Appeal to brute facts in Medieval Cosmological arguments

The critique of cosmological arguments by appeal to brute facts (i.e. we must have something unexplained, so why not the universe?) fails to see that, for these sorts of arguments an explanation does not terminate by finding of fact of any kind, or even with a proposition, but with a subject about which the feature one was trying to explain can be said per se and first of all, or a predicate which is said of a known subject in this way. The search for who dropped the atomic bomb does not terminate in a fact, but with Truman, about whom that predicate is said first of all; the search for what heat is terminated not in a fact but in fire (for Medievals) or molecular motion (for us) which is said of the subject per se and first. Even if we took “Truman dropped the bomb” as a fact, it functions as an explanation so far as we discover an identity between the thing we were looking for (bomb dropper) and the thing we find (Truman).  It’s not just that the predicate and subject are convertible, but convertible in a certain way that we understand as being simply what the thing is, and the cause of all those things that have that feature in a secondary way (the way that, say, Tibbits dropped the bomb or fire is hot).

Destinctive feature of substance

The most distinctive mark of substance appears to be that, while remaining numerically one and the same, it is capable of admitting contrary qualities. From among things other than substance, we should find ourselves unable to bring forward any which possessed this mark. Thus, one and the same colour cannot be white and black. Nor can the same one action be good and bad: this law holds good with everything that is not substance. But one and the selfsame substance, while retaining its identity, is yet capable of admitting contrary qualities.

This feature is effective is dividing substance from accident, but not in dividing substance from the parts of substance. Surfaces, flesh, the soul, and the mind can all admit contrary qualities as well. We could target just substance by saying that admits of contrary qualities while remaining one and the same whole.

A morality of drug use (II)

One account of a morality of drugs would take drugs as chemicals that physically change us from one state to another. Our moral evaluations of them would thus turn on what state we started with, what state we ended with, and the reason for changing them.

This seems vacuous, but it might do real work. Consider a limited theological argument for why Christians should condemn the use of hallucinogens for religious or quasi-religious reasons (like the belief that knowledge of higher truth comes from taking them). For a Christian, the highest possible revelation is one given in the everyday world: it is a man walking around who is also God. Whatever mythical or theological elements might have worked into the story, they rest on a fundamentally and essentially historical basis. The hallucinogenic shift of consciousness is thus an implicit rejection that the highest, paradigm case of a revelation is given in everyday consciousness, and so a rejection of Christian revelation.

A non-christian analogue to the argument could be based on any claim that the space of revelation is the everyday world, and so, for example, should be based on the scientific or philosophical.

The (absense of a) morality of drug use

“Drug use” – leaving aside the therapeutic meaning and sticking with the illicit one – means at least four things:

1.) Use of hallucinogens, or drugs that are mind-altering at any dose, and not just with extreme dosages.

2.) Drugs that are not mind-altering at every dose. Alcohol is certainly included here, and some try to argue that cannabis is also.

3.)  Performance enhancing drugs.

4.) Drugs that are addictive though only very loosely mood altering – caffeine and nicotine, etc.

Given the wild variety here, the only common criterion that people find to treat the moral question is the affects that drugs have on health. The criteria is very broad, but not very deep. It has the value of being a relatively clear (major health affects – e.g. overdoses and long term diseases are easy to see) but it suffers from at least three major limitations:

a.) It’s difficult if not impossible to get any significant health effects out of a single use of any drug, or even out of multiple uses over large enough stretches of time. Single uses are harmful only when we shift from talking about drug use to talking about poisons. But poisoning is not anything peculiar to drugs. One can be poisoned by anything ingestible.

b.) It leaves one with the impression that there is no moral significance to anything formally belonging to the drugs themselves. Is it wrong to get high? Always? Sometimes? Is cheating the only problem with steroids in sport?

c.) It sees the morally significant aspect of drugs as their relation to overdose or addiction. Heroin and alcohol (now seen as comparable, if not equivalent) are bad and pot is harmless. We spoke of overdose in (a), but addiction is much the same. We can become addicted to any concrete, repetitive activity that is contrary to reason.

