Monday, June 28, 2010

Plantinga's Reply to Bergmann on the EAAN vs. Plantinga's Reply to Draper's Evidential Argument from Evil: A Tension?

I raise the following worry for Plantinga's views as a means of getting clearer on them. The hope is that someone will straighten me out.

In response to Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturaism (EAAN), Christian philosopher Michael Bergmann argues[1] (roughly) that perceptual, mnemonic, introspective, testimonial, and a priori beliefs are properly warrant-basic, and thus enjoy a very high degree of warrant that is independent from propositional evidence. And since this is so, such beliefs are not defeated by probabilistic inferences against their reliability. Therefore, since Plantinga's EAAN is a probabilistic inference against the reliability of the naturalist's perceptual and other cognitive faculties, the latter does not defeat the naturalist's trust in them. Thus, the EAAN is a failure.

Plantinga's reply[2] is (even more roughly) that, no, the EAAN defeats the warrant enjoyed by the beliefs issuing from the naturalist's cognitive faculties, and thus Bergmann's criticism of the EAAN is unsuccessful.

Here's the thing, though: Plantinga's reply to Bergmann's objection to the EAAN appears to be in tension with his latest reply to Draper's evidential argument from evil.[3] For in "On Being Evidentially Challenged"[4] and in Warranted Christian Belief[5], Plantinga argues the opposite: probabilistic inferences can't undermine warrant-basic beliefs -- at least warrant-basic beliefs held with sufficient firmness.

So it appears that Plantinga wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, he wants to defeat naturalism by arguing that a probabilistic inference can defeat warrant-basic beliefs. But on the other hand, he wants to defend theism by arguing that probabilistic inferences cannot defeat warrant-basic beliefs. But it looks as though something has to give: either probabilistic inferences can undermine warrant-basic beliefs or they can't. If they can, then Plantinga's reply to Draper's evidential argument from evil fails. But if they can't, then it's not clear how Plantinga's EAAN could be an effective defeater for naturalism.
--------------
[1] “Commonsense Naturalism” in James Beilby (ed.), Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), Pp. 61-90.
[2] "Reply to Beilby's Cohorts", in Beilby, Naturalism Defeated?, pp. 230-234.
[3] "Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists", Nous 23 (1989), pp. 331-350.
[4] in Howard-Snyder, ed. The Evidential Argument from Evil (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 244-261.
[5] Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000), pp. 469-481.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Notes on Paul Draper's Critique of the Kalam Argument

Here.

UPDATE: Here is another set of notes on Draper's critique of the Kalam argument. These are from Thomas Senor (University of Arkansas, Fayetteville).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Plantinga's Curious Reply to Lehrer's "Truetemp" Counterexample

In a previous post, we saw that Keith Lehrer raised a variation of his famous "truetemp" counterexample to the sufficiency of Plantinga's proposed analysis of warrant. Here is Plantinga's reply:

"As I see it, Truetemp has a defeater for his belief in the fact that (as he no doubt thinks) he is constructed like other human beings and none of them has this ability; furthermore, everyone he meets scoffs or smiles at his claim that he does have it. Truetemp's defeater means that his belief does not meet the conditions for warrant; hence (contra Lehrer) he doesn't constitute a counterexample to my analysis of warrant." (Warrant in Contemporary Epistemology, p. 333).

So Plantinga's reply is that Truetemp's warrant-basic belief is defeated by an inference from two other things he knows: that (i) he is like other people and that (ii) these other people don't have a similar ability to form accurate beliefs about their own temperature in the basic way. He also takes the fact that others scoff and smile at him (presumably in a contemptuous or condescending or incredulous way) to constitute, or at least partially constitute, a defeater for his belief.

Now if you're like me, you're having a hard time seeing how this reply fits with other things Plantinga says. But here's the most significant worry I have with Plantinga's reply to Lehrer: how does this reply fit with his account of warranted theistic belief, and with his model of warranted Christian belief? If holding a belief you take to be warranted in the basic way can be defeated merely by becoming aware that most other people lack a belief-forming mechanism or process you took yourself to have, and/or by the fact that others sneer at you or smile condescendingly at you for claiming to have such a faculty, then since most people don't form Christian belief in the basic way, and since most Christians are scoffed at at least some time in their lives, then how are we to avoid concluding that theistic and Christian belief, even if originally warrant-basic, is likewise defeated?

Here's another worry. In "On Being Evidentially Challenged", and in Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga argues against Draper's evidential argument from evil by saying that the independent warrant enjoyed by warrant-basic belief -- and thus warrant-basic theistic and Christian belief -- is sufficient, all by itself, to defeat probabilistic inferences -- e.g., probabilistic arguments from evil -- against it. But he seems to have rejected this sort of response in his reply to Lehrer, as he's allowing there that the probabilistic inference from

(i) I'm like other people.
(ii) Most other people don't have the ability to form reliable beliefs about their temperature in the basic way.
to
(iii) Therefore, I probably don't have the ability to form reliable beliefs about my temperature in the basic way.

defeats a belief that was originally warrant-basic.

So here again, Plantinga's reply to Lehrer appears to be in direct conflict with a key plank in his defense of warranted Christian belief.

Fun New Paper

Brian Garvey (Lancaster University), "Absence of Evidence, Evidence of Absence, and the Atheist's Teapot", Ars Disputandi 10 (2010).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wunder's Critique of Plantinga's Argument from Proper Function to Theism

Notes on Tyler Wunder’s “Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function”, Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224.

