (intensional entities) altogether. But given his holistic treatment of language, it’s not entirely clear to me how much of a problem for his treatment of truth or knowledge. I myself happen to think that Quine’s neglect of intensions and normativity does scuttle his entire project, which is why I’m far more enthusiastic about Sellars than I am about Quine. Sellars does, to a considerable degree, show us just how to ‘naturalize’ normativity, meaning, and rationality, and while his philosophy is not entirely satisfying, it is remarkably so.

    I’m quite happy to grant that Rosenberg is a good example of what Murray has in mind, though I’m less than enthusiastic about Feser’s response. Robert Pippin has a nice criticism of “disenchanted naturalism” here here. His point, basically, is that naturalism need not be “disenchanting.”

  9. KN: Now that my net connexion is up for the moment, why not enlighten us in a nutshell as to how serious naturalism escapes the concerns that are highlighted by WJM above? Compatibilism? Self Emergence? Etc? KF

  10. 10
    Kantian Naturalist

    I think that emergentism is a strikingly different metaphysics than materialism or dualism. Here’s one way of putting it:

    (1) Dualism gives us The Bifurcated World: the world consists of two fundamentally different kinds of substance (mind and matter), each of which is characterized by an essential property (mental and physical), and is constituted by logically and metaphysically distinct substantial particulars (minds and bodies). Nothing is essentially both physical and mental, although some things may exist as temporary unions of mind and body. (How logically and metaphysically distinct things can causally interact (or even appear) to causally interact is a serious problem.

    (2) Materialism gives us The Layered World: the world consists of a series of “levels”, each of which hierarchically imposed on the others, and each level supervenes on the level below it. Mental facts –> biological facts –> chemical facts –> molecular, atomic, and quantum facts. (A major problem with this view is that each ‘level’ has its own conceptual, ontological, and causal integrity — whereas some philosophers hold that biology is irreducible to chemistry for merely epistemological and methodological reasons, I hold the stronger view that biology is irreducible to chemistry for ontological (or metaphysical) reasons.)

    (3) Emergentism gives us the Dynamic World: the world consists of processes that are inherently active and reactive, energetic, and operating at all ‘scales’ of temporal and spatial resolution — some processes are vast and slow, others small and fast, and many in-between. Some of these processes are merely physico-chemical, some are biological, and some are mental. The basic elements in this ontology are processes, not substances (as in dualism) or even particles (as in materialism).

    As I see it, the frequently-heard allegation that emergentism is an intellectual fraud depends on whether there is a conceptual difference between emergence and supervenience. It seems quite clear to me that there is, but I’d be happy to go over it again.

  11. 11
    Kantian Naturalist

    I’d also like to raise a point or two against the idea of “stolen concepts.”

    The very idea of a “stolen concept fallacy” relies on an indefensible assumption about concepts, because of the equivocation “logically or genetically”.

    To use a concept that contradicts its logical relations with other concepts, is just a straightforward mistake and doesn’t require us to coin a new ‘fallacy’. But to say that using a concept divorced from its conditions of genesis is a fallacy is a conflation of genesis and validity, pure and simple.

    For this to make any sense, it would have to be the case that the people who invent a concept have indefeasible authority over how that concept shall be used by anyone else. And that’s just absurd. One might as well say that the United States isn’t a democracy because our voting practices and requirements for suffrage aren’t exactly those of classical Athens.

    I’m an inferentialist about concepts, following in the tradition of Kant, Hegel, C. I. Lewis, Sellars, and Bob Brandom. In this tradition, what it is for something to be a concept is for it play a role in sorting correct and incorrect inferences. (So conceptual meaning is essentially normative.) If I understand the concept of “parrot,” then I will be able to say, “if this is a parrot, then it is a bird” or “if this is a parrot, then it has feathers”.

    But having mastered the relevant correct (and incorrect) inferences, together with the correct (and incorrect) conditions of application, is all there is to having mastered a concept. Whether one accepts the metaphysical doctrines of whomever developed that concept is simply irrelevant. In other words, concepts are neutral with regard to metaphysics.

    Perhaps I would need to accept the entire Cartesian metaphysics in order to use his terms, such as mens or extensa, precisely as he himself used them. But I do not need to accept all of his uses in order to make use of “mind” and “matter”, so long as there are rules for using those terms. And it’s a good thing, too, since denying that seemingly obvious point just makes nonsense of the perfectly obvious facts of semantic change and revision.

