My interactions with a Physicalist/Naturalist...

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WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
I brought up the question in my Philosophy Seminar class the other day of, "How can naturalists account for the laws of logic, math, etc. if there is nothing immaterial or metaphysical?"

Here is a reply on our class forum:

In class thursday, Gabe asked the question: How does a naturalist or a physicalist account for his use of mathematics or language or logic? (If I`ve misrepresented this, please let me know)

Here`s what I see as an answer:

First, I am assuming that the naturalist/physicalist is a physicalist also about mind, that is he believes that mental states are reducible to physical (brain) states (this is a contentious framework, I realize, but it is the framework that the question is posed to). Secondly, the question(s) of math and logic are far more interesting to me, because it is easy to see an evolutionary account of how we get to the use of langugage (one that, in fact, some linguists adopt). We can set aside that math and logic are languages, becuase there is something different about them that still needs to be accounted for. The difference, and the difficulty, is that mathematical and logical truths are often relegated to the set of "a priori know-ables." So, the underlying question is "How does a naturalist/physicalist account for a priori knowledge?"
Some naturalists deny it, which is, as I see it, the easy way out. And, I think what`s left is the same problem using different words to characterize it.

Here`s my proposal:
1. A priori truths are true in virtue of a conceptual relationship. (one concept contains another, for example).
2. In order to know some proposition, P, a priori, S1 must know the concepts and the relationship that holds.
3. Knowing the relationship is the result of S1`s intuitions.
4. But belief states, concepts, and intuitions are all mental states (and therefore physical states).
5. Any "a priori" relationship that can be said to hold between concepts must be a physical relationship.
6. The relationships of math and logic are conceptual relationships and therefore physical relationships (within S1).

This, I believe, is an account of how an individual can be said to have this a priori knowledge, and to use it. What remains to be shown is how S1 and any S2 can arrive at the same beliefs "a priori." So,

7. S1 and S2 have, by evolutionary accounts, analogous cognitive apparati.
8. S1 and S2, then, may hold contradictory beliefs about any "a posteriori" P.
9. Further, S1 and S2 may utilize different mechanisms in arriving at any "a priori" P.
10. But, intuitions, in virtue of an evolutionary account, are such that S1 can appeal to those (intuitions) of S2 in order to establish agreement on an "a priori" P. (consider this an argument for the importance of society in achieving epistemic aims)
11. This is because intuitions, as a reasoning (therefore physical) mechanism, in S1 and S2 must be the same process.

Now, whatever other problems naturalists and non-naturalists alike might have with these accounts, I would like to mention the problem I have with this account. Philosophical naturalism involves appeals to the evidence available to empirical science to answer philosophical questions (ones about morality, epistemology, etc.). While this account is a plausible route for a naturalist to argue, and while there is empirical evidence that suggests that mental states are physical (brain) states, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that a priori relationships are physical (brain) relationships at this time. Thus, this argument is more a research proposal for empirical psychology than an answer to the question. That research in hand (provided it does not falsify the hypothesis) would justify a naturalist in taking this route. Until such time, this is just speculative.

I have asked him a few more questions, but I was wondering what you all had to say about his thoughts here?

:detective:
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
I asked this in a preliminary response:

1. Do you believe that all factual questions are answered the same way?

2. Are there laws of nature?

2a. If so, are they material or non-material?

3. Must something be "rational" for us to accept it as "true" or "evidence", etc.? In other words, is it ever "okay" to appeal to revelation, mythology, immaterial, metaphysics, etc.?
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Gabe:

Just ask him if what he says is true? or just a state of relationships of concepts in his physical brain? Is there any relationship, either stated or implied, that relates to another's physical brain? In other words, What is truth, in his conceptualization?

He still uses the words as if in the same way you or I would use them, but he still has given no account for them as such. To be consistent, he ought to have typed a bunch of question marks to the same effect as what he did type. Why would that not also equally satisfy the concept/relationship scenario he put forward? There still is no definable difference between gobblety-goop and sense. It is still up the the whim of the individual to "appeal to his intuition", whatever that may be.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
A reply ... there are numerous problems with what he's saying, epistemologically!

