Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Work From Schellenberg

As can be seen from recent updates at his academic page,  J.L. Schellenberg's trend of producing lots of important work in philosophy of religion continues unabated. I'm especially looking forward to his two forthcoming books: 

(i) Renewing Philosophy of Religion: Exploratory Essays (with Paul Draper). OUP, forthcoming in 2016. I expect that it will be the book to look to in relation to the current trend to unmoor philosophy of religion from the undue influence of apologetically-oriented Christian theism.

(ii) The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy's New Challenge to Belief in God. OUP, forthcoming in 2015. The book's aim looks to be to bring the arguments from Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason to a general audience.

He has also added a slew of new papers to his site. No doubt they will be required reading, along with the rest of his corpus. Happy reading! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Smith's Argument Against the Compatibility of Naturalism and Concept Formation

(Rough draft)

In the previous post in this series, we looked at Smith's argument against naturalistic accounts of concept correction. In this post, we'll take a brief look at Smith's argument against several naturalistic accounts of concept formation.

Here's a first pass at expressing Smith's argument:

1. If the views of Dretske et al. are correct, then every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization. 
2. If every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization, then the process of forming concepts can never get started. 
3. If the process of forming concepts can never get started, then we can't form concepts.
-------------------------------------- 
4. Therefore, if the views of Dretske et al. are correct, then we can’t form concepts. 
5. We can form concepts. 
--------------------------------------
6. Therefore, the views of Dretske et al. are not correct.

What to make of this argument? Perhaps the most obvious concern is that (2) is implausible as expressed above. For if every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically prepackaged with a conceptualization, then it would seem that the process of forming concepts can get started; by the very accounts Smith attributes to the authors in play, the process gets started automatically, with an agent's first act of introspection.

Smith seems to realize this, however, as indicated by his parenthetical remark that if the authors' view were correct, then we couldn't form concepts "in a way that involves understanding". By this, he means a conscious, intentional process, as opposed to a process that is sub-personal, unconscious, and automatic. Let us therefore revise (2) accordingly:

2'. If every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization, then the process of consciously, intentionally forming concepts can never get started.

Unfortunately, (2') isn't much of an improvement over (2). For its consequent doesn't obviously follow from its antecedent. Thus, assume that our minds have been forming concepts automatically and sub-personally for as long as you please -- say, up to our 21st birthday.  It nonetheless seems possible that we can get started forming concepts in a conscious, intentional way on our 21st birthday.  Therefore, (2') seems false. Of course, if Smith's gloss on the authors' views in play are correct, then those concepts will have constituents that were not consciously and intentionally formed by the agent, but why is that a problem? We saw in the last post that Smith worries about the reliability of concepts that aren't formed consciously and intentionally, without pre-conceptual acquaintance with the external world, but we also saw that it's not at all that clear his worries are warranted.

In any case, what does seem true is not (2'), but rather

(2'') If every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization, and the process of forming concepts is essentially a non-automatic, conscious, intentional process, then the process of forming concepts can never get started.

(2'')'s consequent seems to follow from its antecedent, and so in this sense, at least, (2''') is an improvement over (2'). But to preserve the validity of the argument, we'll need to add a premise that states the new clause present in (2'')'s antecedent. Let's therefore revise the argument accordingly:

1. If the views of Dretske et al. are correct, then every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization. 
2''. If every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization, and the process of forming concepts is essentially a non-automatic, conscious, intentional process, then the process of forming concepts can never get started.
2 1/2.  The process of forming concepts is essentially a non-automatic, conscious, intentional process.
3. If the process of forming concepts can never get started, then we can't form concepts.
-------------------------------------- 
4. Therefore, if the views of Dretske et al. are correct, then we can’t form concepts. 
5. We can form concepts. 
--------------------------------------
6. Therefore, the views of Dretske et al. are not correct.

Unfortunately, the problem now lies with (2 1/2): Why think the process of forming concepts is essentially a non-automatic, conscious, intentional process? It certainly doesn't seem to be known a priori. Perhaps one can weaken (2) and (2 1/2) by removing 'essentially', so that the relevant clause is a contingent truth. But then it becomes an empirical claim. Now Smith appeals to some of his own experience of forming concepts, and that of his daughter, as supporting empirical evidence, but of course that's not sufficient to support the claim. What's required is a representative sampling of the empirical literature on concept formation, as well as defeaters for nativist accounts of concept possession. Unfortunately, Smith nowhere addresses this literature.

