Happy 2555 to all!
Yes, here in Thailand, it’s not 2012. Thailand goes by a version of the Buddhist calendar, and it’s already the year 2555 here. Perhaps you could think of me as writing to you from the future.
As I predicted in earlier messages to you on my blog, I’ve been busier than Wall Street on a bull rally since getting back to Bangkok late November. The flood waters are for the most part gone, and life for most people is back to normal. But there’s a sense of urgency to make up for lost time, both in the private sector and also in public works. Schools are even going six days a week here, which means my daughter, who’s only in kindergarten, has a brutal schedule to keep.
1. The Laws of Logic are Truths2. The Laws of Logic are Truths about Truths3. The Laws of Logic are Necessary Truths4. The Laws of Logic Really Exist5. The Laws of Logic Necessarily Exist6. The Laws of Logic are Non-Physical7. The Laws of Logic are Thoughts8. The Laws of Logic are Divine Thoughts
While I have not had the time I need to develop a full response to every point which Anderson and Welty raise in their piece, I did have some initial general concerns when I peruse their work. Of course, I have many, many objections to much of what I have read in their paper, but a more penetrating analysis of their paper will have to wait till another time.
For now, I just wanted to note some of the following concerns of mine, hopefully to get the discussion moving in the right direction.
1. Necessary vs. Contingent: Throughout their paper, Anderson and Welty clearly take the necessary-contingent dichotomy for granted. This distinction (dichotomy) plays a central role in the build-up to their desired conclusion (I found 20 instances of the word ‘necessary’ and 16 instance of the word ‘contingent’, most of which are used in the context of the necessary-contingent dichotomy, throughout their paper). So granting the truth of the necessary-contingent dichotomy appears to be vital to their conclusion. But if this dichotomy is rejected, how could one accept their paper’s conclusion as they have set out to draw it?
Objectivism rejects the necessary-contingent dichotomy, and for many good reasons. Leonard Peikoff, in his essay “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” spells out those reasons, fundamentally arguing that the dichotomy and all its variants (including the necessary-contingent dichotomy) rest on a false theory of concepts. Given this fact, it is not surprising to find Christians making use of the necessary-contingent dichotomy in their theistic arguments, for Christianity itself (as I’ve pointed out numerous times before; see for instance here) has no native theory of concepts, and thus as a worldview cannot account for conceptual awareness. This can only mean, with regard to the necessary-contingent dichotomy, that Christian thinkers are at a profound disadvantage when it comes to detecting the epistemological defects of this commonly accepted mechanism of analyzing knowledge.
What struck me specifically in Anderson and Welty’s paper is the fact that they seek to establish the laws of logic as “necessarily existent” on the one hand, and as “thoughts” on the other (see points 3 and 7 of their paper’s outline above). Assuming the necessary-contingent dichotomy which underwrites much of Anderson and Welty’s methodology, these two premises seem quite at odds with one another. Something that is “necessarily existent” is something that could not have failed to exist. Anderson and Welty make the first point explicitly when they say:
The Law of Non-Contradiction… could not have failed to exist—otherwise it could have failed to be true. (p. 19)
They proceed to argue that “If the laws of logic are necessarily existent thoughts, they can only be the thoughts of a necessarily existent mind” (Ibid.). Anderson and Welty argue, in their characteristic way, that the laws of logic are “necessarily existent” and also that they are also “thoughts,” but arguing that something is a “necessarily existent thought” seems to go beyond even the most generous charitableness. Thoughts cannot come into being unless a thinker thinks them, which means: thoughts are dependent on thinking. Also, thinking is volitional in nature: a thinker - especially a thinker that is a free agent, as the Christian god is supposed to be – must choose to think what it thinks. Given the fact that thinking is volitional in nature, any specific thought that a free thinking agent thinks cannot be “necessary” in the sense that it “could not have failed to exist,” for supposing this would deny volition to said thinker. It would render said thinker to a mere automaton, a robot performing actions that it “needs” to perform given some extraneous constraints which hold it in check.
The result is that Anderson and Welty’s argument, so far as I understand it, results in one of two very difficult binds: either the laws of logic are “necessarily existent thoughts” (in which case the thinker responsible for thinking them is not a free agent), or the deity which supposedly thinks the thoughts which we call “the laws of logic” is a free thinking agent (in which case its thoughts are volitional and consequently could have been different, which would mean that no thought it thinks could qualify as a “necessarily existent thought”). Neither alternative seems to jive well for Anderson and Welty’s Christian position (since Christianity affirms the existence of a deity which can do whatever it pleases – cf. Ps. 115:3). Perhaps Anderson and Welty have built some prophylactic into their argument which safeguards against such uncomfortable outcomes, but from what I can tell in my reading, none is necessarily existent.
2. “Intuitions”: Also throughout the paper, there are several vague references to “intuitions,” not only treating them as apparently unquestionable (maybe even infallible), but also suggesting a uniformity of intuitions among all thinkers which they nowhere establish. These “intuitions,” which are never specified, appear to have a certain significance for the overall goal of their paper. For instance, on page 1, Anderson and Welty write:
The bulk of the paper will be concerned with establishing what kind of things the laws of logic must be for our most natural intuitions about them to be correct and for them to play the role in our intellectual activities that we take them to play.
