Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Think, McFly, think!

As Aristotelians and Thomists use the term, intellect is that faculty by which we grasp abstract concepts (like the concepts man and mortal), put them together into judgments (like the judgment that all men are mortal), and reason logically from one judgment to another (as when we reason from all men are mortal and Socrates is a man to the conclusion that Socrates is mortal).  It is to be distinguished from imagination, the faculty by which we form mental images (such as a visual mental image of what your mother looks like, an auditory mental image of what your favorite song sounds like, a gustatory mental image of what pizza tastes like, and so forth); and from sensation, the faculty by which we perceive the goings on in the external material world and the internal world of the body (such as a visual experience of the computer in front of you, the auditory experience of the cars passing by on the street outside your window, the awareness you have of the position of your legs, etc.).

That intellectual activity -- thought in the strictest sense of the term -- is irreducible to sensation and imagination is a thesis that unites Platonists, Aristotelians, and rationalists of either the ancient Parmenidean sort or the modern Cartesian sort.  The thesis is either explicitly or implicitly denied by modern empiricists and by ancients like Democritus; as I noted in an earlier post, the various bizarre metaphysical conclusions defended by writers like Berkeley and Hume largely rest on the conflation of intellect and imagination.  But the irreducibility of intellect to imagination is for all that undeniable, for several reasons. 

Thinking versus imagining

First, the concepts that are the constituents of intellectual activity are universal while mental images and sensations are always essentially particular.  Any mental image I can form of a man is always going to be of a man of a particular sort -- tall, short, fat, thin, blonde, redheaded, bald, or what have you.  It will fit at most many men, but not all.  But my concept man applies to every single man without exception.  Or to use my stock example, any mental image I can form of a triangle will be an image of an isosceles , scalene, or equilateral triangle, of a black, blue, or green triangle, etc.  But the abstract concept triangularity applies to all triangles without exception.  And so forth.

Second, mental images are always to some extent vague or indeterminate, while concepts are at least often precise and determinate.  To use Descartes’ famous example, a mental image of a chiliagon (a 1,000-sided figure) cannot be clearly distinguished from a mental image of a 1,002-sided figure, or even from a mental image of a circle.  But the concept of a chiliagon is clearly distinct from the concept of a 1,002-sided figure or the concept of a circle.  I cannot clearly differentiate a mental image of a crowd of one million people from a mental image of a crowd of 900,000 people.  But the intellect easily understands the difference between the concept of a crowd of one million people and the concept of a crowd of 900,000 people.  And so on.

Third, we have many concepts that are so abstract that they do not have even the loose sort of connection with mental imagery that concepts like man, triangle, and crowd have.  You cannot visualize triangularity or humanness per se, but you can at least visualize a particular triangle or a particular human being.  But we also have concepts -- such as the concepts law, square root, logical consistency, collapse of the wave function, and innumerably many others -- that can strictly be associated with no mental image at all.  You might form a visual or auditory image of the English word “law” when you think about law, but the concept law obviously has no essential connection whatsoever with that word, since ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Indians had the concept without using that specific word to name it.  You might form a mental image of a certain logician when you contemplate what it is for a theory to be logically consistent, or a mental image of someone observing something when you contemplate the collapse of the wave function, but there is no essential connection whatsoever between (say) the way Alonzo Church looked and the concept logical consistency or (say) what someone looks like when he’s observing a dead cat and the concept wave function collapse.  

The impossibility of materialism 

Now, the reason why intellectual activity cannot in principle be reduced to sensation or imagination is, as it happens, related to the reason why intellectual activity cannot in principle be reduced to, or entirely supervenient upon, or in any other way explicable in terms of material processes of any sort.  For like mental images, the symbols postulated by cognitive scientists (“sentences in the head,” “maps,” or what have you), and any other possible purported material embodiments of thought, (a) necessarily lack the universality that concepts have, (b) necessarily lack the determinacy that concepts have, and (c) generally have exactly the loose and non-essential connection to the concepts they purportedly embody that the word “law” has to the concept law or a mental image of Alonzo Church has to the concept logical consistency.

There is no way the materialist is ever going to square this circle.  To “explain” intellectual activity entirely in terms of material processes is inevitably at least implicitly to deny the existence of the former, or of some essential aspect of the former.   For instance, if you identify thought with material processes, you are necessarily committed to denying, implicitly or explicitly, that our thoughts ever really have any determinate content.  A number of materialists have seen this -- Quine, Dennett, and Bernard Williams are three examples -- and have decided to bite the bullet and accept that the content of all thought and language is inherently indeterminate.  (This is, for instance, the upshot of Quine’s famous “indeterminacy of translation” and “inscrutability of reference” theses and of Dennett’s “two-bitser” example.)

But such claims are indefensible, for reasons James Ross has trenchantly spelled out.  First, if you deny the determinacy of thought, there is no way you will be able to make sense of the vast body of knowledge embodied in mathematics and logic, all of which presupposes that we have determinate concepts.  And there will in that case be no way you will be able to make sense of empirical science, which presupposes mathematics and logic, and in the name of which these materialists endorse their indeterminacy theses.  Second, if you deny the determinacy of thought, then you are committed to denying that we ever determinately think in accordance with valid forms of inference -- modus ponens, modus tollens, etc. -- or that we ever really add, subtract, multiply, etc.  You have to hold that we only seem to do so.  But that entails that we never in fact reason logically or in mathematically sound ways.  This not only (once again) makes science unintelligible, but it also undermines absolutely every argument anyone has ever given, including every argument for materialism.  Third, even to deny that our thoughts ever have a determinate content -- for example, to deny that we ever determinately employ addition as opposed to Saul Kripke’s notion of “quaddition” -- you first have to grasp what addition is and then go on to deny that we ever do it.  But that means that you must have a thought with a certain determinate content even to deny that you ever have thoughts with that specific content.

So, anyone who thinks that thought can even in principle be entirely material hasn’t thought carefully enough about the nature of thought.  The materialist refutes materialism every time he so much as tries to argue for it.  Or so I would argue, and have argued at length elsewhere (e.g. in chapter 7 of Philosophy of Mind, chapter 4 of Aquinas, and at greatest length in my forthcoming American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought”).  But I’m not going to say anything more about that subject here, because it’s not relevant to the point I do want to make in this post.  So, if you want to insist that intellectual activity is material, then fine, that’s another subject.  The point for present purposes is that thinking in the strict sense -- grasping abstract concepts, formulating propositions, reasoning from one proposition to another -- is different from forming mental images or the like (even if it is somehow material in some other way).

Science is an essentially intellectual activity

Now everyone knows that this is true where physics and mathematics are concerned.  Of course, we do find it useful to form mental images when we try to grasp the abstractions of these disciplines, at least initially.  We draw geometrical figures on paper, think of points as little dots and of lines as the sort of thing you might draw with a ruler, imagine particles as little round objects moving about and of the structure of spacetime as like a rubber sheet we might twist around in different shapes.  But none of this is strictly correct, and the deeper we understand the concepts involved, the more we see that these visual images are just crude approximations.  That’s why physicists prefer to put things in mathematical terms.  They are not trying to show off or to be difficult for the sake of difficulty.  It is rather that it is precisely those aspects of nature which can be modeled mathematically that they are interested in as physicists.  Hence to put their ideas in non-mathematical terms simply fails to get at the essence of what it is they are trying to describe.  (The mistake some of them make is in assuming that a mathematical description exhausts nature, as opposed to capturing merely an aspect of nature.  But that’s a different subject, which I have addressed here, here, and here.)

This was part of the point of Descartes’ consideration of the possibility that he might be dreaming when he thinks he’s awake, or that the world of his senses might be a hallucination put into his consciousness by an evil spirit.  He was not interesting in providing fodder for college dorm room bull sessions or science-fiction screenwriters.  Nor was he merely interested in raising and responding to the problem of epistemological skepticism.  What he was trying to do was reinforce the idea that physics as he wanted to (re)define it -- and he was one of the fathers of modern science, as well as being the father of modern philosophy -- is something that can be understood only via the intellect, and not via the senses or the imagination.  Even if physical theory must be tested via empirical observation, its content is something that is expressible only in highly abstract terms that we must grasp with the intellect rather in terms of what we can imagine or perceive.  As with the concepts law and logical consistency (to cite some examples given above), any mental imagery we associate with the concepts we learn from a physics textbook are bound to be misleading and will have little or no essential connection to the realities to which the concepts correspond.  That is precisely why modern physics is so hard -- it requires a degree of abstraction of which few are capable.

Philosophy and theology are also essentially intellectual activities

Now the key concepts of the great systems of metaphysics -- whether Platonic, Aristotelian, Thomistic or other Scholastic systems, or modern rationalist systems like those of Descartes and Leibniz -- are also of the sort that can be grasped only via a high degree of intellectual abstraction, with little or nothing in the way of assistance by mental imagery.  Indeed these concepts are if anything of an even higher degree of abstraction than those dealt with by the physicist.  For many of them concern not just material being, nor even the most abstract aspects of material being, but being as such.  When the metaphysician inquires into the nature of existence, or essence, or causation, he wants to know not merely what it is for this or that material thing to exist or have a nature or have a cause, nor even merely what it would be for some particular immaterial thing to exist or to have a nature or a cause.  He also wants to know what existence as such is, what causation as such is, and so forth.  His enterprise requires taking the mind as far from mental imagery -- as far from what we can visualize, for example -- as it can possibly go.  Thus, while metaphysics does not involve complex calculations or the like, it is in another respect even more difficult than physics insofar as it requires an even greater sustained effort of abstraction.  

Hence, when it is said by the Scholastic philosopher or theologian that God is pure actuality, subsistent being itself, and absolutely simple, or that the human soul is the substantial form of a living human being, you are going to misunderstand these concepts completely if you think of them as literally having anything to do with what you can visualize in your mind’s eye.  For example, if you think of an explosion (say) when you think of God qua Actus purus actualizing the world, or of a tiny marble-like object when you think of absolute simplicity, or the dotted-line outline of a body when you think of substantial form, you will be misunderstanding these concepts as badly as -- indeed, far worse than -- you would be misunderstanding molecules if you thought of them as literally being little balls held together by sticks, or of spacetime as if it were literally a kind if sheet with indentations in it.  Similarly, if you think of Descartes’ notion of res cogitans on the model of “ectoplasm,” or goo of the sort you’d see in Ghostbusters only invisible and intangible, or as “bits of non-clockwork” (as Gilbert Ryle described it), then you will be taking it to be nearly the opposite of what Descartes actually had in mind.  For these are all quasi-material kinds of thing insofar as they imply extension and/or composition.  And Descartes’ whole point was that a res cogitans is neither extended nor composed of parts.  It is precisely the sort of thing you cannot visualize, nor model on the workings of any kind of material system whatsoever, even the most ethereal.

Double standard

And this is where so many New Atheist types come to grief.  (As I find I keep having to reassure the hypersensitive reader, no, I don’t mean all atheists.  I mean the kind of atheist who seriously thinks a Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, or Laurence Krauss deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with J. L. Mackie, J. Howard Sobel, or Quentin Smith.)  Those among them who actually know something about science (and not merely how to shout “Science!”) are well aware that you are not going to understand physics properly if you take too seriously the mental images we tend to form when we hear terms like “spacetime,” “particle,” “energy,” and the like.  They are well aware that physics requires us to abstract from ordinary experience, to move away from what we can visualize or otherwise imagine.  The man on the street may think that whatever is real must be something you could in principle see, hear, touch, smell, or taste, but the more scientifically savvy sort of New Atheist knows that this is a vulgar prejudice, and that it is with the intellect rather than the senses that we truly understand the world.

And yet, when dealing with metaphysical or theological concepts New Atheist types suddenly become complete Philistines, feigning an inability to grasp anything but the most crude and literal physical descriptions.  Hence if you claim that the human mind is immaterial, they suppose that you simply must be committed to the existence of a sort of magical goop that floats above the brain; and if you say that the universe has a cause they will insist that you must believe in a kind of super-Edison who draws up blueprints, gets out his tools, and sets to work.  And when you object to these preposterous straw men, they will pretend that they cannot understand your language in any other way, that it is mere empty verbiage unless read in such a crassly mundane fashion.  Of course, if they held physics to the same narrow, literalistic standard, they would have to dismiss wormholes, quantum foam, black holes, gravity wells, electric fields, centers of gravity, and on and on.  (I’ve discussed this double standard before, here and here.)

It is no good to object that the predictive and technological successes of physics justify this double standard, for two reasons.  First, the predictive and technological successes of physics are relevant only to the epistemic credentials of physics, but not to its intelligibility.  In other words, that such-and-such a theory in physics has been confirmed experimentally and/or had various practical applications is relevant to showing that it is correct, but it is not necessarily relevant to interpreting the content of the theory.  Physicists knew well enough what Einstein was claiming before tests like the 1919 and 1922 eclipse experiments provided evidence that he was right.  Similarly, though string theory has proved notoriously difficult to test, we know well enough what the theory means; the trouble is just finding out whether it’s true.  (No one would make the asinine claim that string theory simply must be committed to the existence of literal microscopic shoelaces unless and until some experimental test of the theory is devised.)  

So, even if it were correct to say that metaphysical and theological claims cannot be rationally justified, it simply wouldn’t follow that such claims must be given the crude readings New Atheists often foist upon them, on pain of being empty verbiage.  But it is, in any case, not correct to say that they cannot be rationally justified, which brings us to the second problem.  That the methods of empirical science are rational does not entail that they are the only methods that are rational.  In particular, and as I have pointed out many times, it is simply a blatant non sequitur to claim that science’s success in discovering those aspects of reality that are susceptible of strict prediction and control shows that those aspects exhaust reality.  This is like a drunk’s insisting that because it is only under the streetlamp that there is light to look for his keys, it follows that the keys cannot be elsewhere and/or that there cannot be methods by which they might be sought elsewhere.

As I have also pointed out many times, the premises from which the historically most important arguments for God’s existence proceed derive, not from natural science, but from metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.  They are, that is to say, premises that any possible natural science must take for granted, and are thus more secure than the claims of natural science, not less -- or so many natural theologians would claim.  Obviously such claims are controversial, but the point is that to insist that metaphysical and theological assertions must be justified via the methods of natural science if they are to be worthy of attention is not to refute the metaphysician or theologian, but merely to beg the question against the metaphysician or theologian.  Philosophical arguments are different from empirical scientific arguments, but they are no less rational than empirical scientific arguments.  

Thinking abstractly

Some readers might wonder how what I am saying here squares with what I said in a recent post about the danger of reifying abstractions.  But there is no inconsistency.  Naturally, I was not saying in the earlier post that abstraction per se is bad; indeed, I said the opposite.  What I was criticizing was treating as substances (in the Aristotelian sense of that term) things which of their nature cannot be substances.  Mathematical features of reality, for example, are aspects of substances and of relations between substances, rather than substances in their own right.  Hence it is an error to treat the mathematical description of nature that physics gives us as if it were a complete description.  Bodily organs like brains are also not substances but rather components of substances (namely of certain kinds of organisms) and intelligible only by reference to the complete organisms of which they form integral parts.  Hence it is a category mistake -- deriving from a tendency first to abstract the brain from the organism and then fallaciously to treat it as a substance in its own right -- to speak (as some neuroscientists and philosophers do) of the brain or its components as if they “see,” “interpret,” etc., or to conclude that since free choice, purpose, etc. are not to be found at the neurological level of description, it follows that they don’t exist at all.  These concepts apply in the first place only to the organism as a whole, and not to its parts.

The arguments of natural theology that I am defending do not commit errors like this.  They abstract from experience, but they do not fallaciously treat accidents as if they were substances or parts as if they were wholes.

In any event, it is only by learning to think abstractly -- to engage in rational thought in its highest and purest form -- that you are ever going to understand metaphysical and theological arguments well enough to earn the right to criticize them.  “New Atheists” -- by which, again, I do not mean all atheists, but rather the likes of Dawkins, Coyne, Myers and their innumerable online clones -- have not earned this right, precisely because they do not think at this high level.  Indeed, they do very little thinking at all where metaphysics and theology are concerned, unless you count smartass remarks aimed at straw men followed by mutual high fives “thinking.”  When dealing with one of these brainiacs, you might as well meet him where he’s at and channel Biff Tannen:

490 comments:

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Touchstone said...

So, I asked this in an earlier thread, but did not get a response:

What is the operating definition of 'determinate', here?

I understand Dennett's use to be something quite close to the conventional definition, like:

"having exact and discernible limits or form"

Gven a concept, what is your test for whether it has "determinate content"? That is, if I am thinking of "pi", how would one establish the determinacy or indeterminacy of the referent(s) for that concept on a materialist vs. an immaterialist view?

It seems a lot rides on the operability of your definition of that term in this post.

Also, a quick clarifier, would a system that stored all values as scalars between 0.0 and 1.0, non-inclusive (meaning something in between those values) be capable of processing information predictably, reliably and with precision, in your view. If every value was a "degree" rather than one of {1|0} (or {true|false} if you prefer), would that system be able to calculate and process information put into it with predictable and precise outputs, at least in principle?

-TS

Josh said...

Pi-the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

Triangle-plane figure of three sides.

Each represented indeterminately as particulars because of material conditions. Use your definition, it don't matter. Indeterminacy of a percept/phantasm is what's left once what makes it indeterminate is abstracted away by the intellect.

Christian said...

Hey Dr. Feser, I just picked up John Searle's book "Mind" today at a book fair at my school. (Regis University in Denver) I am a student of neo-scholastic philosophy and I was wondering if you could tell me if his book would be a good read and contain good information? Thanks.

Edward Feser said...

Touchstone,

What I mean is that there is, to use Quine's expression, a "fact of the matter" about whether you are talking about rabbits rather than rabbit stages or undetached rabbit parts when you use the word "rabbit"; a fact of the matter about whether you are engaged in addition rather than quaddition; a fact of the matter about whether you ever reason in accordance with modus ponens; etc. Now, if you deny this, then you need to explain how you can avoid incoherence of the sort Ross and I argue follows upon denying it, and which I summarized in the post.

Re: the system you describe, if it's an artifact, then the answer is that there is no fact of the matter about whether it would be able to do so precisely because it is an artifact and thus doesn't intrinsically "process information" at all in the first place. Its status as an information processor is observer-relative. Of course, once we've assigned an interpretation to its operations so that they count as "information processing," the system may well carry out the task with great precision. But the precision counts as "precision" only relative to the specific function we've assigned the system -- it performs that function precisely, but won't necessarily perform some other observer-relative function precisely. (Compare: A ruler you buy in the store is a fairly precise measure of inches, but not a precise measure of micrometres. But its status as a measure of either is observer-relative, not intrinsic to the physics of the object.)

Now, perhaps you mean instead to ask about a biological system rather than an artifact -- a brain, for example. Here things are a little more complicated. If you mean such a biological system as conceived of in the usual materialist way, then once again there is no fact of the matter about whether such a system "processes information" in the first place, since "information" in the semantic sense relevant to the issue at hand cannot be defined in terms derived from physics, chemistry, neuroscience, etc.

If instead you mean such a system conceived of in terms of an Aristotelian, inherently teleological conception of matter, then there is a sense in which such a biological system could be said to process information. Obviously though, this is not a sense that would help the materialist. Furthermore, such a system would still not be determinate in the specific way arguments like Ross's and mine are interested in. Precisely because they are material -- where matter is the principle of potency and thus change -- such systems lack the stability and perfection that a pure form does. Even the best drawn triangle lacks the determinacy of Euclidean triangularity as such, and Euclidean triangles that were natural objects -- suppose they grew on trees rather than having to be drawn by us -- would be similarly imperfect, precisely because they would be material.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Christian,

Yes, Searle is always interesting and worth reading, and particularly recommended as a guide to contemporary philosophy of mind. (Naturally there are areas where I disagree with him -- see e.g. my essay "Why Searle Is a Property Dualist," which you can find on my main website and which is relevant to some of what he says in that book.)

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,


What I mean is that there is, to use Quine's expression, a "fact of the matter" about whether you are talking about rabbits rather than rabbit stages or undetached rabbit parts when you use the word "rabbit"; a fact of the matter about whether you are engaged in addition rather than quaddition; a fact of the matter about whether you ever reason in accordance with modus ponens; etc. Now, if you deny this, then you need to explain how you can avoid incoherence of the sort Ross and I argue follows upon denying it, and which I summarized in the post.

OK. I think the granularity of the distinction is important, here, though. On mental images, you allow for 'degrees of determinacy', or as you say " mental images are always to some extent vague or indeterminate". You then say that concepts are "at least often precise and determinate. To me, that indicates that some (perhaps not so often?) concepts are NOT precise and/or NOT determinate?

Do I have that correct?

On your example from Quine, I think that is fine in practice so long as our requirements are coarse. I would say that an indeterminate concept of 'rabbit', where the concept is just somewhat vague or fuzzy is easily distinguished from 'quaddition', even if that concept was also somewhat indeterminate. Which means that as a *practical* matter they are "determinate with respect to each other", distinguishable one from the other, even while being indeterminate to some degree.

That's the trouble with "fact of the matter", I think. Just by way of analogy, if I ask what the temperature of Room A is, and then also what the temperature of Room B is next to it, I can quite easily rectify the indeterminacy of T[A] and T[B] as being necessarily somewhat vague and imprecise with the "practical determinacy" of distinguishing between them. If T[A] is measured at 12.4deg and T[B] is measured at 23.1deg, both of those measurements of temperature have some approximation inherent in them -- they are not and cannot be fully determinate in a physical sense -- but judging which room is colder is not difficult, or ambiguous at all.

So if concept[rabbit] and concept[quaddition] are "fully distinguished" in that they are never practically confused or indistinguishable, can they still have a degree of indeterminacy in your view?

If not, then what, I wonder, would you cite as an example of an 'indeterminate concept', which you ostensibly understand to exist in some instances above?

I've not read the Ross article, but have it saved on my iPad for reading soon.

No time tonight to respond to "intrinsic information", etc., but that's an interesting response to chew on for tomorrow, thanks.

-TS

Anonymous said...

On your example from Quine, I think that is fine in practice so long as our requirements are coarse. I would say that an indeterminate concept of 'rabbit', where the concept is just somewhat vague or fuzzy is easily distinguished from 'quaddition', even if that concept was also somewhat indeterminate. Which means that as a *practical* matter they are "determinate with respect to each other", distinguishable one from the other, even while being indeterminate to some degree.

You don't seem to understand what Ed is saying with regards to determinate and indeterminate.

He's not saying that an indeterminate concept is something like, X% correct but X% incorrect, or Y% accurate but short of 100%. If something is indeterminate, then there is no fact of the matter about what it means, if anything.

To use an example: imagine there are two stones together on the ground in a forest. Does that mean "there's treasure buried here"? Or "this is the right direction on the path"? Or does it mean nothing at all, because it's just two rocks and there's nothing special about them?

As far as physics is concerned, it doesn't mean any of those things. Whatever meaning the stones have, only have it insofar as that meaning is assigned to it by a mind. The stones' meaning is indeterminate.

Thomists, tell me if I got anything wrong.

Now, if the mind is just the brain, and the brain is wholly material (and therefore, wholly indeterminate), you can see what the problem is. There's no fact of the matter of what you're thinking. Talk about "rabbit" versus "quaddition" never even gets off the ground because there's no fact of the matter that you're thinking about either of those things, or both of those things, or something else entirely.

Chris said...

I just comleted TLS and I'm new to the AT tradition. There is something that is not clear to me. With regards to spiritual anthropology, I think Thomists regard reason and intellect as the same thing? But, many Christian authors that I have read seem to subscribe to a tripartite schemata: body-soul- spirit.

I'm interested in what a Thomist would say in response to what the Perennialist Catholic, Rama Coomaraswamy says here:

"...traditional teaching holds that Reason is a discursive faculty which requires both correct premises and proper logic to come to a valid conclusion. Truth does not depend on reason but rather reveals itself and becomes explicit with the help of reason. Thus we do not say something is true because it is logical, but rather that it is logical because it is true. This presupposes a still higher faculty capable of judging whether the conclusions of reason are true. Modern philosophers attempt to get around this problem, by speaking of "rational principles", but forget that principles can never be derived from discursive logic. Reason cannot prove its own validity, for principles must be grasped intuitively or supra rationally. As Aristotle said, 'one does not demonstrate principles, but one perceives directly the truth thereof.'

To make use of scholastic terminology, it is the pure intellect which is the habitus principorum while reason is only the habitus conclusionum. Man then possesses reason and with it language, only because, unlike animals, he has access in principle to supra-rational vision. It is this supra-rational vision, Intellection or insight, that gives man, not only judgement, but certitude in his own existence as a being, and confidence in the functional capacity of reason. Intellection is a kind of "Seeing" and not a conclusion and it is this that opens to man the possibility of metaphysical certitude.

This is why Boethius said that a
man who thinks he is an animal that reasons has forgotten who he is. Now reason, which is a reflection of this higher Intellect, can receive its content (that which it reasons about) from above and from below, from within and from without. It can perceive its premises from Revelation or the senses, from intellection or the subconscious. These various sources, either invidually or in combination, provide the reason with its 'food' and any attempt to exclude one or more of them is arbitrary and irrational."

rank sophist said...

Chris,

You should take a look at this article: http://medievalmind.blogspot.com/2009/02/ratio-and-intellectus.html

Chris said...

I appreciate that. I'll check it out.

Chris said...

RS,

It would seem that intellectus is, indeed, the senior partner of the ratio-intellectus union in the "process of knowing." If that is so, do you think it would be fair to say that contemplation/mysticism transcends philosophy/theology ?

rank sophist said...

Chris,

Mysticism and theology are both parts of the same faculty--intellectus and ratio are joined at the hip--, but I think it would be true to say that mysticism is greater. Aquinas himself would probably have agreed, given his comment about his writing being "straw" near the end of his life. Intellectus is the more perfect form of knowing, and mysticism seems to favor it over ratio, so your conclusion seems to follow.

Daniel Smith said...

Thank you for this post Dr. Feser!

BTW, your post seems crystal clear to me - it's the comments that follow that are hard to comprehend!!

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous,

You don't seem to understand what Ed is saying with regards to determinate and indeterminate.

He's not saying that an indeterminate concept is something like, X% correct but X% incorrect, or Y% accurate but short of 100%. If something is indeterminate, then there is no fact of the matter about what it means, if anything.

OK, that seems quite a peculiar (and problematic) usage, but as long as we have clarity on the terms, we can make headway. If I say "first-class cricket matches last an indeterminate number of days", "indeterminate" there does not mean there is no facto of the matter regarding when or how matches end. It means we don't know for any given match as yet unplayed how long it will last, precisely. We CAN say that most matches least between 3 and 5 days, so even though there is no "fact of the matter" to be had (yet) for a future match as to precisely how long it will take, we can say "it will take 3-5 days, in all likelihood". That provides a "determinate measure", but with loose precision, at least with respect to saying an American football game is usually played in 3 hours, 30 minutes (or whatever the actual playing time is for that sport). There's more "slop" in "3-5" days in terms of probable length, but even "3 hours, 3 minutes" is an approximation, a measure of "more or less", just with more precision than we have with a cricket match.

All of which is to invoke the future as indeterminate with respect to many specific, which I think even here is uncontroversial.

In terms of "indeterminate" with respect to concepts, this usage is confusing, even (especially) in the context of a discussion of philosophy of mind and mental representation. For example, here's a small section I typed up for you from Philosophy of Mental Representation, edited by Caplin (p273):

[SMITH] I don’t want us to infer wrongly from the fact that we theorists don't quite know what’s going on, that there isn’t something quite precise going on—even if what’s going on is something that neither
we nor anyone else can actually say. The lack of being able to say it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a fact of the matter.
[DENNETT] Let me go back to my ur-example of indeterminacy of content. In ‘The Ability of Men and Machines’ I describe a case where the engineers find this device on the beach and they study it and they agree completely about its physical constitution, and every atom of its being. They agree on exactly what trajectories it will follow under all circumstances. They disagree about what it is, what it's for. And it‘s only when we get to their content level, where they treat certain things as malfunctions—one of them treats certain events as malfunctions, the other one has a different gloss and says those aren‘t malfunctions, that’s signal not noise—and I claim that it is not the case that there must be a fact of the matter about which is the right content gloss on this object.
[CUMMINS] There‘s still a scope ambiguity, because the way you put it leaves out the possibility that there is a fact of the matter but they’re both right. I get this all the time, because they say—‘which isomorphism?’ You know? All of them. They don’t like that. Somehow something couldn't have two structures at once.
[DENNETT] Right, but of course you can have them.
[CUMMINS] And really, there's a real fact of the matter that they have all of them.
[DENNETT] But there isn’t a real fact of the matter about which one is privileged.
[CUMMINS] That’s right.
[DENNETT] And that's the one point that I’ve always wanted to insist on.


Out of space for this post, will continue shortly...

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous

(con't)

That's Daniel Dennett, Robert Cummins and Brian Cantwell-Smith in that exchange by the way.

