• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Irreconcilable Differences: The Divorce of Materialism and Truth

Materialism

According to many today, the advance of the natural physical sciences continues to shrink the “space” for God. The “gaps” where someone can place God are decreasing, and therefore the “God hypothesis” will one day be swallowed whole by the progress of the scientific endeavor. Even more, the “space” where one could posit the human person as something more than just a complex, organized collection of matter and energy is said to have disappeared.

While I find a materialist metaphysics very hard to coherently defend, I do find it interesting that an increasing amount of “secular” philosophers, who have no particular sympathy towards deism or theism, are beginning to question the assumption that materialism is true.1 It seems the rise of the physical sciences has led to matter and energy being proclaimed as the one true “god.”

As we read a few months back on Strange Notions, in Pat Shultz’s article on the personal pronoun “I” and inner subjectivity, atheism and materialism seem to be connected in an intimate manner. But if we can show that materialism is false, beyond a reasonable doubt, we can begin to proclaim with Dr. Edward Feser that materialism is in fact one of the last superstitions and one of the final myths that we have created.2 We then can begin to recognize that there exists more to reality than simply matter and energy. Our heart and mind can then be opened to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the human person and ultimately to the possibility of the Divine.

While I will not propose arguments for either this more complete account of the human person or a specifically theistic worldview in this essay, I do wish to address the coherency of actually holding that materialism is true. Materialism is the metaphysical proposal that all that exists is material in its nature. This means that no immaterial, spiritual entities exist in all reality. While there are many issues that arise which challenge the coherency of the materialist hypothesis, one of the most basic is the existence of truth. The reason is that truth, and our beliefs in general, necessarily seep into every facet of our human condition. Every coherent thought we have and word we proclaim is some sort of belief statement about the true nature of reality. Even when we aim to purposely deceive, we are working off of the assumption that there is a truth about reality that we are trying to keep hidden. We cannot say that truth does not exist without at the same time contradicting ourself.

But there is a key distinction that makes the human person so unique. It is not simply the case that it is possible that some of the beliefs we hold are actually true. Rather, the human person is capable of using reason to hold that certain beliefs are more rational to hold as actually true over alternative beliefs. In other words, it is possible for the human person to distinguish between beliefs that merely appear true and beliefs that are actually true. This is done through the proper use of reason and the intellect. The alternative to this position is complete skepticism, where a person holds that one cannot tell the difference between a belief that is actually true and one that only appears to be true.

We can already begin to see that the position of complete skepticism is incoherent and must be rejected. The statement, “I hold that it is actually true that a person cannot tell the difference between a belief that is actually true and one that only appears to be true” is clearly an incoherent proposition. In a more succinct manner, what we are saying is that, “I hold that complete skepticism is actually true.” This is a self-contradiction and what is called a “proof by contradiction”. Therefore, we reject complete skepticism (this will be an important part of the actual arguments below) and move on to the main attraction.

We will be using the form of a basic logical philosophical proof. If you read the series at Strange Notions about the existence of an unconditioned reality, this should look very familiar. This type of argument can be very strong, because if the logical form is valid and the premises are true, then the conclusion is necessarily true (from the metaphysical—the ontological—point of view). From an epistemological point of view, if the premises can be shown to be true, beyond a reasonable doubt, then the conclusion that follows is also to be held as true beyond a reasonable doubt.

We will be proposing all the ways in which truth could arise within the human person, while at the same time assuming that the human person is a purely material being. If all these options must ultimately be reduced to absurdity, using valid logical form and true premises, then we will also reduce the assumption of materialism to absurdity. This will be done by taking each of the options one at a time, assuming it is true, and then working to show that the position is actually internally incoherent. And if the position can be shown to be internally incoherent, then means we must reject that original assumption.

The Argument

I. Either all of reality is material in nature (i.e., materialism is true) or all of reality is not material in nature (i.e., materialism is not true).

We start by breaking our options for reality into two absolute groups. There are no other options available. Either all of reality is material in nature (i.e., materialism is true) or all of reality is not material in nature (i.e., materialism is not true). We do this so that if the assumption that materialism is true leads to a logical contradiction, then we must conclude that materialism is not true.

We will start by assuming that materialism is true. This means that the belief-making mechanisms of the human person are ultimately reducible to the overall physical state of the human person. Many would point towards the chemical processes in the brain and the overall state of the nervous system, but of course there may be more “materiality” to the human person that we have yet to discover and study. This is the reason we use the general statement of “the overall physical state of the human person”—whatever that physical state may end up being. And the reason this is true is because nothing but matter and energy exists, so all our beliefs ultimately arise from the complex interaction of matter and energy.

II. If materialism is true, we have three alternative possibilities:

(A) The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do not follow any sort of consistent natural physical laws.

(B) The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and always lead to true beliefs.

(C) The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.

What we have done here is lay out all possible options in all reality. (I did not include the option of natural laws always leading to false beliefs, since that option can be easily seen to be incoherent.) We will take each option in turn to see whether it can account for holding beliefs that we have reason to believe are more rational to hold as actually true than alternative beliefs; that is, we will see if any of these options can account for the fact that the human person is capable of distinguishing between beliefs that are actually true and beliefs that only appear to be true.

III. The Materialist Options evaluated

Materialist Option (A)

  1. We assume that Materialist Option (A) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do not follow any sort of consistent natural physical laws)
  2. Complete skepticism is false.
  3. If the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do not follow any consistent natural physical laws, then all the matter/energy that makes up the human person’s belief-making mechanisms behave in random ways.
  4. If the belief-making mechanisms behave in random ways, then the beliefs that come from this belief-making mechanism will also be random.
  5. If the beliefs are random, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true.
  6. If the human person cannot rationally hold that any belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true, then complete skepticism is true.
  7. Contradiction between premise (2) and premise (6).
  8. Therefore, we reject the original assumption of Materialist Option (A).

The job at hand now is to show that each of these premises is true beyond a reasonable doubt. Premise (2)—that complete skepticism is false—was demonstrated above.

Premises (3) and (4) are evident from the fact that if even a single part of the matter/energy that forms the human person’s belief-making mechanisms does not follow any consistent physical laws, then the beliefs that come from them will be random. To be random means that our belief-making mechanisms are not directed towards coming to true beliefs—in fact these mechanisms aren’t directed towards anything!

Premise (5) and (6) simply shows that if our beliefs are completely random then we have no way to rationally hold that any of our beliefs are actually true, rather than simply appearing to be true. Furthermore, our belief in the fact that our beliefs are random would itself a random. This leads to complete skepticism, which creates an internal contradiction in this hypothesis. Therefore, we reject Materialist Option (A). The belief that the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do not follow any sort of consistent natural physical laws is false.

Materialist Option (B)

  1. We assume that Materialist Option (B) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and always lead to true beliefs)
  2. If the human person’s belief-making mechanisms always leads to true beliefs, then every belief the human person holds is true.
  3. The human person does not always hold true beliefs.
  4. Contradiction between premises (2) and (3).
  5. Therefore, we reject the original assumption of Materialist Option (B).

This option is the one that is most easily seen to be false. The proposal that we always come to true beliefs is false by the fact that two people can, and many times do, hold contradictory beliefs to be true. It is also shown forth by the fact that we assume that science has shown that people have come to false beliefs about reality in the past. Those entering into discussion on a site like Strange Notions are actually working from the assumption that they are coming together to discuss what the actual truth of reality is, which assumes that false beliefs about reality are possible. With that said, we can reject Materialist Option (B). The belief that the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and always lead to true beliefs is false.

Materialist Option (C)

  1. We assume that Materialist Option (C) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.)
  2. Complete skepticism is false.
  3. If the human person’s belief-making mechanisms follow natural physical laws, which do not always lead to true beliefs, then some beliefs a person holds are true and some they hold are false.
  4. If the exact same natural physical laws that govern the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do lead to both true and false beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true.
  5. If the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true, then complete skepticism is true.
  6. Contradiction between premises (2) and (5).
  7. Therefore, we reject the original assumption of Materialist Option (C).

Materialist Option (C) is probably the hypothesis that needs the most attention. This is because it seems to have the most promise of being able to describe reality as it actually is. Common human experience tells us that the human person can come to both true and false beliefs. And when we assume materialism, the belief-making mechanisms would seem to need to follow some sort of very complex natural physical laws. Obviously, if they didn’t always follow some sort of natural physical laws, then the coherency of our physical sciences is undermined, and we would be back to Materialist Option (A), which we addressed above. This is because the sciences rely upon the assumption that matter and energy actually do follow complex natural “physical laws” (even laws stating probabilities, such as those in versions of quantum mechanics, are natural physical laws nonetheless.)

So we again begin by acknowledging that complete skepticism is false. In premise (3), we simply point out that if the belief-making mechanisms of the human person do not always lead to true beliefs, then some of the beliefs that the person holds will be true and some of them will be false.

Premise (4) is the key premise in this argument. It points out that these consistent complex natural laws lead the human person’s belief-making mechanisms to sometimes hold true beliefs and at other times to hold false beliefs. In other words, the same law in the same exact situation can lead to either a true or false belief. If that is the case, then there is no way to tell whether a belief we hold is actually true, or whether it merely appears true. (The only way to avoid this conclusion is to hold a deterministic account of beliefs, where every belief we hold is true. This is Materialist Option (B), which we discussed above and found to be false.)

As has been the problem with all three of these proposals, there is no way to step back and use reason to say that this belief is actually true, rather than the belief only appearing to be true. In other words, complete skepticism is again true. Materialist Position (C) contains an internal contradiction. We can then reject Materialist Option (C). The belief that the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs is false.

IV. The Grand Conclusion

What we have done is evaluate all three options that would attempt to explain, at a metaphysical level, how the human person would come to beliefs on a materialistic view of reality. What we have found is that all three of these positions are internally incoherent. Because of this we can reject the original assumption that all of reality is material in nature and conclude that there exists in all of reality more than just matter and energy—materialism is false. But even more specifically, because we are dealing with the belief-making mechanisms of the human person, we can conclude that the human person itself is not merely a material being.

The fact that this is a philosophical proof means that no finding in science could in principle undermine the conclusion. The only way to disprove this conclusion would be to use philosophical argument. Because of this fact, “promissory materialism”, the belief that one day the sciences will be able to explain all of reality in terms of matter and energy, is of no use. It does not matter what science discovers about the physical “laws” of the universe. It does not matter what other discoveries science makes in regards to quantum physics, string theory, multi-verses, or any other surprises this beautiful and vast cosmos has in store for us. This is, in part, what makes good philosophical arguments so strong.

The Evolution Objection

When I have had discussions with others about the topic of materialism and truth, evolution naturally comes up. Many times evolution appears to be the savior of this whole materialist enterprise—if a materialist has tried to replace God with matter and energy, then Jesus is replaced by the theory of evolution.

The central point of the evolution objection is that evolution is a sort of “optimizer”. Evolution has no ultimate purpose, goal, or “end”, but the more beings who survive to reproduce with a certain trait means that there will be a higher probability of having that trait passed down to future generations. So it could be proposed that in the roughly four billion years since it is believed life first appeared on earth, the belief-making mechanisms have been optimized so that, at this point in history, we have very good reason to believe that the majority of our beliefs are actually true. This plays off of the fact that it is reasonable to believe that a biological being who holds more true beliefs would seem to have a higher probability of surviving.

The fact of the matter is this could all be true, but it would still not change the fact that materialism is an incoherent belief.

The reason for this is we are not debating whether the human person could actually hold some true beliefs. The above discussion hinges upon the question of whether it is possible to show that any specific belief we hold is actually true, rather than simply appearing to be true to us. If we can’t show this, then the human person is left in a state of complete skepticism, even in regards to the belief that “materialism is true”.

For example, “materialism is true” is a belief that the materialist needs to show is actually true, and doesn’t simply appear true to them. But the materialist necessarily saws off the branch that they are sitting on when they claim that materialism is true. This branch is itself the only thing that gives them the ability to hold that anything they hold is actually true. They are making the claim that materialism is true, but they cannot tell you if it is actually true, or if it only appears true. They destroy truth itself, which destroys their ability to hold any of their beliefs as being actually true statements. In fact, any thought a materialist has, or any statement that a materialist speaks, ends up being proof that materialism is false.

Truth is one of the key ways in which the transcendent nature of the human person makes its presence felt. This is why, over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle called the human person the “rational animal”. A rational intellect, a self-conscious nature, and a free will are all inextricably tied together. To be able to say that we have reason to believe that something is actually true, and doesn’t just appear to be true, is to “take a step back” from our belief. Picture it like placing the belief in front of you, and then objectively studying whether it is true or not. This is the reason why the human person can hold that it is rational to believe that some beliefs are actually, objectively true. And as we investigated at the beginning of this essay, the alternative, complete skepticism—that the human person cannot tell whether a belief is actually true or only appears true—is false.

So in the end, materialism and truth do have irreconcilable differences and must go their separate ways—to divorce and never become united, although it is, in fact, a union that never could have taken place.

It may be possible to boil down this entire essay to one statement: if complete skepticism is false, then materialism is also false.

But what then in regards to the proper conception of the human person itself? We have rejected materialism and we must also reject a dualist account, most prominently because of the mysterious and almost magical notion of how these two substances of an immaterial mind and material body would come together to interact. Our gaze must then fall to a type of hylomorphic account; an account that recognizes a distinction between the material and immateriality of the human person, but insists that the person is a single unified substance. This type of account must hold that the spiritual aspects of the human person do not reside in the living body, but rather must be identified with the entirety of the single unified living body—a living body that is a unity of both immateriality and materiality.

The next task is to defend and nuance this hylomorphic conception of the human person. I leave this task to the better equipped Mr. Patrick Schultz, who I just so happen to know has produced two fantastic essays on this exact topic (coming this Wednesday and Friday at Strange Notions.)

So we shall wait, not in the darkness of uncertainty, but in the light, knowing that philosophy can shed light on the issue of the true nature of the human person!

Notes:

  1. See Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 2012.
  2. See Edward Feser, The Last Superstition, 2010.
Philip Lewandowski

Written by

Philip Lewandowski is a first year seminarian in formation for the priesthood at St. Mary Seminary in the Diocese of Cleveland, OH. He spent much of his time before entering the seminary in the music world as a live audio engineer, which greatly influenced his love of the arts. Through study and prayer he has developed a passion for walking with others on the intellectual and spiritual journey that comprises this life.

Enjoy this article? Receive future posts free by email:

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Matthew Newland

    I have a question. I consider myself a materialist in spite of being a practicing Catholic. This should have been obvious in the article which I wrote in response to Pat Schultz (to which this article is also a reply). I believe that the "bits" composing material reality, with all their complex interactions and reactions, can give rise to new levels of reality that are nonetheless rooted in the physical world (embedded within a foundation of matter).

    Would you disagree, Mr. Lewandowski, or would you say that emergent materialism is not the same as strict materialism?

    If you didn't read it, here is a link to my response to Schultz:

    http://strangenotions.com/exorcizing-the-ghost-from-the-machine/

    • William Davis

      For what it is worth, I'm confident you are on the right track. Dualism is pretty useless...it isn't even wrong.

      • Matthew Newland

        We'll see, William. Depends on my thesis committee's questions during the defense too (I study under the Dominicans!)

        • Phil

          I'm very curious to hear what they will say about your thoughts!

          • Matthew Newland

            Me too. For better or for worse :P

        • Loreen Lee

          You're amazing. Thank you. Thank you. I understand you 'see no contradiction'. You are so coherent. You are my hope.

          • Matthew Newland

            Why, thank you, Loreen. But really, I'm just stumbling about in the dark like everyone else :P

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah! But you've got a thesis on what I understand is reductionism, and you're actually presenting it to Catholic Dominicans. A philosopher who is actually dealing with 'materialism' (ontologically?)
            I sincerely hope that your Ph.d. is published, and that you will be able to continue, within the context of a life time project, working towards further clarification of the ideas and resolution of any issues this might raise. All the best to you.
            j

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Loreen! Stay tuned ... :)

    • Patrick Schultz

      Matthew, for you, what is materialism? Can we have a definition please?

      • This may be helpful, I think in philosophical circles it is that matter is fundamental, all else is emergent.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR3So9h1Pe0

      • Matthew Newland

        I don't believe in any kind of dual-substance interaction, or the idea that the mind can exist separately from the body. My mind and ego, the "who I am" comes from the interactions of the body. I arise from it.

        And as I am willing to suggest that there are smaller "egos" in me all the way down (my neocortex and limbic system have different aims and agendas, for example, as do the two hemispheres of my neocortex), I am the sum total of all these "little minds". I am a society, as Plato once imagined human beings to be in The Republic.

        Bringing this into Christianity, I would then link my nature as a composite being into St. Paul's description of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ.

        • Matthew Newland

          Patrick, I gotta thank you again for getting the ball rolling on this great discussion (with your original article!). I've enjoyed all this immensely.

          • Patrick Schultz

            You're welcome! It's fun, isn't it?

            Okay, so about this denial of "dual-substance" interaction...

            ...speaking to Matthew the practicing Catholic, now: How do you square your faith with your materialist beliefs? From where I stand, strict materialism is incompatible with Christian belief. By "strict materialism" I mean the "nothing-but" variety of materialism: ALL (in the total sense) that exists is nothing but matter and energy. For the strict materialist, the word "spiritual" is in the same category as the word "fairies," or "unicorns;" we may use the word, but it signifies nothing real.

            And yet, Sunday after Sunday (I presume you go at least this often), in the Creed, you personally profess belief in one God (who is NOT material), the creator of "all things visible (material) and invisible (immaterial)." You profess belief in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Council of Chalcedon, long ago, infallibly articulated the dual-nature of Christ's hypostatic union, stating that his two natures are without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.

            Matthew, help me understand, from your perspective, how the version of materialism you've proposed is in ANY WAY compatible with these beliefs.

          • Matthew Newland

            Short answer because I gotta leave now to pick up my daughter. The "spiritual" aspect of reality (GOD, for example) is beyond my ability to comment upon for now. I do know that I am a being with a body and that my experience as a human life seems to depend on that body. Hit me on the head with a brick and I will lose a part of who I am (I may even die). So I see no reason to invoke a "ghost" that carries on in spite of my body's death and decay (this leads to the whole problem of how mind and body interact, which even Descartes grappled with).

            I would not dare guess what sort of nature GOD possess, though the fact that heaven would seem to be more than just a spiritual realm (if the Resurrected Jesus, Elijah, and the Virgin Mary all have bodies there). But this is beyond my abilities as a mere graduate student.

            Maybe in 10 years I'll know a bit more? I take comfort in the fact that Plato didn't start writing any "original ideas" until he was in his 40s and ran out of "Socrates stories" to pass on. I got time :)

          • Patrick Schultz

            Thank you for your response! First let me say, I'm glad your daughter takes priority over this blog! If you don't get the chance to respond for days because you're having a tea party with her or something, good, great, that's a-okay with me : ) Good fathers are an increasingly endangered species! Bloggers and blog-responders are in abundant supply!

            A couple follow-up questions.

            First, you said "I am a being with a body..." I must ask, what is it that exists WITH the body of which you speak? It seems, though you stand staunchly in the materialist camp, you also have one foot clandestinely planted in the immaterial camp as well : ) borrowing resources to make your argument coherent. Now I myself am not a dualist, and I disagree with Descartes' idea of the mind/soul/spirit existing like some homunculus inside a material body. But, I do indeed believe in the soul, which in Aristotelian terms, is the form of the body, wedded to the body as an organic whole. In other words, what is the "I am" that is "with" your body?

            Secondly: If God exists, and God is not material, then it simply is not true that MATTER is all that there is. Since you believe in God (and angels, and the Communion of saints, I presume), then you cannot de facto believe in strict materialism. If I'm off somewhere, please explain.