    The real challenge, implicit in Murray’s post above, is better put as follows:

    We in the Platonic/Christian tradition have a really good story to tell about the origins of rationality and normativity — about our ability to judge, discriminate, and infer. But the Epicurean tradition, since it reduces everything to chance and necessity, cannot account for normativity. Hence the Epicurean argues against herself whenever she argues at all.

    And to this I fully agree, provided that the challenge is understood as directed squarely against the Epicurean tradition (“materialism”).

    I do not see how emergentism is vulnerable to this allegation, since the emergentist can account for norms in terms of patterns of social interaction amongst large-brained animals. That’s normativity enough for me, even though it doesn’t deliver everything that the Platonic/Christian tradition delivers.

  12. How logically and metaphysically distinct things can causally interact (or even appear to causally interact) is a serious problem.

    How so?

  13. Actually, I had in mind Paul Churchland, not Patricia Churchland.

    It hardly makes a difference. Both are eliminative materialists, who’s “re-conceptualizing rationality” consists of saying that we need “replacement concepts” for beliefs, conscious experience, aboutness, logic, truth, and presumably concepts, because “folk psychology” is mistaken (or whatever the yet undiscovered replacement-replacement-concept for “mistaken” is) and none of those things exist. Both share the same position as Alex Rosenberg. William could hardly ask for a better example to make his point than the eliminativists.

    And to this I fully agree, provided that the challenge is understood as directed squarely against the Epicurean tradition (“materialism”).

    It’s just fully bizarre for the same person to say this after name-dropping several materialists, including several eliminative materialists, as being good examples of “re-conceptualizing” rationality that supposedly show that Murray’s claims about the self-refuting nature of materialism is a straw man fallacy (or Paul Churchland’s future replacement-replacement-concept for a straw-man fallacy, or what have you).

  14. KN:

    There is rather a flood of commentary here at UD at the moment, much of it repeating the same talking points in different contexts. That makes it hard to follow the thread of issues.

    However, your summary and onward remarks on the kidnapped concept fallacy [I think that is a better term] are important, even amidst the flood.

    First, kidnapped concepts.

    The issue there is really coherence and abuse of associations, rather than genetics. If a concept that is grounded — and I know you do not like that term for warrant from/rooted in first principles and plausibles, but there it is — in a view that is coherent therein, and has become popular, is then seized upon and pushed into a stystem where it is incompatible, and there are attempts — often unannounced — to redefine it to make it fit [one thinks of the Procrustean bed] that run into any number of serious problems, that is an important concern. And of course, fallacies are named as shorthands for what is found common enough in the wild to characterise.

    So, I find the kidnapped concept issue relevant. (Complete with Stockholm syndrome . . . think Patricia Hearst kidnapped by the SLA helping rob a bank under brainwashing pressure and identification with her captors for survival.)

    In short, if an alien worldview uses terms that have meaning and roots elsewhere, it needs to answer as to how successfully the terms have been transplanted to the new soil. In the case of interest, a priori evolutionary materialism, that is so incoherent to begin with that the answer is almost automatically not well. Including the very act of putting on the prestigious Lab coat of Science which is its principal rhetorical move.

    When it comes to grounding the reality of a responsible, reasoning, reasonable, credibly knowing, morally responsible self, etc, things fall apart even faster.

    As you know, I keep on pointing out the issue that if one traces everything to blind, chance and necessity interactions of atoms etc, then one ends up with such blind forces irrelevant to rationality, truth, and moral principles in the driver seat of one’s worldview. Thus, one sees genetic and cultural accidents and power games in the driver seat. Extending what Plato said 2350 years ago in The Laws, Bk X, might and manipulation make ‘right,’ ‘truth,’ ‘knowledge,’ Science’ — especially ‘the scientific consensus’ — and more.

    As you imagine, I first seriously encountered this phenomenon at the hands of the Marxists in my uni several decades ago, what with their talk of false consciousness, bourgeois class conditioning, etc etc. I have yet to hear a cogent answer to my counter: what about uncle Karl’s class conditioning and your own?

    From that, I saw that Freud’s reduction of our mind to little more than potty training and the like, with Id Ego Superego conflicts etc, was in the same fundamentally self-referentially incoherent boat. From that, I saw as well that B F Skinner and co were in much the same trouble if they were asked: are you little more than pigeons or rats trapped in mazes or boxes, too?

    And from that, it was no great surprise to see that Darwin and his followers had the same problem. Darwin put it aptly in his July 3 1881 letter to William Graham (and no, I am NOT “quote-mining” — a favourite slanderous accusation of dishonesty too often resorted to by evolutionary materialism advocates — but citing accurately in context):

    you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? . . . .