On the next page (274), Cummins makes this point about indeterminacy, per Dennett's example:

[CLAPIN] But with the multiple isomorphisms in the same thing-—usually
the case is that only one of those structures is actually doing the effective work.
[DENNETT] That’s perspectival too.
[CUMMINS] Yeah, that’s perspectival too. There’s any number. lt’s simple and clean to think of these couplings one at a time. But the fact of the matter is, this is just another one of these things. In Dan’s case, you’ve got one engineer, as it were, coupled into one structure, and another engineer coupled into another structure. And since those two are different there's a temptation to infer that there's no fact of the matter of which structure is there. They’re both there because after all, if they
weren’t, the two engineers couldn't be coupled to them.


So, two observations from me on that:

1. Indeterminacy as used in the above book (and this is quite consistent with other such philosophy books on my bookshelf, admittedly a bookshelf with just a very books written from a Thomist perspective) doesn't reconcile with "no fact of the matter" as a definitional constraint. Here, indeterminacy is reflective of the *ambiguity* and *intractability of privilege* that obtains, EVEN WHEN THERE EXISTS a 'fact of the matter', or as it may happen, multiple 'facts of the matter'.

Words mean what convention establishes they mean, and so I can work with novel definitions, but if "indeterminate" MUST mean "no fact of the matter" as in "there is no isomorphism to be had", that seems to be an exercise in self-defeating terminology. Why should we think a concept is "fully determinate", or "completely devoid of meaning or isomorphic structures" as our only two options???

The only rendering I can come to on your definition that makes sense is one that (implicitly) assumes that if there's no universal, monadic semantic content -- meaning 'free of context', so to speak -- then this is "indeterminate", and fulfills the test "no fact of the matter". That would mean that the only "fact of the matter" is some kind of... what is the term Dr. Feser invokes here? -- "ectoplasm", some kind of universal (non)substance that is "absolute meaning" without any necessary frame of reference within which it derives its meaning.

Is that what you are getting at? No context-free, universal meaning (whatever that might mean!), entails "no meaning at all"?

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous
To use an example: imagine there are two stones together on the ground in a forest. Does that mean "there's treasure buried here"? Or "this is the right direction on the path"? Or does it mean nothing at all, because it's just two rocks and there's nothing special about them?

As far as physics is concerned, it doesn't mean any of those things. Whatever meaning the stones have, only have it insofar as that meaning is assigned to it by a mind. The stones' meaning is indeterminate.

I think this indicates a failure to think in materialist terms, if only provisionally to understand the problem and discuss it without equivocating on "meaning". As far as physics is concerned, as I understand it, the two stones can mean both or one or none of those things. For example, if person A has placed those stones in some agreed upon way such that person B coming along later can interpret his sighting of the stones as "there's treasure buried here"?, then, by definition, you have meaning realized in those stones as 'signs-of-treasure'. The material brain in person A and person B have enough of a match in their understanding of the "semantics of stones placement in the woods" that A placing the stones is sufficient to trigger a meaningful message to Person B happening by later: "treasure here!". It's a completely natural phenomenon, "brain patterns firing isomorphically" so to speak that reifies the meaning for those stones in that sense, or in any sense those brains can agree on (perhaps the two stone mark the 2 km marker on a path, for example).

Indeterminacy as I think you are construing it here is NOT a problem related to there being "no fact of the matter", not possibly, but rather that "facts of the matter" are underdetermined, and overloadable with multiple conceptual renderings, and you (we) are actually getting hung up on the question of whether any of these determinations is PRIVILEGED above the others.

If that's the case, and I know I may not yet get your concept of "no fact of the matter" yet, then on physical interpretations (which see humans, and their brains as physical phenomena), it's not correct to say "it doesn't mean any of those things" as a prohibition; as far as physics is concerned, those stones can and may mean both of your suggested meanings, and more, and all at the same time, potentially.

This renders the stones "indeterminate" with "no fact of the matter" ONLY on the understanding that there can only be a single, monadic, and absolutely, universally privileged meaning for any given pattern or phenomenon. If those are your restrictions, it begs for an answer: why those restrictions?

A simple example may help me make this clear. What is the value of a $20 bill in your wallet? Or to paraphrase for our purposes, what does that $20 bill mean? It doesn't have any intrinsic, or cosmic, absolute value; that idea doesn't even make sense. It's valuable because, and only because other minds agree, by convention and practice that it HAS value. There's not "intrinsic $20 dollar-ness". It's just a piece of green linen-paper as a physical object.

Is the value of a $20 bill 'indeterminate'? As I understand you, it is, and more importantly, the $20 bill is valueless, meaningless. I'd agree with that statement in terms of looking at the world from the outside (if that were possible) after it had run its course and succumbed to inevitable heat death: there's no transcendant meaning there, if for no more complicated reason than that there are no people to ascribe value to it (or its ashes).

-TS

TheOFloinn said...

Per Dennett, in your excerpt, what a thing is comes from human agreement on what it is. A computer is a computer only because humans have agreed to regard it as a computer. I'm talking about the plastic and wires and power source etc., not simply the term "computer." Properly regarded, the book lying on the table beside me can be a computer. It is running the program "sit on the table and do nothing." I think that is what he was getting at. Otherwise, for exactness and precision we have perfectly good terms: "exactness" and "precision."

To determine (de terminus) means "to come to an end," "to settle or decide," as in "to determine a question." The term dates from the 14th cent in English, 12th cent in French (determiner). The Latin determinare meant "to enclose, bound, set limits (terminus) to..."

David T said...

TS,

Notice that you've resolved the indeterminacy of the meaning of the stones by referring it to the intentions of the mind that placed them there. This move only works if the mind doesn't also suffer from the same problem of meaning as the stones - otherwise, you will only be able to resolve the indeterminacy of the mind by referring to a further thing beyond it, etc., and you are in an infinite regress.

And that is the point. On the materialist view of things, the mind is nothing but the brain which is nothing but an arrangement of matter, just like the stones in the forest are an arrangement of matter. There is no intrinsic reason why any particular arrangement of brain matter should mean "treasure is buried here" anymore than a particular arrangement of stones should mean it.

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser

Re: the system you describe, if it's an artifact, then the answer is that there is no fact of the matter about whether it would be able to do so precisely because it is an artifact and thus doesn't intrinsically "process information" at all in the first place. Its status as an information processor is observer-relative.

One of my favorite physics problems is "Maxwell's Demon". I don't know if you are familiar with that thought experiment, but it is a problem that rests on the question of information as a physical component of our world. The reason Maxwell's conjectured "demon" can't separate a combined reservoir of gas into two reservoirs, one warmer and one cooler than the other, is because information has a physical constraints -- it costs energy to acquire the information needed to determine which molecules should be let into the "hot" chamber, and which should be left in the "cold" chamber, and as it turns out, always more energy in acquisition than can be garnered in the process of separation (Second Law).

I point this out, because that's as close as I can come to the idea of "intrinsic information". As Landauer put it -- "information is physical", which might even be petter put as "physical is information". I realize that cannot comport with what you understand "intrinsic information" must mean, per the context you provide, but even so, I can't find any meaning for that term as you've used it. I'm not sure it matters here, but maybe you could point me to your best-of-breed post, if you have one on the subject of "intrinsic information". And maybe you could describe what you understand to be the challenge for the Demon Maxwell imagined way back when in its quest to separate the "hot" molecules from the "cold" molecules. Is that "information" in your view, even if understood in a different sense than you want to employ here?

My understanding is that the information needed in the molecules is not "observer-relative". The state of each molecule is what it is, no matter who's measuring it or not, as it bounces around with all the other molecules, isn't it? We may not care to go analyze any given tank of gas for the kinetic energy of the molecules there in, but that does not mean that the information does not obtain.
Of course, once we've assigned an interpretation to its operations so that they count as "information processing," the system may well carry out the task with great precision.
Isn't this confusing the map with the territory, though? Manifestly we can develop our own interpretations of phenomena, and devise our own processes that achieve desired ends. And all of that implies "information processing". But that is just a special case of physical phenomena, instance we are attached to for our own purposes, but still just instances of the general dynamics of physics, all of which is "information processing". It's useful for us to refer to, say, sales charts as "information" -- it's patterns and signs that are highly contextualized for human understanding and consumption. But that is a useful parochialism -- an understandable predilection for the kinds of phenomena we find handy.

All the other "boring" and non-anthropocentric interactions that we don't find useful or highly contextualized for our conceptualizing is just as physical, just as information-rich. It just isn't "privileged" by being of particular use to us. Our performative physics models "flatten" that out, though, and show that interactions are interactions, don't they, and "human friendly information" is just the subset of information that humans find human friendly, right?

-TS

Anonymous said...

TS,

Regarding Dennett, you don't seem to fully be aware of just what he's saying either.

So, a few quotes from a paper by Dennett:

We can assure ourselves that nothing intrinsic about the two-bitser considered narrowly all by itself and independently of its prior history would distinguish it from a genuine q-balber, made to order on commission from the Panamanian government. Still, given its ancestry, is there not a problem about its function, its purpose, its meaning, on this first occasion when it goes into the state we are tempted to call Q? Is this a case of going into state Q (meaning "U.S. quarter here now") or state QB (meaning "Panamanian quarter-balboa here now")? I would say, along with Millikan (1984), that whether its Panamanian debut counts as going into state Q or state QB depends on whether, in its new niche, it was selected for its capacity to detect quarter-balboas--literally selected, e.g., by the holder of the Panamanian Pepsi-Cola franchise. If it was so selected, then even though its new proprietors might have forgotten to reset its counter, its first "perceptual" act would count as the correct identification of a q-balber, for that is what it would now be for. (It would have acquired quarter-balboa detection as its proper function.) If, on the other hand, the two-bitser was sent to Panama by mistake, or if it arrived by sheer coincidence, its debut would mean nothing, though its utility might soon-- immediately--be recognized and esteemed by the relevant authorities (those who could press it into service in a new role), and thereupon its subsequent states would count as tokens of QB.

Presumably Fodor et al. would be content to let me say this, since, after all, the two-bitser is just an artifact. It has no intrinsic, original intentionality, so there is no "deeper" fact of the matter we might try to uncover. This is just a pragmatic matter of how best to talk, when talking metaphorically and anthropomorphically about the states of the device.

But we part company when I claim to apply precisely the same morals, the same pragmatic rules of interpretation, to the human case. In the case of human beings (at least), Fodor and company are sure that such deeper facts do exist--even if we cannot always find them. That is, they suppose that, independently of the power of any observer or interpreter to discover it, there is always a fact of the matter about what a person (or a person's mental state) really means. Now we might call their shared belief a belief in intrinsic intentionality, or perhaps even objective or real intentionality. There are differences among them about how to characterize, and name, this property of human minds, which I will continue to call original intentionality, but they all agree that minds are unlike the two-bitser in this regard.

I part company with these others, because although they might agree with me (and Millikan) about what one should say in the case of the transported two-bitser, they say that we human beings are not just fancier, more sophisticated two-bitsers.


And

Suppose you have composed a shopping list, on a piece of paper, to guide your shopping behavior. The marks on the piece of paper have derived intentionality, of course, but if you forgo the shopping list and just remember the wanted items in your head, whatever it is that "stores" or "represents" the items to be purchased in your brain has exactly the same status as the trails of ink on the paper. There is no more real, or intrinsic, or original intentionality than that.

No fact of the matter. All intentionality is derived, like the two stones in the forest. The only person who seems to be misunderstanding Dennett and materialism generally does seem to be you.

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,
But the precision counts as "precision" only relative to the specific function we've assigned the system -- it performs that function precisely, but won't necessarily perform some other observer-relative function precisely. (Compare: A ruler you buy in the store is a fairly precise measure of inches, but not a precise measure of micrometres. But its status as a measure of either is observer-relative, not intrinsic to the physics of the object.)
Maybe this was an example you just pulled out too quickly; your ruler marked in inches is EXACTLY as precise a measurement of micrometers as it is in inches or furlongs or miles. Inches and micrometers are mapping constructs for our conceptualization. The mark on the ruler you make at the edge of the measured object does not exist as "inches long" or "micrometers long". It is just "long", and even that is a problematic way to put it; it is what it is, and "long" is just a symbol we can agree on that points to a concept that no matter how I try here, I must render in words.

The ruler as measure is observer independent, in my understanding. Its extension in space time as a relation to the measured-thing is not dependent on any mind, will, or perspective of an observer (given a shared inertial reference frame). "Inches" is not the measure, but just the *unit* of measure we maintain for thinking about scale. If you have a "blank ruler" with no unit marks on it, it is just as much a measure, a point on the ruler lined up with the edge of the measured-object is objectively isomorphic to the extension of the measured-object in that direction. Units are irrelevant, and this can be shown by just marking that blank ruler and holding up another object to be measured. The tick will provide a "unit-dependent" reference for the new object. Or maybe we should say that the measured-object thus becomes a new ad hoc unit by which we can measure or compare another object. In any case, we can do this measuring as a human activity, but the ruler as observer-independent is an index to the scale of any and every other object.

Consider: Rock A comes to rest next to Rock B. If humans were to measure them, Rock B would twice as tall as they sit compared to Rock A. In a universe with no humans, and thus no human-measuring, and just a sun and a planet with rocks such as A and B, Rock B still measures Rock A. That is, as the sun moves across the sky, why does Rock B cast a shadow on the top of Rock A at some parts of the day, but Rock A never casts a shadow on the top of Rock B?

It physics being physics. The shadow is the "measure" of the rocks size (and relative position, etc.) No humans are needed for this to happen, the physics dynamics all obtain without any need of us.

Our "measuring" is just an anthropocentric integration of that phenomenon. Rather than casting a shadow (which can also work for us if we want), we adjust a "reference object", the ruler such that our visual stimuli match a pattern of alignment and occlusion that we can make a determination. It's a human process, but it's the interpretation of physics-qua-physics. Our interpretation is human-centric, and subjective, but the extension of the ruler and the measured-object obtain as discrete features of extra-mental nature -- observer independent.

-TS

rank sophist said...

TS,

I already showed in the last thread that this ridiculous computationalism is self-refuting. Why are you bringing it up again?

Anonymous said...

rank sophist,

I really suspect it's because what's important for some people is to object some way, any way, when a *gasp* non-naturalist philosopher makes a point or an argument, because it's considered to be too politically and intellectually threatening to not object, even on non-existent grounds.

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous,

No fact of the matter. All intentionality is derived, like the two stones in the forest. The only person who seems to be misunderstanding Dennett and materialism generally does seem to be you.

You've overlooked the key qualifier that DENNETT provided in the quote I supplied, which was the impetus for supplying that particular quote in the first place:

[DENNETT] But there isn’t a real fact of the matter about which one is privileged.

Dennett in his next statement to Cummins then agrees with Cummins who is arguing for "facts of the matter" as extant, but NON-PRIVILEGED:

[CUMMINS] That’s right.
[DENNETT] And that's the one point that I’ve always wanted to insist on.

By "indeterminate" -- and sorry, your supplied quote just reaffirms this point -- Dennett means that any "fact of the matter" is unknown. It may be "overloaded" with isomorphisms, meaning there are multiple (and even simultaneously coincidental) meanings for any given pattern. But there may also be none. When Dennett says this:

I part company with these others, because although they might agree with me (and Millikan) about what one should say in the case of the transported two-bitser, they say that we human beings are not just fancier, more sophisticated two-bitsers.

This is NOT to contradict what Cummins said about "two structures at once":

[CUMMINS] There‘s still a scope ambiguity, because the way you put it leaves out the possibility that there is a fact of the matter but they’re both right. I get this all the time, because they say—‘which isomorphism?’ You know? All of them. They don’t like that. Somehow something couldn't have two structures at once.
[DENNETT] Right, but of course you can have them.


Rather, zero or more structures may obtain, and any of these configurations count as indeterminate. Cummins is not arguing for "objective intentionality" in the exchange above, but just multiple instances of derived intentionality, or more generally, derived contextualization.

Dennett does not subscribe (and I'm inclined to this same stance) to the view that the *issuing* of a statement or symbols by a mind entails "intrinsic intentionality". Either way, per Dennett, though, the content is indeterminate WITH RESPECT TO MONADIC, SINGULAR PRIVILEGE as an objective phenomena. Dennett, then, is misunderstood commonly as denying any "facts of the matter" as "derived isomorphisms". He allows for many, coextant in the same pattern (see his "Quinian Crossword puzzle" for a graphic example of this). As a general conviction, he denies the existence of "intrinsic intention", so if one insists that "indeterminate" MUST only be probative as to the existence of "intrinsic intention", and in a singular, privileged form, then yes, "indeterminate" necessarily entails "no facts of the matter".

To recap the Dennett-Cummins exchange:

1. Dennett's "device on the beach" example is his "ur-example of indeterminacy in content"
2. Cummins does not affirm "no fact of the matter" in the sense of privileged intentionality, but instead posits *multiple* maps for the device, as extant (as derived intentionality) and ambiguous in that there is no basis for privileging one over the other. The maps being applied are underdetermined with respect to any normative or privileged intentionality in the behavior of the device.
3. Dennett agrees, just emphasizing that *lack of privilege* is what makes any particular map "determinate", the *right* one. Lack of privilege and underdetermination substantiate the indeterminacy of content. Else, Dennett would be obligated to object to Cummins point about "scope ambiguity" and "all of them", in which "them" refers to putative "facts of the matter".

-TS

Touchstone said...

@rank,

I already showed in the last thread that this ridiculous computationalism is self-refuting. Why are you bringing it up again?

You have got to be kidding me. You've become a bot, apparently:

"[insert *-ism] has already been shown to be self-refuting, next!"

If the next post here has me discussing neutralism in biology, why it's another simple triumph: neutralism, of couse, is self-refuting...

Lazy, man! Lazy.

"Thomism has been thoroughly discredited!"

Boom. Next?

-TS

Chris said...

RS,

This is probably not the place for this particular exchange, but I'm grateful to have your thoughts .As I mentioned, I am quite new to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. Though my loyalties have increasingly moved in the direction of Catholic Christianity, I still harbor sympathies with those traditions in which the contemplative element is front and center. Consequently, I have been trying to gain insight on how Thomism sits with such traditions- Asian ones, and particularly, Eastern Orthodoxy. I recently discovered these observations on Thomism by the Russian Orthodox writer, Nikolai Berdyaev:

"In the mindset of the Thomists, the strict division of the natural and supernatural is a cornerstone of Christianity. Every deviation from this opposition between the natural and supernatural leads to pantheism with the considering of this world as divine. And the Thomists suspect Platonism in this regard. For Platonism, the empirical and natural world is rooted in the world of ideas, and the ideas dwell within God, and between the world and God there is no sort of chasm. This is the Platonic ontologism....Orthodox thought is likewise a Platonic ontolgism, and not Aristotelian.

Thomism asserts that Aristotle once and forever established the fundamentals of natural philosophy, which knows reality and is connected with being, not allowing of any sort of confusion between God and the world. St. Thomas moreover developed and harmonized this eternal philosophy with the Christian revelation. This is a singularly sound, stable equilibrium, not permitting extremes or fractures, a classical philosophy. Every philosophic mysticism appears to the Thomists as dangerous and susceptible to heresy. They fear the gnosticism toward which inclined the Eastern teachers of the Church, St Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa- all Platonists in their tradition. Gnosticism, mysticism, ontologism of the Platonic type is likewise hostile to theThomists."


Do you think this is an accurate characterization? I'm very interested in getting acquainted with how St. Thomas deals with the apophatic writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite.

Touchstone said...

Per Dennett, in your excerpt, what a thing is comes from human agreement on what it is.
Map/Territory warning, here. Per Dennett, what a thing is is not dependent on what any human or mind supposes it is. It is what it is. What we understand it to be is, by definition, a product of our agreement on terms and concepts, but this is the "map", not the "territory". What a thing-as-territory is is what it is. What a thing-as-map-symbol is is whatever we understand it to be. Such isopmorphisms can be more or less accurate (the map as analogous by model to the territory), but the understanding is NOT the thing being outside the mind being understood.

A computer is a computer only because humans have agreed to regard it as a computer.
Do you really think so? If we agreed it was something else -- a tide pool in the Caribbean, say -- then our computer is thus become a tide pool. Perhaps you are simply pointing out that the *labels* we use can change. "Computer" as a label might just as well be "calculator", or even "tide pool" for that matter, as simple matter of labeling. But if you are talking about the referent rather than the symbol, than I find that quite a curious position. That the [thing we refer to as 'computer'] becomes something else by virtue of mutual consent that that is what it should be entails a God-like power to ramify objects and reality itself, doesn't it. That cannot be what you are suggesting?

The computer we build is what it is. It doesn't matter what we call it, or what we agree it means, it has the physical attributes it has by virtue of its construction. Right?

I'm talking about the plastic and wires and power source etc., not simply the term "computer." Properly regarded, the book lying on the table beside me can be a computer. It is running the program "sit on the table and do nothing." I think that is what he was getting at. Otherwise, for exactness and precision we have perfectly good terms: "exactness" and "precision."

OK, I think I have a better bead on your point, here. The computer is what it is, as is the book, I think/hope we can agree. What we construe as "computing" can be quite flexible, indeed, I agree. Seth Lloyd, for example, supposes that *all* physical phenomena are instances in a rigorous (if quantum) sense of computing, the universe as continuously resolving itself as a huge quantum computer.

My point on exactness and precision to Dr. Feser was even granting all the leeway and flexibility one could want in construing "precision", the rule doesn't give a damn. It is what it is, or more specifically, here, it is as long as it is, regardless of what we might measure, calculate as a matter of "units" or otherwise contextualize in ways humans prefer to digest information conceptually,

To determine (de terminus) means "to come to an end," "to settle or decide," as in "to determine a question." The term dates from the 14th cent in English, 12th cent in French (determiner). The Latin determinare meant "to enclose, bound, set limits (terminus) to..."

OK, fine. I'm good with that. But I don't think that settles anything [sic] with respect to the matter at hand - "Decide with respect to what?". Indeterminacy is predicated on some notion that as yet remains problematic, here. One Anonymous here supposes (and others may agree) that "settled" must mean there is either a single, monadic, privileged meaning for a pattern, or else there is none. That strikes me as clear as far as it goes, but incapable of settling anything in the real world. All phenomena would remain opaque on that dichotomy, in my understanding.

Which is not to dispute the intention[sic] of "de terminus". It's the "settled with respect what"? that persists as a problem, here.

-TS

Anonymous said...

TS,

You've overlooked the key qualifier that DENNETT provided in the quote I supplied, which was the impetus for supplying that particular quote in the first place:

Touchstone, you are - sadly, if understandably - misunderstanding Dennett's position. The one and only "fact of the matter" that can exist for Dennett is derived intentionality. I said this from the start with my stones example: I pointed out a kind of intentionality that exists with regards to the stones, namely derived intentionality, intentionality assigned by the mind of an agent.

But - and this is where you keep screwing up badly, so please pay attention here - the mind of the agent itself only has intentionality insofar as it's derived or assigned by another mind. And THOSE minds only have intentionality or meaning insofar as it is derived or assigned, and so on.

This is entirely consistent with the example I provided, as well as my explanation. I even gave multiple examples of what could potentially be the "derived intentionality" of the stones, while pointing out it's all a matter of minds. This has consequences, grave ones, for mind on materialism. Namely, exactly the consequences that Ed and others have spelled out here. You don't need to go very far to see this is the case: Ed did a series on Alex Rosenberg in part because Rosenberg frankly admits to this with regards to materialism, and also generally admits to the repercussions this has for mind.

Honestly, TS, you've had this explained to you repeatedly, over what I think is weeks now. For Dennett, all intentionality is derived intentionality. There is no objective fact of the matter regarding any meaning or thought - there is only the meaning we assign, and THAT very act of assigning meaning itself is as derived as anything else. Rank and others have already explained it to you. Now it was my turn, and you're still failing to comprehend what this means.

Really, I don't think you're going to have much success here until you can grasp this simple concept, and any of your replies - no matter how lengthy - are going to be worthless until you can accept what Rosenberg, Dennett and others already do, even though they downplay the consequences of such. So kindly, stop wasting our time, because at this point it really seems as if you're objecting just because you feel you have to, lest the theists have a point and your atheism shudders as a result.

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous,

Now, perhaps you mean instead to ask about a biological system rather than an artifact -- a brain, for example. Here things are a little more complicated. If you mean such a biological system as conceived of in the usual materialist way, then once again there is no fact of the matter about whether such a system "processes information" in the first place, since "information" in the semantic sense relevant to the issue at hand cannot be defined in terms derived from physics, chemistry, neuroscience, etc.

This is precisely the matter under dispute, Dr. Feser, and begs the question at hand. On materialism, the "sense relevant to the issue at hand" MUST be defined in terms of physics, chemistry, etc. Not as a matter of accommodation, but as the entailment of the model. That is, on materialism, the "sense relevant" is not coherent as you've construed it, and only coheres, and comports with our natural models and knowledge as a "mistaken intuition".

"It can't mean that, because it just can't" or "It can't mean that because that would strike me as absurd" are not grounds for preserving your current "sense relevant". On materialism, the sense relevant is NOT itself relevant. That is precisely the matter being disputed. Meaning is not ectoplasm, not transcendant, not context free, not absolute, on materialism.

It seems you suppose materialism is to be rejected because it doesn't validate the sense you *want* to embrace. But if it obtains, what you want to embrace doesn't dictate to reality what it is. If the materialist hypothesis is correct, your relevant sense is a huge misconception about the world around you.

I'm not claiming any of that settles anything on the truth of materialism or Thomism. Rather it's just a reminder that these frameworks have to be analyzed on their own terms, with their own semantics. This is a point you seem quite fastidious about in terms of demanding critics or evaluators of Thomism interact and apply any analysis of Thomism in a Thomism-consistent way.

Insisting on your "relevant sense" violates that principle, I suggest. It's not relevant on the competing view, and thus must be rejected on other, aesthetic/subjective grounds.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser

(con't)

If instead you mean such a system conceived of in terms of an Aristotelian, inherently teleological conception of matter, then there is a sense in which such a biological system could be said to process information. Obviously though, this is not a sense that would help the materialist. Furthermore, such a system would still not be determinate in the specific way arguments like Ross's and mine are interested in. Precisely because they are material -- where matter is the principle of potency and thus change -- such systems lack the stability and perfection that a pure form does. Even the best drawn triangle lacks the determinacy of Euclidean triangularity as such, and Euclidean triangles that were natural objects -- suppose they grew on trees rather than having to be drawn by us -- would be similarly imperfect, precisely because they would be material.

This is a point I raised in a couple comments on your post linking to you Biologos article. As a materialist, and a nominalist, I don't think "the square root of -25" exists in a physical sense. But the concept of "the square root of -25" specifically does, and more generally the concept of imaginary numbers as well. But the reification of those concepts as (physical) mental-states does not constrain them in terms of what you call "purity"; we can specify, with the wetware of the brain, the "perfect isosceles triangle", and calculate to perfection the area (say) of an isosceles triangle with side length = 5 units. All with brain ware that, at quantum scales, is a jumble of jitters. This is because that concept is tautological, "precise by definition", and not dependent on any physical ability to reify a perfectly straight line, or an exactly 90 degree angle.

It seems you think the purity of abstraction is a function of the perfect -- perfect what? -- of atoms, or our biological composition. Meta-representational thought and abstraction can be -- and are -- biologically "lo-fi", and arbitrary pure or precise as a matter of abstraction, because we have plenty enough practical precision in our messy, jittery physiology to establish the rules an contingencies that produce analytical truths.

No empirical observation set can ever validate the circumference of a pure circle as "2πr". But we have all the physical resources we need to apply "2" " π" and "r" to produce a tautology, a calculated circumference that is perfect, yet produced by our biology. This is the nature of tautology, and symbolic calculus. We can take measurements that provide good approximations of this in circle-like phenomena in nature, but we cannot ever measure or observe that perfect length in nature. It's just a product of the combinatorics of lower level concepts and rules.

-TS

rank sophist said...

TS,

I think we went over it fairly well last time--I'm not particularly interested in rehashing the whole thing again. I mean, bring up this line of argument again if you want. I'm sure most of the regulars remember how well it worked before, though.

Chris,

I've devoted a bit of study to the intersection of Thomism and Eastern Orthodoxy, so this is actually right up my alley. At the risk of derailing the thread, I'd be glad to respond.

That passage by Berdyaev could not be further from the truth. This is a continuation of the rhetoric that Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has complained about--namely, the rampant misrepresentation of the Catholics by the Orthodox and vice versa. Aquinas was a huge neo-Platonist, just like Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius (cited 1,700+ times by Aquinas) and the rest. Another regular (dguller) and I engaged in a probably-400+ post debate on this very subject in a recent combox, which ballooned to nearly 800 posts total. It is true that Aquinas was an Aristotelian, but he expanded the tradition greatly with his distinction between "essence" and "existence", which was not present in Aristotle. This idea, in brief, places the existence of everything, at every moment, directly in God's control. God is always giving existence, is always present in everything at every moment. Aquinas further declares that God is self-subsistent existence itself, but he does so in a way that maintains God's infinite (literally, not hyperbolically) transcendence while affirming his immanence in all things. Eastern Orthodox theology, as with neo-Platonism and Hinduism, is sometimes described as "panentheistic", and I would apply this same label to Thomism. Its God is everywhere at once and yet wholly beyond. Aquinas also maintains God's incomprehensible mystery and his difference from all other things.