            Thirdly, I TOTALLY agree with you on this point: "...my experience as a human life seems to depend on that body. Hit me on the head with a brick and I will lose a part of who I am (I may even die)." To be human means to be that sort of creature who exists bodily. I think we agree there. Here's where I diverge from you. To sufficiently explain that human experience, appealing ONLY to the material constituency of the body is not enough. For a complete explanation, what is necessary is not necessarily sufficient. For example, if you want to explain why a kettle of water is boiling, you might appeal to the chemical properties of the liquid water, the heat source, the proximity of that heat source to the liquid, the increasing movement of the atoms, etc. BUT, I could just as well explain the water boiling by saying I want a cup of tea : ) You would be partially correct in your response (as would I of course) that you cannot rightly have a cup of tea without all those material explanations and components, but the INTENTIONALITY (the non-material explanation) sufficiently explains the water boiling. What is necessary in explaining the human person (material bodiless) is not necessarily sufficient for a full account of lived human experience.

            Let me know what you think. I hope you and your daughter have a nice tea party or something together tonight after reading my response!

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Good Sir. As a matter of fact, my little girl is refusing to go to sleep now (in spite of being put to bed 40 minutes ago. She has clearly inherited my stubbornness).

            So allow me to only address your first point. You got me; I should not have said "I am a being with a body", but "I am a body". :P

            I only became a materialist a few years ago, so I sometimes habitually give in to describing things the way l used to (the soul, for example, which I'll agree with you exists but only as an "event' of matter)

            (Okay, she wants me to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to her. Hopefully sleep will follow ...)

          • Loreen Lee

            I have become a follower. I've explained above that my introduction to the reductionist thesis initiated incredible 'problems'. Maybe if I follow you I will not be tempted to involve myself in any of the 'experiments' I talked about. All I need is some theory. Explanation for contradictions, etc. etc. etc.

            I am so happy you are such a caring dad. My children may be 'older' than you. All my love to you and your family Thanks.

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Loreen. And likewise to your family. I've got two articles here on StrangeNotions, and a third to be published any day now (stay tuned). But in the meantime there is plenty to discuss here.

            (Not neglecting Patrick; I'll comment on what he had to say a little later).

        • Phil

          Hey Matthew,

          As a materialist, it seems you must then hold that these egos don't really exist, whether it be the individual smaller ones or the big one you reference when you say "I". This is because all that exists is matter/energy. In other words, the "ego" isn't something above and beyond the matter of the body, but simply is the material body.

          One might try and hold that immaterial "egos" arise from matter, but then of course they wouldn't be a materialist and would be stuck with some type of dualist account.

          It seems like you are trying hold the Aristotelian view of form/matter, but then you try to swallow up form with the matter. In this case, there is really no such thing as form anymore.

          • Matthew Newland

            Close, Phil. I'm more Whiteheadian. I see all particles as having a "dipolar" aspect; a physical and "mental" component. This is because the further down you go, you see that particles are "abuzz" with active energy. Activity doesn't break down the further down you go.

          • Phil

            I guess my question is, what exactly are these "egos" you talk about? It isn't immaterial, since you say you are a materialist. So then it must be some sort of matter or energy?

            If this is the case, we should be able to observe these egos, either now or in the future. Is that correct?

          • Loreen Lee

            That's the Heidegger thesis! Thank you. So it 'goes deeper' than just being aware of the words? I can't understand why I am so fascinated with this?

          • SattaMassagana

            Phil, would you say there is any distinction between:
            "ego...simply is the material body"

            vs:

            "Ego/consciousness is what the material brain is generating when it's functioning"

          • Phil

            "Ego/consciousness is what the material brain is generating when it's functioning"

            Can you describe what exactly the material brain would be generating in this case?

            "Generating" seems to suggest that there is something above and beyond the material brain that is present.

          • SattaMassagana

            "what exactly is the material brain generating"

            My conscious experience: sensory input, processing, output. The whole "being here, doing this" thing I assume others experience.

            "Generating"

            Crude metaphor: My vacuum cleaner isn't "suction". My vacuum cleaner generates suction when it's functioning. Is suction above and beyond the material parts of the vacuum cleaner?

          • Phil

            My vacuum cleaner isn't "suction". My vacuum cleaner generates suction when it's functioning. Is suction above and beyond the material parts of the vacuum cleaner?

            I know you said it was a crude metaphor, but when we look at this example we see a material object, a vacuum, generating a material phenomenon, namely suction.

            Does this mean that you would hold that:

            My conscious experience: sensory input, processing, output. The whole "being here, doing this" thing I assume others experience.

            ...is a physical thing generated by a probably functioning brain and nervous system?

            Maybe you would say that the brain generates some sort of energy and you would say this equals "consciousness"?

          • SattaMassagana

            Close enough, very much like a computer. (It organizes energy)

          • Loreen Lee

            Tell us more???? Do they know how matter is related to energy within the brain. How!!! this works?

          • Loreen Lee

            But does this 'eliminate' God? What also of the thesis, even in psychology, that the 'ego (self-absorbed self) has to be transcended to find the 'true' self. As in: Community. 'Lose yourself and 'follow me'? 'etc?'

          • Loreen Lee

            Apparently that's what Descartes did! It's OK for me to say Oh! yes I can intellectually 'see' that possibility', but to make a coherent whole of it within one's internal 'understanding', is 'something else'. I can even 'imaginatively visualize' this as the need to realign all my neurons, and indeed for some sort of bodily resurrection/transformation of their 'being'. Yes. I enjoy my incoherent thoughts. Be warned. Nobody has to read me. If there's any 'light' in any of these statement, I have the assurance of science, that they will live on somehow in the universe and may someday be seen within a distance constellation. Hopefully, however, Neitzsche's 'Eternal Return' wsas one of his more ironic statements, because the transformation thesis is somehow more appealing to me. Back to my silence. Thanks you guys.

          • Loreen Lee

            Only chaos, for 'incoherence'. Recently I read that Descartes eliminated form. Form of what? Was this an Aristotelean interpretation? Never heard of it before. Can't learn study everything at once. Like there are different kinds of form - right?

        • Pofarmer

          You had me until the last sentence?

          • Matthew Newland

            About activity being present "all the way down"? It's the old idea that subatomic particles are these hard little "billiard balls" that make up everything. Instead of being inert little "pieces", they are fuzzy, indeterminate, and pulsing with energy. And of course Einstein pointed out that in fact matter IS energy. It's all the same "stuff".

          • Pofarmer

            "Bringing this into Christianity, I would then link my nature as a composite being into St. Paul's description of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ."

            Seems a huge leap.

          • Matthew Newland

            Pofarmer - That's why my thesis isn't finished yet :P

          • Pofarmer

            Combining theology with reality is a tough job.

          • Here in Louisiana, Walker Percy's a real folk hero. He's buried in the cemetery at St Joseph's Abbey. My favorite semiotic distinction was crafted by Percy in his collection of essays, Message in a Bottle.

            See
            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Message_in_the_Bottle

            The distinction he elucidated was that between knowledge and news.

            One takeaway from that distinction would seem to be that theology, far less than so many seem to suppose, is a speculative venture, and, far more than they seem to suppose, is a practical ad-venture. Hence the emphases by such as Whitehead and Peirce --- not so much on evidential description, but --- on existential interpretation. Percy was a thorough-going Peircean!

            This is also to suggest that theology, properly considered, practically, is far less a challenge than one might otherwise suspect, when one narrowly construes it, speculatively.

    • joey_in_NC

      I consider myself a materialist in spite of being a practicing Catholic.

      I also question your definition of materialism. How is heaven/hell linked to the material?

      • Matthew Newland

        The difference between heaven and hell is just a "state of mind", Joey.

        • joey_in_NC

          I'm not sure I understand. When someone dies, does the soul continue existing?

          • Matthew Newland

            Yes. I think that life goes on after death, but the body remains (or, if you'll forgive the pun, "the remains remain") essential to our continued experience. This is why the belief in the resurrection of the body is so important to me.

            (I should note that this is where my ideas head into totally speculative territory. I'm doing my PhD thesis now so we'll see how well they go over.)

          • Loreen Lee

            So please.... Why the JUST a state of mind? as if that were somehow 'insignificant'. That can have so many implications for me, from Sartre - to the fears of eternal damnation. Yes. I have a sense of irony too, and sometimes it is considered 'mean'.

          • Matthew Newland

            It's a state of mind because there is only one reality: the community. You either embrace this fact (that we are all one and ought to live together and look out for one another) or you can selfishly resist (focus on your wants and desires and put yourself first). Your attitude to life (and experience beyond life) makes it heavenly or hellish.

          • Loreen Lee

            Oh! I'm going to like reading your work. And there's 'life after death'.

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Loreen. I think I said it already (I honestly don't remember now) but I have another article here at StrangeNotions "on the horizon" (that is, I wrote it and submitted it but don't know exactly when it's going up). Stay tuned ...

          • Loreen Lee

            I understand this to mean that you have an article that we can all look forward to reading and commenting upon on Strange Notions. I expect it will be a catalyst for a very productive and interesting conversation.

    • The bulk of Nancey Murphy's work on emergent monism and nonreductive physicalism with which I am familiar was done under the auspices of and published by the Vatican Observatory, Vatican City, and by the University of Notre Dame. One of her primary collaborators was Fr William J. Stoeger, SJ, who died in March. Good luck!

      • Matthew Newland

        I'm quite taken with Nancey Murphy's ideas and I enjoyed reading her book, Johnboy. I was surprised to note after purchasing it that it was published by the Vatican Observatory.

        I'm more or less in agreement with her. But as my thesis is still "in process" I am sure there will be further need for clarification and revision (she says almost nothing about Whitehead in her book and I think Whitehead's ideas are really important. I like to joke that my thesis will "baptize Whitehead" for Catholic use.)

        • I've drawn much inspiration from Joe Bracken's divine matrix and Jack Haught's process thought. I enjoyed dinner with Jack several decades ago when he guest lectured at LSU and only a handful of us students showed up and we've corresponded sparingly over the years. My late friend, Jim Arraj, a Thomist and Maritain scholar, wrote of deep and dynamic formal fields and I saw that as emblematic of how otherwise diverse metaphysics can begin to conceptually converge, no matter which root metaphor they employ, whether substance, process, social, relational, experience or what have you. My theological imagination has always been directed toward the pneumatological, as my formative spirituality was shaped by the charismatic renewal. One of the Jesuits whom I'd met at Loyola, active in renewal circa 1970, was the late Don Gelpi whose lifework culminated with his own pragmatic metaphysics of experience, which draws deeply on Peirce's pragmatic semiotic realism, the same school of thought that inspired Terry Deacon's account of The Symbolic Species (and teleodynamic emergence of consciousness). The reason for this back-story is to set the stage for my own approach, which I call panSEMIOentheism, which, lacking a root metaphor, brackets metaphysics with a phenomenology (perhaps a meta-metaphysics). It's basically a heuristic that I use to interpret one metaphysic and/or cosmology vs another, whether a quantum interpretation, speculative cosmology, emergentist paradigm, philosophy of mind or theology of nature. I suppose that being enamored in part by so many good thinkers and truly catholic in both the pluralistic and theological sense, I never felt compelled to choose one ontology over another so have remained metaphysically agnostic, although decidedly realist and committed to a robust anthropological conception of free will.

          The only caveat regarding emergentist stances is to avoid distinctions like strong emergence-weak supervenience and weak emergence-strong supervenience, because the latter remains question begging, the former is trivial. The one caveat regarding Whiteheadian approaches is to avoid the old essentialism vs nominalism tug of war, for Gelpi found Whitehead a tad nominalistic and sought to evade it with Peirce's triadic approach to interpretation.

          I first referenced panSEMIOentheism in a paper co-authored with Amos Yong, a pentecostal scholar whose been greatly influenced by Peirce and Gelpi. I commend these approaches as a way forward that might resonate with your own intuitions. I'd enjoy reading your thesis.

        • A recommendation: Go to GoogleBooks and search for The Gracing of Human Experience by Donald Gelp, SJ and then search the string whitehead nominalistic. It might provide you a helpful foil, off which to riff :)

          • Matthew Newland

            Thank you, Good Sir!

    • Loreen Lee

      Emergent materialism, my understanding, is consistent with the long accepted epiphenomenalism, which however is regarded as solely a one way process. It seems when you attempt to go the other way you end up with 'religion'. I have strong faith belief, that my consciousness of my life has this kind of reciprocity. But really I have tried. I can only 'believe it happens'. To even think of the concept - gift of the Holy Spirit.. Science is not 'religion'.

      I understood that the Pope is not encouraging the attempt of some nuns to become more conscious of their thinking process: with the possible 'dangers' of over-think, incoherence? .Perhaps why, my understanding, it was spoken within the context of being counter to the 'prompting of the Holy Spirit'. It would be counter also to the Buddhist practice of elimination of 'verbal chatter'. But creative writers, are always rethinking passages, reformulating and revising. Will computers be able to write 'novels' and 'sci fi? A future announcement: The first biography of a computer is soon to be expected. How can computers be taught to 'self-program', if the designers do not know how to teach the computers to think or 'how' to think?
      . So what was Heidegger talking about? I understand that this could not be the study of Einstein's brain and does neuroscience examine the thinking process? . How do I learn to think. By some needed study of logic? Is it scientifically possible to understand, to explain or become more aware of the thinking process. Are there aspects of emergent consciousness, that can be studied 'safely' even if only for personal insight, rather than 'scientifically'? without producing some kind of incoherence, sense of inadequacy? Why does this happen? Self-referential consciousness? Over think? And why do I feel this is related to the 'consciousness reduction' thesis? Can anyone explain?

  • William Davis

    While I find a materialist metaphysics very hard to coherently defend, I do find it interesting that an increasing amount of “secular” philosophers, who have no particular sympathy towards deism or theism, are beginning to question the assumption that materialism is true

    Footnote 1 only shows one philosopher, Thomas Nagel, I've never heard of him and he only received one minor award...have anyone better?

    • "Footnote 1 only shows one philosopher, Thomas Nagel, I've never heard of him "

      Nagel's book, Mind and Cosmos -- which makes a very similar argument to the one here -- caused a splash in the world of philosophy that remains one of the largest in the last few years. It was especially notable since Nagel is a committed atheist.

      To get up to speed, I suggest reading John Burger's article here at Strange Notions titled, "Searching Beyond Darwin: Exploring “Mind and Cosmos”.

      • William Davis

        Right now, philosophy of mind is nothing but a giant splash, it's all over the place. I've been going with John Searles right now, but Johnboy Sylvest has given me something interesting things to ponder as well. While science will never likely never be able to explain qualia, by it's very nature, teleology could exist in the material world. Material is more than matter. I like the idea of teleology myself.

        • Loreen Lee

          Read Kant. He works his way up from biological teleology to a teleology within the universe. His third book: 'Power - not critique? of Judgment.

      • Matthew Newland

        Nagel is a well-known name if you major in Philosophy; I've heard him mentioned time and again ever since I was an undergrad (doing my PhD now). I've read and enjoyed his "Mind and Cosmos", but I first learned about him in a Metaphysics seminar I took back in 2006 with his essay, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?". The basic challenge was to imagine how reality is perceived by animals using echo-location and challenge the idea that human beings perceive any sort of "objective" reality with the senses we use.

        • David Nickol

          Nagel is a well-known name if you major in Philosophy

          This is indeed true. However, to contend that "an increasing amount [sic] of 'secular' philosophers, who have no particular
          sympathy towards deism or theism, are beginning to question the assumption that materialism is true," and then merely cite Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, hardly makes a case!

          From what I observed, Nagel's book was harshly criticized by fellow 'secular" philosophers, and Nagel is an outlier among "secular" philosophers. He's a very important outlier, but he's still an outlier. To the best of my knowledge, he is not spearheading any trend.

          • Matthew Newland

            This is correct, David. This is because Nagel is willing to question whether or not strict materialism might be incapable of explaining consciousness.

            Seems the parade is going in the other direction, at least for the time being.

          • Phil

            Hey David,

            The comment about philosophers coming to understand the issues with a strict reductionistic materialism should be seen as a side "musing". Much of this musing comes from personal experiences with solid philosophers, but naming them would make no difference since you don't know them!

            So I threw out a book a person could read if they wanted so see how an atheist/agnostic approaches this question of materialism.

            In short, it really has nothing to do with the thesis I propose and you are free to throw out those couple of sentences if you would like!

            (Thanks for taking the time to read the essay as well!)

          • Loreen Lee

            Where is there a book which shows how philosophers are 'coming to understand the issues of a strictly reductionist materialism'? Are you saying Nagel is doing this with respect to human consciousness, or the intellect as understood within the concept of an immaterial substance. I don't believe the bat thing does this, does it? The idea of materialism being capable or incapable of explaining consciousness is an epistemological issues. Say that the brain 'is' consciousness, or 'consciousness IS what the brain does', is an ontological proposal, is it not? There's a big 'leap' here, to my limited understanding. Which possibly, yes, can produce some 'incoherence' in attempting to understand it.

          • William Davis

            That was my point, but I ran out of time, thanks for clearing it up. Neuroscience takes issue with Nagel because he proposes that their endeavors are in vain. Neuroscience was never supposed to explain qualia precisely, it is supposed to explain how it works. I'll give a great example. I can look at the code behind a computer game all day, understand how it works, but still have no experience playing the game.

            Funny thing is, we'll likely have people seeing like bats soon, I kid you not. We already have mice that see in infrared. Here is a serious proposal on a human echolocation device:

            http://redwood.berkeley.edu/w/images/f/f7/SohlDickstein_et_al_echolocation_for_the_blind_icme_preprint.pdf

          • Loreen Lee

            I did do some reading on 'synesthesia'. I don't expect that is held to be a 'scientific study'. But couldn't it be an example of a possible 'growing awareness. Except it seems to be 'confused'. Only read bits of article, to get the general 'idea'. Thanks.

          • William Davis

            I had a friend with synesthesia. He was a great guitarist, but tones were represented to him with a color. He said it helped him remember music. It is amazing how the brain can often turn a "problem" into something useful (sometimes at least).

        • William Davis

          I'll bet 10 bucks we'll have blind people seeing like bats in 10 years: We've been able to make mice see in infrared using direct implants.

          http://redwood.berkeley.edu/w/images/f/f7/SohlDickstein_et_al_echolocation_for_the_blind_icme_preprint.pdf

          http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-02/14/implant-gives-rats-sixth-sense-for-infrared-light

          currently there is a translator that converts visual info into sound for the blind, direct neural connection is the next step:

          http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/bioinspired-assistive-devices/

      • Papalinton

        Brandon, it did cause a splash principally among philosophers in religious circles [and for all the wrong reasons]. In mainstream philosophy circles, not so much. But there is no succour, even by osmosis, in Nagel's account in support of religious belief in supernatural superstition.

        "Ruling out divine intervention or design, evolution, and inexplicability, what reason is there left to explain consciousness? The only remaining answer, Nagel argues, is that on a fundamental level there is an end towards which the cosmos is naturally inclined: a natural teleology." To write into that 'natural teleology' a God would be foolish.

        • "Brandon, it did cause a splash principally among philosophers in religious circles [and for all the wrong reasons]. In mainstream philosophy circles, not so much."

          I don't think this is true. The book garnered responses from philosophers and scientists in many different disciplines (religious and non-religious) and feature stories on NPR, The Boston Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Weekly Standard, etc. Suggesting it provoked a discussion merely among "religious circles" is to seriously misrepresent its wide impact.

          "But there is no succour, even by osmosis, in Nagel's account in support of religious belief in supernatural superstition."

          Well, that wouldn't help the case for Catholicism anyways since we don't believe in supernatural superstition.

