Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Infinity, Causation, and Paradox -- cheaper

I notice that Amazon has two hardcover copies of the book for $25 shipped, which is about half of the regular price.

Against the actual truth of transworld depravity

Here is an interesting result. If the Biblical account of creation is true, then Plantinga’s Trans-World Depravity (TWD) thesis is false. All this doesn’t affect Plantinga’s Free Will Defense which only needs the logical possibility of TWD, but it limits its usefulness a little by making clear that the defense is based on an actually-false assumption. (Quick review: Plantinga uses the logical possibility of TWD to argue for the logical possibility of evil. That argument would survive my critique. But he also suggests that TWD is epistemically possible, and hence could be the heart of a theodicy. That move does not survive, I think.)

I’ll take TWD to be:

  1. Every significantly free creature in every feasible world does wrong.

A feasible world is one that would eventuate from God’s strongly actualizing the strongly strongly actualized portion of it.

But now consider this thesis which is very plausible on the Biblical account of creation:

  1. At least one human made a significantly free right choice before any human made a free wrong choice.

For the first sin in the Biblical account is presented as Eve’s taking of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. But prior to that, indeed prior to Eve’s creation, Adam was commanded to take care of the garden (Gen. 2:15). It would have been a sin for Adam to fail to do that, and since this was before the first sin, it follows that Adam must have done it. Moreover, Adam being a full human being presumably had freedom of will, and hence was capable of refusing to work the garden. Hence Adam’s decision to obey God’s command to work the garden was a significantly free choice before any human made a free wrong choice.

Now, I don’t take the story of Genesis 2-3 to be literally true, but it tells us basic truths about the entry of evil into the world, and hence it is very likely that the structural claim (2) carries over into reality from the story.

I now argue that:

  1. If (2) is true, then TWD is false.

Right after the first human made a significantly free right choice, God had the power to prevent any further significantly free choices from ever being made. Had God exercised that power, the world would have contained a creature—namely, the human who made the significantly free right choice—that is a counterexample to TWD. Moreover, the world where God exercises that power is plainly feasible. Hence, (1) is false, since in (1) there is a significantly free creature that does the right thing.

That said, Plantinga’s TWD is stronger than it needs to be for his defense. All he really needs to work with is:

  1. Every feasible world that contains a significantly free creaturely right choice contains a free creaturely wrong choice.

And the world where God intervenes and prevents significantly free choices after the first human significantly free right choice is not a counterexample to (4), since prior to the creation of humans there was already sin by angels.

Note, though, that someone who wants to defend (4) by invoking the prior sin of angels needs to hold that the first humans would have sinned in their first significantly free choice had God not created angels or not given angels significant free will, no matter what circumstances the first humans were placed in. In other words, the defender of (4) has to hold that the actual righteousness of the first human significantly free choice has a strong counterfactual dependence on angelic freedom. The only plausible way I know of defending something like this is to say that angelic free choices are a part of human causal history and that essentiality of origins is true. So, interestingly, to hold that the weakened TWD thesis (4) is true seems to require both invoking the sin of angels and essentiality of origins.

Moreover, the defender of the actual truth of (4) would need to hold that the first angelic wrong choice preceded the first angelic significantly free right choice. For suppose an angelic significantly free choice came before any angelic sin. Then, again, God could have suspended free will right after that choice, and not created humans at all, and we would have a feasible world that is a counterexample to (4). Next, suppose that the first angelic significantly free choice was simultaneous with the first angelic sin. Presumably, the two were committed by different angels. But God could have suspended the freedom of those angels who in the actual world sin (this does not even require Molinism: God doesn’t need to know that they would sin to suspend their freedom), and plausible the simultaneous significantly free right choices of the other angels would still have eventuated. And then God could have suspended freedom altogether, thereby furnishing us with another feasible world that is a counterexample to (4).

One can modify (4) in various ways to get around this. For instance, one could say this:

  1. Every feasible world that contains a significantly free creaturely right choice and that contains many generations of significantly free creatures contains a free creaturely wrong choice.

