Monday, March 31, 2008

The "more"

Consider such pairs of terms as:

  • good — holy
  • impressive — awe-full
  • immoral — sinful
  • promise — vow
  • puzzle — mystery
  • fearsome — spooky
The second term in each pair implies something of the first. In fact, in many (though not all—the last pair is a clear exception) cases, the second term implies the first in a superlative way. However, there is something "more" to the second of each of these terms, something qualitatively different. Moreover, these pairs are analogous to each other—there is an analogy between the "more" in each case.

Thesis: None of the second terms in the above list would have application if naturalism were true. Something might still seem mysterious, but in fact it would be just be very puzzling. It might still appear that a graveyard is spooky, but in fact it is at most fearsome, and if so, only accidentally (e.g., if there is a vicious dog there).

So if naturalism were true, our experience of the "more" in the second term of each pair will always be mistaken. But that would be really puzzling—how could there be an experience type that is always mistaken? So if the thesis is true, then we have good reason to think naturalism false.

I am not here offering an argument for the thesis—I am here just presenting it as something that seems very clear to me.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Science and theology

It is sometimes said that when science and theology conflict, this is because we are dealing with bad science or bad theology or both bad science and bad theology. This may be in fact true of a number of apparent conflicts between science and theology.

But even if this is in fact true, one shouldn't elevate such an observation into a necessarily true principle. Here is one reason to think this. We learn from history that good science is often wrong. (Can one say the same about theology? That may depend on whether one restricts to the theology of a true religion, and on how speculative one allows theology to be and still count as "good".) Unless science and theology have completely logically disjoint subject matter, so that no proposition of science can possibly entail or be incompatible with a proposition of theology, it seems quite possible to have a case where a proposition p is such that (a) p is good science, (b) p is false, and (c) not-p is good theology.

Objection 1: Science and theology have completely logically disjoint subject matter, and hence it is impossible for a coherent proposition from one field to entail or be incompatible with a proposition from the other.

Response: This is false. For instance, Christian theology holds that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth does not contain the body of Jesus of Nazareth. This proposition and its negation are certainly the sorts of propositions with which historical sciences like archaeology deal. For another example, Jewish and Christian theology holds that the cosmos was created a finite amount of time ago. This theological proposition entails the claim that the cosmos has only finite age, a claim within the competency of cosmology (Aristotelian cosmology denied the claim; Big Bang cosmology affirmed the claim; some recent cosmologies deny the claim again).

Objection 2: Only true conclusions of science count as good science.

Response: This is implausible. Newtonian physics was good science par excellence, but false. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics were (are?) both good science, but we now know that they are not both true, since they conflict. But if this is true, then by the same token we should stipulate that only true conclusions of theology count as good theology, and then the claim that there can be no conflict between good science and good theology becomes tautologous. That said, it may be that some who make the no-conflict claim do mean it to be tautologous. Tautologies can still be useful at highlighting things—and, besides, one can't dispute them, which is certain a good thing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crime and punishment

Consider this valid argument:

  1. If you deserve F from me, then F is owed[note 1] by me to you. (Premise)
  2. If I owe F to you, then F is good for you. (Premise)
  3. Therefore, if you deserve punishment from me, then punishment is good for you. (By 1 and 2)

Are the premises true? Where F is a reward or praise, (1) is true. There is some plausibility to the idea that the structure of punishment mirrors that of praise, and if so then (1) is true at least in the case where F is punishment, which is all I need for the argument.

Premise (2) has something plausible about it. How could I owe you a negative debt—that would be a case of your owing me something?

Here is another argument. Start with the following assumption:

  1. It is wrong to intentionally impose an overall harm on another when nobody has a non-Cambridge benefit from this harm. (Premise)
Now suppose George, Jeff and Philippa are the only persons in existence (this is a per impossibile supposition since God exists necessarily), and suppose that they are persons who have no afterlife (death is the end of existence). Suppose George murders Jeff. Then it is appropriate for Philippa to punish George. Moreover, it is appropriate for her to do so on retributive grounds—she has strong reason to punish George even if George poses no danger to her and even if George is unlikely to repent of the crime due tot he punishment. Punishing George imposes a harm on George, and does not benefit Philippa (unless punishing George is good for independent reasons, in which case she is benefited by doing a virtuous action, virtue being its own reward; however, this benefit cannot be one that is cited in justification of the action, since that would be viciously circular). But the punishment is not wrong. Hence, George must also be receiving a benefit from the punishment, besides the harm.

I do incline to the view that retributive punishment is non-instrumentally good for the person punished. I am suspicious of the first argument—it's too easy—and the second might be question-begging against many opponents. But I wanted to put these arguments out there.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


On one of the best presentist accounts we have, namely that of Trenton Merricks, statements that some proposition p was or will be true are to be understood as embeddings of p in the context of a was or will modal operator, which modal operators are analogous to modal operators like M (possibly) or L (necessarily) or in a work of fiction or ought to be the case. Moreover, even if p is the sort of proposition to normally have a truthmaker, was(p) and will(p) do not have a truthmaker. Call this "modalist presentism."

Here is a problem for modalist presentism. There are a number of contexts in which we stand in the same kind of relation to a proposition about the past or the future as to an analogous proposition about the present. One kind of case I've already discussed in another post, the case of induction: we treat claims about past, present and future on par with respect to induction. A different set of cases are provided by certain non-first-person attitudes (this idea comes from Parfit). If my child is to undergo a painful medical procedure this afternoon, I will be pained at his undergoing the painful experience. Suppose that I am today out of causal contact with my child. I do not think it should matter much to my attitude right now towards the child's experience whether the experience has just occurred, or is now occurring, or is about to occur. And even if there is a difference, there is a common core of compassion in all three cases. Similarly, if I have heard that a friend will today receive a teaching award, I will be glad for his sake. Supposing I am unable to attend the ceremony, it will not matter vis-à-vis my gladness whether he has received the award five minutes ago, or is receiving it now, or will received it in five minutes.

The non-presentist has a way of explaining and justifying the common core of the inductive and emotional attitudes: in all cases, the attitude is a response to the reality of some situation. The feeling I have towards my child's actual pain, whether past, present or future, is different in kind from the feeling that I have towards facts of the form Q(my child is in pain) where Q is some modal operator like M or in a work of fiction. (The case of L is different, but that is because Lp entails p.) Likewise, I treat past, present and future occurrences on par for inductive purposes, and recognize the difference between these and possible or fictional occurrences. In fact, we might even say that a good test for whether I take a situation to be real is whether the situation enters into my inductive and emotional attitudes in these kinds of ways.

But for the modalist presentist, my child's having suffered pain is related to my child's presently suffering pain in somewhat way that my child's possibly suffering pain is related to my child's actually suffering pain. So now we have a problem for the presentist: to explain why it is that there is a pattern of attitudes that are equally appropriate towards situations within the scope of was and will operators as towards present situations, without adverting to the reality of these situations.

Here's a different way of formulating the worry, one that will affect even non-modalist presentists. It seems that what makes it appropriate to have the same attitude of grief or joy at various true propositions, and to engage in inductive reasoning about such propositions, is that these propositions have a truthmaker homogeneity: they are all made true by similar kinds of things. But the presentist denies truthmaker homogeneity between reports of past, present and future pains, as well as between reports of past, present and future raven blackness. The present-tense reports have ordinary sorts of truthmakers, like black ravens or people suffering. The past and future tense ones either have no truthmakers (Merricks) or have truthmakers of a significantly different sort (Bigelow, Crisp) from the present tense ones.

