Sunday, April 29, 2007

Review of "Christianity and the Postmodern Turn" by Doug Groothuis

Myron B. Penner, editor. Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views. Brazos Press, 2005. 240 pages. Paperback. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary.

For about two decades, evangelicals have pondered and debated what approach they should take toward postmodernism. While many have conflated postmodern culture (or postmodernity) with postmodern philosophy (or postmodernism), this academically-oriented book sticks almost entirely to the philosophy of postmodernism.

Christianity and the Postmodern Turn collects six perspectives on postmodernism and its relationship to Christian thought. Three contributors are enthusiastic supporters of postmodernism (James K.A. Smith, Merold Westphal, and John Franke), two are strong critics of postmodernism (R. Douglas Geivett and R. Scott Smith), and one is situated somewhere between the both groups (Kevin Vanhoozer). Vanhoozer, who is more closely aligned with the critics than the enthusiasts, responds to all the other contributors, while the others exchanges consist of mostly J. Smith, Franke, and Westphal arguing against Geivett and R. Smith. (Geivett, R. Smith, J. Smith, and Westphal are philosophers. Vanhoozer and Franke are theologians. Vanhoozer evinces more philosophical acumen than Franke, who stumbles when articulating philosophical arguments, particularly concerning foundationalism, as Geivett and R. Smith note.)
Including this many authors—all of whom are called to respond to the other authors—makes for a bit of a jumble. This is a debate book with too many voices. Had there been only two or three contributors—one pro-postmodernist, one anti-postmodernist, and perhaps someone in the middle—it might have pushed further into the issues.

Given the plethora of perspectives, it is impossible to do justice to the arguments of each author. One can, however, chart two essential epistemological items of debate: realism and foundationalism. Geivett and R. Smith are realists in epistemology. They argue that language refers to and (when true) corresponds to an extra-linguistic realm through propositions. Both take this feature of language (there are, of course, other features) to be nonnegotiable for the Christian worldview and its rational defense. (I have defended these claims as well in Truth Decay.) They also defend a modest foundationalism: the theory that our knowledge is divided between basic (non-inferential) beliefs and those derived from them. Postmodern thought in its many forms is non-realist (or antirealist) and non-foundationalist in epistemology.

Geivett and R. Smith focus like laser beams on epistemology, carefully defending their own account of knowledge and critiquing those who oppose it. J. Smith, Westphal, and Franke accuse them of hitching Christianity to a defective modernist program and claiming a hubristic “God’s eye” view of the world that is impossible for finite, fallen mortals. We must rather, they claim, emphasize our contextual and enculturated situation and our immersion in language. Westphal, in an intemperate rhetorical flourish, even accuses Geivett of being like the Pharisee who “justified himself” before God instead of humbly admitting his sin (page 239). Of course, trying to justify a proposition about God intellectually is a far cry from trying to justify oneself morally before a holy God.

To my mind, the pro-postmodernists fail to demonstrate the compatibility of postmodernism with Christianity. This is largely because they fail to undermine realism or foundationalism. The claim that one must be postmodern to be epistemically humble is a non sequiter. Even realist/foundationalists admit the limits of knowledge and the defeasibility of many of their beliefs. Moreover, the postmodern perspective endangers knowledge itself, collapsing language and meaning into cultural contexts, thus rendering objective truth unattainable. The pro-postmodernists’ claims to the contrary are unconvincing.

Despite my philosophical agreement with the two strongest critics of postmodernism, I must state that the rest of the contributors are able exponents of their respective viewpoints. A careful reader of this volume—despite its overabundance of contributors and the ensuing over-stimulation—will come away with a solid acquaintance with the core issues at stake in this debate. One hopes she will also come away with a measure of wisdom as well.

24 comments:

terryd said...

"J. Smith, Westphal, and Franke accuse them of hitching Christianity to a defective modernist program and claiming a hubristic “God’s eye” view of the world that is impossible for finite, fallen mortals."

"The claim that one must be postmodern to be epistemically humble is a non sequiter."
___________

Or worse. Chesterton identified a similar misplaced humility among "skeptics" almost a century ago.

"But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed...."

"The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic.... For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."

--Orthodoxy, Chapter 3, The Suicide of Thought

Douglas Groothuis said...

That is a classic quote I have used many times!

Kevin Winters said...

For foundationalism, what beliefs are properly "basic"? From my understanding, no set of foundationalists have been able to agree on any given set, though they all agree they exist!

Tim said...

Kevin,

That is because what defines foundationalism is the belief that there are such basic beliefs.

You might look at my book or some of my other published work to see a defense of an acquaintance sort of foundationalism. Recently such a position has also been espoused by Richard Fumerton and Laurence BonJour, and I don't think Rich Feldman and Earl Conee are too far away from this either.

Douglas Groothuis said...