    Lastly I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilisation than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risks the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is. The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world . . .

    yes, THAT is the context of the monkey-mind cite, and it reveals the notion that superiority of mind and society can be translated into survival of the fittest terms. Plantinga’s objection that survival does not entail the truth of underlying mentality is all too apt.

    In short, the materialistic reductionism worldviews project is inherently, inescapably self-referentially incoherent, and can be set to one side as a patently self-refuting dead end, just demand back the kidnapped lab coat first.

    In that context, emergentism [which -- if it is not simply a species of claimed self-organisation implies something from nothing . . . non-being: poofing into existence without rhyme or reason], self-organisation [which implies mechanical necessity and thus low information] and the like do not come across as impressive answers to anything.

    Instead, I would suggest that the context we should begin from is ourselves as going common sense concerns: we are minded (of whatever nature), intelligent, purposeful, willed and knowing some things reliably. We find ourselves morally governed, and therefore the worldview that is credible should account adequately for such facts. And do so coherently and simply but not simplistically, where becoming an ad hoc patchwork that tries to fix leak after leak is a sign of explanatory failure.

    That intelligence and purposefulness often issues in designed outcomes that manifest themselves in objects or phenomena reflecting a capacity that simple analysis will show cannot credibly be rooted in blind chance and mechanical necessity. That is, I point here to FSCO/I as a characteristic sign of intelligence in action, and that it cannot reasonably be accounted for on blind mechanisms.

    We have reason to see intelligent behaviour and moral behaviour as of a different order from blind chance and mechanical necessity.

    In that context, Eng./Researcher Derek Smith’s two tier controller cybernetic model offers opportunities to see ways that his can be achieved that go beyond a world of blind mechanisms and chance. Namely, we have a loop with a front-end input/ output controller that interacts with as well a higher order one that allows learning, purpose etc to be integrated. Where also, a two-port store of information and processor is an integral part of the system.

    There are suggested quantum influence and informational models that can be applied to the interface, but that is just a further discussion.

    My point is, there is a context for serious discussion that is not necessarily locked into materialistic reductionism and the self-referential consequences that flow from that.


  15. 15
    Kantian Naturalist

    It hardly makes a difference. Both are eliminative materialists, who’s “re-conceptualizing rationality” consists of saying that we need “replacement concepts” for beliefs, conscious experience, aboutness, logic, truth, and presumably concepts, because “folk psychology” is mistaken (or whatever the yet undiscovered replacement-replacement-concept for “mistaken” is) and none of those things exist. Both share the same position as Alex Rosenberg. William could hardly ask for a better example to make his point than the eliminativists.

    Well, I’m not the world’s leading expert on the Churchlands, but I’ve read Paul Churchland’s Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind and his Plato’s Camera, plus a few of his articles — including a really interesting (and, I think, basically correct) response to Plantinga’s EAAN — and I’ve heard him talk a few times and I’ve read a few articles about him. On that basis, I’m fairly sure that the Churchlands are not eliminativists about consciousness, conceptuality, or intentionality. They are eliminativists about propositional attitudes, or more precisely, their view is that propositions cannot be the basic units of cognition. (In contrast to, say, Kant or Frege.)

    And in one sense of ‘cognition’, that’s clearly right, because neurophysiological processes do not represent the organism’s environment in terms of proposition-like structures.

  16. William:

    Generally agreed upon by many of those at TSZ (although now I suspect we’ll get a barrage of disagreement via DDS), human beings are material computations of physics, meaning that everything a human does, says, thinks, believes, concludes, etc. is generated by a non-linear and largely unpredictable cause and effect sequence of physics.

    unpredictable by whom, using what information?

    This is absolutely key to your argument.

    Also, I have explicitly reject the idea that a human being “is computation”. A human being, to me, is an organism. The particular organism writing this post, I refer to as “I”, as most of us do – i.e. the organism doing the speaking or writing refers to the organism doing the speaking or writing, it calls that organism “I”. The one it is speaking to, it may call “you”. The ones it is speaking about , it may call “they”.

    There is nothing “borrowed” about these concepts. It is perfectly natural, to parse the world into objects and agents on the one hand, and events on the other. Moreoever, to survive in the world, it pays organisms to predict events on the basis of its model of objects and agents and their past and anticipated behaviour.

    Again, none of these concepts are “borrowed”. We observe that agents make informed choices – we can anticipated those choices. We choose to act in one way rather than another. Nothing about this is “borrowed” – it’s simply the word we use when we select our actions having considered their possible consequences. This is completely compatible with a model of mind in which mind emerges from matter, not the other way round.