It might be thought that while the presentist has trouble explaining and justifying the lack of difference in these kinds of attitudes, the eternalist has trouble explaining and justifying the difference in first-person attitudes. I care a lot about whether a painful experience is past, present or future. But this is not a problem for the eternalist. For the justification of an attitude often lies not just in the objective features of the situation towards which one has the attitude, but also in a relation to the situation. That a situation is earlier than, simultaneous with or later than an attitude can affect whether the attitude is appropriate or not. And this indexical difference seems to matter a lot more in the case of situations that involve one oneself.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A tension about cooperation with evil

It seems pretty clear that we have strong, though perhaps at times defeasible, reason to avoid cooperating in evil activities. Here is something, however, that has struck me, after thinking about material in Wojtyla's The Acting Person (he is explicit about the tension) and correspondence with Mark Murphy. There is a tension between this presumption against cooperating in evil activities and the apparent fact that there is a non-instrumental value in all genuine interpersonal cooperation. There are ways to reduce or remove the tension, but it strikes me as quite an interesting tension. Does the fact that an instance of cooperation is in a bad activity somehow subvert the goods of cooperation?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two remarks on Thomson's violinist argument for abortion

Thomson's violinist argument for abortion is based on an analogy between pregnancy and being coerced to serve as the life-support system for a violinist. In the course of the argument, Thomson says that pregnancy is the only case in which society (remember she is writing before Roe vs. Wade) requires a member to undergo a sacrifice of the magnitude that pregnancy involves.

My first remark is that this is simply false. There are two counterexamples to this: the draft and taxes. In the case of war, some members of our society are drafted. Being drafted seems pretty clearly at least as great an imposition as being required to continue pregnancy. It typically involves one's life being put under the control of higher officers in respect of just about every small detail, whereas only a few pregnancies require quite as much modification of one's life (cases where bed-rest is required for the length of the pregnancy are similar in this respect, though even then one is free to decide what activities to engage in while in bed, such as reading, writing, listening to the radio, etc.) The danger to life from the draft can be, depending on the conflict, significantly greater than that from pregnancy. Moreover, in being drafted, one becomes put under the orders of a hierarchy that can, and sometimes does, order one to engage in actions that are highly likely to result in one's being severely wounded, captured and tortured, or killed. (I expect that if I were to have to choose on grounds of self interest, I'd choose pregnancy over serving in the U.S. army in WWII, though I need to go on second and third hand data in both cases.)

The case of taxes is less clear, but still not implausible. Let's suppose Jennifer pays out 25% of her income in taxes. The imposition involved here may not seem grave when put in financial terms. But if we consider that in effect about nine years worth of work is commandeered over a 35-year career, this seems greater. Moreover, I suspect many people would willingly undergo a pregnancy in exchange for a lifetime exemption from taxation, and this would not be irrational in regard to self-interest. If this is right, then the imposition of taxation is comparable to that of pregnancy.

So, yes, our society does impose significant sacrifices on some members for the sake of others. It would be difficult, moreover, to imagine a society that did not have a draft when in danger of being overrun by the enemy, or that did not have taxation.

A second thing I find interesting about Thomson's argument is that as far as I can tell, abortions on account of the imposition represented by pregnancy and childbirth as such are relatively rare. With the notable exception of cases where the pregnancy itself constitutes a risk to maternal health and cases where the pregnancy reveals a relationship that the woman believes she needs to keep secret, standard reasons for abortion have to do more with not wanting the child to be born than with not wanting to be pregnant. In other words, most of the problems that lead women to abortion are such that the problem would not be solved by sci-fi technology that instantaneously grows the child to full term and beams her out into her mother's lap. The problem isn't with the pregnancy, but with the having of a child. But Thomson's argument defends abortion on the grounds of the imposition that pregnancy and childbirth as such make on the woman.

Now supposing that Thomson is right that the imposition of pregnancy and childbirth is indeed a morally sufficient reason for having an abortion. Then we would expect the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth themselves to be among the major reasons women cite for having an abortion. But apart from the cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother's health, the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth do not seem to figure among the major reasons for abortion. Granted, this may be because women are afraid it would sound self-centered to cite this as a reason. But since women seem willing to report that having a child "would change life in a way [they do] not want" or that they want to "establish [a] career" first, there does not seem to be a total taboo against citing self-centered reasons.

Moreover, Thomson's argument, if it were sound (and I think it is not), would only establish that there is a right to expel the fetus from the womb, not that there is a right to kill the fetus. But to satisfy the typical reasons why women have abortion, a right to kill the fetus would be needed. And Thomson's argument gives us no reason to think there is such a right.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Evolution and scientific irrealism

Consider the following two statements:

  1. We do not have good reason to believe evolutionary theory to be true.
  2. Scientific irrealism holds.

Now claim (2) entails that science does not give us good reasons to believe propositions to be true. Moreover, the following claim is uncontroversial:

  1. All the good reasons for believing evolutionary theory to be true are scientific in nature.
Thus, (2) together with the uncontroversial (3) entails (1).

But here is an oddity about discourse in our society: There is a lot more outrage against scholars who assert (1) than against scholars who assert (2).

Is there a justification for such a differential attitude?

An explanation for the differential attitude is that those who assert (1) frequently are motivated by religious considerations, while those who assert (2) are rarely motivated by religious considerations (unless they accept occasionalism, like many Muslims, or they are led to (2) by way of (1)). But unless one has a good argument for why it is inappropriate to accept or deny a scientific claim on religious grounds, this explanation of the differential attitude is no justification. Certainly it isn't be a necessary truth that it is inappropriate to affirm or deny scientific claims on religious grounds, unless necessarily God doesn't exist: for if God exists, then he in principle could reveal facts that are of purely scientific interest, or facts of religious interest that entail facts of scientific interest.

Maybe, though, the explanation is like this. If someone asserts (1) by itself, we assume that she doesn't hold (2) (just as someone who says that Elbonians are not human is assumed to think non-Elbonians are). But in fact the only good reason for holding (1) is (2). However, simply the fact that someone believes something for a bad reason surely doesn't justify the kind of outrage that is involved here. After all, one might believe (2) for very bad reasons indeed.

Personally, I deny (2). As for (1), my views are rather complex—I accept common descent and natural selection as a major force, I accept that Behe-Dembski style arguments fail to establish Intelligent Design, but I am also convinced that we do not know that every event in the evolutionary history of every animal was naturalistic.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Two kinds of mathematical intuitions

Mathematicians have two kinds of intuition. A speculative intuition occurs when they think about a problem, perhaps think quite a lot, and conclude that the problem has answer A, even though they how no idea how to prove this. "It just looks like A is the answer." I do not know how reliable speculative mathematical intuitions are. I suspect that they are not very reliable. In particular, I think they rarely if ever justify belief. Certainly, I did not acquire belief in an answer on the basis of speculative intuitions when I was a practicing mathematician.

However, there is also such a thing as pedestrian intuition. This tells the mathematician: "Clearly, p." The "clearly" is not speculative. The content of the intuition is not just that p is true but that p can be easily proved from what preceded. John Fournier, my mathematics thesis director, once gave me the following advice on papers submitted for publication: when there are two obvious steps in a row in a proof, you can omit one, but not both.[note 1] When a mathematician sees that something follows, even if she does not actually go through the proof of the fact that it follows, that pedestrian intuition is, I think, very reliable. It may even be that had the mathematician written down the proof, the proof would have contained some minor mistakes. For this intuition does not seem to be based on having the proof in one's mind. Rather, it seems to be a direct non-inferential grasp of the easy provability of p.

One small piece of evidence for the reliability of pedestrian intuition is the incredible reliability of mathematical publications. Errata are extremely rare in mathematical journals.[note 2] I suspect this is not just because of the refereeing process, but because this highly reliable intuition was guiding the mathematician in writing the proof. In fact, I think the epistemic weight of the result proved in a mathematics paper goes beyond the validity of the published proof. The published proof may indeed contain a minor slip here or there. But what makes these slips be minor is precisely that one can intuitively see what should be in their place. My last mathematics paper was published when I was significantly out of practice. It went back and forth between me and the referee several times, and the referee was rightly exasperated by the amount of mistakes in the proofs. However, all the mistakes were easily fixable: the intuition was exactly right, in a pedestrian way, despite the logical gaps in the proofs.