How about:

1. A=A
2. A does not = Non-A
3. Either A or Non-A
4. Modus ponens
5. Modus tolens
6. If I think, I exist.
7. Torturing the innocent merely for pleasure is wrong.

Kevin Winters said...

Groothuis,

Those don't work: a baby doesn't emerge from the womb with such propositions a priori in mind. I would wager that most (if not all) aborigines would be quite unaware of such "basic" propositions. The Pirahã, at least, would have serious difficulty with your mathematical notation, give they don't understand numbers and quantities. Similarly, the pre-modern Chinese would have a problem with the "I think" claim, given that they did not have the nominative singular pronoun (I). The Tao Te Ching doesn't have a single occurrence of it. Or, for the early Greeks, of whom the eminent Roman historian Paul Veyne states, "No ancient, not even the poets, is capable of talking about oneself. Nothing is more misleading than the use of 'I' in Graeco-Roman poetry" (A History of Private Life (Brown, ed.), 231). Furthermore, logical laws like Modus Ponens and Modus Tolens are inferential in nature; they are not inherent in our psyche, but are postulated, demonstrated, and proven.

Kevin Winters said...

Tim,

I've looked around your website. Could you suggest a primary or collection of articles available on it that I could read to better understand your view? Unfortunately, I couldn't finish your book by the time the library was calling for it (and things got very busy for school), but I do plan on getting it again and talking about it.

mark mathewson said...

Kevin,

Groothuis' examples of basic beliefs do work. Your claim betrays your misunderstanding of foundationalism in its moderate form, and of the nature of self-evident truths and basic beliefs. You confuse basic beliefs with innate ideas (i.e., propositions we are allegedly born with already in our minds). This is mistaken. All the moderate foundationalist claims is that once the propositions are understood, they may be non-inferentially known. So, a child when first told that "Either A or non-A" will not immediately assent to it let alone understand it (this is true of some of the undergraduates I have taught!). However, once they do grasp its meaning they clearly see its truth. In the case of children, a certain degree of mental maturity needs to result (Reid pointed this out in the 18th century). In the case of aboriginies and the like I would claim they understand "Either A or non-A" and operate by it all the time. They have just never assigned it the techinical jargon. Once we have explained (not proved, just explained) it to them, they would, say "why, of course." No moderate foundationalist (at least of whom I am aware) claims that we are born with propositions already in our minds.

Besides Fumerton and BonJour, also consult the many texts and articles Robert Audi has written on moderate foundationalism, the self-evident, and intuitionism. Also, consult Thomas Reid who, contrary to popular philosophical lore, was a foundationalist of a moderate kind.

Kevin Winters said...

Mark,

If these beliefs are not innate and, hence, cannot be "built on" from birth, then how does knowledge begin in the first place? Are you going to claim that they are unconscious (and thus commit the error of thinking of it as an unconscious consciousness)? Foundationalism of all kinds seems to assume that we start from indubitable propositional beliefs, from which our world is then 'built up.' Is this an unfair characterization?

Jeremy said...

Another distinction needs to be made about foundationalism too. The discussion has centered around the foundationalists who would count themselves as members of the internalist camp. There is an entirely different understanding of foundationalism--externalism. While I disagree with externalism, as applied either to justification or knowledge, that bunch is going to have an entirely different set of beliefs that will be counted as properly basic. Tim is absolutely right; foundationalism, whatever stripe, says there are basic beliefs. The disagreement over what actually counts as basic beliefs is just a bit of an in-house debate (what an undersatement!).

The issue is whether any of the real competitors of foundationalism are the least bit acceptable: coherentism (BonJour was a coherentist and abandoned it as indefensible), infinitism, or some sort of pragmatism.

Further, using a priori beliefs such as the law of the excluded middle or the law of identity may be muddying the waters a bit too. Undoubtedly, a priori notions are counted as among those beliefs that are properly basic. But foundationalism is usually contrued as a theory of how one is justified in holding certain empirical beliefs or how one can know epirical propositions about the world.

Despite my comment about foundationalism as justifying empirical beliefs, I do want to comment a bit about the a priori notions Groothuis mentioned. First, I would claim that babies do indeed come hardwired with certain basic ideas that would be expressed by our current formulations of the law of identity, etc. Do not confuse the ideas with the ability to express those ideas linguistically. A failure of postmodern thought has been to accept the idea that language preceeds thought. Ideas or concepts are not linguistic entities, and so it doesn't matter that a person is without the linguistic capabilities to express a certain concept or idea--the concept or idea can still be there. Besides, it seems clear that one must presuppose the three basic laws of logic (at least the law of non-contradiction) if one is going to have any meaningful thought at all. Of course, we wouldn't want to say that a child without linguistic abilities (even an older child who is mute) lacks the capability of meaningful thought.

Second, just because someone has to teach you geometry, it doesn't mean that geometry is necessarily a posteriori. You should read Plato.