To be honest, I’ve heard almost no moralities of drug use, even under a vague description. I’ve seen moralities of the ingestible and the repetitive applied to drugs, and I’ve heard people appeal to principles like “poisoning is bad”, but not much else.  Even taking into account the trickiness of the virtue of temperance, one might expect more than this.

De anima III.4

Any definite organ of knowledge is limited to knowing one class of knowable objects. Eyes can’t smell, noses can’t hear or detect infrared.

Mind is not limited to knowing one definite class of objects. Considered in their generality, it is not limited to the real or unreal, possible or impossible.

Mind has no definite organ.

A cognitive power that has no definite organ is no real thing before it knows.

Mind is no real thing before it knows. It is neither nervous system nor a part of it, not a light or darkness.  It is not one or many.

(still, it is mine, but it cannot be mine in a way that alienates it from being yours – this is why the things of mind are necessarily common goods)

Though it is mine, mind in its state cannot draw objects from this substance. It draws from outside of itself.

To draw from outside of oneself does not decide between recollection and abstraction. Both involve intuition of exterior objects and require initiation by sensation. Both allow ways in which mind is separate and ways in which it is essentially embodied.

Though mind cannot draw forth actualities from its substance, it is the actualities of all that is knowable, whether through the intuition of all things in recollection or the agent intellect of abstraction.

Both recollection and abstraction place all the actuality of what is knowable in mind. Both of them make mind empty prior to the initiation of exterior things.

(The apparent contradiction arises from judging mind in a way peculiar to definite or limited things. It’s being mine does not make it a this as opposed to that. Buber’s contributions are important here.)

I describe mind as an it or thing but this is mere grammar and not ontology nor logic. It is like the definition of “person” which grammatically describes a general sort of thing but can only name a concrete individual.

The opposition of persons is never simply an opposition between things. Still, there is some real sense in which persons such as us are ontologically opposed.

At the limit case of personality, personality itself is absolutely no principle of opposition between persons. The multiple selves are absolutely one.

Moral evil as slavery

Moral evil differs from mere error or falling short of the standard in that the one acting is aware of the standard but is not acting upon it. In such an action, therefore, the rational standard of what is good has been rendered inert or thrown into the oblivion of the pre-conscious. But slavery consists precisely in the denial of someone’s ability to act from their own rational motives (Aristotle even defines slavery in this way, and this would seem to be its only possible justification, or the closest it could ever get to justification.)

Miracles and Scientific Naturalism

I’m fiddling around with this argument:

The sciences seek hidden explanations from manifest phenomena. We don’t need science to explain what we know from the beginning. But a miracle is a manifest phenomenon as opposed to one that needs to be ferreted out from things already known. And so the nature of miracles is opposed to their being scientific conclusions.

-Problem: not every divine intervention in the world need be called a miracle. There are at least three or four possibilities for divine intervention that are not considered miraculous: (a.) God’s tinkering with things quietly (b) doctrines like the special creation of the human soul; and (c) sacramental or moral transformation of things by grace.

My suspicion is that the divine action in the world will either be manifest or hidden in a way that we won’t be able to crack by systematic analysis. True, we can give some account of the need for special creation of the soul, and perhaps even for the moral transformation of that soul, but the concrete account of how this happens, i.e. our ability to cash out the doctrine in a physical theory, will prove elusive.

Here’s my argument: to cash out a doctrine in a physical theory we need to assume that our manipulation of the phenomena does not make a difference to what they would do of themselves, that is, that there is no already existent intention in the phenomena themselves that might conflict with our intentional manipulation of things so as to obtain an experimental finding. But divine intervention is of itself just such a pre-existent intention. And so special action in the world must either be manifest or prove elusive to our attempts to fit something into a physical theory.