          But in all seriousness, his book struck a devastating blow to atheistic materialism, which for many people (including many commenters here) is the most plausible alternative to Catholicism. A blow to atheistic materialism is a boon to supernaturalism in any form.

          • Papalinton

            In your wildest dreams Brandon. Nagel has delivered no devastating blow to atheism or materialism. I think the best summary of 'Mind and Cosmos' comes from Andrew Ferguson, at sott.net [seekers of the truth]:

            " I don't think Nagel succeeds in finding his Third Way, [i.e. between theism and materialism] and I doubt he or his successors ever will, but then I have biases of my own. There's no doubting the honesty and intellectual courage - the free thinking and ennobling good faith - that shine through his attempt."

            Good intentions and an honest challenge but Nagel has made little impact in facilitating a change of direction in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. I understand Nagel has been pushing this 'natural teleology' theme for some decades now and it doesn't really come as some sort of revelatory left-flield surprise to intellectual scientifically-informed philosophy. Rather it has resulted in little moire than a dent in contemporary philosophy about the intrinsic nature material/natural element of reality. His argument is more about the incomplete picture of materialism/naturalism as we have it now, a working, functional model to be sure but by no means yet a comprehensive picture. I think it fair to suggest Nagel is anti-scientific and this is well characterised throughout his work.

            What will be interesting about Nagel's somewhat eccentric proposition is not the degree to which it will influence philosophical thought on immaterial/material debate into the future but rather how long will it last before it meets its ineluctable end as an interpretive exposition into the future. As they say, Old gods don't die, they fade away.

          • Matthew Newland

            Papalinton, Nagel doesn't come up with a third way. Andrew Fergusan misunderstood. What Nagel DOES do is question the materialistic point of view. He then offers two speculative alternatives (pansychism and teleology) before saying that there is no way to know which of the two (or if some other unknown explanation) might give us a solution to the mind-body problem.

            Nagel's not out to find a better way so much as show the problems existing in the most commonly accepted one.

            (I read "Mind and Cosmos" three times so this is what I took from it)

          • Papalinton

            That's the point, Matthew. Nagel doesn't come up with a successful Third Way. In his attempt to steer a course neither towards theism nor materialism he is singularly unsuccessful in tracking a course between them, a course that ultimately leads to what is ostensibly, a non-answer; either panpsychism or cosmic intentionality, both innately speculative and highly problematic at best, both indicative of a predisposition that lends itself to largely projecting theory of mind on a grand scale.

          • "That's the point, Matthew. Nagel doesn't come up with a successful Third Way."

            No, the point is that he shows that the First Way (atheistic materialism) is, as his subtitle suggests, "almost certainly false." His speculative alternatives are secondary to that main goal.

          • Papalinton

            Brandon, read my comment to Andre Vlok below and the ARTICLE I cited. If it were true that materialism is 'almost certainly false', nobody seems to be heeding the revelation, most especially scientific inquiry. Equally scientifically-informed philosophy seems not to be overly concerned, sufficient enough to effect a wholesale change in favour of Nagel's paradigm.

            No Brandon, Mind and Cosmos seems to have made a big splash in theology and scientifically-uniformed philosophy circles, hardly a ripple in the broader philosophical context.

          • Andre Vlok

            Nagel does not even really try all that hard to come up with the "third way". He calls his own efforts to that end "far too unimaginative". He sketches the problems with materialism with devastating effect and then simply admits that he (or possibly all of us) may never know the truth.

          • Papalinton

            Andre, have all the philosophers been apprised of this 'devastating effect'? I haven't sensed even a smidgeon of change in the context of broader philosophical thought. And as I understand it, it has received some illuminating, exceptionally erudite and justly informed criticism of Nagel's treatise, not only the assumptions made but equally his reliance on a range of a priori predispositions to make it work. One of the most salient of reviews is HERE

            Take away the humbug, the rhetoric, the bruised egos and the to-and-froing of the opponents in the debate, at bottom, Nagel has failed miserably to account for the multitude of research and scientific study in his deliberations. He chose to set them aside as this article uncovers.

            As Chorost summarises in the article:
            "But no book has yet emerged that is mighty enough to shove aside the current order, persuading scientists and nonscientists alike, sparking new experiments, changing syllabi, rejiggering budget priorities, spawning new departments, and changing human language and ways of thought forever. On the Origin of Species did it in 1859. We await the next Darwin"

            Nagel's work devastating? Hardly.

          • Andre Vlok

            I measure the success of Nagel book based on the near hysteria it caused amongst certain atheists. While I would agree with you that his book has not yet brought about much of a substantive reply, someone will one day have to deal with his critique.

          • Bob

            Doesn't this assume that there is in fact something substantive to reply to in the first place?

          • Andre Vlok

            You haven't read the book, have you?
            Start by reading the reviews, say on Amazon, as a start. There is most certainly something to reply to.

          • Papalinton

            I think we all pretty much know the answer here. They already have.

          • Andre Vlok

            Who (other than the article you have mentioned) would you say achieved that? I would like to read that book(s).

          • Pofarmer

            "someone will one day have to deal with his critique."

            Not really. Scientists will just keep going the direction they're going an Nagel will fade away.

        • Pofarmer

          There are now philosophers arguing that your iphone6 may be conscious, that consciousness is simply the result of receiving and processing information. I personally like Daniel Dennets formulation. "The mind is what the brain does."

          • Matthew Newland

            Pofarmer - I agree with Dennett. But HOW does it do it? That's the question Nagel is looking at.

          • Pofarmer

            I don't know where the link is, but there was an,article in, I think New Scientist, a couple weeks age that identified the part of the brain responsible for consciousnes. It had apparently been stimulated in animals before but not humans. You might try Patricia,Churchlands,"Braintrust".

          • OldSearcher
          • Pofarmer

            Yep.

  • William Davis

    But if we can show that materialism is false, beyond a reasonable doubt, we can begin to proclaim with Dr. Edward Feser that materialism is in fact one of the last superstitions and one of the final myths that we have created.2 We then can begin to recognize that there exists more to reality than simply matter and energy. Our heart and mind can then be opened to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the human person and ultimately to the possibility of the Divine.

    There are plenty of religious people, even Christians, who are materialists. One can believe in deeper meaning and only material. I'd like to post a philosophical proof of monism, the idea that there is only one substance, and that substance is God. I have yet to see a dualist critique it in any meaningful way. It is not necessary to invoke a separate substance to have a telos, meaning, or anything else. In fact, dualism creates a bloated ontology that occam's razor seem quick to slice away. It would be interesting to see monism reconciled with Christianity as much as possible. I'm neck deep in philosophy of mind right now, and Cartesian dualism doesn't seem to have any useful explanatory power (at least from my perspective)

    Proposition 1: A substance is prior in nature to its affections.

    Proposition 2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another. (In other words, if two substances differ in nature, then they have nothing in common).

    Proposition 3: If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them cannot be the cause of the other.

    Proposition 4: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes [i.e., the natures or essences] of the substances or by a difference in their affections [i.e., their accidental properties].

    Proposition 5: In nature, there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

    Proposition 6: One substance cannot be produced by another substance.

    Proposition 7: It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.

    Proposition 8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.

    Proposition 9: The more reality or being each thing has, the more attributes belong to it.

    Proposition 10: Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.

    Proposition 11: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists. (The proof of this proposition consists simply in the classic “ontological proof for God's existence”. Spinoza writes that “if you deny this, conceive, if you can, that God does not exist. Therefore, by axiom 7 [‘If a thing can be conceived as not existing, its essence does not involve existence’], his essence does not involve existence. But this, by proposition 7, is absurd. Therefore, God necessarily exists, q.e.d.”)

    Proposition 12: No attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided.

    Proposition 13: A substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible.

    Proposition 14: Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.

  • The problem with this is best illustrated by the statement found in his dicussion of option C, premise 4. "... The same law in the exact same situation can lead to an either true or false belief" prior to this he spoke only of laws. He is introducing cricumstances here. No, the same laws in the same circumstances could not lead to true or false beliefs, they would lead to the same belief. But no two humans can ever be in the exact same circumstances. So materialism is not incoherent, the belief making mechanism leads to different conclusions on the same issue, because the circumstances are different.

    But, in a very few circumstances, there is a way to distinguish beliefs that are necessarily true. This is possible, as far as I can tell for exactly 2 beliefs. My own belief in my self, and in the truth of the logical absolutes. My belief in my self is contingent on my experience, which, to me is irrefutable. Cogito ergo sum. For this and the logical absolutes to be false they would have to be true, so it is impossible for them to be false.

    No other belief is capable of such proof, so in this sense, complete skepticism has been shown to be false. However, we cannot overcome it with anything else. In this sense near complete skepticism is true. This is the problem of induction.

    • Phil

      Hey Brian,

      The same laws in the same circumstances could not lead to true or false beliefs, they would lead to the same belief.

      An example--Two people are standing right next to each other in the backyard. One points and says, "There is a dog." You and I have a God's eye view on the situation and we know that the truth of reality is that there actually is a dog there.

      So one person's belief-making mechanisms leads them to say that there is a dog there. The other person's belief-making mechanisms lead them to believe that there is not a dog there. This is because both of these people are under different "circumstances" (e.g., slightly different positions in space, different brains, etc.), so they can come to different beliefs.

      From our view, we know that there is actually a dog there. But from their view, each person has equal rational evidence for contradictory positions. There is no way for them to tell whether their belief is actually true, or whether is only appears to be true.

      That is the skepticism I was attempting to point out in the above essay. You can take "I think, therefore I am" as your first principle, but the problem is that is all you can "know"--literally! (You definitely can't know if, or show that, materialism is true.)

      • "from their view, each person has equal rational evidence for
        contradictory positions. There is no way for them to tell whether their
        belief is actually true, or whether is only appears to be true.'

        Exactly. So, yes, "complete skepticism" is demonstrably false as we can be certain of at least one thing as demonstrated by cogito ergo sum. But the kind of skepticism you describe above, is not false. It IS the situation.

        And it is the situation whether you are a materialist or idealist, substance dualist and so on. It is also the case if theism or naturalism is true.

        • Phil

          I do agree that complete skepticism is false (as I had aimed to show in the essay). The problem is that a materialistic view of our belief-making mechanisms leads us to conclude that complete skepticism is actually true. This is the logical contradiction that allows us to reasonably set materialism aside.

          And it is the situation whether you are a materialist or idealist, substance dualist and so on. It is also the case if theism or naturalism is true.

          The dog example actually isn't a problem for the person who holds a hylomorphic view of reality. On Wednesday and Friday Pat Schultz will shed some light on why this is the case!

          • No, a materialistic view of our belief making mechanism says that our beliefs can sometimes be correct, incorrect. In most cases we will be unable to reach certainty about whether we are correct. In a small number of cases we can confirm truth. Where is the contradiction and why does this apply only to materialistic conceptions of our belief making mechanism?

          • Phil

            why does this apply only to materialistic conceptions of our belief making mechanism?

            If one holds that our belief-making mechanisms (i.e., intellect) cannot be reduced to matter/energy, one can freely hold that our intellect is not directly tied to any natural physical laws. If our intellect is not tied to any natural physical laws, then it is free to be oriented towards coming to actual truth, and not simply illusory truth.

          • Loreen Lee

            No. This implies for me that natural physical laws could be illusory. Phenomena, maya, illusion. I fear my awareness even of my cogito could be at some level of materiality. The emergent consciousness thesis? But the 'Word was made Truth".

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      I think this hits the nail right on the head. I was having the same type of concerns about Philips use of "complete skepticism." There are a handful of things that we can absolutely know to be true, as you pointed out. But there are also a huge number of things that we can seem to be true (although they can seem to be true to various degrees.)

      • Phil

        There are a handful of things that we can absolutely know to be true, as you pointed out.

        And your belief here would support my proposed conclusion! When our logical argument leads us to conclude that "complete skepticism is true", when you would hold that "complete skepticism is false", then we must reject our original assumption.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          But I don't think that the argument does lead to "complete skepticism is true" , but only to "near-complete skepticism is true." So it's not really a contradiction.

          • Phil

            One can modify the entire essay by replacing "complete skepticism is false" with "near-complete skepticism is false".

            If one holds any belief, apart from their first principle such as "materialism is true", then they believe that near-complete skepticism is false.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            One can modify the entire essay be replacing "complete skepticism is false" with "near complete skepticism is false".

            But I don't think that the paragraph in which you show that complete skepticism is self refuting would work if you did that. Complete skepticism is self refuting, but near-complete skepticism is not.

            If one holds any belief, apart from their first principle such as "materialism is true", then they believe that near-complete skepticism is false.

            I'm not sure what you mean by this. When I say "near-complete skepticism," I mean that it is possible to know some things to be actually true, but not all things. Are you saying that if someone knows that one of their beliefs is actually true then they know all their beliefs to be actually true? If this is what you mean, then that seems to me to be trivially false.

          • Phil

            You should then be skeptical towards your belief that "near-complete skepticism is true". In other words, at an ontological level, any position that tries to promote partial skepticism rationally leads to complete skepticism.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            As long as I remain sequestered in only thinking about the concept of near scepticism... sure. But "Cogito ergo sum" is one belief I know to be true. "My wife loves me" is a belief that I cannot know to be true. These two things demonstrate very nicely that near-complete skepticism is true.

          • Phil

            Well, I can't believe I overlooked this when you first brought up your point!

            You agree that complete skepticism is false.

            Your belief that "near-complete skepticism is true" is completely compatible with the premise that "complete skepticism is false".

          • But materialism does not require complete skepticism to be true.

          • "But materialism does not require complete skepticism to be true."

            Phil never assumed this. In fact, he explicitly proposed one option (Materialist Option B in his original article) where this is not the case.

            He has not assumed that materialism requires complete skepticism, but that materialism necessarily leads to either all beliefs being true (Materialist Option B, which nobody holds) or complete skepticism.

            If we agree Materialist Option B is false, then it is correct to say that materialism necessarily entails complete skepticism.

          • Ok, materialsim does not require all beliefs being true or complete skepticism.

          • "Ok, materialsim [sic] does not require all beliefs being true or complete skepticism."

            That's an interesting opinion, but you can't just assert it--you need to defend it. Phil has carefully shown in his article why those are the only two options. If you deny those are the only two options, you must show were his reasoning is flawed.

          • It is easily defended. Humans have biological brains that form beliefs. They are sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect. But they can identify when they are absolutely correct by recognizing logic. In almost every case they cannot be sure of when something is absolutely correct, but when self-attesting truths are identified we can be absolutely certain.

            I do not see why this is incoherent. It is also not a situation that is distinctive of materialism. Idealists and substance dualists have the same perspective. Just switch "biological brains" with "immaterial minds".

          • Roger

            Why can we attest that logic is an absolute truth instead of just an evident truth?

            And I also disagree that this is also a problem for dualists. It definetly can be a problem since dualism does not warranty that that evident truths are actual truths, however, with certain version of dualism, it is possible for evident truths to be actual truths and therefore, someone that asserts that we can hold actual truths must reject materialism and must embrace the perspective that allows this possibility.

          • It is not that we can attest to it, it is that it is self-attesting.

            How does dualism resolve this problem (bridge the epistemic gap of evident to actual truth) in contrast to materialism ?

          • William Davis

            Why can we attest that logic is an absolute truth instead of just an evident truth?

            We can't. It seems to us that logic is absolutely true, but that is only because it is apparently true. Some future, much more advanced civilization may demonstrate that we are doing logic all wrong, or looking at the nature of truth all wrong. We cannot know ahead of time that this won't happen, so we cannot know that ANYTHING is absolute truth. There is so much absolute truth inside the human mind. We always lose at least a part of the truth when we simply reality to put it in terms we can understand. If you respect Paul, believe him, not me, 1 Corinthians 13:

            8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

            Christianity made a HUGE mistake when it began to believe it was peddling absolute truth. This idea is the sin of pride, nothing more, nothing less. Only God has absolute truth, it was never for man.

    • Loreen Lee

      I believe that with the Cogito, however, the mind/body duality has to be recognized. The Cogito, many interpretations, is as parallel to the Ontological Proof, an awareness of self-consciousness. The proof of God's existence is dependent on the 'clear and distinct ideas', which themselves can only be confirmed on the 'faith/supposition' that God does indeed exist. In other words it is a circular argument. called the Cartesian circle. I spoke about this in a former comment, and was deemed to be 'incoherent'. The certainty of knowledge regarding consciousness is another topic. Many argue the proposition that we have not certainty. I cannot follow all the arguments. But my problem of distinguishing the real from the ideal comes into play here.

      Quote: My belief in my self is contingent on my experience and For this.to be false (it) would have to be true, so it is impossible for (it) to be false..

      I find that my growth as an individual is very often the result of differences between beliefs I hold about myself, (my interior self) and expediencies within the 'external' world. Are you perhaps thinking of the self-as the 'ego' or that which is presented externally. That there is a 'greater self' as is suggested by Descartes' cogito is the focus of what is called in various contexts the area of religion or spirituality. Even within the 'pagan' context of 'Know Thyself'. So it would be through the 'recognition/awareness' of the false self that growth in 'truth' develops, from contingency to.....

      • "I believe that with the Cogito, however, the mind/body duality has to be recognized."

        I don't think so, it works just as well for idealists, materialists and dualist. Assume there is no material existence but only one and that what we think of as matter and indeed everything, every experience, is actually an illusion and in the mind. Even in this world, it is impossible for nothing to exist. If it is illusion, something needs to be there to be misled.

        • Loreen Lee

          Brian - you amaze me. And I don't even know your name! You list yourself as everything but a 'rationalist', in your 'community blog', even a (cult)uralist - yes I really did enjoy the You Tube song. Of course you are only 'assuming'. Where do you want the illusion to be - the consciousness as with the reduction thesis of Dennett et al, or with the illusion being matter, as with the Maya of the Buddhists.

          Indeed, are you not aware, that within modern philosophy we are dealing with illusion. Science is but the kinowledge of the phenomena, or Aristotle's accidents. But modern philosophy has thrown out the substance. There's still some Plato around though, so we have theories of Mathematical Platonism, etc. But the general thesis is that the noumena, (Kant) cant' be known, although even on these blogs, like Father Barron saying God can't be defined, and in the next sentence saying God is what simple, the necessary cause, and all the other Five Ways, from Aristotle.

          Actually, we may be at the point where (as I have seen Geena put forth, there are theories coming out of science, that give a list of various possible ways quantum realities exist as 'nothing'. Indeed the Buddhists also describe Nirvana/Enlightenment of Consciousness and nothingness, and the post moderns talk of pure being as nothingness.
          I like to think of nothingness as space, (or the Holy Ghost) and time as a kind of reflective consciousness, as even in the Chinese I Ching. So that God, consciousness/time could indeed 'create' the universe out of 'nothing'. But then I am known for my incoherence, and 'madness' which really doesn't bother me at all. I've read enough philosophy to realize there have been many precedents. So what is real or ideal for you? Is it possible to make a coherent whole out of all philosophies, religions, scientific theory? Enjoy, Brian.

        • Loreen Lee

          It's OK. Brian. You can chalk everything up to my lack of rationality, nous, incoherence, call it what you like. I am aware however, that I am typing this, and that I am conscious that I am doing that. After that, because of my limitations with respect both to logic, explanation, and finding coherence within structures, I pretty much have to go on 'faith'.

    • Phil

      After some thought, a further clarification came to me:

      The same laws in the same circumstances could not lead to true or false beliefs, they would lead to the same belief.

      The reason why Materialist Option (C) is such a big problem is even when a certain circumstance will always lead to the same belief, there is no way to ask "Is this belief actually true?". Because if you start reflecting on that first belief, another belief comes to mind to try and support your first belief, but you are already determined to hold that second belief as true or false. This goes on ad infinitum.

