Monday, November 26, 2007

Is the Free-will Defence Defensible?

Swinburne’s free-will defence (of God’s allowing of evil) assumes that it is a great good that we can make free and responsible choices; and that the possibility of making such choices requires the possibility of evil. Regarding “free,” Swinburne (1996: 101) thinks that “in order to have a choice between good and evil, agents need already a certain depravity,” but what sort of choice is better made in depravity? Surely not one with important consequences! Regarding “responsible,” our ability to choose is supposed to be a great good only because we are thereby able to cause great suffering to others, but surely whatever value is added to a choice by its being freely made is independent of whether or not its consequences actually occur. Although making free and responsible choices when we have to can be a good thing, is that a reason to allow evil? Surely evil is the opposite of good, not an intrinsic part of it, as this defence seems to require it to be.
......Consider a saint (whose possible existence is supposed to justify the possibility of evil) who devotes her life to loving God, saving the depraved souls around her from sin (for which they later martyr her) and assuaging the suffering of the innocents. She is made this offer: All those sinners and sufferers (and also herself) could have died painlessly as babies and gone straight to Heaven instead, where they would all have chosen (in a well-informed way) to enjoy loving God forever. Wouldn’t a saint put their collective well-being ahead of her own glorious sainthood, and so choose (with all her saintly wisdom) to take up that offer? Or consider the heroic rescue of some people from some horrible situation—that is surely a good thing; but would we judge as good someone who arranged (or even just allowed) for the careless making of consequential choices just so that (in such a situation) she could display her own (or some friends’) heroism?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bracket This

Time to blog about something, but what? (I could brag that my doubts last month, about the dangers of being fat, were justified last week; or I could nit-pick pedantically, or both:) What our curly brackets (e.g. “}”) are for, in this (meta-)language, is a question that cropped up elsewhere recently. I doubt that the reason why they are on our keyboards is to help us to denote sets because many other, more convenient scientific symbols are not there; so:
......Why do we philosophers use them almost exclusively to denote sets? In our pre-keyboard days, we might have used a big “}” to the right of a vertical list (of 2 or more lines) in order to comment upon all of its elements with whatever was written to the left of the central nipple. So their basic use may well be to group things together; but that could give us a set of things (singularly referred to), an atomic fusion (in the mereological sense), a number of things (plurally referred to), and so forth.
......There are lots of examples of collections, and they aren’t all obviously sets. A brace of pheasants is just those 2 pheasants; e.g. if I said “that brace is ready to eat,” there would not be anything over and above the 2 pheasants there, not something edible anyway. Similarly, for a stamp collection that at first contained only one stamp, that stamp would be the collection (there might not even be an album yet), and if I lost it I would not have an empty stamp collection (although I might have an empty album), I would have no stamp collection.
......Conversely, mathematicians use standard sets to be collections and numbers and everything else (as much as possible), a use that is formalistically rather than philosophically motivated. Collections are pretty fundamental things, but they don't seem to be sets (what is the empty set? and what of all the sets?), so why do we seem to use the curly brackets only for sets? Mathematicians use them that way, but don’t philosophers need a better reason than that? What notation are we supposed to use for collections in general, if not our curly brackets?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ockham's Razor's Self-Excising

Ockham's Razor is the principle that, when devising theories to explain stuff, theoretical entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. It is used by some to justify atheism, and theism by others; but in fact it's useless. Consider how we would actually explain some observations: You see a cat walking behind a sofa, then just the sofa, and then a very similar cat emerges from behind the other side of the sofa. A natural way to proceed is to perceive one cat walking behind a sofa. You could imagine there were two cattish things in succession, but it's obviously more realistic to postulate the one cat.
......Was that an application of Ockham's Razor, or a trivial application of common sense? If it was Ockham's Razor, then why not postulate, instead of all such cats (and dogs and sofas and so forth) in the world, just the one demon, who has hypnotised us... oh yes, because that's obviously unrealistic! Similarly we could regard all the electrons and positrons in the world as a single electron going forwards and backwards in time, at least mathematically, but should we think of that as what actually happens, and believe in just the one electron? Ockham's Razor says we should (if it says anything); but what do you think?
......Where Ockham's Razor does seem clearly applicable (e.g. I don't explain the appearance of the cat from behind the sofa by postulating a cat and an invisible and intangible splodge of stuff quite unlike anything else) there's no need to apply anything other than a more general principle, such as that one's beliefs should be reasonable (a belief in such a splodge would clearly have no reason for being; it's only philosophers who would think of such a thing). So insofar as it's true it's unnecessary, and so it ought not (by it's own application) to be one of our principles.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Metaphysical Mathematics

From last night's talk, it seems that practical authority (the authority to command) must always be rational (absurd commands carry no authority) and moral (immoral commands carry no authority); which makes me wonder about the extreme case, of God's authority. Our Creator would presumably, as the author of Creation (if that's what this is), have complete authority (epistemic and practial), and accepting God's authority does seem to amount to accepting God's view of morality; but less clear (and important, fortunately:) is what happens to rationality—e.g. could God be above 1 + 1 = 2?
......What if our conception of arithmetic is based upon a concept of (logical) object that, despite working fine within a limited Creation, is incoherent as a whole (cf. how electrons don't add up)? Not only would the Trinity then make more sense, such would hardly be an unlikely product of natural evolution; and furthermore the results of our researches into the nature of number hardly tell against this conjecture—about the only thing that does (aside from vague intuitions that we instantiate logical objects) is our inability to think rationally without presupposing arithmetic (or that we have free will:)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Really Philosophical

