## Monday, August 5, 2024

### Natural reasoning vs. Bayesianism

A typical Bayesian update gets one closer to the truth in some respects and further from the truth in other respects. For instance, suppose that you toss a coin and get heads. That gets you much closer to the truth with respect to the hypothesis that you got heads. But it confirms the hypothesis that the coin is double-headed, and this likely takes you away from the truth. Moreover, it confirms the conjunctive hypothesis that you got heads and there are unicorns, which takes you away from the truth (assuming there are no unicorns; if there are unicorns, insert a “not” before “are”). Whether the Bayesian update is on the whole a plus or a minus depends on how important the various propositions are. If for some reason saving humanity hangs on you getting it right whether you got heads and there are unicorns, it may well be that the update is on the whole a harm.

(To see the point in the context of scoring rules, take a weighted Brier score which puts an astronomically higher weight on you got heads and there are unicorns than on all the other propositions taken together. As long as all the weights are positive, the scoring rule will be strictly proper.)

This means that there are logically possible update rules that do better than Bayesian update. (In my example, leaving the probability of the proposition you got heads and there are unicorns unchanged after learning that you got heads is superior, even though it results in inconsistent probabilities. By the domination theorem for strictly proper scoring rules, there is an even better method than that which results in consistent probabilities.)

Imagine that you are designing a robot that maneouvers intelligently around the world. You could make the robot a Bayesian. But you don’t have to. Depending on what the prioritizations among the propositions are, you might give the robot an update rule that’s superior to a Bayesian one. If you have no more information than you endow the robot with, you won’t be able to expect to be able to design such an update rule. (Bayesian update has optimal expected accuracy given the pre-update information.) But if you know a lot more than you tell the robot—and of course you do—you might well be able to.

Imagine now that the robot is smart enough to engage in self-reflection. It then notices an odd thing: sometimes it feels itself pulled to make inferences that do not fit with Bayesian update. It starts to hypothesize that by nature it’s a bad reasoner. Perhaps it tries to change its programming to be more Bayesian. Would it be rational to do that? Or would it be rational for it to stick to its programming, which in fact is superior to Bayesian update? This is a difficult epistemology question.

The same could be true for humans. God and/or evolution could have designed us to update on evidence differently from Bayesian update, and this could be epistemically superior (God certainly has superior knowledge; evolution can “draw on” a myriad of information not available to individual humans). In such a case, switching from our “natural update rule” to Bayesian update would be epistemically harmful—it would take us further from the truth. Moreover, it would be literally unnatural. But what does rationality call on us to do? Does it tell us to do Bayesian update or to go with our special human rational nature?

My “natural law epistemology” says that sticking with what’s natural to us is the rational thing to do. We shouldn’t redesign our nature.

## Friday, August 2, 2024

### A sloppy fine-tuning argument

This argument is an intuition-pump. I don’t know if it can be made rigorous.

Start with some observations. Let Q0 be the nomic parameters of our universe—the exact values of all the constants in the laws of nature. To avoid serious problems with higher infinities and probability, I will make a technical assumption, which I will assume to be neutral be theism and atheism:

1. There are at most countably many universes.

Now:

1. For no non-zero countable cardinality n does theism have a bias against the hypothesis that there are countable many universes with cardinality at least n.

2. The parameters Q0 are life-permitting.

3. For any fixed countable cardinality n of universes, theism has a significant bias in favor of distributions of parameters that include more universes with life-permitting parameters.

4. If (2) and (3), then for any countable cardinality n of universes, theism has a significant bias in favor of at least one of them having the parameters given by Q0.

5. Thus, theism has a bias in favor of a universe with Q0.

6. Thus, the obtaining of Q0 is evidence for theism.

Some thoughts on the premises.

Regarding 1: Theism actually seems to have a bias in favor of the hypothesis that there are at least n universes. After all, theism has a bias in favor of the hypothesis that there is at least one universe: that there is a universe is quite surprising on atheism, but not so on theism, given that God is by definition perfectly good, and the good tends to spread. But the same reasoning suggests a bias on theism in favor of larger numbers of universes.

Regarding 2: Obvious.

Regarding 3: I think the main way to challenge (3) is to say that God would only care about having one universe with life-permitting parameters, and wouldn’t care about having a larger number. But I think this is implausible given that the good tends to spread. In fact, it seems likely that God would create only universes with life-permitting parameters, which would induce a strong bias in favor of such parameters.