Plantinga's first argument: The Problem of Artifactual Paradigms
We can express the argument as follows: [1]There is a set of inter-definable terms related to the notion of proper function, e.g., purpose, function, dysfunction, damage, (non-statistical) normality, and design. [2]The literal, primary meaning of such terms is fixed by the set of clear, unambiguous, paradigm cases to which the term applies. But [3]such cases are all of intelligently designed things – artifacts--, and not natural organisms or their parts. Therefore, [4]the notion of intelligent design is constitutive of the literal, primary meaning of such terms. But [5]naturalism entails that organisms and their parts are not intelligently designed. Therefore, [6]if naturalism is true, then ‘proper function’ and related terms are not literally applicable to organisms or their parts. But [7]organisms and their parts cannot be adequately described without reference to such terms. Therefore, [8]naturalism is inherently incapable of adequately describing the world. But [9]any worldview that is inherently incapable of adequately describing the world is false. Therefore, [10]naturalism is false.

Wunder’s criticisms
I. Grant, arguendo, that the primary notion of proper function and related terms are fixed by the set of clear and unambiguous cases to which such terms apply. Still, it’s not obvious that only artifacts are among the set of paradigm cases of things to which such notions apply. For Plantinga’s criteria as to what constitutes a paradigm case appears to be that it is clear and unambiguous, or obvious to all or most people, that the term or terms at issue apply to it. But examples of natural organisms and their parts with proper function are at least as clear and unambiguous cases of properly functioning things as cases of artifacts, as all or most people think such terms apply to them. So it appears that Plantinga will need to do more work to rule out the reply of just standing this argument on its head and asserting that since prima facie non-designed organisms and their parts are among the paradigm cases that fix our notion of proper function and related terms, naturalists can appropriately and literally apply the notion of proper function to organisms and their parts.

To put the point another way: there appears to be a tension in Plantinga's argument. For the evidence for premises [3] and [7] is the same: they are both supported by clear cases of proper function (artifacts for premise [3], organisms and their parts for premise [7]). Now organisms are either clear cases of things capable of proper function or they aren't. If they are, then they are among the set of things that fix the meaning of our notion of proper function, in which case premise [3] is called into doubt. But if organisms and their parts are not among the clear cases of things capable of proper function, then it's no longer clear that talk of proper function is ineliminable when applied to organisms and their parts, in which case premise [7] is called into doubt. Therefore, either way, the argument from artifactual paradigms is in trouble.

II. But in any case, grant, arguendo, that all paradigm cases of properly functioning things are artifacts. Still, it’s not clear that the naturalist needs to refer to natural organisms and their parts in terms of proper function and related terms. For there is another set of concepts that will do even better: the notion of health and related notions, e.g., disease, injury, pathology, pain, life, and death (examples: "a properly functioning heart pumps blood" is more naturally and literally put as "a healthy heart pumps blood"; "That bird's heart is malfunctioning" is more naturally and literally put as "that bird’s heart is diseased", etc.). The naturalist can then say that the notion of proper function and related notions are mere analogical extensions of the more primary, literal notions of health and related concepts. And if that's right, then it looks as though "proper function" talk, when applied to organisms and their parts, is eliminable, in which case premise [7] of the argument from artifactual paradigms is defeated.

Plantinga anticipates this sort of reply, and asserts that the notion of health and related notions are derivative of the notion of proper function and related notions, and thus that such a reply fails: the artifactual notion of proper function is ineliminable. But this is unconvincing for the following reasons:

First, we’ve seen that it’s not clear that the paradigm cases are all artifacts, in which case there is no problem here. But let's waive this objection for now, as we are currently assuming arguendo that all the paradigm cases are of artifacts.

Second, if inter-definable terms refer to identical paradigm cases, then it’s not true that ‘health’ and related terms reduce to talk about proper function. For the clear and unambiguous, paradigm cases of health and related terms are organism and their parts, not artifacts. So, for example, it's odd to say that:

-My car is healthy.
-My friend’s leaky tire is injured.
-The pump in my car is diseased or dead (if it stops working).

Thus, it looks as though the paradigm cases of properly functioning things and the paradigm cases of healthy things are distinct. And if that’s right, then by Plantinga’s paradigm case method of analysis, the notions of proper function and health are likewise distinct.

Third, the cases of organic proper function Plantinga appeals to can be re-described via the organic notion of health and related terms:

-“The hawk’s heart that only beats 25 times per minute is not functioning properly” can be replaced with “the hawk’s heart that only beats 25 times per minute is diseased, or pathological, or suffering a stroke, or a heart attack, or is on its way to death”
-“AIDS damages the immune system and makes it function poorly” can be replaced with “AIDS interferes with the body’s ability to withstand disease”.
-“Multiple sclerosis causes the immune system to malfunction in such a way that the white blood cells attack the nervous system” can be replaced with “multiple sclerosis is a disease that inhibits the body’s immune system so that white blood cells attack the nervous system”.
-“The purpose or function of the heart is to pump blood, not to make that thumpa-thumpa sound” can be replaced with "healthy hearts pump blood, but it is irrelevant to the health of their organism that they make that thumpa-thumpa sound insofar as that sound is independent of pumping blood”.