In all honesty, as more and more contemporary scholars seem to be realizing, Aquinas and the Eastern Orthodox saints--including Gregory Palamas--are all on the same page. He even endorses theosis, although, in my personal opinion, he discusses it less beautifully and than do the Eastern Fathers. Hesychasm does not have a prominent counterpart in Thomism, but they are wholly compatible. Regardless, the mysticism of Palamas is in no way alien to Thomism. (For more on this: http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Ground_of_Union_Deification_in_Aquin.html?id=_k1b11F4bYsC.) Mysticism was not emphasized by later Thomists because Thomism essentially went down the drain after Aquinas's death, in my opinion. It was corrupted by Ockhamism and Scotism, and it ended up taking on a particularly horrible rationalist bent. Eventually, and inexplicably, it produced a system that took away human free will. (Hart has had reason to discuss this idea, and its absurd level of evil, in the past: http://www.scribd.com/doc/87859758/David-Bentley-Hart-Impassibility-and-Transcendence-on-the-Infinite-Innocence-of-God.) However, the faults of later Thomism cannot be blamed on Aquinas himself: their systems are a crass distortion of his beliefs.

I, too, have been concerned in the past about Aquinas's allowance for mysticism, but I came away impressed. Full disclosure, though: I'm neither Catholic nor Orthodox--yet--, and I personally lean toward Orthodoxy for multiple reasons, including but not limited to its rejection of all predestination, its doctrines on sin, its views on women, its lack of papal primacy/infallibility and its heavier emphasis on mysticism. However, whichever way you go, rest assured that Aquinas will pretty much have your back (with minor quibbles about predestination and sin). Hope this is helpful.

(By the way: neither Thomists nor the Orthodox follow Gnosticism, so I'm not sure what Berdyaev is saying there.)

Josh said...

No empirical observation set can ever validate the circumference of a pure circle as "2πr"...We can take measurements that provide good approximations of this in circle-like phenomena in nature, but we cannot ever measure or observe that perfect length in nature.

Thank Christ you at least get this. Next is realizing that causes can't give to effects what isn't contained in them in some way.

Anonymous said...

Out-of-touchstone said... OK, that seems quite a peculiar (and problematic) usage

It may seem that way to you because of your peculiar (and problematic) ignorance. This is not a term that Feser just plucked out of the air now, nor is it even at odds with the everyday meaning of the word. This is a well-known problem in philosophy of mind, and the fact that you apparently have never encountered it before shows nothing other than your utter unfamiliarity with an issue that has been widely discussed for quite some time, including by atheist and materialist philosophers. For you to barge in accusing professional philosophers of not understanding how some unrelated issue in visual processing trivially solves all their problems makes you sound like a jackass. If that's the depiction you're going for, great, carry on. On the other hand, if you actually want anyone to take you seriously, try understanding what's at stake first and then worry about your brilliant never-before-imagined [sic] solution.

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous,

Touchstone, you are - sadly, if understandably - misunderstanding Dennett's position. The one and only "fact of the matter" that can exist for Dennett is derived intentionality. I said this from the start with my stones example: I pointed out a kind of intentionality that exists with regards to the stones, namely derived intentionality, intentionality assigned by the mind of an agent.
This has not been disputed by me, and I've said precisely this upthread -- for Dennett, any intentionality is derived. He does not believe in "intrinsic intentionality", or the better synonym here is probably "original intentionality". I can only suppose you hold this to imply a contradiction or regress, that by identifying "derived intentionality" Dennett is subscribing necessarily to some original intentionality from which that "derived intentionality is derived *from*.

This is a mistake about Dennett. He's an eliminativist, and quite comfortable uses (and is understood) "derived intentionality", but that term is really best understood as "non-existent by imputed for practical reasons". That's a mouthful, which may explain why "derived intentionality" gets used in practice. But in any case, Dennett holds that no *real* intentionality obtains, anywhere, where *real* implies intinsicality, originality, or any grounds for derivation as an ontological function. This is what "stance" refers to in his The Intentional Stance. We *assume* intentionality only as way of speaking about our behavior. We have the same "derived intentionality" that a book or a set of finite automata have in computing machinery. Which is to say, so intentionality at all on the definitions desired by "original intentionists", realists on intentionality (like Fodor, Kripke, Searle, Nagel, et al).

Consider, then, that you've not grasped what Dennett means when he refers to "derived intentionality". He uses that term all over his works, and just as consistently denies original intentionality. What he means by "derived" is not what you suppose.

-TS

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... Touchstone, you are - sadly, if understandably - misunderstanding Dennett's position.

Well, I guess it is understandable to the extent that Dennett may not understand the point himself. (His position is apparently "No meaning is actually there! Oh wait, now I'm in a pickle -- OK, all meanings are there! Which is just as bad as no meaning, but whatever difficulty arises, I can just pick whatever meaning gets me out of it this time and act like I've got the whole thing covered!")

So kindly, stop wasting our time, because at this point it really seems as if you're objecting just because you feel you have to, lest the theists have a point and your atheism shudders as a result.

Frankly, there's no point even trying to explain it, as far as I can see. Out-of-touchstone simply has a blind spot and you'll never convince him any more than a stubborn color-blind man that you actually experience color. Since he's basically an eliminativist about intentionality, you can't make him see what's in his blind spot, and he doesn't understand infinite regression -- you and I could play chess by each building a chess-playing computer, and we could each build a computer to program our chess-computer, and one to program our chess-programming computer, and so on. The regression is clear to you and me, but Out-of-touchstone is superstitious about Almighty Scientism. Sure, he can't give a complete explanation of this regression at the moment, but Science has solved some problems before, therefore it will solve this one, and he can therefore hold onto his belief until it does. The end.

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous,


But - and this is where you keep screwing up badly, so please pay attention here - the mind of the agent itself only has intentionality insofar as it's derived or assigned by another mind. And THOSE minds only have intentionality or meaning insofar as it is derived or assigned, and so on.

On those terms, Dennett would say there is no intentionality at all, none whatsoever, then. But that is not how he deploys the terms, as evidenced in the quotes I provided (and which occur in many more instances in other parts of that book).


This is entirely consistent with the example I provided, as well as my explanation. I even gave multiple examples of what could potentially be the "derived intentionality" of the stones, while pointing out it's all a matter of minds. This has consequences, grave ones, for mind on materialism. Namely, exactly the consequences that Ed and others have spelled out here. You don't need to go very far to see this is the case: Ed did a series on Alex Rosenberg in part because Rosenberg frankly admits to this with regards to materialism, and also generally admits to the repercussions this has for mind.

I think you are confused about there being anything new or revelatory, here. I've not read Dr. Feser's posts on Rosenberg's book, (but reference to which has me now mildly interested to read), but I'm well aware of Rosenberg's eliminativism, and he's, if anything, more austere in his view of intentionality as completely illusory than Dennett.

I should wait for the other shoe to drop perhaps, but let me guess: he can't intend to argue about the absence of all intentionality! That's absurd! (yuk, yuk, smiles and makes sure the peanut gallery is getting all this). Or "he believes there are no such thing as beliefs!" Bwahahaha!

Facile, if so. That just demands a tedious and careful rephrasing of how we talk about these phenomena, but which can be done if needed in the service of pedants who cannot map our common terms to [phenomena we refer to as 'intentional' or 'belief'].

That's just old and tiring.


Really, I don't think you're going to have much success here until you can grasp this simple concept, and any of your replies - no matter how lengthy - are going to be worthless until you can accept what Rosenberg, Dennett and others already do, even though they downplay the consequences of such. So kindly, stop wasting our time, because at this point it really seems as if you're objecting just because you feel you have to, lest the theists have a point and your atheism shudders as a result.

You're arguing against positions I've not taken, and have never believed about Dennett (and apparently now Rosenberg, who I don't recall discussing here or elsewhere in the blogosphere). Once one understands what Dennett means by "derived intentionality" -- he makes this explicit in equating human intentionality to the intentionality of a constructed robot, or even more basically, an encyclopedia (I think that was his book example), there's nothing of substance in your objection. He does not suppose there is any such thing as intrinsic/original intentionality.

But that is not relevant to his discussion of "indeterminate". Realist in terms of intentionality or no, the "indeterminacy" he was discussing obtained from zero-to-n maps ("derived intentionality" or meaning, in Dennett's intrinsic-intentionality-denying sense, a fictive human (or animal) construct) that are underdetermined, none having a principled privilege over any other, where any maps obtain. That is not contingent on Dennett's commit to or against original intentionality. This is how Dennett, like Hofstadter and other eliminativists talk about (fictive) intentionality. My question and point to Dr. Feser was concerned with indeterminacy as non-privileged, and underdetermined as opposed to "real" or "intrinsic".

-TS

Anonymous said...

Out-of-touchstone said... Lazy, man! Lazy. "Thomism has been thoroughly discredited!" Boom. Next?

Well, that's as good as any of your other arguments, but at least this time you didn't drone on and on. I appreciate the improvement. We desperately misled fools now realize our pitiful mistakes that we would never have been able to overcome without the brilliance of your wit and philosophical insight. Really and truly, your job here is done, we'll never be Thomists again. Now please do go onto to whatever is "next" for you, don't let us keep you any longer, your sheer genius deserves to be shared with so many more poor misguided souls, it would be a crime to waste another second of your awetastic presence on us lowly superstitious peasants. Pretty please with extra sugar on top???

Anonymous said...

rank sophist said... At the risk of derailing the thread, I'd be glad to respond.

I'm not the only one who would much prefer "derailing" for interesting and relevant discussions instead of endless bouts of feeding trolls, so please carry on!

Anonymous said...

Dr.Feser,

C.S Lewis summarises an important distinction of Boethius between Intellect (or Intellectus/Nous/mystical vision) and discursive reason (or ratio), one generally shared by Medievals and Ancients, thus;

"Its relation to reason is thus described by Aquinas: 'intellect (intelligere) is the simple (i.e., indivisible, uncompounded) grasp of an intelligible truth, whereas reasoning (ratiocinari) is the progression towards an intelligible truth by going from one understood point to another. The difference between them is thus like the difference between rest and motion or between possession and acquisition.We are enjoying intellectus when we 'just see' a self-evident truth; we are exercising ratio when we proceed step by step to prove a truth which is not self-evident. A cognitive life in which all truth can be simply 'seen' would be the life of an intelligentia, an angel. A life of unmitigated ratio where nothing was simply 'seen' and all had to be proved, would presumably be impossible; for nothing can be proved if nothing is self-evident. Man's mental life is spent in laboriously connecting those frequent, but momentary, flashes of intelligentia which constitute intellectus."

Now, I realise Aristotelians and Thomists focus less on Intellectus, or Nous, than do Platonists and mystics. However, Aristotle did not repudiate Intellect, as opposed to ratio, completely and Aquinas certainly did not, as such knowledge is attested to in the Scripture, in the traditions of the Church, and by the Fathers. Indeed, the Angelic doctor himself (who quotes Dionysius more than he quotes even Aristotle), I believe, left off his theological work when he achieved a mystical vision.

You don't really discuss Intellectus as such in the above article. But as it seems, more than anything else, to mark the difference between most pre-modern philosophy and most 'modern philosophy', and as it may be one of the most crucial of all philosophical-religious propositions, should it not figure prominently in any discussion of intellect?

Anonymous said...

I see someone else has already mentioned this distinction as well. I should read other people's comments perhaps.

One connected point could be made on the subject on Imagination. Now, the Imagination being discussed in the article is clearly mental conceptions that fall below, so to speak, ratio. But is there is not an Imagination that is above ratio, though below pure Intellectus? That is to say the Creative Imagination of the traditional Imaginalis Mundus, or imaginal/subtle realm.

I would also, respectfully, disagree with the assertion of Parmenides as a rationalist. This may be the Parmenides of Aristotle, and this Parmenides no doubt serves a purpose in terms of A-T thought, but, as those like Peter Kingsley have shown, there is good reason for thinking the historical Parmenides quite a different figure to that portrayed by Aristotle.

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

While it is certainly correct there is no organised mystical path like Hesychasm in Western Christianity, Meister Eckhart is perhaps the greatest of all Christian mystics.

I'm far from an authority, but Eriugena and the School of Chartres, to name a few figures, also represent a profound mystical depth present in Western Christianity.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 11:37,

I didn't mean to imply that Western Christianity was devoid of mysticism--far from it. I was only making an observation about the general nature of contemporary Catholicism, which, in many cases, tends to undersell its mystic roots in my view. On the other hand, the contemporary Orthodox church tends to vastly undersell its rational roots, so I guess that river runs both ways.

grodrigues said...

@rank sophist:

"It is true that Aquinas was an Aristotelian, but he expanded the tradition greatly with his distinction between "essence" and "existence", which was not present in Aristotle."

There is an article by Joseph Owens in the Cambridge companion to Aquinas titled "Aristotle and Aquinas" where he goes through both the similarities and the differences between the two philosophers. The refinements, revisions, and creative misreadings (to use an apt term of the literary critic Harold Bloom) of Aquinas go very deep, much beyond the distinction between essence and existence, which by itself is already significant (e.g. it explains why Aquinas' will reject a priori ontological arguments of Anselmian type).

David T said...

TS,

I'm not ready to give up on this conversation as some others seem to be, if you don't mind continuing...

But in any case, Dennett holds that no *real* intentionality obtains, anywhere, where *real* implies intinsicality, originality, or any grounds for derivation as an ontological function. This is what "stance" refers to in his The Intentional Stance. We *assume* intentionality only as way of speaking about our behavior. We have the same "derived intentionality" that a book or a set of finite automata have in computing machinery. Which is to say, so intentionality at all on the definitions desired by "original intentionists", realists on intentionality (like Fodor, Kripke, Searle, Nagel, et al).

It doesn't matter whether our intentionality is assumed or not with respect to the problem of derived intentionality. The intentionality of our minds is compared to that of a book or a computer: But a book or a computer can't get out of the problem of derived intentionality by *assuming* it. They have no intentionality, assumed or otherwise, unless some intelligent agent like us gives it to them. The question is the origin of intentionality, assumed or otherwise.

It's like if I asked someone where he got his knowledge of calculus, and he said he just assumed it. Assumed or not, the answer doesn't address the question.

ad said...

@ anonymous 11:10

"But is there is not an Imagination that is above ratio, though below pure Intellectus? That is to say the Creative Imagination of the traditional Imaginalis Mundus, or imaginal/subtle realm."

not at all. imagination, creative or otherwise, involves the concomintants of matter. the intellect (whether in intellectus or ratio) does not. it's objects are completely devoid of matter.

Eduardo said...

@David T

Other people gave up because it is the same subject as the biologos thread, it will end up most likely in the same place.

If you have enough patience to read the thread you will just realize that we are repeating stuff.

Mr. Green said...

Touchstone: So, I asked this in an earlier thread, but did not get a response:

Speaking of unanswered questions, I previously raised some points that I was still hoping you would be able to settle for us:
____________

Touchstone: Catholics pride themselves in resisting, historically, "voodoo" and other "occult" practices - combatting superstition. [...] It's just hypocrisy, bristling at the idea they apply to others being applied to them in the same way.

I'm guessing that was supposed to be funny, but if you were serious, then (given your own claims) I have a serious question: which one are you — superstitious or hypocritical?

Also, perhaps it got lost in the shuffle, but we're waiting for you to defend a couple of claims you made earlier:

Curiously, I've never seen a Thomist explain his position that way. Perhaps you can provide a citation to support this peculiar claim of yours.

And:

That is indeed a bad argument, but what I meant was, can you cite where Behe or Fuller or Nelson or Johnson actually say that?

Touchstone said...

@David T,

It doesn't matter whether our intentionality is assumed or not with respect to the problem of derived intentionality. The intentionality of our minds is compared to that of a book or a computer: But a book or a computer can't get out of the problem of derived intentionality by *assuming* it. They have no intentionality, assumed or otherwise, unless some intelligent agent like us gives it to them. The question is the origin of intentionality, assumed or otherwise.

Maybe an analogy will help, here. If you were to be persuaded (on similar grounds as Dennett is on intentionality) that libertarian free will was an illusion, an inescapable, pervasive fiction, but a fiction all the same, based on scientific models, parsimony, etc., you would be sure to encounter critics (and trolls) who have this puerile idea that this is a "gotcha" whenever you use words like "choose", "decide", "judge", or "guilty", "justified", etc. This the result of kind of reflexive leap many make -- and are often encouraged to make by apologists for their worldview -- that supposes there's some substance in, well, the kind of challenges rank sophist has resorted to as a bit of a routine, here.

"Determinism is self-refuting!", would be the automatic macro-expansion(just wait for it, if you don't believe it's a reflex).

It's a legitimate question, though: how can you talk about "choosing" if there is no actual free will? The clumsy thinker supposes that's that, game over! His views win by default. But from a determinist perspective, you'd be aligning the semantics of those terms to conform with the determinist paradigm itself. There's no free will, but it's still useful and meaningful to talking about choosing and deliberating and analyzing options, just as if the illusion of free will was not illusory. That is useful for the same reason the illusion itself obtains -- it's got utility in practice. "Use your illusions" as the eminent philosopher Axl Rose famously suggested. Use the metaphors for free will. They are valuable as tools of discourse.

-TS

(con't)

Touchstone said...

@ David T

(con't)
Same thing applies with intentionality, I suggest. Our knowledge gathering has steered us away from any transcendant intentionality, and the models of consciousness that both adhere closely to the neuroscience and privilege economy indicate that like so many other "common sense intuitions" about the world, things people "just know because they just know", reality from an objective, observer independent view is not like we suppose (or worse, flatly and dogmatically assert up front).

You still have to talk about [the mental phenomena commonly referred to as 'choosing'], and determine how responsibility and social contracts obtain, on determinism. And the practical path toward utility and good communications in light of that is to invest those familiar terms with the semantics that match the model. There is no "original intentionality", but yet we identify patterns and isomorphisms that emerge in nature through its impersonal processes that are useful for us refer to in the "language of intentionality".

To say that's self-refuting or self-undermining is to totally misunderstand the paradigm. Doug Hofstadter rubs theists fur the wrong way in works like his I Am A Strange Loop by redeploying the term "soul" in an eliminative-materialist way. There's a certain kind of anal retention dynamic that kicks in here (construing 'marriage' to include homosexual unions, for another example) that expresses frustration at the loss of control or authority over definitions. It's an authority they never had, but they *thought* they had it, and there's an impulse that's the stamping of one's feet in indignation that a guy like Hofstadter -- a materialist atheist! -- would have the gall to co-opt the world 'soul' (and even suggest a unit of measurement for it -- the "Huneker").

That's a dynamic I see at work here on 'meaning', and "intentionality". No, no, that's not the *real* meaning! Our terms mean whatever we agree they should mean, and such protests are, I think, not an appeal for understanding of the underlying concepts -- I get the concepts -- but a kind of appeal to authority, an attempt to control the argument through the control of language.

"Anti-realism on intentionality is self-refuting" would be an expression of that. It's only refuted on the parochial terms a competing and distinct paradigm, which Dennett does not endorse or embrace whatsoever. On his framework, there is no intrinsic intentionality as an ontological feature of reality. But nevertheless he finds and exploits utility in using the *language* of intentionality, terms deployed consistently within his framework, but also in ways that just don't give a damn about, say, the Thomist insistence on their semantics being universal, supreme, normative.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@David T,


It's like if I asked someone where he got his knowledge of calculus, and he said he just assumed it. Assumed or not, the answer doesn't address the question.


See, this is confusion over what is meant by "derived". Don't think "ontologically derived", or "sourced from", but rather "interpreter dependent". The "circled A" symbol that we associate with the Anarchist movement is "derived" in its meaning not by drawing upon some well of "transcendant meaning" that it sources its own intrinsic meaning from, but that any meaning it has is just conventional, and *imputed* to it by observers and interpreters who happen to agree on what (similar) patterns should fire in their brains when processing that symbol.

This is what locates "derived intentionality" in the usage of Dennett away from what "intentionality realists" might suppose invites regress; it's a local phenomenon that occurs as isomorphisms between patterns that are all peers in the same system. That means that the "derivation" obtains from the development of a brain organ that develops isomorphisms and mapped responses. By convention, and iterative experiences with feedback "apple" comes to activate mental associations (neuronal activity) that map to [the referent of the concept of 'apple']. This isomorphism is a natural phenomenon, and occurs as a manifestation of physics, nature being natural. Fundamentally, there's no "intrinsic meaning", but there is local isomorphisms, and in the absence of 'intrinsic meaning', the derived, conventional meaning is as "meaningful as meaning can be in the real world".

Any exposure to a origins/regress problem would be located in incredulity regarding the plausibility of human (and other) brains developing as they ostensibly have in scientific terms. One can say (and many do) that evolution cannot produce organs and biological systems that build, maintain and integrate such intricate isomorphisms. But so long as one finds evolution at least minimally plausible as the mechanism for biological diversity and adaptive function, from bacteria to chimps and humans, then there is no regress or origin problems. This is just complex interactions that emerge from long and deep trials of the biological search landscape.

-TS

Josh said...

But from a determinist perspective, you'd be aligning the semantics of those terms to conform with the determinist paradigm itself.

Wait, so if I assume Dennett is right, then I can redefine words to back up Dennett? Sweet!

Hang on a second...

Does that mean that if I assume Aquinas is right, I can do the same thing?

The point is, there are prior concerns at stake: whose "paradigm" defining the terms is correct?

"Anti-realism on intentionality is self-refuting" would be an expression of that. It's only refuted on the parochial terms a competing and distinct paradigm, which Dennett does not endorse or embrace whatsoever.

Then he's not engaging an argument on its own terms, which is a basic component of intellectual charity, humility, and logical consistency. It's also what's required to refute it. If your desire is to make Dennett irrelevant, AWESOME! Go for it. You're doing a marvelous job so far.

Anonymous said...

Great the trolling of touchstone has commenced again.

How many times do I have to refute your nonsense touchstone?

How many times before you come to the realization that what you believe in is an incoherent mountain of sophistry and illusion (pun intended if you even get the reference)?

How many time does your materialism have be shown to be a superstition before you get it? How many times do you have to come around here parroting your tiresome arguments from ignorance - since you know hardly anything about Aristotle, Aquinas or Theism to even stand a chance of launching even the slightest of objections - before you realize that all that has been adequately answered/refuted multiple times?

How many times do we have to bear with your obsession of hearing your own regurgitated obfuscations (which only serves as to tickle your own self-indulgence) until you finally stop being such a parasite?

By all mean, proceed with your pseudo-intellectualisms until we refute you (yet again) forcing you to stop addressing the issue, go on irrelevant tangents, then refuse to respond to the devastating critique of your worldview (like last time and every other time I engaged you) only to suffer voluntary amnesia and start the circus of trollstone all over again in a new thread next week.

People are really bored with your nonsense and no one is taking you seriously any more. Get a clue.

Anonymous said...

@Josh

If your desire is to make Dennett irrelevant, AWESOME! Go for it. You're doing a marvelous job so far.

Well, dennett doesn't really need touchstone to make him irrelevant. He has done a fine job rendering himself irrelevant on his lonesome.

Anonymous said...

construing 'marriage' to include homosexual unions, for another example

I was wondering where Gip had gone.

Josh said...

Well, dennett doesn't really need touchstone to make him irrelevant. He has done a fine job rendering himself irrelevant on his lonesome.

Ba-Zing!

But really, it's sad to me. A person as intelligent as Touchstone, who obviously has a marked grasp of some specialized knowledge, embracing a form of idealism that is grounded on nothing but "interpreter dependent" (using his term) semantics. Ground a philosophy on one small, simple error at the start, and all the erudition and neuroscience won't save you if you can't get past the logical error you made at the beginning, which a 4th grader could be brought to understand. But the pull is so strong nowadays to give the rhetorical edge to scientism...

And not to pander, but I'm really thankful for people like Ed Feser, Peter Kreeft, Mortimer Adler, et al. who bring Thomism to laypeople. Philosophy's still going strong in my circle because of 'em!

Anonymous said...

@touchstone

I'm not claiming any of that settles anything on the truth of materialism or Thomism. Rather it's just a reminder that these frameworks have to be analyzed on their own terms, with their own semantics. This is a point you seem quite fastidious about in terms of demanding critics or evaluators of Thomism interact and apply any analysis of Thomism in a Thomism-consistent way.

Here we see the weakness of touchstone's sophistry. He has now retreated to evaluating his worldview according to his own bias.

"Hey guys, it's not that one is right but the other is wrong, it's that if I am a materialist it sort of makes sense for me".

As it's been show to you time and time again touchstone, your worldview is ridiculous. Nominalism, materialism the denial of intentionality and your wishfull atheism are garbage even on their own "semantics" because real semantics that are meaningful to inquiry into the world are not even present.

You're either in denial or downright stupid if after about a month of consistent explaining and refutation of your inanities you still don't or refuse to get it.

You can hide behind excess verbiage and mental gymnastics, like your idol dennett and hofstade all you want but it doesn't make your worldview even the slightest more coherent. Self-delusion is a horrible thing and you've seen to have made an art of it.

You also seem to have developed an obsession with this blog clearly because you've been humiliated time and time again by myself and others. You need to let it go. This is not good for you.

Touchstone said...

@Mr. Green,

This is probably unwise in terms going way off topic for the post, but...

I'm guessing that was supposed to be funny, but if you were serious, then (given your own claims) I have a serious question: which one are you — superstitious or hypocritical?
My point was that it was neither, and to suggest those are the only options is problematic. If everyone can just tailor the term "natural" to be gerrymandered around whatever their superstition demands, to the exclusion of all else, then there is no "superstition" in an inter-subjective sense. It's had its knife edge removed. If we can't agree what "natural" means in an general, intersubjective way, as a matter of convention and practice over centuries, than all of this is moot, it's a free for all. Everyone else's paranormal intuitions are out of binds, but mine aren't by definition, in that case.

If we do understand and accept the usage of the term 'natural' as the predicate for what appeals get qualified for "supersition", then Thomists may not like that as a referee, but it *is* a referee, a basis for abitration among competing claims.

If one is committed to saying that anything at the edge of scientific knowledge is by definition "superstitious" ('what are quarks made of?" or "what makes probabilistic phenomena probabilistic?"), then, again, "superstition" is not a razor that cleaves intuitions or hypotheses into distinguished groups. It's not a meaningful adjective anymore, then.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Mr. Green,


Also, perhaps it got lost in the shuffle, but we're waiting for you to defend a couple of claims you made earlier:

Curiously, I've never seen a Thomist explain his position that way. Perhaps you can provide a citation to support this peculiar claim of yours.

I can figure out what you are referring to below by the context, but your links do not resolve. Give me a quote or a fixed link for this reference please


And:

That is indeed a bad argument, but what I meant was, can you cite where Behe or Fuller or Nelson or Johnson actually say that?

Looking at the text of the URL, I can see it's a reference to the "Rediscovering Human Beings" meta, and likely referring to this from me:

1. We are ignorant of chemical pathways for abiogenis on natural, impersonal processes.
2. Therefore, this not possible in principle (why, because we can't think how it might happen!)
etc.


To which you replied:


That is indeed a bad argument, but what I meant was, can you cite where Behe or Fuller or Nelson or Johnson actually say that?

See Dembski's No Free Lunch in which he takes his intuitions about FSCI and imposes a ceiling, which he refers to as the "universal probability bound", which he pegs at 10^150 "bits" of FSCI. Any system having more than 10^150 "bits" is inferred to be intelligently designed, on Dembski's thesis. On abiogenesis? You got it, it's too many bits of FSCI, and thus is an example of intelligent design.

See Douglas Axe, as a more recent variation on the same theme (Dembski as graciously become a bit of recluse in the past few years). Axe pegs the incredulity barrier for natural processes and thus, intelligent design by default(!) at 10^-77 probablilty, a much lower numerical threshold than Dembski's but the error and the argument are the same. Polypeptides just can't come together randomly with enough probability to believe it ever happened. Never mind that this is not what researchers and theorists working on abiogenesis even REMOTELY suspect was the recipe for self-replicating organisms, Axe, like Dembski and others insist it must be judged on a "one hand dealt from a huge deck of cards" model, and that, in principle, presents insuperable odds that it actually happened.

Behe's Edge of Evolution focuses less on abiogenesis, and more on the need for saltation events and frontloading, because the pathways *after* self-replicating organisms came to be (however they came to be) mathematically cannot exist without "design help". The same argument, the same error: based on a strawman caricature of hypothesized pathways (in Behe's case, event A and event B have to happen at the same time, in a one time trial), the odds of a "random draw" are just astronomically high against it. Maybe, but it's got nothing to do with the kinds of pathways we do observe in nature already, and hypothesize as being contributive to abiogenesis (or some key adaptation that leads to fixation in the population of a new and novel feature).