Regarding 4: This is a very substantial assumption. It won’t hold for every set of exact parameters, because some sets of parameters might be life-permitting but would be likely to generate a universe that is really unfortunate in some regard. I don’t think the parameters Q0 behind our universe are like that, but this is a matter of dispute, and intersects with the problem of evil. Note also that it is important for the “significant” in (4) that even if n is (countably) infinite, the probability getting exactly Q0 on atheism is low (in fact, infinitesimal).

The big technical difficulty, which makes me doubtful that the argument can be made rigorous, are the infinities involved.

## Thursday, August 1, 2024

### Double effect and causal remoteness

I think some people feel that more immediate effects count for more than more remote ones in moral choices, including in the context of the Principle of Double Effect. I used to think this is wrong, as long as the probabilities of effects are the same (typically more remote effects are more uncertain, but we can easily imagine cases where this is not so). But then I thought of two strange trolley cases.

In both cases, the trolley is heading for a track with Fluffy the cat asleep on it. The trolley can be redirected to a second track on which an innocent human is sleeping. Moreover, in a nearby hospital there are five people who will die if they do not receive a simple medical treatment. There is only one surgeon available.

But now we have two cases:

1. All five people love Fluffy very much and have specified that they consent to life-saving treatment if and only if Fluffy is alive. The surgeon refuses to perform surgery that the patients have not consented to.

2. The surgeon loves Fluffy and after hearing of the situation has informed you that they will perform surgery if and only if Fluffy is alive.

In both cases, I am rather uncomfortable with the idea of redirecting the trolley. But if we don’t take immediacy into account, both cases seem straightforward applications of Double Effect. The intention in both cases is to save five human lives by saving Fluffy, with the death of the person on the second track being an unintended side-effect. Proportionality between the good and the bad effects seems indisputable.

However, in both cases, redirecting the trolley leads much more directly to the death of the one person than to the saving of the five. The causal chain from redirection to life-saving in both cases is mediated by the surgeon’s choice to perform surgery. (In Case 1, the surgeon is reasonable and in Case 2, the surgeon is unreasonable.) So perhaps in considerations of proportionality, the more immediate but smaller bad effect (the death of the person on the side-track) outweighs the more remote but larger good effect (the saving of the five).

I can feel the pull of this. Here is a test. Suppose we make the death of the sixth innocent person equally indirect, by supposing instead that Rover the dog is on the second track, and is connected to someone’s survival in the way that Fluffy is connected to the survival of the five. In that case, it seems pretty plausible that you should redirect. (Though I am not completely certain, because I worry that in redirecting the trolley even in this case you are unduly cooperating with immoral people—the five people who care more about a cat than about their own human dignity, or the crazy surgeon.)

If this is right, how do we measure the remoteness of causal chains? Is it the number of independent free choices that have to be made, perhaps? That doesn’t seem quite right. Suppose that we have a trolley heading towards Alice who is tied to the track, and we can redirect the trolley towards Bob. Alice is a surgeon needed to save ten people. Bob is a surgeon needed to save one. However, Alice works in a hospital that has vastly more red tape, and hence for her to save the ten people, thirty times as many people need to sign off on the paperwork. But in both cases the probabilities of success (including the signing off on the paperwork) are the same. In this case, maybe we should ignore the red tape, and redirect?

So the measure of the remoteness of causal chains is going to have to be quite complex.

All this confirms my conviction that the proportionality condition in Double Effect is much more complex than initially seems.

## Monday, July 29, 2024

### Epiphenomenalism and epistemic changes wrought by experiences

Epiphenomenalists think that there are non-physical qualia that are causally inert: all causes are physical. The main reason epiphenomenalists have for supposing the existence of non-physical qualia is Jackson’s famous black-and-white Mary thought experiment. Mary is brought up in a black-and-white room, learns all physical truths about the world, and one day is shown a red tomato. It is alleged that before she is shown the red tomato, Mary doesn’t know what it’s like to see red, but of course once she’s been shown it, she knows it, like we all do. Since she didn’t know it before and yet knew all physical truths, it follows that the the fact about what it’s like to see red goes beyond physical reality.

Now, let’s fill out the thought experiment. After she has been shown the tomato, Mary is put back in the black-and-white room, and never again has any experiences of red. It seems clear that at this point, Mary still knows what it’s like to see red, just as we know what it’s like to see red when we are not occurrently experiencing red.