      You are now stuck in an endless skeptical regress. Hence the proper conclusion is that Materialist Option (C) leads to complete skepticism.

      • I think you fail to grasp the distinction between forming beliefs intuitively by way of biological processes, and those that are based on self-attesting facts.

        Your argument seems to be that it must either be the case that my belief making faculties are always correct, or complete skepticism. What you don't consider is that my belief making faculties are not always correct, but there are circumstances where even using flawed faculties I can be certain of some things.

        This is because some facts are independent of my being-making faculties. These are facts that are self-attesting. There are only two, but for them, it is indeed the case that we cannot know anything is true with certainty. We can only say things seem to be true.

        Let me turn over the chess board here. What facts can immaterialists be certain are true and how?

        • Phil

          Your argument seems to be that it must either be the case that my belief making faculties are always correct, or complete skepticism.

          Correct--it is materialism that forces a person to hold this. One can't rationally hold the middle ground on a materialist view. Why is this?

          If materialism is true, this means that the belief-making mechanisms are also material in nature. Material things cannot, in principle, tell the difference between something appears true or false, and something that is actually true or false. Things simply are when it comes to matter/energy.

  • William Davis

    1.We assume that Materialist Option (C) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.)
    2.Complete skepticism is false.
    3.If the human person’s belief-making mechanisms follow natural physical laws, which do not always lead to true beliefs, then some beliefs a person holds are true and some they hold are false.
    4.If the exact same natural physical laws that govern the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do lead to both true and false beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true.
    5.If the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true, then complete skepticism is true.
    Contradiction between premises (2) and (5).
    Therefore, we reject the original assumption of Materialist Option (C).

    Where on earth did 2 come from (Complete skepticism is false)? Looks like the author just stuck that in there to try to show a contradiction that doesn't exist. Complete skepticism is the right starting point, but we can build on complete skepticism starting with reasonable presuppositions and moving from there. I believe option C is generally correct. We can never be sure that we have 100% of the truth, this is where progress comes from.

    • "Where on earth did 2 come from (Complete skepticism is false)? Looks like the author just stuck that in there to try to show a contradiction that doesn't exist."

      It's not clear if you read the whole article or just decided to respond to a couple choice passages, out of context.

      Philip devotes a whole paragraph, near the beginning, to showing why complete skepticism is false. I've copied it below for you but I encourage you to read it in its original context:

      "We can already begin to see that the position of complete skepticism is incoherent and must be rejected. The statement, “I hold that it is actually true that a person cannot tell the difference between a belief that is actually true and one that only appears to be true” is clearly an incoherent proposition. In a more succinct manner, what we are saying is that, “I hold that complete skepticism is actually true.” This is a self-contradiction and what is called a “proof by contradiction”. Therefore, we reject complete skepticism (this will be an important part of the actual arguments below) and move on to the main attraction."

      • William Davis

        Thanks for that, I was speed reading :)

    • "We can never be sure that we have 100% of the truth, this is where progress comes from."

      If this is the case, how can you be sure that any particular belief is true? Even more, how you can be sure that your claim "we can never be sure that we have 100% of the truth" is true?

      • William Davis

        Epistemology and history. Throughout the ages, man has thought he had the truth, and has been shown to be wrong over and over again. I think we are getting closer to truth over time in many areas, but ultimate truth will always remain elusive. Wouldn't you agree that only God has 100% truth?

        1 Corinthians 13

        12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

        • "Epistemology and history."

          This doesn't specifically answer my question. I asked how you could know whether any particular belief is true. Epistemology is the study of knowledge--a field of study can't, by itself, tell you whether a particular belief is true. History is the study of past events--it fails to tell you whether a particular current belief is true.

          "Throughout the ages, man has thought he had the truth, and has been shown to be wrong over and over again. I think we are getting closer to truth over time in many areas, but ultimate truth will always remain elusive."

          That's all true, but it's independent of whether, on materialism, you can know a particular belief is true (including the belief is materialism.)

          "Wouldn't you agree that only God has 100% truth?"

          Yes. And God created an intelligible world and intelligent creatures capable of realizing their beliefs as actually true. But materialism affords no such possibility.

          • William Davis

            I believe in God (in a large part thanks to this site and Johnboy Sylvest ;), but I'm a monist. I'm not a Christian, and I think it is hard for Christianity to reconcile itself with complete monism, but not hard for it to reconcile itself with monism of the mind. One would just have to go back to Jesus and Paul's view of a physical resurrection of the dead in the future, as opposed to a soul floating to heaven when one dies. Who knows what God has in mind (assuming God has anything we could call a mind, I don't assume to know much about God I am consistently skeptical).

            I asked how you could know whether any particular belief is true.

            The only belief I can know 100% is Cogito ergo sum. I think this is true regardless of whether materialism is true, dualism is true, or some nature of reality we haven't guessed (entirely possible) is actually true. I really think we can only tell if something appears to be true, and that is what testing and critical thinking is all about. If we repeatedly try to prove something false, and it still appears to be true, I tend to accept it. You can't get rid of near completely skepticism because you can't get rid of Cogito ergo sum, if new info arises the worst that could happen is a reset to that default state. I can even doubt the existence of logic before I doubt the existence of doubt.
            I think this a great discussion (I made a mistake earlier trying to rush through...I didn't realize the article was this heavy before I started, and ran out of time, but I was able to come back later). It reveals those of us are true skeptics...I think this is something at the core of my thinking that I can't be argued out of, no matter what I accept to be true, there will always be at least a tinge of doubt.
            One reason I'm confident of monism in the mind is because I think we are on the verge of AGI (artificial general intelligence) in the next 20 or so years. We are already having success with narrow AI, and this stuff is modeled after our understanding of the brain. Numenta is directly focused on a closer reproduction of neural tissue, but many others are using deep modal networks to have success with perception and other task that can't be done with computation. I'm 34 now, so we'll see where this goes in the next 30 years. If we can't produce AGI I think that will be some good evidence for dualism (i.e. we can't produce intelligence with just material). Even if you aren't interested in AI, this video has some fascinating detail about the neo-cortex. If we materialists are correct, neo-cortex is the most amazing material in the universe that we have discovered so far. Material can be truly amazing, and this stuff is self-organizing unlike anything else.

            http://numenta.com/?video=youtube:izO2_mCvFaw

            Here is an article on the genius behind another company Google just bought, Deepmind. Deepmind's AI has taught itself to play atari games better than most humans. This isn't a program, this is a true learning machine.
            http://www.technologyreview.com/news/532876/googles-intelligence-designer/

            Realize we aren't trying to make humans, but we are making intelligences that can come to true predictions given a certain framework. Prediction is the key to intelligence. Prediction is how we tell true beliefs from false beliefs (at least in my opinion)

          • "The only belief I can know 100% is Cogito ergo sum."

            Thanks for the great comment, William. Phil responded to this point elsewhere in the combox and I think his reply was so good, I've copied it below:

            "The interesting thing is that if the argument I propose is correct, this means that we also have no reason to believe that "cogito ergo sum" is actually true as well--the skepticism is radically acidic! But the whole point of the cogito is that it can't be denied without at the same time acknowledging that it is true. So materialism forces us to be skeptical towards something that we can't be skeptical about. Of course this is an incoherent conclusion!

            So the fact that you think we have reason, beyond a reasonable doubt, to believe that "cogito ergo sum" is true, supports the conclusion that materialism is false in regards to the human person!"

        • Loreen Lee

          Growing 'awareness'. Deepening awareness. Like with Buddha consciousness, and 'knowing' God -- a possibility or not? Where does the difference between epistemology (intellectual?) and ontological being (what's this) weigh in on this? The problem of what is nothingness? Pure? Being? I realize I'm going round in circles.

      • SattaMassagana

        I think this skeptic's problem would be in the phrase "be sure." Is certainty required to act? Brian Greene Adams mentioned a few things we can "be sure" about in his comment; to me everything else is conditional probabilities weighted to the available evidence, subject to revision. I accept this system based on it's utility & success and the lack of alternatives.

      • George

        does he need to be sure?

    • It is true that "complete skepticism" is false as there are at least 2 things that can be shown to be absolutely true to any sapient being.

      But the way it is being used he is more likely talking about "global skepticism" which is ture. This is the whole solipsist issue, we cannot know with certainty that the material world exists or any property of it. But if we make a few presumptions, namely induction works, material reality exists, we can lead many reasonable beliefs. But we can never get to certainty.

      • Loreen Lee

        Yes. Science is recognized as 'probabilistic'. They don't consider this problematic. And the mind too today is considered as phenomena of mind. How does that relate to Descartes' cogito as 'self-awareness'. The Buddhists for instance recognize different 'levels' of self-awareness, would you believe, even the Buddha being regarded as 'omniscient'. Yes that's the word they use.

    • Loreen Lee

      Perhaps Michael you could bring some light on the difference between those materialists that say that because nature is ruled by laws, therefore the existence of God is not necessary. This seems like the difference between priority of law and law maker? (
      Edit: The 'problem' for me, is I always remember Hume, and thus my 'belief' that he implied something to the effect that from even (our?) association of ideas there is the capacity to develop laws!!!

  • GCBill

    1) We assume that hylemorphic dualism is true.
    2) Complete skepticism is false.
    3) If the human person’s belief-making mechanisms result from the deliberation of an immaterial intellect, which does not always lead to true beliefs, then some beliefs a person holds are true and some they hold are false.
    4) If the exact same immaterial intellect leads to both true and false beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true.
    5) If the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true, then complete skepticism is true.
    6) Contradiction between premises (2) and (5).
    7) Therefore, we reject the original assumption of hylemorphic dualism. Uh oh!

    This is, of course, not a good argument. 4) is false because the specific details of a belief's production matter a lot, so much so that knowing a belief was produced via some general pathway is not nearly enough for us to be confident in its veracity. Once we know those details, it becomes a lot easier to determine whether a particular belief conforms to reality. This argument form only appears persuasive because it abstracts away from those details, leaving us with nothing to make that determination.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Indeed. It would seem one could make this argument independent of materialism or dualism or anything.

      1) A person belief mechanism does not always lead to true beliefs.
      2) Complete Skepticism is false
      3) Some beliefs that a person holds are true and others are false.
      4) If the belief mechanism leads to both true and false beliefs, then a person cannot hold that any particular belief is true rather than only appearing to be true.
      5)Therefore complete skepticism is true
      6) Contradiction

      I also take issue with 4. Phil would probably argue that there is something about materialism that makes it impossible to distinguish between true and false beliefs.

      • Phil

        Phil would probably argue that there is something about materialism that makes it impossible to distinguish between true and false beliefs.

        That's correct, Ignatius. On a materialistic view of the human person's belief-making mechanisms, there is no way to tell whether a belief is actually true or only appears to be true. (That could be said to be the official conclusion of the essay.)

        The only way to avoid this is to conclude that the human person's belief-making mechanisms are not purely material in nature, and therefore they are not oriented towards following natural physical laws but are actually oriented towards coming to truth using reason and logic.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          From the contradiction, I would hold that 4 is false.

          (1) seems to be true regardless of the method used. Mathematicians and scientists can certainly make mistakes.

          (2) I also agree that (2) is true because of the Cogito. I am not sure if I hold anything else to be necessarily true.

          (3) Is certainly true.

          So I think that (4) is most likely the false premise. I think you would have to argue (are arguing) that Materialism --> (4) to then conclude that materialism is false. I think this is our point of disagreement. I would agree with the rest. I would argue that skepticism is false on the basis of the Cogito, instead of self-refutation, but otherwise, I think we are in agreement with the exception of Materialism-->(4).

          On a materialistic view of the human person's belief-making mechanisms,
          there is no way to tell whether a belief is actually true or only
          appears to be true.

          To me, the reliability of a a person's belief making mechanisms are reliant on the mechanism itself and how well the person applies the method. I think well-evidenced scientific theories are likely true or at least a close approximation to what is true. If somebody argued that the key to longevity was a morning mango, because morning and mango both started with M, I would withhold belief, because that is a faulty mechanism.

          I'm not sure how materialism changes the fact that some methods are reliable while other methods are not. Materialism can explain why we might use a faulty method.

          Also, I am not sure if I am a materialist. I hold that mathematical concepts exist, and I would not call them material. I do not think supernatural beings exist or afterlives exist, so I consider myself a materialist, but there are some immaterial things that I withhold judgment on their existence or what it means for them to exist.

          • Phil

            In regards to premise (4)--yes, this is the premise that the entire essay really hinges upon.

            The reason why we would hold it to be true is if the human person's belief-making mechanisms follow consistent natural physical laws and they don't always lead to true beliefs, then these natural laws are not oriented towards coming to true beliefs. (What these laws are oriented towards, I don't know, but it is not true beliefs.)

            Therefore, these natural laws will produce true and false beliefs that all appear to be true. Not being able to tell the difference between any true and false belief is complete skepticism.

          • William Davis

            Therefore, these natural laws will produce true and false beliefs that all appear to be true. Not being able to tell the difference between any true and false belief is complete skepticism.

            This is why science revolves around proving a theory false. A theory needs to make predictions, and if those predictions pass testing, the theory is thought to be true. That is, until a better theory comes along that explains more and makes better predictions, or new evidence comes to light that proves the theory false. I think you are right, our brains are NOT specifically geared toward finding actual truth, they are geared toward adaptation for survival and reproduction.

          • Phil

            I think you are right, our brains are NOT specifically geared toward finding actual truth, they are geared toward adaptation for survival and reproduction.

            Yes, and if the human person's belief-making mechanisms are not specifically directed towards coming to actual truth, then there is no way to tell whether a belief that we hold is actually true or only appears to be true. This is because our mechanisms aren't directed towards telling us whether a belief is actually true or only appears to be true. Therefore complete skepticism is true.

          • William Davis

            Therefore, there is no way, even in principle, to hold that any belief is actually true. In short, complete skepticism is true.

            Only cogito ergo sum survives complete skepticism. I can't even prove that I'm not someone else who was just given Will Davis's memories. I can't prove God didn't create the universe 5 minutes ago, both of us having complete memories of our previous conversations. If God is omnipotent, he is omnipotent. Only cogito ergo sum can't be taken away.

            I don't think near complete skepticism refutes itself, it can just be reset to that one idea, given new information (someone told me I was the product of a memory switch and could prove they did it).

          • Phil

            Only cogito ergo sum survives complete skepticism.

            The interesting thing is that if the argument I propose is correct, this means that we also have no reason to believe that "cogito ergo sum" is actually true as well--the skepticism is radically acidic! But the whole point of the cogito is that it can't be denied without at the same time acknowledging that it is true. So materialism forces us to be skeptical towards something that we can't be skeptical about. Of course this is an incoherent conclusion!

            So the fact that you think we have reason, beyond a reasonable doubt, to believe that "cogito ergo sum" is true, supports the conclusion that materialism is false in regards to the human person!

          • William Davis

            The interesting thing is that if the argument I propose is correct, this means that we also have no reason to believe that "cogito ergo sum" is actually true as well--the skepticism is radically acidic!

            "I think therefore I am" can't be proven false no matter what the logic one uses, in my opinion. No matter the medium, even if I'm an immaterial computer simulation, I exist, if not I couldn't doubt my existence. I don't think there is any argument one can throw at that. I can doubt the existence of logic (it's could be a complete deception) but not doubt that I can doubt. I guess that is what is throwing me off, this seems intuitive....I've always sort of thought this way, but I grew up on a heavy diet of science fiction.

          • Phil

            I absolutely agree. And that is what makes the materialist conclusion that much more incoherent. The materialist conclusion is that we have no good reason to believe that "cogito ergo sum" itself is actually true.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks. But it doesn't locate 'where' this cogito IS? The Buddha consciousness is described as the emptiness/nothingness of bliss.so of course they have no explanation (my understanding) of how consciousness 'manifests', though they talk about it. No belief in 'unity'. But of samsara, the world, or nirvana in which 'all is absorbed' for want of words. That's how I become incoherent, trying to understand 'how' I think. On the premise that I am not incoherent at this moment. Descartes, has for instance, I believe, been 'accused' of 'solipsism'.....!!!!

          • William Davis

            I think I see what you're getting at. Just because I COULD be immaterial, doesn't mean I am. My skepticism applies to materialism, I don't KNOW materialism is true, and dualism is false, but I can make a strong cause against dualism of the mind at least (we've discussed this in the past). Even if you convinced me to be a dualist, I'd still have the same skepticism, and I would KNOW things to be true at 100%.

          • Doug Shaver

            The materialist conclusion is that we can't have any good reason to believe that "cogito ergo sum" itself is actually true.

            I'm a materialist, and that is not my conclusion.

          • Phil

            If you follow materialism to its rational conclusion, complete skepticism is what you get. We can rationally reject complete skepticism and therefore we reject materialism.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you follow materialism to its rational conclusion, complete skepticism is what you get.

            I think I'm pretty good at reaching rational conclusions, and I don't get what you get from materialism.

            I do get a denial of infallibility, but I don't equate epistemological fallibilism with complete skepticism.

          • Pofarmer
          • Phil

            Yes, and materialism does not support fallibilism.

            My question for you would be, how do our material belief-making mechanisms tell the difference between a statement that is actually true and one that appears true?

            In the end, matter/energy has no interest in the intrinsic truth value of statements. If our purely material belief-making mechanisms come to truth it is purely out of chance, not form us reasoning to the truth value of a belief.

          • Doug Shaver

            My question for you would be, how do our material belief-making mechanisms tell the difference between a statement that is actually true and one that appears true?

            I think I answered that question in my general critique of Lewandowski's article.

          • Phil

            I think I answered that question in my general critique of Lewandowski's article.

            I apologize, but I went through all the comments and I wasn't able to find your main critique on this main point that I made in my essay above. Are you able to point me to it. Thanks!

            This is important, because it is my main contention with materialism; there is no way for it to differentiate between actually true beliefs and ones that only appear to be true.

            PS - "Lewandowski" is none other than myself.

          • Doug Shaver

            I apologize, but I went through all the comments and I wasn't able to find your main critique on this point that I made in my essay above. Are you able to point me to it. Thanks!

            I don't know how to link to a particular post, but right now, on my browser, it's just after this one.

            This is important because it is my main contention with materialism; there is no way for it to differentiate between actually true beliefs and ones that only appear to be true.

            Despite what I said earlier, on further reflection, I probably didn't give an answer that anybody ought to be satisfied with. I will attempt a more thorough response in the next day or so.

          • Luke C.

            I don't know how to link to a particular post

            If you're using Windows, you can right-click on the timestamp of a comment, which is just to the right of the name of the commenter (or names, if the comment is a reply), and click Copy link address (or something similar). You can then paste the copied URL into a comment. Here's the comment I think you were referring to: http://strangenotions.com/irreconcilable-differences-the-divorce-of-materialism-and-truth/#comment-1980787811 (Disqus will truncate the link, but you can still right-click it to copy and paste the full URL.)

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, that's the one. And thank you for the info.

          • Phil

            I don't know how to link to a particular post, but right now, on my browser, it's just after this one.

            Weird. No luck tracking it down on my end (Matthew is right below you right now for me).

            The link to a specific post should be contained in the time stamp of the post (e.g., "5 days ago"). So if you click on the time stamp of your post and then post then link to that page, I should be able to track it down.

          • Doug Shaver
          • Doug Shaver

            PS - "Lewandowski" is none other than myself : )

            My apologies for not noticing.

            my main contention with materialism; there is no way for it to differentiate between actually true beliefs and ones that only appear to be true.

            Materialism is a worldview, and worldviews don't make those distinctions. People with worldviews make distinctions, and those distinctions may or may not be consistent with their worldviews.