This is surprising. One might think that a proof with logical holes has no value at all—it is like tracing your ancestry to Charlesmagne with only two gaps in the chain (this isn't my comparison). But somehow the reliability of the pedestrian intuition goes beyond the proof written down.

What explains the extremely high reliability of pedestrian intuition in a well-trained mathematician? One possibility is that it is a highly developed pattern-matching skill. In the past we've seen p-type claims following from q-type claims, and we can see that the present case fits into the pattern, and so p follows from q. This explanation fits well with the fact that experience seems important for this kind of intuition. But I am not sure this would be sufficient to give the intuition the kind of reliability it has. Pattern-matching would, I doubt, have the right kind of reliability. In typical cases of writing down a proof of a new result, the case at hand is unlikely to be exactly like past cases.

Or could it be that there is a process involving a mental representation of a proof, but a representation not directly available to consciousness? If so, what is interesting is that this is just as reliable as, or even more reliable than, consciously going through the steps of a proof (in fact, I suspect that the reliability of consciously going through the steps often or always depends on the non-conscious process occuring side-by-side). This is kind of neat and reminds me of the speculations central to Peter Watts' novel Blindsight. Moreover, if this is right, then I think it should challenge internalist epistemologies that require justifications to be conscious. In these mathematical cases, the justification can be made conscious, but the making-conscious does not seem central, since the non-conscious reasoning is more reliable than the conscious reasoning.

It is an interesting question how the two kinds of mathematical intuition connect up with kinds of philosophical intuition. I do find myself with a quite reliable intuition in philosophy akin to the pedestrian sort of mathematical intuition—an intuition as to what conclusions can be made to follow from what kinds of assumptions. In fact, this is probably just the same intuition at work, though I find it is a bit less reliable in philosophy than in mathematics. (I think I have at least three times been significantly deceived by such an intuition, and in a number of other cases have needed to add plausible ancillary assumptions to make an argument go—though on reflection that probably can happen in mathematical cases, too, which slightly weakens what I said in previous paragraphs.)

There is, however, a second kind of intuition: an intuition that pointless torture is wrong, or that we are not identical with our left big toes, or that identity is non-relative, or that the good is to be pursued and the bad avoided, that nothing can be causally prior to itself, or that every contingent truth has an explanation. I am inclined to class this intuition as different from both the pedestrian and the speculative mathematical intuitions. This intuition is of variable strength, unlike pedestrian mathematical intuition which is pretty uniformly very strong. Sometimes, this kind of philosophical intuition gives us certainty, as in the case of the good being to be pursued, and sometimes it merely inclines us in favor of a proposition. The range of strengths here makes it different from speculative mathematical intuition which, I think, never justifies belief, while this kind of philosophical intuition does justify belief.

Or maybe we need to split this second kind of philosophical intuition into two kinds. One kind is speculative, and this is akin to speculative mathematical intuition. I am, let us suppose, inclined to think electrons are not conscious, but this intuition is not sufficient to compel or justify belief. Another kind is self-evidential which presses belief on us, and I suspect justifies it as well. This kind is more like the highly reliable pedestrian mathematical intuition in respect of the way it compels belief (the reliability question is a different matter on which I want to remain silent), but is unlike the mathematical case in that it is substantive and not merely logical in nature.

Deep Thoughts VIII

Only those who have lived can die.

Another argument for thirding in Sleeping Beauty

As usual, a fair coin is flipped on Sunday, without you seeing the result, and then you go to sleep.

Experiment 1 (standard Sleeping Beauty):
Tails: You get woken up Monday and Tuesday. Your memory is erased each time, and you don't know whether it's Monday or Tuesday when you wake up.
Heads: You get woken up Monday but not Tuesday.
Question: What should your credence in heads be when you wake up?

Experiment 2:
As soon as you have fallen asleep, a second coin is tossed. If it is heads, "Monday" is written down on a hidden blackboard in the experimenter's office, and if it is tails, "Tuesday" is written down on that board. You never see that board.
Tails: You get woken up Monday and Tuesday. Your memory is erased each time as in Experiment 1.
Heads: You get woken up on the day whose name is written in the experimenter's office, but not on the other day.
Question: What should your credence in the first coin's being heads be when you wake up?

I now claim (i) in Experiment 2, the answer is 1/3 regardless of how biased the second coin is, and (ii) it follows from (i) that the answer is 1/3 in Experiment 1.

Claim (ii) is intuitively clear. It shouldn't matter whether the heads wakeup day is Monday or Tuesday.

The harder to argue for claim is (i). Here goes. I am now awake. I give a new rigidly-designating name to today. Maybe the way I do it is I pick a bunch of letters at random to form the name (I neglect the probability that on multiple wakeups I'll choose the same name). So, let's say I have named this day "Xhfure". Let A be the following event: The name of the day written on the experimenter's blackboard refers to Xhfure. Note that A is a contingent event and has prior probability 1/2. Let H and T be the events of the first coin being heads or tails respectively. What is the most specific evidence I now have? I submit it is the following: H or (T and A). Let this evidence be E.

So, now I ask: What is P(H|E)? This is an easy calculation. P(H and E) = P(H) = 1/2. P(E) = P(H) + P(T)P(A) = (1/2) + (1/2)(1/2) = 3/4. Thus, P(H|E) = (1/2)/(3/4) = 1/3.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Indicative conditionals

On the material conditional interpretation, the propositional content of the indicative conditional "If p, then q" is pq, i.e., (not-p or q).

I claim that this is basically the right interpretation if "If p, then q" expresses a proposition whose truth-value is mind-independent (except for any mind-dependence in p and q themselves). You can take this as evidence that the material conditional interpretation is right—that is how I take it—or that English indicative conditionals do not express a mind-independent proposition.

The argument is simple. Suppose that p and q concern non-mental matters, and suppose that w is a world pq holds, i.e., p is false or q is true or both. Then there is a world w* which is very much like w, except that it contains two persons, A and B, conversing about p and q, neither of whom has any false or misleading or unjustified beliefs, and neither of whom has any beliefs giving significant evidence for any of the propositions p, q, not-p and not-q. We could then imagine A learning that either p is false or q is true or both, and that then the conversation turns to the subject of p and q. I claim that it would then be appropriate for A to say: "Well, I don't have any idea which if any of p and q is true, but I now know that if p holds, so does q." This seems quite right. Moreover, in saying this, A would not be saying anything false. Therefore, if "If p, then q" expresses a proposition, it expresses a true proposition in w*. But if the proposition it expresses is mind independent, it is also true in w, since the two worlds differ only in respect of mind-dependent stuff.

Hence, pq entails that if p, then q. The converse is easy. If pq is false, then p is true and q is false, and it is clear that then if p, then q isn't true. Therefore, necessarily, pq holds iff if p, then q does. Hence, the material conditional gets the truth conditions for the indicative "if... then..." right.

Could it be that there is still a difference in meaning? The only way I could see that would be if "If p, then q" said something additional, something entailed by pq, but nonetheless added on to it. But I just cannot see what that could be, unless it be something mind dependent.

But perhaps there is a difference here like that between "p or q" and "q or p"? Maybe there really is a difference in the proposition expressed by these claims, even though neither adds anything to the other. If there really is a difference in the propositions expressed by "p or q" and "q or p", then I guess there might be a difference between those expressed by "pq" and if p, then q. But if so, that difference is not very significant, it seems. Basically, the two say the same thing. Of course, even if there is no difference in proposition, there may be pragmatic differences.