These are all appeals to ungrounded probabilities. We don't know the actual pathways that obtained, or may have obtained, so we calculate what we suppose might be the probabilities of a "random deal of the deck". And because those probabilities are astronomically high, and we don't have other concrete pathways to test, ergo ID.

-TS

Eduardo said...

I bet someone will go into more detail... but what Touch did was a strawman.

but better not go on about this, I wanna see the intentionality discussion hahahahha

Chris said...

TS and others,

Apologies for this divergent topic.

RS,

"the mysticism of Palamas is in no way alien to Thomism." Do you think that this has become the prevailing perspective, or is it sill a minority view?

I suspect that Berdydaev's comment about gnosticism was just a jab at the Thomists in a roundabout way- it seems that when Christian writers want to take shots at someone/thing (even among themselves), they just call it gnostic.

In 1921, the great Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain criticized Rene Guenon for participating in the rebirth of gnosis, the "mother of heresies". Guenon responded, "It would make as much sense to speak of Catholicism as the father of Protestantism. In fact, you are just confusing gnosis with Gnosticism.........

If you take the word 'gnosis' in its true sense, that of pure knowledge, it cannot be called the mother of heresies. That would be the same as saying that the truth is the mother of errors."

As I understand it, gnosis is the activity of intellectus.
Gnosticism, on the other hand, seems to have had two major problematic prongs:

1) Placing gnosis above or detached from revelation

2) A dualistic metaphysic that runs contrary to the panentheistic structure that you mentioned.

Much of postmodern "spirituality" seems to fit number one.

Thoughts?

Touchstone said...

@Josh

Wait, so if I assume Dennett is right, then I can redefine words to back up Dennett? Sweet!

Hang on a second...

Does that mean that if I assume Aquinas is right, I can do the same thing?

Yes, and you do, routinely. See on this blog the habit of correcting the philistines on terms and concepts. If you are going to judge the Argument from Motion, you can't deploy a Newtonian physics construal of 'motion' as the predicate for your critique. That's not what Aquinas meant by motion, and it doesn't represent the connections in the argument to insist that 'changes in spatial location over time' is standard it should be judged by, over and against the more general idea of potency->actuality.

So, yeah, this is well and good, but it works both ways. To read the comments here, non Thomists must embrace a Thomistic set of definitions and usages for the terms deployed in Thomist arguments, but when it comes to (some) Thomists (or maybe it's just unaffiliated trolls, I don't know) looking at determinism, or intrinsic intentionality, well that's just different. The determinist is not granted a similar set of tools for internally consistent semantics, but must be judge by the unrelated and unattached semantics of the Thomist understanding of the operating terms and concepts.

This obtains in the "but there's no real meaning!" reflex on this thread. On an eliminative-materialist view, that construal *is* real meaning. That's how meaning, such as it is, is reified in the world.

To pull one's hair and rend one's clothes at that alternative paradigm is to indict one's own ability to insist that a critique of a Thomist argument be understood on its own terms.


The point is, there are prior concerns at stake: whose "paradigm" defining the terms is correct?

Well, it hardly needs to be discussed, does it: this is the essential, pervasive dispute, the fundamental issue in question. It's a package deal, and that's why so little movement occurs at that level. One cannot defeat Aquinas argument from motion on the basis of "an object in motion tends to stay in motion", because no matter how true that may be as a physical principle, it's NOT the basis of Aquinas' argument. To say "Dennett's intentionality is self-refuting" is to recapitulate that mistake to insist on a category error, conflating concepts organic to one paradigm with fundamentally incompatible concepts from another paradigm.


Then he's not engaging an argument on its own terms, which is a basic component of intellectual charity, humility, and logical consistency. It's also what's required to refute it. If your desire is to make Dennett irrelevant, AWESOME! Go for it. You're doing a marvelous job so far.

Given Thomistic premises as stipulated, much of its conclusions follow deterministically, on form. They are analytical. The challenge is not "can I provide a valid syllogism" - a simple computer program can test the form. The challenge lies in the soundness of the premises, and the foundational principles that ground those premises. Thomism, being so heavily focused on metaphysics, is nearly invulnerable to outside critique and analysis; it doesn't concern itself, generally, on matters where it *could* be corrected, or stands liable to outcomes beyond its control in identifying mistakes, inaccuracies and inapt models. There's no evidence that's even relevant on many of those issues, so all one can do is evaluate it as a framework, and assess it's appeal or utility on those grounds.

-TS

Anonymous said...

@Josh

But really, it's sad to me. A person as intelligent as Touchstone, who obviously has a marked grasp of some specialized knowledge, embracing a form of idealism that is grounded on nothing but "interpreter dependent" (using his term) semantics. Ground a philosophy on one small, simple error at the start, and all the erudition and neuroscience won't save you if you can't get past the logical error you made at the beginning, which a 4th grader could be brought to understand. But the pull is so strong nowadays to give the rhetorical edge to scientism...

But that's what blind faith does to someone. It doesn't matter if you're a religious fundamentalist or a dogmatic materialist, the dynamic is the same. Same crap, different packaging (to use an expression from the filed of marketing).

The sad thing about touchstone is that he fails to understand that scientific modeling can be interpreted in many different ways yet insists of conflating materialism with science. His entire collection of rants is based on that confusion (or dishonesty if he is aware of it). I have explained this to him repeatedly but he never once wishes to challenge himself so he resorts to irrelevancies and obfuscations to try and avoid the inevitable, logical conclusions of his worldview.

Just look at this nonsense right here:

Same thing applies with intentionality, I suggest. Our knowledge gathering has steered us away from any transcendant intentionality, and the models of consciousness that both adhere closely to the neuroscience and privilege economy indicate that like so many other "common sense intuitions" about the world, things people "just know because they just know", reality from an objective, observer independent view is not like we suppose (or worse, flatly and dogmatically assert up front).

This pretty much was developed into a multi-post rant in the previous thread by touchstone where I showed his inability to understand what our criticism of his superstitions are. I addressed how common sense is not the opposite of scientific inquiry but its foundation, how he doesn't even understand the notion of first principles/presuppositions and how his understanding of science is pedantic and unrealistic, while his only claim to fame is a wishful pragmatism that ironically cannot address reality (which is the very topic of discussion). Note that I have no objections to materialism as some pragmatic tool that exists only in the delusional mind of the materialist. After all, what do I care? But an ontology materialism cannot be. That matter is settled. It's finished.

Anonymous said...

Here we have the usual subtle ad hominem fallacy:

There's a certain kind of anal retention dynamic that kicks in here (construing 'marriage' to include homosexual unions, for another example)

This serves as mere rhetorical ammunition rather than a coherent philosophical argument. He does the same thing every time he references anything that is non-materialistic. His best criticism of the intellect amounts to implicitly categorizing the intellect in the same ontological group as unicorn. The usual garbage that you see in GNU circle jerks.

And finally notice the stupidity behind this statement:

There is no "original intentionality", but yet we identify patterns and isomorphisms that emerge in nature through its impersonal processes that are useful for us refer to in the "language of intentionality".

In other words, there is no intentionality at all in this materialistic superstition that is projected onto reality as a means to pretend that one can limit the world as it so suits his emotional drives (the sole driving force behind atheism is emotionalism, that I believe is evident in the literature), yet somehow, magically, humans have intentionality (given materialism) as so to identify (the act of identification requires and presupposes intentionality) patterns that emerge in nature. In addition, the word emerge here is being used dishonestly by touchstone to confuse and obfuscate since he is after all a reductionist (I’ve already explained to him how emergence violates his commitments yet he insists on committing such obfuscations).

At best this sounds like the bad poetry of a lunatic.

Nothing will come out of this because he will forever hide behind his new-found excuse of how we somehow “misunderstood” materialism and are judging it by our high standards, where as in reality we simply refuse to commit intellectual suicide along with him.

Eduardo said...

You know, what I found funny about Touch is that he is the guy who loves MODELS! I thought there were always going to be this talk about how to model this or that... I think it is sort of what Reighley was talking about before he vanished * I wouldn´t be surprised if it was my fault *.

But Model to Touch really seems to be ... Materialism and/or Naturalism.

At least that is the only theory that fits the data. But whatever, who cares right!

DNW said...

Touchstone writes:

"To say that's self-refuting or self-undermining is to totally misunderstand the paradigm. Doug Hofstadter rubs theists fur the wrong way in works like his I Am A Strange Loop by redeploying the term "soul" in an eliminative-materialist way. There's a certain kind of anal retention dynamic that kicks in here (construing 'marriage' to include homosexual unions, for another example) that expresses frustration at the loss of control or authority over definitions. It's an authority they never had, but they *thought* they had it, and there's an impulse that's the stamping of one's feet in indignation that a guy like Hofstadter -- a materialist atheist! -- would have the gall to co-opt the world 'soul' (and even suggest a unit of measurement for it -- the "Huneker").

That's a dynamic I see at work here on 'meaning', and "intentionality". No, no, that's not the *real* meaning! Our terms mean whatever we agree they should mean, and such protests are, I think, not an appeal for understanding of the underlying concepts -- I get the concepts -- but a kind of appeal to authority, an attempt to control the argument through the control of language."


Well ... finally.

Anonymous said...

So, yeah, this is well and good, but it works both ways. To read the comments here, non Thomists must embrace a Thomistic set of definitions and usages for the terms deployed in Thomist arguments, but when it comes to (some) Thomists (or maybe it's just unaffiliated trolls, I don't know) looking at determinism, or intrinsic intentionality, well that's just different. The determinist is not granted a similar set of tools for internally consistent semantics, but must be judge by the unrelated and unattached semantics of the Thomist understanding of the operating terms and concepts.

Taking this paragraph seriously one should conclude that human communication is pointless. Which is ironic since touchstone is obviously here trying to communicate… Or so he “thinks”.

This right here is touchstone’s last remaining crux. He is appealing through his incoherent nominalism to differences in definitions to avoid the logical conclusions that flow from his beliefs. The funny thing is he has now reduced himself to a radical subjectivist (or to be perfectly honest, a solipsist). Of course, such argument depends solely on whether nominalism can be upheld and a plethora of irrelevant and anti-relist definitions obtain, where one simply goes “shopping” to choose that fad, which suits them best. We are no longer addressing reality but the dungeon of sophistry that exists in the mind of the solipsist. I exposed this lunacy with my story about the materialist’s mental masturbation and superstition in the other thread a few days ago but apparently my words fall on deaf ears. Arbitrary definitions, epistemological nihilism, materialistic determinism and irrationality masquerading themselves as an uncritically abstracted reification fallacy that somehow “knows”.

Now all one needs is to explain (again) to our little troll here how nominalism is self-refuting as well (thank God for reductio ad absurdum arguments) and his final crux is destroyed, where he will be forced to concede that he is wrong (despite his ego obsessively commanding him not to) and finally face the abyss of his worldview.

Josh said...

Chris,

Apologies for this divergent topic.

I don't think it's totally divergent, I know nothing about it, but the activities are certainly relevant to the OP. I'm curious about the supposed emphasis in Thomism on ratio over intellectus, because I'm wondering how intellectus doesn't just correspond to the first act of the mind/intellect, and why it's emphasized over the third act, ratio/reasoning? Is this just a different type of taxonomy mystics use?

Bullpup said...

I think TS is finally at the end of his rope. He keeps getting shut down in arguments, led to refutation, and so... you know, that's because we're all being authoritative, and because of how we're defining things. It's not fair! We shouldn't point out that there's no understanding, no communication, no science, etc on his worldview! He should be allowed to redefine those words to mean whatever he likes, so his view DOES have them and refutation is impossible!

Yawn. Seriously, yawn.

Josh said...

Touchstone,

I'll quit going after you quite as hard, because I think you do realize that the 'prior concern,' the truth of the paradigms involved, is what really matters:

One cannot defeat Aquinas argument from motion on the basis of "an object in motion tends to stay in motion", because no matter how true that may be as a physical principle, it's NOT the basis of Aquinas' argument. To say "Dennett's intentionality is self-refuting" is to recapitulate that mistake to insist on a category error, conflating concepts organic to one paradigm with fundamentally incompatible concepts from another paradigm.

So you're saying that the Thomists here are using the wrong definition of intentionality to criticize Dennett's use? What is it then?

Anonymous said...

I should wait for the other shoe to drop perhaps, but let me guess: he can't intend to argue about the absence of all intentionality! That's absurd! (yuk, yuk, smiles and makes sure the peanut gallery is getting all this). Or "he believes there are no such thing as beliefs!" Bwahahaha!

Facile, if so. That just demands a tedious and careful rephrasing of how we talk about these phenomena, but which can be done if needed in the service of pedants who cannot map our common terms to [phenomena we refer to as 'intentional' or 'belief'].


Notice here in the first paragraph how he resorts to sarcasm because he refuses to accept the logical conclusions of materialism, which are both problematic and concerning to anyone who ever engages seriously with human epistemology and its necessary ontological requirements. He has no response to the devastating criticism that materialism is nothing short of intellectual banality so he resorts to sarcastic remarks to downplay the reality that he is faced with. Dostoyevsky once said: “Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” Although modesty is certainly not an attribute touchstone can pride himself in he is certainly proven to be rather emotionally committed to his dogma, which is indicative given his constant trolling and re-appearance on this blog. If he didn’t feel defeated, why would he spend so much time here repeating the same old nonsense every other day?

I think the sarcasm in conjunction with his lack of an adequate response over the last month or so to the refutations he’s been faced with speaks volumes of the state of materialism as a worldview. It’s by no surprise that one after another self-proclaimed naturalists are abandoning their commitments and defecting into the dualist camp in recent years. It’s no surprise that every month there is a new flavor naturalism that looks more and more like a badly dressed Theism at a costume party.

The second paragraph is of course yet another appeal to arbitrary definitions and the usual nominalistic, empty rhetoric. By playing semantic games, touchstone is able to delude himself that he can escape the essential part of the argument placed before him. What he doesn’t realize (pace Rank’s explication of the destructive conclusions of derrida’s work) is that said appeal to different linguistic conventions makes his entire argument here susceptible to yet another type of refutation.

He is like injured prey in running in a valley nowhere to hide.

Bullpup said...

Not to mention, eliminative materialism isn't regarded as a dead end and self-refuting by Thomists alone. It's pretty damn unpopular even among physicalists, and non-Thomists. But I'm sure that's just because everyone's being mean to the eliminative materialists and not letting them redefine words to mean something different. Touchstone can't possibly be wrong, and if you'd just let him redefine wrong to mean "right", he'd be right.

Bullpup said...

It’s no surprise that every month there is a new flavor naturalism that looks more and more like a badly dressed Theism at a costume party.

This is a little off-topic, but recently Massimo Pigliucci" was boosting a ("naturalist") claim that matter doesn't exist. Only relations exist. And, he goes on to say, that means reductive materialism never gets off the ground.

rank sophist said...

Do you think that this has become the prevailing perspective, or is it sill a minority view?

It seems kind of mid-way, at this point. Scholars and online forum posters support this view more and more all the time; but, if you look at New Advent (Catholic encyclopedia), for example, it still calls hesychasm "auto-suggestion". There are hardcore traditionalists who refuse to see the similarities, and then there are the open-minded types (gaining traction) who admit that Aquinas and Palamas basically held the same positions on mysticism. I'd say that David Bentley Hart is one of the most important contributors to this second group.

As I understand it, gnosis is the activity of intellectus.
Gnosticism, on the other hand, seems to have had two major problematic prongs:

1) Placing gnosis above or detached from revelation

2) A dualistic metaphysic that runs contrary to the panentheistic structure that you mentioned.

Much of postmodern "spirituality" seems to fit number one.

Thoughts?


I'd agree with you, there. In fact, I'd say that post-modern spirituality fits number two as well. Post-modernists can't even conceive of intellectus--a pure knowing. For them, as for Kant, all knowing is reduction from a more perfect "truth" that we cannot ever see. This is what makes crazies like Levinas pontificate about how God is "wholly other than being": even knowledge by revelation is false. But this also necessarily places God in a dualistic, "over-against" relationship with creation. Hart talks at length about the parallels between gnosticism and post-modernism in his book The Beauty of the Infinite, in which he also defends the mystical aspects of Aquinas from time to time.

But, yeah: Aquinas's views on mystical knowledge are nothing like that. Here's a good paragraph on Palamas that I found in the Wikipedia article on theoria:

"Under St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359AD), the different traditions of theoria were synthesized into an understanding of theoria that, through baptism, one receives the Holy Spirit. Through participation in the sacraments of the Church and the performance of works of faith, one cultivates a relationship with God. If one then, through willful submission to God, is devotional and becomes humble, akin to the Theotokos and the saints, and proceeds in faith past the point of rational contemplation, one can experience God. Palamas stated that this is not a mechanized process because each person is unique, but that the apodictic way that one experiences the uncreated light, or God, is through contemplative prayer called hesychasm. Theoria is cultivated through each of the steps of the growing process of theosis."

Lower down:

"Roman Catholic monk Thomas Merton wrote that the illumination of contemplation is prized much higher than the intellectual capacity of a theologian, with contemplation being 'the normal perfection of theology', and contemplation seen as beyond speculative theology. According to Thomas Aquinas the latter can only focus on what God is not, for instance considering God a spirit by removing from our conception anything pertaining to the body, while the mystic, instead of trying to comprehend what God is, is able to intuit it."

From all of the reading I've done, I would say that these are fair descriptions. Both Palamas and Aquinas hold that God is beyond rational comprehension (both are tremendously apophatic), but both believe that direct, supra-rational mystical experience is possible. The controversy over the "essence-energies distinction" was the direct result of Palamas solving the same problem that was earlier solved, in Latin, by Aquinas: man's ability to experience and in a sense unite with God without becoming God. They just use different language for it. Both theologians are firm mystics.

Anonymous said...

@Bullpup

Not to mention, eliminative materialism isn't regarded as a dead end and self-refuting by Thomists alone. It's pretty damn unpopular even among physicalists, and non-Thomists

True. I personally find non-reductive physicalism untenable given naturalism. I am convinced much like Rosenberg that a true naturalist needs to eschew intentionality for example. That’s why I said badly dress Theisms (in the broadest sense) in reference to such ideas. A bottom-up ontology as that of naturalism with either have latent and intrinsic forms and dispositions to emergence (which is incompatible with naturalism) or it will lead to ontological reductionism.

The positive from all this is that naturalists are slowly coming around to how insane they’ve been sounding for the last century or so. But the problem is they are still dogmatically committed to naturalist ideology.

Massimo Pigliucci" was boosting a ("naturalist") claim that matter doesn't exist. Only relations exist. And, he goes on to say, that means reductive materialism never gets off the ground.

And these relations exist between what sort of entities exactly, given naturalism? I imagine he’s probably appealing to quantum theory, no? Sounds like some form of weird idealism.

Bullpup said...

And these relations exist between what sort of entities exactly, given naturalism? I imagine he’s probably appealing to quantum theory, no? Sounds like some form of weird idealism.

He does, and it does. It's over on his site (rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com.br) if you care to have a look. What's funny about it is Massimo spends his time assuring everyone that this is a metaphysics which is on the cutting edge of science, and it just so happens to fly right in the face of the usual materialist claims.

rank sophist said...

I don't think it's totally divergent, I know nothing about it, but the activities are certainly relevant to the OP. I'm curious about the supposed emphasis in Thomism on ratio over intellectus, because I'm wondering how intellectus doesn't just correspond to the first act of the mind/intellect, and why it's emphasized over the third act, ratio/reasoning? Is this just a different type of taxonomy mystics use?

The rational soul is composed of intellectus--intuitive, beyond-rational knowledge--and ratio, which is discursive reasoning. We can learn that God exists through ratio, but we cannot ever know God through ratio. Aquinas's Thomism definitely does not favor ratio over intellectus, but his followers, in my opinion, often do.

Anonymous said...

@Rank

Hart talks at length about the parallels between gnosticism and post-modernism in his book The Beauty of the Infinite

I've come across this book and I am contemplating whether to buy it or not (what's holding me back is the backlog of books that I bought and currently trying to get through). I've seen some of his interviews and I find Hart to be a very interesting thinker. I was hoping to find a lecture presentation of his on this book but couldn't (at least not on youtube)

What's your view of it? I've read the stuff on Amazon (description, reviews etc.) but couldn't quite figure out what the essential thesis of Beauty as a theological category entails and its relevance to a polemic against post-modernism.

If you have the time to write a little bit on that, I'd really appreciate it (a link to a detailed summary if available would be just as helpful).

Anonymous said...

@bullpup

What's funny about it is Massimo spends his time assuring everyone that this is a metaphysics which is on the cutting edge of science, and it just so happens to fly right in the face of the usual materialist claims.

What's even funnier is that last time I was over at his blog I was reading an entry he made that was attacking metaphysics. Now apparently he has become a metaphysician... OK.

I never understood this obsession with scientism. Why do they go to such lengths to yo prove that they are "on the side" of science. Science surely isn't impressed as it's not a real entity. The world in general isn't impressed because, well let's face it, the vast majority is not neurotic to the point that they would reject anything no classified as "science". Which leaves us to one two options: They are either making an appeal to authority (logical fallacy) or they are trying to pat themselves in the back, which is rather sad.

Anonymous said...

Josh writes,


"I don't think it's totally divergent, I know nothing about it, but the activities are certainly relevant to the OP. I'm curious about the supposed emphasis in Thomism on ratio over intellectus, because I'm wondering how intellectus doesn't just correspond to the first act of the mind/intellect, and why it's emphasized over the third act, ratio/reasoning? Is this just a different type of taxonomy mystics use?"

One important point to make is that Intellectus is a direct, unitive, and transformative knowledge. Ratio or discursive reason is not.

Ratio and dialectic can have a key role to play in our gaining wisdom, and even supporting Intellectus. The Socratic and Platonic Elenchus was essentially, though many modern scholars ignore or miss this, aimed at triggering Intellectus.

But Intellectus is not tied to discursive thought. It is therefore a knowledge that does not require book learning. Saints, Sages, and mystics have experienced it who would be far inferior to Aquinas in terms of their grasp of discursive philosophy. St. Francis of Assisi is one such example.

In between Intellectus and Ratio was the Imagination, not in the sense of Dr. Feser's article but in the sense of the Creative Imagination. This faculty essentially individualised Intelligible realities. It allowed one to grasp them through looking through corporeal objects. It is essentially a general application of the Theology of the Icon and is referred to by Dante as anagogic, the highest level of reading a text or artwork. When we gaze, in the proper mindset and receptiveness, on the image of Theotokos or read the story of the Exodus, whose highest meaning is the journey of the individual soul, or experience a Gothic cathedral, the music of the spheres carved in stone, we may be led to the intelligible realities behind them.

Again this is a knowledge that is not primarily discursive and doesn't require, necessarily, book learning or a deep philosophical knowledge.

That is not, of course to denigrate discursive thought, but it is to remind us to keep it in its correct place.

The term mystic is sometimes overused. Intellectus is, I suppose, at the heart of mysticism or gnosis. But it was also at the heart of Patristic thought, including St.Augustine, whom we might not rush to call a mystic. It would be quite wrong to treat it as a mystical flourish. It is perhaps Intellectus and its marginalisation that marks the true beginning of the rise of modernity.

Anonymous said...

@Rank

We can learn that God exists through ratio, but we cannot ever know God through ratio.

So in the vernacular sense, reason takes you to God (at the door-step) but not "into" God (inside the house).

That's how I always understood Aquinas when I read him.



Anonymous said...

It should be added that the Creative Imagination is not just a key part of Scripture and icons and other explicitly religious art. It was also seen as the essence of all true and edifying art and also as one of the essential pillars in the view that nature, or virgin nature, can draw us towards God. That we can 'see through' the natural world to the intelligible reality and causes behind is one of the key meanings behind the view that the heavens declare the glory of God, repeated and practiced by many Saints and Sages down the ages.

Touchstone said...

@Josh,

So you're saying that the Thomists here are using the wrong definition of intentionality to criticize Dennett's use? What is it then?

It's the wrong definition when it's applied as the basis for "this argument is self-refuting". There's no self-refuting, but rather an equivocation on "intentionality" (or "meaning", or "free will", etc.).

To expand that out it yields this:
"Anti-realism on original intentionality from this eliminative materialist is self-refuting, based on my Thomistic definitions of 'intentionality' and my Thomistic ontology". Thomists can prefer what definitions they please, but there's nothing self-refuting about an argument when concepts and definitions alien to the argument itself are switched out for the concepts and definitions they are sourced from.

In a more general sense, the correctness of one's definition of "intentionality" is subjective, or more precisely, a product of the model semantics one adopts. If one accepts, based on one's intuitions, that meaning is transcendent, or universal in some sense, because, well, because that's just how it seems to be, then one is going to snort at Dennett's intentional antirealism. That just can't be... his "meaning" is "meaningless". Which is to back that intuition and and privilege one's own ontology of meaning as the basis for rejecting Dennett's argument. But that's the critic demanding the application of a definition (or ontology, rather) of intentionality that he does himself apply. It's judging his apples by your oranges. That's everyone's prerogative, and it serves as the point of clashing between frameworks. But it is privileging one's own ontology over the ontology that his argument is predicated on.

Which just means that the dispute obtains farther down, a dispute on ontology, perhaps, rather than definitions which take a particular ontology for granted. And this does indeed risk being tiresome, as it is a recipe for continual re-litigation of those first principles -- every post here, on that regress, begs questions of ontology (among other things).

There's room for critique and analysis in 'framework internal' terms, though. That's why I was asking Dr. Feser about "information" and the semantics of "indeterminate". Even on his own understanding of these terms, I suppose there are significant problem that obtain in their application, and particularly with respect to the integration of scientific knowledge. Thomism is (putatively) compatible with science, so on it's own terms, we should be able to work through some questions and problems. That's interesting and productive, and doesn't just reduce to a re-litigation of first principle issues.

-TS

Anonymous said...

About less than an hour ago I criticized touchstone on his nominalism and radical subjectivism. Now the we finally have an admission:


the correctness of one's definition of "intentionality" is subjective, or more precisely, a product of the model semantics one adopts.



This excuse (because that's precisely what it is), does not escape the objection that materialism reduces to incoherent babble given indeterminacy and arbitrariness in language, which has absolutely no relation to reality.

Your "semantics" have no meaning, even by your own account and suffer from an infinite regress, which renders them absurd.

If we have different definitions then we simply are not communicating. In fact (taking your claims to their logical conclusion), when I engage in internal "dialogue" as part of a contemplative activity the definitions that hold for one moment do not hold for the next. When I evaluate options to take in my daily decision-making the affirmative stance has wholly different definitions than the negative stance...

Wait a second, am I even thinking right now? Or... "is" "this" "simply" "the" "random" "effect" "of" "an" "I-don't-know-what" "which" "I" "shall" "call" "matter".

Bullpup said...

If one accepts, based on one's intuitions, that meaning is transcendent, or universal in some sense, because, well, because that's just how it seems to be, then one is going to snort at Dennett's intentional antirealism.

You're acting like meaning is regarded as transcendant as a first principle with regards to Thomism, and that's incorrect. It is argued for, it's not assumed from the start.

And the very act of accepting, having intuitions, and so on, is a non-starter under eliminative materialism. These are things that do not happen, because that's yet more intentionality.

Read the Alex Rosenberg series on this site.

Anonymous said...

Oh... and one more thing...

Forgive my French but, how the fuck do you get to ontology from your cave of epistemological nihilism is another thing you have not addressed, when it was pointed out to you that your nominalism has "no hook" (to use the exact phrase of another poster) on reality.

Do you not see the contradictions in the things that you're saying?

Seriously?

Anonymous said...

Touchstone's last post, in addition to other flaws, is simply that it tries to play games to avoid the main discussion.

The likes of Dennett and the gnus, as well as the rabid disciples of scientism, are committed to positions that are not radically relativist or anti-realist. Aside from the intrinsic absurdity of his argument, it simply makes no sense to retreat to such positions to defend the likes of Dennett and the gnus.

If you want to have a discussion on the differences between Derrida et al and Thomism then perhaps you can make some of the points you are trying to, though they'd still be nonsensical, but they have little place in this particular discussion.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 5:01 PM,

What's your view of it? I've read the stuff on Amazon (description, reviews etc.) but couldn't quite figure out what the essential thesis of Beauty as a theological category entails and its relevance to a polemic against post-modernism.

If you have the time to write a little bit on that, I'd really appreciate it (a link to a detailed summary if available would be just as helpful).


It's extremely complicated, but I'll try to give you a stripped-down version. The Church Fathers hold that being is simultaneously good, true, beautiful, noble and so on. God is the source of all being, and is, quite simply, infinite, self-subsisting existence itself. (This is not pantheism, but a form of panentheism.) This means that God is infinitely beautiful, true, noble, good and so on, in a way that cannot be discussed univocally, but analogically. You cannot say, "If this thing's goodness were infinite, it would be good like God." Rather, you must say, "This thing's goodness is, in some sense, comparable to God's goodness."