The past is what has been present [and so no longer exists], the future what will be present [and so does not yet exist]: but the present is a mere durationless boundary between the past and the future, and a boundary can exist only in virtue of the existence of that which it bounds. That was Augustine’s puzzle. If you are indifferent to philosophy, you will happily ignore it; if not, you will want to know the solution to it. (Dummett, in Philosophy 2003: 392, my italics)

Maybe the present moment, of our awareness of what is now (which presumably continues to be present even when we're asleep; or nonexistent, if that's what we become), isn't a mere boundary (but is rather the whole world, a vital rather than static world)? It doesn't seem to be, but maybe that's because it doesn't seem to be an unextended instant; so, why does it seem to be extended?
......Well, light could hardly be perceived within an unextended instant (since all light has nonzero wavelengths) for example, whereas the world is clearly, at this moment, illuminated. But still, that hardly means that the present must be extended, for this time has now become part of the past, as future times continually move through the present; that is, we perceive such things as light as times move continuously (so it seems) through the present, and so we've no reason to think that it must itself be extended. Now, while the past seems to us to be gone forever, maybe it still exists, in some lifeless part of existence. It might even remain known, e.g. by the Creator of this Universe (if there is one, as seems likely). And while the future is only accessible, for us, via the present collapse of the future possibilities into this actuality, maybe it and they are more directly known (similarly). So maybe it is not too odd, to think of the present instant as a boundary.

......I don't know much about time, but I do find our intuitions about it interesting. I don't know about yours (and ought to), but to me it seems that the past is like pictures or propositions; rather than, like the present, full of enduring objects. It seems to me that were the past to exist, somehow, it would be like a CD that we would have to move our attention through (like a beam of light) in order to perceive it; not so much because I think of time classically, as like a line through the space-time jelly of this world, but because when we ask "Where is this thing... now?" the answer is often "Still here," rarely "In the past."
......The past (of this world) could hardly be known, then, except as it was when it was present; but the future is clearly more unknown, in some sense (there's a sense in which it is more knowable), whence it seems unreal. And yet we do know a lot about it, e.g. that the sun will (probably) rise again tomorrow. It certainly seems that the future is less determinate than the past (and presumably the indirectly perceived present is actually the past, the directly experienced present being more of a becoming determinate), whence I almost think of it in terms of fuzzy pictures or propositions; although it also seems more real than the past. And less certain, since it isn't just the fuzziness of some enduring objects' properties, but rather that they might not (for all I know) even be there then.
......The future seems more real than the past, as it rushes to meet us, and maybe that's because it's approaching the present, with my desires directed towards it and my actions being about determining it; but furthermore, it seems that how things turn out affects our conception of what they really were, what they amounted to, were really all about (their meaning, so to speak). Anyway, in short time is to me a big mystery (whether under the assumption that we evolved naturally, or that we were created deliberately), whence I'm fascinated by what others think about it...

I urge that we must not assume that the 'existence' of time (which of course I do not deny) brings with it a well-formed philosophical question. The love of wisdom demands we be ready to question the questions that philosophy has bequeathed to us. I think that Dummett's refusal to consider questioning those questions has unfortunate consequences. It leads him to unwittingly enunciate some nonsenses. (Read, in Philosophy 2003: 402)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Vaguely Logical

Kit Fine was, rather appropriately, rather vague about his extraordinary logic of vagueness (not its name, probably) last night (in St Andrews), which got me wondering what we could possibly want a logic of vagueness for... Our predicates are naturally usually as definite as our ordinary uses of them require them to be, and even in situations in which they're insufficiently definite, the usual logic (of definite predicates) will inform of us that fact, by throwing up a simple contradiction, the resolution of which is also quite ordinary: We need only precisify some predicate(s) somewhat, and we can continue as before. That's all very rough and ready, but at least it works well enough. When devising our more logical theories of things, our theoretical languages must at present contain only definite predicates, but is that a bad thing? (Do we want vague terms in our scientific theories?) The selection of the more precise predicate(s) is a free act of human creativity, but there is no more logical science than mathematics, and our choices of its axioms are similarly free.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Scientifically Paralogical

You’re trying to decide if the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” You say Yes, another jury member says No. If you really thought the other person arrived at No reasonably, [Fred Feldman] argues, you would have to change your verdict, not go on disagreeing.

The issue is whether it makes sense to think reasonable people can disagree when they’re responding to the same evidence, and the same arguments, and they have the same “interests” (just getting at the truth). In philosophy debates, religion debates, etc., that’s often the situation or at least can be.

We need a counterexample where two people disagree about the truth (that’s the sort of disagreement Feldman’s talking about) but regard each other as reasonable.
Those are from Jean Kazez's Halloween post (Reasonable People Will Disagree) and comments, at Talking Philosophy, which coincidentally (and hence appropriately spookily) addressed an issue akin to my Halloween post (last night); also from those comments is the following answer of PJ's:
Science? People in science disagree all the time about where the balance of evidence points, but happily regard their opponents in any given scientific debate as being quite rational, often because these are fairly open questions where it is difficult to articulate why one piece of evidence should or shouldn’t outweigh another - so you might say that while you recognise that X is suggested by experiment Y, you’re more inclined to believe that Y resulted from mistake Z, because you think X is so unlikely given A, even though Z is quite unlikely too.