            Furthermore, a distinction may be consistent with a worldview even though not entailed by it. For example, materialism implies nothing about whether a particular work of art is great, bad, or mediocre, but just for that reason, my opinion that Les Mis is one of the greatest musicals ever produced is consistent with my materialism.

            In the same way, I argue that our human ability to see that there is a difference between actual truth and apparent truth is consistent with materialism. At the same time, I agree that materialism offers no reason for us to think we can infallibly know, in a particular instance, whether an apparent truth is an actual truth. I disagree, though, with the notion that we need any assurance of infallibility in order to trust the deliverances of our cognitive faculties. We can justifiably believe that they work well enough, often enough, that we can act most of the time on the assumption that whatever is apparently true is actually true.

            And how do we justify that belief? The following, in which I think the answer appears, is an excerpt from an essay on my website, in which I respond to Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. Citations can be found in the original, http://dougshaver.net/philos/epistemology/plantinganaturalism.htm. (In the present context, I see no relevant distinction between naturalism and materialism.)

            Churchland's "four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing" (Churchland 1987, 548) are the fundamental desires that we should expect evolution to have hard-wired into our cognitive systems. We should also expect any other desires we might have acquired to have been favored insofar as their satisfaction would help us satisfy these fundamentals. What we desire should correspond at least occasionally to what we need. Our cognitive faculties seem to produce, among other things, moment-by-moment decisions about whether and how to undertake behaviors that will satisfy those desires. This is a kind of computation. The brain might or might not do some things that no computer can do, but we don't have to settle that argument here to affirm that the brain is at least a computer, i.e. that among the things it does is to compute. At least some and perhaps all of our beliefs are the output of computational processes to which the inputs include sensory data or previously formed beliefs. This kind of computing power is biologically very expensive. While this does not imply that it must have been adaptive, it justifies a supposition, absent evidence to the contrary, that it was in fact adaptive.

            There is only one actual world, but we can imagine an infinity of other possible worlds, and a random belief generator could produce propositions corresponding to any of them. Beliefs generated with only a random connection to reality are thus virtually guaranteed to be false, and so there is a high probability that any particular behavior based on randomly generated beliefs will fail to be that which would fulfill any given desire the behavior is meant to accommodate, including those four fundamental desires. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that natural selection would favor any cognitive mechanism that managed in some way to track sensory input about the organism's real environment and process it with something approaching logical consistency, and to suppose that sensory input to itself be reliable.

            The only hope of defending a disconnect between beliefs and behavior seems to lie in maintaining an ontological distinction between the syntax of neurophysiology and the semantics that permeate our conscious thoughts (Plantinga 1994). Churchland argues, cogently in the author's opinion, that while a conceptual distinction can be rhetorically useful, nothing compels us to deny that "awareness just is some pattern of activity in neurons" (1994, 30-31), and if that is true of awareness, we should expect it to be true of beliefs as well.

            If this is so, then it is not the case that reliable cognitive faculties would be an improbable outcome of naturalistic evolution; but, even if it were the case, naturalistic evolution still would give us no reason to question the prima facie presumption of our having reliable faculties. Naturalists are therefore justified in dismissing Plantinga's argument and continuing to hold their belief that our cognitive faculties are indeed reliable and were produced by natural selection without any supernatural assistance.

          • Phil

            I'll rephrase what I was proposing in the article above.

            The human person has the ability to come to recognize the difference between mere appearance and actual reality. To be able to to do this is to "step back" and evaluate something. A materialist view of the human person does not allow the human person to "step back" and evaluate a belief. The human person just continues on as a complex physical structure responding to certain perceptions, emotions, and appetites.

            This is why a materialist explanation of the human person will ultimately fail.

          • I don't see how that all necessarily follows. An eliminative materialism seems too hard to defend but a nonreductive account that affirms linguistic, semiotic and most folk psychological realities, affirming, too, a minimalist telos, recognizing, also, a distinction between an implict, nonreflective, abductive instinct and an explicit, conscious, abductive inference ...
            well, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

          • Phil

            a nonreductive account

            I actually don't think a non-reductive account of materialism is possible.

          • It does invoke, without adequately describing, novelties, which, as yet, explain nothing, add nothing to what we already know so far from the cognitive sciences. Of course, in that sense, it enjoys explanatory parity with the best competing stances in the philosophy of mind.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thomas Nagel puts the problem as such: "Any evolutionary account of the place of reason [which is how one tells the difference between appearance and reality] presupposes reason's validity and cannot confirm it without circularity."

            So does any other account. Neither materialism, nor theism, nor any other -ism can justify reason without presupposing reason. Any belief system simply must presuppose the axioms of logic.

          • Phil

            The problem is the materialism leads one to the conclusion that we can't trust reason.

            So a person presupposes reason, but then materialism leads one to the conclusion that one can't trust reason. This is a contradiction and means there may be an issue with our original assumption of materialism.

          • Doug Shaver

            materialism leads one to the conclusion that we can't trust reason.

            No, it doesn't. No valid argument is made invalid by the assumption that materialism is true.

          • Doug Shaver

            In the end, matter/energy has no interest in the intrinsic truth value of statements.

            Maybe not, but that does not prevent an entity that is made of matter and energy having an interest in truth. Regardless of what I might be made of, if I'm going to act on my beliefs, then my survival will depend on there being some correlation between those beliefs and the real world. The correlation doesn't have to be perfect, but it had better differ significantly from chance.

          • Phil

            Maybe not, but that does not prevent an entity that is made of matter and energy having an interest in truth.

            So matter/energy has no interest in truth, but something made up of matter/energy can have an interest in truth? I don't think this makes any rational sense. Can you explain how this would even be possible?

          • Doug Shaver

            So matter/energy has no interest in truth, but something made up of matter/energy can have an interest in truth? I don't think this makes any rational sense.

            If you say it is irrational, you commit the fallacy of composition. Do you really want to argue that for any entity, if its parts lack a certain property, then the whole cannot have that property?

          • Phil

            As you probably know, the fallacy of composition is not a formal fallacy. For example, the statement "because this brick is light in weight, therefore a stack of these bricks will be light" could be shown to be false. But the statement, "because this brick is red, therefore a stack of the same type of bricks will be red" is a true statement.

            So back to our original discussion. Our common denominator is that matter/energy itself is not interested in truth. So the materialist's job is to show how it is possible for a specific collection of matter/energy to suddenly become interested in truth. (Obviously one can't simply assume this is possible.)

            If there is no reasonable way to show this, then we must conclude that an entity which is able to come to truth is not purely material in nature. This is the position I would hold.

          • Doug Shaver

            The distinction between formal and informal fallacies is useful in some contexts, but I'm not sure this is one of them. The fallacy of composition consists in the reliance on an unstated premise which, if it were stated, would make the argument formally valid. But there is a good reason for its not being stated: Nobody would agree with it.

            But the statement, "because this brick is red, therefore a stack of the same type of bricks will be red" is a true statement.

            It is an argument with a true conclusion, but the conclusion is not entailed by the stated premise. It is entailed by the conjunction of the stated premise with another, unstated premise: "Any material object composed only of parts of one color will be that same color."

            So the materialist's job is to show how it is possible for a specific collection of matter/energy to suddenly become interested in truth. (Obviously one can't simply assume this is possible.)

            Neither can one simply assume that it is impossible. Any computer is composed of parts that, individually, cannot perform even simple arithmetic. A computer can do arithmetic, and everything else computers do, because of the particular way in which each of its parts is connected with a huge number of other parts, and also because of the way a certain subset of its parts is connected with a source of electrical energy.

            If there is no reasonable way to show this, then we must conclude that an entity which is able to come to truth is not purely material in nature. This is the position I would hold.

            My response to another post of yours will be an attempt to demonstrate the possibility.

          • Loreen Lee

            I believe Descartes' Cogito IS intuitive.

          • William Davis

            If you study mental illness you'll find that the right set of firmly held beliefs can make you have real problems. It is a question as to what goes wrong here, but for some people it really could be thinking to much and having no faith at all. I have faith so strong that what I see is real that I call it obvious knowledge, but there is an underlying tinge of doubt that I'm perfectly ok with. I like Hans Kung's faith in uncertain reality, but reality is truly uncertain on a deep level. I take epistemology very seriously, and realize how often we take our assumptions for granted.

          • Loreen Lee

            The cogito is NOT a belief. It is held to be by some philosophers, I understand. But, I have been through countless arguments. I settled for the one that it is not a propositional argument, but a statement of conscious awareness only.
            Like a Buddha awareness. That's what the statement cogito ego sum, and the ontological proof/relationship, as a description rather than a definition of God, basically are saying: the sort of the same thing. That's why I said there was a kind of 'equity' being established between 'God' and 'Man'. but God as the universal?/absolute reference, who does not deceive.

            Is this a heresay or a heresy? The 'problem' with clear and distinct ideas then would be something like they are in some way 'distinct'. from the cogito per se. There's some 'independence' 'definition' about them/between them.. Help words need defining!!!! Which possibly is why I understand there is now a rejection of the certainty with respect to the ideas. Indeed, clear and distinct ideas are. then possibly as with the Cartesian Circle with respect to God, uncertain because they must conform to logic. But logical proofs themselves are certainly clear and distinct ideas. Help me. Is there circularity here? Is this my incoherence, or do I at least on some level have some understanding of what I understand to be the circularity within Descarte's 'argument'. You basically need one for the other. Mutual dependence may I hope. Looking at it from the love rather than the logic perspective. Hopefully, I am incoherent, don't grasp logic, and have no understanding. Then I wouldn't be a skeptic but a loonie! Why are circular arguments 'forbidden'? They goes against the law of contradiction? But the circular arguments imply for me a relationship. The law of contradiction does not. Please help me. I've never had people to express these quandries to before.
            '

          • Loreen Lee

            But does it necessarily 'have to be immaterial'???? Is the Buddhist emptiness a nothingness or a something? Is consciousness a 'something' or a 'nothing'? Buddhist Bliss. Pure Being. etc. etc. etc. If God created angels because there had to be a plenum, what does this mean?

          • Loreen Lee

            If you've got it on your cell phone, that's at least evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Are there cases where we don't 'need' logical proof? That's the 'universal' standard, right?

          • William Davis

            That depends on the person and how they approach reality. My point is that there is always some underlying tinge of doubt for me, but that does not mean it should be that way for everyone, necessarily.

          • Loreen Lee

            Nor for you either, Michael. It's all be 'overcoming' for me in my life. So I have great faith, (and even belief) that you too, can indeed go beyond that 'tinge of doubt'.

          • William Davis

            I prefer to keep my doubt actually. It helps me remain more open minded and be intellectually nimble. I cherish and take pride in my doubt :) This isn't the same as cynicism, and this doubt has no negative relation in my head. Doubt helps we separate better ideas from worse ideas.

          • "I prefer to keep my doubt actually. It helps me remain more open minded and be intellectually nimble."

            But is "open-mindedness" a virtue to be chased or a state to be passed through? Our culture would probably say the former but as the great G.K. Chesterton wrote:

            "Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

            Serious truth-seekers don't endeavor to be permanently open-minded.

          • David Nickol

            Serious truth-seekers don't endeavor to be permanently open-minded.

            Really? Would you say the goal of serious truth-seekers is someday to be closed-minded?

          • GCBill

            I think we can take Chesterton's analogy further:

            The mouth closes on solid things, but it must do so time and time again. Since the body requires perpetual nourishment, the cessation of this process leads to bodily death.

            The mind closes on solid things, but it must do so time and time again. Since the intellect requires perpetual nourishment, the cessation of this process leads to intellectual death.

          • Doug Shaver

            Serious truth-seekers don't endeavor to be permanently open-minded.

            On what occasions should I close my mind?

          • I'm sure Walker Percy would agree, especially when we're also in receipt of putative news, existentially, and not mere putative knowledge, evidentially And William James, too, would agree that some live options are vital, i.e. have profound existential import, and are also often forced, i.e. not to choose is to choose. And certainly Pascal would invite a wager, which needn't be conceived per his stark soteriological terms but could also appeal even to universalists, who'd wager that there's even more beauty, goodness, love and freedom to be realized by living as if, i.e. per an existential disjunction, one interpretation vs another is true. To the extent those human value-realizations are thereby augmented by such a wager, one's interpretation could at least be weakly truth-indicative, suggestive if not conclusive and, in no way, irrational or unreasonable.

          • In the early 70's, LSU was low on funds, so they decided to look at all of our different departments and determine how much each spent in the last year. They came through our neurophysiology section and found that we were one of the highest spending departments, buying expensive medical equipment, paper, pencils and erasers. Next, they looked at the math department
            and were delighted to see its low budget consisted only of the cost of paper, pencils and erasers! Finally, they went across the quadrangle and looked at the philosophy department and were totally amazed, for its budget was lower than even the math department's, since it only bought paper and pencils.

          • William Davis

            I think cognitive science is the key, personally. Wiki defines it as: "Cognitive science consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, and anthropology." This blend yields results that no single discipline can. We've been continually specializing, and there is great value in that, but at some point we have to put the specializations back together into unified theories. I hope to see more interdisciplinary fields going forward :)

          • It's comments like that, William, which'll garner you your next 10,000 upvotes.

          • Loreen Lee

            LOL: NO ERASURES!!! Sometimes I pick up on the 'details'!!! You gotta give the credit to Occam!!!!

          • Doug Shaver

            Therefore, there is no way, even in principle, to hold that any belief is actually true.

            There is no infallible way.

          • Loreen Lee

            This is obviously a different explanation of 'you?' term 'belief-making mechanism' for me than I expected. It is still problematic for me. . 'How' are you able to relate this concept to natural physical laws? I also don't understand what a 'consistent natural law' is. I thought it was our knowledge, belief's etc. that was consistent, logically. Our thoughts may be consistent in relation to natural law? Surely if a person's belief-making mechanisms followed consistent natural physical laws there would be 'no problem'., in the sense that our belief's would be in 'conformity' with law, top-down. But could that then be described as something 'mechanistic'? Granted, I have problems with this.

            If David Hume is correct our beliefs 'arise'? out of associations of ideas. Possibly, my understanding, to the point where we 'develop' an understanding of such consistency that they attain what? the status of law. or the capacity to understand law. Yes I do have problems with this. I can't explain or understand the 'relationship' between what is 'given' and what we strive to understand. Gift: is : of what 'is there'....and/or....what how we 'become' aware of' what is there. This distinction was made clear to me in relation to genesis and cosmology, years ago. Hopefully I have the 'gift' of understanding.

        • Loreen Lee

          Phil. There you are. I had trouble with your term - belief-making mechanism, or belief mechanism, and left unfortunately a long questioning - self questioning on a reply to David Nichol. I don't think I can repeat it. Just thoughts going through my head. He did think it was a question worthy of asking you for an explanation. I 'had' to think it out at the moment thought, out of 'fear' that I would loose my thought, and thus left a (forgive me Mr. Nichol) query directed to him. I would be grateful if only for this reason, (that I owe him an apology) if you would please check out that exchange between myself and David Nichol. Thanks.

      • GCBill

        Yeah, I think it works for any [ontological claim] and [causal explanation of belief generation given said ontological claim]. So if it works, that'd be really bad.

        • Loreen Lee

          Kant's third category deals with relationship. I believe there is a correlation between these three categories and the identity, substance, contradiction and excluded middle of Aristotle. If this is true, I guess it is just another thing he borrowed and adapted from Aristotle.

          Anyway belief as not defined as knowledge. It is not necessarily true or justified. (This goes even as far back as Plato if I remember correctly) What is the 'problem'?

      • Loreen Lee

        What the (*&^%^* is a belief 'mechanism'....?????

        • David Nickol

          The OP contains the phrase "belief-making mechanism" over twenty times (by my quick count), and assuming (as seems obvious) that Ignatius Reilly has simply shortened it to "belief mechanism," your question (which does indeed deserve an answer!) needs to be addressed to Phil Lewandowski.

          • Loreen Lee

            Sorry David. Yes. It is the word 'mechanism'. 'Thought process' would have given me no 'trouble'. It just assumes I KNOW 'how' I think, which is my question/problem.. . Did I just skim over the word without questioning it's meaning? Because I was not 'conscious' of the word while reading the OP. Why? Is there a 'mechanism' behind random thought associations? Are beliefs somehow different from random thoughts that don't for some reason come to consciousness?. Why do they? (I've had to rearrange these thought to make them more coherent.) Did the unexpected word initiate the need to question and hopefully learn something. In other words, the mechanism, is a problem or something that initiates a thought process. But how?

            Sorry. I'll try to find a comment by Mr. Lewandowski. Does he already 'know' this, and this explains the presence of the word 'mechanism' in his vocabulary? Is he 'conscious' of this 'process'? Can we choose, or set up the 'mechanism' of 'what' to become conscious of?That's ridiculous. I'll try to be more careful.. I didn't mean to disturb you

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I was using Phil's terminology. I assumed he meant that it was part of us that actually forms beliefs. It is kind of vague

    • Phil

      Hey GCBill,

      Once we know those details, it becomes a lot easier to determine whether a particular belief conforms to reality.

      But aren't each of those other individual "details" beliefs as well?

      How do you know whether those details that support one conclusion over another are actually true or only appear to be true?

      • GCBill

        The details themselves are not beliefs, but we do have beliefs about them.
        EX: "I believe Q because P->Q and P" could be false as an explanation of a belief even if the argument is sound.

        But what are the reason(s) for thinking the argument is sound, and was it the argument or something else that persuaded me of Q? And if those reason(s) don't terminate in something undeniable, then they too can be questioned. The "web of belief" is vast, and the catch of a single fly can send reverberations throughout it. But this is true regardless of the type of tree in which we spin it.

        • Phil

          Could you give me some real-world examples of details that are not beliefs?

          I'm not seeing, right now, how one could posit a real difference between the two.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            A three sided polygon is a triangle.

          • Loreen Lee

            quote: A three sided polygon is a triangle.

            Hey! That is Not a tautology. I have to apply a thinking process (through time) even to the empty - a bachelor is an unmarried man to 'understand' it. . Kant on the synthetic a priori. disagreeing with the analytic philosophers. On l + 1 = What? -I'll 'think' about it. Maybe I'll be able to put it together into some kind of whole, intuitively? . My understanding is limited. I'm sure this would be defeated by 'logic'.....

          • GCBill

            I don't see how one could either. I'm working with the correspondence theory of truth, after all.

            The details are just the way something happened. When assessing the reliability of a belief, we use our beliefs about those details. Those beliefs might in turn depend on others, and so on, until we reach some axiom of logic, innate idea, or whatever. So it's not like it's easy to tell which beliefs are wrong. Sometimes it's also not practical, which is a big part of the reason why we go about believing certain false things!

          • Phil

            I completely agree that, at an epistemological level, the truth can be hard to figure out. But it is at the ontological level where materialism forces one to believe that one can't truly know anything.

            In other words, the essay above is simply to show that a purely material belief-making mechanism leads to the conclusion that complete skepticism is true. And I would hold that is can be successfully argued that complete skepticism is incoherent.

          • GCBill

            But skepticism (even radical skepticism) is an epistemological position. How can you be forced to believe something at the "ontological level?"

          • Phil

            It is the structure/nature (i.e., the ontology) of the person's materialistic belief-making mechanisms that force us to hold the epistemological position that complete skepticism is false. Materialism is an ontological belief; a specific belief about the nature of reality.

            It seems that many want to stay at the epistemological level, where I am trying to dig deeper into the underlying ontological beliefs and see if they support the epistemological position one is taking.

          • GCBill

            Oh okay, my apologies. It appears I was just over-thinking your terminology.

            I just lost a huge response to this post on my mobile phone. Hopefully I'll have a chance to respond later, but for now I've burned too much time.