Fourth, the organic family of terms makes better sense than the proper function family of terms when they are applied to whole organisms (as opposed to just their parts). For example, it’s odd to say that a hawk has a function or purpose, but it’s not odd to say that a hawk is healthy.

Thus, for all these reasons, we have good reason to think that the organic family of terms (health, etc.) applies primarily to organisms and their parts, and that the proper function family of terms only applies analogously or derivatively to organisms and their parts. And if that's right, then we can eliminate literal use of proper function language when referring to organisms and their parts, in which case premise [7] of the argument is defeated, and the argument is a failure.

Plantinga's Second Argument: Against Naturalistic Analyses of Proper Function
Plantinga picks what he takes to be a representative sampling of the most promising analyses of proper function: Pollock’s, Millikan’s, and Bigelow & Pargetter’s accounts. But, argues Plantinga, all such analyses are hopelessly flawed and inadequate: they fail to provide a set of logically necessary and sufficient conditions that apply to all cases of the analysandum. This is because one can find, for each such proposed analysis, a logically possible scenario according to which the conditions stated in the analysis are either not necessary or not sufficient. Therefore, probably, naturalistic analyses of proper function are inherently inadequate. But proper function is a real feature of natural organisms and their parts. Therefore, probably, naturalism is false.

Wunder’s criticisms:
I. Plantinga’s standards for a satisfactory analysis are too stringent
First, Philosophy's track record for providing such analyses is abysmal. From Plato to the present, philosophers have been trying to offer such analyses, and few if any have succeed. So, if we were to apply such standards of a satisfactory philosophical analysis universally, we’d have to say that virtually no analysis is satisfactory.

Second, Plantinga’s own analysis of proper functionalist epistemology fails such standards. First, it’s possible for there to be a world just like ours, and with people just like us, but which popped into being five minutes ago without a designer. So, it’s possible to have proper function without a designer. (see also Sosa’s variation on Davidson’s famous Swampman thought experiment for a variation on this. Here's my own counterexample: Suppose theism is true, and suppose God wants to create a multiverse, and uses a randomizing device to alter the fundamental constants of nature for each universe that arises. In such a multiverse, there is a universe that includes a planet with conditions relevantly similar to ours, with people very much like us in terms of their cognitive faculties, except such faculties arose by unguided mutation and natural selection, and without the intention of an intelligent designer (recall the stipulation about the randomizing device). So their cognitive faculties are just like ours, except no intentional design was involved in the creation of their faculties. Intuitively, however, many of the beliefs of such beings have warrant.). So, designed cognitive faculties aren't necessary for warrant. Nor is design sufficient for warrant. (Here I refer to Richard Feldman's more intuitive counter-example, which can be found here.) So if we are to apply the standards of analyses Plantinga applies to naturalistic analyses of proper function consistently and universally, then not even Plantinga's analyses pass muster.

Third, such an approach to analysis, while perhaps appropriate for mathematical and logical concepts, seem inappropriate for the “messy” realm of biology. For we lack satisfactory analyses (in Plantinga’s sense here) of other biological concepts, such as “life”, “species”, and “gene”. It therefore seems we should expect the same is true of “(biological) function”.

II. Plantinga double-standards for satisfactory analyses
Plantinga is applying two standards of analysis here:

(i) The strict one of logically necessary and sufficient conditions for concept application.

(ii) A comparatively lax one according to which the logically necessary and sufficient conditions need only apply to a small set of "core", paradigm cases to which the target concept applies. The "penumbral" cases -- i.e., cases where it's at least somewhat less clear that the target concept applies in the most literal sense -- need not satisfy the stricter standards of satisfying the logically necessary and sufficient conditions spelled out in the relevant analysis.

Plantinga applies the strict type-(i) analysis to views he doesn't like, but applies the relaxed type-(ii) analysis to his own accounts of warrant and of proper function. Pending some principled basis for applying this double-standard, such a method of evaluating his own views vis-a-vis others appears to be illegitimate. Let's see how Plantinga's use of this double-standard plays out with the two key notions at issue here: the concept of warrant and the concept of proper function.

A. Double-standards for his concept of warrant
As alluded to above, Plantinga himself rejects the strict, type-(i) standards for satisfactory philosophical analyses when it comes to his own account of warrant. As he puts it:

"I must acknowledge a complication with respect to my way of thinking of warrant. I aim at something in the neighborhood of an analysis of warrant: an account or exploration of our concept of warrant, a concept nearly all of us have and regularly employ. (As we all know, desperate difficulties best any attempt to say precisely what analysis is.) Thus at the least I should be looking for necessary and sufficient conditions. But I very much doubt that there is any short and elegant list of conditions at once severally necessary and jointly sufficient for warrant. This is a way in which philosophy differs from mathematics; and epistemology differs more from mathematics, along these lines, than, for example, philosophy of logic or the metaphysics of modality. Our concept of warrant is too complex to yield to analysis by way of a couple of austerely elegant clauses."(Warrant and Proper Function, ix)

In the place of the strict, type-(i) standards for adequate analysis, Plantinga states the conditions for the more lax, type-(ii) standards for adequate analysis mentioned above:

"The structure of [warrant], I believe, involves a central picture, a group of central paradigms – clear and unambiguous cases of knowledge – surrounded by a penumbral belt of analogically related concepts, concepts related by different analogies and standing in different degrees of closeness to the aboriginal paradigms. Between the central core area and this penumbral belt there is a more shadowy area of borderline possible cases, cases where it isn’t really clear whether what we have is a case of warrant in the central sense, or a case of one of the analogically extended concepts, or neither of the above; and beyond the penumbral belt we have another area of borderline cases. Hence perhaps a good way to characterize our system of analogically related concepts of warrant is to give first, the conditions necessary and sufficient for the paradigmatic core. (Even here, as we shall see, there is no stylishly sparse set of necessary and sufficient conditions: various qualifications, additions and subtractions are necessary.) Second, what is needed is an exploration of some of the analogical extensions, with an explanation of the analogical bases of the extensions. This way of proceeding is less elegant and pleasing and more messy than the analysis that we learned at our mother’s knee: it is also more realistic. (Warrant and Proper Function, ix)

Thus, as we've pointed out above, Plantinga thinks the necessary and sufficient conditions of a proper analysis need only apply to the “core” or paradigm cases; proposed counter-examples that only apply to the “penumbral” cases are not successful counter-examples to the proposed analysis of a given concept. But Plantinga’s proposed counter-examples to naturalistic analyses of function and proper function appear to involve just the penumbral cases. But if so, then if we apply such relaxed standards to naturalistic analyses of function and proper function, then Plantinga’s proposed counter-examples appear to be unsuccessful.

B. Double-standards for his concept of proper function
Again, Plantinga himself rejects the strict, type-(i) standard of analysis when it comes to his own “intelligent design" account of proper function:

“Perhaps it is true that our concept of proper function doesn’t have non-trivial necessary and sufficient conditions, but if that’s true, it is not in my opinion a defect in the concept; in particular, it isn’t grounds for supposing the concept unintelligible. (Many magnificently intelligible concepts do not have nontrivial necessary and sufficient conditions – for example, red, horse, and belief). (Plantinga, “Reliabilism, Analyses, and Defeaters”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (1995), pp. 454-455.)

But if Plantinga accepts such relaxed standards of analysis for his own accounts, then it’s not clear what principled grounds he could offer against the naturalist applying the same standards to naturalistic accounts of proper function. But if not, then since Plantinga's proposed counter-examples to naturalistic accounts of proper function all appear to involve only "penumbral" cases, it looks as though his proposed counter-examples against such accounts are unsuccessful.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Bardon vs. Plantinga on Naturalistic Accounts of Proper Function

I'm currently working up some notes on Adrian Bardon's “Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction”, Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (Jan. 2007), pp. 47-64. Here's a draft of what I have so far (which is a bit rough and incomplete). What is primarily of interest to me is his nice reply to Plantinga's arguments against the prospects of a naturalistic analysis of function.

1. Plantinga’s Case for Preferring Proper Functionalism Over Straight Reliabilism
1.1 Setup: Goldmanian reliabilism explicated
1.1.1 first condition: the relevant cognitive processes must yield a high ratio of true beliefs
1.1.2 second condition: local reliability: the faculties must also be able to discriminate: they wouldn’t cause one to believe in counterfactual situations where the belief is false
1.2 Plantinga’s criticism:
1.2.1 mere reliability isn’t sufficient for warrant
1.2.2 this is because a cognitive processes can be merely accidentally reliable, due to a serendipitous malfunction. (see this post for one of Plantinga's thought experiments involving such a case).
1.2.3 therefore, a proper function condition must be added to a pure reliabilist account to rule out such cases

2. Plantinga’s Proper Functionalism Explicated: a belief B is warranted if and only if:
2.1 it is produced by a properly functioning cognitive faculty
2.2 the relevant cognitive faculty is aimed at producing true beliefs
2.3 the belief is produced in an epistemically congenial environment
2.4 the objective probability that the relevant cognitive faculty will produce a true belief is high
2.5 the belief produced by the relevant cognitive faculty is held with a sufficiently high degree of firmness (this condition is added to account for the fact that warrant admits of degrees).

3. Bardon’s First Criticism of Plantinga’s Proper Functionalism: Concerns about Generality and Applicability
3.1 Plantinga argues that the notion of function applies most fundamentally to artifacts, and only derivatively to natural objects like organisms and their parts
3.2 This comes out strongly in his replies to certain criticisms of his view
3.2.1 Taylor, Feldman, and Sosa have each offered counterexamples to Plantinga’s account, according to which a person acquires a reliable cognitive faculty by means of a serendipitous accident or malfunction.
3.2.2 In these counterexamples, then, it appears that the person has a warranted belief in the absence of proper function
3.2.3 One of Plantinga’s main replies to these counterexamples:
3.2.3.1 distinguish between “core” and “penumbral” (or analogical) uses of the term “proper function”, where the core cases are those involving artifacts produced by intelligent agents and the penumbral cases are those produced by nature or accident.
3.2.3.2 say that his analysis of warrant only involves the “core”, intelligence-based notion of proper function
3.2.3.3 conclude that since the alleged counterexamples are all cases involving just the penumbral use of “proper function”, they aren’t successful counterexamples to his account
3.3 Bardon’s reply: whatever one makes of Plantinga’s replies, they entail that his supernaturalistic version of proper functionalism is inapplicable to the beliefs of actual human beings if naturalistic evolution is true. For if it is true, then all cognitive faculties are the result of the serendipitous malfunction of previous organs -- via the creative process of mutation and natural selection – and not by intelligent design. Thus, if his analysis of warrant is correct, then it’s inapplicable to humans in the actual world(!).