But note that if (5) is true, then one needs to invoke more than the value of freedom in saying that God is justified in creating a world with evil. One needs the value of multi-generational freedom.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Truth, life and deontology

Absolutists who think that lying is wrong even to save a life are sometimes accused of thinking truth to be more valuable than life. Whether or not absolutism about lying is true (I think it is), the accusation is a misunderstanding of the structure of deontological prohibitions. For it would be silly to suppose that a deontologist who thinks it’s wrong to kill one innocent in order to save ten thinks that one life is more valuable than ten! If there is a mistake in deontology, it is not the mistake of thinking 1 > 10.

Deontology and future hypothetical wrongs

Molinism makes possible a curious kind of moral dilemma. God could reveal to Alice that if Alice doesn’t kill Bob today, she will kill Carl and David tomorrow (all these being innocents), and if she does kill Bob today, she won’t kill anyone tomorrow. Should she, thus, kill Bob today in order to prevent herself from murdering Carl and David tomorrow?

One might think that the possibility that Molinism allows for such a moral dilemma is a count against Molinism. But even without Molinism, one could have a probabilistic version of the dilemma where God reveals to Alice that if she doesn’t kill Bob today, she is very likely to kill both Carl and David tomorrow, and if she does kill Bob today, she is very unlikely to kill anyone tomorrow.

One way to make consequentialism fit with deontological intuitions is to set a high, perhaps infinite, disvalue on wrong action. That would imply that in the dilemma Alice should kill Bob in order to prevent the two murders tomorrow.

I think this is a mistake. Just as on deontological grounds it would be wrong for Alice to murder Bob to keep Eva from murdering Carl and David, so too it’s wrong for her to murder Bob to keep herself from murdering them. A eudaimonist may disagree here, holding that we should be promoting our own flourishing, so that when the choice is between committing two murders tomorrow and one today, we should go for the one today, but when the choice is between oneself committing one murder and another party committing two, we should let the other party commit the two. So much the worse, I say, for that kind of eudaimonist.

What makes it wrong for Alice to murder Bob is that the we shouldn’t perform bad acts. It’s not that we should minimize the number of bad acts performed, by others or oneself, but that we shouldn’t perform them. Of course, all other things being equal we should minimize the number of bad acts performed, by others and oneself, but a bad act is an act not to be done. And the lesson of deontology is that certain acts, such as intentionally killing without proper authority, are bad acts in virtue of their nature.

But isn’t killing Bob today the lesser evil?

Yet imagine Alice is debating whether she should eat ice cream, with its having been revealed to her that if she eats ice cream today, tomorrow she will kill Bob, and if she does not, then tomorrow she will kill Carl and David. In that case, it is clear: she should eat the ice cream. For the eating of ice cream isn’t the sort of act that is bad in virtue of its nature (unless a very strong form of moral veganism is true). Note, however, that if she eats the ice cream today, then her killing of Bob tomorrow is still wrong. (If you disagree, it may be simply because you disagree with Molinism, and you hold that the inevitability of her killing Bob takes away her freedom; if you think that, then go for a probabilistic version of the story.) This is true even though it is a lesser evil than her killing Carl and David.

In the original case, we can look at Alice doing two things when killing Bob:

  1. Killing Bob

  2. Bringing it about that she doesn’t kill Carl and David.

Her action is bad qua (1) and good qua (2). But we learn from Aquinas that for an action to be right, it must be right in every respect. So her action is wrong simpliciter.

On the other hand, in the ice cream version, in consuming the ice cream, Alice is doing two things:

  1. Eating ice cream

  2. Bringing it about that she doesn’t kill Carl and David.

Now her action is good or neutral qua (3) and good qua (4). In fact, it’s right in every respect. But her later killing of Bob is still wrong.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Causal powers, imperfection, free will and divine simplicity

Here is a plausible connection between normativity and causal powers:

  1. If x has a power to ϕ in C, and x is in C but does not ϕ, then x qua having that power imperfect.

  2. x is imperfect simpliciter if x is imperfect qua having ϕ for some ϕ that x has in virtue of its nature.