          • Loreen Lee

            Is this a rewrite of Aristotle's form?. Kant suggests the importance of schemata. What is this? mathematical? conceptual? form within epistemology? Is there really any justification for Aristotle conceiving the intellect as that part of soul which is separate from the body? (My understanding.....which I KNOW is limited). Like I can see a 'rationale' in reductionism. For example, although I've never been exceptionally bright, I do (personally) realize that the powers of the intellect can diminish with age, and yet in Aristotle's philosophy.????....could this idea of human intelligence be a kind of intellectual vanity, even. Perish the thought? (I don't mean that literally!! but ironically it can be taken both ways.). Yes, I'm going to dare to post. I don't expect a reply. Thank you.

          • Loreen Lee

            Perhaps the introspection that produced my or my thought's incoherence is not ontological . Now I've got the difficulty of understanding the difference. Is awareness of one's thoughts, etc. an ontological awareness?

          • Loreen Lee

            Ah! You use the term 'forced' with respect to argument.

          • William Davis

            Sorry I missed your point about complete skepticism earlier, Brandon showed me what I missed. I fixed the post, obviously we skeptics are prepared to defend our skepticism ;) Well written article though.

          • Loreen Lee

            quote: obviously we skeptics are prepared to defend our skepticism.

            Are you kinda testing in the way that I am. Like I read about you speaking on EN about your belief in God. These, what I interpreted as change abouts, are confusing. Especially as related to my 'turn-abouts'. Hope this question is not too personal. No need to answer. You're not accountable to me. Just an 'observation'. I'm still distancing myself about the 'cause?' of descents into incoherence. I understand I'm still not making arguments. Reading about the value of introspection,though - that it does help in finding 'answers'. . Dangerous though? Like all the different arguments in this post. Incredible. Do we seek to reconcile the 'opposites'???? Or do we 'pick and choose'? If it's a matter of logical choice - well - I'll have to revisit. Good thing I have a Folder for Strange/Estranged Notions.

          • William Davis

            You can be a skeptic and believe in God, even be a Christian. Knowledge comes in degrees (but I'm serious about no 100%). Some people imply 100% when they KNOW something, I do not, but I'm ok with uncertainty. I would say I know there is a physical universe, and we can know things about that universe, but we can't know how true those things are, only how true they appear to be. This is done mostly via prediction. Good theories and beliefs make good and true predictions, but that doesn't imply they are 100% true. Newtonian physics made good predictions of orbits and mechanics, but it fell short in certain situations. Relativistic physics took us much farther, and solved many problems inherent in Newtonian physics, but is still falls short and doesn't explain many things (dark matter and energy are very suspicious to me). I would say Newtonian physics is true, but Relativistic physics are MORE true (higher percentage) without actually BEING the ultimate truth. We may only be able to approach the truth without actually reaching it. I think intelligence requires a simplification of reality that inherently take a little bit of the truth away in the simplification.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: I think intelligence requires a simplification of reality that
            inherently take a little bit of the truth away in the simplification.

            Wow! What a thought? I read somewhere recently that the greater complexity the more possibility there was in finding simplify. (One of Kant's antinomies.)Taking a little bit of truth away. Outgrowing specific forms of logical truth, possibly? Propositional logic 'replacing' syllogistic logic, the latter heard of and needed no more?

          • GCBill

            Here's my late response (in lieu of the one I deleted by mistake the other day -.-):

            As I intended to show with my parody, I don't think the argument shows there's anything particularly problematic about material belief-making systems. If it succeeds in showing problems for material systems, it also succeeds in showing them for others. Keep in mind that this is an objection to the argument as stated. While it's possible that Lewandowski has some principled reason for thinking that material belief systems have their own unique issues, the argument doesn't show it and I'm terrible at reading minds.

            Now, recall that 3) is simply the correct observation that our belief-forming system (BFS) leads to both true and false beliefs. Materialists cannot deny this, but neither can anyone else. If the intellect is the immaterial form of the human person, or an extensionless substance res cogitans, or a dual-aspect of matter, or a transdimensional blueberry waffle, it's still true. Now 4) argues that because the same BFS leads to both true and false beliefs, we have no way of knowing if any particular belief is true or false.

            What I'm still waiting to read is a reason that 4) follows given materialism, but not given hylemorphic or substance dualism, neutral or dual-aspect monism, interdimensional waffleism, etc. The argument claims that the issue is that the same BFS generates both true and false conclusions, but that's not something that only materialism concludes. It's universally accepted. It appears to me that the composition of the system isn't relevant to 4). Now I propose that the conditional simply doesn't hold for any BFS that you plug in to the argument form. So when I say it's not a good argument, I don't mean to imply that the issues are connected to materialism specifically. If I'm correct, then even the waffleists needn't fear the argument.

            I should mention that I considered (but ultimately rejected) one proposal that (if successful) would save hylemorphic dualism from this type of argument. The idea is that because the intellect has truth as its telos, it is possible for us to discern whether particular beliefs are true or false. But I'm not sure why this succeeds where the evolutionary-optimization argument fails. For the latter also claims that our BFS "tends toward" the production of true beliefs. On what grounds should we think this objection succeeds with Aristotelian teleology and not naturalistic evolutionary teleology? I suppose we could be justified in thinking so, but as far as I can tell no one in this discussion has provided sound justification.

            Do you have reason to think that some form(s) of teleology, but not others, can justify particular beliefs? Or do you think hylemorphic dualism can support our BFS in some other way? Let me know if you're not out of time or patience.

          • Phil

            Do you have reason to think that some form(s) of teleology, but not others, can justify particular beliefs? Or do you think hylomorphic dualism can support our BFS in some other way?

            Thanks for the response! Let me try and clarify.

            My main point is that a materialist BFM cannot tell the difference between a belief that is actually true or false and a belief that only appears true or false. This simply the limitation of a material system functioning with natural laws. How could matter/energy even in principle tell the difference? It can't because matter/energy is not directed towards coming to actual truth. Matter just acts; and it seems to act according to consistent natural "laws".

            Now, why does a hylomorphic view of the human person not have this issue? A hylomorphic view holds that the human intellect is not completely reducible to the physical body/brain. This means that we can rationally hold that the intellect does not act purely in accordance with physical natural laws. This means that the human intellect is free to be oriented towards something that matter is not oriented towards--namely actual truth, i.e., being able to distinguish between something that is actually true and something that only appears to be true.

          • GCBill

            Okay, I guess I owe you another apology. I didn't realize you were the Phil who wrote this article!

            In my (material?) mind, there's a world of a difference between a "materialist BFM" telling the difference, and "matter and energy" telling the difference. Of course, I'm not a full reductionist, so I think the way in which the matter is arranged (call it form if you like) matters a good deal. If there's no causation except at the lowest "level," then I think there's more of a philosophical problem for materialist theories of mind. As it stands, I think a BFM can be "orientated" in ways which matter alone cannot.

          • Now, why does a hylomorphic view of the human person not have this issue? A hylomorphic view holds that the human intellect is not completely reducible to the physical body/brain. This means that we can rationally hold that the intellect does not act purely in accordance with physical natural laws. This means that the human intellect is free to be oriented towards something that matter is not oriented towards--namely actual truth, i.e., being able to distinguish between something that is actually true and something that only appears to be true.

            This is well put, except I'd introduce the distinction between ontological and causal reducibility. While it might not be the only way to talk about reality, I sure find the concepts of formal and final causation very helpful to me in my attempts to make sense of all the competing interpretations, from the quantum to the cosmic, from the emergence of life to the emergence of consciousness, from the natural and social to the theological sciences.

          • Phil

            I'll propose a question separate from my last response:

            Would you hold a teleological view of matter/energy? If you would, what is matter/energy naturally oriented towards?

          • GCBill

            If "teleology" that ultimately doesn't come from a mind is illusory, then I guess not, because I don't believe the universe is dependent upon mind.

          • Phil

            So throw out mind, and reading between the lines, it sounds like you would hold that matter/energy is naturally teleological?

            That is, matter/energy is oriented towards a certain outcomes rather than other outcomes (what is means for something to be teleological).

          • GCBill

            If teleology is akin to "regularity," then yes. The behavior of material things is obviously not entirely random. I don't think there's a single telos for all matter, except maybe becoming more disorganized.

          • Yes, when we observe uniformities in nature, we can't a priori discern which are merely regularities vs clearly law-like patterns (e.g. nomicity). In the latter case, still, we can't a priori know which such laws are emergent, ephemeral and spatio-temporally local versus which might transist prior to the earliest moments after the Big Bang, perhaps as necessities applying to either atemporal or nonspatial materio-energetic realities. Even then, whether those apparent necessities would beg explanation as a mereological whole or otherwise could be explained as a regression of brute contingencies, we still couldn't a priori say. While teleodynamics observed locally wouldn't be inconsistent with a global telos, neither would they necessarily imply same.

          • Phil

            Good, good--My question then would be, if everything is made of the same substance, namely matter/energy, why does not everything have the same telos? Or is there something beyond the matter/energy that gives certain things a telos that is different from another object?

          • GCBill

            I did read Shultz's article today, and obviously his proposal is one way of answering your question. I'm still not sure what to make of essentialism, but I may comment in detail later.

          • Phil

            Here would be my proposal: ("matter" = "matter/energy" below)

            If the intellect is only composed of matter, and a person wants to hold that the intellect is oriented towards coming to the actual truth of reality, then matter as a whole must be shown to be oriented towards coming to truth. This would mean that one would have to hold that a rock is also oriented towards coming to truth just like the human intellect is, since they are both made up of the same sort of stuff, namely matter.

            Now, a person may propose that different organizations of matter lead to a different telos. Well, then one has to explain why different objects have different telos' even though they are made up of the same stuff. The reasonable answer, which Aristotle realized, is that every single object (be it living or not) has a form that organizes the matter and orients it towards a certain end/telos. That is why different material objects and beings are oriented towards different things!

            So my proposal is that there is something beyond the brute matter/energy that directs different objects towards different telos'.

    • Loreen Lee

      2. Refers to skepticism regarding a principle or universal.
      If we "Assume" hylomorphism is true!!! And in this case what do we
      'Assume'[ is matter and what is form? Is the universal or principle the form?
      5. Refers to a particular case. I 'assume' that this admits of matter?

      There is not necessarily a contradiction? All men are mortal
      Jesus was human or divine? Therefore...what?. But this is 'only?' a deductive argument..
      What is rationality here? Is the problem whether Jesus was human or divine solely epistemological? This was the 'all crows are black' argument. I remember from way back. It was just so easy to see it then of course. Like it was all about that memory thing in Plato's Meno- right ?- Just
      pointing out the rationality, right? The form? That there was a
      logical connection? Right?

      But maybe crows will evolve, (and what do you call the condition of a person or animal with white skin? Pardon....my age.!) The exception disconfirms the rule? It's just that I am finding it difficult to 'believe' that, especially 'deductive', argument alone is 'sufficient'. What's this got to do with the relationship between form and matter? In what way, if what I have heard is true, did Descartes deny form?.Never heard that one before. (I thought in Aristotle form 'contained' matter in some way.)But from Modernism, - It's just that I am finding that perhaps I may not really understand the 'import'? of the 'argument' unless I can truly understand the 'concepts'. A priori concepts tested in experience? But the 'meaning' (and reference?) of concepts may change? So is this 'skepticism' of mine demonstrative of incoherence?Enough! I don't want to descend into a state where logic becomes a koan. This self-reference could drive me to the madhouse. Maybe there's no hope for me. But I know as on EN my comments can be monitored. It's that reductionism thesis. It really has confused me...

      Wow! Look what I found: http://www.newdualism.org/papers/D.Oderberg/HylemorphicDualism2.htm Maybe this will keep me out of mischief, and off your backs for awhile. I just have to understand Aristotle, truly, --right? and I will overcome this 'contradiction?' ???? I just have to become intelligent enough to

      'follow the arguments'.

  • Loreen Lee

    Thanks for the formal argument. I have been aware for some time of the difficulties between Kant's transcendental idealism, and what the EN thinkers call metaphysical naturalism or transcendental idealism. I have explored, through 'experiments' of attempted self-awareness whether it would be possible to be aware enough of my consciouness to come to some decision/'belief in this regard. The hylomorphism thesis of Aristotle however has also presented the difficulty of finding within these 'mysteries' an understanding of what you term the divine and the human. So on either end of the difficulty I am unable to find coherence, and thus I thoroughly appreciate you pointing out some possible explanations of same. If the 'mysteries' cannot be explained is there the possibility that the 'faith' of say Kierkegaard can justifiable be called fidelism? When I've wondered about Kant's antinomies for instance, I thought - well both could be true, and this is at least consistent that even within the theories of multi-verse there could be still a 'foundationlism/beginning' But even within what I can understand as Catholic philosophy regarding these issues, the 'definition/explanations' seem to change over time, to meet current challenges to understanding. So I end up placing contradictory (to me) positions one beside the other, and thus am not surprised at the resulted incoherence, whether of my self or my thinking, I think that does not matter. I feel very often I can spot misunderstandings even within the comments, that for instance do not take into consideration even the small amount of different perspectives I have read with respect to, for instance, Descartes' Cogito. I do believe I understand the difficulties with dualism in that philosophy, which I understand also are applicable to Heidegger's Fourfold. If dualism, however, is 'overcome' through some sort of integration, or alternatively/concurrently (my understanding) through a unification attributable to God, then possibly I at least understand the position of Catholic faith.

    Please know that I did not, was not able to assimilate the argument given in this post. But thank you. I believe that this is a precedent for the direction that needs to be taken in this study. I have grown so weary of informal arguments, (and fallacies) and hopefully my confusion between modern/post-modern philosophy and what I recognize as my fundamental problem, i.e. is distinguishing the difference between the real and the ideal will in the future bring me to greater 'coherence'. Indeed, my greatest question regarding Catholicism is whether they have indeed braced the challenges that it presents, and why they have not incorporated for instance, the schemata of Kant, when it offers such precision that has been helpful to me in a way that is more immediate than what I find to be greater 'abstractions' within Thomism. His distinction between morality and pragmatics, for instance I feel are just 'so' important.. Faith within reason was his conclusion I believe...!!! Thank you. (These posts are kept, so I can just follow my abilities, if they are there at all, to eventually grasp the 'substance' (can I use that word!) of the 'argument'. Thanks.

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure why, for materialists, a "belief-making system" that sometimes yields true beliefs and sometimes yields false beliefs is an apparent philosophical disaster, but for dualists it is not. Do we need souls to explain why we sometimes hold false beliefs?

    • Ignatius Reilly

      How would a soul explain it? I'm not at all sure how a soul gives us the ability to know that we have a true belief.

      Besides, I thought that souls were simply the form of living things.

    • Phil

      Honestly, I think dualists fall into this problem as well, for a slightly different reason. I think the only position that does not is the hylomorphic position (which people seem to forget exists!).

      • David Nickol

        hylomorphic position

        As interpreted by Catholicism, I fail to see how hylomorphism is not dualist. As long as there is an idea of the spiritual soul leaving the body and carrying on an independent existence in purgatory and heaven, you cannot get away from the idea that human beings are composed of two different "substances"—matter and spirit. No matter how intimate the union of matter and spirit during lifetime, the fact that matter and spirit are separable cannot mean anything other than dualism. No matter how much it is claimed that Abraham's soul is not, strictly speaking, Abraham, one nevertheless has what was Abraham split into two parts, matter and spirit.

        • David Nickol

          Addendum: In particular, the idea of purgatory, where some kind of purification of the person takes place, clearly requires the disembodied soul to be the person for all practical purposes.

          • Loreen Lee

            I have just for a great number of years, 'used' such concepts as purgatory and hell to describe my experiences within this 'life process'. )As per Sartre, for instance.) Just as I have used the concept of the butterfly to describe transformation of my thought, or being. And I could accept 'death' as I believe is implied or spoken about by existentialist/materialists. I can quote you so many authors from my library. of the need to accept Heidegger's Dasein, as being towards death in this sense.. (My understanding of Heidegger.) Sure. That's fine.

            The only difficulty is that I have also had an 'intuitive?' 'inner' experience of some sort of reality with respect to the concept of 'immortality' - like being somehow outside of space and time, (does this describe our consciousness as rational beings?) of space and time'.. freedom and immortality, within some sort of 'rational' or universalizing, (but individual) context. These 'concepts' just 'seem' to be extreme polarities without any 'interconnection' . And there seems to be a skepticism on both sides of the 'argument'.

            How does one place the concept of 'immortality' within the accepted materiality of the 'reality' of the conservation of matter and energy..... What is end in this regard? Cessation or Purpose.

          • We've discussed this intermediate state before, but it needn't necessarily rely on some intrinsic metaphysical principle, especially since each human soul, theologically, is specially created. Any immortality thus needn't be attributed to the nature of consciousness or associated with philosophy of mind positions but is gifted by God's loving re-member-ing. Again, these eschatological realities are grounded theologically, agnostic to philosophical and metaphysical stances, except that free will is an indispensable philosophical presupposition for the life of faith. This is my interpretation of both Hans Kung and then Cardinal Ratzinger's (Benedict) thoughts.

        • The hylomorphic account, in my view, properly understood, is not dualistic, which is why some would suggest that eschatological realities are grounded --- not by our metaphysical propositions, but --- theologically, so would necessarily involve an "outside assist" by God's love.

          • Loreen Lee

            Even for Descartes God was what made the connection between mind and matter, and yet matter is in his philosophy is 'mechanistic'. Even science today I understand is mechanistic. And what of his understanding of animals for instance? I'm sorry 'God', I just find it very difficult to make sense of it all..

          • David Nickol

            As I understand Catholic thought, reason itself is limited. There are truths of faith that are "above reason." Hence we have this from the Catechism:

            159 Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." . . . .

            It is perhaps the case, if there is a significant amount of truth in Catholicism, that nevertheless some Catholic apologists are attempting to shoehorn a mystery that is "above reason" into a concept like hylomorphism.

            As I said, I take the Catholic teaching to be that reason itself is limited, not that certain truths are above our reason or above human reason. But of course apologists in general seek to appeal to reason, and so are understandably reluctant to say, "We believe the soul is the form of the body, but nevertheless we also believe it can carry on its existence separately from the body, but how to reconcile these two assertions is a mystery."

          • it can carry on its existence

            And there's the rub. That's incoherent. Apart from an instantiation forms don't form.

            I agree some apologists might conceive it dualistically as it's a powerful intuition for many.

          • Mila

            As I said, I take the Catholic teaching to be that reason itself is limited

            Though we can attain knowledge of the truth with our human reason we also have the ability to persuade ourselves.
            In Humani generis Pius XII states:
            The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.
            My understanding is that human reason and faith sort of divorced each other in our fall. Reason has become subject to our appetites and disordered passions. The trust or faith in God has also suffered.
            For me the genius of Catholicism is to try and unite reason and faith. One without the other is incomplete.
            You might have a point when you state that apologists in general seek to appeal to reason without saying that it is limited (a better word in my opinion is subject). I just don't know how someone would try and defend something with just faith to someone who has no faith. Maybe I can learn from these guys.

          • David Nickol

            If there are indeed truths of faith that are above reason, apologists' attempts to demonstrate them with reasoned arguments are doomed to failure. When the skeptic, promised a proof, spots the flaws in the reasoned arguments, he or she has every reason to disbelieve.

            Assuming (purely for the sake of argument) the truth of the human flaws resulting from "original sin," there is no guarantee whatsoever that a religious apologist will be exempt from those flaws.

          • Mila

            Assuming (purely for the sake of argument) the truth of the human flaws resulting from "original sin," there is no guarantee whatsoever that a religious apologist will be exempt from those flaws.