Now I would like to comment on Kevin's remarks about certain languages lacking the first person singular pronoun, i.e., 'I.' Apparently, Kevin is arguing that languages that lack the ability to express sentences using the first person indexical show that there are humans that lack the intentional attributes that such sentences report. I have two comments. The first is to merely repeat that language does not precede thought, but vice versa. Merely because a language lacks expressive power, it does not follow that what would have been expressed had the language been stronger doesn't exist. Second, even in these communitities where such languages are used, I think it's reasonable to assume that the individuals act with purpose. E.g., if one of them is thirsty, then that person will intentionally go get some water to quench the thirst. Indexical knowledge is a necessary condition of purposeful action. If I believe that Jeremy is thirsty, it will not motivate me to go get a drink unless I believe that I am Jeremy. Now, I may still go get a drink even if I don't know that I am Jeremy, but it won't be my belief that Jeremy is thirsty that motivates the action; it will be my belief that I am thirsty. So, if somebody's thirsty, that person must believe something that would be expressed as 'I am thirsty,' (even if the language lacks the power to do so) if that person is going to get some water. Therefore, if indexical knowledge is necessary for purposeful action, it's reasonable to assume that purposeful action is sufficient for indexical knowledge. In other words, the lack of the first person pronoun proves nothing in regards to a person understanding the link between her thinking and her existing. There is some interesting material regarding indexical beliefs. You should check out Chisholm's _The First Person_, David Lewis's article "Attitudes De Se and De Dicto," and check out the stuff by Henri Casteneda (particularly his stuff from the 50's and 60's) on indexcial beliefs.

This is my last comment: the biggest problem with Christian philosophers/theologians who are engroosed by postmodern thought is that they are completely out of touch with contemporary philosophy. No body (at least not very many) buys into postmodern thought in contemporary analytic philosophy. It seems to me that it is the Christian postmodernist who has hitched his cart to an outdated mule.

mark mathewson said...

Kevin,

While foundationalists do assert that we start from propositional beliefs about self-evident (this is more accurate than indubitable) truths, the "starting" need not be identical to the "acquiring" of those beliefs. A foundationalist can (I think should) claim that we are not born with propositional content but rather with the capacities (reason and sensation) to acquire the propositional content to which one then assents. Thus, a distinction needs to be made between innate ideas/knowledge and innate capacities to know. I think the latter is correct. In fact, I'm not sure what sense can be made of innate knowledge understood as knowledge with which we are born. If knowledge requires anything close to understanding, how can an infant know?

I would disagree with Jeremy that babies are hardwired with certain basic ideas if by that he means some propositional content. I do think they are hardwired with the capacities, and even the predisposition, to non-inferentially grasp these beliefs at a point of mental maturity. Perhaps Leibniz' illustration of a veined block of marble roughly in the shape of a bust is helpful here.

Additionally, Jeremy is right on regarding analytic philosophers. At best, most don't take postmodern thinking seriously and at worst they laugh it to scorn.

Kevin Winters said...

Thanks for your responses, guys. There's a lot here and I want to respond to what I (as someone who does not buy into foundationalism) feel are the weakest points:

First, Jeremy, how do you distinguish "ideas" from "thought"? I'm quite unclear on the distinction and, hence, on the usefulness of making the distinction.

I first thought I would go into the whole "language" of so-called "postmodernism" (which is much less clear-cut than you think [especially on how we understand language), but now think less of the idea as it will detract from the primary topic.

This, I think, is the weakest point you have made:

"Besides, it seems clear that one must presuppose the three basic laws of logic (at least the law of non-contradiction) if one is going to have any meaningful thought at all. Of course, we wouldn't want to say that a child without linguistic abilities (even an older child who is mute) lacks the capability of meaningful thought."

To "presuppose" the "laws of logic" assumes that they are "used" in the "meaningful thought," that they in-form the meaningful thought. But as a logical (i.e. symbolic) construct, babies could not "presuppose" such; it cannot inform their understanding...unless the laws of logic are non-propositional, which would be an odd claim (but perhaps heading in the right direction).

Also, exactly how are the laws of logic applied in our knowledge? For example, how does "A=A" or "A is not ~A" fit into my experience of a billiard ball on a white desk? I'm very unclear on exactly how foundationalism applies its basic ideas.

Lastly, on language and the first person singular pronoun, you claim the following:

"if one of them is thirsty, then that person will intentionally go get some water to quench the thirst. Indexical knowledge is a necessary condition of purposeful action. If I believe that Jeremy is thirsty, it will not motivate me to go get a drink unless I believe that I am Jeremy."

This is quite confusing: do you always start out with speaking of yourself in the third-person and then 'move' on to the first person? When I'm thirsty I do not "believe" that Kevin is thirsty and then "conclude" with the "belief" that "I" am Kevin (as if they can be separated). That is completely unnecessary.