However, some of Smith's remarks in the chapter suggest that he's pursuing a weaker line of argument. According to this latter construal of his argument, it is granted arguendo that some concepts may be innate, in which case the problem of accounting for coming to have concepts at all is mitigated. However, the worry is that even if this is so, it's not plausible that we have enough innate concepts to account for all the concepts that we possess. The background assumption seems to be that on any plausible account of this sort, the sources for concepts are limited to (i) a modest stock of innate concepts and (ii) those that can somehow be built up from combining representational elements from that stock (presumably via imagination or some automatic process). We can express this line of reasoning as follows:

1. If the most plausible glosses on the views of Dretske et al. are correct, then (a) every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization, (b) the concepts involved in such packaging are all innate, (c) all our concepts are either innate or constructed from such, and (d) we have no other resources for forming new concepts.
2. If (a) every act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent come to us automatically pre-packaged with a conceptualization, (b) the concepts involved in such packaging are all innate, (c) all our concepts are either innate or constructed from such, and (d) we have no other resources for forming new concepts, then we wouldn't have nearly as many concepts as we do.
3. The consequent of (2) is false.
---------------------------------------
4. Therefore, the most plausible glosses on the views of Dretske et al. are not correct.

I'm unable to see the plausibility of (1), however: why think the most plausible gloss on the authors' views in play includes clauses (c) and (d)? After all, it's natural to think that any account of concept formation worth it's salt will include some story about the contributions of perceptual experience, whether or not the process involved in such input is intentional or automatic. It therefore seems that the most plausible glosses on their accounts will include a story involving the contributions of this source. And if that's right, then (1) looks to be false or otherwise unjustified. Again, Smith might worry that the contributions of experience are suspect, but we've seen in previous posts that those worries aren't sufficiently motivated.

That's it for now. Next time, we'll finish up with Section I of Smith's book with a look at his argument against naturalistic accounts of intentionality.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Smith's Argument Against the Compatibility of Naturalism and Concept Correction

In this post, I'd like to look at Smith's argument that Dretske/Tye/Lycan-style naturalistic accounts of concept acquisition can't account for the possibility of correcting faulty concepts.

As with the other arguments we've discussed from the book, Smith doesn't explicitly lay out his argument in standard form. But I think it can be expressed fairly as follows:


1. If the views of Dretske et al.  are correct, then the act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent comes to us pre-packaged with a conceptualization.
2. If the act of introspection requires that the representation of its referent comes to us pre-packaged with a conceptualization, then we cannot introspect our experiences in a non-conceptual way.
3. If we cannot introspect our experiences in a non-conceptual way, then we cannot compare what is non-conceptually represented in experiences with a concept.
4. If we cannot compare what is non-conceptually represented in experiences with a concept, then we cannot correct concepts.
----------------------------------
5. Therefore, if the views of Dretske et al. are correct, then we cannot correct concepts.

The argument is clearly valid. Furthermore, (1) seems to be true in virtue of the views of the authors referred to in the premise, and (2) and (3) are at least prima facie plausible, if not something in the neighborhood of analytic truths. But why does Smith think we should accept (4)? From our discussion in the previous post, we see that (4) expresses Smith's view that the only way to correct mistaken concepts is via comparing the concept to its referent via non-conceptual awareness of the latter to see if they "match". But why think that? It seems to me that there are at least three reasons to doubt (4).

First, it doesn't take too much trouble to think up epistemically possible ways to correct our concepts even if our introspected experiences come pre-packaged with them. Off the top of my head, here are three: (i) Those who regularly produce and retain concepts that are wrong about things are likely to die quickly (e.g., "That creature running toward me is friendly"; "These (poisonous) berries are nutritious", etc.), and are thereby naturally selected out of the gene pool. By contrast, those with more accurate concepts are more likely to survive and reproduce. (The argument is supposed to be independent of Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, so let's leave it aside for another day.); (ii) less drastically, faulty concepts can be corrected or replaced by inference through rudimentary hypothesis-testing. Concepts that are inept or inferior with respect to helping us navigate our way through the world are revised or replaced; (iii) faulty concepts can be corrected through communication with others and testimony. Perhaps there are some fundamental problems with each of these proposals, but unfortunately Smith doesn't tell us what they are.

Second, whatever one thinks of these epistemic possibilities, Smith's argument should immediately make one think something must be wrong with premise 4. For if we can’t correct concepts that can't be directly compared to their referent to see if they "match", then truth-conducive theoretical reasoning, including scientific theorizing, is impossible, and I don't think even Smith wants to grant that. 