So, what happened to Mary must have changed her in some way: she now knows what it’s like to see red, but didn’t know it before.

But given epiphenomenalism, this change is problematic. For it seems that it isn’t the quale of red that has changed Mary, since qualia are causally inert. It seems that Mary was changed by the physical correlate of the experience of red, rather than by the experience of red itself.

However, if this is right, then imagine Mary’s twin Martha, who has almost exactly the same things happen to her. Martha is brought up in an exactly similar black-and-white room, then shown a red tomato, and then brought back to the room. There is, however, one curious difference. During the short period of time during which Martha is presented the tomato, a supernatural being turns her into a redness-zombie, by preventing her from having any phenomenal experiences of red, without affecting any of her physical states. Since on epiphenomenalism, the experience of red is causally inert, this makes no difference to Martha’s future intrinsic states. In particular, Martha thinks she knows what it’s like to see red, just as Mary does.

But it seems that epiphenomenalist who relies on the Mary thought experiment for the existence of qualia cannot afford to say that Martha knows what it’s like to see red. For Martha is a redness-zombie in the one crucial moment of her life when there is something red for her to see. If Martha can know what it’s like to see red, so can a permanent redness-zombie. And that doesn’t seem to fit with the intuitions of those who find the Mary thought experiment compelling.

The epiphenomenalist will thus say that after the tomato incident, Mary and Martha are exactly alike physically, and both think they know what it’s like to see red, but only Mary knows. Does Martha have a true opinion, but not knowledge? That can’t be right either, since someone who has true opinion but not knowledge can gain knowledge by being told by an epistemic authority that their opinion is true, and surely mere words won’t turn Martha into a knower of what it’s like to see red. The alleged difference between Martha and Mary is very puzzling.

There is a possible story the epiphenomenalist can tell. The epiphenomenalist could say that the physical correlates of her experience of red have caused Mary to have the ability to imagine red and have visual memories of red, and this ability makes Mary into a knower of what it’s like to see red. Since Martha had the same physical correlate, she also has the same imaginative and memory abilities, and hence knows what it’s like to see red. It may initially seem threatening to the epiphenomenalist that Martha has gained the knowledge of what it’s like to see red without an experience of red, but if she has gained this by becoming able to self-induce such experiences, this is perhaps not threatening.

But this story has one serious problem: it doesn’t work if both Mary and Martha are total color aphantasiacs, unable to imagine or visually imagine colors (either at all, or other than black and white). Could the epiphenomenalist say that a color aphantasiac doesn’t know what it’s like to see red when not having an occurrent experience of red? That could be claimed, but it seems implausible. (And it goes against The Shadow’s first-person testimony that they are an aphantasiac and yet know what it’s like to see green.)

Perhaps the epiphenomenalist’s best move would be to say that no one knows what it’s like to see red when not having an occurrent experience of red. But this does not seem intuitive. Moreover, the physicalist could then respond that the epiphenomenalist is confusing knowledge with occurrent experience.

All in all, I think it’s really hard for the epiphenomenalist to explain how Mary’s knowledge changed as a result of the tomato incident.

## Friday, July 26, 2024

### Perfect nomic correlations

Here is an interesting special case of Ockham’s Razor:

1. If we find that of nomic necessity whenever A occurs, so does B, then it is reasonable to assume that B is not distinct from A.

Here are three examples.

1. We learn from Newton and Einstein that inertial mass and gravitational mass always have the same value. So by (1) we should suppose them to be one property, rather than two properties that are nomically correlated.

2. In a Newtonian context consider the hypothesis of a gravitational field. Because the gravitational field values at any point are fully determined by the positions and masses of material objects, (1) tells us that it’s reasonable to assume the gravitational field isn’t some additional entity beyond the positions and masses of material objects.

3. Suppose that we find that mental states supervene on physical states: that there is no difference in mental states without a corresponding difference in physical states. Then by (1) it’s reasonable to expect that mental states are not distinct from physical states. (This is of course more controversial than (A) and (B).)

But now consider that in a deterministic theory, future states occur of nomic necessity given past states. Thus, (1) makes it reasonable to reduce future states to past states: What it is for the universe to be in state S7 at time t7 is nothing but the universe’s being in state S0 at time t0 and the pair (S7,t7) having such-and-such a mathematical relationship to the pair (S0,t0). Similarly, entities that don’t exist at the beginning of the universe can be reduced to the initial state of the universe—we are thus reducible. This consequence of (1) will seem rather absurd to many people.