            It is no guarantee you are right. We are all subject to our disordered passions. However, it is possible to know truth with human reason.

            If there are indeed truths of faith that are above reason, apologists' attempts to demonstrate them with reasoned arguments are doomed to failure.

            Not necessarily as we can come to a knowledge of truth with certainty by human reason.
            I think by saying faith is above reason it is merely saying that faith is not subject to our passions or appetites but human reason is.

          • William Davis

            Well said.

          • David Nickol

            a better word in my opinion is subject

            I disagree, although if an authoritative Catholic source can be pointed to, I will reconsider.

            I think, from the Catholic viewpoint, it is not "either or" but rather "both." Reason itself is limited, and our use of reason is impaired due to the (alleged) fall. Adam and Eve, prior to the fall, were not capable of understanding mysteries, because some things are beyond even unimpaired reason.

          • Mila

            When I said subject I meant subject to the consequences of original sin.

            The source that human reason can be subject to our passions, etc is in the comment above. Humani generis.

          • David Nickol

            I am not disagreeing that the Church teaches our reason is subject to the consequences of original sin. I am saying that the Church also teaches that reason itself is limited. Mysteries of the faith are "above reason" not because our ability to reason was impaired by the fall. They are "above reason" (not "against reason") because reason has limits.

          • Mila

            There are certainly mysteries of faith that are above reason. We are finite creatures. But where does it say that we can not come to a knowledge of truth with reason?

          • David Nickol

            But where does it say that we can not come to a knowledge of truth with reason?

            Nowhere that I know of. It's certainly not what I am saying.

            We are finite creatures.

            Yes, but I think that is a different issue. I think (and I am speculating here) that the Catholic Church would hold that God is beyond reason, as are mysteries, and in fact that God created reason. An omniscient and omnipotent being who exists outside of time would not be a being who employed reason himself.

          • Mila

            Yes God created reason precisely so we can come to a knowledge of Him. One can say that He created reason for us and not Him.
            Here is what the Church says about human reason.

            36 "Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created "in the image of God".

            37 In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone:

            38 This is why man stands in need of being enlightened by God's revelation, not only about those things that exceed his understanding, but also "about those religious and moral truths which of themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error".

            39 In defending the ability of human reason to know God, the Church is expressing her confidence in the possibility of speaking about him to all men and with all men, and therefore of dialogue with other religions, with philosophy and science, as well as with unbelievers and atheists.

            Well it's late and I'm out. We'll continue tomorrow or next time I get a chance. G'night.

          • Loreen Lee

            Jesus, the hallmark of reason, the logos, the Word according to John since the beginning, was 'created'???? Begotten not made? Yes, I admit I have difficulties with these conceptual 'mysteries'.

          • Mila

            Adam and Eve, prior to the fall, were not capable of understanding mysteries, because some things are beyond even unimpaired reason.

            I agree though their capability to learn was not as impaired as ours.

  • "“materialism is true” is a belief that the materialist needs to show is actually true," why?

    There are virtually no beliefs we can show to be actually true.

    How would the existence of the immaterial change this situation?

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Thanks for the article Phil! I enjoyed it.

    We can already begin to see that the position of complete skepticism is
    incoherent and must be rejected. The statement, “I hold that it is actually true
    that a person cannot tell the difference between a belief that is
    actually true and one that only appears to be true” is clearly an
    incoherent proposition. In a more succinct manner, what we are saying is
    that, “I hold that complete skepticism is actually true.” This is a
    self-contradiction and what is called a “proof by contradiction”.
    Therefore, we reject complete skepticism (this will be an important part
    of the actual arguments below) and move on to the main attraction.

    I don't think skepticism is this easily dismissed. Firstly, skepticism seems to be a meta-belief, so I would hesitate to refute it via self-reference. I don't think skepticism is true, but I also do not think it is self-refuting. Certainly, I could adjust the statement to make it logically consistent with itself.

    Secondly, if we consider the negation of skepticism (there exists a proposition that is true and we can know is true), I would ask what is that proposition? Certainly, we can know definitional statements, but those are not the type of proposition that skepticism refers to. To say that a three sided polygon is a triangle is merely a definition.

    Propositions that I am most sure about are my own existence, mathematical theorems, the existence of the world, and then well-evidenced scientific propositions.

    What does it mean for a mathematical theorem to be true, beyond the fact that it follows from the axioms and logic that we have chosen to use? Can we consider them to be statements about reality? Or are they immaterial concepts?

    I assume the world exists and assume that my senses are reasonably reliable within the framework of the scientific method, but I don't see how I could be 100% certain about either of those. Nor do I think it is possible to be 100% certain about any scientific proposition, but arguably all well-evidence theories capture at least some truth.

  • David Nickol

    Is the assumption that, according to materialism, the "belief-making system" of one person functions exactly like the belief-making systems of all the others? It seems to me that (put very crudely) a materialist could think of the brain as a very complex computer. Even physically identical computers could arrive at "beliefs" by different algorithms. The algorithms themselves would not be "physical" in the sense that they are governed by the last of physics, any more than computer algorithms are governed by the laws of physics.

    Supposing we have a hundred identical clones and raise half of them as Aristotelians and the other half as Platonists. They would agree on many things but disagree on others. I don't see that this should trouble a materialist.

    • Loreen Lee

      How do you reconcile 'differences'?

      • David Nickol

        I am not sure I understand the question, but I am very dubious about the concept of "the belief-making system"—as if there were some standardized component every human individual possessed that worked (if materialism is true) only according to the laws of physics. I hate to use computer examples, but suppose we have 100 identical computers, and we employ 100 different programmers, each to program one computer to solve a complex problem. Even if the 100 different programs written all manage to solve the problem successfully, at the precise moment they all arrive at the solution, they will all be different one from another at atomic level (including electrical charges and the like).

        At best, if we use the concept of a "belief-making system" in a materialist world, each human individual will have a unique belief-making system, because it is not the physical brain that is the "belief-maker," but rather the brain and the particular "rationality" that brain employs to view the world. It might even be argued that there are as many "rationalities" as there are human individuals.

        Almost certainly the four thinkers (Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Hume) Macintyre examines (in the book I have not read!), or those who reason in the rationality each of those thinkers proposes, are going to be in agreement on almost all everyday, practical questions. And almost certainly true adherents of each of the four are going agree with each other (e.g., Aristotelians with Aristotelians) on certain questions and disagree with all the other three groups on certain questions. But this will have little or nothing to do with the physics of their brains. It will have to do with whether they think in Aristotelian (Augustinian, Thomist, or Humian) terms.

        Or to put it crudely but succinctly, it doesn't matter what a person's hardware is. What will make the difference is the software.

        • Loreen Lee

          So in both cases it's the program that matters, even with the self-programming computer. That's the materialistic thesis.

          I think, at least with respect to a person, the hardware is important. It would be difficult being a vet with a brain injury for instance. And computer's have their 'issues' too? Rust? perhaps?

          There are certainly many different ways to account for 'rationality' it seems. But that doesn't seem the case when it came to distinguishing ourselves from animals. We had our 'differentia'. But yes, Your remark recalls for me the hierarchy of Thomistic intelligibles, the angels. And there I understand, it really does not matter what the 'hardware' is.

          That sure is a long way from the reductionists, and a brain based processed rationality.

          Maybe it's best to be a 'solipsist'!

  • William Davis

    1.We assume that Materialist Option (C) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.)

    2.Complete skepticism is false.

    3.If the human person’s belief-making mechanisms follow natural physical laws, which do not always lead to true beliefs, then some beliefs a person holds are true and some they hold are false.

    4.If the exact same natural physical laws that govern the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do lead to both true and false beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true.

    5.If the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true, then complete skepticism is true.

    Contradiction between premises (2) and (5).

    Therefore, we reject the original assumption of Materialist Option (C).

    Even if someone can't be 100% sure a proposition is true, we can accept it as true and build on it. I think Descarte that right that we can be certain of the existence of our own mind, but we can't be completely certain of anything else. We can never be sure that we have 100% of the truth, this is where progress comes from.

    I'd like to give a great example of how we could be wrong about the nature of reality. Descarte thought we could be a disembodied mind being fooled by a demon, but we have a better concept now. We have no way to prove we aren't any a computer simulation. In fact, if it is possible to create advanced reality simulations, it is LIKELY we are living in a computer simulation. It might sound nuts, but check out Nick Bostrom's argument for it.

    http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

    • Loreen Lee

      It's better than the 'brain in a vat', idea! But God does not deceive!!!!!(Descartes!)

      • Raymond

        Matthew 13:13.
        Romans 11:8

    • Phil

      A clarification, William--The claim of the essay above is that a purely material belief-making mechanism leads, necessarily, to 0% certainty for every single belief a person could ever hold. (That is what complete skepticism is, that we can have no certainty for any belief.)

      My claim is that this is incoherent and therefore we should reject the claim that the belief-making mechanisms are purely material in nature.

      I would hold that 100% certainty in regards to any belief is not possible (besides possibly the belief that "I" exist). 0% certainty is very different from 1-99% certainty.

      • William Davis

        Rating certain is very difficult, and we often rely on intuition (a sort of calculus that runs below consciousness). I'm not following how you can assign 0% certainty because of the source of the belief making mechanism. You could believe something with 1% certainty and be right, or believe something with 100% certainty and be wrong.

        • Loreen Lee

          Maybe a way to look on faith, is to trust your intuition. Like your description of this as a kind of calculus. My experiments to become aware of this process. From Buddhism to Husserl. But intuition is fundamental in Kant. Intuition of space and time, etc. etc. Thus linked both to perception and 'judgment' the placement of particulars within universals, which we cannot always find.
          Logic then would be a conscious confirming/dis confirming device, which I have 'argued' sometimes limits choice, and can even (please allow vague context here) be coercive in a limiting sense in looking for 'new options'. .
          Don't know where imagination (free play of imagination, visions, etc. come into play here) But if the idea of rationality is limited to logic? I still like Kierkegaard's association of faith with paradox, or those 'questions' even like quantum physics, for which there is no 'precise' 'answer'. Please pardon my vagueness. Thanks William.

          • William Davis

            I agree with you on faith. I can have faith that my intuition is correct without knowing, I think it is important to understand the difference. Faith is a powerful thing, and it allows me to be comfortable with uncertainty.

        • Phil

          A belief-making mechanism which leaves one as having no way to tell whether a belief is actually true or only appears to be true = complete skepticism.

          Complete skepticism means that we have 0% certainty for all beliefs. Every belief we could ever hold is equally likely to be true or false.

          And as I argued in the essay, complete skepticism can be shown to be false and if something leads us to conclude that complete skepticism is true, then we must reject the original assumption that led us there.

          Your best bet for attacking the argument I proposed is to go after premise 4 of Materialist option (C)!

          • Loreen Lee

            That's seeing the 'world' as accident or phenomena. Yes? But from Hegel on Husserl etc. we speak of phenomena of mind!!! With Kant I don't know where he is on phenomena of mind......(I also find it difficult to accept for instance that only my intellect say is rational or soul. Aristotle?. Especially when my incoherence is noted. And what about all of those poor Cartesian animals? I've watched recent video's where they have made better decisions than me. (A cat picking out which block held a object - after moving them about, etc.) What about the possibility of a complete justified skepticism when it comes to questioning my intelligibility/coherence on these matters? Answer: Even the madman can be considered to be sane? There is an intelligibility in all things? God's Immanence? But then, could not my intelligence 'be' within my brain? New heaven and new earth? I just can't tie it all together, as your arguments demonstrate. (my understanding.) And transcendence, within or outside of time and space? or both?

  • David Nickol

    There is a very important and highly regarded book (which I own but have not yet read) by Alasdair Macintyre titled Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and here is the ad copy from Amazon:

    Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, the sequel to After Virtue, is a persuasive argument of there not being rationality that is not the
    rationality of some tradition.
    MacIntyre examines the problems presented by the existence of rival traditions of inquiry in the cases of four major philosophers: Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Hume. [Emphasis added.]

    From the little I have read of MacIntyre, it is his contention that none of the four competing traditions (or any others) has so far resolved all of its own problems to be the "winner" as the "one true" rationality (although he seems to feel Aristotelianism has a shot at doing so).

    My point in bringing this up is in regard to the OP's references to "the belief-making mechanisms of the human person." It seems to me it is a very flawed concept, because it assumes the "belief-making mechanism" (or materialists, presumably the brain) determines the truth or falsity of the beliefs arrived at. But that assumes that the "belief-making mechanism" itself has everything necessary to discern truth or falsity. But if MacIntyre is correct, four identically constructed "belief-making mechanisms" (brains) could arrive at different conclusions on a particular issue if each one were doing its rational thinking in one of the four different traditions.

    I think this throws into serious doubt Option C-4:

    If the exact same natural physical laws that govern the human
    person’s belief-making mechanisms do lead to both true and false
    beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any
    particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be
    true.

    It is not natural physical laws that determine the conclusions of the belief-making systems. It is the version of rationality the belief-making system uses to arrive at conclusions about what is true and what is not true.

    • Loreen Lee

      How would you treat the issues of 'self deception' and 'madness' within the context that this is can be characterized by an almost 'absolute' sense of certainty. Just to present two 'opposite extremes'. Thank you.

  • William Davis

    I would like to point out that we know machines can come to true answers. This does not mean the machine thinks, or that it believes, per se, but computation can come to correct answers if done properly. I think this disproves the idea that something non-physical is needed to come to correct answers. AI has actually advanced a LOT since watson (we are getting to true AI as opposed to simulated AI like Watson is), but watson beat the world Jeopardy by a HUGE margin. This specialized machine was better at responding with truth (in this particular situation of course) than humans.

    http://blog.ted.com/how-did-supercomputer-watson-beat-jeopardy-champion-ken-jennings-experts-discuss/

    • Loreen Lee

      What does the word 'wisdom' mean to you?

      • William Davis

        That's tough. I'd say it is the ability to understand (as opposed to simply know), and use that understanding to make good decisions. That's an oversimplification, but one I think I can live with.

        • Loreen Lee

          Yeah! But I've recently become aware that there is an intellectual understanding, and a personal or self-awareness understanding. (By connecting this idea with the idea of the Holy Ghost, of all things.) I just don't think our concepts are as 'clearly demarcated' as we presume them to be. That was one of John Locke's grievance I understand, i.e. our lack of awareness with respect to our 'use' of words.

          • William Davis

            Definitions are a constant problem in philosophy. To me, words are a very problematic way of communicating, but it is the best we have other than math, and math can only communicate quantities, not qualities. Maybe we'll have something better than language one day :)

  • These types of argument overuse excluded middle or either-or, so don't represent all of the available choices. We needn't choose between the random and the necessary, between the determinate and indeterminate. Indeed, we best not so choose, because so much of reality, at each emergent level of complexity, presents in a manner of degree, so, essays like this should include descriptors like strong and weak, adequate and inadequate, modest and robust, certain and uncertain, fallible and infallible, probable and improbable, plausible and implausible, and good enough and not good enough. The theological anthropology of Phil Hefner best captures these realities, as he characterizes Homo sapiens as partly bounded, partly determined, mostly autopoietic, substantially free. Free will is an indispensable philosophical and anthropological presupposition for a theological stance, but it needn't a priori
    be considered nonphysical, only nonreductive. I've written extensively about nonreductive physicalist accounts and emergentist semiotics here, so mercifully won't repeat them here.

    • Loreen Lee

      Please address this theory of reductivism.

      • Hi Loreen, see:
        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/#RedNonRedPhy

        Note, the type of emergentist stance I take does not employ notions of supervenience.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks - I would never have known where to begin looking for these articles, when I am not aware of the names in the first place! It seems like I'm looking for 'completeness' however, which I happened to stumble upon checking out the link, on a lucky read, and what I understand from Godel is 'difficult'....Do you think the universe, or the person is a closed system? (like a philosophy or theory) Ontology vs. epistemology? Just asking a question. I know this is off topic. Not expecting you to answer. Thanks.

          • The descriptor, closed, refers to our formal symbol systems in Godel's theorems and not to physical or metaphysical reality. I otherwise have no position regarding the universe prior to the planck epoch, during the earliest moments after the Big Bang but am fascinated by all the speculation!

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah! I've understood that. But can't I speculate and think of the multi-verse as a kind of open system compared with a closed big bang, physical beginning end system? Actually, it's hard for me to visualize the beginning/singularity-as a 'small bit of 'matter'. They don't explain where that came from or how it got there, 'prior to the Planck epoch'!. They just seem to convey the impression that it should all be 'obvious'.

            Then I find this - an open universe? http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html

          • It's hard for physicists, too, to conceptually approach that dense state using general relativity, precisely because our laws break down. The speculative cosmologists pretty much realize that it's not obvious which account best models a putative singularity. Thus diverse hypotheses abound.

          • Loreen Lee

            I'm reading articles on Aristotelean logic etc. Difficult. Does logic really have to be hierarchical? Also reading up more on Spinoza. And I think theology can 'survive' without our intelligence being immaterial.
            I'm off topic - I know. Brandon sure is patient with me. Thanks Brandon. My conclusion on the argument then. I don't think it possible (for me?)to be completely skeptical about anything.
            Yeah. That little ball of mud! A putative singularity???? Thanks JB.

          • Sure, Loreen. One salve for the cognitive dissonance that should afflict anyone who refuses to almost pathologically rush to closure regarding many of reality's paradoxes might be --- not a theoretic and systematic but --- a practical and provisional metaphysical agnosticism. So, while we don't a priori suggest that any given paradox will necessarily resolve, dialectically, or dissolve, paradigmatically, or must be evaded (ignored), for all practical purposes, or exploited, maintained in creative tension, we remain open to the possibility of future understanding even while patiently abiding our present lack of understanding. In other words, hold on loosely but don't let go (my apologies to 38 Special). I think of Alan Watts, who wrote The Wisdom of Insecurity: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts Check out his influences and embrace that wisdom of his which you seem to emulate, at least, in my view. May peace come to you and remain with you always.

          • Loreen Lee

            Hi JB. I'm OK. My last e-mail to you was primarily, (there is an overlap I feel) a checking out of the logical possibilities for a decision I came to primarily through intuitive (judgment, aesthetic, poetic, and more examination of possibilities. I learned that even Kant's categories are the basis for such internal reflection on both external and internal possibilities) Alternatives are gone over, (like in Aristotle's scientific method of checking out possible theories/opinions of others, he had the idea!). My evidence was primarily a reflection of Church dogma and Philosophical developments, on my life, (within my understanding and limitations).
            So the metaphysical agnosticism/Kantian idealism. The ideas were primarily focused since the resurrection, on the choice, (get the poetry here!) that I either 'choose' to be an intellectual immateriality, with the negative comparisons of the states of mind associated with for instance, dissociation, and the positive one's of being some kind of saint, angel or disembodied spirit.
            The alternative was the scary possibility, (first experiment) of facing the unconscious, the materiality of my neurons and being 'nothing' more than a mechanistic animal within a Cartesian theoretical paradigm. Yes, there is objectification of 'persons' within the psychological paradigm, but I'm more a sinner than a saint, and so I chose my worldly body for habitation.
            The adaptation of Christianity to this 'poetic-intuitive structure' however can be worked out logically. So within my 'life context' on the plane of 'possibility' you suggested to be metaphysical agnosticism, I was thinking of future possibilities,the limitation of possible perspectives that could be examined, because of the constant interaction between what remains hidden and what is 'revealed'. I came to my 'conclusion' of choice after writing you an e-mail, and started with a more direct examination of the logical consideration, which as you know are limited within my understanding. A p;primary motivation however was most conscious, to somehow overcome what I feel to be a 'coercive' element, which I can't define, and also a hierarchical authority, like secondary causation, which I learned through this process is also associated with Aristotelean cosmological proofs. So I'm definitely not operating on a cosmic level. The trinitarian schemata is most helpful to me, within the religious/individual understanding of the major conceptual rather than physical demarcations of the human brain, and human thought. The truth, present, Jesus, recognition of freedom and necessity-Hegel, (intuitive thought):reason, (logo?) logic, law, etc. The Good: the past, the foundation, ethos, and how my life develops out of all that information stored within my 'neurons', and of course, pathos, beauty, teleology, the future and intuition, this could I guess go on and on. .
            I don't understand the implications my selection of question, exploration of what is meant by poetic, nor the idea of how to become more aware played out on this. Method, or theory, or motivation, or another paradox/contradiction, I know not what?
            So that's where I 'am'. I'm still essentially a Catholic in the metaphysical sense, (but this is only my interpretation, -as you know). I'm also a Kantian, knowing that these a phenomenological considerations. So that's the basis for further reflection and examination and possible comparison of philosophical alternatives. It remains the most thorough structure I have been able to find within the modern/post modern context, and it recognizes both the reality of empirical evidence, as well as the metaphysics of 'ideality'. This I know the church considered to be against what dogma. But the choice to recognize my human limitations, also is an acceptance that I cannot 'know' within empirical reality, self or God. True to Kant, though I feel I can have intuition of space/freedom, and time/immortality. I am also hopeful to become aware of my 'consciousness' with the possibility that there can be a 'reality' within the 'faith' tradition. I appreciate Spinoza's ideas in relation to cosmology, but also believe that there is a personal consciousness that per dogma is associated with the Trinity.

