More Mad Men Ideas, or is it philosophy?

By | May 26, 2012

By Juan Bernal

Either the following show

Momentary Madness or surprising philosophical Confusion.

1 – Belief – When anyone states that he believes X he is just describing his subjective state of mind and not saying anything about X. Hence, when Joe states that he does not believe in God (that he omits such belief), he only describes his subject state but says nothing about his view of reality.

2 – Experiences  -  In each and every perceptual experience, we only have our perceptions. Any affirmation about things behind those perceptions is just a questionable inference.

3 – Agency –   When we ascribe human agency (say that a person does something) we presuppose that the agent is an inner self (soul, ego, Cartesian subject, ghost-in-the-machine, etc.).  Hence, when science denies the reality of this inner self, we must deny human agency.

4 – Control –  Admitting that humans are causally determined in all their actions implies the consequence that they are never in control of their actions.

5 – All or Nothing  –  Either we are in full control or we have no control whatsoever.  Either we are fully autonomous or we have no autonomy at all.  Either we enjoy absolute freedom or we have no freedom at all.

6 – Scientific Theory —  Theories in science differ from confabulation only in matter of degree; hence, scientific theories ultimately are just a form of confabulation.

7 – Knowledge & Truth  –   In so far as naturalism asserts that evolution is unguided evolution, naturalism implies that human sense faculties are unreliable.  The evolutionary fact that our sense faculties are adaptations that enable us to survive and negotiate our environment says nothing about the capability of those faculties to apprehend truth.  Our sense faculties do not often result in true beliefs.

8 – Probability & God  —   Some very intelligent people have advanced arguments that show high probability calculations for God’s existence.  Hence, the skeptic has the burden of showing what is wrong with those arguments,  otherwise his skepticism cannot be rational skepticism.

Attempts to Remedy:

R – 1   Belief.  Although belief often involves some state of mind, the object of most of our beliefs is something other than our psychological state of mind.  For example, when I tell you that I don’t believe that our water will last another hour, I may say something about my state of mind (worry); but I surely say something about an objective state of affairs; namely, our water supply is low and will not last another hour.

R – 2   Perceptual Experience -  It is only in terms of a specific model of perceptual experience that one would affirm that we only have our perceptions. But that model of perceptual experience in which the subject only receives signals from outside is just the result of an analysis of the brain processes that underlie perception.  This analysis does not demonstrate that we only see our seeing or hear our hearing, or touch our touching and so on.   Although sometimes we might say correctly that have visions only subjective in nature or hear phantom sounds (in our head), the ordinary situation is one in which we see things out in the world (trees, dogs, other persons) and hear sounds coming from sources out there in the world (the ocean waves, music by an orchestra, words spoken by our fellows).  It is false that we “have only our perceptions.”

R – 3  Agency – Science and critical philosophy have long shown that there is no ghost in the machine, i.e., no internal self, soul, ego, or Cartesian subject.  But it surely does not follow that the person is not an agent capable of doing many things.  As I can ride a bike or hike five miles, I can also write a poem or analyze an argument.  I can do all these things and affirm that I am the person who does these things without assuming that a small agent exists inside my head who is is the real agent who does the doing.  The inference from denial of the ghost in the machine to denial of agency is simply a gross conceptual confusion.

R – 4   Control  -  Human beings, like all entities existing in a natural and social environment, have a variety of causal conditions that limit what they can and cannot do. Much of what we are and do is causally conditioned.  But this fact does not imply that we have no control over what we can do.  We most often do control a good part of what we do, within the context of many conditions that we don’t control.  It was only a remnant of the old doctrine of a soul not affected by material causation that led some people to the false conclusion that lack of control results from being subjected to a variety of causal conditions.

R – 5   All or Nothing Dichotomies:   They’re all false.  Surely the freedom we enjoy is subject to degrees of freedom, as is the control that we exert on our actions.  That we have limited freedom and limited control does not imply that we lack all control and have no freedom at all.  Personal autonomy does not imply absolute autonomy; it implies only that we have a measure of autonomy, but a measure sufficient for assigning responsibility and credit for our actions.  Nobody ever demonstrated that this required absolute autonomy.

R – 6   Scientific Theory:   Confabulation is a made-up story to cover up something we don’t know or cannot recall.  Scientific theory may be a hypothesis that directs initial investigation or an established theory that unifies evidence and information that our investigation discovers.  In neither case do we have any reason for saying that responsible, informed theorizing is just a form of confabulation.

R – 7   Naturalism undermines knowledge:   The argument showing that naturalism is not consistent with reliable human sense faculties is unsound.  It proceeds on the questionable assumption that adaptations resulting from natural evolution do not result in true beliefs or hardly ever do so.  No argument or reasonable grounds are ever given for this assumption.  It is a false assumption.

R-8    Probability & God:   A number of contemporary philosophers resort to some version Bayes’ Theorem to develop probability arguments regarding traditional religious and historical issues.   The problem is that such probability arguments can be developed by both those who attempt to prove God’s existence and those who work to show the contrary: namely, disprove God’s existence.  Odds are that the skeptical arguments do as much, likely more, than the positive ones.  The fact that very intelligent people are at work is a completely irrelevant fact.  The proof is in the pudding; and the pudding favors those who argue on the basis of real, not imagined, probabilities.

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