June 26, 2019

I have said this many times before in different ways and as part of different posts, but I thought I would explicitly make this point on its own. Natural Law Theory and the essentialism upon which it depends, as part of a Thomistic/Catholic philosophy, depends on the negation of nominalism, and depends on the clarity of categories. Without these, the whole project falls apart. I wrote about this in my previous post:

Natural Law Theory (NLT) is an ethical theory derived from the thinking of people such as Thomas Aquinas that attempts to establish that humans, for example, have an ideal form or essence that dictates how they should act. The form of a particular species of bird is that it has feathers, a beak, two eyes, can fly, has a particular colouration and so on. The essence of a bird can be described by listing, one assumes, its properties. There is, in reality (so they would say), some objective notion of what these properties are.

For all of these thinkers, literally everything has this kind of essence, though those essences will differ between things. The idea that homosexual humans (I use this as an example, many other properties could also be used) are morally wrong is derived from the notion that they have an essence, a natural form, to which they should adhere, but do not. A good badger is a badger that most resembles the essence of a badger. A good human is a human who most resembles the nature or essence of a human. Homosexuals or some other group of supposedly morally bad people are morally bad because homosexuality is not a property of the human essence, or essential property.

To confuse matters, we could subcategorise humans in terms of male and female as well. In fact, one of the problems with essentialism and Thomistic philosophy is that you could subcategorise anything further and further to create more and more essences until you eventually have an individual instantiation of a thing. For example, you could subcategorise humans into males and females. But why not continue with other categories? Age, hair colour, size, geographical distribution, skin colour and so on but each of these categories could be sliced and diced even further. Who gets to define the categories? Of course, such advocates of NLT or Thomism would say that God gets to define this, but how do we know what those categories are? We can look around us at the natural world, but as I have at length set out before, categorising the natural world in light of evolution is utterly problematic.

There were some good comments on the piece. For instance:

Since almost everyone goes through a phase in childhood where they lie, should we categorize those who don’t go through that phase as unnatural or wrong?

and

They seem to allow variation in physical characteristics but not in mental characteristics.

I guess we should take some comfort in the fact that they’re only partially bigots. It’d be much worse if such Thomists also happened to see a dark skin color or epicanthal folds as “intrinsically disordered.”

Evolutionarily, of course, its the pale skinned humans (with a mix of neanderthal genes, no less) which adhere the least to what we might think of the essential, original (physical) form of homo sapiens. Something I take great joy in thinking about, when considering white supremacists. The folks arguing loudly about ‘mongrels’ turn out to be the mongrels. Oh, thank you nature for that delicious turn. :)

Nominalism, or conceptual nominalism, is the denial of such categories as abstract entities; such categorisations are invented by humans and exist only in our minds for pragmatic reasons. The simple fact of the matter is that we can invent and do invent any category we want. We categorise foetus through baby, infant, toddler, child, adolescent through to adult, pensioner and so on.

The simplified development of a human.

But it doesn’t mean that these stages have objective existence. I could invent any category I want but it doesn’t mean I magic that delineated category into existence. As I wrote in my book The Little Book of Unholy Questions (UK – presently on offer):

424. Many argue that there is no such thing as objective morality, because any idea is subjective, as I will set out. Abstract ideas (such as objective morality) do not and cannot exist objectively. It is anthropocentric to imagine they do. Imagine a more intelligent alien life-form comes to earth and sees a table. They have somehow not invented tables. This table is not a table to them. In other words, a table only has properties that make it a table within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items – i.e. tableness. Without humans existing on earth, for example, ‘tables’ would not exist. Thus the label of ‘table’ is a result of ‘subjectively human’ evolution. If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. For example, a ‘forqwibllex’ is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have ‘made-up’). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does – have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc. Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned ‘mental labels’, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively. Furthermore, there are items that have multiple abstract properties which create more headaches for the objectivist. A table, to me, might well be a territory marker to the school cat. Surely they same object cannot embody both objective existences: the table and the marker. Therefore, the question, God, is: do abstract ideas exist outside of the subjective mind of the thinking entity?

425. In what location do these abstracts exist?

426. What happens when we argue over the properties of an object / family of objects? I say a ‘hero’ has properties x, you disagree and say heroes have properties y. Who is right, and which abstract objectively exists?

The whole enterprise comes down to arguing that God must then design, create and thus define these categories. That is the only way to properly establish these categories in any objective fashion because we clearly can’t do it subjectively. This isn’t, then Natural Law Theory, but Divine Law Theory whereby things don’t arise naturally but under the guidance and resulting from the will and creative input of God.

As such, this all comes down to epistemology. How do we know a) what the categories are (human or homo sapiens, but not homo australopithecus, for example) and b) what the properties for each of those categories would be (homosexuality, lying as a kid, lying for the greater good – to stop a murder, etc.). And I am not sure that the only viable source of data on this, the Bible, is at all clear.

So, how does the Thomist navigate the epistemological minefield of essentialism? Do they, themselves, subjectively define the categories and properties to which we must adhere? It looks rather similar to the project of subjective morality!

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October 21, 2017

I have written about nominalism quite a number of times, both here at the blog and in my books (most recently in Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument). For those of you unfamiliar with the topic, let me briefly explain:

Abstract Objects

Abstract objects are incredibly important aspects within the context of philosophy. They include all of the labels and categories of things (tokens). These types are abstract. So, for example, a chair is both the token (actual chair) and the type (an abstract labeling as such). This can include numbers, universal ideas like redness, ideas like courage and justice, and even individual humans, such as Jonathan Pearce.

Because of their very nature, in being abstract, they can cause headaches for physicalism (and naturalism) and causality. Ever since the Greek times, there has been the famous problem known as the Problem of Universals. This deals with the problem in defining what the properties of objects are, ontologically speaking (i.e., what existence they have). Universals are common (universal) properties contained by more than one object. Two cars and a ball being red – what is redness? How can these different objects have an identical property and is that property real or in the mind of the conceiver, or indeed, contained within speech? Are these abstract objects and universals causally potent? Can redness take a position in a causal chain or relationship?

Platonism (realism)

Realists claim that these abstracta are real – that they exist in some tangible way. Plato, from whom the term came, believed that universals, like redness, existed separately from the particular objects (particulars) which contained said property. Platonic realism states that such entities exist independently from the particular, as opposed to Aristotelian realism states that the universals are real but dependent on the particulars.

Some arguments propose that, in order to have truth value in statements, universals must exist, such that “This apple is red” implies that the universal of redness exists for the proposition to be truthful.

One fundamental issue for such theories is: where is the locus of these universals? Where can they be found and what is their ontology?

Nominalism

Nominalism stands in stark contrast to realism in that the adherents state that only particulars exist, and not universals. Properties of particular objects can account for eventual similarity between objects (such as the green of grass and the green of a painted wall). Universals do not exist.

Conceptualism is sometimes called conceptual nominalism, such that universals and abstracts exist, but only in the individual minds of the conceivers (as concepts). (German) Idealism is close to this (think Kant, Hegel and Schelling) in believing universals to be in the minds of rational beings.

Nominalism can become VERY in-depth and confusing (when talking about the different types such as trope theory and resemblance theory). My opinion is that the discussions are crucial to the rest of metaphysics; it is just unfortunate that the discussion can be quite dry and dull. Here is an excerpt from the wiki entry on nominalism:

Nominalism arose in reaction to the problem of universals, specifically accounting for the fact that some things are of the same type. For example, Fluffy and Kitzler are both cats, or, the fact that certain properties are repeatable, such as: the grass, the shirt, and Kermit the Frog are green. One wants to know in virtue of what are Fluffy and Kitzler both cats, and what makes the grass, the shirt, and Kermit green.

The realist answer is that all the green things are green in virtue of the existence of a universal; a single abstract thing that, in this case, is a part of all the green things. With respect to the color of the grass, the shirt and Kermit, one of their parts is identical. In this respect, the three parts are literally one. Greenness is repeatable because there is one thing that manifests itself wherever there are green things.

Nominalism denies the existence of universals. The motivation for this flows from several concerns, the first one being where they might exist. Plato famously held, on one interpretation, that there is a realm of abstract forms or universals apart from the physical world (see theory of the forms). Particular physical objects merely exemplify or instantiate the universal. But this raises the question: Where is this universal realm? One possibility is that it is outside of space and time. A view sympathetic with this possibility holds that, precisely because some form is immanent in several physical objects, it must also transcend each of those physical objects; in this way, the forms are “transcendant” only insofar as they are “immanent” in many physical objects. In other words, immanence implies transcendence; they are not opposed to one another. (Nor, on this view, would there be a separate “world” or “realm” of forms that is distinct from the physical world, thus shirking much of the worry about where to locate a “universal realm”.) However, naturalists assert that nothing is outside of space and time. Some Neoplatonists, such as the pagan philosopher Plotinus and the philosopher Augustine, imply (anticipating conceptualism) that universals are contained within the mind of God. To complicate things, what is the nature of the instantiation or exemplification relation?

Conceptualists hold a position intermediate between nominalism and realism, saying that universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality.

Moderate realists hold that there is no realm in which universals exist, but rather universals are located in space and time wherever they are manifest. Now, recall that a universal, like greenness, is supposed to be a single thing. Nominalists consider it unusual that there could be a single thing that exists in multiple places simultaneously. The realist maintains that all the instances of greenness are held together by the exemplification relation, but this relation cannot be explained.

Finally, many philosophers prefer simpler ontologies populated with only the bare minimum of types of entities, or as W. V. Quine said “They have a taste for ‘desert landscapes.’” They attempt to express everything that they want to explain without using universals such as “catness” or “chairness.”

As ever, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on nominalism is great – here.

As is the SEP entry on abstract objects – here.

As is the superb SEP entry on properties found here.

Other useful SEP entries are Challenges to Metaphysical Realism, Platonism in Metaphysics, and the wiki entry on the Third Man Argument (an argument from Plato that shows an incoherent infinite regress in relational universals, which can be found in the SEP here).