Finally, it's not clear how Smith can accept (4) without accepting a logically inconsistent set of propositions.  This is because he later wants to argue that we can have indirect, inferential knowledge of God through inductive and deductive reasoning. Given that clearing the decks to make room for the the latter claim is the primary aim of the book, it would seem that Smith is committed to rejecting (4).

That's it for now. Next time, we'll look at Smith's argument against  the compatibility of naturalism and concept formation.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Smith's Master Argument Against Naturalistic Accounts of Perceptual Knowledge in Part I of Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

Last time we discussed Smith's book, we focused on his master argument against naturalistic accounts of concept acquisition and correction. Here I'd like to focus on his master argument against naturalistic accounts of perception. As with the former argument, Smith nowhere explicitly lays out the argument in standard form. However, I think it can be fairly expressed as follows:
1. If naturalism is true, then either naturalistic direct realism (think Armstrong, Dretske et. al.) is true or some version of indirect realism is true.
2. If some version of indirect realism is true, then we don’t have adequate internally accessible grounds for believing that our perceptual experiences are caused by and accurately represent the external world.
3. If we don’t have adequate internally accessible grounds for believing that our perceptual experiences are caused by and accurately represent the external world, then we don’t have perceptual knowledge of the external world.
4. Therefore, if some version of indirect realism is true, then we don’t have perceptual knowledge of the external world.
5. If naturalistic direct realism is true, then a causal chain stands between the external world and our perceptual beliefs.
6. If a causal chain stands between the external world and our perceptual beliefs, then we don't have internally accessible grounds for believing that our perceptual beliefs are caused by and accurately represent the external world.
7. If we don't have internally accessible grounds for believing that our perceptual beliefs are caused by and accurately represent the external world, then we don’t have perceptual knowledge of the external world.
8. Therefore, if naturalistic direct realism is true, then we don't have perceptual knowledge of the external world.
9. Therefore, if naturalism is true, then we don’t have perceptual knowledge of the external world.
The argument is clearly valid. However, it's also clear that one can raise a number of worries about its premises and their justification. Here though, I'd like to raise perhaps the most obvious worry: the argument relies on the truth of epistemic internalism (See premises 3 and 7). It would thus be helpful if Smith engaged with the recent literature on the internalism/externalism divide, and  provided an argument for epistemic internalism in his book. Unfortunately, one will look in vain to find such

Relatedly, it seems that Smith is operating with a very narrow notion of internally accessible grounds, viz., an argument of some sort. But this leaves out an account of internally accessible grounds of one of the dominant versions of epistemic internalism today, viz., phenomenal conservatism. Thus, it seems to me that I'm in my office. In at least this sense, then, I have internally accessible evidence that I'm in my office. Why isn't this sufficient internally accessible (defeasible) evidence for my perceptual belief that I'm in my office? Again, one will look for an answer to this reply (and, more generally, for engagement with the literature on phenomenal conservativism) in vain if one looks for it within the pages of Smith's book.

Finally, Smith doesn't adequately develop his grounds for thinking that perceptual knowledge is impossible even on the conjunction of indirect realism and his narrow conception of epistemic internalism. This is troubling, given semi-recent arguments that begin with Smith's starting points and reach the opposite conclusion (cf. Bonjour, Vogel et. al).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Argument from Tragic Moral Dilemmas

Here's another argument I'm toying with. It's a variation on the problem of evil. The basic line of thought is that there are tragic moral dilemmas in our world, i.e., contexts in which a moral agent must make a choice, but all available choices will ruin a good person -- they must choose something that is a moral abomination. The paradigm case of this sort of tragic moral dilemma is the central case in the movie, Sophie's Choice. Recall that in this case, the mother must choose which of her two children to hand over to be killed by the Nazis. If she refuses to choose, both children will die. (We can add that if she offers herself in their place, the Nazi soldier will kill all of them).  The argument can be stated simply as follows:

1. If theism is true, then there are no tragic moral dilemmas.
2. It's not the case that there are no tragic moral dilemmas.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, theism is false.

Premise 2 seems true. What about premise 1? Perhaps the theist could construct a theodicy or defense to undercut the premise, but what could it be? It seems that free will defenses and soul-making theodicies fall flat in such cases. What, then?

In any case, that's the basic argument. Thoughts?