(I think one can make biconditionals out of these.)

But here is a problem. By omnipotence, God has the power to make reality be such that there are horses and they are all green, and he has the power to make reality be such that there are horses and they are all red. And he has these powers in the same circumstance C, namely that of creation. He exercises only one of these two powers. So it seems that God is imperfect qua having at least one of these powers. But he has these powers in virtue of his omnipotence and hence in virtue of his nature. Hence it seems that God is imperfect simpliciter.

Here is my best solution. Revise 1 to:

  1. If x has a power P such that P is a power to ϕ in C, and x is in C but does not successfully exercise P, then x qua having P is imperfect.

This sounds like it is equivalent to 1. After all, this seems like a necessary truth:

  1. If P is a power to ϕ in C and x successfully exercises P in C, then x must ϕ.

But actually 4 need not be true. For the same entity, P, could be both a power to ϕ in C and a power to ψ in C. And if so then when the possessor of P ψs in C, that would be a successful exercise of P.

This fits really well with divine simplicity on which all of God’s causal powers are ontologically the same, and indeed are identical to God. Given that, God’s powers are always fulfilled as long as God exercises one of them. (And perhaps even ensuring that God is alone would count as an exercise of God’s creative power.)

Here is another interesting thought. When I exercise free will, I have the power to ϕ and the power to ψ where ϕing and ψing are incompatible. It seems at first sight that one of these powers is unexercised, and hence thus far I am imperfect by 1. But perhaps sometimes the power to ϕ and the power to ψ are ontologically the same entity, either my nature or a single accident of me, in virtue of which entity I can ϕ and I can ψ. If so, then either ϕing or ψing could suffice for perfection qua having that power.

And now here is a very speculative thought. When we choose between right and wrong on earth, maybe the power to choose the right and the power to choose the wrong are distinct entities. Thus, we are imperfect even if we choose the right, for the power to do the wrong is unexercised. However, this sort of imperfection is not found in heaven, because there we lack the power to choose the wrong, due to the perfection of our character. But the same question will still come up in heaven when we choose between two incompatible goods, say reciting a piece of prose or reciting a piece of verse. However, perhaps, our mind will have such a deep internal unity in heaven that our abilities to choose between the various incompatible goods will be grounded in a single entity, and so no matter what we choose, we will thus far be perfect. (Not that I think it is disastrous to admit certain kinds of imperfections in heaven, so perhaps we don’t need recourse to this.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Causal theories of normative statuses

Utterances cause a variety of outcomes. For instance, a request often causes an action by another person, while saying “Alexa, turn on the lights” can cause the lights to turn on. This is not the paradigmatic thing that happens with performatives. With performatives, the outcome is (at least partially) constituted by the utterance. When the Queen utters the words of knighting, the newly created knight’s knightliness is not caused by but constituted by the utterance. One plausible argument for this is that causation has a speed of light limit, but knighting does not: the Queen could knight someone a light-year away, effective immediately.

So we have two kinds of outcome for an utterance: causal outcomes and constituted outcomes. It is plausible that sometimes utterances have both kinds. For instance, knighting someone can both constitute them as a knight and cause them to do knightly deeds.

It is widely, though perhaps often only implicitly, held that the normative statuses involved in marriages, promises and reasons of request are constituted outcomes of performative utterances.

It is, I think, worth thinking about what reasons we have to accept this performative constitution thesis. For here is another possibility: these social statuses are constituted by contingent normative properties that are caused to exist by the utterance. In such a case, the utterances producing these statuses are not performatives, but function causally, like the “Alexa, turn on the light” example.