How the area is relevant to the philosophy of religion – Craig and the Kalam

DidGodCreatetheUniverseI have written in the aforementioned book that largely deals with the idea of nominalism and how it affects the Kalam Cosmological Argument. As I set out in a post a few weeks back, this excerpt starts to set out the importance of nominalism/realisn to the debate:

Firstly, the only thing, it can be argued, that “has begun to exist” is the universe itself (i.e. all the matter and energy that constitute the universe and everything in it). Thus the first premise and the conclusion are synonymous—the argument is entirely circular.

So how do I establish that the only thing which has begun to exist is the universe? We may think that things like tables, chairs, humans, rocks, lemmings and so on exist. Well, they do in one sense (an arrangement of matter/energy), but in the sense of the abstract labels of “rock” or “chair”, they are exactly that, abstract labels. Their existence, in Platonic terms, as some kind of objective entity, requires the philosophical position of (Platonic) realism. Platonic realism, in simple terms, is the position that universals such as redness or doghood and abstractions (kinds, characteristics, relations, properties etc.) are not spatial, temporal or mental but have a different ontology, existing separately from the objects which instantiate such properties.[ii] The opposite position to this is nominalism, which can mean the denial of the existence of these abstract labels in some sense.

For example, in order for the statement “John Smith is a gardener” to hold a truth value, there must be some existence property defined by “gardener” such as “gardenership”. This universal is different from the instance of the universal property found in John Smith. This is not a position that Craig adheres to. All we have on a nominalist or conceptualist worldview (as opposed to realist) is a transformative coming into existence. What this means is that what makes the chair, the molecules and atoms, already existed in some form or other before the “chair” came to be. So the matter or energy did not “begin to exist”. This merely leaves the label of “chair”.

The nominalist, as stated, adopts a position which denies the existence of universals, such as redness or gardenership, and claims that only individuals or particulars exist. Conceptualism or conceptual nominalism, on the other hand, is a position which claims that universals only exist within the framework of the thinking (conceiving) mind. Most philosophers agree that abstract objects are causally inert, by definition. This means that, at best, the abstract label is unable to have causal power anyway (regardless of its ontology).

To illustrate this, let’s now look at the “label” of “chair” (in a very cogent way, all words are abstractions that refer to something or another, but nominalists will say that these abstractions, or the relationship between them and the reference points, do not exist, out there, in the ether). This is an abstract concept, I posit, that exists, at most, only in the mind of the conceiver. We, as humans, label the chair abstractly and it only means a chair to those who see it as a chair—i.e. it is subjective. The concept is not itself fixed. My idea of a chair is different to yours, is different to a cat’s and to an alien’s, as well as different to the idea of this object to a human who has never seen or heard of a chair (early humans who had never seen a chair, for example, would not know it to be a chair. It would not exist as a chair, though the matter would exist in that arrangement). I may call a tree stump a chair, but you may not. If I was the last person (or sentient creature) on earth and died and left this chair, it would not be a chair, but an assembly of matter that meant nothing to anything or anyone.[iii] The chair, as a label, is a subjective concept existing in each human’s mind who sees it as a chair. A chair only has properties that make it a chair within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human-derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items—i.e. chairness. The ascription of these properties to another idea is arguable and not objectively true in itself. Now let’s take an animal—a cat. What is this “chair” to it? I imagine a visual sensation of “sleep thing”. To an alien? It looks rather like a “shmagflan” because it has a “planthoingj” on its “fdanygshan”. Labels are conceptual and depend on the conceiving mind, subjectively.

What I mean by this is that I may see that a “hero”, for example, has properties X, Y and Z. You may think a hero has properties X, Y and B. Someone else may think a hero has properties A, B and X. Who is right? No one is right. Those properties exist, in someone, but ascribing that to “heroness” is a subjective pastime with no ontic reality, no objective reality.

This is how dictionaries work. I could make up a word: “bashignogta”. I could even give it a meaning: “the feeling you get when going through a dark tunnel with the tunnel lights flashing past your eyes”. Does this abstract idea not objectively exist, now that I have made it up? Does it float into the ether? Or does it depend on my mind for its existence? I can pass it on from my mind to someone else’s using words, and then it would be conceptually existent in two minds, but it still depends on our minds. What dictionaries do is to codify an agreement in what abstract ideas (words) mean, as agreed merely by consensus (the same applies to spelling conventions—indeed, convention is the perfect word to illustrate the point). But without all the minds existing in that consensus, the words and meanings would not exist. They do not have Platonic or ontic reality.

 Thus the label of “chair” is a result of human evolution and conceptual subjectivity (even if more than one mind agrees).

If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. Without wanting to labour my previous point, a “forqwibllex” is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have “made-up”). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does—have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc. Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned “mental labels”, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label as such (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively. Furthermore, there are items that have multiple abstract properties which create more headaches for the objectivist. A chair, to me, might well be a territory marker to the school cat. Surely the same object cannot embody both objective existences: the table and the marker! Perhaps it can, but it just seems to get into more and more needless complexity.

When did this chair “begin to exist”? Was it when it had three legs being built, when 1/2, 2/3, 4/5, 9/10 of the last leg was constructed? You see, the energy and matter of the chair already existed. So the chair is merely a conceptual construct. More precisely a human one. More precisely still, one that different humans will variously disagree with.

Let’s take the completed chair. When will it become not-a-chair? When I take 7 molecules away? 20? A million? This is sometimes called the paradox of the beard / dune / heap or similar. However, to be more correct, this is an example of the Sorites Paradox, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. It goes as follows. Imagine a sand dune (heap) of a million grains of sand. Agreeing that a sand dune minus just one grain of sand is still a sand dune (hey, it looks the same, and with no discernible difference, I cannot call it a different category), then we can repeatedly apply this second premise until we have no grains, or even a negative number of grains and we would still have a sand dune. Such labels are arbitrarily and generally assigned so there is no precision with regards to exactly how many grains of sand a dune should have.

This problem is also exemplified in the species problem which, like many other problems involving time continua (defining legal adulthood etc.), accepts the idea that human categorisation and labelling is arbitrary and subjective. The species problem states that in a constant state of evolving change, there is, in objective reality, no such thing as a species since to derive a species one must arbitrarily cut off the chain of time at the beginning and the end of a “species’” evolution in a totally subjective manner. For example, a late Australopithecus fossilised skull could just as easily be labelled an early Homo skull. An Australopithecus couple don’t suddenly give birth to a Homo species one day. These changes take millions of years and there isn’t one single point of time where the change is exacted. There is a marvellous piece of text that you can see, a large paragraph[iv] which starts off in the colour red and gradually turns blue down the paragraph leaving the reader with the question, “at which point does the writing turn blue?” Of course, there is arguably no definite and objectively definable answer—or at least any answer is by its nature arbitrary and subjective (depending, indeed, on how you define “blue”).

So, after all that, what has begun to exist? A causally inert abstract concept.

You see, once we strip away the labels and concepts, all we have left is matter and energy which is only ever involved in what has been called transformative creation, meaning it doesn’t begin to exist, but is being constantly reformed throughout time. It only began to exist at the Big Bang or similar (in Craig’s model).

So where does this leave us? The implications are twofold. Firstly, as Grünbaum illustrates, with all effects being merely transformative creations (i.e. nothing comes into existence but is transformed from already existing matter or energy), then we have an equivocation of the term cause. In Premise 1 we are talking about transformative causality, whereas in the conclusion we are talking about creation ex nihilo or creation out of nothing.

What I eventually go on to show is the further ramifications of this:

This has some fairly crucial implications for the KCA necessitating a reformulation as follows:

1) The universe that begins to exist has a cause for its existence;

2) The universe begins to exist;

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

If we then project the syllogistic changes from Section 3.1 over this reformulated syllogism then we get an even more tautologous and incoherent argument:

1) The universe that begins to exist has the universe as the causal condition for its existence.

2) The universe began to exist.

3) Therefore, the universe had the universe as a causal condition for its existence.

For this and other reasons, sorting out the abstracts debate is crucial as to whether the KCA holds.

Other relevant arguments

But nominalism is not restricted, in its relevance, to the KCA alone. It is pertinent to pretty much all areas of philosophy and theology that are connected to metaphysics. Let’s take morality. This is the ultimate abstract idea. Many religionists believe in an absolute, objective morality. However, if they fail to give a coherent account of objective, realist abstracta, then their account of objective morality falls apart.

This is replaying Kant’s thoughts about ding an sich – things-in-themselves. These things refer to nuomenon as opposed to phenomenon. The noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation.

We, as subjective minds, cannot access a thing-in-itself – say, a chair. We cannot know the chair since we are not the chair. We merely subjectively interpret it, its properties and its chairness. That is the best we can hope for. In this way, all experience is necessarily subjective. This has knock-on effects to truth or fact, depending on how we define them. What is the true colour of a fox? Well, it depends on who the observer is. The fox merely has properties – that much could be “objectively” (with caveats) established, at a fundamental level. But how those properties ontologically manifest is dependent on the sensor.

Even if God existed, and had some ideal moral law, it could only ever be interpreted subjectively. Moreover, there is little coherent way that it could be a  law in the Platonic sense – some floating ethereal thing out there in the ether. Objective morality fails from the very outset in that there cannot be “objective” – the metaphysical notion of these universal abstracta is flawed.

This is the case for any number of ideas, such as human rights. I have long argued that human rights don’t exist objectively, that they are conceptually constructed by human minds and codified into laws or charters. People argue over them – you only have to look at freedom of speech and hate speech to see the difficulty in defining such nebulous abstracta – and these arguments are reflective of the subjective properties of such ideas.

Any abstract notion (and there are so many) that theologians invest their time in expounding, explaining and re-jigging falls into the scope of arguments concerning nominalism. Theologians assume the building bricks and construct logical arguments therefrom. But if the building blocks literally don’t exist, then the edifices are equally fictive. Morality, atonement, and so on…

We live our lives as though this abstract reality really does exist alongside us, but that reality is inside our collective minds. The realisation of this is fundamentally terminal for much of what religion is based on – the ontic reality of metaphysics. Without a coherent case for some kind of ontic realism, then the basic foundations of religion and theology disappear, evaporating into conceptually, subjectively constructed phenomena.