The Argument from Environmental Mismatch

Here's another argument I'm toying with. The Earth is filled with harmful and lethal flora and fauna. Furthermore, such flora and fauna are often either undetectable, or look harmless upon first inspection. Theism makes this surprising, as the Earth is supposed to be our home, and not a Hunger Games scenario. By contrast, such a human-inhospitable environment is expected on the conjunction of naturalism and evolution. So if theism is true, then there appears to be a root mismatch between goal and outcome. Such an argument is conceptually distinct from arguments from evil; it's a planning or implementation problem at root, and not a moral problem.

In any case, that's the basic idea. Thoughts?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Getting Clear on One of Smith's Core Argument in Part I of Naturalismand Our Knowledge of Reality

(Rough Draft)

In this post, I'd like to try to get clear on the master argument of Smith's critique of naturalistic accounts of concept acquisition in Part I of Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality.  

Smith's master argument in Part I relies on his own picture of concept acquisition, correction, and application, so it's crucial to get clear on the latter first. Unfortunately, Smith's account is never explicitly laid out, relying on several illustrative examples in lieu of such. His account is thus frustratingly under-explicated. But we can extract from Smith's examples a programmatic sketch of his account of concept acquisition and application in terms of the following five phases, adding labels to each one for ease of reference:
Phase 1: Acquaintance: One becomes directly aware of the entity (for knowledge of an individual), or of a sufficiently large quantity of particular tokens of a type of entity (for knowledge of kinds of entity), in an unvarnished, pre-conceptual mode of presentation. 

Phase 2: Feature-Noticing and Labeling: One notices the features of the entity (or a series of entities, for knowledge of kinds of entity) and labels (i.e., associates a term with) them.
Phase 3: Object/Kind Recognition and Abstraction: One begins to recognize which features of the entity (or kind of entity) are individuative of it (or them) -- at least at a level sufficient for practical purposes.  
Phase 4: Comparison and Correction:  When needed, one compares the object (or tokens of the type of object) with the concept to determine if the concept needs correction. In at least some cases (esp. borderline cases/"close calls"), this process relies upon (i) a capacity to compare object to concept to determine whether they "match", which in turn relies upon (ii) the capacity for introspective awareness of one's concept and (iii) the capacity for non-conceptual awareness of one's current experience and non-conceptual recall of one's past experiences. This process is, in at least some cases, (iv) a conscious, intentional process, not sub-personal and automatic.

Phase 5: Competent Application: One is able to regularly and successfully apply the concept to the entity (or tokens of that type of entity). In at least some cases (esp. borderline cases/"close calls"), this process relies upon(i) a capacity to compare object to concept to determine whether they "match", which in turn relies upon (ii) the capacity for introspective awareness of one's concept and (iii) the capacity for non-conceptual awareness of one's current experience and non-conceptual recall of one's past experiences. This process is, in at least some cases, (iv) a conscious, intentional process, not sub-personal and automatic.
So that's Smith's account of concept formation, acquisition, and correction. With his account in mind, we can express his master argument in Part I simply, as follows:

1. All of Phases 1-5 (of Smith's account) are required for genuine concept acquisition, correction, and application as we find them in humans 
2. Naturalistic accounts don't have the materials to account for all of Phases 1-5.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Therefore, naturalistic accounts can't explain genuine concept acquisition, correction, and application as we find them in humans.

So that's the master argument against naturalistic concept acquisition. Why should we accept the premises? Smith's grounds for 2 consist in a critique of what he takes to be a representative sampling of the most promising naturalistic accounts of knowledge on offer. 

What about premise 1: Why should we accept it? That is, why think all five of Smith's phases are required for genuine concept formation, correction, and application? Smith doesn't say much about Phases 2 and 3, but I find them relatively plausible. Furthermore, we've already seen Smith's rationale for Phase 1 in our discussion of ch. 1., viz. that without direct awareness of the external referents of perception, one falls prey to radical skepticism about perceptual knowledge, as one can never be sure that one's internal representations of them are caused by them and accurately represent them.[1] 

What about Phases 4 and 5? Recall that Smith thinks both phases require three capacities:
(i) a capacity to compare object to concept to determine whether they "match".
 which in turn relies upon 
(ii) the capacity for introspective awareness of one's concept.
 and 
(iii) the capacity for non-conceptual awareness of one's current experiences and non-conceptual recall of one's past experiences. 
Finally, Smith thinks that 
(iv) this process is, in at least some cases, a conscious, intentional process, not sub-personal and automatic.
I'm inclined to agree with Smith that (iv) is prima facie plausible. But why are we supposed to think (i)-(iii) are required? We'll go into these in some detail in a future post, but for now I want to note that Smith's core rationale is that otherwise we can't be sure if our concepts are accurate. Thus, the same assumption is at the heart of Smith's objections to naturalistic accounts of both percepts and concepts: knowledge of external referents is impossible if an intermediary stands between mind and world -- sense data in the case of perceptions of the world, and concepts in the case of conceptualizations of the world. In short, Smith's core assumption is that naked, unmediated access to the world and our experience of it are required for knowledge.