What about standard counterexamples to the material conditional interpretation? For instance, could I say about a batch of cookies that I know to be poisoned
(*) "If George eats these cookies, he won't feel sick"
simply because I know that George won't eat them? Well, I think such counterexamples at most challenge the claim that the indicative conditional expresses a proposition, not the claim that if it expresses a proposition, the proposition it expresses either is or is basically the same as a material condition. Suppose that I don't know that the cookies were poisoned, but Patricia tells me: "An omniscient being either told me that George won't eat these cookies, or that he won't feel sick, but I can't remember which." It seems perfectly appropriate for me to utter (*), then. Suppose I later learn that the cookies are poisoned and that George won't eat them. Do I have any reason to say that I was mistaken when I uttered (*)? Surely not. I can say that what I said was misleading, but not that it was false. Whether (*) is appropriate to say depends on mind-dependent stuff. But if (*) expresses a proposition, then that proposition is mind-independent. Consequently, the intuitions about the appropriateness of saying (*) should not be taken as evidence about what propositional content (*) has if it has any.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"To make a choice, you need choices"

The title of this post is a remark I heard Nuel Belnap make in the question period after a talk on free will (quoting from memory).

Here, then, is a valid argument for a kind of Principle of Alternate Possibilities:

  1. It is not possible to rationally deliberate when one knows one that fewer than two options are possible. (Premise)
  2. One deliberates knowledgeably if and only if one knows all the deliberatively relevant facts. (Premise)
  3. It is deliberatively relevant which options are possible. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, if one rationally and knowledgeably deliberates, then at least two options are possible. (By (1)-(3))

(1) and (2) seem quite secure. But the opponent of Principles of Alternate Possibility may dispute (3), even though it seems very plausible to me.

In any case, (3) is clearly true in some cases. If I'm deliberating between three rescue operations, which can save, respectively, one family member, two strangers, or three family members, learning whether the third option is actually possible would, surely, affect rational deliberation (if it is possible, then it is the best choice; if it is not possible, then we have a hard choice between the first and second options). So there are at least some cases of deliberation where knowledge of what options are possible is deliberatively relevant. This isn't enough to yield (4), but it is enough to yield a weaker claim such as that rational and knowledgeable deliberation in certain kinds of real-world cases requires more than one option to be possible. If one adds the assumption that in these cases rational and knowledgeable deliberation does in fact occur, one concludes that in these cases more than one option is possible. Moreover, "possibility" here must be more than just metaphysical possibility—it must be some kind of causal possibility. (Learning that one of the rescue operations is logically impossible should affect deliberation; but learning that one of the rescue operations is causally impossible is just as relevant.) And hence, most likely, we do get something that is relevant to disputes with determinists.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Molinist theodicy for infant death

I was reading St. Gregory of Nyssa's "On Infant's Early Deaths". There, St. Gregory provides a two-fold theodicy for early deaths of infants. Those early deaths that are by the hand of man will have the evildoer be punished by God. (It is not clear how much this is a theodicy, unless one sees punishment as a good—as strands in the Christian tradition do.) More interesting is St. Gregory's somewhat tentative hypothesis as to natural deaths of infants. He says that

it is reasonable ... to expect that He Who knows the future equally with the past should check the advance of an infant to complete maturity, in order that the evil may not be developed which His foreknowledge has detected in his future life, and in order that a lifetime granted to one whose evil dispositions will be lifelong may not become the actual material for his vice.

While St. Gregory does not expressly distinguish between middle knowledge and foreknowledge, the idea, which he expands on, is clear: God can see that some infants if left alive would become great evildoers, and so he ensures that they do not survive to become such evildoers. St. Gregory's analogy to a host at a banquet knowing the "peculiarities of constitution" of the guests, as well as above his mention of "evil dispositions" apparently in the infant does suggest that this isn't all about simple foreknowledge (I doubt he intends a compatibilist reading either).

In case you're interested why God allows some evildoers to live a long sinful life while he stops some infants in light of knowing that they would become evildoers, St. Gregory says about the ones that God stops in infancy that "it is not unreasonable to conjecture that they would have plunged into a vicious life with a more desperate vehemence than any of those who have actually become notorious for their wickedness."

Molinism is useful. It's too bad that I don't think it's true.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

An argument for a Principle of Alternate Possibilities

Say that George chooses to do A knowledgeably provided that the beliefs on the basis of which George chooses to do A are in fact knowledge. In a paradigmatic case of deliberation (this sentence can be taken to be stipulative of what I mean by "paradigmatic case of deliberation"), the beliefs on the basis of which George chooses include counterfactual claims of the form "Were I to do A, F would happen" and "It is not the case that were I not to do A, F would happen."[note 1]

I now claim that: If George chooses to do A knowledgeably and in a paradigmatic case of deliberation, then it can happen that he failed to choose to do A.

Here is the argument:

  1. It is false that were George not to do A, F would happen. (Premise: by definition of "knowledgeably" and since only truths can be known)
  2. F actually happened. (Premise: since George does A and knows that were he to do A, F would happen)
  3. Whatever happens, can happen. (Premise)
  4. If C cannot happen but D can happen, then were C to happen, D would happen. (Premise)
  5. Suppose it cannot happen that George does not choose to do A. (Premise for a reductio)
  6. F can happen. (By (2) and (3))
  7. Were George not to choose to do A, F would result. (By (4) and (6))
  8. Thus (7) is true and false. (By (1) and (7))
  9. Thus, (4) is false, and so it can happen that George does not do A.

One term that has not been defined is "can happen". On any plausible reading of "can happen", all the premises will hold in a case of knowledgeable and paradigmatic deliberation, with the possible exception of (4). Thus, for any plausible reading of "can happen" that makes (4) true, we get a PAP.

In particular, on any account of counterfactuals that makes p's entailing q entail that were p to hold, q would hold as well, (4) will be verified where "can happen" expresses logical possibility. This gives us a PAP with logical possibility, though only in the case of knowledgeable and paradigmatic deliberation. Still, that's something. After all it entails that if the laws of nature are necessary and determinism holds, then knowledgeable cases of paradigmatic deliberation are impossible.

I don't know what other senses of "can happen" make (4) true.

Arguments like this provide a general template for generating relatively weak versions of PAP. Are any of the versions of PAP that the argument provides sufficiently strong to yield some kind of incompatibilist doctrine? Here is the best I can do. Say that D can happen provided that D is compatible with the laws of nature and the initial arrangement of matter in the universe. Then (4) restricted to cases where C describes a wholly non-initial arrangement of matter is not completely implausible. Given materialism (which of course I deny, but many compatibilists accept), George's not doing A will be a wholly non-initial arrangement of matter, and the argument implies that George's not doing A is compatible with the laws of nature and the initial arrangement of matter in the universe, assuming George is acting knowledgeably and paradigmatically deliberatively. So we do get an incompatibilistic conclusion, but under heavy assumptions.

What is kind of neat about the above considerations is that they do not involve freedom directly, but only deliberation.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Frankfurt counterexamples and compatibilists

Frankfurt counterexamples to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP) have worried libertarians. However, they should have also worried compatibilists. Traditionally, compatibilists have accepted PAP, but given it a counterfactual spin (see my previous post). Suppose Jones freely chooses to push button A. On the standard Humean analysis, this implies that were Jones to have chosen not to push A, he would not have pushed A. But a fairly crude Frankfurt case will provide a counterexample to this. Imagine Black stands by with his neuroscope and has a firm plan that if he sees Jones choosing not to push A, he will make Jones push A. Then it is true that were Jones to have chosen not to push A, he would still have pushed A.

Hence, Frankfurt cases are also counterexamples to the Humean version of PAP, and indeed are better counterexamples to it than to the libertarian PAP (standard Frankfurt cases are known to beg the question against many libertarians, since they require a sign that is nomically connected with the action in a way that many will not accept).