    In fact, it seems to me that if anything, it is the “mind alters matter” view that is doing the borrowing – by positing an unevidenced actor, and attributing to it the properties that can be readily attributed to a material organism, but scarcely attributable to a immaterial entity, such as the capacity to move stuff around.

    And if mind doesn’t move stuff around, how does it have any impact on the material world?

  17. 17
    Kantian Naturalist

    Responding to a few points here and there raised by KF’s (14):

    (1) Do ‘ordinary’ concepts like “dog” and “tree” need to be grounded in a world-view? If they don’t, then why are concepts like “language” and “reason” and “value” any different?

    (2) I’m not interested in defending (or attacking) “materialism,” since I’m an emergentist, not a materialist. If you want to engage me in a spirited round or two of debate about emergentism, I’m game.

    (3) I’m not moved by “Darwin’s Doubt” or Plantinga’s EAAN, because I think that pragmatism does a perfectly fine job of undermining the worry. A few months ago, nullasalus and I had a nice debate about whether Churchland’s response to Plantinga really hits the mark. He/she thought that Churchland missed the point of the EAAN, and I thought that his response to Plantinga was pretty much right. The crux of the matter is whether “reliable cognition” is conceived of in terms of “mostly true beliefs” (as Plantinga does) or in terms of sustaining a homomorphic relation between neurophysiological processes and environmental process, as Churchland does. Nullasalus’ defense of Plantinga seemed to come down to (and perhaps I’m not being fair to him/her), “that’s just what everyone means by ‘reliable cognition’!” Needless to say, I was not moved by this appeal to the ‘intuitions’ embedded in ‘ordinary language’, and still less by Plantinga’s use of Bayesian analysis. And that’s still my position, as far as Darwin’s Doubt is concerned.

    (Incidentally, the only major philosopher who seemed to have really endorsed Darwin’s Doubt is Nietzsche. The American pragmatists — who understood Darwin better than Nietzsche did — did not endorse the Doubt. I find that quite fascinating and I may write a paper on it at some point.)

    (4) In my own approach to these (and many, many other) issues, I’m quite happy to begin with what Sellars called “the Manifest Image”, which is to say that I think it’s basically right to begin with acknowledging that

    we are minded (of whatever nature), intelligent, purposeful, willed and knowing some things reliably. We find ourselves morally governed, and therefore the worldview that is credible should account adequately for such facts.

    and that’s all copacetic by me. So then the questions are: what is the metaphysics implicit within the scientific world-view, what Sellars called “the Scientific Image”? If there is a tension between the Scientific Image and the Manifest Image? If so, on what particular points? What options are there for reconciling the two images? And, of those options, which one fares best?

    Now, this problem — how to reconcile or fuse the two images — is the Sellarsian problem. And he did a great deal to solve it. But for my money, I think Sellars made the whole problem much harder on himself than it had to be because he assumed that the scientific image delivered a materialistic metaphysics. By contrast, if we make the following moves:

    (a) liberating the scientific image from the prison of mechanistic, materialistic reduction by re-conceiving it as delivering an emergentist metaphysics (as philosophically adumbrated by Peirce, Dewey, Bergson, and Whitehead and empirically substantiated by Prigogine and Kauffman)


    (b) liberating the the manifest image from the prison of Platonic-Christian metaphysics by re-conceiving as delivering a descriptive metaphysics of what it is like to be a person-in-the-world, along the lines already firmly developed in extraordinary detail by Kant, James, C. I. Lewis, Merleau-Ponty, Strawson, Sellars, and Brandom.

    then reconciling the two images is much easier than if one insists on conceiving of the scientific image as delivering a materialistic metaphysics and of the manifest image as delivering a dualistic metaphysics.

  18. 18
    Kantian Naturalist

    Lately I’ve been reading White’s The Science Delusion (not to be confused with Sheldrake’s book with the same name), and it’s prompted me to clarify something about my own views that I’d supposed would be obvious to everyone here, but which may not be.

    White’s book is a critique of scientism from the perspective of Romanticism and the Romanticist critique of positivism and scientism. But the Romantics also accepted the Enlightenment critique of organized religious authority. In effect, the Romantics took the Enlightenment critique of clerical authority and turned it against all secular authorities. And I belong to that tradition as well. Or, more precisely, I belong to that tradition which has sought to strike the right balance between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. But while the Enlightenment has taken some pretty bad lumps over the 20th and 21st centuries, our attempts to reclaim it have blinded us to the importance of Romanticism as well.

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