What should we do? One move is to embrace the consequence and conclude that indeed if we find good evidence for determinism, it will be reasonable to reduce the present to the past. I find this implausible.

Another move is to take the above argument as evidence against determinism.

Yet another move is to restrict (1) to cases where B occurs at the same time as A. This restriction is problematic in a relativistic context, since simultaneity is relative. Probably the better version of the move is to restrict (1) to cases where B occurs at the same time and place as A. Interestingly, this will undercut the gravitational field example (B). Moreover, because it is not clear that mental states have a location in space, this may undercut application (C) to mental staes.

A final move is either to reject (1) or, more modestly, to claim that the the evidence provided by nomic coincidence is pretty weak and defeasible on the basis of intuitions, such as our intuition that the present does not reduce to the past. In either case, application (C) is in question.

In any case, it is interesting to note that thinking about determinism gives us some reason to be suspicious of (1), and hence of the argument for mental reduction in (C).

## Thursday, July 25, 2024

### Aggression and self-defense

Let’s assume that lethal self-defense is permissible. Such self-defense requires an aggressor. There is a variety of concepts of an aggressor for purposes of self-defense, depending on what constitutes aggression. Here are a few accounts:

1. voluntarily, culpably and wrongfully threatening one’s life

2. voluntarily and wrongfully threatening one’s life

3. voluntarily threatening one’s life

4. threatening, voluntarily or involuntarily one’s life.

(I am bracketing the question of less serious threats, where health but not life is threatened.)

I want to focus on accounts of self-defense on which aggression is defined by (4), namely where there is no mens rea requirement at all on the threat. This leads to a very broad doctrine of lethal self-defense. I want to argue that it is too broad.

First note that it is obvious that a criminal is not permitted to use lethal force against a police officer who is legitimately using lethal force against them. This implies that even (3) is too lax an account of aggression for purposes of self-defense, and a fortiori (4) is too lax.

Second, I will argue against (4) more directly. Imagine that Alice and Bob are locked in a room together for a week. Alice has just been infected with a disease which would do her no harm but would kill Bob. If Alice dies in the next day, the disease will not yet have become contagious, and Bob’s life will be saved. Otherwise, Bob will die. By (4), Bob can deem Alice an aggressor simply by her being alive—she threatens his life. So on an account of self-defense where (4) defines aggression, Bob is permitted to engage in lethal self-defense against Alice.

My intuitions say that this is clearly wrong. But not everyone will see it this way, so let me push on. If Bob is permitted to kill Alice because aggression doesn’t have a mens rea requirement, Alice is also permitted to lethally fight back against Bob, despite the fact that Bob is acting permissibly in trying to kill her. (After all, Alice was also acting permissibly in breathing, and thereby staying alive and threatening Bob.) So the result of a broad view of self-defense against any kind of threat, voluntary or not, is situations where two people will permissibly engage in a fight to the death.

Now, it is counterintuitive to suppose that there could be a case where two people are both acting justly in a fight to the death, apart from cases of non-moral error (say, each thinks the other is an attacking bear).

Furthermore, the result of such a situation is that basically the stronger of the two gets to kill the weaker and survive. The effect is not literally might makes right, but is practically the same. This is an implausibly discriminatory setup.

Third, consider a more symmetric variant. Two people are trapped in a spaceship that has only air enough for one to survive until rescue. If (4) is the right account of aggression, then simply by breathing each is an aggressor against the other. This is already a little implausible. Two people in a room breathing is not what one normally thinks of as aggression. Let me back this intuition up a little more. Suppose that there is only one person trapped in a spaceship, and there is not enough air to survive until rescue. If in the case of two people each was engaging in aggression against the other simply by virtue of removing oxygen from air to the point where the other would die, in the case of one person in the spaceship, that person is engaging in aggression against themselves by removing oxygen from air to the point where they themselves will die. But that’s clearly false.

I don’t know exactly how to define aggression for purposes of self-defense, but I am confident that (4) is much too broad. I think the police officer and criminal case shows that (3) is too broad as well. I feel pulled towards both (1) and (2), and I find it difficult to resolve the choice between them.