1. Do you believe that all factual questions are answered the same way?

I`m not sure what you mean by this, I was a little lost on it in philosophy of religion the other day, as well. Surely I would cite one evidence type to answer the question "Do you have a hand?" and another evidence type to answer the question "Is modus tollens valid?" The first type would be straight forwardly empirical, I would raise my hand and show it. The second type would be conceptual, I might draw out a truth table, and explain why the truth-functionality of conditional statements works in such a way, etc. Now, this second type would be empirically describable (in terms of brain processes, for example), but not straightforwardly empirical.

2. Are there laws of nature?

Yes in both senses. The first sense is that there are regularities in nature. The second sense is that there are propositions (that we believe) that express these regularities.

2a. If so, are they material or non-material?

Insofar as they are regularities in nature, they are non-material, but patterns applied to the material. Insofar as they are propositions that we believe, they are belief states and therefore mental states (and, on the naturalistic picture, physical states. But this is a complex picture, don`t get me wrong, physical states that a great deal of persons have analogues of).

3. Must something be "rational" for us to accept it as "true" or "evidence", etc.? In other words, is it ever "okay" to appeal to revelation, mythology, immaterial, metaphysics, etc.?

Naturalism is itself a metaphysical position: that all existing things are natural kinds (there is nothing "supernatural" in the ordinary sense). And for a naturalist, the answer to the second form of this question is no. This is because philosophical naturalism is very much like its brother scientific naturalism in the following: they hold that the best explanation is the simplest explanation. A simple explanation does not (unless necessary) appeal to anything supernatural (or in other words, you should appeal only to what is necessary for explaining a phenomenon). Appealing to supernatural things only introduces a much bigger thing to have to explain.

Don`t get me wrong, I see problems with this approach too. Such as the problem I cited in the other e-mail: naturalists sometimes extend beyond themselves. And there are, as you know, other approaches. Naturalism just happens to be an increasingly fruitful approach.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
If there are regularities in nature and then propositions that express these regularites, there must be propositions for the propositions that express regularites, ad infinitum. Infinite regress.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
This is because philosophical naturalism is very much like its brother scientific naturalism in the following: they hold that the best explanation is the simplest explanation. A simple explanation does not (unless necessary) appeal to anything supernatural (or in other words, you should appeal only to what is necessary for explaining a phenomenon). Appealing to supernatural things only introduces a much bigger thing to have to explain.

To which, I would ask him, why do we exist? Why did an infinitely compressed point of matter expand into the universe? Who/what caused it and why? Where did human beings, in all of their complexity, derive their being from?

To answer any of these questions, the naturalist must appeal to faith or - irrationality - violating his own worldview.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Gabe:

Here's my advice, for what it's worth:

Don't be afraid to pursue him on the empirical evidence he wishes to present ( his hand. ) It seems to me that you have to push him to the logical conclusions that follow from his own sense of modus tollens and modus ponens concerning the presentation of his evidence. Only you don't have to get lost in the terms. Simple terms will get the same result. In fact, I personally think that it shows more depth of understanding of the subject if you can state the same precepts in simpler yet as definitive terms. Indirect proof and direct proof are quite good enough, and keeps the attention on the evidence he's presenting instead of the nuances of the terms. Then push him to define "truth" as either universal, as utilitarian, or individual. And then push whichever route he takes either to its logical conclusion or to his "final apologetic", as Schaeffer used to say.

It will take time, but you will find out if he is serious or if he is being coy for the sake of disagreeing with Christianity. If the latter, then you can leave the discussion with the clear proviso that you are serious, and that if he is not, that he cannot hope to persuade you of anything worthwhile. That would leave his argument totally dissatisfied, and yet not waste your time on a worthless pursuit.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
Well, when I brought it up in class, he was speechless. He had to take a few days to think about it before responding, so I'm thinking he hasn't really thought everything through yet, obviously. My only goal is to at least show him that his worldview is not rational completely, or that it reduces to absurdity, while mine does not.
 
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