Note on the critique of the reality of existence

Kant’s critique of existence, as it filtered through Analytic philosophy, became an argument like this:

Any real predicate (a predicate said of individuals) must be able to be both affirmed and denied of individuals.

Existence cannot be affirmed and denied of individuals.

Therefore existence is not a real predicate.

I see the force of the argument but it seems like it works better as a reductio ad absurdum against the major premise. “Exists” and “real” are more or less equivalent predicates, and it would be very odd to demand that “real” and “unreal” both be real. It would be like demanding that there were no real places on maps because “not a place on the map” does not show up on GPS. In other words, we can just say (with Barry Miller) that existence is a real predicate and non-existence isn’t; or that the whole problem is in assuming that non existence must be a real predicate, not in assuming that existence is one.


The fallacy of conspiracy theory

Informal fallacies get thrown about a lot, but it’s not always clear how they are corruptions of reasoning. But conspiracy theories do seem to be a real corruptions of reasoning.

Conspiracy theory requires something more than a secret plan to do something unlawful or deceptive. Any group of drug dealers or petty criminals does this, and there are certainly more glamorous spy-movie style historical conspiracies, like the burning of the Reichstag. But the recognition that there are such things does not usually get called a conspiracy, and believing in such things is not the sort of thing that makes for conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theory only seems to kick in when there is a substantial body of patent evidence against the conspiracy: The Warren Commission report, the consensus among specialists for Stratfordianism or climate change, the NTSB incident report of TWA flight 800, the 9-11 commission report, a pile of evidence for Obama’s native birth, extensive studies showing no link between vaccines and autism, O.J.’s blood at the crime scene with a single glove seen by 14 cops and an eyewitness who saw him fleeing the area, etc.*

The fallacy of conspiracy thinking can be seen from the fact that it is a way of reasoning that has never borne fruit. None of its gun show, “shocking truth of the real story” narratives has ever set out a case that came to be seen as true.   I stress that it is a false belief in logic, i.e. about the way to the truth and about the nature of truth itself. It is a sad thing to watch those who suffer from it.


*I leave aside the various economic conspiracy theories since they all seem to be based on a much simpler mistake of assuming that the economy is the sort of thing that can be controlled in any sort of precise, function-machine like way.

Mechanism and life

It’s non-controversial to call living things “machines” if you use the term in its literal sense of devices that change the direction and magnitude of a force: a jaws and elbows are obvious levers, ball sockets work like wheels and axles, etc. This is how Newton saw them (see the end of cor. 2 in the section of the laws of motion) and Descartes need not mean anything more by his physical mechanism (famously applied to animals).

One overlooked element in the scientific revolution is that it begins with motion already as given, and is only interested in the structures or rules that govern motion’s transference -i.e. things like machines. Newton’s first law,  for example, doesn’t explain motion as such but says that if there is motion it will continue indefinitely; and his second law describes changes of motions, i.e. exactly what machines do. The question of the origin or character of the motion simply cannot arise, and so the relevant difference between the living and the mechanical cannot arise. Modern physics is not the tool one uses for capturing the distinction between life and machines in the same way that a scale is not the tool one uses to capture the distinction between ten pounds of potatoes and ten pounds of steel.

Seen from this angle, Descartes’s “dualism” is just this: some systems consist only in activities where the relevant changes are just changes in the direction and magnitude of force and other systems involve activities where the relevant changes are not of this kind, sc. changes like the move from premises to the conclusion, from a function to its values, or from a goal or value to a choice. The first sort of system, however,  includes both a seesaw and an elbow joint, a wheel and a ball-socket, the living and non-living. We are not demoting animals, only giving a more helpful or useful way of articulating the Aristotelian difference of souls that cannot subsist without matter and souls that can. It’s not a repudiation of Aristotle’s idea but a way to open it up to a larger and more exact analysis.

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