The post-modernists can't stomach beauty. It's "disingenuous". It's a lie, because it covers up the world's constant ugliness and violence. In fact, beauty and peace can only emerge out of violence, and so are an illusion from the start. Hart, over hundreds of pages, takes apart their arguments and shows that the traditional Christian beliefs subvert all of them. Beauty is never the product of violence, because of the way the Trinity works, and because God is infinite, and because everything that is beautiful participates in an infinite beauty.

It's a dense, difficult book, but it's well worth it. I don't agree with absolutely all of his conclusions, and he displays far too much distrust for ratio. This doesn't change the fact that it's one of the most important works of theology of our age.

Anon at 5:17,

So in the vernacular sense, reason takes you to God (at the door-step) but not "into" God (inside the house).

That's how I always understood Aquinas when I read him.


I'd endorse that wording. Very nicely put.

It should be added that the Creative Imagination is not just a key part of Scripture and icons and other explicitly religious art. It was also seen as the essence of all true and edifying art and also as one of the essential pillars in the view that nature, or virgin nature, can draw us towards God. That we can 'see through' the natural world to the intelligible reality and causes behind is one of the key meanings behind the view that the heavens declare the glory of God, repeated and practiced by many Saints and Sages down the ages.

Since you seem to be Orthodox, perhaps this is yet another example of something being lost in translation? Is it possible that the Western intellectus, as developed by Aquinas, encompasses this "Creative Imagination"? It seems likely to me. When the other posters here express skepticism about the non-bodily nature of "imagination", they are referring to what Aquinas calls "phantasms": mental images. Even animals possess these, on Aquinas's view. I seriously doubt they're the same thing as the Creative Imagination.

rank sophist said...

Forgot to mention that the last part was addressed to the Anon at 5:15 PM.

Josh said...

Touchstone,

And this does indeed risk being tiresome, as it is a recipe for continual re-litigation of those first principles -- every post here, on that regress, begs questions of ontology (among other things).

Well, if these first principles aren't "intuitions" but undeniable facets of reality and reasoning, that we can't help but acknowledge, then I hardly see how they can be deemed unimportant.

Unless your "paradigms" are subject to the laws of contradiction, identity, and excluded middle, then you are simply speaking garbage of your own subjective choosing, and I'll be glad to go about my merry way. Is that the case? Because this:

In a more general sense, the correctness of one's definition of "intentionality" is subjective, or more precisely, a product of the model semantics one adopts.

Doesn't give me much hope for a fruitful dialogue.

You can think it's fun or whatever to figure out the internal consistency of an arbitrary philosophical system, if that's your thing. My co-worker is into Yoga. My sister likes to play guitar.

However, I consider Philosophy to be a search for truth and wisdom, and not really suited to the hobbyist approach you seem to be interested in here.

Josh said...

Rank, Chris, et al.,

What you've said is fascinating to me, but waaaay beyond my ken at this point. I'd need a stripped-down primer to get at what you're referring to, which I'm happy to look for, if you have suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is certainly correct that some thinkers do not differentiate between Intellectus and the Creative Imagination which is, in a sense, a prolongation of it.

There is Imagination in the sense that Dr.Feser uses it his article; that is to say, there is the imagination that is traditional referred to as phantasy, or mental images. Then there is the '
Creative Imagination'.

This latter is linked to Intellectus, but it main work is giving form and individualising Intelligible realities that the full Intellect can grasp simply as Intelligible realities. But, as noted, some thinkers do not significantly differentiate between Pure Intellectus and the 'Creative Imagination'.

Henry Corbin is one of the premier recent writers on this subject. And William Blake revived the doctrine of the 'Creative Imagination', situating it at the centre of his thought and work. The doctrine is essential to the meaning of such verses as;

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."

Anonymous said...

An example of the 'Creative Imagination', from who, as Martin Lings has ably showed, wielded it as master, might be marriage and in particular the marriage of Othello and Desdemona.

In this marriage is symbolised the union of God (Desdemona) and Man (Othello), or Spirit and Soul. But it is not a mere allegory. It is an anagogic symbolism, to use Dante's explanation of the traditional layers of meaning for a work of art. It takes those Intelligible realities and gives them form. But it is not an arbitrary sign; rather, it, to work properly, must cloth these Intelligible realities in the appropriate symbolism. That is to say, it is part of the objective meaning and reality of marriage that it can be used in this way. What the 'Creative Imagination' is based on is what has been called the 'translucence of phenomena', or the fact that each level is grounded in, formed and caused by that above it; and ultimately all are reflection of God.

Anonymous said...

@Rank

Thanks for the summary of Hart's book.

Touchstone said...

@Anonymous


Your "semantics" have no meaning, even by your own account and suffer from an infinite regress, which renders them absurd.

This is a high quality example of "alien concept" problem I mentioned above. Expanded:

You [other-framework-semantics] do not conform to the [my-framework-semantics] and I insist that they must, just because I insist, and even by your own account, by which I mean your argument construed according to [my-framework-semantics], which again I simply insist on, suffers from an infinite regress [which doesn't follow but sounds rhetorically weighty], and which renders your arguments mangled with [my-framework-semantics] absurd, by which I mean, "something that just seems wrong".

Precisely the kind of reflex I was describing above. You're the kid who insists motion MUST be "change in spatial location over time", no more no less, for Aquinas and everybody else, you're just wearing a "Thomist" jersey and waving the green pom-poms rather than the red ones, insisting just for the sake of insistence that your understandings are uniquely privileged, even on review of frameworks you neither subscribe to nor understand.

But rant away. It's just more substantiation for what I was claiming above.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Josh


Unless your "paradigms" are subject to the laws of contradiction, identity, and excluded middle, then you are simply speaking garbage of your own subjective choosing, and I'll be glad to go about my merry way. Is that the case? Because this:

Sure. Don't confuse conceptual and semantic differences with a failure to communicate, or the inability to communicate.

Here's an example that I would have done well to put into my last reply to you.

E and R are debating geometry, and specifically the concept of parallel lines. For E, a proponent of Euclidean Geometry, parallel lines exist. Specifically:

Given any straight line and a point not on it, there "exists one and only one straight line which passes" through that point and never intersects the first line, no matter how far they are extended.

For R, a proponent of Riemannian Geometry, parallel lines do not exist:

within a plane every pair of lines intersects

So, we could contextualize this debate by having E and R's models compete to see which of the two performs better empirically, that is, which of the two models better comports with the observed geometry of our universe.

But that is not the point of the illustration. The point is that, as analogous to this debate on intentionality, E -- or better, an anonymous troll T who is also a proponent of Euclidean Geometry, declares Riemannian Geometry "absurd" because R denies the existence of parallel lines, lines that are coplanar but never cross!

OF COURSE PARALLEL LINES EXIST. Riemannian Geometry is absurd on its face. Over. Done. Finished! It "can't even get off the ground because it can't even identify or establish parallel lines, which anyone knows is a fundamental concept in geometry"! T suspects that R knows this full well, and really just a creep and a coward who is subversive on E, which is Geometry, period.

The salient point being that a "Riemannian" can understand the Euclidean concept of "parallel lines", and the "Euclidean" can understand the concept of a spherical manifold, the basis for the incoherence/non-existence of "parallel lines" (as lines that are coplanar and never cross) in Riemannian Geometry. E and R may not be committed to Euclidean or Riemannian Geometry as obtaining in our universe, one or the other or neither (perhaps hyperbolic geometry!), but the differing concepts, the discrepancy between "parallel lines" in Euclidean vs. Riemannian Geometry is perhaps a difficulty at first, but it is not fundamentally problematic for either E or R.

Both E and R have internally coherent frameworks. One contains positive, discrete semantics for "parallel lines", the other has no coherent meaning for the term as an extant feature of that geometry.

Back to you, then. What is the "right" concept of "parallel lines" between E and R, in your view?

And what do you make of a Euclidean who triumphantly announces that Riemannian Geometry is incoherent because the impossibility of parallels is, as everyone here KNOWS, absurd on its face?

-TS



rank sophist said...

That's interesting, Anon. I think Aquinas's thought runs along these lines, but he uses very different language. I'd have to do more reading to be sure, though.

Josh,

What you've said is fascinating to me, but waaaay beyond my ken at this point. I'd need a stripped-down primer to get at what you're referring to, which I'm happy to look for, if you have suggestions.

I wish I knew of one. Thus far, I have seen no concise discussions of mysticism in Aquinas, which is a crying shame. Prof. Feser does not usually talk about the mystical side of Thomism--he focuses, understandably, on the rational side, which is slightly more familiar to the contemporary reader. But he doesn't cite others who consider mysticism in detail, either. This appears to be the case with the vast majority of contemporary Thomist writers. It seems that only continental philosophers, such as Jean-Luc Marion and David Bentley Hart, bother to analyze this element of Aquinas. Even then, they do it in a roundabout way. As a result, I've had to piece together my understanding bit by bit.

The Beauty of the Infinite is really the best suggestion I can come up with, but it's hardly an easy read. I've had more trouble with it than I had with Real Essentialism--and that's saying something. The big reason is that you have to learn an entirely different language of philosophy. Hart isn't part of the tradition of people like Hume, Russell, Quine and Kripke and the rest, but that of Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida. Also, Hart only discusses Aquinas in terms of his wider pool of reference, which encompasses numerous ancient, mostly patristic thinkers. You've got Irenaeus, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Denys, Bonaventure, Gregory Palamas, Maximus the Confessor, Athanasius, Eckhart, Anselm and others. But his book clearly illustrates the mystical ontology on which Aquinas built, while occasionally bringing up Aquinas in person to clarify his thought and to defend him against modern attacks.

I wish there was something more accessible and on-topic, but, unfortunately, I don't know of it.

goddinpotty said...

@rank:
The post-modernists can't stomach beauty... beauty and peace can only emerge out of violence, and so are an illusion from the start.

Well, to me this is obviously half right and half wrong. It is undeniable that beauty, peace, and most everything else emerge out of violence, or at the very least, the struggle for survival. But this doesn't mean they are illusory. I can't claim to speak for all of postmodernity, but I highly doubt that any of them would subscribe to the above. It's only retrograde thinkers like yourself who would put things that way, making the distinction between "real" beauty and mere illusion. Beauty is pretty much like anything else whose meaning is partly or totoally poltiical and negotiable, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- that's just stupid.

rank sophist said...

Well, to me this is obviously half right and half wrong. It is undeniable that beauty, peace, and most everything else emerge out of violence, or at the very least, the struggle for survival. But this doesn't mean they are illusory. I can't claim to speak for all of postmodernity, but I highly doubt that any of them would subscribe to the above. It's only retrograde thinkers like yourself who would put things that way, making the distinction between "real" beauty and mere illusion. Beauty is pretty much like anything else whose meaning is partly or totoally poltiical and negotiable, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist -- that's just stupid.

Oh, just shut up.

Cale B.T. said...

Hello, I’m currently struggling to understand what Aristotelian-Thomism is all about. I’ve read TLS and am trying to work through Aquinas, and I have a question regarding mimicry in nature.

On page 147-8 of Aquinas, Feser writes:
“For the intellect to have a concept is not for it to have something analogous to a little picture or word in the mind, a kind of internal subjective entity. Rather, when the intellect understands something, it grasps its form. And that means that one and the same thing, namely the form of the thing understood, exists both in the intellect and in the thing itself.

...when you understand what cats are, the form of “catness” which exists in actual cats now exists also in your intellect; and so forth.”

I’ve seen a sea snake before and so, on A-T, have grasped their “sea-snakiness”. What if I’m diving and perceive what I think to be a sea snake, but is actually a mimic octopus?

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-LTWFnGmeg)

Doesn’t this example point toward concepts being fallible internal representations, rather than the grasping of forms?

Touchstone said...

Dr. Feser,

Here's a last bit I didn't get around to commenting on in your post:

You say:
Second, mental images are always to some extent vague or indeterminate, while concepts are at least often precise and determinate. To use Descartes’ famous example, a mental image of a chiliagon (a 1,000-sided figure) cannot be clearly distinguished from a mental image of a 1,002-sided figure, or even from a mental image of a circle. But the concept of a chiliagon is clearly distinct from the concept of a 1,002-sided figure or the concept of a circle. I cannot clearly differentiate a mental image of a crowd of one million people from a mental image of a crowd of 900,000 people. But the intellect easily understands the difference between the concept of a crowd of one million people and the concept of a crowd of 900,000 people. And so on.
If I understand you correctly, you are appealing to the complexity of a mental image for a concept being greater (at least in the examples you cite) than the complexity of a "recipe" or description of that content for that concept.

Pictures A and B, which allow for clear distinguishing between them as rendering an image of 1000-gon, and a 1002-gon, respectively, would indeed require a significant number of bits as a 2D rendering of each. And I would agree that "1000-gon" could be a very compact and efficient "recipe" for a conceptual/linguistic description of a 1000-gon, and the same goes for "1000-gon".

A mathematical way to measure the complexity of these renderings would be to optimize their descriptions digitally in a sufficiently lossless manner and then calculating the Algorithmic Complexity of each, according to Kolmogorov-Chaitin complexity theory. Without even having to work up the examples, the "image" versions would take much more space in terms of a reproducible description than would a "linguistic description" of an 1000-gon or a 1002-gon. This is especially true if we can allow that the mind can refer to "concept components", as a kind of descriptive shorthand, where "n-gon" might be an abstract concept we can customize and supply "1000" for "n" in the conceptual description of an 1000-gon. Perhaps on the image side we might achieve similar efficiencies by using pointers to "chunks" of our 1000-gon image that are "pre-existing images" in a mental archive of some sort but this seems unlikely in the case of an 1000-gon.

Anyway, the problem I identify with this is that it is "cherry picked", a concept use that just happens, as it is laid out, to be inherently more difficult to describe and represent (especially if you are thinking of a visual representation for 1000-gon as an abstraction, rather than just the description of a particular instance of a 1000-gon) graphically than it is linguistically.

For example, why wouldn't you suggest an a concept like "Mona Lisa"? In that case, the image is still going to take significant bits to represents (and its undefined here what "pixel depth" or visual granularity you suppose mental images obtain at in your understanding of this process), but this concept works AGAINST a linguistic description. I haven't written any code on this of course, and it's still a puzzle as to what would *suffice* as a linguistic description that would satisfy your "concept" vs. a "mental image", but this is the kind of referent that is efficient with graphical representations, for an obvious reason -- it's a visual/graphic phenomenon, a work of art hanging on the wall in the Louvre.

-TS

(con't)

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,

(con't)

The Kolmogorov complexity of your "linguistic representation" for the concept "Mona Lisa" would be, I say, much greater than a sufficient graphical description. Moreover, the "linguistic representation", even as it is larger, is more ambiguous, more indeterminate with respect to the referent of the concept, the work of art known as La Joconde. For any recall of the "linguistic representation" of this concept, the reified concept would be sloppy and inadequate vs. the visual representation.

Which suggests to me that that any persuasive dynamic in your paragraph here obtains from a careful selection of the example you'd choose. Yes, the "Mona Lisa" is graphic-centric as an example, but that's the point; the complexity and/or indeterminacy cannot be located in "visual" vs. "linguistic" (maybe you'd prefer to use "conceptual"), so far as I can see. In many cases, a "mental image" would prevail over your "concept" in your test, and in many cases, the "concept" would prevail over the mental image.

I note, in passing, that this model does not map to what we know about visual integration or concept formation in the brain via science, so I take this as an "introspective model" -- folk psychology -- rather than an external-observer model of how the brain processes visual input and concepts.

Another good example of image-based abstractions that are highly problematic linguistically is facial expressions. Human are exquisite pattern matchers and recognizers when it comes to facial expressions. The mind understands "apprehensive expression" as a composite visual abstraction in a much more efficient an determinate way than its "linguistic" abstraction could hope to achieve.

That's interesting, I think, because "apprehensive expression" is not amenable to a discrete visual representation. It's an abstraction, not any particular face's arrangment of muscle movements and feature positions. Its a high level pattern of visual features across the particular features (large nose, small lips, fat cheeks, etc.) of a multitude of diverse faces. Evolution has trained humans to be shockingly good at deploying such concepts-that-you-would-call-imaginations via an ensemble of visual abstractions. Your "1000-sided polygon" approach there would explode into huge resource demands for description and representation, and yet be horribly vague, highly indeterminate with respect to any application against incoming visual stimuli (e.g. watching the face of the person across the table from you).

If mental images are as likely to be more determinate and precise *as* images for conceptual representation as they are not, in which cases the "linguistic" representations are superior in those regards, isn't this a problem for the case you go on to pursue in following paragraphs?

A simple example of this visual advantage is "blue". Without even worrying about how efficient a mental image of "blue" might be, think of how you would describe or represent "blue" in the same way you would represent "chiliagon".

The way you've laid out your post suggests a "Cartesian theater" with a "thinker" -- a kind of homunculus -- watching or assessing various "pictures" that flash up on a "screen". That doesn't fit any scientific model of the brain's working that I'm aware of, but just going with your model, it seems that "chiliagon" is an ad-hoc and non-extendable example of "linguistic concepts" as more determinate and and precise. Any linguistic representation of "blue" is bound to be less precise and more indeterminate than an a mental image of "blue", no?

-TS

Chris said...

The subject of the creative imagination was central in the writings of the Inkling, Owen Barfield- his "Saving The Appearances: A Study in Idolatry" is quite good.

Josh said...

Both E and R have internally coherent frameworks. One contains positive, discrete semantics for "parallel lines", the other has no coherent meaning for the term as an extant feature of that geometry.

Back to you, then. What is the "right" concept of "parallel lines" between E and R, in your view?

And what do you make of a Euclidean who triumphantly announces that Riemannian Geometry is incoherent because the impossibility of parallels is, as everyone here KNOWS, absurd on its face?


I don't evade questions; but in answer to your first, how can I compare? The debate between the abstract notions of formal mathematical systems is not the same as the debate over the presence of intentionality in reality! In one, the subject matter points within, to each system's context-specific application; in the other, the subject matter is explicitly what's without!

You might as well ask me what the right concept of "field goal" is between Backgammon and Football.

We are asking (for lack of a better example), given a concept of intentionality, whether Dennett's or Aquinas', is it discovered in reality; does it have a real being it refers to? The stakes are different...

In the case of Euclidean parallel lines, we aren't asking if they are out there in nature; we know there aren't. It's an abstract being of thought, just as triangularity is.

One says, intentionality actually exists in things. The other says it's a trick of the mind. These are contradictory claims; go and investigate! This pits the "paradigms" against each other, dragging Philosophy from mere wordplay to a much more dangerous yet rewarding arena: the place where one can be refuted. Reality.

Philosophy is not merely "personal confession," as Nietzsche said. If it is, who gives a damn?

To quote my avatar, "We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run anything else affects them."

Josh said...

Chris and Rank,

Thanks fellows. As I'm writing I notice my copy of A Barfield Reader on the shelf; I'm sure those writings are somewhere within it! Also bought Sayers' The Mind of the Maker just the other day...

reighley said...

@Touchstone,

"A mathematical way to measure the complexity of these renderings would be to optimize their descriptions digitally in a sufficiently lossless manner and then calculating the Algorithmic Complexity of each, according to Kolmogorov-Chaitin complexity theory."

I think I would have been more comfortable with this level of detail if you had said "calculating bounds on Kolmogorov complexity". You are not seriously suggesting that this procedure (even if it could be implemented) would solve anything are you? Once you choose a measure of information you also choose a symbolic representation. So by that point most of the fun has already been had.

I think Feser's point still holds, even with the Mona Lisa. A mental image of the Mona Lisa is not the same thing as the concept of the Mona Lisa because a mental image of the Mona Lisa sitting in the Louvre in Paris is exactly the same as my mental image of a painting exactly like the Mona Lisa, in a building exactly like the Louvre, and it is different from my image of the Mona Lisa half finished in Da Vinci's studio. Yet the concept of the Mona Lisa, is different between the first and second examples and the same between the first and third. For when I say "Mona Lisa" I am explicitly excluding paintings which look exactly like it, but are not it.

If we must bring neuroscience into it, this distinction is even made in the physical structure of the brain, for it is possible for a person to be injured in such a way that they acknowledge that an object looks, and sounds, and behaves exactly like (for instance) their wife, but still deny that this object is actually their wife.

I think, by "determinate" we mean that something either is, or is not the Mona Lisa. We may not know which is which, it may be a very good copy. We do draw a sharp line between the idea of actually "being" the Mona Lisa and the concept of just "being exactly like" the Mona Lisa.

rank sophist said...

Josh,

No problem. Just wish I could have helped a bit more. Glad Chris had a suggestion.

Touchstone,

Because this is getting tiring, let me bring back the reason you were wrong last time. Remember that each point is part of a reductio of your position, and that they don't necessarily represent my own views.

(1) A system of "this means that" associations obtains its meaning by reference to the outside of the system.
(2) Our brains are systems of "this means that" associations.
(3) Our brains reduce all outside input, even pre-conscious, to this system.
(4) Mental processes are totally within the system.
(5) The concept "outside of the system" is totally within the system.
(6) The referent for the concept "outside of the system" cannot be known except by reduction to the system.
(7) Therefore, the referent for the concept "outside of the system" is always already part of the system.
(8) But an outside of the system is required to give the system meaning.
(9) Therefore, the system's meaning is unknowable or non-existent.

Because the brain only knows the "outside" through reduction to the "inside", it's impossible to say that an "outside" even exists; and Derrida's paradoxical epistemological nihilism, caused by infinite regresses of disambiguation, obtains. You cannot get out of this hole without admitting that intentionality precedes signification, that the mind is not deterministically tied to the brain and that concepts are non-representational.

Josh said...

Rank,

No problem. Just wish I could have helped a bit more. Glad Chris had a suggestion.

Oh, I'll be picking up DBH's work as well...

Btw, I don't know how I missed that reductio in the last thread, but well done!

Josh said...

Cale,

Lest you get swallowed in a sea of irrelevance with your relevant post:

I’ve seen a sea snake before and so, on A-T, have grasped their “sea-snakiness”. What if I’m diving and perceive what I think to be a sea snake, but is actually a mimic octopus?

Perceptions can be materially conditioned, as a sour candy leaves a bitter taste on the tongue and leads you to think everything tastes bitter following it. But remove the impediment by realizing the cause for the skew, and you'd realize why.

Your knowledge of concepts can be incomplete, but they can't be wrong. That only comes in when you unite concepts in a judgment, e.g., all apples are red.

And simply knowing you've mistaken a sea snake for a mimic octopus implies that you've apprehended the distinct essences...

Awesome creature, btw.

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,


(8) But an outside of the system is required to give the system meaning.
(9) Therefore, the system's meaning is unknowable or non-existent.

You say that this is a reducio of my posiition.

NOT.

(8) is *your* dogma, and something I deny, have denied, have shown to be incoherent semantically ("outside" as grounds for meaning makes it necessarily "inside", by definition... Derrida, remember?), and wrote a long comment describing a computer simulation of virtual objects interacting per simulated magnetic forces, demonstrating the basis for meaning as "this means that" or more precisely "this maps to that" as a set of relationships between objects ALL WITHIN THE SYSTEM, as the grounds for meaning.

So you type up your 1-7, a crude but serviceable recapitulation of propositions I would agree to, and then you inject the proposition I flatly deny and can't see as being *meaningful* itself, let alone true at (8). And it is you fulcrum, the point where you pivot with a "BUT". That (8) is a proposition you own, not me. I disown it, and have consistently done so, throughout (and in detail and at length).

So your reductio of my position starts going just fine and then at (8), the crucial point, it becomes *your* position, a position irreconcilable with my position.

Fail.

The alien nature of your (8) being injected into my argument is apparent just in reading (6) in light of it:

(6) The referent for the concept "outside of the system" cannot be known except by reduction to the system.
(6) and (8) are mutually exclusive propositions. On (6), (8) is rendered meaningless, incoherent. There IS NO OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM in any reductio that is mine to which to appeal for "give the system meaning", which is a problematic expression itself because (see the simulation post -- what is the "distance" of the simulation itself?) meaning obtains as a set of relationships between objects IN THE SYSTEM. The "meaning of the system" where the system as a whole is the operand is undefined.

My (6) necessarily denies, or renders incoherent your (8). If you would read that through yourself, that should be easy to make out.

And that mistake mirrors closely Anonymous' mistake above, insisting on a Thomist (or otherwise contrary to my argument's terms) principle that is not only alien to my argument, but perfectly incompatible with it. A matter of insisting your understanding be transplanted into my argument, corrupting the whole thing.

That's your prerogative to insist on that. But you must on that as a reductio on YOUR terms not mine, with a nice preamble provided by TS. Paste it in as many threads you like, just dont pawn your dogma off as part of *my* argument, please.

Anonymous said...

@touchstone

recisely the kind of reflex I was describing above. You're the kid who insists motion MUST be "change in spatial location over time", no more no less, for Aquinas and everybody else, you're just wearing a "Thomist" jersey and waving the green pom-poms rather than the red ones, insisting just for the sake of insistence that your understandings are uniquely privileged, even on review of frameworks you neither subscribe to nor understand.

But rant away. It's just more substantiation for what I was claiming above.


Then I guess quine, searle, derrida, nietzsche and every other guy that has expose your inanities for what they are (knowingly or otherwise) is a Thomist waving his pom-poms in your face trying to upset you.

What I said about your incoherent claims to meaning is a fact. Not an interpretation but a fact. You can hide behind your nominalism, subjectivism and relativism all you like but it doesn't change reality. All this from the guy who came around championing scientific objectivity... Now reduced to a mere puppet of relativism. Oh how the "mighty" have fallen.

I find it rather comical that you chose to ignore everything else I wrote, which undermines your every claim yet choose to comment on this alone. Taken as a whole, what I along with others have been saying represents an unmovable object standing in front of you taunting your inability to either overcome it (impossible given your materialism) or succumb to it (the wise choice).

As far as me not understanding that which I criticize, let me remind you once again (this I think is the third time perhaps?) that I use to be a naive materialist. I however, was not afraid to challenge myself and push the boundaries of my mind. I was also honest enough to acknowledge what my commitments entailed.

Will you ever? Or are we cursed to hearing the same tiresome "poetry of lunacy" from you forever?

Anonymous said...

@touchstone

Sure. Don't confuse conceptual and semantic differences with a failure to communicate, or the inability to communicate.

Here's an example that I would have done well to put into my last reply to you.

E and R are debating geometry, and specifically the concept of parallel lines. For E, a proponent of Euclidean Geometry, parallel lines exist. Specifically:


In order for the two to debate over geometry or to communicate at all they need to have some common ground in the first place. Unless there are at least some semantics that are universal to both there can be no communication period.

If there is no common ground on the fundamentals of reality (as in this particular case and every other case you try to inject your nonsense into) there can be no communication period. You are beyond confused. What really wonder is whether this is a product of dishonesty or ignorance.

So little example about geometry is nothing but a red herring as it presupposes at least some common universals that will facilitate communication.

To make the point even more clear to you, given that your ontology lacks the required fundamentals for intelligibility it's nothing short of incoherent. To appeal to some relativistic sophistry as you are so doing ("hey guys, I have my paradigm and you have yours and it's all nice and dandy"), you are first and foremost hijacking fundamentals from our ontology.

If only philosophical theft were illegal... ;-)

PS. Stop hiding behind excess and irrelevant verbiage and smell the coffee!

rank sophist said...

(8) is *your* dogma, and something I deny, have denied, have shown to be incoherent semantically ("outside" as grounds for meaning makes it necessarily "inside", by definition... Derrida, remember?), and wrote a long comment describing a computer simulation of virtual objects interacting per simulated magnetic forces, demonstrating the basis for meaning as "this means that" or more precisely "this maps to that" as a set of relationships between objects ALL WITHIN THE SYSTEM, as the grounds for meaning.

So you type up your 1-7, a crude but serviceable recapitulation of propositions I would agree to, and then you inject the proposition I flatly deny and can't see as being *meaningful* itself, let alone true at (8). And it is you fulcrum, the point where you pivot with a "BUT". That (8) is a proposition you own, not me. I disown it, and have consistently done so, throughout (and in detail and at length).

So your reductio of my position starts going just fine and then at (8), the crucial point, it becomes *your* position, a position irreconcilable with my position.


TS, 8 is only a recapitulation of 1 in slightly different language. You don't seem to realize this. I only put it there to remind everyone how the argument started. If you agree with 1, then you agree with 8, and you're screwed. The end. Try to wiggle out of it if you want--not that it's possible.

Anonymous said...

@Josh

To quote my avatar, "We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run anything else affects them."

To quote the lovely gentleman in your avatar, on something I feel is very pertinent to the phenomenon we are witnessing here and have been witnessing as of recently...

(paraphrasing)

The problem with the atheist is not that he believes in nothing, but that he would believe in anything.

Anonymous said...

@touchstone

And that mistake mirrors closely Anonymous' mistake above

Or perhaps you're the one mistaken and despite the fact that you've been shown to have been mistaken refuse to admit it.