October 13, 2017

As many of you will know, I have recently written a new book concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument), which has had some cracking reviews. This post is an extract from the book that looks at the term “universe” and one of my favroutie topis: nominalism.DidGodCreatetheUniverse

The Kalam, as most commonly formulated is:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence

So, over to the book:

3.2 Nominalism and “everything” being “the universe”

Authors of the KCA, such as Craig, see the argument as dealing with the beginning of existence of all discrete objects as being the set described by the term “everything”. In other words, a chair, a marble, a dog and a mountain all begin to exist and have causes for their respective existences. This would be, admittedly, the commonsense understanding of the ontology of these objects—that they begin to exist at a particular point in time from having not existed at a previous point in time. What I am going to set out is very similar to one of Adolf Grünbaum’s objections that he set out in his 1990 essay “The pseudo-problem of creation in physical cosmology “.[i]

The problem for the KCA is the definition of “everything”. My claim is that everything is in fact “the universe” itself. As Grünbaum states:

…consider cases of causation which do involve the intervention of conscious fashioners or agents, such as the baking of a cake by a person. In such a case, the materials composing the cake owe their particular state of being in cake-form partly to acts of intervention by a conscious agent. But clearly, the very existence of the atoms or molecules composing the cake cannot be attributed to the causal role played by the activity of the agent. Thus, even if we were to assume that agent-causation does differ interestingly from event-causation, we must recognize that ordinary agent-causation is still only a transformation of matter (energy).…

Even for those cases of causation which involve conscious agents or fashioners, the premise does not assert that they ever create anything out of nothing; instead, conscious fashioners merely TRANSFORM PREVIOUSLY EXISTING MATERIALS FROM ONE STATE TO ANOTHER; the baker creates a cake out of flour, milk, butter, etc., and the parents who produce an offspring do so from a sperm, an ovum, and from the food supplied by the mother’s body, which in turn comes from the soil, solar energy, etc. Similarly, when a person dies, he or she ceases to exist as a person. But the dead body does not lapse into nothingness, since the materials of the body continue in other forms of matter or energy. In other words, all sorts of organization wholes (e.g., biological organisms) do cease to exist only as such when they disintegrate and their parts are scattered. But their parts continue in some form.

We can, here, start to see an issue with the idea, in the first premise, of things beginning to exist with the notion of transformative creation as mentioned previously. We have already discussed how all causes can be reduced to a single cause. Now I will set out, as Grünbaun hints at, to show that “everything” is a term which also refers to a singular object.

Firstly, the only thing, it can be argued, that “has begun to exist” is the universe itself (i.e. all the matter and energy that constitute the universe and everything in it). Thus the first premise and the conclusion are synonymous—the argument is entirely circular.

So how do I establish that the only thing which has begun to exist is the universe? We may think that things like tables, chairs, humans, rocks, lemmings and so on exist. Well, they do in one sense (an arrangement of matter/energy), but in the sense of the abstract labels of “rock” or “chair”, they are exactly that, abstract labels. Their existence, in Platonic terms, as some kind of objective entity, requires the philosophical position of (Platonic) realism. Platonic realism, in simple terms, is the position that universals such as redness or doghood and abstractions (kinds, characteristics, relations, properties etc.) are not spatial, temporal or mental but have a different ontology, existing separately from the objects which instantiate such properties.[ii] The opposite position to this is nominalism, which can mean the denial of the existence of these abstract labels in some sense.

For example, in order for the statement “John Smith is a gardener” to hold a truth value, there must be some existence property defined by “gardener” such as “gardenership”. This universal is different from the instance of the universal property found in John Smith. This is not a position that Craig adheres to. All we have on a nominalist or conceptualist worldview (as opposed to realist) is a transformative coming into existence. What this means is that what makes the chair, the molecules and atoms, already existed in some form or other before the “chair” came to be. So the matter or energy did not “begin to exist”. This merely leaves the label of “chair”.

The nominalist, as stated, adopts a position which denies the existence of universals, such as redness or gardenership, and claims that only individuals or particulars exist. Conceptualism or conceptual nominalism, on the other hand, is a position which claims that universals only exist within the framework of the thinking (conceiving) mind. Most philosophers agree that abstract objects are causally inert, by definition. This means that, at best, the abstract label is unable to have causal power anyway (regardless of its ontology).

To illustrate this, let’s now look at the “label” of “chair” (in a very cogent way, all words are abstractions that refer to something or another, but nominalists will say that these abstractions, or the relationship between them and the reference points, do not exist, out there, in the ether). This is an abstract concept, I posit, that exists, at most, only in the mind of the conceiver. We, as humans, label the chair abstractly and it only means a chair to those who see it as a chair—i.e. it is subjective. The concept is not itself fixed. My idea of a chair is different to yours, is different to a cat’s and to an alien’s, as well as different to the idea of this object to a human who has never seen or heard of a chair (early humans who had never seen a chair, for example, would not know it to be a chair. It would not exist as a chair, though the matter would exist in that arrangement). I may call a tree stump a chair, but you may not. If I was the last person (or sentient creature) on earth and died and left this chair, it would not be a chair, but an assembly of matter that meant nothing to anything or anyone.[iii] The chair, as a label, is a subjective concept existing in each human’s mind who sees it as a chair. A chair only has properties that make it a chair within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human-derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items—i.e. chairness. The ascription of these properties to another idea is arguable and not objectively true in itself. Now let’s take an animal—a cat. What is this “chair” to it? I imagine a visual sensation of “sleep thing”. To an alien? It looks rather like a “shmagflan” because it has a “planthoingj” on its “fdanygshan”. Labels are conceptual and depend on the conceiving mind, subjectively.

What I mean by this is that I may see that a “hero”, for example, has properties X, Y and Z. You may think a hero has properties X, Y and B. Someone else may think a hero has properties A, B and X. Who is right? No one is right. Those properties exist, in someone, but ascribing that to “heroness” is a subjective pastime with no ontic reality, no objective reality.

This is how dictionaries work. I could make up a word: “bashignogta”. I could even give it a meaning: “the feeling you get when going through a dark tunnel with the tunnel lights flashing past your eyes”. Does this abstract idea not objectively exist, now that I have made it up? Does it float into the ether? Or does it depend on my mind for its existence? I can pass it on from my mind to someone else’s using words, and then it would be conceptually existent in two minds, but it still depends on our minds. What dictionaries do is to codify an agreement in what abstract ideas (words) mean, as agreed merely by consensus (the same applies to spelling conventions—indeed, convention is the perfect word to illustrate the point). But without all the minds existing in that consensus, the words and meanings would not exist. They do not have Platonic or ontic reality.

 Thus the label of “chair” is a result of human evolution and conceptual subjectivity (even if more than one mind agrees).

If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. Without wanting to labour my previous point, a “forqwibllex” is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have “made-up”). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does—have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc. Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned “mental labels”, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label as such (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively. Furthermore, there are items that have multiple abstract properties which create more headaches for the objectivist. A chair, to me, might well be a territory marker to the school cat. Surely the same object cannot embody both objective existences: the table and the marker! Perhaps it can, but it just seems to get into more and more needless complexity.

When did this chair “begin to exist”? Was it when it had three legs being built, when 1/2, 2/3, 4/5, 9/10 of the last leg was constructed? You see, the energy and matter of the chair already existed. So the chair is merely a conceptual construct. More precisely a human one. More precisely still, one that different humans will variously disagree with.

Let’s take the completed chair. When will it become not-a-chair? When I take 7 molecules away? 20? A million? This is sometimes called the paradox of the beard / dune / heap or similar. However, to be more correct, this is an example of the Sorites Paradox, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. It goes as follows. Imagine a sand dune (heap) of a million grains of sand. Agreeing that a sand dune minus just one grain of sand is still a sand dune (hey, it looks the same, and with no discernible difference, I cannot call it a different category), then we can repeatedly apply this second premise until we have no grains, or even a negative number of grains and we would still have a sand dune. Such labels are arbitrarily and generally assigned so there is no precision with regards to exactly how many grains of sand a dune should have.

This problem is also exemplified in the species problem which, like many other problems involving time continua (defining legal adulthood etc.), accepts the idea that human categorisation and labelling is arbitrary and subjective. The species problem states that in a constant state of evolving change, there is, in objective reality, no such thing as a species since to derive a species one must arbitrarily cut off the chain of time at the beginning and the end of a “species’” evolution in a totally subjective manner. For example, a late Australopithecus fossilised skull could just as easily be labelled an early Homo skull. An Australopithecus couple don’t suddenly give birth to a Homo species one day. These changes take millions of years and there isn’t one single point of time where the change is exacted. There is a marvellous piece of text that you can see, a large paragraph[iv] which starts off in the colour red and gradually turns blue down the paragraph leaving the reader with the question, “at which point does the writing turn blue?” Of course, there is arguably no definite and objectively definable answer—or at least any answer is by its nature arbitrary and subjective (depending, indeed, on how you define “blue”).

So, after all that, what has begun to exist? A causally inert abstract concept.

You see, once we strip away the labels and concepts, all we have left is matter and energy which is only ever involved in what has been called transformative creation, meaning it doesn’t begin to exist, but is being constantly reformed throughout time. It only began to exist at the Big Bang or similar (in Craig’s model).

So where does this leave us? The implications are twofold. Firstly, as Grünbaum illustrates, with all effects being merely transformative creations (i.e. nothing comes into existence but is transformed from already existing matter or energy), then we have an equivocation of the term cause. In Premise 1 we are talking about transformative causality, whereas in the conclusion we are talking about creation ex nihilo or creation out of nothing. As Grünbaum reasons[v]:

Since the concept of cause used in the conclusion of the argument involves creation out of nothing, we see that it is plainly different from the concept of cause in the premise. And for this reason alone, the conclusion does not follow from the premise deductively.