PAP is very plausible. So it is an important task not just for the incompatibilist but also for the compatibilist to find a version of it that survives Frankfurt counterexamples. Here is my hypothesis: A plausible PAP that survives Frankfurt counterexamples will still be sufficient for incompatibilist arguments once one plugs in a non-Humean analysis of "could have". If this is right, and if I am right that everybody needs a PAP, then Frankfurt examples do not in the end weaken the incompatibilist's case—just as before Frankfurt examples the question was whether the Humean analysis of "could have done" was right, so too this is the question after Frankfurt examples, once one correctly formulates PAP.

My own preferred PAP is flickery and fits well with the above remark: If x freely does A, then x could have failed to freely do A. Actually, it may be that the libertarian is in a better position than the compatibilist when it comes to formulating a PAP. For flickery PAPs like the above don't fit well with the Humean analysis of "could have done". Would the Humean want to say that "x could have failed to freely do A" means "were x not to have willed to do A, then x would not have freely done A"? But that's just a tautology and does no justice to the intuitions behind PAP.

In summary: Everybody who believes in free will—compatibilist or incompatibilist—needs PAP. Frankfurt examples affect both the compatibilist and the incompatibilist. It is a bit easier for the incompatibilist to find a replacement for PAP that survives the examples, but the replacement-finding task is one that both compatibilists and incompatibilists need to engage in. But the real question, as before Frankfurt, is how to understand "could have done" conditions.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lewis, free will and miracles

Compatibilists like Hume accept the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP): if x freely does A, then x could have refrained from doing A. However, they give a counterfactual spin to the "could have": x could have done A if and only if were x to have willed to do A, x would have done A.

Suppose now:

  1. This Humean analysis of "could have" is correct.
  2. Lewis's account of counterfactuals is correct.
  3. Determinism holds.
  4. On some non-initial occasion I could have done otherwise (in the Humean sense).
(An occasion is initial provided it happens at the first moment of time.) It follows from these that in the occasion mentioned in (4), I could have acted in such a way that a w0-miracle would have occured, where a w-miracle is a violation of the laws of w, and where w0 rigidly designates the actual world.

The argument is simple. Suppose on that occasion I did A. Let p be the proposition that on that occasion I did not do A. On Lewis's account of counterfactuals, I evaluate counterfactuals of the form "were p to hold, q would hold" by looking at worlds close to w0 but where p holds, and in a deterministic case, these worlds match the actual world up to near the time of that occasion, and but depart therefrom in a way that goes against the laws of the actual world, i.e., in a way that is w0-miraculous. Hence, "were p to hold, a w0-miracle would occur" holds, and by the Humean analysis of "could have", it follows that I could have acted in such a way that a w0-miracle would have occurred.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Demonic miracles?

Some of the Church Fathers take quite seriously historical reports of marvelous events associated with pagan temples and pagan sorcerers, and attribute these events to demons. The non-occurrence of such events in their own time they then take to be evidence of the power of Christ, who vanquished the devil by dying on the cross and rising again.

My natural tendency is to dismiss reports of magical and like phenomena. But on reflection, if I accept Christianity, shouldn't I take the hypothesis offered by these Fathers to be at least as probable as a sceptical hypothesis about such marvels? After all, if one accepts this hypothesis one needs to dismiss fewer reports by historians, which seems a good thing. Shouldn't I take it to be at least as likely as not that ancient sorcerers really were able to do strange things on occasion by the power of demons and that marvels happened in pagan temples? If I accept Christianity, this isn't an arbitrary hypothesis, like that of someone who thinks that Relativity Theory was false before 438 BC (a randomly chosen date), since as a Christian I independently (a) take Christ's death and resurrection to have been an event of cosmic significance, the great victory over the forces of darkness, and (b) believe that demons do exist.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lies, deception, testimony and faith

One of the routes to being epistemically justification that p is true is to be told by a reliable reporter that p. This is justification by testimony. On the other hand, I might be told something by you and not accept it as testimony, but instead treat the fact that you told it to me as evidence, doing a Bayesian update of my credences based on the fact that you said the thing. If I treat your saying that p in this way, my credence that p may go up and may go down (e.g., if I think you're lying so that your asserting that p makes it more likely that p is false). Moreover, there is a difference between accepting your testimony and taking your assertion of p to be evidence for the truth of p. I want to focus on this difference, and say a few things about the difference between lying and deception.

The first point I want to make is that I can only take your assertion that p is true to be testimony if either you made the assertion to me, or I stand at the end of a chain where you told it to A1, A1 told it to A2, and so on, until we get to someone who told it to me. Suppose that instead I stand in no such chain. Instead, I overhear your saying that p to B. Then I cannot properly accept p as testimony, since you were not speaking to me. That you asserted p to B is evidence for p, if I think it is likely you were telling the truth to B, but it is not testimony to me. Testimony is at least a ternary relation: A testifies that p to B (where B might be an individual or a group). If I am not testified to, I cannot properly believe on testimony.

Here's one reason. It is perfectly permissible to speak in ways that your interlocutor understands but which others will misunderstand. You do have a responsibility to ensure your interlocutor will not misunderstand. If you have a foreign vegan guest whom you know to think that the English word "egg" denotes a kind of plant (eggplant, say), you are neglecting not just your hostly responsibilities but your responsibilities as a speaker in saying: "This dish is made of egg." In fact, you are lying—in speaking, you are inviting your guest to take your words as testimony to the dish being made of a kind of a plant. You are giving false witness.

When we speak we have a responsibility not to be misunderstood by an interlocutor, and the interlocutor in turn gain the right—barring defeaters—to take what she thinks you've said as true. This right is tied to the responsibility. But when I overhear your asserting p to B, you have no responsibility to ensure my understanding you—your only responsibility is to ensure that B understands. Thus you do not confer on me the right to take what I think you've said as true.

Suppose this is right. Assume that you know that George is at Mark's house, but want to mislead me. You are talking with Frank and notice that I am listening in (maybe I am behind the arras, and you hear a rustle). You tell Frank: "George is at Jennifer's house", but you do so with a wink that ensures Frank doesn't take your words as literal truth. I don't see the wink, of course, so I come to have evidence that George is at Jennifer's house. But you haven't lied to me. You haven't lied to me because you weren't speaking to me, though you expected me to hear. Your properly speakerly responsibilities were to Frank, and these you fulfilled.

Note, too, that it may be that you are not even intending that I believe George is at Jennifer's house. It could be that you are merely intending that I take myself to have evidence for George's being at Jennifer's house. (This point is based on an idea of Mark Murphy's.) And in intending this, you are intending that I believe something true, viz., that I have evidence for George's being at Jennifer's house. My believing this is likely all you need for your purposes, since whether I actually believe on the evidence or not, presumably the presence of the evidence will get me to look for George at Jennifer's house, if I want to find him.

I once read in an early 20th century moral theology textbook (Smith, I think) that someone who is tortured and says something false is no more lying than an actor on stage, because she is not really engaging in the practice of assertion, but is uttering words more like a madman (I am very loosely paraphrasing the main idea from memory). Here is one way of saying something like this in the above setting. If I am torturing you, you shouldn't expect me to take your words as testimony. Instead, you would expect me to take your words as your way of saying whatever it takes to get the pain to stop. Thus if you say something that is false, you are not offering me testimony, but simply bringing it about that I have evidence of the Bayesian, not testimonial, sort.