Just like your epistemology is comprised of an infinite regress of incoherent and arbitrary "rules" so is your attitude comprised of an infinite regress of terrible excuses... The latest one being radical subjectivism.

Eduardo said...

WE have explained this to touchstone, but either the message wasn´t clear or touchstone just doesn´t get it.

Chris said...

Rank,

I also appreciate the recommendations. To me, the relationship between cataphatic and apophatic theology is a radically interesting and important subject. There is something that is not totally clear to me. When the Orthodox speak of God's essence and energies, does essence correspond with the First Person (apophatic) and His energies with the Second and Third Persons ?(cataphatic)

During the early centuries of the schism, Catholics accused the East of a Divine "Duplicity". But God, of course, is simple. As I understand it, in some impossible way, God transcends himself, that is there is transcendence and immanence within Himself.

"Going yet higher, we say that he (God) is neither a soul, nor a mind, nor an object of knowledge,.... neither is He reason, nor thought, nor is He utterable or knowable, neither is He number, order, greatness, littleness, equality, inequality, likeness, nor unlikeness, neither does he stand nor move,....neither is He being, nor everlastingness, nor time, nor one, nor oneness...nor any other thing known to us or to any other creature."- St Dionysius the Aeropagite.

I'm going off the rails again. I realize that comparative religion can be sketchy business, but when I first came across these writings, I immediately saw a correlation between Hinduism's Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman- without attributes and with attributes. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert on these questions so could you clarify something to me.

Is, for example, St. Mary Faustina Kowalska a mystic or not? I haven't read the names you've mentioned so I cannot compare but I certainly will explore them on time.
And what about deceased Blessed John Paul II? Is his theology of body contemplations real mysticism?

Rank sophist, you've mentioned differences between catholic and orthodox views on women (August 29, 2012 9:15 PM). Could you elaborate because I'm interested in the subject but my theological knowledge is inadequate.

Hope you understand my writing.

Glenn said...

1. If it be postulated that there is but one system--which we'll call The System, and which is comprised of a plethora of subsystems--then it may be legitimate to say that, in the context of The System comprised of subsystems, Rank's (8) becomes "But an outside of the subsystem is required to give the subsystem meaning", and Touchstone's flat denial becomes, "But while there always is an outside of the subsystem, there never is an outside of The System. So while you have to go outside a subsystem in order to give it meaning, you can only go outside that subsystem by going into another subsystem, from which other subsystem the first subsystem then can be given meaning. But both subsystems are in The System, and not only do you not have to go outside The System, one cannot."

(It'll be noted that The System, though intimated as being omnipotent and omnipresent, is not defined.)

I kind of suspect, however, that Touchstone may feel impelled to give utterance to another classic expression such as,

"That was a nice try, Glenn. But I can, while using your terminology, reiterate what I've already said--I flatly deny that you need to go outside a subsystem in order for that subsystem to have meaning. Meaning necessarily inheres in a subsystem by virtue of the fact that that subsystem exists, and one needn't appeal to anything outside that subsystem in order to discern its meaning. Think of it this way--in terms of its meaning, a subsystem is like a cipher, and a key is not needed in order to decrypt it. Or, rather, the key comes packaged with the cipher, and all you have to do is figure out what the key is in order to be able to unlock the cipher."

2. Touchstone contrasts the Euclidean and Riemann geometries in an effort to suggest that Ts defend E while irrationally dismissing R. The only problem with this--aside from not being true--is that Riemann's geometry bears up under the scrutiny of logic, while Touchstone's 'geometry' is pulverized by a mere glance from a rational eye.

If, however, Touchstone could find a way to remove the contradictions from his 'geometry', while simultaneously bolstering it with non-zany logic and fortifying it with genuine rationality, then it might stand a chance of rubbing shoulders with the E that Ts defend.

But Touchstone cannot do this. Nor can he point to anyone else who can or has. And rather than face the music, he chooses instead to be perseverant, relentless and persistent in insisting, albeit often subtly, that zany logic and disingenuous rationality are as much logic and rationality as are non-zany logic and genuine rationality.

(cont)

Glenn said...

3. E and R geometries having been mentioned, I thought of Poincare, who also mentioned them (along with L geometry (Lobatschewsky's geometry)). According to Poincare (in his Science and Hypothesis),

If geometry were an experimental science, it would not be an exact science. It would be subjected to continual revision. Nay, it would from that day forth be erroneous, for we know that no rigorously invariable sold exists. The geometrical axioms are, therefore, neither synthetic a priori intuitions nor experimental facts. They are conventions. Our choice among all possible conventions is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding every contradiction, and thus it is that postulates may remain rigorously true even when the experimental laws which have determined them are only approximate. In other words, the axioms of geometry, therefore, are only definitions in disguise. What, then, are we to think of the question: Is Euclidean geometry true? It has no meaning. We might as well ask if the metric system is true, and if the old weights and measures are false; if Cartesian co-ordinates are true, and polar co-ordinates are false. One geometry cannot be more true than another; it can only be more convenient. Now, Euclidean geometry is, and will remain, the most convenient: first, because it is the simplest, and it is not so only because of our mental habits or because of the kind of direct intuition that we have of Euclidean space; it is the simplest in itself, just as a polynomial of the first degree is simpler than a polynomial of the second degree; second, because it sufficiently agrees with the properties of natural solids, those bodies which we can compare and measure by means of our senses.

I think Touchstone may feel inclined to happily seize on Poincare's saying that geometrical axioms are conventions, and try to tie this in with his earlier remarks about interpreter-dependent meanings. But in doing so (if he were to do so), he would be making a (possibly intentional) mistake. For Poincare didn't merely say that geometrical axioms are conventions, but that they are conventions limited by the necessity of avoiding every contradiction.

(cont)

Glenn said...

4. Since I brought up Poincare, might as well include another quotation from him. This one is from his Science and Method, and suggests (if one reads between the lines (or simply uses it as a pattern)): a) why people sometimes take the stance that an argument is too long to fit in a combox (last para); b) why people sometimes say that something has been previously addressed elsewhere and shown to be error laden, so there's no need to repeat it or that repeating it would be too tedious (again last para); and, c) that Touchstone's inability to follow an argument, or retain an argument that has been clearly laid out, as well as his tendency to revert to a line of reasoning that has already been debunked, is not necessarily unique to him (1st-3rd paras).

How does it happen there are people who do not understand mathematics? If mathematics invokes only the rules of logic, such as are accepted by all normal minds; if its evidence is based on principles common to all men, and that none could deny without being mad, how does it come about that so many persons are here refractory?

That not every one can invent is nowise mysterious. That not every one can retain a demonstration once learned may also pass. But that not every one can understand mathematical reasoning when explained appears very surprising when we think of it. And yet those who can follow this reasoning only with difficulty are in the majority: that is undeniable, and will surely not be gainsaid by the experience of secondary-school teachers.

And further: how is error possible in mathematics? A sane mind should not be guilty of a logical fallacy, and yet there are very fine minds who do not trip in brief reasoning such as occurs in the ordinary doings of life, and who are incapable of following or repeating without error the mathematical demonstrations which are longer, but which after all are only an accumulation of brief reasonings wholly analogous to those they make so easily. Need we add that mathematicians themselves are not infallible?

The answer seems to me evident. Imagine a long series of syllogisms, and that the conclusions of the first serve as premises of the following: we shall be able to catch each of these syllogisms, and it is not in passing from premises to conclusion that we are in danger of deceiving ourselves. But between the moment in which we first meet a proposition as conclusion of one syllogism, and that in which we reencounter it as premise of another syllogism occasionally some time will elapse, several links of the chain will have unrolled; so it may happen that we have forgotten it, or worse, that we have forgotten its meaning. So it may happen that we replace it by a slightly different proposition, or that, while retaining the same enunciation, we attribute to it a slightly different meaning, and thus it is that we are exposed to error.

Glenn said...

5. ...while retaining the same enunciation, we attribute to it a slightly different meaning, and thus it is that we are exposed to error.

Hmm. It almost sounds as if Poincare is suggesting that "interpreter-dependent meanings" exposes us to errors.

Glenn said...

(Trivial example: though "interpreter-dependent meanings" is plural, for some reason which escapes me I went with the position that the quotation marks surround one thing, and, since one thing is singular, I used 'exposes' rather than 'expose'.)

Josh said...

For Poincare didn't merely say that geometrical axioms are conventions, but that they are conventions limited by the necessity of avoiding every contradiction.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Aloha, Mr. Glenn.

Glenn said...

Maloha!

(Curiously, the weather in NYC is virtually the same now as it was back there. However, and needless to say, the similarity goes no further than that.)

Anonymous said...

Glenn,

Nicely done. However, I am afraid that touchstone will come around and respond to this:

Hmm. It almost sounds as if Poincare is suggesting that "interpreter-dependent meanings" exposes us to errors.

By saying that Poincare's suggestion is itself an "interpreter-dependent meaning" and will thus refuse to accept it - not because it's not logical (it is)- but rather because his new-found post-modern spirit will not allow its "artistic expression" to be curtailed by your critique.

If you noticed, he even made references to linguistic power games in the same vein nietzsche did in his own work. This makes me wonder whether empiricism, materialism and the like are mere smoke and mirror tactics, constructed by relativists (both explicit and implicit relativists) as a means to distort the truth about their core set of beliefs.

Is all this parading around, in the name of "science" and "reason" that we witness in anti-intellectualist circles (commonly known as GNUs) just a diversion tactic to stray us away from penetrating into the core beliefs of the atheist only to witness the most lurid and violently contradictory faiths a mind can conjure?



Glenn said...

Anon,

I am afraid that touchstone will come around and respond... By saying that Poincare's suggestion is itself an "interpreter-dependent meaning" and will thus refuse to accept it - not because it's not logical (it is)- but rather because his new-found post-modern spirit will not allow its "artistic expression" to be curtailed by your critique.

There's little doubt in my mind that you are correct. Oh well.

But the thing is, while it can be wearying, there is no need to be afraid of it. His, and others like him, coming around is not something upon which peace of heart & mind and inner stillness are dependent. The roiling and tumult of distorted thinking and perception, as well as the annoyance, irritation, frustration, exasperation, etc., that goes along with frequent exposure to it, are just the commotion of tossing waves and contrary winds, in the midst of which Someone once said, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid."

I think what it all boils down for Touchstone, and others like him, is resentment, pure and simple. That, and a desire to feel powerful and be in or have control. They'll happily tie themselves in knots, and gladly shoot themselves in the foot, if they think it'll draw a look of bafflement or dismay. Their souls are improvised, so they seek attention.

(I'm overly generalizing, of course.)

Glenn said...

(Hmm... perhaps it is the spellchecker that is improvised.)

rank sophist said...

Chris,

When the Orthodox speak of God's essence and energies, does essence correspond with the First Person (apophatic) and His energies with the Second and Third Persons ?(cataphatic)

I don't believe so. The whole Trinity is the essence. The energies are also the Trinity, though--just the part that we can see, in a sense. As far as I know, the energies are incomprehensible (apophatic) because they emanate from something that we cannot know. Because of Palamas's philosophical background, he couldn't make the same distinctions as Aquinas. While Aquinas solves the same problem by saying that humans can see the essence but cannot comprehend it--essence meaning something different in Latin than it does in Greek--, Palamas says that there's a distinction in God between energies and essence. Both were trying to explain how man could experience without comprehending or wholly merging with God. Neither view is as extreme as its opponents like to believe--trust me. They're essentially saying the same thing in different words, with little practical change.

During the early centuries of the schism, Catholics accused the East of a Divine "Duplicity". But God, of course, is simple. As I understand it, in some impossible way, God transcends himself, that is there is transcendence and immanence within Himself.

The Orthodox support simplicity as well. Nothing about Palamas's theology takes it away. The essence-energies distinction has confused Western Christianity for centuries. Likewise, the Orthodox accuse the West of blatant pantheism and heresy. It's a campaign of misrepresentation that has only recently started to settle down.

"Going yet higher, we say that he (God) is neither a soul, nor a mind, nor an object of knowledge,.... neither is He reason, nor thought, nor is He utterable or knowable, neither is He number, order, greatness, littleness, equality, inequality, likeness, nor unlikeness, neither does he stand nor move,....neither is He being, nor everlastingness, nor time, nor one, nor oneness...nor any other thing known to us or to any other creature."- St Dionysius the Aeropagite.

I'm going off the rails again. I realize that comparative religion can be sketchy business, but when I first came across these writings, I immediately saw a correlation between Hinduism's Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman- without attributes and with attributes. What do you think?


Tough call. I think it really depends on the type of Hinduism you're considering. The Nirguna-Saguna distinction seems to be the particular focus of the Advaitists--pantheists. On the other hand, the panentheistic Vaishnavists and their interpretation of "Para Brahman" offer the closest comparison to Dionysius (subsequently Aquinas), in my view. Like Dionysius's God, Para Brahman transcends the transcendent, and in fact contains both "transcendence" and "immanence" within itself. As a result, it avoids any metaphysics of opposition. This seems to be very much what Dionysius is saying, there; and Aquinas agrees.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 9:22 AM,

Is, for example, St. Mary Faustina Kowalska a mystic or not? I haven't read the names you've mentioned so I cannot compare but I certainly will explore them on time.
And what about deceased Blessed John Paul II? Is his theology of body contemplations real mysticism?


These questions, unfortunately, fall outside the realm of my knowledge as well. Hopefully someone else has an answer.

Rank sophist, you've mentioned differences between catholic and orthodox views on women (August 29, 2012 9:15 PM). Could you elaborate because I'm interested in the subject but my theological knowledge is inadequate.

I don't mean to offend anyone with the following.

From my reading, the contemporary Orthodox take the Genesis description of woman as a "helper" (and so on) more loosely than do many contemporary Catholics. They hold men and women to be true equals, full stop. Also, while the priesthood is all-male as a continuation of tradition, the Orthodox support the position of deaconess. The Catholics, on the other hand, have not had female deacons since the early church.

If you thought that I was talking about contraception and so forth, I'm sorry to disappoint. Orthodoxy and Catholicism hold almost identical positions on such matters.

rank sophist said...

One more point on deaconesses:

It would be inaccurate to say that the Orthodox have a full-blown deaconess order, but it's an active consideration and most likely a project in the near future.

Touchstone said...

@Josh


I don't evade questions; but in answer to your first, how can I compare? The debate between the abstract notions of formal mathematical systems is not the same as the debate over the presence of intentionality in reality! In one, the subject matter points within, to each system's context-specific application; in the other, the subject matter is explicitly what's without!


The isomorphism I'm pointing to does not have to do with geometry or mathematical systems per se. The analogous property is that of competing frameworks; I used different geometries because it's pretty straight forward to understand as competing frameworks. But it's not about geometry, it's about competing frameworks.

In the discussion of intentionality, prior to any emprical or model testing (the means of 'the presence of intentionality in reality'), we have competing concepts of what intentionality, is, how it obtains, and how it would be identified. And it's useful to compare that to the discussion of parallel lines between E and R. That's *prior* to real world testing -- you have to settle on your test criteria before testing means anything.


You might as well ask me what the right concept of "field goal" is between Backgammon and Football.

That was really the point I was making. There's a contingent here that finds Backgammon absurd because it has no concept of 'field goal' as they understand it from Football (to apply your example).

We are asking (for lack of a better example), given a concept of intentionality, whether Dennett's or Aquinas', is it discovered in reality; does it have a real being it refers to? The stakes are different...
This just recapitulates the problem, though. What would you offer as the operative test for "real being"? What criteria do propose to judge those two frameworks by? I'd be quite interested to hear the answer to that, and see how that arbitration would work, and whether its derived from one of the competing frameworks itself -- Framework A being tapped as the referee for a "discovery" test between Framework A and Framework B.


In the case of Euclidean parallel lines, we aren't asking if they are out there in nature; we know there aren't. It's an abstract being of thought, just as triangularity is.

It is a pertinent physics question, and was for a long while, while the mechanics needed for empirical tests were worked out. Our spacetime is a manifold, and it wasn't clear whether spacetime was "flat" (Euclidean) or "curved" (Riemannian -- "pseudo-Riemannian" if we want to get technical). The geometries themselves were abstract, but as models of the actual topology of spacetime, they were (are) competing hypotheses (along with hyperbolic geometries and others).

As it turns out, as GR entails, our spacetime is a pseudo-Riemannian manifold. R, in other words, would "win" the discovery test for our real world spacetime.

The analogy isn't perfect in that regard, though, I grant. E and R share (or can share) a common paradigm -- empirical science -- for arbitration between Euclidean and Riemannian hypotheses about the shape of space time. A materialist and a Thomist have no such common ground; the very basic ideas of "real", "natural", "exist", "cause", etc. are not just disputed, but often directly contradictory, mutually incompatible.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Josh

(con't)


One says, intentionality actually exists in things. The other says it's a trick of the mind. These are contradictory claims; go and investigate! This pits the "paradigms" against each other, dragging Philosophy from mere wordplay to a much more dangerous yet rewarding arena: the place where one can be refuted. Reality.

Well, a scientist would read that and rub his hands together -- that's science's home turf he supposes. But not so fast, Mr. Materialist Scientist. The Thomist has a completely different understanding of what constitutes "reality" than you. From my perspective, for example, once this goes to the jury of natural model performance testing, it's all over -- the 'intrinsic intentionality' intuition cannot be supported, cannot be integrated into a natural model where it is a working component of the model. Ahh, the Thomist replies, who says "natural models" are a lens we should judge reality by?

And the impasse obtains, yet again. If only, if ONLY Thomism had a model by which to falsify itself, or a means to submit to falsification by a governing framework that would provide falsification, like natural science does, we'd be able to make forward progress.

But it doesn't, so we can't.


Philosophy is not merely "personal confession," as Nietzsche said. If it is, who gives a damn?

Perhaps not merely. Definitely not just that. But that is a large part of its constitution -- where we can find objective and inter-subjective methods for analysis and knowledge building, we can get out of that pit a bit. But this is scientific thinking, which typically gets partioned off as "non-philosophy" or "a special branch of philosophy" precisely because it is predicated on an epistemology that eshews the measures of subjectivism and intution-as-authority that "traditional philosophy" embraces (which includes a whole lot of Nietzsche's thinking, as it happens).

-TS

rank sophist said...

Touchstone's strategy: pretend that his argument hasn't been refuted and then continue to argue.

Bullpup said...

Yeah. I think he's under the impression that, so long as he dumps out more words, the refutations to his position will just go away, or maybe we'll forget about them and act as if he hasn't been refuted.

The worst part is the sheer length of the replies he dumps out while doing this. I'm not even bothering to sift through them anymore, since I've done it over and over and nope, he didn't have anything substantial to say or any defense. He just dumps more snideness and words out, thinking volume will work where argument failed.

Touchstone said...

@reighley


I think I would have been more comfortable with this level of detail if you had said "calculating bounds on Kolmogorov complexity". You are not seriously suggesting that this procedure (even if it could be implemented) would solve anything are you? Once you choose a measure of information you also choose a symbolic representation. So by that point most of the fun has already been had.

I'm invoking K-C complexity just as pedagogy; if you could actually test Dr. Feser's claims and *measure* attributes of the objects he's comparing and contrasting -- 'mental images' and 'concepts' -- I think you'd find his case does not hold up as a rule. He's picked an example in the chiliagon that is "graphically complex" and "linguistically simple" (and even then, it's not clear that his "linguistically simple" is right, because "1000 sided polygon" is likely underspecified AND dependent on other "building block" concepts (polygon) that have to be rolled into the calculation).

We could pick examples that are "graphically simple" and "linguistically complex" -- I suggested "blue" as an example of a graphic-centric concept. But I'm not offering a formal way to actually calculate such -- Dr. Feser's concepts of 'mental image' and 'concept' are too indeterminate for that, as they are provided here. Rather, algorithmic complexity as a proxy for ANY objective, quantitative and lossless way to represent "mental images" and "concepts". Given the way he presents this, this argument comes from.... just thinking about it. It doesn't engage with any scientific or neural models of how the brain actually processes and integrates these things. Far be it from me to propose an algorithmic formalism for Dr. Feser's "thinking about it". Perhaps he could qualify those concepts to the point where they were determinate enough to compute algorithmic complexity and information capacity. That obviously was not the point of this post, though.


I think Feser's point still holds, even with the Mona Lisa. A mental image of the Mona Lisa is not the same thing as the concept of the Mona Lisa because a mental image of the Mona Lisa sitting in the Louvre in Paris is exactly the same as my mental image of a painting exactly like the Mona Lisa, in a building exactly like the Louvre, and it is different from my image of the Mona Lisa half finished in Da Vinci's studio. Yet the concept of the Mona Lisa, is different between the first and second examples and the same between the first and third. For when I say "Mona Lisa" I am explicitly excluding paintings which look exactly like it, but are not it.

Yeah, but that's cherry picking, just like Dr. Feser engaged in. I'm fine stipulating for purposes of discussion, that "chiliagon" is "lingusitic-centric", and both more precise and concise in that form of representation. I'm fine saying the thing about your "Mona-Lisa-Singleton"; we can agree, for now, that that works the same way as Dr. Feser's chiliagon.

But the qualifications you had to put up around "Mona-Lisa-Singleton" are conspicuous. For "Mona-Lisa-General", the concept of the painting in all its forms, from the work hanging on the wall in Paris to a dithered image in a poster's avatar to a badly done reproduction of the work in crayon by a 12 year old, that concept tips things the other way. The example you were trying to avoid discredits Dr. Feser's argument. These things, ostensibly, arguably, go either way, and vary from case to case as to which form of meta-representaion is more efficient, more precise, more amenable to determination.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@reighley

(con't)


If we must bring neuroscience into it, this distinction is even made in the physical structure of the brain, for it is possible for a person to be injured in such a way that they acknowledge that an object looks, and sounds, and behaves exactly like (for instance) their wife, but still deny that this object is actually their wife.

Yes, right, but my point on the neuroscience was that "mental images vs. concepts" is not a dichotomy or a processing model that fits with that. Just with respect to "mental images", for example, the brain doesn't operate like a little homunculus looking at JPEGs on a "mental screen". The integration process breaks up and stores "chunked" features of images that become components of representation. An image with a "square" implied in its negative field (lines marking the four corners, perhaps) activates on a square concept, as something it finds "in the image", even though the image is just spatial color data.

Dr. Feser doesn't engage with the actual modes of processing and integration that we know about from science, so I think that's obviously a fruitful direction to take things -- science fanboy that I am -- but there's not really anywhere to start, given Dr. Feser's casting of the issue, here.


I think, by "determinate" we mean that something either is, or is not the Mona Lisa. We may not know which is which, it may be a very good copy. We do draw a sharp line between the idea of actually "being" the Mona Lisa and the concept of just "being exactly like" the Mona Lisa.

Yes, I'm aware. I was asking, though, about the determinacy of points in the cognitive and interpretive process that are necessarily (on natural terms, I guess I should say -- one can always surmise that some kind of gnosis obtains to provide 100% metaphysical clarity when ever God wants, etc.) held in degrees of uncertainty.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Glenn,


1. If it be postulated that there is but one system--which we'll call The System, and which is comprised of a plethora of subsystems--then it may be legitimate to say that, in the context of The System comprised of subsystems, Rank's (8) becomes "But an outside of the subsystem is required to give the subsystem meaning", and Touchstone's flat denial becomes, "But while there always is an outside of the subsystem, there never is an outside of The System.

Right. I've been clear on this. "system" -- small 's' we might use to refer to the brain, for example. It's a useful separation between 'brain' and 'not-brain'. But where the "web of semantics" extends, that is The System -- capital 's' -- just because that is what The System refers to, the web of semantics. These are synonyms. For purposes of clarity, I have no problem making sure to always use "subsystem" where I would otherwise have used "system", to refer to, say, a brain.


So while you have to go outside a subsystem in order to give it meaning, you can only go outside that subsystem by going into another subsystem, from which other subsystem the first subsystem then can be given meaning. But both subsystems are in The System, and not only do you not have to go outside The System, one cannot."

Yep.


(It'll be noted that The System, though intimated as being omnipotent and omnipresent, is not defined.)

Yeah, I think I'd just start with "extant" for the System. Not sure how we'd get to "omnipotent", and "omnipresent" would be a tautology -- "outside The System" is incoherent, so on that, "omnipresent" would just put to whatever the extent of The System happens to be. If that problem is not clear, consider the concept of "ultranorth" -- the point on the globe, or in space, that is 1 km due north of the North Pole.


I kind of suspect, however, that Touchstone may feel impelled to give utterance to another classic expression such as,

"That was a nice try, Glenn. But I can, while using your terminology, reiterate what I've already said--I flatly deny that you need to go outside a subsystem in order for that subsystem to have meaning. Meaning necessarily inheres in a subsystem by virtue of the fact that that subsystem exists, and one needn't appeal to anything outside that subsystem in order to discern its meaning. Think of it this way--in terms of its meaning, a subsystem is like a cipher, and a key is not needed in order to decrypt it. Or, rather, the key comes packaged with the cipher, and all you have to do is figure out what the key is in order to be able to unlock the cipher."

That would be an utterance I'd subscribe to. For some subsystems, the semantics obtain extrinsically. For others, intrinsically. Or to be more careful, extrinsic, intrinsic, and "mixed" models of semantics can obtain for subsystem.

-TS

Josh said...

Touchstone,

I do think you should deal with Rank's making explicit your premises and show the logical contradiction is there is one...

And the impasse obtains, yet again. If only, if ONLY Thomism had a model by which to falsify itself, or a means to submit to falsification by a governing framework that would provide falsification, like natural science does, we'd be able to make forward progress.

But it doesn't, so we can't.


This is quite ridiculous. What are the laws of thought heretofore quoted (identity, contradiction, excluded middle) but that very thing which falsifies a bad philosophical argument in concert with empirical observations? These laws aren't part of the "system" either; note Glenn's quote again:

For Poincare didn't merely say that geometrical axioms are conventions, but that they are conventions limited by the necessity of avoiding every contradiction.

All these models have to be measured against something not created by us, as noted implicitly by Rank's first premise. Refute that, and your work will be done.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist

Thank you for the answer. John Paul II discussed about the marriage, nuptial meaning of human body and male female relation in his works so if you're interested you can read them too. I haven't read his original works hence I'm not a specialist but the writer of this book clarifies the position; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Theology-Body-Explained-Commentary-Gospel/dp/0852446004/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346450990&sr=1-5

I have personal interest in Catholic and Orthodox religions. It all started when I began to read this blog and bought Feser's books. After it I have extended my knowledge reading Oderberg, Davies, Gilson etc.

Other writers and their works, such as Lowe and Ellis have been interesting object of studies too.

Touchstone said...

@Glenn


I think Touchstone may feel inclined to happily seize on Poincare's saying that geometrical axioms are conventions, and try to tie this in with his earlier remarks about interpreter-dependent meanings. But in doing so (if he were to do so), he would be making a (possibly intentional) mistake. For Poincare didn't merely say that geometrical axioms are conventions, but that they are conventions limited by the necessity of avoiding every contradiction.

As I said to Josh, the object of my E and R example was not to offer E, R or any geometry as a model for meaning or intentionality here, but rather as an easy example of related frameworks with incompatible definitions and concepts. The "folly" of no parallel lines in R from E's parochial perspective was the crux -- this was not an examination of meaning or intentionality in geometry frameworks.

To apply Poincaré's observations in your quote to this, if you don't have a way to test a framework, whether it is Euclidean Geometry or Thomism or Keynesian economics, you don't have any basis for "true", where 'true' obtains as an isomorphism to the real world. Pseudo-Riemannian geometries fit our spacetime experimentally much better than does a Euclidean topology. That doesn't falsify E-geometry as 'true' on its own terms -- that's not even a meaningful expression, as it can only be more or less consistent, "true" is undefined without a basis to distinguish 'true' from 'untrue'. It does meant that E-geometry is not a good model for our spacetime vs. R-geometries, and thus R-geometries are more "true" as models for our real world.

I don't think that's controversial. What is problematic, though, are frameworks that are not amenable to 'true', or more specifically, are not liable to possibly being 'false'. Thomism as a hyper-rationalist framework is difficult this way. There aren't hardpoints to attach the kinds of instrumentation to that we can and did for Euclidean, Riemannian, Hyperbolic and other manifold geometries in the interests of adjudicating which of them are more 'true' as that concept relates to the behavior of the extra-mental world.

-TS

rank sophist said...

Right. I've been clear on this. "system" -- small 's' we might use to refer to the brain, for example. It's a useful separation between 'brain' and 'not-brain'. But where the "web of semantics" extends, that is The System -- capital 's' -- just because that is what The System refers to, the web of semantics. These are synonyms. For purposes of clarity, I have no problem making sure to always use "subsystem" where I would otherwise have used "system", to refer to, say, a brain.

A "this means that" system requires a "that" if it wants to signify anything. The brain associations are the "this"; that which they map is the "that". But, as I showed, your system annihilates any possibility of "that" being knowable, objective or even existent. Every "that" is always already reduced to a "this": the very idea of a "that" is merely another "this". This leads us to infinitely regressive appeals to further "this" signs, leaving us with epistemological nihilism. Thus far, you have failed to even try to refute this problem.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 3:21 PM,

Good to hear. Thomism needs to spread. I'll consider reading those John Paul II works--my reading list is pretty packed right now.