This amounts, then, to a fallacy of equivocation whereby the author is using two distinct meanings of the same term in a syllogism. This makes the argument logically invalid or fallacious.

The second ramification of this line of argument is that it means that the term “everything” is actually synonymous with “the universe”, with the universe being a set of finite energy and matter that has remained, in accordance with the Law of the Conservation of Energy, constant over time. We have agreed, then, that abstract concepts might begin to exist, but these are causally inert and do not exist objectively—only in the minds of the conceiver. One can then take this a step further and claim that, for a whole host of reasons (most of which I will not get into now), mental conceptions supervene on physical matter. That means that my mental states, and all the abstract concepts which they obtain, depend on the physical. One simple way of knowing this is whether my mental concept of a chair remains the same if I was to stick a fork into my eye and through into my brain. Our consciousness, in some way, is dependent on our brains states and matter. If you don’t believe me, try it out.

So that leaves matter and energy, which have existed for all of time because they are, in effect, the universe itself (as is time, when understood as spacetime). It is not that the universe is “made up” of lots of matter and energy making it something, it simply is a quantity of matter and energy. We can refer back to our previous talk of conceptual nominalism. The “universe” is not some distinct thing from what it is made up. “Universe” is an abstract concept made up by humans to refer to “everything”. Everything in existence that we can observe, that we can infer, and so on. This has some fairly crucial implications for the KCA necessitating a reformulation as follows:

1) The universe that begins to exist has a cause for its existence;

2) The universe begins to exist;

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

If we then project the syllogistic changes from Section 3.1 over this reformulated syllogism then we get an even more tautologous and incoherent argument:

1) The universe that begins to exist has the universe as the causal condition for its existence.

2) The universe began to exist.

3) Therefore, the universe had the universe as a causal condition for its existence.

As we can plainly see, if we delve into the actual meaning of these terms and input these definitions back into the syllogism we are presented with an argument that amounts to little more than nonsense.

One could claim, however, that this argument relies at least partially on the establishment of nominalism, conceptualism or some other form of non-realism in order to work. To this we shall now turn.

[i] Adolf Grünbaum’s objections that he set out in his 1990 essay “The pseudo-problem of creation in physical cosmology “.

[ii] Aristotelian realism proposes that universals, such as redness, exist but are contingent upon the objects which instantiate them (such as a red apple).

[iii] Wittgenstein, in his later thought, would have claimed meaning in a word from its use. This of course hints at no objective overarching meaning for groups of things, but meaning derived from each individual usage of language in each context. If anything, this plays into the point I am making. Things only have meaning to the conceiver, thus don’t ‘exist’ objectively outside the mind of the conceiver, as abstract ideas.

[iv] This text is variously available online. I picked it up from: http://www.christianforums.com/t7536666/#post56778897 (Accessed 09/12/2015)

[v] Grünbaum (1989)

November 4, 2015

I am a conceptual nominalist, which I explain to some extent here. One of my favourite images to explain this is below. Also good for explaining the species problem, which reflects or exemplifies the nominalism/realism debate.

sorites

 

February 18, 2013

So having posted the Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions meant. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

The second question, having covered a priori in the last post, the next question in the survey was:

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?

Accept or lean toward: Platonism 366 / 931 (39.3%)
Accept or lean toward: nominalism 351 / 931 (37.7%)
Other 214 / 931 (23.0%)

So what are abstract objects? What are Platonism and nominalism?

Abstract Objects

Abstract objects are incredibly important aspects within the context of philosophy. They include all of the labels and categories of things (tokens).These types are abstract. So, for example, a chair is both the token (actual chair) and the type (an abstract labeling as such). This can include numbers, universal ideas like redness, ideas like courage and justice, and even individual humans, such as Jonathan Pearce.

Because of their very nature, in being abstract, they can cause headaches for physicalism (and naturalism) and causality. Ever since the Greek times there has been the famous problem known as the Problem of Universals. This briefly deals with the problem in defining what the properties of objects are, ontologically speaking (ie, what existence they have). Universals are common (universal) properties contained by more than one object. Two cars and a ball being red – what is redness? How can these different objects have an identical property and is that property real or in the mind of the conceiver, or indeed, contained within speech? Are these abstract objects and universals causally potent? Can redness take a position in a causal chain or relationship?

Platonism (realism)

Realists claim that these abstracta are real – that they exist in some tangible way. Plato, from whom the term came, believed the universals, like redness, existed separately from the particular objects (particulars) which contained said property. Platonic realism states that such entities exist independently from the particular, as opposed to Aristotelian realism states that the universals are real but dependent on the particulars.

Some arguments propose that, in order to have truth value in statements, universals must exist, such that “This apple is red” implies that the universal of redness exists for the proposition to be truthful.

The problems for such theories are where is the locus of these universals? Where can they be found and what IS their ontology?

Nominalism

Nominalism stands in stark contrast to realism in that the adherents state that only particulars exist, and not universals. Properties of particular objects can account for eventual similarity between objects (such as the green of grass and the green of a painted wall). Universals do not exist.

I am unsure as to whether the philpapers survey included conceptualism in the ‘other’ category or not, since conceptualism is sometimes called conceptual nominalism, such that universals and abstracts exist, but only in the individual minds of the conceivers (as concepts). (German) Idealism is close to this (think Kant, Hegel and Schelling) in believing universals to be in the minds of rational beings.

Nominalism can become VERY in depth and confusing (when talking about the different types such as trope theory and resemblance theory). My opinion is that the discussions are crucial to the rest of metaphysics, it is just unfortunate that the discussion can be quite dry and dull. Here is an excerpt from the wiki entry on nominalism:

 

Nominalism arose in reaction to the problem of universals, specifically accounting for the fact that some things are of the same type. For example, Fluffy and Kitzler are both cats, or, the fact that certain properties are repeatable, such as: the grass, the shirt, and Kermit the Frog are green. One wants to know in virtue of what are Fluffy and Kitzler both cats, and what makes the grass, the shirt, and Kermit green.

The realist answer is that all the green things are green in virtue of the existence of a universal; a single abstract thing that, in this case, is a part of all the green things. With respect to the color of the grass, the shirt and Kermit, one of their parts is identical. In this respect, the three parts are literally one. Greenness is repeatable because there is one thing that manifests itself wherever there are green things.

Nominalism denies the existence of universals. The motivation for this flows from several concerns, the first one being where they might exist. Plato famously held, on one interpretation, that there is a realm of abstract forms or universals apart from the physical world (see theory of the forms). Particular physical objects merely exemplify or instantiate the universal. But this raises the question: Where is this universal realm? One possibility is that it is outside of space and time. A view sympathetic with this possibility holds that, precisely because some form is immanent in several physical objects, it must also transcend each of those physical objects; in this way, the forms are “transcendant” only insofar as they are “immanent” in many physical objects. In other words, immanence implies transcendence; they are not opposed to one another. (Nor, on this view, would there be a separate “world” or “realm” of forms that is distinct from the physical world, thus shirking much of the worry about where to locate a “universal realm”.) However, naturalists assert that nothing is outside of space and time. Some Neoplatonists, such as the pagan philosopher Plotinus and the philosopher Augustine, imply (anticipating conceptualism) that universals are contained within the mind of God. To complicate things, what is the nature of the instantiation or exemplification relation?

Conceptualists hold a position intermediate between nominalism and realism, saying that universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality.

Moderate realists hold that there is no realm in which universals exist, but rather universals are located in space and time wherever they are manifest. Now, recall that a universal, like greenness, is supposed to be a single thing. Nominalists consider it unusual that there could be a single thing that exists in multiple places simultaneously. The realist maintains that all the instances of greenness are held together by the exemplification relation, but this relation cannot be explained.

Finally, many philosophers prefer simpler ontologies populated with only the bare minimum of types of entities, or as W. V. Quine said “They have a taste for ‘desert landscapes.'” They attempt to express everything that they want to explain without using universals such as “catness” or “chairness.”

As ever, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on nominalism is great – here.

As is the SEP entry on anstract objects – here.

As is the superb SEP entry on properties found here.

Other useful SEP entries are Challenges to Metaphysical Realism, Platonism in Metaphysics, and the wiki entry on the Third Man Argument (an argument from Plato that shows an incoherent infinite regress in relational universals, which can be found in the SEP here).

 

How the area is relevant to the philosophy of religion – Craig and the Kalam

 I have written a 20,000 word paper on the Kalam and its problems, mainly concerning this area of philosophy. I have produced a post here and here detailing a small area of this. Here is a portion:

Authors of the KCA, such as Craig, see the argument as dealing with the beginning of existence of all discrete objects as being the set described by the term “everything”. In other words, a chair, a marble, a dog and a mountain all begin to exist and have causes for their respective existences. This would be, admittedly, the common sense understanding of the ontology of these objects – that they begin to exist at a particular point in time from having not existed at a previous point in time. What I am going to set out is very similar to one of Adolf Grünbaum’s objections that he set out in his 1990 essay “The pseudo-problem of creation in physical cosmology “.

The problem for the KCA is the definition of “everything”. My claim is that everything is in fact ‘the universe’ itself. As Grünbaum (1990) states:

…consider cases of causation which do involve the intervention of conscious fashioners or agents, such as the baking of a cake by a person. In such a case, the materials composing the cake owe their particular state of being in cake-form partly to acts of intervention by a conscious agent. But clearly, the very existence of the atoms or molecules composing the cake cannot be attributed to the causal role played by the activity of the agent. Thus, even if we were to assume that agent-causation does differ interestingly from event-causation, we must recognize that ordinary agent-causation is still only a transformation of matter (energy).