4. Bardon’s Second Criticism: Plantinga’s Case Against a Naturalistic Version of Proper Functionalism is Undercut
4.1 Setup, part I: a representative naturalistic analysis of function and proper function: Bigelow and Pargetter’s (B&P's) account
4.1.1 it doesn’t appeal back to the design plan of an intelligent agent
4.1.2 it doesn’t appeal back to the organ's or organism's natural etiology
4.1.3 rather, it appeals to the propensities of the organ, organism, or character thereof
4.1.4 the account: (SEP) an organ or character thereof has a (naturally produced) function if and only if it confers a survival-enhancing propensity on the organism in its natural habitat.
4.2 Setup, part II: Plantinga’s three criticisms of B&P's naturalistic analysis of proper function
4.2.1 it's circular
4.2.2.1 in their description of the relevant sort of environment that produces a character that has a function (where, in the case of an organ, the environment is a larger system of organs) they say that it is one that is a "healthy, natural,properly functioning environment"
4.2.2.2 thus, they appeal to proper function while defining the notion of function(!)
4.2.2 their conditions aren’t sufficient: The Nazi example
4.2.2.1 imagine a Nazi-like regime that kills off all infants of a people group who have non-defective vision
4.2.2.2 then the people group’s environment confers survival enhancing propensities in those with defective vision
4.2.2.3 yet, intuitively, their visual faculties don’t function properly
4.2.3 their conditions aren’t necessary: the Immune Cells example
4.2.3.1 some systems only function when an organ or organism is damaged or under attack
4.2.3.2 but if so, then if such systems were activated in normal conditions, they would not confer survival enhancing propensities; rather, they would tend to kill or maim the organisms who have them
4.2.4 Plantinga’s verdict: all such naturalistic analyses of function are doomed to fail
4.3 Bardon’s revision of B&P’s account
4.3.1 The account: (SEP*) A character of an organ or organism has an n-function (i.e., a naturally-produced function) iff: the character generates survival-enhancing propensities for the organism in circumstances that have been common (i.e., of sufficient frequency and duration) to the activity of the mechanism that produces the character and to the species to which the character belongs.
4.3.2 it’s like B&P’s account in that it takes the organ’s or organism’s environment to be what is relevant to the production of the function of an evolved character
4.3.3 it differs from their account by appealing only to the portion of the environment that constitutes and manifests the mutation and natural selection pressures that produce the character in question, whereas B&P appeal to a “healthy, natural, properly functioning environment”.
4.4 How Bardon’s account avoids Plantinga’s criticisms of B&P’s account
4.4.1 how it avoids the “Circularity” objection: unlike B&P’s account, Bardon’s account doesn’t appeal to proper function in his definition of the environment that generates survival-enhancing propensities. Nor does his account illicitly appeal to function in any other way.
4.4.2 how it avoids the “Not Sufficient” objection: since Bardon’s account stipulates that the portion of the environment relevant to creating a character or organ with a function is only that which involves the natural pressures of mutation and natural selection, Plantinga’s scenario involving a Nazi-like regime that selects humans with impaired vision is not a true counterexample. For the environment in that scenario involved artificial selection, appealing as it did to the intelligent, intentional action of rational agents. (Indeed, Bardon could adopt Plantinga’s “core vs. penumbral case” strategy here and say that Plantinga’s alleged counterexample only involves a penumbral case of a character-creating environment).
4.4.3 how it avoids the “Not Necessary” objection:
4.4.3.1 recall that Plantinga’s alleged counterexamples involve systems and mechanisms that operate only when an organ or organism is damaged or under attack (the blood-clotting cascade system, the anti-body system, etc.).
4.4.3.2 but we’ve seen that Bardon’s account stipulates that the relevant environment is the one involving the processes of mutation and natural selection that give rise to a given character or organ.
4.4.3.3 so on Bardon’s account, the relevant environments for such organs and characters are only those within the relevant organism that involve damage or attack.
4.4.3.4 but of course the operation of those systems during damage or attack will not normally lead to the death of the relevant individual or species.
4.5 Other virtues of Bardon’s account (fill in later)
4.6 Conclusion: Plantinga’s case against naturalistic accounts of function is undercut.

5. Why a Revised Version of Goldmanian Reliabilism is to be Preferred to Plantinga’s Proper Functionalism (fill in later)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Another Counterexample to Plantinga's Proper Functionalism

This one is from leading epistemologist Richard Feldman (“Proper Functionalism,” Nous 27 (1993), pp. 34-50). His is a modification of one of Plantinga's own counterexamples to the sufficiency of pure reliabilist accounts of knowledge.[1] Plantinga's counterexample to reliabilism goes as follows:

"Suppose I am struck by a burst of cosmic rays, resulting in the following unfortunate malfunction. Whenever I hear the word 'prime' in any context, I form a belief, with respect to a randomly chosen natural number less than 100,000, that it is not prime. So you say "Pacific Palisades is prime residential area" or "Prime ribs is my favorite"...; I form a belief, with respect to a randomly selected natural number between 1 and 100,000 that it is not prime. The process or mechanism in question is indeed reliable (given the vast preponderance of non-primes...) but my belief -- that, say, 41 is not prime -- has little or no positive epistemic status. The problem isn't simply that the belief is false; the same goes for my (true) belief that 631 is not prime, if it is formed in this fashion. So reliable belief formation is not sufficient for positive epistemic status." (Warrant: The Current Debate (OUP, 1993), p. 210.)