If naturalism is true, so is the performative constitution thesis. For if naturalism is true, then normative properties supervene on physical properties, and there is no plausible physical property that is caused by uttering a promise on which the relevant normative property could supervene. Here is a quick argument: Any physical property that can be produced by promising can be produced impersonally by random quantum phenomena, but such random quantum phenomena will not result in the relevant normative properties of promise. Hence the physical act of promising must be a part of the supervenience base of the relevant normative properties.

But if naturalism is false, then we have a new possibility. It could be that marrying, promising and requesting non-physically cause relevant normative properties. The quick argument above no longer works, since random quantum phenomena need not have the power to produce these normative properties. In fact, even the speed-of-light argument concerning knighting doesn’t work, because non-physical causation need not have a speed-of-light limit.

Do we have good reason, beyond an incredulous stare, to dismiss the causal theory of these normative statuses?

I think classical theists have some reasons to opposed the causal theory. First, God has the power to directly cause all the kinds of effects we have the power to cause. So if I can cause myself to have the normative property of having promised you a dollar, God can directly cause me to have his normative property. But that’s absurd: for while God can directly cause me to promise you a dollar, it is a contradiction for the state of having promised to be caused by any means other than the making of that promise.

This is, however, only a limited opposition to the causal theory. For while God cannot directly cause me to be in a promissory state, it may well be that God can directly cause me to have the paradigmatic normative property constituting the promissory state, namely an obligation of performance with exactly the kind of weight that the promise carried. Thus, the first argument is compatible with a hybrid causal-constitutive view on which my making a promise causes the obligation but constitutes the obligation as a promissory one. Compare how my carving a statue would cause the statue but constitute it as hand-made.

The second argument against the causal theory is this. By divine simplicity, God’s contingent properties are all constituted by contingent entities outside of himself. But when God promises something, he acquires a contingent obligation. By divine simplicity, that obligation must be constituted by something contingent outside of God. And the most plausible candidate is that the it is constituted by the physical manifestation making up the promise (e.g., the voice that the promisee heard). So in the case of divine promises, neither the original causal theory nor the hybrid theory is plausible.

That said, the second argument is not very strong. For contingent beliefs are internally constituted in us and yet by exactly the same divine simplicity argument externally constituted in God. So while the fact that God’s promissory normative statuses are externally constituted gives us some reason to think ours are, this is far from conclusive. Moreover, what goes for promises may not go for other things. God (qua God) cannot marry. So the argument doesn’t apply to marriage.

In summary, if naturalism is false, then it could be the case that some of the normative statuses that are generally thought to be constituted by performative utterances are in fact caused by utterances, though classical theists have some reason to prefer the performative constitution theory in many cases.

Finally, note that there is a third option besides constitution and causation: something I call quasi-causation. If I pray for an effect, and as an outcome of my prayer, God produces the effect, I don’t want to say that my prayer caused God to produce the effect. It just seems contrary to divine transcendence to suppose we can cause God to do things. Yet there is something like causation going on here. Similarly, it could be that sometimes a normative status is not caused but merely quasi-caused by an utterance.

Catholics, in fact, are liable to think that the quasi-causal theory is at least true of one aspect of one case: sacramental marriage. In sacramental marriage, there is an intrinsic change in the parties entering the marriage as a result of the exchange of the marriage vows. But because the change happens due to God’s gracious activity, it probably cannot be said to be caused by the marriage vows. Rather, the change is quasi-caused by the marriage vows. However, it is not clear whether the relevant intrinsic change is a change with respect to a normative property.

All in all, there are many open questions here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Artifacts, Aristotelianism and naturalism

One of the main reasons I don’t believe in (complex) artifacts is that the existence of an artifact would have to depend on our intentions. Whether some stones make up a sculpture depends on whether they were piled with the intention of making a sculpture or just tossed in a heap to provide raw materials. And it is incredible that just because one thinks about something in a particular way while executing a series of physical actions, a material object comes into being, and if one doesn’t think in this way, but executes the same series of physical actions, there are just raw materials in a heap rather than a thing. This just seems like magic.