Even for those cases of causation which involve conscious agents or fashioners, the premise does not assert that they ever create anything out of nothing; instead, conscious fashioners merely TRANSFORM PREVIOUSLY EXISTING MATERIALS FROM ONE STATE TO ANOTHER; the baker creates a cake out of flour, milk, butter, etc., and the parents who produce an offspring do so from a sperm, an ovum, and from the food supplied by the mother’s body, which in turn comes from the soil, solar energy, etc. Similarly, when a person dies, he or she ceases to exist as a person. But the dead body does not lapse into nothingness, since the materials of the body continue in other forms of matter or energy. In other words, all sorts of organization wholes (e.g., biological organisms) do cease to exist only as such when they disintegrate and their parts are scattered. But their parts continue in some form.

We can, here, start to see an issue with the idea, in the first premise, of things beginning to exist with the notion of transformative creation as mentioned previously. We have already discussed how all causes can be reduced to a single cause. Now I will set out, as Grünbaun hints at, to show that “everything” is a term which also refers to a singular object.

Firstly, the only thing, it can be argued, that ‘has begun to exist’ is the universe itself (i.e. all the matter and energy that constitute the universe and everything in it). Thus the first premise and the conclusion are synonymous – the argument is entirely circular.

So how do I establish that the only thing which has begun to exist is the universe? We may think that things like tables, chairs, humans, rocks, lemmings and so on exist. Well, they do in one sense (an arrangement of matter / energy), but in the sense of the abstract labels of ‘rock’ or ‘chair’, they are exactly that, abstract labels. Their existence, in Platonic terms, as some kind of objective entity, requires the philosophical position of (Platonic) realism. Platonic realism, in simple terms, is the position that universals such as redness and abstractions (kinds, characteristics, relations, properties etc) are not spatial, temporal or mental but have a different ontology, existing separately from the objects which instantiate such properties[1]. For example, in order for the statement “John Smith is a gardener” to hold a truth value, there must be some existence property defined by “gardener” such as “gardenership”. This universal is different from the instance of the universal property found in John Smith. This is not a position that Craig adheres to. All we have on a nominalist or conceptualist worldview (as opposed to realist) is a transformative coming into existence. What this means is that what makes the chair, the molecules and atoms, already existed in some other form or other before the ‘chair’ came to be. So the matter or energy did not ‘begin to exist’. This merely leaves the label of ‘chair’.

The nominalist adopts a position which denies the existence of universals, such as redness or gardenership, and claims that only individuals or particulars exist. Conceptualism or conceptual nominalism, on the other hand, is a position which claims that universals only exist within the framework of the thinking (conceiving) mind. Most philosophers agree that the part of the definition of abstracts is that they are causally inert. This means that, at best, the abstract label is unable to have causal power anyway (regardless of its ontology).

Let’s now look at the ‘label’ of ‘chair’. This is an abstract concept, I posit, that exists, at most, only in the mind of the conceiver. We, as humans, label the chair abstractly and it only means a chair to those who see it as a chair – ie it is subjective. My idea of a chair is different to yours, is different to a cat’s and to an alien’s, as well as different to the idea of this object to a human who has never seen or heard of a chair (early humans who had never seen a chair, for example, would not know it to be a chair. It would not exist as a chair, though the matter would exist in that arrangement). I may call a tree stump a chair, but you may not. If I was the last person on earth and died and left this chair, it would not be a chair, but an assembly of matter that meant nothing to anything. The chair, as a label, is a subjective concept existing in each human’s mind who sees it as a chair. A chair only has properties that make it a chair within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human-derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items – i.e. chairness. These properties are arguable and not objectively true themselves. Thus the label of ‘chair’ is a result of ‘subjectively human’ evolution.

If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. For example, a ‘forqwibllex’ is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have ‘made-up’). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does – have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc. Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned ‘mental labels’, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively. Furthermore, there are items that have multiple abstract properties which create more headaches for the objectivist. A chair, to me, might well be a territory marker to the school cat. Surely they same object cannot embody both objective existences: the table and the marker!

When did this chair ‘begin to exist’? Was it when it had three legs being built, when 1/2, 2/3, 4/5, 9/10 of the last leg was constructed? You see, the energy and matter of the chair already existed. So the chair is merely a conceptual construct. More precisely a human one. More precisely still, one that different humans will variously disagree with.

Let’s take the completed chair. When will it not become a chair? When I take 7 molecules away? 20? A million? This is sometimes called the paradox of the beard / dune / heap or similar. However, to be more correct, this is an example of the Sorites Paradox, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. It goes as follows. Imagine a sand dune (heap) of a million grains of sand. Agreeing that a sand dune minus just one grain of sand is still a sand dune, then we can repeatedly apply this second premise until we have no grains, or even a negative number of grains and we would still have a sand dune. Such labels are arbitrarily and generally assigned so there is no precision with regards to exactly how many grains of sand a dune should have.

This problem is also exemplified in the species problem which, like many other problems involving time continuums (defining legal adulthood etc.), accepts the idea that human categorisation and labelling is arbitrary and subjective. The species problem states that in a constant state of evolving change, there is, in objective reality, no such thing as a species since to derive a species one must arbitrarily cut off the chain of time at the beginning and the end of a ‘species’ evolution in a totally subjective manner. For example, a late Australopithecus fossilised skull could just as easily be labelled an early Homo skull. An Australopithecus couple don’t suddenly give birth to a Homo species one day. These changes take millions of years and there isn’t one single point of time where the change is exacted. There is a marvellous piece of text, a large paragraph (see end), which starts off in the colour red and gradually turns blue down the paragraph leaving the reader with the question, “at which point does the writing turn blue?” Of course, there is arguably no definite and objectively definable answer – or at least any answer is by its nature arbitrary and subjective.

Now let’s take an animal – a cat. What is this ‘chair’ to it? I imagine a visual sensation of ‘sleep thing’. To an alien? It looks rather like a shmagflan because it has a planthoingj on its fdanygshan. Labels are conceptual and depend on the conceiving mind, subjectively.

So, after all that, what has begun to exist? A causally inert abstract concept.

You see, once we strip away the labels and concepts, all we have left is matter and energy which is only ever involved in what has been called transformative creation, meaning it doesn’t begin to exist, but is being constantly being reformed throughout time. It only began to exist at the Big Bang or similar (in Craig’s model).

So where does this leave us? The implications are twofold. Firstly, as Grünbaum illustrates, with all effects being merely transformative creations (i.e. nothing comes into existence but is transformed from already existing matter or energy), then we have an equivocation of the term cause. In Premise 1 we are talking about transformative causality, whereas in the conclusion we are talking about creation ex nihilo creation out of nothing. As Grünbaum reasons:

Since the concept of cause used in the conclusion of the argument involves creation out of nothing, we see that it is plainly different from the concept of cause in the premise. And for this reason alone, the conclusion does not follow from the premise deductively. (Grünbaum 1989)

 This amounts, then, to a fallacy of equivocation whereby the author is using two distinct meanings of the same term in a syllogism. This makes the argument logically invalid.

The second ramification of this line of argument is that it means that the term “everything” is actually synonymous with “the universe”, with the universe being a set of finite energy and matter that has remained, in accordance with the Law of the Conservation of Energy, constant over time. We have agreed, then, that abstract concepts might begin to exist, but these are causally inert and do not exist objectively – only in the minds of the conceiver. So that leaves matter and energy, which has always existed because it is, in effect, the universe itself. It is not that the universe is ‘made up’ of lots of matter and energy making it something, it simply is a quantity of matter and energy. This has some fairly crucial implications for the KCA necessitating a reformulation as follows:

1) The universe that begins to exist has a cause for its existence;

2) The universe begins to exist;

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

If we then project the syllogistic changes from Section 3.1 over this reformulated syllogism then we get an even more tautologous and incoherent  argument:

1) The universe that begins to exist has the universe as the causal condition for its existence.

2) The universe began to exist.

3) Therefore, the universe had the universe as a causal condition for its existence.

As we can plainly see, if we delve into the actual meaning of these terms and input these definitions back into the syllogism we are presented with an argument that amounts to little more than nonsense.

One could claim, however, that this argument relies at least partially on the establishment of nominalism, conceptualism or some other form of non-realism in order to work. To this we shall now turn.

RELATED POSTS:

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6  – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 – Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?

March 18, 2020

Having posted the Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions meant. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

This is the eleventh post, after

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 – Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6  – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 – Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?

#9 – Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?

#10 – Philosophy 101 (philpapers induced) #10: Knowledge: Empiricism or Rationalism

The question for this post is: Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean? Here are the results:

Accept or lean toward: non-Humean 532 / 931 (57.1%)
Accept or lean toward: Humean 230 / 931 (24.7%)
Other 169 / 931 (18.2%)

We might start this piece by discussing what a law is. But let me warn you that this has a very close relationship to universals, abstracts, natural kinds, essentialism, nominalism and realism, as far as I am concerned – covered in previous pieces above and variously on this blog. This really is a whistlestop tour because this subject gets very dry and not very interesting very quickly…

David Hume

Hume, as an empiricist (see above), couldn’t see physical necessity in terms of human experience. Experience tells us how the world is, not how it must be as set out by prescriptive laws. You can see a connection here with ideas of induction. Any experiment we do, at best, finds out about regularities in the universe – how things regularly act.

Accidents

There are several different ideas to be brought up here: necessities, regularities and accidents. It might be that everyone in this room has brown hair; this is an accident and not a universal law or even a regularity as commonly understood.

We might have two statements:

  1. All gold spheres are less than a mile in diameter.
  2. All uranium spheres are less than a mile in diameter.

The first is an accident whilst the second is arguably a law because it is physically impossible, as far as we know. Certain laws are actually merely local generalisations: on Earth (i.e., in a particular context), such and such happens, to the point that we might think they are universal laws.