Feldman then points out that one need merely change the counterexample so that the cause of the beliefs about primes is not a burst of cosmic rays, but rather a cognitive faculty formed by an intelligent designer who designs the person to naturally and spontaneously form such beliefs about prime numbers whenever they hear the word 'prime'. In such a case, all of Plantinga's conditions of warrant are satisfied: according to the thought experiment, we have a cognitive faculty that, when functioning properly, reliably produces sufficiently firmly-held true beliefs when in epistemically congenial environments. However, such beliefs have little by way of warrant. Therefore, the conditions laid out in Plantinga's proper functionalism are not sufficient for warrant.
-------------------------------
[1] Very roughly, a pure reliabilist account states that a true belief counts as knowledge if, and only if, it is produced by a reliable belief-producing process or mechanism. So, for example, consider my belief that I see a tree. That belief was formed by my visual perceptual system. If that system or mechanism or process is sufficiently reliable (i.e., most of the perceptual beliefs it produces are true in the appropriate actual and counterfactual circumstances), then (according to pure reliabilism), that belief counts as knowledge; if it's not reliable, then it doesn't count as knowledge.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Liberal Naturalism and the Defeat of the Theistic Hypothesis

Ok, the post title is a bit of hyperbole (intentionally employed to attract attention and discussion). But I'd like to propose a version of naturalism that seems to explain the relevant range of data better theism. To be a tad more precise: there is a prima facie viable version of naturalism that (a) explains the data appealed to in theistic arguments at least as well as theism, and (b) there is a range of other data that is better explained by this version of naturalism than by theism.

Thus, consider the following hypothesis, which I'll call 'Chalmersian Liberal Naturalism' (in honor of the contemporary philosopher David Chalmers, who appears to accept a view somewhat similar to it. Call the view 'CLN' for short):

(CLN) There are both abstract objects and concrete objects. The abstract objects are eternal, necessary beings. All concrete objects are composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenal or proto-phenomenal (or at least representational or proto-representational) attributes (alternatively, the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it). Furthermore, this kind of substance is factually or metaphysically necessary. It is also eternal, and comprises a multiverse.

It seems to me that CLN can explain all the data appealed to by the standard arguments of natural theology: we'd expect fine-tuning if for every possible combination of fundamental constants, there is a universe that instantiates it -- indeed, a finely-tuned universe is inevitable on such a hypothesis; we'd expect consciousness in animals and humans if proto-phenomenal states are a part of the essence of concrete substance, since consciousness logically supervenes on structures composed of such a substance when it is suitably complex, and such complexity is accounted for in terms of mutation and natural selection; we'd expect abstract objects if they were eternal, necessary beings; we'd expect moral properties if they logically supervene on certain states of affairs, the latter of which are abstract, necessary beings that contingently obtain or fail to obtain; the contingency of objects in the world is explained in terms of the factually or metaphysically necessary stuff of which it's composed.[1]

Furthermore, it seems to me that CLN explains a wide range of other data better than the hypothesis of theism. Thus, if CLN were true, then we'd expect the data of huge amounts of prima facie gratuitous human and animal suffering; we'd expect the data of divine hiddenness; we'd expect the data of radical religious diversity; we'd expect the data of scientific studies involving double-blind experiments indicating the ineffectivenss of prayer; and we'd expect the data of religious demographics. However, we wouldn't expect such data if theism were true.

Thus, it seems to me that CLN explains not only all the data appealed to in theistic arguments at least as well as theism, but it also better explains a wide range of data that is only awkwardly explained if explained at all by the hypothesis of theism. But CLN is a version of naturalism. Therefore, I conclude that naturalism is a better explanation of the range of relevant data than theism.

Some objections and replies:

Objection 1: "CLN is too weird to be true!"
Reply: True, CLN is weird. However, I don't know how to validly argue from "x is weird" to "x is false". A theory accrues support in virtue of embodying various theoretical virtues (simplicity, explantory scope, explanatory power, etc.), and so the theory stands or falls on that basis and that basis alone. Furthermore, CLN is certainly no weirder than the hypothesis of (say) Christian theism, with its explanation of the relevant data in terms of an immaterial tri-personal creator-out-of-nothing. In any case, it's a mistake to think that one must be a Liberal Naturalist to accept the conclusions here. One could be a Conservative or Moderate Naturalist -- or even a skeptic or agnostic -- and yet still properly accept the crucial claim here, viz., that whether it's the actual explanation of the relevant data or not, it's a better explanation of the data than theism -- or at the very least: as good an explanation of the data as theism --, in which case the data doesn't favor theism over naturalism.

Objection 2: CLN is too complex to be plausible.
Reply: Two points. First, CLN posits two sorts of entities -- abstract and concrete -- and they require separate treatment. As to the former: Since the abstract objects are posited as necessary beings, they need no explanation. That leaves us with the realm of concrete objects, and here we have postulated one type of substance, which in turn gives rise to a multiverse. Is this hypothesis complex?