The above tendency comes from the Western penchant for reifying everything: if I am using the term "I" and the term "Kevin," then I could be referring to two separate things. But this is only feasible on the background of a context-less being. If it is "assumed" that every sentence is only intelligible given my current context (as we find in the Piraha and, remember, the Greeks), then the very thought of separating "I" from "Kevin" becomes nonsense! There is no separation between "I" and "Kevin" because they are one and the same and no mediating logical move from the third-person to the first-person is needed.

The barest that is needed is "there is thirst" and "there is action to alleviate that thirst." The Chinese apparently thrived for thousands of years without speaking of an "I." Are you going to claim that, after thousands of years (up to they met with Indo-European languages), the Chinese (and, within a different time-frame, the Greeks) were "assuming" the existence of an "I" without ever creating a word for it?

I don't have anymore time and have to run, but I will continue this later (I have comments/questions for Mark too).

Jeremy said...

Okay, this is getting to be an interesting conversation. First, I want to address Mark's point of disagreement with me. An important point that I tried to make in my post was that language does not precede thought. Of course that's not clear enough when discussing propositions, given that propositions are not liguistic entities, but rather abstract intensional entities expressed by sentences/sentence tokens (which are the liinguistic entities).

The real question behind all of this is whether or not those things traditionally called propositional attitudes really take propositions as their content. If not, then there is no problem in saying the babies have these sorts of beliefs, for the content of the beliefs is nonpropositional. It's quite clear that the status of the content of the so-called propositional attitudes is controversial, so I'm not necessarily willing to commit myself to a position. suffice it to say that I agree with your statement overall--the access that babies have to a priori truths is probably not propositional.

But, here's a go at what I think is probably going on: David Lewis and Roderick Chisholm independently developed a distinction between belief de se, belief de re, and belief de dicto. The propositional stuff comes in to play when the content of our belief is in fact a proposition, i.e., we have a belief de dicto. The interesting part of their theory is that the primary mode of belief is the de se, or belief about oneself. A crass exposition is something like this: I attribute to myself the property of being x. This is what Chisholm and Lewis call direct attribution or self ascription, respectively. This is the de se formulation. The de re formulation is indirect: I attribute to myself the property of being in some relation with something (or someone) and that something (or someone) has the property x. Neither the de se nor the de re is propositional; the believing is a mental act of attribution, not of ascenting to some proposition. Of course, there is a proposition that would correspond the state of affairs under investigation, and if the subject, the 'I' considered the proposition, then there would be a de dicto belief that accompanied the de se or de dicto belief. Perhaps what is going on in infants is some sort of direct/indirect attribution of properties corresponding to the laws of identity, excluded middle, and non-contradiction. I'm not willing to die on that hill, so don't crucify me there. It's just a first shot at an explanation.

Now to Kevin's comments...

Kevin asks

"First, Jeremy, how do you distinguish "ideas" from "thought"?"

I think the best response is that I'm using 'ideas' and 'concepts' in roughly the same way. I would say then that an idea/concept is part of a thought. Think of the difference between a word and a sentence. Our thoughts are often quite complex, using several different concepts like long, complicated sentences make use of several different words. Now don't take this too far; it's just a heuristic. Thoughts are not sentences, and concepts are not words. I think it's just a nice way to make the distinction.

Kevin then claims that the weakest point in my last post was roughly that one must presuppose at least the law of non-contradiction in order to have an meaningful thought. I then offered a bit of a reductio and claimed something like if babies aren't presupposing these laws, then they aren't having meaningful thought, but that's absurd. Therefore, they must be presupposing them. This is a bit more formal than the original, and I think it's more clear.

Regarding this point, Kevin says:

"To "presuppose" the "laws of logic" assumes that they are "used" in the "meaningful thought," that they in-form the meaningful thought. But as a logical (i.e. symbolic) construct, babies could not "presuppose" such; it cannot inform their understanding...unless the laws of logic are non-propositional, which would be an odd claim (but perhaps heading in the right direction)."

I'll start with your claim that the laws may not be propositional. I'll just refer you back to what I speculated at earlier--perhaps what is going on is the attribution of the laws as properties of being, not a reflective ascent to some proposition. Again, I'm not willing to die on that hill; I'm just throwing it out.

Now let's go back to the beginning. Yes, presupposing these laws means that they are used to inform meaningful thought. If you don't presuppose them, then you don't have any meaningful thought at all--try going to the store for an apple without presupposing the law of identity (I'm not claiming to know that the law of identity is "A = A," but rather that somehow we intuit the law without anybody telling us that something is what it is and not something else).