Touchstone said...

@Josh,


This is quite ridiculous. What are the laws of thought heretofore quoted (identity, contradiction, excluded middle) but that very thing which falsifies a bad philosophical argument in concert with empirical observations? These laws aren't part of the "system" either; note Glenn's quote again:

Here Glenn's syntax is important -- Poincaré has them in The System, capital 'S'. A convention locates in System, as anything in the 'web of semantics' must. But perhaps you mean something else by 'system' there. If so, what?


For Poincare didn't merely say that geometrical axioms are conventions, but that they are conventions limited by the necessity of avoiding every contradiction.

OK, so where does that lead us (you)?

All these models have to be measured against something not created by us, as noted implicitly by Rank's first premise. Refute that, and your work will be done.

We are the creators of models. There are not "uncreated by us models" available to us to judge by. If you think that's the case, let's access that model and thinking about we determined it is a model, and that it was not created by us.

I don't think that's something that needs refutation as in critiquing an argument: the concept of 'model' is one that implies cognition, abstract thinking. If we suppose that we know of and use models directly as conceptual frameworks we create in our minds, but they are "out there" somewhere, as models, that strikes me as confusing the map and the territory -- badly. If R-geometry as a mental model does a decent job of describing our spacetime manifold, that does not make spacetime a "model not created by us". Spacetime is the TERRITORY, the model is the MAP.

As soon as you locate a putative 'model-not-created-by-us' in the extra-mental world, it can't be a model, and becomes 'territory' not map. It's not the thing we use TO interpret and render the world sensible, but rather has become the THING WE INTERPRET.

Perhaps you are suggesting that God creates mental models for us and supernaturally invests our minds with those models-created-by-God? If so, sell, have it, I can't be bothered with such notions. But I don't think that's what you meant, in which case, the refutation is simply "models are mental constructs and thus are necessarily created by us, created by minds".

-TS

rank sophist said...

As soon as you locate a putative 'model-not-created-by-us' in the extra-mental world, it can't be a model, and becomes 'territory' not map. It's not the thing we use TO interpret and render the world sensible, but rather has become the THING WE INTERPRET.

Are you joking? The territory is reduced to a map, Touchstone. Every thought about the territory--everything believed to be objective--is really just another map. Under your philosophy, there is no territory. Realize this.

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,

A "this means that" system requires a "that" if it wants to signify anything. The brain associations are the "this"; that which they map is the "that". But, as I showed, your system annihilates any possibility of "that" being knowable, objective or even existent.

I can't see that you've even made a step in that direction.

So, a red ball on the table has photons bouncing off it into my eye. This is a percept for me, B is the ball and P[B] is my percept of the ball. B is external to my brain, and P[B] is internal to it. The photons interacting with the rods and cones in my retina, and those with my optic nerves connecting in my thalamus are the "interface" between B and P[B].

Visual integration is an ongoing process in the brain, and P[B] gets processed such that that raw stimulus is enriched with associations, and thus contextualized. In this case, the particulars of P[B] activate associations in my brain's neural network that we would label "red", among other possible associations ("ball", "round", etc.). So, internal to the brain another isomorphism is created that maps P[B] to my concept of "red" C[Red].

At the level of P[B], I have certain knowledge of 'red-appearing'. No matter what color the object on the table "really is", I have a signal path that connects the photon patterns coming into my eyes, with a concept of 'red'. It's mechanical.

What part of B->P[B]->C[Red] do you suppose annihilates the possibility of knowing "red" or "red ball" (if we include other associations being activated). A robot we build can perceive, categorize and identify that same red ball with different, but functionally equivalent machinery -- it distinguishes the object on the table as 'red ball', distinct from 'non-red, non-ball', and based on the same phenomenon: same object, same photon dynamics, etc.

Every "that" is always already reduced to a "this": the very idea of a "that" is merely another "this".
The extramental world is the head of the chain. It's the basis for our perceptions, the source of any input we might use as the content to interpret with our brains.

Do you suppose those photons bouncing off the ball and into my eyes are themselves interpretations? If so, interpretations of what? They are just physical phenomena, aren't they, just photons being photons? Interpretation begins with those phenomena as the foundation.
This leads us to infinitely regressive appeals to further "this" signs, leaving us with epistemological nihilism. Thus far, you have failed to even try to refute this problem.
No. The photon is not a symbol that can be dereferenced, so far as I'm aware. What is that photon an interpretation *of*, in your view, which it must be if you insist on infinite regress. I don't find any regress beyond fundamental physics. I can try to interpret photons, the behavior of photons, the "meaning" of photons, but that's my brain doing the work. The photon itself has no referent.

Think of the the isomorphisms above: B->P[B]->C[red]. If you are correct, there is another isomorphism (and in fact, an infinite chain of isomorphisms!) to the left of BL

X->B->P[B]->C[red]

What is does X->B map between, according to your view, here? In my understanding, the photon is the "fundamental source", the terminating point for any chain of isomorphisms built on top of it. You obviously think otherwise. What is X, and what does X->B map?

-TS

rank sophist said...

Touchstone,

For all your fancy verbiage, you've failed to address the one, simple flaw: your idea of the brain operates by reduction to "code". The "objective" outside world is not present inside the brain. The brain reduces this supposed "objective outside" to a subjective code, and it is, under your system, impossible to ever even speak of something other than these representations. What are they representations of? Well, considering that you can't talk about anything "outside of representation" without presupposing representation, we can only conclude that they aren't representations of anything at all. There is no original "objective ground" from which we take our representations, because it is impossible for it to exist.

This is what Derrida concluded, and it's what you're going to have to admit as well. As a result, you're going to have to buy in to his self-refuting paradoxes, too.

rank sophist said...

Do you suppose those photons bouncing off the ball and into my eyes are themselves interpretations? If so, interpretations of what? They are just physical phenomena, aren't they, just photons being photons? Interpretation begins with those phenomena as the foundation.

Of course they're interpretations. Anything that we think, see, hear--all of these are interpretations and representations. Nothing like a "photon" could be said to exist under your system. There are only representations that we have called "photons"; but these representations have no original grounding, and so cannot ever be objective. Everything is subjectivized and relativized.

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,

Are you joking? The territory is reduced to a map, Touchstone. Every thought about the territory--everything believed to be objective--is really just another map. Under your philosophy, there is no territory. Realize this.

Yow. Map-territory confusion as dogma!

The territory is not the map. We may only grasp "maps" directly in our mind, but that in no way diminishes the reality of the territory the map refers to, the existence of the other side of the isomorphism.

Consider a mind that cannot see via the eyes and has no external visual sensors, but can "see" internally, distinguishing spatial relationships and dimensions as features of its internal mental imagery.

For such a mind, there cannot ever be any "direct sensing" of the territory, even if we set aside any temptation to complain that visual sensation is a kind of low level interpretation and mapping in its own right. Visually, the territory cannot be experienced directly.

But that limitation no way denies the reality of the territory. Given an internal capacity for visualization of a model of the world outside that mind, through trial and error, heuristics that incorporate and systematize, say, "touch" input to the mind so that a visual model that is consistent with accumulating touch input is developed.

Whatever score we may give to that mind's visual "map" of the extramental territory it is working to map, having no visual input from outside the brain does not preclude or unreaize the territory. It's just rendered sensible, to the extent it is sensible, via other means.

Now, if we have no inputs that provide differentiating signals from outside the brain that enable model building -- mapping -- then we having nothing to build any model *from*, and not even indirect access to any territory. Happily, we have multiple channels of input for extra-mental signals that enable modeling in our brains.

But from the fact that we realize the territory as sensible via models -- internal "maps" -- and only by that means, it does not follow that the territory being mapped does not exist. That's a non sequitur.

-TS

David T said...

TS,

So, a red ball on the table has photons bouncing off it into my eye. This is a percept for me, B is the ball and P[B] is my percept of the ball. B is external to my brain, and P[B] is internal to it. The photons interacting with the rods and cones in my retina, and those with my optic nerves connecting in my thalamus are the "interface" between B and P[B].

Well, no. According to your theory, what we know and deal with is P[B], our percept. I'm not going to say "percept of the ball", because your theory doesn't allow you to say any such thing. The best you can say is P[X], where X necessarily remains mysterious, because any attempt to further identify X must be done in terms of percepts, in other words some P[Y]. You have no direct access to B to be able to say that P[B] is a percept of B. Similarly, "optic nerves" and "thalamus" are themselves percepts, so you can't say the thalamus is the interface between B and P[B], only that some P[Y] appears to be an interface between some P[X] and a P[Z]. This was all conclusively established by Kant hundreds of years ago.

Eduardo said...

I think the idea has something to do with epistemological niihilism, and not being able to tell anything about anything at all.

rank sophist said...

But from the fact that we realize the territory as sensible via models -- internal "maps" -- and only by that means, it does not follow that the territory being mapped does not exist. That's a non sequitur.

It isn't. Let me bring back my argument, one more time. I'll even update it a bit for clarity.

(1) A system of "this means that" associations obtains its meaning by reference to the outside of the system.
(2) Our brains are systems of "this means that" associations.
(3) Our brains reduce all outside input, even pre-conscious, to this system.
(4) Mental processes are totally within the system.
(5) The concept "outside of the system" is totally within the system.
(6) The referent for the concept "outside of the system" cannot be known except by reduction to the system.
(7) Therefore, the referent for the concept "outside of the system" is always already part of the system.
(8) Therefore, the system's outside is unknowable or non-existent.
(9) Therefore, the meaning of the system is unknowable or non-existent.

It is impossible to discuss the territory. The only thing that we know is the map. If the territory exists, it, at the very, least cannot ever be known.

rank sophist said...

Pardon me: "If the territory exists, it, at the very least, cannot ever be known."

David T,

Exactly. Derrida is like Kant but ten times more destructive, because of the way symbols operate in his philosophy.

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,


Of course they're interpretations.

The photons themselves are interpretations??? By photons, I'm not referring to our mind-internal concept of "photon", but the actual photons that obtain outside of the mind, the objective phenomena we refer to as a "photon". Either you are confusing the syntax here, and mistakenly thinking I'm referring to "concept of photon" when I'm referring to an actual photon that obtains totally irrespective of any mind or any interpretation, or you have got "map" and "territority" confused.

Anything that we think, see, hear--all of these are interpretations and representations.
Yes, but the thought is not the photon. Right? I am amazed this even needs to pointed out, and confirmed with you. Are the photon, and any thought about a photon the same object, in your view, or are they discrete phenomena?

Nothing like a "photon" could be said to exist under your system.
It is said to exist, and must be said to exist. There's nothing to map *to*, otherwise. There's nothing to trigger a visual integration process that activates the neuronal patterns for "red" in my mind if there's no photons, no actual extra-mental objects.


There are only representations that we have called "photons"; but these representations have no original grounding, and so cannot ever be objective. Everything is subjectivized and relativized.

Maps are relative by definition. An isomorphism is a relation between sets. It's *bijective*, which means relationships between pairs drawn from members of each set.

If we stipulate that all I know directly is "representation of photons", do you suppose that fact denies the existence of those photons, somehow that the things being represented do not exist? Again, that just doesn't follow. It's transcendental by language. If the representations have nothing to represent, they cannot be, by definition, representations at all!

Being relative, or subjective in no way denies the existence of extra-mental referents. A subjective representation, no matter how subjective, still has to have something to represent -- inside the mind or outside -- to be a representation in the first place, yeah?

-TS


Anonymous said...

Glenn,

But the thing is, while it can be wearying, there is no need to be afraid of it. His, and others like him, coming around is not something upon which peace of heart & mind and inner stillness are dependent. The roiling and tumult of distorted thinking and perception, as well as the annoyance, irritation, frustration, exasperation, etc., that goes along with frequent exposure to it, are just the commotion of tossing waves and contrary winds, in the midst of which Someone once said, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid."

That is true. There is nothing to be afraid in as much as this distorted thinking is extrinsic (as it is in the case of engaging with materialists). Unfortunately in my case it was once part of my own thinking so the danger is more imminent I suppose. Some times when I come off as aggressive in my critique, it’s primarily because it’s directed at my old way of thinking more so than the person I might be addressing. As I experience it, I need to exert twice as much effort to engage in philosophical literature/discourse in comparison to any other type of text because of my prior disposition. I feel like sometimes the distortion is simply waiting in anticipation to pounce, so I try to remain as focused as possible in the direction I consciously decided to follow.


I think what it all boils down for Touchstone, and others like him, is resentment, pure and simple. That, and a desire to feel powerful and be in or have control. They'll happily tie themselves in knots, and gladly shoot themselves in the foot, if they think it'll draw a look of bafflement or dismay. Their souls are improvised, so they seek attention.

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

David T said...

Rank,

I've not read Derrida, but I'm finding your comments on him instructive. Kant is, to my mind, indispensable to understanding modern philosophy as he understood its deep implications and unflinchlingly explored them. It's obvious that Dennett and friends haven't understood Kant, let alone moved past him as they suppose.

Anonymous said...

As it is obvious that the likes of Dennett, the Gnus, and the usual scientistic types are, implicitly and usually explicitly, committed to positions that are not radically relativist and anti-realist. Their cult of science would loose most of what force it had if they did hold such positions.

Therefore, aside from their general nonsensical and incoherent nature, Touchstone's arguments appear, as I noted before, to have no place in response to this article.

Anonymous said...

@bullpup

Yeah. I think he's under the impression that, so long as he dumps out more words, the refutations to his position will just go away, or maybe we'll forget about them and act as if he hasn't been refuted.

The worst part is the sheer length of the replies he dumps out while doing this. I'm not even bothering to sift through them anymore, since I've done it over and over and nope, he didn't have anything substantial to say or any defense. He just dumps more snideness and words out, thinking volume will work where argument failed.


That is exactly how I see it. I've told myself many times, "just ignore his posts", then I counter myself trying to give some justification for reading his posts along the lines of "well, he might not have substance in his claims but you must remain open-minded and at least read what he is saying".

Every single time I let the counter-side take over I've regretted it because I always feel disappointed for having wasting my time on yet another one of his typical and incoherent expositions.

gue to give him another chance, maybe this time he'll have something substantive to say and every single time I've felt that

rank sophist said...

As it is obvious that the likes of Dennett, the Gnus, and the usual scientistic types are, implicitly and usually explicitly, committed to positions that are not radically relativist and anti-realist. Their cult of science would loose most of what force it had if they did hold such positions.

Therefore, aside from their general nonsensical and incoherent nature, Touchstone's arguments appear, as I noted before, to have no place in response to this article.


Actually, Touchstone is toeing the party line. People like Dennett and Churchland make arguments nearly identical to his. As a result, they, too, must necessarily endorse the radical subjectivism and relativism discussed here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is certainly correct they make arguments that would lead in this direction. The thing is that they cannot let themselves be led in this direction. Their cult of science, their overwhelming faith in the scientific method and the findings of modern science, which is at the centre of the thought of Dennett and the Churchlands, would be, logically, overthrown if they went down that path.

David T said...

If we stipulate that all I know directly is "representation of photons", do you suppose that fact denies the existence of those photons, somehow that the things being represented do not exist? Again, that just doesn't follow. It's transcendental by language. If the representations have nothing to represent, they cannot be, by definition, representations at all!

If you really believe that last sentence, then you've just provided a proof for the existence of God. Since we have a representation of God in Thomistic philosophy, God must exist! Well, no, because representations may represent nothing but what is in our own minds. Hallucinations, etc.

All you know is that you have a representation. A representation of what? You don't know, since all you know is P[X] and not X. The fact that you call it a "representation of a photon" doesn't give you a magic way to bridge that epistemological chasm.

Anonymous said...

That is one reason the Gnus and the scientistic are not overly friendly towards the likes of Derrida and post-modern idiocy.

It is quite ironic though, when you consider someone like Dawkins, who one minute is attacking post-modern relativism and the next minute is endorsing the work of Susan Blackmore that must lead towards undermining faith in the scienfitic method itself.

Touchstone said...

@David T,

Well, no. According to your theory, what we know and deal with is P[B], our percept. I'm not going to say "percept of the ball", because your theory doesn't allow you to say any such thing.

It doesn't matter what it is, per your objection. It's a percept, a stimulus from outside. Something inbound that I do not already have in mind. Doesn't matter (here) if it's a ball, a chicken, or a Pink Floyd album, or any other thing. It is *something* appearing to me, and must be, else, there would not be any percept, NOTHING TO PERCEIVE.

By granting I have P[B], extra-mental reality is established. Doesn't matter what is in the brackets P[anything], P[something] presupposes a referent, something external to the mind. If that weren't true, then I have no percept.

The best you can say is P[X], where X necessarily remains mysterious, because any attempt to further identify X must be done in terms of percepts, in other words some P[Y].
Initially yes. To the extent we have no working models, and only percepts -- an infant-like state? early fetus? -- that's true. But that's what maps do. They discriminate between As and Bs and Cs based on differential inputs, and develop models that provide discrimination, classification and interpretation of our percepts. A blue ball (or initially, something appearing-to-me "this way" as opposed "that way" which is the way a red ball would be appearing-to-me is *different*, distinguishable to me, prior to any commitments I might make in terms of classification or labeling. The photon dynamics of a blue ball on the table under the kitchen light are different than the dynamics of a red ball. And I know this at the percept level, without having to even consider "blue" vs. "red". So my knowledge may be more primitive at that stage, but I have this knowledge: *this* percept is different from *that*.
You have no direct access to B to be able to say that P[B] is a percept of B. Similarly, "optic nerves" and "thalamus" are themselves percepts, so you can't say the thalamus is the interface between B and P[B], only that some P[Y] appears to be an interface between some P[X] and a P[Z]. This was all conclusively established by Kant hundreds of years ago.
Appearances are the raw material of knowledge. Your objection only holds if you are going to insist on extra-physical certain gnosis. We work from a position of ignorance and uncertainty towards knowledge more confidence in that knowledge based on the realist metaphysical axiom -- an extra-mental reality exists and is intelligible to some degree via our experiences.

You won't find me arguing for the kind of certainty or gnosis you are demanding here. We are confronted by stimuli, full stop. What to make from that stimuli? Well, analytically, if there are stimuli, there must be something extra-mental to generate a stimulus, because if there were not, stimulus would not be stimulus. There would be nothing to serve as "input" for us. This is the same reasoning that neutralizes arguments for solipsism: if nothing outside my mind exists, there can't be anything new to experience, because if I had it in my mind already, it wouldn't be new to my mind.

As to distinguishing red ball from blue ball, or any extra-mental phenomenon from any other extra-mental phenomenon, we don't begin with or end with certainty. We develop models that perform to some degree, better or worse as the basis for our confidence in the concepts, classifications and interpretations we embrace in our minds.

Kant (among others) demolished many illusions about epistemic certainty, and well that he did. That was never a requirement, or an aspect at all in my argument or views here.

-TS

Anonymous said...

This right here is part of the problem:

Do you suppose those photons bouncing off the ball and into my eyes are themselves interpretations? If so, interpretations of what? They are just physical phenomena, aren't they, just photons being photons? Interpretation begins with those phenomena as the foundation.

Give his commitment to scientism he has elevated - in this particular case - physical theory to that of the 'objective' while he will gladly reject anything not pertinent to his materialism as 'subjective'. A dualism that began with modern philosophy.

This touches on a previous point I made. While in reality what touchstone (along with his ilk) is a relativist, he nonetheless finds it imperative to construct smoke and mirrors as so to fool us along with himself into thinking that somehow 'objectivity' may be had given his ontology. The truth is, it cannot obtain by any stretch of the imagination. Thus, the logical conclusion of a radical rejection of teleology, intelligibility and a consequent collapse into materialism has as an inevitable destination the cave of solipsism.

That's why I so crudely asked touchstone yesterday...

How the fuck do you get to ontology from your epistemology?

David T said...

Initially yes. To the extent we have no working models, and only percepts -- an infant-like state? early fetus? -- that's true. But that's what maps do. They discriminate between As and Bs and Cs based on differential inputs, and develop models that provide discrimination, classification and interpretation of our percepts.

Right, discrimination, classification and interpretation of our percepts, which are P[A], P[B] and P[C], not A,B and C. This is Kant's point and what Dennett never gets. Your models are not models of A,B, and C, but models of P[A], P[B] and P[C] and how they relate to each other. And it's actually worse than that for a lot of reasons (for example, how do you know that P[X] is a representation of one distinct thing in reality rather than a representation of several things at once?)

Anonymous said...

I come to almost the opposite conclusion to Anonymous 5:28 PM.

I think the likes of Touchstone are materialists and worshipers of a science that think is basically objective and realist. They simply fall back on relativism and epistemic modesty as a tactic when they are underpressure to support their position and feel they can't do it any other way.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that many of the arguments they put forward logically lead in the direction that Anonymous 5:28 PM mentions.

Touchstone said...


(1) A system of "this means that" associations obtains its meaning by reference to the outside of the system.

Let's use "subsystem" and "System" as Glenn used them to avoid confusion here. The semantic graph -- all of the resources that contribute to meaning -- are internal to "The System"; that is, by "System", I mean the set that encompasses all the resources in the semantic graph. This is a tautology.

A "subsystem" is just some part of the System, and is wholly internal to it. A subsystem can be any part of the System we can agree on calling such (e.g. brain, dictionary, tree rings).

Inside the System, resources inside of a subsystem may derive their semantics from resources external to that subsystem. Even so, the "external" resources to that subsystem are necessarily part of The System.
(2) Our brains are systems of "this means that" associations.
To avoid problems like we had above:

(2) Our brains are subsystems of "this means that" associations.

(3) Our brains reduce all outside input, even pre-conscious, to this system.

Right, but:
(3) Our brains reduce all outside input, even pre-conscious, to this subsystem.

As I said earlier, the photon is not the thought, the percept is not the photon.

(4) Mental processes are totally within the system.

Rectified to our more precise usages:

(4) Mental processes are totally within the System.

(5) The concept "outside of the system" is totally within the system.
(5) The concept "outside of the System" is totally within the System.

(6) The referent for the concept "outside of the system" cannot be known except by reduction to the system.
Must be restated as "outside the System". "outside the subsystem" is not problematic. " "outside the System" is incoherent. See my reference earlier to the concept of "ultranorth" -- 1 km due north of the North Pole. As a concept, it's System internal. The referent of that concept is undefined, though.

(7) Therefore, the referent for the concept "outside of the system" is always already part of the system.
Oops, no. There is no reference for that concept - "outside the System". The concept is System-internal. It's an incoherent concept, though. It doesn't map to anything, has no referent. See "ultranorth".

-TS

goddinpotty said...

Oy, you people are extremely confused. Let me take a swing at explaining the way the world is. I think I'm in broad agreement with Touchstone, but maybe have a slightly different perspective to offer.

There is an objective physical reality. Our knowledge of it is necessarily (definitionally) subjective. But, due to the wonders of natural selection, these subjective percepts are reasonably good representations of the outer objective reality. "Good" here is meant pragmatically, which is very similar but not identical to accuracy. Because of their origins in nautual selection, tThey aren't perfect, and exploring their imperfections, from optical illusions to cognitive biases, is a very good technique to investigate how the machinery works.

Culture and science are in effect a further leveraging of our ability to improve our imperfect representations. Science has instruments to measure reality better than our senses, and statistical and social mechanisms to correlate and filter and model these observations into even better descriptions of objective reality. But yes, in some sense all we have to work with are representations, we don't get to perceive reality directly. I think your typical scientist would not consider this fact very important, it's just part of their working life, and if they are lucky or smart they get to build a better picture than the guy in the next lab. Let the philsophers worry about it.

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,

(con't)

.
(8) Therefore, the system's outside is unknowable or non-existent.

It's as knowable as "ultranorth" is navigable. "Unknowable" and "non-existent" give the concept too much credit. "outside the System" is just incoherent. I would agree that an incoherent concepts do not have knowable referents, but the primary limitation here is not epistemic, a matter of knowability, but conceptual incoherence. It's not a meaningful phrase, "outside the System", given out terms here. Same is true on a physics level for "outside the universe" or "before time".

(9) Therefore, the meaning of the system is unknowable or non-existent.

Yes, meaning obtains *inside* the System, and must, by definition, because any resources that contribute to any meaning are part of the System, by tautology. The aim of "meaning of the System" is confused -- there are no referents or relations to provide any context for meaning -- but "meaning within the System" is not, as that refers to relationship arcs between nodes internal to the system that reify meaning, internal to the System

I cannot navigate my way to "ultranorth", a point in space 1km due north of the North Pole. "Due north" is incoherent in that context, even though "due north" from Lyon, France is not. You are struggling with an incoherent concept, and that problem is yours, not mine, because I'm beating the drum as loud as I can on this end to the tune that "meaning of the System" is incoherent, and "meaning within the System" is not. You can hear me or not, but as you have it, your (9) is not true, but not as an epistemic problem, but rather because your concept you are deploying is incoherent, and is unknowable by virtue of being confused.

I've not argued for anything like (9), nor have I held it's anything more than a divide-by-zero conceptually.

If you look back at the "computer simulation" comment, I dealt with this problem before your reductio, here: "What is the Distance of the simulation"? It's a context error; "distance" there is meaningful as a relationship between the (virtual) locations of the (virtual) objects, but "distance" is not meaningful at the level of the simulation or program itself. Meaning obtains internally to our world, but "meaning" is not a meaningful concept for the System as a whole. If there was "meaning of the System" by virtue of something external to it, our "System" would then subsume anything external, and again enclose all semantic resources.

That concept cannot be rescued. Any definition of "System" that on principle encloses all semantic resources entails that the "System" cannot be meaningful on reference to things external to it. It is, by definition, all inclusive, semantically.

-TS

Anonymous said...

@anon 5:45

The funny thing is, either you look at it my way or your way, their actions are indicative of a pathology of schizophrenia.

Touchstone said...

This touches on a previous point I made. While in reality what touchstone (along with his ilk) is a relativist, he nonetheless finds it imperative to construct smoke and mirrors as so to fool us along with himself into thinking that somehow 'objectivity' may be had given his ontology. The truth is, it cannot obtain by any stretch of the imagination. Thus, the logical conclusion of a radical rejection of teleology, intelligibility and a consequent collapse into materialism has as an inevitable destination the cave of solipsism.
MUAHHAHAHA! Fear my smoke and mirrors!

Oy.


That's why I so crudely asked touchstone yesterday...

How the fuck do you get to ontology from your epistemology?

I don't in any sense or depth the Thomist would recognize.

Fundamental particles are what they are (for now). If we can go deeper, and find reducible componentry and internal dynamics for what we now call elemental particles and fundamental forces, then the substructures and subdynamics that come out that are the new baseline, the new brute facts of nature.

As it is, though, beyond fundamental particle types being different (and if string theory at some point) becomes testable and performs against strong tests, even these fundamental particles are all just 'strings' oscillating in different modes and harmonics) brute (they is what they is), "types" are conventions describing similarities and affinities among particulars. This is similar (and because of this nominal ontology) the reason "species" in evolution is fundamental problematic. Similarities between individuals can be adduced, but every individual is a "type unto itself", or rather, fundamentally untyped, and a bundle of concrete particulars. If every instance is a separate type, "type" is meaningless. We use "species" to great effect to refer to phenomenological similarities, "buckets" that collect phenomena that are alike enough in their particulars for us to what to refer to them as a set. Even "individual" is a conventional distinction, however useful it may be (and it's very useful), as there's nothing we can identify that is intrinsic to that particular pattern beyond our ability to distinguish it discretely from other patterns.

It's a mimimalist, scientific ontology. It's a nominal ontology (hence the name). It's arrived at by look at natural models that work, and match our experience, and looking for attributes and features of those descriptions and models that cannot be reduced to more fundamental components. That leaves us with elementary particles and fundamental forces.

-TS

Bullpup said...

Yeah, this whole affair is getting pretty ridiculous now. I think this is related to the general New Atheist style of argument: so long as you never, ever admit you're wrong and, more importantly, you keep right on talking, the hope is that you'll eventually convince people that you're actually right. Richard Carrier is actually a pretty good example of this, as are most of the guys over at Debunking Christianity (where Touch hails from). The problem is, it actually tends to only work on the slow or the already-convinced.

So yeah, the result is that there's only an illusion of a conversation to be had with someone like Touch. Anything you point out to them that refutes their position, or pointing out how their own position self-refutes, is in practice ignored. But man oh man it doesn't stop them from talking.

rank sophist said...

It doesn't matter what it is, per your objection. It's a percept, a stimulus from outside.

What is "outside"? Can't be known; can't be defined; can't even be said to exist.

It is *something* appearing to me, and must be, else, there would not be any percept, NOTHING TO PERCEIVE.

Says who? That sounds like a logical argument, Touchstone. Don't you know that, under your system, logic is just another system of signs? It isn't prior to signification: it builds out of it. As a result, you can't use logic to get out of this mess without begging the question.

rank sophist said...