Regularity

The discussion on the ontological position of the laws of nature has been divided into three main parts in the general history of science: Regularity Theory, Nomic Necessitation, and Dispositional Essentialism. Regularity Theory dates back to David Hume, but its modern development is due to David Lewis (1973). The fundamental view in this account is that laws of nature do not possess any physical necessity. Every time I drop my pencil, it accelerates towards the centre of the Earth at a constant acceleration rate. The law here is Newton’s law of free fall (which is a special instance of Newton’s second law and the law of gravitation), and the free fall of the pencil every time I drop it is the instance of these laws. Rather than attributing any physical necessity to the relation between the law and its instance, Regularity Theorists claim that the law is the collection of all these instances, and nothing more than that. Since we do not attribute any kind of ontology to the law itself, rather than being the totality of instances, (in other words, we make the minimal claim about the ontological status of the law), Bird calls this view “Minimalism about Laws” (Bird, 1998, p. 27). [Source]

So the Humean approach is to call laws descriptive: they don’t prescribe how matter should act but describe how it acts by looking at regular behaviour and summing these up with a “law”. Personally, for what it’s worth, I favour this approach because it coheres better with my approach to ontology. This is more accurately called Regularity or a Regularist Theory. There is no assertion of necessity relation between the instances and the laws of nature.

One can say of Regularists (and think in terms of conceptual nominalism that I often espouse, where abstract ideas exist only in our minds) that there can be a limitless amount of laws, and differentiating between a generalisation and a law can be difficult as they are both descriptive.

As Jon Garvey states:

I had not previously realised, though, that this issue is represented by a deep divide amongst philosophers of science, the “Necessitarians” being opposed by a large body of “Regularists”, who more modestly restrict themselves to “laws of nature” as mere descriptions of the way the world is, without attempting to explain why it is thus by invoking necessity.

Necessitarian Theory

The Necessitarian Theory (Nomic Necessitation) is this prescriptive approach whereby matter “obeys” laws (this is also different, in some sense, to logically necessary) – see 1. below. Some even now argue that this non-Humean view was actually favoured by David Hume, that it is semi-Humean (based on a contingent view of the relation between things) but there you go. Somehow, the very substance of the universe inheres physical necessity, and the relationship between the laws and instances is an issue of universals. There is a subtle difference in two necessitarian views: that the laws are separate ontological entities that somehow enforce matter to obey them, or the physical necessity exists, say, in the electrons of the fundamental units of matter – see 2. below. As the IEP exemplifies:

  1. [E]lectrons will bear the electrical charge -1.6 x 10–19 Coulombs because there is a Law of Nature to that effect, and the universe conforms to, or is ‘governed’ by, this physically necessary (i.e. nomological) principle (along with a number of others, of course).
  2. [T]he statement “All electrons bear a charge of -1.6 x 10–19 Coulombs” is a Law of Nature because it correctly (veridically) describes a physical necessity in the world.1 ]

The necessity, if you will, appears to reside in the matter – see below. It might be that there are only a few fundamental laws and that all other laws are consequences of these (this might lead to questioning the pragmatic meaning of “necessary”, which I do in “This World Is Philosophically Necessary“.

An example of a law that is not prescriptive might be Gresham’s Law, an economic generalisation:

[Gresham’s Law is] the theory holding that if two kinds of money in circulation have the same denominational value but different intrinsic values, the money with higher intrinsic value will be hoarded and eventually driven out of circulation by the money with lesser intrinsic value.

Dispositional Essentialism

Some people see this second version above as a further account – Dispositional Essentialism, a definite realist approach. This is where it gets a bit technical and relies on dispositions. (Many terms have been used to describe what we mean by dispositions: ‘power’ (Locke’s term), ‘dunamis’ (Aristotle’s term), ‘ability’, ‘potency’, ‘capability’, ‘tendency’, ‘potentiality’, ‘proclivity’, ‘capacity’, and so forth. In a very general sense, they mean disposition, or otherwise something close by. [Source]). A definition would be:

Dispositional essentialism is a form of scientific realism that has much to offer. The ‘sparse, fundamental’ properties are precisely those properties that participate in the (fundamental) laws of nature; but on the dispositional essentialist view, they do not only participate in laws. They ground those laws. Negative charge, for instance – if it is a fundamental property – is the disposition to repel other negative charges and attract positive ones; hence it is a law that negative charges attract other negative charges and attract positive ones. The same will hold, on the dispositional essentialist view, for other laws – at least the causal laws. Thus the laws discovered by such sciences as physics will not only be real, existing features of the world; they will be deeply rooted in the very fabric of the world.

Laws supervene on the dispositional essences of properties. Laws become metaphysically necessary because these essences of disposition are necessary in all possible worlds, and since laws depend on these, then laws are themselves necessary.

This has implications on ideas of free will (interestingly, I deny free will but prefer Regularity Theories).

Here, we start talking about essentialism with regard to natural kinds, causation, and with ramifications for abstracta and a number of other areas. Plenty to go and read about concerning these areas.

Truth and Necessitarianism

This, from the IEP, is worth thinking about:

Although there are problems aplenty in Tarski’s theory of truth (i.e. the semantic theory of truth, also called the “correspondence theory of truth”), it is the best theory we have. Its core concept is that statements (or propositions) are true if they describe the world the way it is, and they are false otherwise. Put metaphorically, we can say that truth flows to propositions from the way the world is. Propositions ‘take their truth’ from the world; they do not impose their truth on the world. If two days before an election, Tom says “Sylvia will win”, and two days after the election, Marcus says, “Sylvia won”, then whether these statements are true or false depends on whether or not Sylvia is elected. If she is, both statements are true; if she is not, then both statements are false. But the truth or falsity of those statements does not bring about her winning (or losing), or cause her to win (or lose), the election. Whether she wins or loses is up to the voters, not to certain statements.

Necessitarians – unwittingly perhaps – turn the semantic theory of truth on its head. Instead of having propositions taking their truth from the way the world is, they argue that certain propositions – namely the laws of nature – impose truth on the world.

The Tarskian truth-making relation is between events or state-of-affairs on the one hand and properties of abstract entities (propositions) on the other. As difficult as it may be to absorb such a concept, it is far more difficult to view a truth-making relationship the ‘other way round’. Necessitarianism requires that one imagine that a certain privileged class of propositions impose their truth on events and states of affairs. Not only is this monumental oddity of Necessitarianism hardly ever noticed, no one – so far as I know – has ever tried to offer a theory as to its nature.

Why is this important? More to think about.

Let me run through this as fast and parsimoniously as I can, including asking questions:

  • Have necessitarians just replaced God as prescriber with the Laws of Nature?
  • In this way, is there still a mysterian element to Necessitarian accounts? How does matter adhere to prescriptive rules? This, science cannot answer.
  • “Physically impossible” is an idea that works with both accounts, though it may have subtle definitional differences; this is something that does not and will not happen and has not happened anywhere.
  • A Regularist will differ in this way that saying something is physically impossible, like a perpetual motion machine, is not to say it is nomically impossible – there is a modal distinction here. The machine, a Nercessitarian would say, simply could not exist.
  • People have been pragmatically explaining things in terms of regularity without recourse to nomic necessity for thousands of years, thank you very much.
  • With a Necessitarian view, free will is a problem as fundamental laws prescribe how everything works in the universe. There is no room, it appears, for contra-causal free will. Regularity, on the other hand, dissolves the problem. You can’t “violate” a law of nature, in a sense; you do what you do and describe this accordingly. In an extreme sense, there could be a “law” qua contextual description of what you do at any given time: brushing your teeth at point t15493, or not brushing your teeth. You could argue that an agent can “choose” their laws of nature – I wouldn’t and would take issue with the language used here.
  • To wit, as the IEP states: “To make the claim even more pointedly: it is only because Necessitarianism tacitly adopts an anti-semantic theory of truth that the supposed problem of free will vs. determinism even arises. Adopt a thoroughgoing Regularist theory and the problem evaporates.”
  • A Regularist might say that all laws of physics and chemistry are no different than the laws of economics, say, Gresham’s Law above. It might depend on what level you are focusing the microscope.
  • Many Regularist “laws” are generalisations, or statistical in nature. Can more fundamental, “real” laws be statistical as well, such as the half-life of certain elements?
  • Necessitarians tend to struggle with such statistical approaches: how can something decay at this rate 50% of the time under strict laws? Enter stage right fun discussions of “stochastic nomicity”. This idea actually underwrites an important area of philosophy of science.
  • For Regularists, the way the universe is is ultimately inexplicable.
  • For Necessitarians, the fact that trillions upon trillions of electrons act in a particular and regular manner must be accounted for by some law of nature, not some “coincidence”, so to speak.
  • Regularists will reply with a kind of “so what?” as this is unempirical and not very useful. The way-the-world-is is good enough for them; for Necessitarians, explanations must include ideas of the way-the-world-must-be.

As deeply philosophical as this divide is, there won’t be any solution going forward, most notably because accessing the unempirical and abstract world of Necessitarian laws and their causal relations with matter is arguably entirely metaphysical.

And there you go, long, but hopefully not too long that it is unwieldy.

 


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March 6, 2020

Every abortion kills an innocent human being…. Biology shows that a “ZEF” (Zygote, Embryo, Fetus – the three distinct prenatal developmental stages) is, in fact, a distinct, unique and individual human being…. The issue at hand is when we are considered human beings. That question can be answered by biology…

-Mark Bradshaw

The question remains, though, whether this degree of cellular interaction is sufficient to render the early human embryo a human being. Just how much intercellular coordination must exist for a group of cells to constitute a human organism cannot be resolved by scientific facts about the embryo, but is instead an open metaphysical question. [my emphasis]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP)

[O]ur concept of a person is an outgrowth or aspect of our concept of a human being; and that concept is not merely biological but rather a crystallisation of everything we have made of our distinctive species nature. To see another as a human being is to see her as a fellow-creature—another being whose embodiment embeds her in a distinctive form of common life with language and culture, and whose existence constitutes a particular kind of claim on us. [my emphasis]

– Stephen Mulhall, Fearful Thoughts

Over on another thread, which has exploded, a sub-thread has developed concerning abortion, and a pro-lifer is having his ass handed to him repeatedly, though it is water off a duck’s back. He, Mark Bradshaw (MB), is making a whole host of claims that fail to hold up to any scientific and philosophical scrutiny, including the first one above. Many people have set him straight, such as (((J_Enigma32))) here (Bradshaw’s writing in italics):

Once again, I’ve NEVER made the claim that human = human being

You have several times. Every time you’ve used “human being” you’ve used it both to mean “genetically human” and “person,” whether you realize it or not. “The discourse” does not draw a difference between these words, but they absolutely do exist, and that they get used interchangeably in casual speech is part of the problem when it comes to expressing technical concepts with precise language.