You go on to say something about the basic laws of logic being logical/symbolic constructs, and that since this is the case, babies could not possibly presuppose them. This is a nonsequitor and a misunderstanding of formal logic. Propositional logic (the system that formalizes the laws under discussion as theorems) is provably complete and consistent. That means that any semantic consequent is derivable and anything derivable is a semantic consequent. The important part of that phrase is the "anything derivable is a semantic consequent." Since we can derive the laws as theorems, i.e., from no assumptions, they are semantic consequences (which they would be even if they weren't theorems). This just means that the laws are laws of thought; they are meaningful regardless of the formalization. In fact, without the semantics added to the syntax and formation rules, something like (A v ~A) would be meaningless. The point is that the laws of logic (at least the laws we're talking about) are not constructs of some formal system.

How about an example? We could formalize the law of non-contradiction, but that doesn't make it a construct. In fact, there is a way to give a definition of the law that shows it to be a law of being, not just of thought: For something A, A cannot be both a member of some set B and a member of some set ~B at the same time, in the same way, or in the same respect. So, let's take something A. A is a member of the set of dogs. The formulation of the law says that this thing can't be both a dog and a not-dog at the same time, etc. If we were to deny this, or chalk it up to some sort of Western construct, then A could be a B and a ~B. This entails a breakdown of all identity conditions. The fact that you can distinguish between the billiard ball and the white desk shows that you are grasping the properties of the ball and of the table; you're getting at their intensions. Since you can tell that the intensions differ, it's just a necessary truth that their extensions differ, i.e., that the ball belongs to a different set than the white desk. In order for you to tell that there are even two things is to invoke identity conditions. Invoking identity conditions is to presuppose that everything isn't one big thing. Presupposing that is just presupposing the law of non-contradiction in your thinking and in your experience. The same goes for the other laws. Here's the last thing I'll say on this point: if the law of non-contradiction is just a construct, it's contigent. If it's contingent, then there is some possible world in which it is false. Here's the hitch: you can't say the law is false without presupposing it.

Now on to indexical beliefs expressed as sentences using the first person singular pronoun.

I argued that indexical beliefs that would be expressed as a sentence like 'I believe that p' are necessary for purposeful action. Further, if these indexical beliefs are necessary for purposeful action, then purposeful action is sufficient for indexical beliefs. (I should mention that this is not meant to be taken as a deductive argument. If it were, then I'd be guilty of affirming the consequent, or as Tim calls it, modus morons. Rather, take this to be an explanatory argument, i.e., inference to the best explanation.) I leave it to the reader to go back to the finer points of the argument in my last post.

Kevin says:

"This is quite confusing: do you always start out with speaking of yourself in the third-person and then 'move' on to the first person? When I'm thirsty I do not "believe" that Kevin is thirsty and then "conclude" with the "belief" that "I" am Kevin (as if they can be separated). That is completely unnecessary."

I think you missed the point. Of course I'm quite willing to admit that I was just confusing. The issue is not one of thinking of myself in the third-person and then moving to the first person. Rather, the point is one from empirical psychology. One can be disassociated from herself such that she won't cognize the fact that the referent of her name is her herself (the 'her herself' locution is commonly referred to as the intensive anaphoric pronoun, but is more commonly used as 'she herself' as in "Sue does not believe about herself that she herself is really Sue"). In an instance where Sue does not know that she is Sue, then her belief that Sue is thirsty (maybe she told someone that she was thirsty and then overheard the person she told tell someone else that Sue is thirsty without Sue recognizing that she herself is Sue) will not motivate her to go get some water. If Sue, not knowing that she is Sue, does go get water, it's only because she beleived that she was thirsty. If you asked her why she went to get some water she would respond, "I was thirsty."

The classic example is a story told by Ernst Mach. One night he got onto a bus. At the back of the bus was a floor-to-ceiling mirror. As he got on the bus he looked at the back and noticed a man getting on at the back as well. Apparently the man was rather shabby-looking, and Mach thought something degrading of the man at the back. Then he realized that he was looking at his reflection in the mirror--he was the shabby-looking man. He had a belief about himself, but it was not a belief that he would have expressed, at first, with a sentence using the first person singular pronoun. It was only after he realized that he was the man that he would have reported his belief as "I'm rather shabby-looking."

Therefore, your accusation of reification is quite unwarranted. The evidence shows that there are situations in belief contexts where we may believe something of ourselves without realizing that it is us that we are believing about. Since it is only when we believe about ourselves as ourselves, i.e., from the first person, that we will act, I still conclude that indexical beliefs that would be expressed by the first person singular pronoun (if the language is expressive enough to accomodate such a report) are necessary for purposeful action. Thus, purposeful action is sufficient for indexical beliefs. Again, just because the language can't handle the beliefs doesn't mean that the beliefs aren't there.