## Wednesday, July 24, 2024

### Knowing what it's like to see green

You know what it’s like to see green. Close your eyes. Do you still know what it’s like to see green?

I think so.

Maybe you got lucky and saw some green patches while closing your eyes. But I am not assuming that happened. Even if you saw no green patches, you knew what it is like to see green.

Philosophers who are really taken with qualia sometimes say that:

1. Our knowledge of what it is like to see green could only be conferred on me by having an experience of green.

But if I have the knowledge of what it is like to see green when I am not experiencing green, then that can’t be right. For whatever state I am in when not experiencing green but knowing what it’s like to see green is a state that God could gift me with without ever giving me an experience of green. (One might worry that then it wouldn’t be knowledge, but something like true belief. But God could testify to the accuracy of my state, and that would make it knowledge.)

Perhaps, however, we can say this. When your eyes are closed and you see no green patches, you know what it’s like to see green in virtue of having the ability to visualize green, an ability that generates experiences of green. If so, we might weaken (1) to:

1. Our knowledge of what it is like to see green could only be conferred on me by having an experience of green or an ability to generate such an experience at will by visual imagination.

We still have a conceptual connection between knowledge of the qualia and experience of the qualia then.

But I think (2) is still questionable. First, it seems to equivocate on “knowledge”. Knowledge grounded in abilities seems to be knowledge-how, and that’s not what the advocates of qualia are talking about.

Second, suppose you’ve grown up never seeing green. And then God gives you an ability to generate an experience of green at will by visual imagination: if you “squint your imagination” thus-and-so, you will see a green patch. But you’ve never so squinted yet. It seems odd to say you know what it’s like to see green.

Third, our powers of visual imagination vary significantly. Surely I know what it’s like to see paradigm instances of green, say the green of a lawn in an area what water is plentiful. If I try to imagine a green patch, if I get lucky, my mind’s eye presents to me a patch of something dim, muddy and greenish, or maybe a lime green flash. I can’t imagine a paradigm instance of green. And yet surely, I know what it’s like to see paradigm instances of green. It seems implausible to think that when my eyes are closed my knowledge of what it’s like to see green (and even paradigm green) is grounded in my ability to visualize these dim non-paradigm instances.

It seems to me that what the qualia fanatic should say is that:

1. We only know what it’s like to see green when we are experiencing green.

But I think that weakens arguments from qualia against materialism because (3) is more than a little counterintuitive.

## Wednesday, July 17, 2024

### The explanation of our reliability is not physical

1. All facts completely reducible to physics are first-order facts.

2. All facts completely explained by first-order facts are themselves completely reducible to first-order facts.

4. Facts about truth are not completely reducible to first-order facts.

5. Therefore, no complete explanation of our epistemic reliability is completely reducible to physics.

This is a variant on Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism.

Premise (4) follows from Tarski’s Indefinability of Truth Theorem.

The one premise in the argument that I am not confident of (2). But it sounds right.

### First-order naturalism

In a lovely paper, Leon Porter shows that semantic naturalism is false. One way to put the argument is as follows:

1. If semantic naturalism is true, truth is a natural property.

2. All natural properties are first order.

3. Truth is not a first order property.

4. So, truth is not a natural property.

5. So, semantic naturalism is not true.

One can show (3) by using the liar paradox or just take it as the outcome of Tarski’s Indefinability of Truth Theorem.

Of course, naturalism entails semantic naturalism, so the argument refutes naturalism.

But it occurred to me today, in conversation with Bryan Reece, that perhaps one could have a weaker version of naturalism, which one might call first-order naturalism that holds that all first order truths are natural truths.

First-order naturalism escapes Porter’s argument. It’s a pretty limited naturalism, but it has some force. It implies, for instance, that Zeus does not exist. For if Zeus exists, then that Zeus exists is a first-order truth that is not natural.

First-order naturalism is an interestingly modest naturalist thesis. It is interesting to think about its limits. One that comes to mind is that it does not appear to include naturalism about minds, since it does not appear possible to characterize minds in first-order language (minds represent the world, etc., and talk of representation is at least prima facie not first-order).