In summary, here are some claims that I suspect are true, though I have not given much of an argument for many, or perhaps any, of them:

  • Lying is not just deceitful or misleading speech. It is speech that provides (or maybe: is intended to provide) false testimony to the person being lied to. When you are not providing testimony to me, e.g., because you are not talking to me, you are not lying to me.
  • It is a speaker's responsibility not to be misunderstood by the interlocutors.
  • There is a difference between being known to be a listener and being spoken to, and only someone spoken to can be lied to.
  • Credences should be differently updated on testimony than on evidence.
  • There is an epistemic virtue, which I will call "the doxastic aspect of faith", which is the virtue of appropriately updating on testimony.
  • Presumably, demons believe many claims made by Jesus, because they have evidence that Jesus is God and that God does not lie. However, this need not be the same as even the doxastic aspect of faith, because it may be that the demons are updating on Jesus's words considered as evidence, and not as testimony directed to them. Likewise, it would be possible for a human being to come to believe that what Jesus said on some topic is true without having even the doxastic aspect of faith in Jesus.

A cognitive account of punishment

Being in pain is a way of perceiving something as bad. Pain has an intentional object, namely the bad. In being made miserable by the causal consequences of one's evil action, i.e., by the punishment inflicted on one, one has the opportunity to see that action as bad—the suffering from the punishment supplies a quale to one's perception of the action. But to see the action as bad is a good thing, since the action is indeed bad. Hence, it is non-instrumentally good for one to be punished.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Frustrating the designs of the wicked

Here is an account of retributive punishment. We have a prima facie duty of justice to disrupt wicked plans. Now, a typical wicked plan does not have evil as its end, but as one of the means towards that end—"Embezzle in order to have more money." The best option is to disrupt evil plans before the evil means has been implemented. But even if the evil means has already been implemented, the plan may not be complete, since the good end has yet to be reached. And so while it is not possible to stop the evil, it still is possible to frustrate the wicked plan, by ensuring that a desired end does not flow from the evil means.

Suppose the thesis that when people act wickedly, they do so at least in part to contribute to their own satisfaction. Then, satisfaction is one of the ends in the wicked action (there may be others), and by making the evildoer miserable (e.g., by putting her in jail or requiring that she write out "I will not embezzle money from my employer" once for every dollar stolen), we are frustrating her plan—we are ensuring that at least one of the ends does not follow from her evil means.

But notice that here the frustrating of the designs goes beyond just ensuring the designs are not successful. In punishment, we frustrate the designs by turning them upside-down—not just by making sure that the evildoer is actually not satisfied, but by ensuring she is dissatisfied. But why is this right? The mere idea of frustrating the designs of the wicked does not seem to require this. Yet it seems just.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Political gain

One not infrequently hears the claim that a politician did something "for political gain", and the claim is said in a context that suggests that it follows that there was something sordid, ignoble or even wrong about it. But why accept such an inference? Suppose that politicians promote their political capital in order to enact policies that they think are good for the country. If so, then the claim that a politician did something for political gain need not be a criticism: one might as well say that the politician did it for what he or she thought was the good of the country.

It may, of course, be that people who use that phrase are cynical: they do not believe that politicians are trying to promote the good of the country. But I doubt that such a cynical thought can be very often justified. Even if a politician is misguided, stupid, greedy or power-hungry (and most of us exhibit these traits at times), it can still be the case that the politician is nonetheless trying to promote the good of the country. Such a hypothesis is both charitable and consistent with what we know about human nature.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The First Cause is not an evil person

If the First Cause of the universe is a person—and I think there is good reason to think both that the universe has a First Cause and that the First Cause is a person—there are three possibilities: this person is evil, or good, or neither good nor evil (either neutral or a mix or beyond good and evil). Here I want to argue against the first of these options.

Here is one set of considerations. We might see evil as ontologically inferior to the good. For instance, we might see evil as a privation of the good. Or we might see evil as a twisting of the good: The good can stand on its own axiologically, but evil is a twisting, something parasitic. Seen from that point of view, evil can never be seen to be the victor. Whatever power evil has is a good power twisted to bad ends. Human cruelty is only an evil because human nature has a power of transcending cruelty. Evil can only mock the good, but can never win. Suppose we see things this way. Then evil only makes sense against a background of goodness. And hence the cause that the universe originates in, since that cause is the ultimate background, cannot but be perfectly good. If, further, perfect good is stable, then we might think that this cause still is perfectly good.

Moreover, if we see evil as metaphysically inferior to the good, then the idea that the First Cause is an evil person makes the First Cause be rather stupid, and so we have an inductive argument against the worst of the three options under consideration. For whatever gets created, there will be more good than evil. Behind the twisting of human nature in a serial killer, there is the good of human nature.if it weren.t good, and if it weren.t in some way metaphysically superior to the evil so as to provide a standard against which that evil is to be measured, then the twisting would not be an evil. So by creating, the First Cause makes more good than evil come into existence, and if the First Cause is evil, then to do that is, well, stupid. But the fine-tuning of the universe suggests that the First Cause is highly intelligent.

Furthermore, I think it is fair to say that there is much more good than evil in the human world. Consider the constant opportunities available for malice, opportunities that would result in no punishment at all. We can count, with almost total certainty, that if we ask strangers for the time, they will not look at the time, and subtract ten minutes just to make sure late for whatever appointment we are rushing. Is it not wondrous that I regularly find myself around many omnivorous animals armed with teeth and guns (I am in Texas!), but have never yet suffered serious harm from them? At least on the assumption that these omnivorous animals were created by an evil being, there would be some cause for surprise. When the rules of morality are transgressed, rarely are they transgressed wantonly. Granted, there have been genocides of massive proportions. But it is noteworthy that even there, there tends to be a background that makes the cruelty not be entirely wanton: a destructive ideology or a vengeful, and often mistaken, justice. The victims are demonized. This demonization is itself an evil, but it is an evil that underscores the fact that the victims need to be seen as demonic before most of us will be induced to be cruel to them. The hypothesis that the First Cause is evil is not a very plausible one.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Deep Thoughts VII

Everything exists.

This idea is (of course) not mine, but Quine's. But how can one disagree?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Physicism about time

Mathematical physicism (to coin a phrase) about time is the view that the only truth about the nature of time that is accessible to us is what mathematical physics teaches about time. Bergson, in Creative Evolution, gives what seems to me to be a pretty good argument against this view which I want to give in the following form: Consider the hypothesis that all events, whatever their t coordinate might be, are in fact simultaneous, and the t coordinate simply describes the location of the events along a fourth spatial dimension. This hypothesis is fully consistent with all of mathematical physics. Hence mathematical physics fails to tell us the nature of time, because it fails to distinguish time from space.

The argument does, however, presuppose that time is irreducibly different from space—otherwise the accusation that mathematical physics fails to distinguish time from space would be moot. Bergson does, of course, accept this assumption. I am sceptical of it myself.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vagueness about existence of substances

I suspect that pressure to believe in vagueness about the existence of material substances comes from a belief that facts about the existence of material substances supervene on facts about the physical arrangement of matter in the universe. The most plausible arguments for such vagueness is questions like this: What time t0 in the history of the union of the gametes of Bambi's parents is such that were the world annihilated at t, Bambi would not have existed? Given that the union of gametes is a physically continuous process, there seems to be an interval of time (perhaps several hours long) such that drawing a line at a particular point of that interval and asserting that it is precisely at that time that Bambi came into existence seems arbitrary.

But if one does not believe that facts about when Bambi came into existence supervene on facts about the physical arrangement of matter in Bambi's history, then an epistemic solution on which some particular point in that interval that we cannot scientifically determine exactly has the property of being such that Bambi came into existence precisely at that point is not that implausible. The fact that points slightly before and slightly t0 would seem to be just as physically fitting for Bambi's existence is irrelevant, since Bambi's existence does not supervene on whether there is a physical state fitted out for Bambi's existence. Compare the fact that when an atom decays at t0, it could just as easily have decayed shortly before t0 or shortly after t0—there is a real sense in which its decaying at t0 rather than shortly before or after (or maybe even a long time before or after) was arbitrary (unless Providence has some special reason for t0, which quite possibly it does). That doesn't trouble us that much, I suspect because we accept that when the atom decays is contingent. Well, likewise, if we accept that even given all the physical facts, it is contingent when Bambi comes into existence, we shouldn't be worried about the fact that nearby times are such that they would have done just as well as far as we can tell (though Providence might have some special reason for choosing one time rather than another).