A human being is BOTH “genetically human” AND a unique, distinct and individual human organism.

Is it? What if an alien walked off a spaceship in downtown New York today? You do realize that under the law, human rights are extended to them despite them not being remotely genetically related to us, right? And presumably the same thing will be true of AGIs when/if we decided to produce them. And if we ever resurrect Neanderthals, you folks will have a field day, won’t you?

And you can dismiss my hypotheticals as fanciful dreaming, but they are no less salient to my greater point: what you qualify as “human” is not nearly as black and white as you seem to think it is. Especially since human in this context is being used to mean “person,” not “genetically human.”

and is thus meaningless when discussing application of fundamental human rights

And as I noted below, personhood is the only metric we have in determining who gets those rights, otherwise you wind up giving rights to cancer cells and cloned tissue. “Human” is used as a synonym for “person” in the term “human rights.”

Bradshaw’s response was:

“You have several times.” —- No, I have NOT – EVER.

“Every time you’ve used “human being” you’ve used it both to mean “genetically human” and “person,”” —– FALSE. A human being is genetically human (DUH) AND an individual human organism. YOU are equating that to meaning “person”, NOT me. A human being is an individual member of the species Homo sapiens. We are individual members of that species at fertilization. This is a biological fact and you are attempting to place meaning in my words that just isn’t there.

“”The discourse” does not draw a difference between these words” —- Except it DOES. I’ve made a CLEAR DISTINCTION.

“and that they get used interchangeably in casual speech is part of the problem when it comes to expressing technical concepts with precise language” —– I agree that the word “human” when prefaced by the letter “A” means “a human being”. However, using the term “genetically human” to mean “a human being” is semantically and factually inaccurate. They mean DIFFERENT things. Skin cells are “genetically human”, but are NOT “a human being”. “A human being” is ALSO “genetically human”. See the distinction?

“Is it?” —– Yes. Biology 101.

“What if an alien walked off a spaceship in downtown New York today? You do realize that under the law, human rights are extended to them despite them not being remotely genetically related to us, right?” —– Because society CHOOSES to extend such rights. Those rights are NOT inherent in those aliens. Just because we CHOOSE to extend rights to something, it doesn’t mean that something is a human being (or even human at all). We extend some human rights to animals – like our pets, or Bald Eagles, or Condors. We, as a civil and humane society, CHOOSE to extend some rights to non-human animals/things. Fundamental human rights are inherent in EVERY human being.

“And if we ever resurrect Neanderthals, you folks will have a field day, won’t you?” —– Really? You CAN’T be serious.

“And you can dismiss my hypotheticals as fanciful dreaming” —– Because they are.

“what you qualify as “human” is not nearly as black and white as you seem to think it is.” —– Except that it IS. Biology understands what is, and isn’t, human and a human being.

“Especially since human in this context is being used to mean “person,” not “genetically human.”” —– NO. The term “human” in this context is referencing “A human being” – an individual member of the species Homo sapiens. YOU are attempting to make “human” to mean “person”.

“And as I noted below, personhood is the only metric we have in determining who gets those rights” —– NO it isn’t. the term person is a subjective and arbitrary designator. The ONLY subjective metric is “human being”, which is known in biology to occur at fertilization – when a new, distinct, unique and individual human being is formed.

“otherwise you wind up giving rights to cancer cells and cloned tissue.” —– FALSE. Cancer cells and “cloned tissue” are NOT individual human organisms. A fertilized human ovum (technically not an ovum any more – it is a) is.

“”Human” is used as a synonym for “person” in the term “human rights.”” —– FALSE. Human rights (fundamental human rights) applies to ALL human beings. That is why they are called “fundamental HUMAN rights”, not “fundamental PERSON rights”.

Wow. What a lot of confusion. There are so many comments from this guy that I could have chosen, but we’ll settle for this.

Let me first start by saying that there is a difference between everyday casual language and language that is more technical and required in conversations that are nuanced, conversations of a philosophical nature, such as this one. MB is using the former whilst attempting to join in on the latter and is, therefore, committing the fallacy of equivocation: Using an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading. It is not that people don’t use the terms he uses in the way he uses them, it’s just that in forums like these, and in contexts like these, it is vitally important to be as accurate and as technical as possible, and his reeks of serious mission creep.

Indeed, there are even some philosophical writers who use “human being” quite loosely to cover a multitude of sins. But when discussing ideas of, particularly, abortion and human embryonic development, I think it is hugely important to to be as picky as possible with the terminology used. For a good discussion of the nuances of the term “human being”, see “Cognitive Disability and Moral Status” in the SEP. MB seems to think this debate is answered by biology. Alas, no, as seen in the initial SEP quote.

That said, MB is doing what many pro-lifers do, which is to use terms in a way that confer characteristics onto, say, a blastocyst that we would normally consider for, say, an adult human being. This difference is discussed in the sections 1.1 When does a human being begin to exist? and 1.2 The moral status of human embryos in the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry, “The Ethics of Stem Cell Research”.

Although he claims he isn’t, MB is using human and human being interchangeably and then claiming that the argument is not one of personhood. But in essence, it really is, as we shall see.

In reality, he is bastardising language (though you will find plenty similar around the internet, as mentioned):

A human being is genetically human (DUH) AND an individual human organism. YOU are equating that to meaning “person”, NOT me. A human being is an individual member of the species Homo sapiens

So, it appears a human being is an individual member of the species homo sapiens, and this is genetically and organismally defined.

Wow. Okay. Where to start. Let’s try to do this as concisely as possible:

  1. “Innocent” can no more coherently be applied to a blastocyst as to a rock. A group of cells, irrespective of what it is, with no consciousness or volition or intention can in no meaningful way be described as innocent. He claims that it not being guilty means it is innocent. The same applies to a rock, or a chicken egg, or any other such entity.
  2. For him, “human” means something different to “human being” in that a human being is an individual of the human species. So human = homo sapiens, and human being = a human individual. Human being is an instantiation of human. Human is genetically human. He is differentiating “human” from “a human”: I agree that the word “human” when prefaced by the letter “A” means “a human being”. The issue here is that the use of the indefinite article (a) before “human” means “human” is now a noun, rather than an adjective, and implies a singular instantiation. So, really, “a human” should utterly suffice for doing what he needs it to do – being an instantiation of homo sapiens. His use of a “human being” is thus superfluous language, with the “being” bit being redundant. For people interested in accuracy of language (for philosophical and debate purposes), we have human (adjective) denoting of the homo sapiens species, a human denoting an instantiation of that species, and human being as something subtly different, implying personhood or specific human characteristics. Moreover, a blastocyst would be none of these still. A blastocyst is a developmental stage of a human, or of a homo sapiens, organism. It is a nested subset of the reference set “human” but I would contest it can be given the label “a human”. You could say “a human blasocyts” but you can’t say a blastocyst is “a human”.
  3. If he is differentiating “human” from “a human”: A blastocyst is no more a human than an egg is a chicken or an acorn is an oak tree. We need to get technical: an acorn is the seed developmental stage of the species quercus robur, for example. If I said, “Cut down this oak tree and make a bench” and handed you an acorn, you would be confused. Language is important. Chickens and a chicken, as terms, are still markedly and obviously different from a (chicken) egg. If I said, “go cuddle a human”, you would never understand this to mean you should cuddle a Petrie dish.
  4. “Human being” surely has the “being” part as the operative differentiator. In philosophy, this denotes what it means to be human, and this is where personhood usually comes in. By leaving little meaningful difference between terms, MD is ignoring the reams of philosophy devoted to this (even if you deny personhood as having ontic existence) and using his own definition; hence, the equivocation. See “What Is Personhood? Setting the Scene.” See point 6.
  5. A simple dictionary definition of human being is: a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance. Of course, a blastocyst has none of these qualities.
  6. This assumes an identifiable set of genes that equate to human qua homo sapiens. But there is no such thing as a species – known as the “species problem” that even Darwin recognised. As I have countlessly explained, this is an instantiation of the Sorites Paradox where demarcating categories along a developmental continuum is subjective and arbitrary at best, incoherent at worst. See “Species Do Not “Exist”: Evolution, Sand Dunes and the Sorites Paradox”. You cannot objectively state where “human” starts or ends; it is incremental and transitional. Therefore, there is no surefire scientific definition of human qua homo sapiens, only consensus definition used for pragmatic reasons of categorisation. Welcome to fuzzy logic.
  7. What does “genetically human” mean? This can hide a whole range of problems. For starters, a clump of cheek cells of skin cells are genetically of the species homo sapiens, arguably. Are these humans?
  8. He states: However, using the term “genetically human” to mean “a human being” is semantically and factually inaccurate. They mean DIFFERENT things. Skin cells are “genetically human”, but are NOT “a human being”. “A human being” is ALSO “genetically human”. See the distinction? What this then means is that MD believes a human being = human genes + human organismal form. However, this form is very difficult to pin down: it takes on a range from a clump of cells right through to fully formed adult, and every form in between, plus, no doubt, all other forms such as dramatically mentally, cognitively or physically disabled or altered forms. Really, he is co-opting “human being” to mean “a single organism anywhere along the developmental line with the genetic blueprint of the species homo sapiens” even though there is no clear genetic blueprint of homo sapiens. He seems to think all scientists agree with this. They don’t. At all.
  9. Referring back to the previous transitional form problem, if human genes + form refers to a particular organismal form, and since this refers to the entire genetic range of 7 billion people, what are the necessary or essential genes? What could one human and another differ in, in terms of genes, and what genes must they have to qualify as human? What about a neanderthal? What about the transitional hominids that sit before, at and after the arbitrary demarcation line between homo sapiens and the hominid species preceding it? This debate becomes one of essentialism vs nominalism. He would need to establish some kind of Platonic realism where “human being” objectively correlates to a set of essential genes.  Tough gig. See “Natural Law, Essentialism and Nominalism”.
  10. What does this then say about transhumanism – the futuristic, though presently doable, conjoining of humanity and technology?
  11. What if you replaced an animal embryo’s brain mass with human brain cells – would this chimera be seen as a human being?
  12. A blastocyst is no more a human than an egg is a chicken or an acorn is an oak tree. We need to get technical: an acorn is the seed developmental stage of the species quercus robur, for example. If I said, “Cut down this oak tree and make a bench” and handed you an acorn, you would be confused. Language is important.
  13. On the developmental stage from ovum or sperm to adult human being, fertilisation or totipotency is just one arbitrarily chosen stage along the natural mechanism continuum. Why does this get special treatment? See “Life starts at conception, but what about personhood? Revisited.”
  14. In the same way a chicken egg is not afforded the same animal rights as a chicken in most modern societies, and I can throw an acorn in the bin but am not allowed to chop down an oak tree, a human blastocyst does not have and should not have the same rights as an adult human.
  15. As he struggles to deal with in the thread, if other species, including alien species, are ostensibly (in terms of ideas of personhood) similar to humans, do they have the same rights? If so (and considering certain animals already have rights – not depending on their genetic blueprint per se, but their “personhood” characteristics, which themselves will supervene on genetics, admittedly), then this is not a question of human beingness being dependent on human genetic and organismal exceptionalism, but a case of personhood. And, indeed, this is really what is going on. He desperately denies this is about personhood, but every way you slice and dice it, it is about personhood. He simply cannot rationally deny it. I mean, he will deny it, but this denial is invalid.
  16. Because society CHOOSES to extend such rights. Those rights are NOT inherent in those aliens. So humans have inherent rights but every other entity has rights bestowed upon them by humans? Holy special pleading cow. a) Where is the evidence for this? b) How are they inherent for us but rights then become human constructions for others? There are then two different kinds of rights. c) What do rights being inherent actually mean?
  17. Oh righty then. We have an issue because rights have no ontic existence. He needs to read and then refute the following: a) Human Rights Don’t Exist until We Construct and Codify Them b) KNOWING Your Rights, Locke and Other Rights Problems c) Second Amendment: Gun Rights. But What Is a Right, and Do We Have Them? Until then, he really is in a lot of philosophical trouble.
  18. The death of a foetus is qualitatively different to the death of a grown human as seen in the burning clinic thought experiment. He would need to properly deal with this. So even if he could establish some kind of similarity or equivalence between blastocysts and a fully grown human in some sense, they still fail to intuitively and tangibly be qualitatively equivalent.
  19. As 3lemenope stated, “biology doesn’t write law and doesn’t determine morality. At best it can help define terms and describe physical facts that can be put into evidence.”
  20. MD later says: “Potential child. Not an actual child.” —– Nope. An ACTUAL child. So there is no difference between something at the beginning of the continuum and something later on or at the end… But this means a sperm cell is also, being alive, a potential child and thus an actual child (see NOTE 1). A sperm is just a living component on the continuum of natural development separated by some natural mechanism from one stage to the next. So every ejaculation is, therefore, murder of millions, right? And this means breaking a random rock in the wild is identical to breaking a statue in a museum because a potential statue (rock) is qualitatively identical to an actual one. Right. See Note 2.