One point of clarification does need to be made. I was not clear on what I think those beliefs look like. I don't think they're propositional. I do follow Lewis and Chisholm here, and claim that indexical beliefs expressed by 'I' are acts of directly attributing properties to oneself without using any name or pronoun at all. The only way they can be expressed is to use the first-person singular pronoun. In a language that doesn't have the pronoun, I would bet there's another way of going about getting the point across. It seems rather absurd to think that just because the language didn't have the pronoun, the person couldn't think of herself as herself. The burdon of proof that that is in fact the case is on you my friend.

Regarding your claim that all there has to be is an thought like "there is thirst" is to get the job done, whose thirst are you talking about. Is it yours, your neighbors, your dogs? I hope you see that there has to be the recognition that the thirst is my thirst before I'll go get something to quench that thirst. If it's someone else's thirst, and I go get water for them, then I've got to have the belief that it's good (or whatever) to go get water for thirsty people, and I want to do good. If the indexical is not there, then there's not going to be any action.

I hope I've cleared some of my points up for you.

Douglas Groothuis said...

My former students, Mark and Jeremy, are arguing brilliantly, so I will sit back (or sit up!) and watch the performance.

Kevin Winters said...

Jeremy,

There is a lot going on here and the format is not conducive to duking it all out. So, a few comments.

First, on the law of identity, A=A is too abstract and unnecessary (except in discussions of logic and mathematics). For any given being, merely A is sufficient: it is itself. If another term is needed, beyond merely the being itself, it is most assuredly the ~A: that the apple in the store is not the shrimp in the store. In fact, one could argue that the intelligible being, "the apple," is intelligible only because it exists within a context composed of other beings, "non-apples." For example, the apple is understood in relation to other fruits, to non-fruits, to dietary needs, to aesthetic tastes, etc. Without such a context, the apple is not understood, it simply is. This implies further ideas and arguments that I would need to give, but for the present purposes (and limited time) I'll leave it at that for now. In short, the abstract separation of "A" from itself (for A=A), like the separation of "I" from "Kevin" (as if I need to logically move from an abstract "I" to "me") seems unwarranted and unnecessary.

On your statement about the completeness and consistency of propositional logic, that simply is not the case. Gödel’s proof demonstrated that no consistent symbolic system is complete, and no complete symbolic system can be proven to be consistent, and this using the system itself. Furthermore, I do not think that the theorems of the laws of logic are free of assumptions. In fact, they rely explicitly on a metaphysic of discrete substances and properties, which metaphysic is surely debatable.

But let me finish by tying this to something that Mark said (which I think is incredibly important in this discussion):

"A foundationalist can (I think should) claim that we are not born with propositional content but rather with the capacities (reason and sensation) to acquire the propositional content to which one then assents. Thus, a distinction needs to be made between innate ideas/knowledge and innate capacities to know."

My question is this: why do we not make the "capacities" (or, to speak in more Heideggerian terms, the "practices") foundational rather than the "beliefs" that are not innate and, thus, are not really "foundational" in the acquisition of knowledge? Are the beliefs supposed to be "foundational" because of their supposedly apodictic character, despite their "coming late on the scene" of human knowledge?

I understand there are more things that I (and, I don't doubt it, you) feel should be responded to, but time restraints must pull me away at the moment. Till later!

P.S. Thanks for the interesting discussion. I've enjoyed it so far.

Kevin Winters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Winters said...

I have a moment (and need a break), so here's one more response:

"One can be disassociated from herself such that she won't cognize the fact that the referent of her name is her herself (the 'her herself' locution is commonly referred to as the intensive anaphoric pronoun, but is more commonly used as 'she herself' as in "Sue does not believe about herself that she herself is really Sue"). In an instance where Sue does not know that she is Sue, then her belief that Sue is thirsty (maybe she told someone that she was thirsty and then overheard the person she told tell someone else that Sue is thirsty without Sue recognizing that she herself is Sue) will not motivate her to go get some water."

This (and Mach's) example does not make an important distinction: you are referring explicitly to "beliefs" that one has about either oneself or, simply, "Sue." But the original question was about thirst. I don't know about you, but when I am thirsty I rarely think either, "I am thirsty," or, "Kevin is thirsty." In other words, the feeling of thirst can be separated from the need to name it through a proposition...and then finally come back to myself as the 'feeler' of that feeling. So, yes, Sue may think that "Sue is thirsty" without recognizing that Sue is, in fact, herself, but there is no need for Sue to go through the mental gymnastics of "Sue is thirsty," "I am Sue," ergo "I am thirsty" if, in fact, she is feeling hungry (which, unless I misunderstood you, was what was 'going through the mind' of the aborigine). If she does 'think' that she is thirsty, it is simply, "I am thirsty." I, me, the person thinking, not some third party called Sue that I deduce is, in fact, myself through following the basic laws of logic.