Well, it's complex in one sense; in another it's not. The objector mistakenly assumes that there is only one kind of theoretical parsimony, viz., *quantitative* parsimony (i.e., the explanation postulates fewer entities). However, as David Lewis has taught us, another type is *qualitative* parsimony (i.e.,the explanation postulates fewer *kinds* of entities). And while the theistic hypothesis is a much more *quantitatively* parsimonious explanation of the data (it explains all of the data in terms of just one entity, viz., a god), the CLN multiverse hypothesis is a more *qualitatively* parsimonious explanation of the data (since it explains all of the data solely in terms of one *kind* of entity, viz., Chalmersian panprotopsychist substance). And it's not clear which type of theoretical parsimony is more important here.

Thoughts?
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[1] Objection: "but I can imagine the fundamental stuff failing to exist. And since conceivability is sufficient evidence for possibility, it's possible for the fundamental stuff posited by CLN to fail to exist, in which case we have reason to doubt that such stuff is metaphysically necessary, in which case it can't explain the data of contingency." Reply: Either conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility or it isn't. If it isn't, then of course the data of the conceivable non-existence of a Chalmersian multiverse isn't sufficient evidence of its possible non-existence, in which case the objection fails. On the other hand, suppose conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility. Then since it's conceivable that both God and the Chalmersian multiverse fail to exist, then there's sufficient evidence that it's possble that both God and the Chalmersian multiverse fail to exist, in which case it looks as though no being of the relevant sort could be metaphysically necessary, in which case the jig is up for arguments from contingency, in which case contingency falls out of the range of data that needs explaining. Either way, then, the objection fails.

On a Common Apologetic Strategy

I. A Common Apologetic Strategy
Many apologetic critiques of naturalism share a common basic strategy: point to a piece of data (e.g., abstract objects, morality, consciousness, the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, the apparent contingency of the universe, etc.), say that it doesn't fit in the naturalist's sparse ontology, and then argue that the data is better explained on the hypothesis of theism. Call this form of argumentation The Common Apologetic Strategy.

What to make of arguments that instantiate The Common Apologetic Strategy? Instead of evaluating particular instances of this strategy -- i.e., evaluating this or that theistic argument from morality, or consciousness, or cosmic fine-tuning, etc. -- I'd like to raise a worry about the general line of reasoning such arguments take, as outlined above. In order to do so, I'll need to spend some time making some basic distinctions. This in turn will provide a framework that (I hope) will help in evaluating such arguments.

II. First Preliminary: Varieties of Naturalism
There are several versions of naturalism. Naturalists share in common the view that the natural world is all there is -- there is no supernatural realm of spiritual beings. However, naturalists differ in how they define 'the natural world'. Now there are at least three broad ways of characterizing "the natural world", and so there are at least three kinds of naturalists -- let's call them 'Conservatives', 'Moderates', and 'Liberals'.

Conservative naturalists are straight physicalists -- nothing exists but the physical, and the physical is characterized by all and only the properties listed in physics and chemistry textbooks. Recent proponents include Andrew Melnyk, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and some of the members of the so-called New Atheist movement.

Moderate naturalists differ from Conservative naturalists, in that they expand their conception of the natural world so as to include abstract objects (e.g., propositions, properties, possible worlds, etc.). Recent proponents include Tyler Burge, Jeff King, W.V.O. Quine, and Kit Fine.

Finally, Liberal naturalists differ from Moderates and Conservatives, in that they admit into their ontology of the natural world the abstracta of the Moderates, but they also allow for a conception of concreta according to which they have more properties and powers than the Conservatives and Moderates allow. Thus, perhaps they're straight Spinozists, or type-F monists, or panprotopsychists, etc. Famous past Liberal naturalists include people like Spinoza; more recent Liberal Naturalists include Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers, Daniel Stoljar, and Derk Pereboom. Since liberal forms of naturalism are no doubt the least familiar, perhaps it'll help to sketch one such account. David Chalmers' version of contemporary Liberal Naturalism is representative, so I'll sketch his version (call it 'CLN'):

(CLN) the world of concrete objects is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenological or proto-phenomenal (or at least representational or proto-representational) attributes (an alternative version of LN: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it).

III. Second Preliminary: Two Basic Explanatory Approaches Available to Naturalists
There are two basic approaches a naturalist can take to explaining the relevant data. According to one, one keeps one's ontology sparse by adopting (say) Conservative Naturalism, and then tries to explain all the data in terms of of the entities in that limited ontology. Furthermore, if something doesn't "fit", then one eliminates it -- i.e., one says that such entities aren't real. Call this approach, the Shoehorning Approach.

Now if naturalism were limited to Conservative Naturalism, The Shoehorning Approach would be the naturalist's only option. But as we have seen above, naturalists are not so limited -- Moderate and Liberal forms of naturalism are live possibilities as well, and there is no a priori or a posteriori basis for ruling them out. This fact about naturalism leaves room for a second approach to explanation, which I will call The Base-Expanding Approach. The Base-Expanding Approach starts out like the Shoehorning Approach: start with a sparser ontology, and then try to explain all the data in terms of it. However, the Base-Expanding Approach diverges from the Shoehorn Approach when it comes to entities that don't fit: if the data to be explained cannot be reduced to the sparser ontology, but the data really seem to be recalcitrant, then one does not eliminate them. Rather, one expands one's ontology. So, for example, a naturalist might start out tentatively adopting Conservative Naturalism as a working hypothesis, and then find that he can't reduce abstract objects to such a sparse ontology; nor can he plausibly eliminate them. He may then broaden his ontology by allowing for abstract objects, thereby moving from Conservative to Moderate Naturalism.