So on and so forth – you get the picture. It is summed up by this further comment: A fetus (not merely fetal tissue) is as much of a human being as you or I are. Again, this is a biological fact. This is like saying an acorn is as much of an oak tree as this oak tree here. That’s a biological fact. No, it’s not; only if you totally smash up the English language. It is only an oak tree if you change the definition of some or all of the words, and then you lose meaningful distinction. An oak tree suddenly becomes synonymous with an acorn, and we lose an awful lot of distinction and conversation become as confusing and inane as the thread here mentioned.

A limited analogy (stripping away ideas of sentience and so on) would be that an oak tree crushing an acorn is meaningfully the same as it uprooting a whole grown oak tree. There is a false equivalence here.

The problem is that this man thinks that us calling him out on his equivocation of terms and language is denying biology. No, we are denying his use of language as being sound.

NOTES:

1) Is a sperm cell alive? 

Yes, it’s certainly as alive as any other cells in a male body. Since it can have a life of its own outside the body, each sperm is really an independent single-celled organism – like a living amoeba, but differing in locomotion and lifestyle.

From an evolutionary viewpoint, it’s the other cells in a male animal that are pretty much dead: only the sperm can reproduce.

2) The moral status of human embryos: potential vs actual.

Given that a human embryo cannot reason at all, the claim that it has a rational nature has struck some as tantamount to asserting that it has the potential to become an individual that can engage in reasoning (Sagan & Singer 2007). But an entity’s having this potential does not logically entail that it has the same status as beings that have realized some or all of their potential (Feinberg 1986). Moreover, with the advent of cloning technologies, the range of entities that we can now identify as potential persons arguably creates problems for those who place great moral weight on the embryo’s potential. A single somatic cell or HESC can in principle (though not yet in practice) develop into a mature human being under the right conditions—that is, where the cell’s nucleus is transferred into an enucleated egg, the new egg is electrically stimulated to create an embryo, and the embryo is transferred to a woman’s uterus and brought to term. If the basis for protecting embryos is that they have the potential to become reasoning beings, then, some argue, we have reason to ascribe a high moral status to the trillions of cells that share this potential and to assist as many of these cells as we reasonably can to realize their potential (Sagan & Singer 2007, Savulescu 1999). Because this is a stance that we can expect nearly everyone to reject, it’s not clear that opponents of HESC research can effectively ground their position in the human embryo’s potential. [SEP]

 


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February 6, 2020

I have a very lax approach to banning and censorship here, as well you know. And you may or may not like this as threads do, indeed, get filled up with comments from those we disagree with. Sometimes, I get asked to ban so-and-so, and there can be merit in banning the more trollish ones, but it also comes down to what the definition of a troll is and who gets to arbitrate the definition and qualification.

Sometimes the reaction to certain comments is, “Well, your opinion is sooo antithetical to mine that I find it (morally) reprehensible, and therefore you should be banned.” Quite often, it comes down to axioms: whatever you put into the function machine will determine the outcome. But we shouldn’t just ban people, I believe, because their views are merely antithetical to our own. We should be able to point the issues out, correct them, or at least allow them to hoist by their own petard.

However, the issue is that people generally don’t change their minds but instead tend to entrench in their original positions by employing large dollops of cognitive dissonance. This can mean huge frustration as we seemingly provide ample good reason and counter-arguments, but to no avail. Because positions are so often arrived at psychologically and not rationally.

I can confidently say the following (but please do not confuse it with arrogance): I have never knowingly run away from a difficult conversation, thread or comment that I cannot resolve in my head. I may run out of time, forget about them, or get sidetracked. But there really is no area of philosophy (everything) that presents problems of coherence for any of my beliefs. I am completely honest with myself, and hopefully with my readers. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that some cornerstone of my entire matrix of beliefs and philosophy was incredibly weak or fraught with issue.

I believe that ost divergence in beliefs actually boils down to ontology. You will find that most people who disagree with me on morality, politics (i.e., morality), God, religion and so on can actually have their disagreement mapped back to ontology. I have written before how conceptual nominalism vs (Platonic) realism is essentially the primary debate, and everything else follows. These are the axiomatic building blocks we feed into our function machines that produce wildly different outcomes. Just refer back to those massive threads here about the Second Amendment and the gun nuts who came here to defend their right to carry and use guns. They, to a man, failed to understand that the thrust of the articles was about ontology – what rights are made of. They happily asserted the conclusion – that natural rights exist – but utterly failed to show that/how such rights exist.

I am really comfortable with my beliefs; they are on solid ground because I build from the bottom up. So many religious people build from the top down.

I have found that, when it comes to commenting, atheists and freethinkers really are more freethinking. As bloggers, we are far more likely to have open threads, less moderation and a willingness to deal with naysayers. We kinda live for it.

On the other hand, and I have been personally on the end of many examples of this, Christian/religious bloggers hardly ever allow open and frank comments and conversations that challenge their cherished views.

I simple terms: the higher your religiosity is, the more blinkered you seem to be. And, basically, religious bloggers are far less open to challenge and freethinking than nonreligious ones. I can tell you this from a Patheos viewpoint: the whole  Disqus filter issue was one that was broadly not an issue for the countless religious bloggers here at Patheos because so many either didn’t allow comments at all, or heavily moderated them anyway. It was all the nonreligious bloggers who kicked up a right stink. It was boards like mine that were most affected. Because boards like mine really do allow free speech. Right-wing, often religious types complain so often about centralised authoritarian behaviour from the left, but they are so often the most guilty. Yes, there are exceptions on both sides, but the averages are clear to see.

I would be interested to hear people’s experiences of religious vs nonreligious comment forums and blogs. Do you agree?


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February 3, 2020

Short answer, probably not.

Long answer, read my book Did God Create the Universe from Nothing?: Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument and whilst you’re at it, please post a nice review or two on Amazon to counter those typical Christian reviews that give 1 star whilst not offering any substantive critique… Grrr.

Happy to have recieved this Tweet the other day, not least to confirm that people out there actually read my books, but that they are appreciated and have some use:

Posts relating to this are:

 


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December 15, 2019

In editing a book called The Unnecessary Science, I have been looking into natural law theory and Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. Here, natural law’s big modern proponent, Ed Feser (at whom the book is aimed as a critique) locks horns with Graham Oppy. My issue for such debates like this, that are very narrow and metaphysical in nature, is that they are (to me, granted) eliminatable with something like conceptual nominalism. I, personally, would have just taken issue with opening premises that include arguable ideas such as “potential”, as I did here and here. Indeed, it took 54 minutes to bring nominalism up.

 


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