The same issue comes up with regard to those like Trenton Merricks who believe in limited composition theories: some bunches of things compose a whole but not all bunches of things compose wholes. There seems to be vagueness as to composition. We can imagine a continuous sequence of hypothetical biological/physical situations, starting with what are clearly two trees and ending with what is clearly one tree (with in-between cases which, depending on whom you ask, look like two trees grown together or one tree with a bit of a divide down its trunk). It seems arbitrary to suppose that at some point in the sequence we have one tree, and very shortly before in that sequence we had two. But again, this intuition depends on a supervenience claim: the supervenience of facts about composition on facts about physical arrangement of matter. Granted such supervenience, we do seem to get arbitrariness. But why not, instead, deny supervenience, and simply say that what we get is contingency: given given a particular biological/physical arrangement of matter, there is a contingent fact whether all this matter composes a whole or not.

Of course one might worry about the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) here. But if we believe in quantum mechanics (QM), then presumably we either think the PSR is compatible with QM or we deny the PSR. If we deny the PSR, then the problem that the story I gave is alleged to be incompatible with the PSR shouldn't worry us. But if we think that the PSR is compatible with QM, then I suspect that whatever story we give about the compatibility of QM and the PSR will also have an analogue here. (I defend the compatibility of QM and the PSR in my book on the PSR.) For instance, if we say that God providently chooses which otherwise random results of a quantum experiment will happen, then we can say the same here: God providently chooses when exactly Bambi comes into existence and whether there is one tree or a pair of trees. Or if we say that effects caused stochastically under probabilistic laws are not violations of the PSR, then we can say that there are probabilistic laws about the arising of substances or about composition.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Imputed righteousness

Reformed Christians believe that justification—the event by virtue of which a person comes to be saved—consists in the juridical imputation of righteousness. This is distinguished from God's sanctifying the person, where righteousness is induced in the person. Reformed Christians, of course, believe that sanctification comes along with justification, but want to maintain a distinction between the two.

What would justification consist in on such a view? What is the difference between being justified and not being justified? In this post I want to clear the way for further discussion by rejecting some accounts that I think are particularly problematic. While I myself reject the Reformed distinction between justification and sanctification, I want to offer these arguments in a friendly way to my Reformed brethren.

Problematic account 1: Justification consists in predestination.[note 1] On this account what makes Patricia justified is that God has predestined her for salvation. Thus, her being justified is not grounded in any intrinsic property of hers, but in a property of God—that God intends to save her.

The most obvious problem with this account is that then Patricia is justified from the first moment of her existence. But if so, then she does not change in respect of justification when she repents of her sins and accepts Christ as her savior. It seems plausible to suppose that justification does not precede faith. (One argument for this is that according to the Reformed, one is saved by faith, and hence being justified cannot precede faith; this is a bad argument because it neglects the possibility of backwards causation or causation mediated by God's foreknowledge.) It likewise seems plausible to connect justification and the forgiveness of sins. Something changes for the Christian. She was lost, and now she is found. And this change seems tied to justification. The correct thing vis-à-vis Reformed Theology (and probably the truth, too) to say seems to be that prior to receiving salvific grace, Patricia was predestined but not yet justified; after receiving salvific grace, she is predestined and justified.

Problematic account 2: Justification consists in a changing divine attitude. On this account, when Patricia becomes justified, God's attitude towards Patricia changes.

A major difficulty with this approach is that it is difficult to square with divine simplicity or immutability. Perhaps one can square it with immutability by positing that God eternally has one attitude towards Patricia-at-t for t<t0 and eternally has another attitude towards Patricia-at-t for t>t0, where t0 is the moment of justification. If so, then in some sense there is no real change at all in anything at the time of justification—it's simply that Patricia has reached a time at which she is favored, but any change here whether on the part of Patricia or of God is a Cambridge change. Can justification be a Cambridge change? Does it make sense to rejoice in a mere Cambridge change in the way in which one rejoices in one's salvation?

Moreover, this will not take care of problems of divine simplicity. God being omnipotent could, surely, have justified Patricia not at t0 but at t1 instead. Consider a world just like this one but where that happens. What is the difference between this world and that world in virtue of which in this world Patricia is justified at t0 but in that world she is justified at t1? Since justification is an extrinsic property of Patricia on this view, the difference must lie in God's attitudes: in one world God has one set of attitudes and in the other another. But this seems to violate divine simplicity: it suggests that God is not identical with divine attitudes. There is a way of handling this in general, and that is to suppose that the attitudes are extrinsic properties of God. But this solution raises the question of what properties of creatures are such that in virtue of them it is correct to talk of God having one attitude in one world and the other in the other? Since on the present account Patricia's justification was supposed to be solely a fact about God's attitudes, it does not seem that there is room for such properties of creatures.

Problematic account 3: Justification is a dispositional property: x is justified at t iff were x to die at t, x would go to heaven. Granted, before the time t0 of justification, it was true of Patricia that she will go to heaven (this is true in virtue of predestination, say). But if t-1<t0, it was not true that of Patricia that were she to die at t-1, she would go to heaven—predestination only ensures the indicative that she will go to heaven, and therefore that she won't die before t0.

This account has several problems. The first is that on this view, it seems one only has instrumental reason to desire justification: the value of justification consists in going to heaven. Moreover, it is not clear why it makes sense, given predestination, to rejoice at all at having acquired justification. After all, now having this dispositional property is of little value as such (except insofar as now might be the exact time of one's death, which is improbable, especially of the now is instantaneous). What is of value is having this dispositional property at the moment of death. It is true that Reformed Christians generally believe that once you have this dispositional property, you have it for the rest of your life. Thus, evidence for having the property now is equally evidence that one will have it at the moment of one's death. But then one does not have reason to rejoice even instrumentally in the present possession of the dispositional property. The true object of rejoicing is the salvation, rather than the present having of the property of justification. It is true that on some Reformed views one comes to have knowledge that one will be saved at the time that one becomes justified, and it would make sense to rejoice in this knowledge. But the knowledge is distinct from the salvation. Granted, we can talk of Martha rejoicing at the negative results of her HIV test. But it seems that the appropriate object of rejoicing is her being HIV negative, or her knowing that she is HIV negative, though we admittedly transfer our joy to things associated with the primary object of our joy, and so perhaps there is something to the idea that Martha rightly rejoices in the negative results of the test. But, in any case, the joy at being justified should not be joy by association.

Another problem is with the ground of the dispositional property. We can't just "jump into heaven" at our death. "To go to heaven" is to be placed in a heavenly state by God. The dispositional property is not, then, grounded in some kind of a power of the person who has it. Nor, on the Reformed view, is it grounded in the merits of the person. Rather, it seems to be grounded in God's will. But if so, then the problems of Account 2 come back.