Our reconstruction of Smith's master argument in Part I reveals three core issues to explore in evaluating it: one for premise 1 and two for premise 2:

Re: premise 1: (a) Are all five of Smith's phases of concept acquisition required? In particular, does concept acquisition regarding the external world require unmediated, unconceptualized access to both it and our introspective states?

Re: premise 2: (b) Are the naturalistic accounts of knowledge Smith criticizes representative? (c) If they are representative, are his criticisms successful?

That's it for now. Next time, I'll explore question (a).
----------------------------------------------------
[1] We discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of Smith's response to the epistemic externalist's reply on this score in the post on ch. 1.

CfP Announcement: Explaining and Explaining Away in Science and Religion

CFP: Explaining and Explaining Away in Science and Religion

Submission deadline: November 7, 2014

Conference date(s):
January 8, 2015 - January 9, 2015

Conference Venue:
University of Ulster 
Belfast, United Kingdom

Topic areas

Details
EXPLAINING AND EXPLAINING AWAY IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Belfast, 8-9 January, 2015

Overview
In discussions about the relationship between science and religion, it is sometimes argued that scientific explanations remove or undermine the need for religious explanations. Although such explanations might be logically compatible, the claim is that there is no need for two explanations when one will do. Given Occam's razor and the success of science, it is claimed that religious explanations are no longer needed for features of the world around us. Is this correct? Has science 'explained away' the need for religion? This conference will address this issue by exploring topics such as:

• what are the similarities and differences between scientific and religious explanations?
• can science explain away religious beliefs?
• can religious explanations complement scientific explanations?
• case studies from the history of science and religion on the above themes

The conference will be of interest to philosophers, scientists, theologians and historians of science. Keynote speakers include:

Revd. Dr. Rodney Holder (Cambridge)
Prof. David N. Livingstone (QUB)
Prof. Roger Trigg (Oxford)

Call for Papers
Contributed papers are invited on the topics identified above (or related topics relevant to the conference theme). An extended abstract of no more than 1000 words should be submitted to Dr Shuwei Chen (s.chen@ulster.ac.uk) by Friday 7 November and decisions will be made by 21 November. We will be approaching a publisher about the possibility of publishing a volume based on papers presented at the conference.

Funding is available to support travel and accommodation expenses for speakers.

This conference is part of a two year project on 'Explaining and Explaining Away' at the University of Ulster which is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Details of the project can be found at:

(via)

Bogardus Blogging on His Paper, The Problem of Contingency for Religious Belief"

...over at The Philosopher's Cocoon.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Quote for the Day

Craig’s example of the stranded astronaut . . . admits of a similar reply. Contemplating the predicament of a man who has nothing but a rock to sit on and must endure his solitude for all eternity does indeed come close to contemplating something meaningless. But this is simply the result of the fact that, by completely isolating the man, the example surreptitiously removes the vast majority of human goods from his life. Let the man be on the Earth, not on an asteroid lost in space. Instead of being alone, let him be surrounded by family, friends, and opportunities for growth and understanding. Let him live a human life with access to the full range of human goods. Suddenly, it is no longer obvious that his life would be meaningless. If it were a finite life, it would still contain many important goods capable of carving a niche for meaningfulness in the face of any suffering the man may endure along the way. And if he inadvertently drank the potion for immortality, as in the example Craig cites, the man would not sink into despair as long as, for example, the people who are important to him drank the potion too, and they could all reasonably expect to continue to enjoy the moral and intellectual goods that are available to them now. An infinitely extended human life endowed with goods of the moral sort is in fact the model for theistic conceptions of the afterlife. So, with the appropriate modifications, the example of the man inadvertently drinking the potion for immortality does not lead to the conclusion that life, even if infinite, is meaningless without God. Rather, the modified example reveals that worthwhile relationships, understanding, and love are the ultimate sources of meaning for a human life. By themselves, without any need for a God to exist, they give our lives their significance and value, so much so that even theists craft their idea of eternal beatitude from the idea of a life where the supply of these goods never ends.

-Di Muzio, Gianluca. "Theism and the Meaning of Life", Ars Disputandi 6:1 (2006), pp. 138-139.