In light of the preceding, we can now provide a broad characterization of the ontologies and explanatory strategies available to naturalists. Thus, naturalists have available to them at least three basic ontologies: Conservative, Moderate, and Liberal. Conservatives are straight physicalists; Moderates go further by adding abstract objects to the ontology of Conservative Naturalism; and Liberals go further than both Conservatives and Moderates by positing a richer nature to concrete objects by allowing representational or proto-representational properties to be part of the essence of matter.

Furthermore, given that naturalists aren't limited to Conservative Naturalism, they have two basic explanatory approaches available to them: the Shoehorning Approach and the Base-Expanding Approach. Shoehorners reduce all phenomena they can to the fundamental elements of the naturalistic ontology they've adopted, and eliminate all else that they cannot so reduce. And Base-Expanders, by contrast, add more elements to their ontology when they cannot reduce or plausibly eliminate a given phenomenon to their fundamental ontology.

IV. The Framework Applied: Two Examples
In light of the preceding preliminaries, we are in a better position to evaluate The Common Apologetic Strategy outlined at the beginning of our discussion. First of all, we see that apologists who adopt it fail to appreciate that naturalists need not adopt Conservative Naturalism. And because of this, they fail to appreciate that naturalists need not adopt the Shoehorning Approach to explanation. Therefore, pending good arguments against other versions of naturalism and against the Base-Expanding Approach, arguments that adopt The Common Apologetic Strategy are bound to fail.

At least two contemporary naturalists --David Chalmers and Erik Wielenberg -- exemplify the success of the Base-Expanding Approach in their work. In so doing, they expose the inadequacy of The Common Apologetic Strategy.

Case 1: Erik Wielenberg, Moderate Naturalism, and the theistic argument from morality
Erik Wielenberg's version of Moderate Naturalism exposes the inadequacy of a contemporary apologetic argument from morality to theism, the latter of which exemplifies the Common Apologetic Strategy. The argument states that the naturalist is limited to the ontology of Conservative Naturalism, and that the data of moral facts cannot be shoehorned into such a sparse ontology; nor can it be plausibly eliminated. By contrast, theism can, with God as the ground of moral facts. Therefore, the data of moral facts is best explained in terms of theism and not naturalism.

Wielenberg agrees that moral facts cannot be adequately reduced to the ontology of Conservative Naturalism; he also agrees that they cannot be plausibly eliminated. However, he also thinks there are good reasons to reject theism. He therefore feels pressure to expand the base of his ontology and move from Conservative to Moderate Naturalism. Thus, he posits abstract objects such as properties and states of affairs. These abstract objects ground the necessity of basic moral truths, such as that it's wrong to cause a person or animal significant pain without a sufficient reason for doing so. And given that this view is epistemically possible, the theistic argument from morality is undercut.

Case 2: David Chalmers, Liberal Naturalism, and the theistic argument from consciousness
David Chalmers' version of Liberal Naturalism exposes the inadequacy of a contemporary apologetic argument from consciousness to theism, the latter of which also exemplifies the Common Apologetic Strategy. The argument states that the naturalist is limited to the sparse ontology of Conservative Naturalism, and that the data of phenomenal consciousness cannot be shoehorned into such a sparse ontology; nor can it be plausibly eliminated. By contrast, theism can, with its substance dualist ontology. Therefore, the data of phenomenal consciousness is best explained in terms of theism and not naturalism.

Chalmers agrees that the data of phenomenal consciousness cannot be adequately reduced by means of the sparse ontology of Conservative Naturalism. He also rejects the strategy of eliminating the data, as the Churchlands do. However, he also finds theism implausible. He therefore opts for the Base-Expanding approach, thus moving from Conservative to Liberal Naturalism. Thus, he grants that consciousness can't be squeezed out of the properties of objects listed in physics and chemistry textbooks, and thus posits that they must therefore have more properties as a part of their essence -- proto-phenomenal or proto-represenational properties. This account allows that simpler concrete objects aren't conscious, but it also entails that when a complex collection of such objects exists and is suitably arranged, it necessarily exemplifies consciousness. But if this account of the origin of phenomenal consciousness is epistemically possible, then the theistic argument from consciousness to theism is undercut.

What went wrong with the theistic arguments above? I submit that my framework sketched above provides the means for an illuminating diagnosis: In both cases, the flaw was not with something particular to either argument. Rather, the problem was with the Common Apologetic Strategy exemplified by both arguments. Thus, both arguments assumed that the naturalist was limited to Conservative Naturalism, and thus that the naturalist was stuck with the Shoehorning Approach to explaining the relevant data (moral facts in the first case, phenomenal consciousness in the second). But we saw that both assumptions were false: Moderate and Liberal versions of naturalism are prima facie epistemically possible, in which case Wielenberg and Chalmers were free to opt for the Base-Expanding approach to explanation, which they did: Wielenberg broadened his ontology to adopt Moderate Naturalism, thereby allowing him to account for necessary truths about morality within a naturalist framework; and Chalmers broadened his ontology to adopt Liberal Naturalism, thereby allowing him to account for phenomenal consciousness within a naturalist framework.
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