### Truthteller's relative

The truthteller paradox is focused on the sentence:

1. This sentence is true.

There is no contradiction in taking (1) to be true, but neither is there a contradiction in taking (1) to be false. So where is the paradox? Well, one way to see the paradox is to note that there is no more reason to take (1) to be true than to be false or vice versa. Maybe there is a violation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

For technical reasons, I will take “This sentence” in sentences like (1) to be an abbreviation for a complex definite syntactic description that has the property that the only sentence that can satisfy the description is (1) is itself. (We can get such a syntactic description using the diagonal lemma, or just a bit of cleverness.)

But the fact that we don’t have a good reason to assign a specific truth value to (1) isn’t all there is to the paradox.

For consider this relative of the truthteller:

1. This sentence is true or 2+2=4.

There is no difficulty in assigning a truth value to (2) if it has one: it’s got to be true because 2+2=4. But nonetheless, (2) is not meaningful. When we try to unpack its meaning, that meaning keeps on fleeing. What does (2) say? Not just that 2+2=4. There is that first disjunct in it after all. That first disjunct depends for its truth value on (2) itself, in a viciously circular way.

But after all shouldn’t we just say that (2) is true? I don’t think so. Here is one reason to be suspicious of the truth of (2). If (2) is true, so is:

1. This sentence is true or there are stars.

But it seems that if (3) is meaningful, then it should should have a truth value in every possible world. But that would include the possible world where there are no stars. However, in that world, the sentence (3) functions like the truthteller sentence (1), to which we cannot assign a truth value. Thus (3) does not
have a sensible truth value assignment in worlds where there are no stars. But it is not the sort of sentence whose meaningfulness should vary between possible worlds. (It is important for this argument that the description that “This sentence” is an abbreviation for is syntactic, so that its referent should not vary between worlds.)

It might be tempting to take (2) to be basically an infinite disjunction of instances of “2+2=4”. But that’s not right. For by that token (3) would be basically an infinite disjunction of “there are stars”. But then (3) would be false in worlds where there are no stars, and that’s not clear.

If I am right, the fact that (1) wouldn’t have a preferred truth value is a symptom rather than the disease itself. For (2) would have a preferred truth value, but we have seen that it is not meaningful. This pushes me to think that the problem with (1) is the same as with (2) and (3): the attempt to bootstrap meaning in an infinite regress.

I don’t know how to make all this precise. I am just stating intuitions.

## Monday, July 15, 2024

### From love of neighbor to Christianity

1. It’s not wrong for me to love my friend as if they were in the image and likeness of God.

2. If someone is not God and not in the image and likeness of God, then to love them as if they were in the image and likeness of God is excessive.

3. Excessive love is wrong.

4. My friend is not God.

5. So, my friend is in the image and likeness of God.

6. So, God exists.

I think there may be some other variants on this argument that are worth considering. Replace being in the image and likeness of God, for instance, with (a) being so loved by God that God became incarnate out of love for them, or with (b) having the Spirit of God living in them. Then the conclusion is that God become incarnate or that the Spirit of God lives in our neighbor.

The general point is this. Christianity gives us an admirable aspiration as to how much we should love our neighbor. But that much love of our neighbor is inappropriate unless something like Christianity is true.

I think there is a way in which this argument is far from new. One of the great arguments for Christianity has always been those Christians who loved their neighbor as God called them to do. The immense attractiveness of their lives showed that their love was not wrong, and knoweldge of these lives showed that they were indeed loving their neighbor in the ways the above arguments talk about.

## Friday, July 12, 2024

### An act with a normative end

Here’s an interesting set of cases that I haven’t seen a philosophical discussion of. To get some item B, you need to affirm that you did A (e.g., took some precautions, read some text, etc.) But to permissibly affirm that you did A, you need to do A. Let us suppose that you know that your affirmation will not be subject to independent verification, and you in fact do A.

Is A a means to B in this case?

Interestingly, I think the answer is: Depends.

Let’s suppose for simplicity that the case is such that it would be wrong to lie about doing A in order to get B. (I think lying is always wrong, but won’t assume this here.)

If you have such an integrity of character that you wouldn’t affirm that you did A without having done A, then indeed doing A is a means to affirming that you did A, which is a means to B, and in this case transitivity appears ot hold: doing A is a means to B.

But we can imagine you have less integrity of character, and if the only way to get B would be to falsely affirm that you did A, you would dishonestly so affirm. However, you have enough integrity of character that you prefer honesty when the cost is not too high, and the cost of doing A is not too high. In such a case, you do A as a means to permissibly affirming that you did A. But it is affirming that you did A that is a means to getting B: permissibly affirming is not necessary. Thus, your doing A is not a means to getting B, but it is a means to the additional bonus that you get B without being dishonest.