It has, however, just occurred to me that I may have been thinking too much like a naturalist. We human beings already have a broad array of amazing non-natural powers. By promising, I create an obligation for myself, and by requesting, I create a reason for you. By reproducing, two humans produce a new thinking being. Why couldn’t human beings (and perhaps other tool-using animals) also be gifted with the basic power to create a form for a bunch of physical objects, a power which they exercise by executing some physical movements with particular intentions, much as I change my own normative status by using my vocal chords with particular intentions?

That our intentions should affect what material objects there are is also a bit less magical when one has an Aristotelian ontology. For on an Aristotelian ontology, “material objects” are not purely material: they have immaterial form. Yes, all this is a bit magical. But on Aristotelian ontology, all beings are a little magical, and we are especially so, being minded.

That said, I still find it hard to believe that we can create artifacts.

But all this suggests an interesting argument against naturalism:

  1. We can bring complex artifacts into existence.

  2. Mereological universalism is false.

  3. If naturalism is true, we can bring complex artifacts into existence if and only if mereological universalism is true.

  4. So, naturalism is not true.

But I am still not sure (1) is true.

Presentism and haecceities

Suppose that times are maximal consistent present-tense propositions. Then if we are to make sense of eternal recurrence—reality being exactly alike at two different times—it seems we need haecceities for events or tropes. Thus, a certain kind of presentist needs haecceities.

Semantic externalism and time

Here is a curious thing. Suppose that I’ve been lying in bed trying to fall asleep for a while. I’ve lost track of time. At t1, I know: “I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” At a later time t2, I know: “I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” It seems quite possible that my internal mental state at t1 and at t2 is exactly the same. Yet what I know at t2 is logically stronger than what I knew at t1: for that I haven’t yet fallen asleep by the later time entails that I hadn’t fallen asleep by the earlier time.

So it seems that I gained some information, without any change in my internal mental state. This means is that we need to have some semantic externalism with respect to time.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Goods arranged evilly

St Augustine holds that God creates and sustains everything that exists other than God himself. Thus, he reasonably and correctly concludes:

  1. Everything that exists is good.

Augustine then concludes further:

  1. Evils are privations of goods.

I think (2) doesn’t follow from (1). Compare van Inwagen’s view on material composition:

  1. Everything that exists is simple or alive.

But we shouldn’t conclude from (3) that:

  1. Ordinary artifacts are privations of simple or living things.

Granted, it follows from (3) that ordinary artifacts don’t really exist, and it likewise follows from (1) that evils don’t really exist. But that does not mean that ordinary-language sentences affirming the existence of artifacts or evils should be analyzed as sentences affirming a privation.

On the contrary, famously, van Inwagen suggests that the ordinary claim that there is a table here is to be understood as claiming that there are simples arranged table-wise. As far as (1) goes, then, it could be that analogously a claim affirming the presence of an evil could be understood as claiming that there are goods arranged evilly. And in some cases this seems a better story than the privation theory. For instance, suppose Alice thinks that platypuses do not exist. What makes there be an evil here is not the lack of something, but the presence of two kinds of discordant good things: Alice’s mental acts of thinking platypuses not to exist and the platypuses themselves. The mental acts and the platypuses are jointly arranged evilly. But there is no evil.

This much more neatly handles the two-nose problem for Augustine’s theory, a problem I once came across in an article that I don’t remember the author of. It is an evil for a human to have two noses, but that evil does not seem to consist in the lack of anything. (We could say: a lack of harmony, but the harmony here doesn’t seem to be a real being, but is entirely just a matter of the arrangement of things.) But we can certainly say that there are two goods, the noses, but they are arranged evilly by virtue of being on the same face. There isn’t, however, a third thing beyond the noses, an evil. There is no ontological problem with God creating the two-nosed human. He creates two goods, the two noses. He foresees that they will be discordant, but he does not will them qua discordant. So he does not intend the evil. There are further theodical questions, but the Augustinian problem is solved.