This goes back to my question for Mark: if, in fact, the logical laws are not innate (i.e. they are not "foundational" in a strong sense), but rather certain capacities (or practices) for understanding things are, why are we pushing so hard to make the "beliefs" the "foundation"? I go through thousands upon thousands of experiences every day that I understand, but which do not have propositional content: I open doors, drive my moped, reach over and turn the page in the book I'm reading, recognize traffic signs, etc. But only in very few cases do I think, "That's a door; doors can be opened; I want to get out; ergo, I will open the door to get out," or, "That's a traffic sign; the traffic sign can be red, green, or yellow; when it is red, I stop; when it is green, I go; when it is yellow, I slow down; the traffic sign is red; ergo, I will stop." And to think that my actions are in some way reducible to (let alone justified by) these basic propositions seems mistaken.

I will end with quoting one of Charles Taylor's anti-foundationalist works:

"Of course, we check our claims against reality. "Johnny go into the room and tell me whether the picture is crooked". Johnny does as he is told. He doesn't check the (problematized) belief that the picture is crooked against his own belief. He emerges from the room with a view of the matter, but checking isn't comparing the problematized belief with his view of the matter; checking is forming a belief about the matter, in this case by going and looking. What is assumed when we give the order is that Johnny knows, as most of us do, how to form a reliable view of this kind of matter. He knows how to go and stand at the right distance and in the right orientation, to get what Merleau-Ponty calls maximum prise on the object. What justifies Johnny's belief is his knowing how to do this, his being able to deal with objects in this way, which is, of course, inseparable from the other ways he is able to use them, manipulate, get around among them, etc. When he goes and checks he uses this multiple ability to cope; his sense of his ability to cope gives him confidence in his judgement as he reports it to us; and rightly so, if he is competent. About some things he isn't competent: "is the picture a Renoir?"; but about this he is.

"Nor should we go off into the intellectualist regress of saying that Johnny believes that his view-forming here is reliable. This may never have been raised. He believes this no more than he believes that the world didn't start five minutes ago, or that everybody else isn't a robot."

Jeremy said...

I have no more time to devote to this discussion. Honestly, it's beginning to feel like I'm arguing with a brick wall. Of necessity, anyone who responds to any of my comments after this will have the last word. Don't confuse silence with concession. Many of the criticisms that have been leveled against my arguments concerning the necessity of presupposing the laws of logic for meaningful thought and concerning the necessity of indexical knowledge are simply confused.

One thing that I would like to point out to Kevin is that I do deny that an individual must think a sentence like "I'm thirsty." Look at my last post. I explicitly said that beliefs a person has that would be expressed by a sentence using the first person singular pronoun is non-propositional. Again, I follow David Lewis and Roderick Chisholm concerning beliefs de se and the primacy of the de se. Instead of using the 'H' word (Heideggar), read some good analytic philosophy (I'm completely comfortable being labeled an analytic philosophy snob).

Lastly, Kevin's remarks about Godel are mistaken as well. Tim told me that he (Tim) also pointed out these mistakes to Kevin over a year ago. I have no time to repeat that lesson.

I don't mean to sound snotty; I've just lost interest.

mark mathewson said...

Kevin,

I guess I simply do not understand what you are getting at when you say:

"This goes back to my question for Mark: if, in fact, the logical laws are not innate (i.e. they are not "foundational" in a strong sense), but rather certain capacities (or practices) for understanding things are, why are we pushing so hard to make the "beliefs" the "foundation"? I go through thousands upon thousands of experiences every day that I understand, but which do not have propositional content: I open doors, drive my moped, reach over and turn the page in the book I'm reading, recognize traffic signs, etc. But only in very few cases do I think, "That's a door; doors can be opened; I want to get out; ergo, I will open the door to get out," or, "That's a traffic sign; the traffic sign can be red, green, or yellow; when it is red, I stop; when it is green, I go; when it is yellow, I slow down; the traffic sign is red; ergo, I will stop." And to think that my actions are in some way reducible to (let alone justified by) these basic propositions seems mistaken."

First, I never said laws of logic were innate capacities (I don't even know what that would mean). All I said was that we have innate capacities to know self-evident truths, like laws of logic, in a non-inferential way. Second, I don't get the point about actions being reducible or justified by basic propositions. Where was that stated or implied? Forgive my ignornace, but I simply don't know what this means.

I too will now bow out of this particular discussion. It's been enjoyable.

Kevin Winters said...

Mark,

Please read what I said more carefully (and don't be blinded by the H-word):

"if, in fact, the logical laws are not innate"

I don't know how you read otherwise.

On the second part, perhaps "reducible" is not the right word, but "justified" certain is. If our knowledge and knowledgable actions are "founded" on basic beliefs, then they are also justified by them, as the conclusion is justified by its premises. Isn't that the whole basis of the foundationalist paradigm: to find justification for our beliefs and actions? If not, then what good are these supposed "foundations"?

But this still leaves my basic question: why are the beliefs foundational instead of the innate capacities by which those beliefs are discovered?