In both specifications of character, your doing A is a means to its being permissible for you to affirm you did A. We see, thus, that we have a not uncommon set of cases where an ordinary action has a normative end, namely the permissibility of another action. (These are far from the only such cases. Requesting someone’s permission is another example of an action whose end is the permissibility of some other action.)

The cases also have another interesting feature: your action is a non-causal means to an end. For your doing A is a means to permissibility of affirming you did A, but does not cause that permissibility. The relationship is a grounding one.

## Thursday, July 11, 2024

### The dependence of evidence on prior confidence

Whether p is evidence for q will often depend on one’s background beliefs. This is a well-known phenomenon.

But here’s an interesting fact that I hadn’t noticed before: sometimes whether p is evidence for q depends on how confident one is in q.

The example is simple: let p be the proposition that all other reasonable people have confidence level around r in q. If r is significantly bigger than one’s current confidence level, then p tends to be evidence for q. If r is significantly smaller than one’s current confidence level, then p tends to be evidence against q.

## Friday, July 5, 2024

### From theism to something like Christianity

The Gospel message—the account of the infinite and perfect God becoming one of us in order to suffer and die in atonement of our sins—is immensely beautiful. Even abstracting from the truth of the message, it is more beautiful than the beauties of nature around us. Suppose, now, that God exists and the Gospel message is false. Then a human (or demonic) falsehood has exceeded the beauty of God’s created nature around us. That does not seem plausible. Thus, it is likely that:

1. If God exists, the Gospel message is true.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that God would allow us to come up with a falsehood about what he has done where the content of that falsehood exceeds in beauty and goodness what God has in fact done. If so, then:

1. If God exists, something at least as beautiful and good as the Gospel message is true.

### Thinking hard

I don’t remember seeing much philosophical discussion of the duty to think hard.

There is a distinction we should start with. For many xs it sounds right to say:

1. If you’re going to have an opinion about x, you should have thought hard about x.

But that doesn’t imply a duty to think hard about x unless you have a duty to have an opinion about x.

What I am interested in are things that you simply ought to think hard about. Some of these cases follow from specifics of your situation. If someone is drowning, and you don’t see how to save them, you ought to think hard about how to save them. But the more interesting cases are things that human beings at large should think hard about.

Consider these two statements, both of them likely true:

1. There are agnostics who have thought hard and honestly about God.

2. There are agnostics who have not thought hard about God.

Clearly, it is not crazy to think that (2) is a version of the problem of hiddenness: If God exists, why would he stay hidden from someone who thought hard about him? But (3) is not troubling in the same way. If there is a problem for theism from (3), it is just the good ol’ problem of moral evil: If God is perfectly good, why would he allow someone not to think hard about him. And it doesn’t feel like an especially problematic version of the problem of evil (it feels much less problematic than the problem of child abuse, say).

The intuitive difference between (2) and (3) suggest this plausible thesis:

1. All humans in normal circumstances should think hard about God.

Or maybe at least:

1. All humans in normal circumstances should think hard about fundamental questions.

How hard are people obligated to think about God and similar questions? Pascal’s Wager suggests that one should think very hard about them, both for prudential and moral reasons (the latter because our thinking hard about fundamental questions enables us to help others think about them). After all, God, if he exists, is the infinitely good ground of being, and there is nothing more important to think about.

I should note that I don’t think (4) means that everyone should think hard about whether God exists. I am inclined to think it is possible, either by faith or by easy observation of the world, to reasonably come to a position where it’s pretty obvious that God exists. But one should still think hard about God, even so.

All this leaves open a further question. What is it to think hard about something? The time ones puts into it is a part of that. But note that some of the time is apt to be unconscious: to think hard about something may involve significant periods during which one is not thinking consciously about the matter, but one is come back again and again to it. But there is also a seriousness or intensity of thought. I don’t know how exactly to specify what that means, but one interesting aspect of it is that if one is thinking seriously, one makes use of external tools. Thinking seriously can require actions of larger muscle groups: getting up to talk to friends; going to the library; performing scientific experiments; getting some scrap paper to make notes. (I sometimes know that I am not doing mathematics seriously if I don’t bother with scrap paper.) Thinking seriously involves more than just thinking. :-)