            This description, of course, if primarily a story, a narrative, a concept that I feel is valuable to my understanding of the 'subjective' within human nature.
            Thanks for listening, (in more ways than one). As far as echchlechy and all those other

        • Loreen Lee

          Johnboy. I'm in real trouble. I know I'm way over my head. But I just can't pull myself away from this 'reduction of consciousness' problem. Maybe it's my ego even, and I can't cope for some reason for now getting responses except from a few friends like you and William Davis. I wanted to find a 'reconciliation' between modern philosophy (especially Kant) and what I learned in my childhood. I just wish I could break away from the whole 'mess'....I haven't studied logic, et al. and the analytic philosophers since the 70's. I'm not a professional. I'm not an academic. And now I find I'm not an amateur. I have no 'love' of this. But then I find that you're not the 'usual' Catholic, and so this direction towards materialism!!!!! ?????

          • Luc Regis

            I'm not a professional. I'm not an academic.

            Neither are many of us here. Most of us are just trying to learn...but it is easy for us, who do not have degrees behind our names to be implicitly intimidated by those who do. Continue your independent thinking and expression, and do not allow yourself to be intimidated by professionals in any field, be it philosophical, theological or scientific. Of course humility demands that when we are wrong or accused of same, that we submit to correction...that is corroborated by evidence other than another person's opinion or criticism. Keep on keeping on Loreen. I always read your comments.

            “Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” ...Bilbo Bagins

    • Loreen Lee

      Autopoietic: ('My' concept of poetry vs. logic!!http://www.calresco.org/lucas/auto.htm

  • Pofarmer

    It seems Mr. Lewandowski is missing a key ingredient. Evidence.

    • "It seems Mr. Lewandowski is missing a key ingredient. Evidence."

      Evidence for what?

      • Bob

        Evidence for belief, I imagine.

  • Pofarmer

    "there is no way to step back and use reason to say that this belief is actually true,"

    That's why we developed science, to sort out beliefs based on evidence.

  • Pofarmer

    I think that this needs some attention.

    But there is a key distinction that makes the human person so unique.
    It is not simply the case that it is possible that some of the beliefs
    we hold are actually true. Rather, the human person is capable of using
    reason to hold that certain beliefs are more rational to hold as actually true over alternative beliefs. In other words, it is possible for the human person to distinguish between beliefs that merely appear true and beliefs that are actually
    true. This is done through the proper use of reason and the intellect.
    The alternative to this position is complete skepticism, where a person
    holds that one cannot tell the difference between a belief that is
    actually true and one that only appears to be true.

    We can already begin to see that the position of complete skepticism
    is incoherent and must be rejected. The statement, “I hold that it is actually true
    that a person cannot tell the difference between a belief that is
    actually true and one that only appears to be true” is clearly an
    incoherent proposition. In a more succinct manner, what we are saying is
    that, “I hold that complete skepticism is actually true.” This is a
    self-contradiction and what is called a “proof by contradiction”.
    Therefore, we reject complete skepticism (this will be an important part
    of the actual arguments below) and move on to the main attraction.

    "It is not simply the case that it is possible that some of the beliefs
    we hold are actually true."

    Why not? People hold beliefs they believe to be true, which are not, all the time.

    "Rather, the human person is capable of using
    reason to hold that
    certain beliefs are more rational to hold as actually true over
    alternative beliefs. In other words, it is possible for the human person
    to distinguish between beliefs that merely appear true and beliefs that
    are actually
    true."

    This reminds me of a Richard Feynman quote. " The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." It also reminds of a Matt Dillahunty's debate with Sae Ten Brugencate(sp) where he said something to the effect of "I could be a brain in a vat, but I see no evidence that I'm a brain in a vat, and all my experience tells me I'm not a brain in a vat, so I'll proceed if I'm not a brain in a vat." In other words, we can never really have 100% certainty. In the same vein, we can probably never have absolute truth. We can work to get closer to what we perceive to be the truth, but we may never completely come to it. Newton's model was better than what came before. Relativity was better than Newton's model. Special relativity improved on relativity and Quantum Theory and String theory may or may not improve on that. The idea that we can actually know what is "True" may simply be conceit on our part. We strive to get models that are "Good enough" to get things to work.

    "This is done through the proper use of reason and the intellect."

    Reason and intellect only go so far. Without a proper methodology for sorting proper beliefs from improper beliefs, you are stuck. The Scientific Method, combining deductive and inductive reasoning has been our best attempt.

    This is done through the proper use of reason and the intellect.

    "The alternative to this position is complete skepticism, where a person
    holds that one cannot tell the difference between a belief that is
    actually true and one that only appears to be true."

    But what if we aren't differentiating what is "actually" true from what appears to be true? What we would appear to be doing, more precisely, is dividing more true things from less true things. It is said that science cannot definitively prove anything, it can only disprove things. Every answer is subject to revision. So there really is no such thing as "truth" in science. Every discovery is subject to skepticism. If this were not the case, we wouldn't advance.

    "We can already begin to see that the position of complete skepticism
    is incoherent and must be rejected."

    I rather think that complete skepticism is the engine which drives us forward.

    "The statement, “I hold that it is actually true
    that a person cannot tell the difference between a belief that is
    actually true and one that only appears to be true” is clearly an
    incoherent proposition"

    I think what is incoherent here is dividing things into that which is actually true and that which is not actually true. Few things deal in those absolutes. Science laughs at the proposition that something is "absolutely" true, and not subject to some further revision or new discovery. Does this mean that we should fall into despair about our meaningless lives devoid of truth? Not at all, since the dawn of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, I imagine we have been working on models that are "good enough" to get us by, get us to procreate, raise our kids. As time has gone on, we have developed models that have allowed us to visit our nearest neighbor in space, put our technology on other planets, and have our technology leave the solar system. Does that mean we have achieved something that is "actually true"? I doubt it. Therefore, since we cannot prove that anything is "actually true" I think that complete skepticism is actually justified, but it is counterproductive so we continue moving on with the best models we have available.

  • Asra Badra

    This article is incomprehensible

  • Bob

    "As has been the problem with all three of these proposals, there is no way to step back and use reason to say that this belief is actually true, rather than the belief only appearing to be true."

    Great, so, if anything at all, you have proved that reason alone is insufficient to determine the actual truth of a belief about reality. Of course, we actually figured this out a few hundred years ago when we discarded Scholasticism in favor of the scientific method.

  • Papalinton

    "But if we can show that materialism is false, beyond a reasonable doubt, we can begin to proclaim with Dr. Edward Feser that materialism is in fact one of the last superstitions and one of the final myths that we have created."

    I think the notion of the falsity or otherwise of materialism is a bit of a furphy. We know that physical things compose of matter, and matter is a variable state of energy. To suggest material things, matter, does not exist in one form or another is tantamount to denying the existence of energy. Matter and energy are the obverse of the same coin. I think we've come a long way on this matter, and those that deny a the presence of a material reality are simply clutching straws.

    The irony in Feser's proclaiming materialism as one of the last superstitions is indeed one of unquestionably premature ejection. The greater irony about Feser's scholarship is best characterised in the prophetic words of Samuel P Putnam (1838-1896), a former Congregationalist minister, who eruditely observed:
    "The [L]ast [S]uperstition of the human mind is the superstition that religion in itself is a good thing."

  • Luc Regis

    Philip Lewandowski Are you the Phil that usually shows up on here with the moniker....,Phil and the avatar of the virgin Mary?

    • Luc Regis

      I didn't think so.

  • Doug Shaver

    It seems the rise of the physical sciences has led to matter and energy being proclaimed as the one true “god.”

    It is not apparent to me why it would seem so. I have never known anyone to actually proclaim it. One can, of course, redefine "god" so that "X is god" is true for any X one chooses, but I don't know anyone who thinks matter and energy can replace the kind of god whose existence is affirmed by Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga or William Lane Craig.

    I do wish to address the coherency of actually holding that materialism is true.

    OK.

    Materialism is the metaphysical proposal that all that exists is material in its nature.

    That doesn't help us much until you define "material." For the time being, I'll just assume that we're all thinking about the same thing when we talk about something being material in nature.

    This means that no immaterial, spiritual entities exist in all reality.

    When I hear people talk about spiritual entities, they do seem to be talking about immaterial entities.

    Every coherent thought we have and word we proclaim is some sort of belief statement about the true nature of reality.

    Every statement has to be true or false. Whenever we think or say something, it cannot mean anything absent some notion we must have about the difference between truth and falsehood. Thus the axioms of logic are integral to the very process of communication, even when we communicate only with ourselves.

    We cannot say that truth does not exist without at the same time contradicting ourself.

    The statement "Truth does not exist" is not so much contradictory as vacuous. It is semantically null.

    It is not simply the case that it is possible that some of the beliefs we hold are actually true.

    If "not simply" means "not only," then I agree that at least that much is the case.

    In other words, it is possible for the human person to distinguish between beliefs that merely appear true and beliefs that are actually true.

    Maybe. We can certainly distinguish between apparent truth and actual truth as a matter of principle. But if the claim here is that we can know, without possibility of error, whether some statement is actually true, then this is tantamount to a claim that some of our knowledge is infallible. This claim needs to be defended. It cannot simply be asserted.

    The alternative to this position is complete skepticism, where a person holds that one cannot tell the difference between a belief that is actually true and one that only appears to be true.

    That is Pyrrhonic skepticism. Insofar as it is just a denial of infallibilism, I have no problem with it, but I don't agree that it entails a denial of knowledge. I see no utility in the notion that a belief must be infallible in order to properly count as knowledge.

    The statement, “I hold that it is actually true that a person cannot tell the difference between a belief that is actually true and one that only appears to be true” is clearly an incoherent proposition.

    This has not been demonstrated, at least not if "cannot tell the difference" is construed to mean "cannot infallibly tell the difference." It is neither incoherent nor self-contradictory to affirm that any belief we hold could possibly be mistaken.

    We will be proposing all the ways in which truth could arise within the human person

    I have no idea what it might mean for truth to arise within a person. Anything we believe is either truth or false. There is no arising to that. With respect to a particular belief that happens to be true, we might speak of an arising realization, or discovery, or conviction, that it is true, but the truth per se of the belief does not arise. It just either exists or does not exist.

    Either all of reality is material in nature (i.e., materialism is true) or all of reality is not material in nature (i.e., materialism is not true).

    This is the same mistake for which pedants (correctly but irrelevantly) criticize people who say "All that glitters is not gold." The logically proper negation of "All of reality is material in nature" is either "Not all of reality is material in nature" or "Some of reality is not material in nature." The statement "All of reality is not material in nature" is logically equivalent to "None of reality is material in nature."

    We will start by assuming that materialism is true. This means that the belief-making mechanisms of the human person are ultimately reducible to the overall physical state of the human person. . . . all our beliefs ultimately arise from the complex interaction of matter and energy.

    OK.

    Materialist Option (A)

    I've never known any materialist who would accept it, so we'll move on.

    Materialist Option (B)

    1. We assume that Materialist Option (B) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and always lead to true beliefs)

    We can also reject this out of hand by just noting that people have contradictory beliefs, and so it is not possible that everything we believe is true.

    Materialist Option (C)

    1. We assume that Materialist Option (C) is true. (The human person’s belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.)

    2. . . . .

    3. . . . .

    4. If the exact same natural physical laws that govern the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do lead to both true and false beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true.

    Premise 4 is a non sequitur. The implication would hold if the consequent were "the human person cannot infallibly hold that any particular belief is actually true." But it does not follow, from our susceptibility to error, that we can have no good reason to believe (i.e. cannot rationally hold) that a substantial portion of our beliefs are actually true.

    What we have found is that all three of these positions are internally incoherent.

    We have found nothing of the sort. You just think you see it.

    So it could be proposed that in the roughly four billion years since it is believed life first appeared on earth, the belief-making mechanisms have been optimized so that, at this point in history, we have very good reason to believe that the majority of our beliefs are actually true.

    I wouldn't put it that way, because I don't know how we could enumerate beliefs in order to count them and thus determine whether the true ones outnumber the false ones. Furthermore, there are plenty of situations -- or at least there were in our ancestral environment -- in which false beliefs are harmless and to which, therefore, natural selection would have been indifferent.

    Aristotle called the human person the “rational animal”.

    Aristotle was wrong about lots of things, including that. We are capable of reason. It is an ability we can use on occasion. On most occasions we don't use it, and when we do, its proper use does not come naturally. Like the ability to read well or to be a good athlete, proper reasoning requires training and a lot of practice.

  • Boris

    "if complete skepticism is false, then materialism is also false." Skepticism is not something that is either true or false. It's descriptive not prescriptive. What you are doing is telling people not to doubt so much. You'll have to excuse us for doubting everything you wrote and everything you believe. That's because it ain't true.

  • wpirotte

    I really only have one response: Materialism as the article describes it is a construct of the article, and its definition has virtually no counterpart in our world. In other words, there are few, if any, true proponents of Materialism. Obviously, more's the pity. Perhaps it would be best if I would accuse the author of very politely granting Materialism a position it does not deserve. While I respect the author's extreme understatements in regard to materialism eventually discovering how things work, I think his subtlety is ill advised. If he was trying to take a subtle jab, I am going to use a tire iron. No, I have not missed the point of his elegant exercise in logic. I want to demonstrate that one of the teams in the game does not really exist.

    Materialism, in an alarming number of its manifestations, is not the pursuit of the belief that everything around us can be reduced to matter and energy, in their myriad forms. Rather, it is the manipulation of the truth under the facade of materialism as Mr. Lewandowski defines it. It is the camouflaged attack against values, and the true implications of this perversity can only be seen in its effects. However, the mechanism of manipulation can be very easily observed. If Materialism is really concerned with the pursuit of truth, why all the manipulations?

    Materialism is the de facto religion of all too many otherwise rational people. Materialism has evolved (pardon requested) into something with every negative thing that organized religion can suffer from, and little, if anything, in the way of positive religious aspects. The Big Bang is Genesis without a God. But TBB violates known physics at its inception, and for a few hundred thousand years after inception. TBB is actually being challenged by the scientific community from whence it sprung, right now. [Shall we burn these heretics?] But we are supposed to accept its shortcomings on FAITH. Dark matter - the dog ate our homework. Dark energy - well, it sprang (if that's a word) from the Cosmological Constant, which Einstein rued. It is a derivation, in part, of dark energy. The whole thing is just a big mess, but you need to accept, on FAITH, that we will work it out in the end. Please pass the Funding, I'm hungry again. If you are a scientist and you rock this boat, your employment and career is severely threatened. Even Steven Hawking confessed to bludgeoning a fellow academician into submission and then finding out Hawking was wrong. While I don't have a lot of respect for Hawking's heavy plagiarization of "The Universe and Dr. Einstein", he does show a disarming honesty on occasion.

    Side Rant: Einstein NEVER posited that gravitons exist (matter bends the fabric of space, dummy) and yet EGO LIGO VIRGO test for their existence. Why can't we just measure the effects of the sun and moon - hey, maybe ask a fisherman - instead of reaching out billions and billions of Sagan miles for gravitons? And why build earth-based laboratories, subject to unpredictable interferences (pun intended). I wonder how many people know that Caltech celebrated a LACK of detection of expected events? What gonads! We make fun of people who predict the end of the world when it doesn't happen. Why am I picking on LIGO? Because it was faith-based, and it all the rage to pick on faith-based enterprises, n'est-ce pas? But mostly because no part of it was concerned with useful, accountable, practical application of [ideal] Materialism/Science. It was a brilliant financial sham. Or perhaps it was just ego, brazenly indicated by one of the project acronyms. Yeah, I'm jealous. I wish I could get other people to fund my hobbies and then give them nothing in return.

    String Theory was dismissed because it lacked political clout. Intelligent Design was condemned as pseudo science by those whose very fundamentals do not employ science in any kind of pure form. Biologists whom have devoted their entire careers to making fruit-flies mutate have thrown in the towel, but you would never hear that from the Evolvers. But here's my favorite: the Universe created itself, anti-matter and anti-energy winking in and out of existence like fireflies on a warm summer evening. Only...Who started the universes and anti-universes? Well, no one, actually. There is no chicken and egg question to answer, because we don't feel up to the math. And occasionally, we hear a quiet little scientist admit that we can never know what is actually happening because it is hidden away in dark this dark that or other, inaccessible, dimensions. How convenient. Keep the faith, baby!

    Philosophical Materialism begat Financial Materialism, and we are living, day by day, with the grotesque display of Science masquerading as the discovery of truth. Our food is unhealthy, our societies crumble before multi-national corporate goals, our planet is dying. I don't actually believe we have caused global warming or whatever it's called this week. But our rain forests are decimated and our seas are over fished. While Americans pretend not to understand that our consumer goods are produced by slave labor, we do understand that the factories are gone. This is Materialism.

    Darwin never directly stated that men are just animals, because he was afraid of the implications and the blame he would have to shoulder. [Incidentally, he did not come up with Evolutionary Theory - it was his grandfather - really!!!] But we live in his shadow. We no longer have the child-labor so common in his dear England. Instead, the wealthiest of nations kill their unborn and euthanize their elderly - one can only wonder if THIS is the true price of materialism - to kill when it is not even required to survive.

    Yes, I am a Luddite. And no, all science is not bad science. Pythagoras worked out acoustic theory without an oscilloscope and buildings don't fall over because of him. Without unselfish pioneers we wouldn't have the internet and I couldn't subject innocent people to my opinion. And my computer can play articulations of a viola recorded by Austrian virtuosi while I fumble at a keyboard which communicates in base 16 language with my binary workhorse.

    For the record, Einstein believed in God, and any negative inferences you may conclude about him from my remarks are a shortcoming in my communication skills.

  • "If the exact same natural physical laws that govern the human person’s belief-making mechanisms do lead to both true and false beliefs, then the human person cannot rationally hold that any particular belief is actually true, rather than only appearing to be true."

    This seems to be seriously questionable. Because we can come to true or false beliefs, no one can ever say a belief is true, does not seem to follow from these premises. Now, the article's point seems to be that the Catholic view is preferable. Does the writer really maintain that the Catholic formula will always lead to truth? Claiming that seems even more questionable.