Of course, what is meant by “intuition” as Anderson and Welty understand it, is of great significance here. They do not offer a definition, but I’m guessing that’s because the notion is used as a matter of routine in the philosophical literature they prefer to read. Perhaps they are so accustomed to seeing the word used and granted casual legitimacy that it would seem silly to explain it. But even philosophers who invest the notion of intuition with philosophical validity are not monolithic in their view of what it is or how it operates. So if “our most natural intuitions” about logical principles have any bearing on the argument which Anderson and Welty are presenting, it might help readers like me to clarify their understanding on the matter.
I say this because I tend to be rather suspicious of the term ‘intuition’ to begin with. A standard dictionary definition of ‘intuition’ is “direct perception of truth,” which might strike most readers as rather innocuous. But I’m an Objectivist, and as such, I recognize that what human beings perceive are concrete objects, while truth is an aspect of identification, which is a function of conceptual cognition and thus post-perceptual. In other words, on the Objectivist view, we do not perceive truths; rather, we perceive objects (specifically, primary-type objects – objects of which our senses give us perceptual awareness), and subsequently identify those objects using a conceptual method resulting in identifications which may be true or not true. To the extent that this analysis of what “direct perception of truth” means is correct (and without further clarification of the notion which endows the notion with better chances for philosophical solvency, I’d say it is correct), I’d say that appeals to “intuitions” need to be reconsidered in light of rational philosophy.
But thinkers who invoke “intuitions” might not have this definition in mind. Some hold “intuition” to denote some kind of a priori knowledge – knowledge that is supposedly known without any firsthand experiential participation of the knower in the knowing process. This is essentially the view that one “just knows” something, in which case questions like “How do you know?” simply do not apply, since there’s really no epistemology to speak of in assessing (or accessing) such “knowledge.” I’m quite persuaded that there is no such thing as “a priori knowledge,” and tend to view appeals to “a priori knowledge” essentially as an admission on the part of the one making such appeals that he really doesn’t know how he knows what he claims to know. (Sort of like John Frame, such as when he announces: “We know without knowing how we know” - Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I).)
Still others hold that “intuition” refers to some kind of a posteriori knowledge, though don’t be surprised when explanations of how one supposedly goes about collecting this kind of knowledge wax murky. Defenders of this understanding of “intuition” may have in mind some automatized item of knowledge; for in fact, the human mind does automatize many epistemological processes (consider your knowledge of how to tie your own shoes, or how you know not to touch a hot stove with your bare hands). But it does not follow from the mere fact that one has automatized the path to some ideational content that he holds as knowledge, that what he holds as knowledge is therefore true, or that the process which he has automatized in arriving at such ideational content is rational. Rationality has not only to do with the logic of the process, but also the objectivity of the inputs which are integrated by that process. The process by which we automatize a certain item of knowledge, is not automatically rational.
But maybe I’m wrong on all this. Perhaps I’m just some dunderheaded Neanderthal who in his contemptible naïveté has the annoying habit of wincing when thinkers treat some unspecified mass of assumptions which they style “intuitions” as some kind of sacred bull that must be preserved and protected, as though their dismantling would mean the entire artifice of human thought will come crumbling down into a worthless heap.
Perhaps my detractors would find this view comforting. But I don’t think so.
3. Presuppositionalist Reaction: My attention was first brought to Anderson and Welty’s paper when I visited the blog Choosing Hats, where Chris Bolt had posted an entry about the paper. What I found most interesting here is a comment posted on the blog entry by Brian Knapp. In his comment, Knapp was responding to Mitch LeBlanc. LeBlanc had expressed pleasure with and enthusiasm for the paper in a previous comment. In his response to LeBlanc, Knapp announced that he “shall be the presupper who will criticize [Anderson and Welty’s] argument,” which I would like to read when it’s finally available.
In response to LeBlanc’s statement that Anderson and Welty’s paper is “a refreshing read,” Knapp commented:
I will say you find this refreshing because it doesn’t challenge your autonomy. Just because the argument is not transcendental in nature, there is no requirement for you (at least as far as the argument goes) to give up yourself as the standard of what is rational. That means you can evaluate the argument and toss it aside (or even accept it), and nothing will really change, as the argument doesn’t prove the Triune God of the Bible exists – even if the argument is sound.
Depending on what ‘autonomy’ specifically means (the notion of “yourself as the standard of what is rational” is more vague than helpful), I’d have to agree with Knapp’s point that Anderson and Welty’s paper offers nothing to challenge my “autonomy” (which I take to denote my ability and willingness to think for myself). But then again, nothing that Knapp or any member of the clan at Choosing Hats has written does either. Or, for that matter, any presuppositionalist paper that I’ve read or argument that I’ve examined. Perhaps Knapp would say that my “autonomy” has been challenged and I just don’t realize it. That would be the easy path to take.
While I am still examining Anderson and Welty’s paper, and surely there are many other things to say in response to it, I have to say already that I’m quite sure I won’t be persuaded by their argument. After all, the argument and its conclusion still leave us with no alternative but to imagine the god whose existence they are attempting to prove. While theists who delight in indulging in fantasies about “the supernatural” will no doubt have no problem with this, it signifies that the argument is a non-starter so far as rational philosophy is concerned. One can imagine all kinds of things in some realm “beyond” the one which actually exists. But at the end of the day the fact remains: what we imagine is merely imaginary.
Although my time in the ensuing months is going to be very constrained (to put it mildly), if I do get a chance, I would like to post some further reactions of mine to specific aspects of Anderson and Welty’s argument. I have many thoughts in response to every paragraph in the paper, but insufficient time to prepare them for my blog. So it will have to wait until some future date that I cannot specify now.
by Dawson Bethrick