(1) A system of "this means that" associations obtains its meaning by reference to the outside of the system.
Let's use "subsystem" and "System" as Glenn used them to avoid confusion here. The semantic graph -- all of the resources that contribute to meaning -- are internal to "The System"; that is, by "System", I mean the set that encompasses all the resources in the semantic graph. This is a tautology.


Fine. So we have subsystem1 ("this") and subsystem2 ("that").

(2) Our brains are systems of "this means that" associations.
To avoid problems like we had above:

(2) Our brains are subsystems of "this means that" associations.


Even clearer: "Our brains run on subsystem1."

(4) Mental processes are totally within the system.
Rectified to our more precise usages:

(4) Mental processes are totally within the System.


This is a non sequitur. Mental processes are wholly within subsystem1, since they derive all of their material from percepts. Otherwise, you support an emergentism by which the mind possesses properties not reducible to the brain, and by which the mind is in fact immaterial.

(5) The concept "outside of the system" is totally within the system.
(5) The concept "outside of the System" is totally within the System.


Wrong. The concept "outside of subsystem1" is totally within subsystem1.

(6) The referent for the concept "outside of the system" cannot be known except by reduction to the system.
Must be restated as "outside the System". "outside the subsystem" is not problematic.


Actually, the referent for the concept "outside of subsystem1" cannot be known except by reduction to subsystem1.

(7) Therefore, the referent for the concept "outside of the system" is always already part of the system.
Oops, no. There is no reference for that concept - "outside the System".


The referent for the concept "outside of subsystem1" is always already part of subsystem1.

I've not argued for anything like (9), nor have I held it's anything more than a divide-by-zero conceptually.

Of course you haven't argued for it. It's an absurd state of affairs. That's why my argument is a reductio of your premises.

David T said...

GP,

But, due to the wonders of natural selection, these subjective percepts are reasonably good representations of the outer objective reality

The problem is there isn't any question-begging way to establish this. The only way to know if the subjective percepts are "reasonably good representations" is to compare them with what they represent. But we have no access to reality other than through the percepts, so we are stuck with Kant's distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal.

Bullpup said...

rank sophist,

Says who? That sounds like a logical argument, Touchstone. Don't you know that, under your system, logic is just another system of signs? It isn't prior to signification: it builds out of it. As a result, you can't use logic to get out of this mess without begging the question.

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the very question of whether or not something is "perceiving" yet another thing about which there is no fact of the matter, but a thing that is itself interpreted? So the very act of "having a percept" is itself something that takes place only upon interpretation.

Hence, "Bob is perceiving (anything at all)" or even "Bob is perceiving" would itself be something that is true or false only subject to interpretation. Am I correct, rank?

rank sophist said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the very question of whether or not something is "perceiving" yet another thing about which there is no fact of the matter, but a thing that is itself interpreted? So the very act of "having a percept" is itself something that takes place only upon interpretation.

Hence, "Bob is perceiving (anything at all)" or even "Bob is perceiving" would itself be something that is true or false only subject to interpretation. Am I correct, rank?


Yep. Even the very idea of perception would be a mere interpretation under Touchstone's system. All of the premises that he used to reach his conclusion--all "objective" science, "percepts" and so on--would be made incoherent.

Touchstone said...

Right, discrimination, classification and interpretation of our percepts, which are P[A], P[B] and P[C], not A,B and C. This is Kant's point and what Dennett never gets. Your models are not models of A,B, and C, but models of P[A], P[B] and P[C] and how they relate to each other.
No, that, again, is to confuse the map with the territory. Our percepts are the inputs we use to inform and constrain our models, but we are not modeling the percepts, but the things we suppose give rise to our percepts. Our maps are not built, and cannot work, as a "map of maps", but a map that takes as axiomatic the existence, and to some degree, the "mappability" of an extra-mental territory.

And it's actually worse than that for a lot of reasons (for example, how do you know that P[X] is a representation of one distinct thing in reality rather than a representation of several things at once?)
We don't, without any further basis for discriminating between two or more alternatives. If a phenomenon is underdetermined, it's underdetermined. We don't have a principled basis for privileging one distinction over another. Such are our epistemic limitations, mediated and constrained by our senses. This is as Kantian a point as can be made. Kant went from there to supposing that because we are so epistemically constrained, reality must be bigger than what we can ascertain through the "indirect porthole" of our senses. "More", per Kant, can't be ruled out, and should be assumed.

Perhaps, wily characters that we are, instrumental methods can be developed that provide disambiguation and validation of one hypothesis over competing ones. All to our knowledge benefit, if so. But there's no promise or guarantee to be had that our model building will be exhaustively precise and supremely confident, ever.

We build what knowledge we can demonstrate to be knowledge, and what knowledge we are without, we do without.

-TS

rank sophist said...

No, that, again, is to confuse the map with the territory. Our percepts are the inputs we use to inform and constrain our models, but we are not modeling the percepts, but the things we suppose give rise to our percepts. Our maps are not built, and cannot work, as a "map of maps", but a map that takes as axiomatic the existence, and to some degree, the "mappability" of an extra-mental territory.

This simply begs the question, yet again.

David T said...

No, that, again, is to confuse the map with the territory. Our percepts are the inputs we use to inform and constrain our models, but we are not modeling the percepts, but the things we suppose give rise to our percepts.

I'm not confused. The magic has now been hidden under the word "suppose", for there is no way in your system to have any idea how reality gives rise to our percepts - any attempt to do so must itself be cast in perceptual terms and therefore beg the question.

But I'm game for a try here. How do you suppose that something, anything, gives rise to a percept? Mind you, you can't use any percepts in the explanation, for then you are just explaining how a percept gives rise to a percept.

Touchstone said...

What is "outside"? Can't be known; can't be defined; can't even be said to exist.
Wrong, can't be denied to exist. It's new to the mind. It's external to the mind. If it wasn't, there'd be nothing to process. Whether it's a ball, or Ferrari is irrelevant to the direct knowledge of new-and-thus-external. If one is "aware" of something, what particular something it might be is not pertinent to that appearance itself being a something, something the mind does not already have within it. Perceptions in motion entail something "outside".


Says who? That sounds like a logical argument, Touchstone. Don't you know that, under your system, logic is just another system of signs? It isn't prior to signification: it builds out of it. As a result, you can't use logic to get out of this mess without begging the question.

Signification can only *be* signification if it is predicated on logic. Without the first principle "A=A", the law of identity -- and I'm not referring to the syntactic sugar we apply to connect "A" as a symbol to something else, but to the underlying concept of identity that enables "sign" or "relation" or "association" to obtain on top of it -- signifying can't signify.

If A=A (the concept, not the symbols we use to point to the concept) is not first in place, a pointer can't point. There's nothing to signify from or to, no representation. Representation presupposes the concept of identity (and the law of non-contradiction and law of excluded middle as well, but one fundamental at a time, here).

I'd be interested to see where you found a materialist - or anyone else for that matter -- argue for relationships between entities PRIOR to the concept of identity, which is what "entity" depends on. It can't be the case. Identity and non-contradiction are transcendental for any system of representation or signification.

I'm sure we can identify heuristic that are productive, generative based on any system of signs such that we'd call that "logical". Math proofs, for example, require symbolics to obtain. But prior to any of that -- fundamental logic concepts, like the LNC, LoI, LEM -- must be in place. No signifying, no representation, no relations, no math, unless those are operative. Any logic that is derivative of signs does not remove the dependence of signification itself on the fundamental concepts of logic.

-TS

David T said...

It's external to the mind. If it wasn't, there'd be nothing to process

You do realize this is a purely metaphysical assertion and, furthermore, utterly fails the falsification principle you have long insisted on?

Anonymous said...

@touchstone

MUAHHAHAHA! Fear my smoke and mirrors!

But that’s precisely what I’ve been accusing you of (spare me the shadow game gimmicks). So once you're faced with the truth that exposes you and your epistemological nihilism you resort to sarcasm?

Hehe. Ok.

Fundamental particles are what they are (for now). If we can go deeper, and find reducible componentry and internal dynamics for what we now call elemental particles and fundamental forces, then the substructures and subdynamics that come out that are the new baseline, the new brute facts of nature.

It has been explained to you time and time again that this thing you refer to as a particle is subjective interpetation. Kant repudiates that you have any knowledge of what the thing-in-itself is and spends hundreds of pages developing his ideas. In similar vain derrida explains how your subjective convention referred as “fundamental particle” is itself based on yet another convention, namely a percept… So your model of theory meets sense experience is susceptible to his refutation from both horns. The 'sense' just like the 'fundamental particle' are both annihilated under the authority and discourse of relativistic 'text' (to use a post-modern term)

I understand physical theory. I don’t need it said back to me. That’s not what I asked though.

(Your reductionism as quine showed is an article of faith, I hope you realize that. So the question that is begging to be asked, how do you know that the ontology we find ourselves in is fundamentally reductionistic? No circular pragmatic excuses please)

As it is, though, beyond fundamental particle types being different (and if string theory at some point) becomes testable and performs against strong tests, even these fundamental particles are all just 'strings' oscillating in different modes and harmonics) brute (they is what they is), "types" are conventions describing similarities and affinities among particulars. This is similar (and because of this nominal ontology) the reason "species" in evolution is fundamental problematic. Similarities between individuals can be adduced, but every individual is a "type unto itself", or rather, fundamentally untyped, and a bundle of concrete particulars. If every instance is a separate type, "type" is meaningless. We use "species" to great effect to refer to phenomenological similarities, "buckets" that collect phenomena that are alike enough in their particulars for us to what to refer to them as a set. Even "individual" is a conventional distinction, however useful it may be (and it's very useful), as there's nothing we can identify that is intrinsic to that particular pattern beyond our ability to distinguish it discretely from other patterns.

I also understand the absurdities that follow from nominalism. You’re still not answering my question.

(not to mention that nominalism here is merely asserted as opposed to justified)

Anonymous said...

@touchstone


It's a mimimalist, scientific ontology. It's a nominal ontology (hence the name). It's arrived at by look at natural models that work, and match our experience, and looking for attributes and features of those descriptions and models that cannot be reduced to more fundamental components. That leaves us with elementary particles and fundamental forces.


It’s a reductionistic materialism. Why are you dragging science into this? Science is not a possession of the materialist. Further, given nominalism and materialism science is of no use as a means to discover reality for reasons already explained to you for which you have not provided not the slightest of a response.

In this paragraph you simply describe a methodology based on an uncritical and unrealistic commitment to materialism.

Honestly, do you think you’ve answered my question? Do you think you’ve answered how you are able to escape your epistemological nihilism and deduce truths about reality?

Reductionism, fundamental particles, science, minimalism, moninalism, bundles etc are all subjective interpretations that have absolutely no relationship to the world (given your metaphysical and epistemological commitments). For your epistemology, pace modernism, denies you access to it. The thing-in-itself is forever lost.

Do you not see this?

Anonymous said...

@touchstone

Do me a favor and answer this question for me...

Are you here trolling the shit out of us for a laugh? Or doing some sort of avante garde comedic art that you will collage responses from users into a piece that you will present to our friends later on?

Or are you serious about what you're saying and honest about your intentions of having at least some sort of discussion with people who disagree with you?

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,


This simply begs the question, yet again.


No, that idea is privileged by parsimony.

If I am aware, I exist (cogito). Awareness entails existence.

To account for awareness, multiple conjectures can be entertained.

(1) I am a brain in a vat somewhere, merely imagining my experiences.
(2) This all a computer simulation.
(3) My senses are veridical, and extra-mental reality obtains according to my senses.
(4) I am all that exists.

These are impossible to falsify (and other conjectures can be considered and added to the list, and have the same feature), so in a basic sense we have underdetermination. But (3) is parsimonious among the competitors, as it is economical by positing that things are what they are. (1) has to account for all appearances that (3) does, but additionally must account for the vat, the context of the vat, and the mechanisms that generate all the appearances (3) accepts directly.

(2) has the same problem. In addition to the minimal set of evidences to explain that (3) accounts for by identity (they are what they appear to be), we need an explanation for the 'system that produced the system'. We need to posit not just a transcendent computing platform, but dynamics in that platform that account for all the appearances we accept directly in (3).

In addition, (3) accepts reality on a more direct, apparent, immediate, intuitive basis than the alternatives, another form of economy that we use to distinguish among otherwise underdetermined choices. It's less esoteric, abstract and contrived.

All other things being equal, then, (3) is the clear choice by parsimony.

-TS

Bullpup said...

I think we've gone from the part of the conversation where it's merely annoying to have to keep pointing out the same failings that Touchstone is making, to it just plain being sad to watch him. You can more and more see the obvious frustration in his responses: "Why isn't this working? I've refused to admit I was wrong! I keep writing long responses! I'm being sarcastic! Why are they laughing me off and pointing out the same flaws over and over again? Haven't they realized I won't admit it?! Why won't they drop it and pretend they haven't refuted me!?"

I think it may be because he's used to fellow atheists nodding their heads in agreement with whatever he says, so when he steps out of the echo chamber it's a shock to his system. "I can't be wrong. Five guys who will agree with me so long as the conclusion is that theism is wrong all agreed with me whenever I talked about this! They said they read and understood what I said!"

Just... sad.

Touchstone said...

@David T,

You do realize this is a purely metaphysical assertion and, furthermore, utterly fails the falsification principle you have long insisted on?


No, it's not metaphysical, but tautological. If it's new, it entails externality. That's what "new" means. That doesn't hazard any commitments about reality, but rather just clarifies and upholds what is meant by "I", and "my mind". If I am "becoming aware" of something, I am necessarily in a state of becoming with respect to that something. Even if I suppose, "it's something from my subconscious", that just proves the principle as well -- it's not part of my consciousness prior to "becoming aware" (hence the "sub-").

There is metaphysics in the concept of "I", but given that, any sense experience, anything I become aware of, is by definition external-to-I.

On falsifiabiity, falsifiability is an epistemic quality of natural knowledge. The solipsistic conjecture operates at a metaphysical level, and is by virtue of that out of scope for natural knowledge. Natural knowledge accepts as axiomatic that the real world exists outside the mind and is somewhat intelligible, which is the grounds for the principle of falsification in science and natural epistemology. One must posit an authoritative externality in order to ground any judgement of "falsified" for a mental model that seeks isomorphisms with that external reality.

-TS

Josh said...

Touchstone,

If I am aware, I exist (cogito). Awareness entails existence.

That rests on a prior axiom: res sunt, things exist.

On that point, your rhetoric has taken a strange turn. I'm curious if you'd agree with a few things:

1) Things exist.
2) These things are directly perceivable by us (in the case of sense objects)
3) The thing in the mind is the same as the thing outside it (requirement for knowledge)
4) We know some of these things through ideas

and

5) These ideas are that by which we know these things, not that which we know directly (a la Locke; crucial point here)

Trying to make sure you aren't simply a confused Realist, as Gilson thought most philosophers were.

rank sophist said...

Touchstone,

The ideas of "external", "new", "different" and so forth are inside of the subsystem. They have no relation to an "outside". Same with "new experiences": these are always already "signs" within the subsystem, and they do not and cannot refer beyond it. They only refer to further "signs" in the subsystem.

Also, an appeal to the law of identity clearly begs the question. How, exactly, do we know that this mysterious, non-existent "outside" follows the law of identity? Kant's noumena didn't even exist in time--that was our own creation. Derrida's "noumena" don't even exist, and so cannot be said to follow any logical laws at all. Where do you get the idea that computationalism's noumena will turn out better?

Finally, an appeal to parsimony also begs the question. What is "parsimony"? Just abother sign. It has no relation to anything "outside". In fact, it has no certain relation to anything inside, since its meaning is now totally relative. You can't invoke it without assuming what's being debated--namely, objective meaning and an "outside".

rank sophist said...

Also, Derrida was not a solipsist, but a skeptical idealist. You can't use your anti-solipsism arguments against him, because all of their premises are undermined from the start. Your only option is to ditch computationalism wholesale.

David T said...

TS,

I understand exactly what you are saying, but clarifying your definitions doesn't make it so. Just because you say you are "becoming aware" of something doesn't mean your philosophy actually supports it, or that because you call something new, it actually is, or because you define "territory" to be reality it actually is. You are just hiding magic under all these definitions and redefinitions. The fact is your philosophy allows that the mind is aware of P[X], and anything it constructs - maps, terroritories or otherwise - is constructed of P[X] and not X, because the mind has no direct awareness of X, only P[X]. Even the mind's view of itself is a function of P[X] and not X, as Kant showed.

So, a red ball on the table has photons bouncing off it into my eye. This is a percept for me, B is the ball and P[B] is my percept of the ball. B is external to my brain, and P[B] is internal to it

When you write things like this, you take for granted that "Red ball on the table", "photons", "eye" are statements about reality, but only magic allows that to be so. What "ball" is to us is some P[X], and any statement about balls on tables is actually a statement about P[X], not X, because you allow us no direct cognitive access to X. Simply defining novel terms about the situation ("territory" vs "map") does nothing to address the problem.

rank sophist said...

Another great post, David. Unfortunately, I think Touchstone has pulled his signature vanishing act. Not too surprising, given the refutations being passed around in here by so many people.

Glenn said...

Touchstone,

>@Glenn

>> I think Touchstone may feel inclined to happily seize
>> on Poincare's saying that geometrical axioms are
>> conventions, and try to tie this in with his earlier remarks
>> about interpreter-dependent meanings. But in doing so
>> (if he were to do so), he would be making a (possibly
>> intentional)mistake. For Poincare didn't merely say
>> that geometrical axioms are conventions, but that they
>> are conventions limited by the necessity of avoiding
>> every contradiction.

> As I said to Josh, the object of my E and R example was
> not to offer E, R or any geometry as a model for meaning
> or intentionality here, but rather as an easy example of
> related frameworks with incompatible definitions and
> concepts. The "folly" of no parallel lines in R from E's
> parochial perspective was the crux -- this was not an
> examination of meaning or intentionality in geometry
> frameworks.

> To apply Poincaré's observations in your quote to this,
> if you don't have a way to test a framework, whether it
> is Euclidean Geometry or Thomism or Keynesian
> economics, you don't have any basis for "true", where
> 'true' obtains as an isomorphism to the real world.

An interesting response.

To apply Poincaré's observations to your application of Poincaré's observations to my quote, one way of testing a framework is checking to see how well it avoids contradictions. Strangely, however, you implicitly if not explicitly deny that contradictions are to be avoided.

Some while ago you went on and on about the value of performative models and how results from these models are to be fed back in to the models in order that their output might be tweaked and refined, and thusly made increasingly useful.

Yet despite the fact that valuable feedback regarding the (let us be charitable and say) loose results of your 'models' has been constantly submitted by various commenters, this valuable feedback has been dismissed, rejected and not at all utilized to tweak and refine your 'outputs'.

If it be taken as a rule that consistency is an admirable quality, then that your consistency consists of continuously denying both the presence and detriment of contradictions serves well in showing that the rule has at least one notable exception.

(Ere you contemplate the retort of "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds", consider this: a) you are in the camp which holds that the development of computers can be advanced to the point that computers may be legitimately said to have minds in the same sense that humans have minds; b) the successful operability of computers depends on consistency on several very real, fundamental and meaningful levels; c) ergo, you are in the camp which looks forward to the day that computers will have what are disparagingly referred to as little minds.)

Glenn said...

Anonymous @August 31, 2012 5:05 PM,

I understand what you are saying, and appreciate the diligence you exercise.

If my boldness will be forgiven, I should like to note that though the pouncability of materialism is not unreal, it is not likely to be reduced if Touchstone should come to relinquish the positions you yourself no longer hold. There also is the additional 'danger' that his intractability may pry open some ports better left closed. I don't mean to suggest a reduction in reading or responding to him, just that there be a comfortable clarity as to what might expected from doing so.

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,

The ideas of "external", "new", "different" and so forth are inside of the subsystem.

No, they are not. If I am at time t1 aware of X, and at time t-1 was not aware of X, this new stimulus is external, by definition, because if I already had X in mind, there is no X as a stimulus. Any motion or change from outside my consciousness is new, and must be external, else I'd already be aware of it.

The concept of "new" is not the new thing. That is to confuse (again!) the concept of the thing and thing itself. I can think about the concept of a visual stimulus, but that concept is NOT the visual stimulus itself.

They have no relation to an "outside".
Yes, they do, because there are unknown "inside". That's what "outside" denotes -- not currently "inside".

Same with "new experiences": these are always already "signs" within the subsystem, and they do not and cannot refer beyond it. They only refer to further "signs" in the subsystem.
See above, you are confusing the stimulus with our concept of stimulus. Thinking about seeing as opposed to seeing. The only basis for our consciousness in the first place is our awareness, and it doesn't matter what, ultimately, we are aware of. Awareness entails other-than-self, external somethings.


Also, an appeal to the law of identity clearly begs the question. How, exactly, do we know that this mysterious, non-existent "outside" follows the law of identity?

Because we can't make headway cognitively without using that concept. It's axiomatic, not justified. We cannot process signs or symbols without a prior commitment to the concept of identity.

Kant's noumena didn't even exist in time--that was our own creation. Derrida's "noumena" don't even exist, and so cannot be said to follow any logical laws at all. Where do you get the idea that computationalism's noumena will turn out better?
Computationalism just says "meh" on the question of noumena. In a representational realist frame, the "true" nature of things-in-themselves is computationally out of scope. That doesn't deny the reality of what gets computed, it just shrugs at the idea that there is more thing-in-itself than can be obtain through the modes of input and output we have available to us. In one sense, this recapitulates Derrida's idea, by way of saying that noumena by definition are "out of scope". As far as that framework is concerned, it doesn't exist, even if a subscriber to the idea would grant that philosophically, computationalism cannot pretend to have an exhaustive set of modes for understanding things in the world. If such features of reality exist, and they may, computationalism won't capture or integrate them.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@rank sophist,

Finally, an appeal to parsimony also begs the question. What is "parsimony"? Just abother sign.
It doesn't beg the question, if by 'the question' you mean the existence of an extra-mental reality. The word "parsimony" is a symbol, but the operative dynamic is the underlying concept that it points to, a heuristic that prefers economy, and understand what you don't need, you don't need. Given a set of underdetermined hypotheses, the hypothesis that requires less adicity, functional complexity and ontological complexity is preferred BECAUSE it achieves parity with the other candidates more economically.

It's a heuristic. When confronted with underdetermination, one either makes no choice, makes an arbitrary choice, or prefers economy. In building models iteratively (incorporating our experiences back in as feedback loops that inform revisions to our models), parsimony has a good track record. So, other things being equal, we prefer it.

It has no relation to anything "outside".
It does, at least indirectly. If you have hypotheses H1, H2, H3, and H4, all entertained as explanations for interpreting external stimuli (and thereby we are dealing with something extra-mental), parsimony is heuristic for dealing with underdetermination from the available hypotheses. That means parsimony is a 'tie-breaker' for interpretations of input from the outside.

In fact, it has no certain relation to anything inside, since its meaning is now totally relative. You can't invoke it without assuming what's being debated--namely, objective meaning and an "outside".
As above "outside" is a transcendental. The question cannot be begged on that issue, as the questioning itself presupposes an "outside". It's not rational to ask "does anything exist?", because asking such presupposes the existing of the question and and the questioner (it is rational to ask "what exists?" as that does not have to evade the existence of the question and questioner).

On objectivity, it's not a requirement, or even a coherent concept at that level. If parsimony does not prove a useful heuristic for model-arbitration, I can abandon it. If I take the veridicality of extra-mental reality as axiomatic, and my senses as sufficiently veridical to build models with render that extra-mental reality intelligible to some degree, then that is my commitment to the objectivity of "outside", and parsimony is just a tool in the toolbox that helps me choose well in cases when hypotheses are underdetermined.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@David T,

I understand exactly what you are saying, but clarifying your definitions doesn't make it so. Just because you say you are "becoming aware" of something doesn't mean your philosophy actually supports it, or that because you call something new, it actually is, or because you define "territory" to be reality it actually is. You are just hiding magic under all these definitions and redefinitions.

No, "territory" is just "extra-mental", and this is transcendental necessary as a concept. I cannot be aware, or become aware, of anything, no matter what I of it, without presupposing external-to-I. Maybe my awareness is wholly illusory, and not representative of 'reality as it actually is'. At the point of awareness, and forming interpretive positions on incoming stimuli, I know, unquestionably, transcendentally that I am dealing with "external". My philosophy supports it because that cannot be otherwise.

The fact is your philosophy allows that the mind is aware of P[X], and anything it constructs - maps, terroritories or otherwise - is constructed of P[X] and not X, because the mind has no direct awareness of X, only P[X]. Even the mind's view of itself is a function of P[X] and not X, as Kant showed.
Yes, sure. But building models of extra-mental reality, even if we are just entertaining that idea for kicks, produces different models than models for the percept themselves.

A simple example of this would be the principle of the persistence of objects. If I'm modeling ONLY on the percepts as the only fact of the matter, my physics will not be able to model a ball rolling off the table, out of sight for a moment or two, then back into sight as it rolls across the floor. There is no red ball when it is "out of sight", "out of perception". There is no basis for persistence, on percepts alone.

But if we conjecture that our percepts are isomorphic to an actual object, governed by actual physical constraints, THEN we have not only a explanation for persistence, we have an entailed prediction for what we should see in terms of the ball 'reappearing' in our percepts after it rolls off the edge of the table and out of view.

The flaw in "we just model percepts" is even more basic than that. On a percept-only level, even the rolling of the ball is not "the rolling of the ball". It's a similar chunk of an image moving frame-by-frame (so to speak), but there's no basis at a percepts-only level to even suspect that they are related. It's just percepts. If there's not a REQUIREMENT that the model take as its object external entities and behaviors, there's nothing to model. No explanation about any of our percepts is any better than any other.

It's ONLY when the percepts are treated as clues and indications of an external reality that a model can be built that actually *is* a model. If you doubt it, try it! Take some given set of image inputs (like frames from a movie of the ball rolling across the table) and build a model, JUST ON THE SEQUENCE OF IMAGES, without making reference to any external objects or dynamics. Just a moment or two trying to do that will make the folly of P[X] as the final territory we are modeling.

-TS

Bullpup said...

And around and around the carousel goes...

Touchstone said...

@David T,
(con't)


When you write things like this, you take for granted that "Red ball on the table", "photons", "eye" are statements about reality, but only magic allows that to be so.

You'll have to provide me with your definition of "magic", because that doesn't align at all with any sense of the term I'm aware of. Here's the first line on 'magic' from Wikipedia:

Magic is the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation, ceremony, ritual, the casting of spells or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature

What is happening is model building and testing. I am confronted with stimuli, and I evaluate various conjectures about what the stimulus might indicate, represent, or mean. I might suppose that a visual chunk of red in my field of view which is consistent in size and color, but is moving steadily from left to right is a "thing". That may not be right, but if I consider that, I understand that such a hypothesis would account for a part of the stimuli I am trying to render intelligible. A thing that is red-appearing is moving from here to there as time elapses.

The efficacy of this process is seen just by considering alternatives. If I don't conjecture something as a starting hypothesis, or draw upon an existing model I have in my head, then.... WHAT? I have stimuli appearing-to-me. I can close my eyes, I guess. But if I want to pursue the sensibility of this stimulus, I will have to conjecture *something*. Percepts just as percepts won't explain anything. They are only significant if there is something behind them. That's the only 'raw materials' I have available for rendering my stimuli sensible.

The basis for your questions here seem to be predicated on an infinite regress of justification. If I were to say, "here's why it has to be a red ball", the next question, of course is, "but why do those reasons obtain"? And on and on. That cannot be the process, because it's non-terminating.

Instead, we conjecture, we PROVISIONALLY take on various ideas about what our stimuli might mean, if anything, and how it is related, if it is, to other parts of our experience, and we test those provisionally adopted ideas to see how they fare. We are all scientists at the core, and this is an anchored process because we do not have any need for justifying our conjectures; they are just possibilities we might entertain to see how they perform in practice.

Which means that "taking for granted" is "considering provisionally" as the predicate for evaluation. This is how knowledge building works -- see the practice of science. I might suppose the baseball that is appearing-to-me is NOT real and thus no threat, despite a calculated trajectory that looks to bring it close to my head. That's my prerogative, no justification of 'taking for granted' needed. But if I get a black eye as a result of that experience, I'm likely to judge "the ball isn't real" a non-performing hypothesis.

What "ball" is to us is some P[X], and any statement about balls on tables is actually a statement about P[X], not X, because you allow us no direct cognitive access to X. Simply defining novel terms about the situation ("territory" vs "map") does nothing to address the problem.
If we only have P[X], and cannot suppose or impute the existence of external realities that account for P[X] occurring as they do, we cannot get off the ground at all. We cannot take even a first step toward knowledge. It's required that we postulate objects and dynamics ( external to P[X] if we are do be able to do anything at all with P[X], because that external dynamics are the target of the model, the thing(s) being modeled. Modeling happens *through* percepts, not ON percepts as brute appearances.

-TS

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