Of course, there are privative evils. The person who has zero noses suffers from a privative evil, and perhaps when Bob thinks unicorns do exist, the evil of his mistake fits with the privative theory (this depends on the exact formulation of the privative theory).

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

1923 public domain P. G. Wodehouse

Finally, 1923 works are entering the public domain in the U.S. For fellow fans, here are two P. G. Wodehouse works:

Friday, December 28, 2018

Qualia are not all fundamental entities if theism is true

This argument is sound. I am not sure if premise (2) is true, though.

  1. If God exists, then all fundamental entities are intrinsically good.
  2. Pain qualia are not intrinsically good.
  3. So, pain qualia are not fundamental entities.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Reducing the right to the good

Here is a simple reductive account of right and wrong that now seems to me to be obviously correct:

  1. An action is right if and only if it is non-instrumentally wholly good; it is wrong if and only if it is non-instrumentally at least partly bad.

Think, after all, how easily we move between saying that someone acted badly and that someone acted wrongly.

If (1) is a correct reduction, then we can reduce facts about right and wrong to facts about the value of particular kinds of things, namely actions.

By the way, if we accept (1), then consequentialism is equivalent to the following thesis:

  1. An action is non-instrumentally good if and only if it is on balance (instrumentally and non-instrumentally) best.

But it is quite strange to think that there be an entity that is non-instrumentally good if and only if it is on balance best.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Group "belief"

Even though nobody thinks Strong AI has been achieved, we attribute beliefs to computer systems and software:

  • Microsoft Word thinks that I mistyped that word.

  • Google knows where I’ve been shopping.

The attribution is communicatively useful and natural, but is not literal.

It seems to me, however, that the difference in kind between the beliefs of computers and the beliefs of persons is no greater than the difference in kind between the beliefs of groups and the beliefs of persons.

Given this, the attribution of beliefs to groups should also not be taken to be literal.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Do we need performatives?

In a performative, a social fact is instituted by a statement that simultaneously announces it:

  • I hereby apply for the position.

  • I dub this ship the Star of the South.

  • I promise to pay you back tomorrow.

It seems we can distinguish two cases of institution of a social fact. Some social facts do not essentially require any party besides the instituter be apprised of the fact, and it is only the current contingent convention that those facts are instituted by an announcement. For instance, naming of persons is done by a public act in our society, but we could imagine (as happens in some piece of science fiction I vaguely recall) a society where people name themselves mentally, and then only reveal the name to their intimates. In that case, name facts already would obtain prior to their announcement, being instituted by a purely private mental act. In fact, in our society we handle the naming of animals in this way. You don’t need to tell anybody—not even Goldy—that your goldfish’s name is Goldy for the name to be that.

In the case of social facts that do not require anybody besides the instituter to be apprised of them, if we in fact institute them by means of a performative, that is a mere accident.

But some social facts of their very nature seem to require that some relevant party besides the instituter be apprised of the fact. For instance, it seems one cannot apply for a position without informing the organization in charge of the position, and one cannot promise without communicating this to the promisee. In those cases, it seems that the fact must be instituted by a performative.

That’s not quite right, though. The social fact of applying for a position can also be instituted by a pair of things: a performative instituting a conditional application and the truth of the antecedent of the conditional. “I hereby apply if no other applications come in by Wednesday night.” And in that case, the social fact can obtain without anyone other than God being apprised of it: even if no one yet knows that no other applications have come in by Wednesday night, it is a fact that one has applied. It seems that every social fact that is instituted by a performative announcing that very fact could be instituted by an appropriate conditional performative plus the obtaining of the antecedent.

But perhaps we can say something weaker. There seem to be social facts that logically require that they be partially instituted by someone’s apprising someone of something—but not necessary of the social fact in question. So while perhaps no particular performative is essential to instituting a particular social fact, some social facts may require some performative or other.