But, as both of you have already bowed out, I guess that question will not be answered here...

Kevin Winters said...

One last question (and I hope you will return at least to answer this): could you give me any particular works by Lewis, Chisholm, Mach, etc.? I, at least, am willing to admit my ignorance of analytic philosophy (rather than immediately prejudging it because it is not in my 'club') and am open for learning more.

The Trousered Ape said...

I didn't read the argument between Kevin verses Mark & Jeremy so I am not sure if this point was brought up to Kevin. But does he realize that the laws of logic he is attempting to deny are the very same laws of logic he is using in order to give his argument any sort of sense or meaning to start with?

Further, just because an aborigine is unaware does not negate the truthfulness of the basic propositions. You (Kevin) were probably unaware of them yourself until you learned about them, so I'm not too sure what one (they existing) has to do with another (you being aware of whether they exist or not). I'm very certain that there are a great number of things that exist and are true that I am not aware of.

It would seems as if he is "sawing off the branch he is sitting on."

Shawn

Nick Steffen said...

Here's Mr Chesterton's approach to children, logic, and fairytales. Hopefully it might present the opportunity for clarity to erupt from the discussion.

BOQ
I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.

It might be stated this way. There are certain sequences or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are, in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity. For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it. Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases: it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne: and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses, there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it. But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened -- dawn and death and so on -- as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton, who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they could not be got to see the distinction between a true law, a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the apple hit Newton's nose, Newton's nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike. We have always in our fairy tales kept this sharp distinction between the science of mental relations, in which there really are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are no laws, but only weird repetitions. We believe in bodily miracles, but not in mental impossibilities. We believe that a Bean-stalk climbed up to Heaven; but that does not at all confuse our convictions on the philosophical question of how many beans make five.
EOQ

I'm not sure if Chesterton would say these laws of logic are innate or external, but he assuredly sees their necessity, quite something for a man who builds much of his thought on 'paradox'.

Kevin Winters said...

Shawn,

"But does he realize that the laws of logic he is attempting to deny are the very same laws of logic he is using in order to give his argument any sort of sense or meaning to start with?"

Where did I deny the laws of logic? I'm arguing that they are not fundamental, that our thought does not ultimately rest on 'basic propositions,' but rather on embodied practices that articulate beings such that we can then speak about them in logical ways. Without these practices and beings, logic would not exist.

"Further, just because an aborigine is unaware does not negate the truthfulness of the basic propositions."

It was argued that the laws of logic are fundamental to thought and language. I first argued that for the law of identity (Groothuis' first 'basic proposition') one does not need a third-person account of A=A, but merely A, the object there in front of me. I could have also mentioned that the very claim that A=~A (Groothuis' second 'basic proposition') itself rests on developed practices of discrimination (ones that are not initially had when congenital blindness is cured, to use one good example), without which the proposition would be meaningless; similarly with A v ~A (Groothuis' third 'basic proposition').

I then refered to a well-known fact that pre-modern Chinese does not have the first-person indexical (i.e. "I"; Groothuis' sixth 'basic proposition). This, incidentally, is consistent with Eastern philosophy in general (though it is understood in various, sometimes mutually incompatible ways). So, either (1) this culture had some implicit understanding of an "I" but never developed the language for it for over 2000 years until it came into contact with Western thought, (2) their use of it (as a 'basic proposition' for all knowledge) is unconscious, or (3) the proposition is not basic.

For (1), this seems rather strange: it is essential to knowledge to assume the basic proposition, "I think, therefore I am," but it is conspicuously lacking in a civilization that has existed for over 2000 years. Then, it developed that language only after it came into contact with a civilization that has had a strong (increasingly individualistic) affirmation of the "I." (1) seems unlikely to me.

For (2), it is entirely unclear exactly what "unconscious" means here. It certainly doesn't mean what Freud intended, as this approach would reduce the unconscious to an "unconscious consciousness," a 'rule/logic following mechanism.' Tim uses it in this way in the introduction to his book where he says (going off of memory) that everyone "unconsciously" knows that 286+2=288: that somewhere, below consciousness, there is the proposition "286+2=288." Personally, I didn't 'know' that till I saw it, just like I don't somehow 'know' that 1,857,392,038,478+1,093,493,982=1,858,485,532,460 (yup, had to calculate it out, i.e. a practice). How this "unconscious" works would need to be worked out before I can really say anything about it.

Lastly, for (3), this is my bet. Our knowledge is not founded on basic propositions that we then deduce other truths from (the construction metaphor itself seems mistaken, except in limited applicability). Rather, it is founded on a form of life, a set of practices, of 'how to do things' with words, numbers, computers, hammers, food, etc. Logic is just as much (if not more) a practice than it is a set of propositions.

With that, can someone please give me some particular suggestions from all the names that have been dropped in my lap? I've done some searching and they have written a lot.