Conclusions: These three accounts are problematic, especially for those who accept divine simplicity (as at least some classic Reformed creeds apparently do). What these accounts all have in common is that they make the imputation of righteousness be an extrinsic, Cambridge property of the person being justified. I suspect that this is what is wrong with all of these accounts. Instead, one needs an account on which justification consists in a real, grace-wrought change in the person. From a Reformed perspective, the difficulty with such an account is the danger that the change will then consist in actual righteousness in the person, and hence the distinction between justification and sanctification will be erased. Personally, I don't mind this danger at all—the distinction between justification and sanctification is shaky biblically and pretty much non-existent patristically. But Reformed folks do mind it. I think that what they might do well to do is to adopt a view according to which it is a genuine intrinsic property of a person that the person is guilty or innocent of something (there are suggestions to that effect in Wojtyla's The Acting Person, so it's a view that not just Reformed folks might find congenial), and then hold that in justification God directly produces a change in the person in respect of that property.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The `Aqedah and the male-only priesthood

It seems to me it would have been less appropriate for God to ask Sarah to sacrifice a daughter than to ask Abraham to sacrifice a son. I don't have an argument for this—that's just how it seems to me. But if this is right, then it is not an accident that in the `Aqedah (the binding of Isaac) the two persons involved are male. But the `Aqedah is a foreshadowing of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. While with respect to the Incarnation as such, Christ's maleness might be reasonably argued to be incidental, if my intuition about the `Aqedah is right, then it is plausible that with respect to the sacrifice of Christ, the maleness is not incidental. And if so, then since what is central to the priesthood is the offering, in persona Christi and in an unbloody way, of the one sacrifice of the Cross[note 1], it seems quite appropriate that the priest be male, since he represents one whose maleness is not accidental in this context, and participates in Christ's sacrificial activity to which activity Christ's maleness is not accidental.

Is this sexist? Here is a way of thinking about this. Suppose that part of the reason God asked Abraham to sacrifice a son rather than asking Sarah to sacrifice a daughter had to do with Abraham and Isaac's maleness (leave aside the accidental fact that Sarah perhaps didn't have a daughter, since God could easily have fixed that). Would it follow that God discriminated against Sarah in asking Abraham to make the sacrifice? Surely not: one can at least equally well say that it was Abraham who was discriminated against by being asked to make the sacrifice.[note 2] The restriction of conscription to males does not discriminate against women, but against men, since it is upon men that it imposes a duty that it does not impose on women. Similarly, if God restricted who he requires to become priests to men, it is not obvious that this would be a form of discrimination against women.

Monday, March 3, 2008

An argument against many cases of non-marital sex

Consider the traditional argument against non-marital sex: pregnancy. I submit that while this argument doesn't apply in all cases (e.g., when the woman is already pregnant, or when she's 70 years old), there is a lot to this argument in typical cases:

  1. It is wrong to take on, without sufficient reason, a risk of being unable to fulfill one's responsibilities. (Premise)
  2. Non-marital intercourse typically involves the risk of acquiring parental responsibilities that one is unable to fulfill. (Premise)
  3. Therefore, it is at least typically wrong to engage, without sufficient reason, in non-marital intercourse.

Claim (2) is particularly clear in the case of the man, who in typical cases will be unable to fulfill his day-to-day relational parental responsibilities without being married to the mother of the child (cohabitations tend to break up). But it is also true in the case of the woman, both due to financial and time constraints and because one of one's parental responsibilities is to cooperate in the co-parent's fulfillment of parental responsibilities.

How restrictive the conclusions of the argument are will depend on one's weighing of the reasons. In (1), "sufficient" has to be measured relative to (a) the probability of the risk, and (b) the expected moral weight of the responsibilities one would be unable to fulfill. Now, the moral weight of parental responsibilities is very high. The probability of the risk depends on whether we are evaluating a single act by a person committed to that being the only act of non-marital intercourse (e.g., during a year) or a habit (or policy) of non-marital sexual activity. While the probability of conception from a single sexual act where the woman is using hormonal birth control[note 1] may be rather low, the probability of conception from a habit of non-marital sexual activity is far from negligible. The Alan Guttmacher Institute says typical use effectiveness for oral contraceptives is 92.5% and for the male condom is 86.3%, i.e., 7.5% of female users of oral contraception and 13.7% of women whose partner uses condoms will get pregnant each year. Perfect use effectiveness is higher (99.5-99.9% for oral contraceptives and 97% for the male condom), but it does not seem one can count on one's partner's perfect use. I suppose combining the male condom and oral contraception would result in yet higher effectiveness (and significant protection from disease), but still the effectiveness would fall short of 100%, to a degree such that significant numbers of women would be getting pregnant each year.

However exactly one evaluates which reasons are sufficient, I think it is plausible that when one considers the moral weight of parental responsibilities, pleasure is unlikely to constitute a sufficient reason. Moreover, relational reasons for pre-marital sex are not likely to carry that much weight in light of the fact that if one simply is patient and waits, one is likely (in a monogamous society with a roughly equal sex ratio) to find someone to marry, and then have all the relational goods that one would get from pre-marital sex (if there are any such) to an ampler degree.

This argument is not sufficient to show that all non-marital sex is wrong. But it does apply in many cases. I do actually think all non-marital sex is wrong, but that will have to be established by other arguments.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Religiously-based legislation

Consider the following thesis: (*) In a liberal democratic society, it is wrong to introduce coercive legislation on religious grounds.

Here is a simple counterexample. Suppose that the vast majority of the citizens hear a voice from God, and see lots of corroborating miracles such as the clouds spelling out a disproof of the Riemann Zeta Conjecture and a proof of Goldbach's conjecture. The voice announces that prohibiting burning coal in large quantities would decrease cancer rates in 80 years by 80%. Let us suppose that a quick review of the scientific literature finds no evidence either for or against this claim. It seems that it would reasonable and not wrong to forbid the burning of coal in large quantities on the basis of this revelation, and to do so under pain of significant penalties, and, in fact, it might be wrong not to introduce such legislation. (Sure, one could do research on the question, but the long term nature of the research would dictate that one would have to act before the research was in.) Yet such a prohibition would be coercive legislation introduced on religious grounds. Hence, (*) is false.

Objection 1: Bite the bullet—the legislation would indeed be wrong.

Response: Suppose that the voice isn't from God but from an alien scientist where the aliens had a science thousands of years ahead of ours. Then plainly the legislation would be reasonable (assuming one could rule out ulterior motives on the part of the scientist). But the only reason to listen to the scientist is that its testimony is likely true, and the same reason applies a fortiori in the case of God. Hence, if the testimony comes from God, it is even more reasonable to introduce the legislation.

Objection 2: This isn't the relevant sense of "on religious grounds." The claim that stopping burning coal would reduce cancer rates is not religious in nature. Granted, the claim is epistemically based in religious claims—the revelation of God—but the claim is not itself religious.

Response: That may be. But if so, then the prohibition on religiously based legislation prohibits a lot less than is generally thought by defenders of the prohibition. For instance, this will mean that anti-abortion legislation based on a religiously based belief that embryos and fetuses are persons will not count as religiously based in the relevant sense, since the claim that embryos and fetuses are persons is not religious in nature—it is a metaphysical or ethical claim (or some combination of these). If metaphysical or ethical claims like this were automatically religious in nature, then civil rights legislation based on the conviction that members of some class are persons and should be treated as such would likewise be ruled out, which is absurd. So on this view, (*) is not violated by legislation based on metaphysical or ethical claims that are epistemically grounded in religious claims. Then, even legislation that prohibited homosexual activity on the grounds that it is immoral, with the claim of immorality being justified by means of the Bible, would not count as religiously based, at least as long as "immoral" was understood in a non-religious way. This defense of (*), thus, undercuts what typical proponents of (*) want to use (*) for.

Objection 3: In the example given, the divine-revelation justification is epistemically based in a good publicly available argument for the reliability of the revealer, based on obvious miracles. But that is an outlandish hypothetical case: the reliability of the revealer in real-world religions is not something for which one can argue in a publicly available way.

Response: If this objection is correct, the problem isn't with the religious basing of some legislation, but simply with the legislation's not being based on good publicly available arguments. Here, I inserted "good", because in fact apologists for all the major religions do publicly offer arguments for their religions, so if the objection was the lack of argument, the objection would be unsound. Rather, the objection has to be to the lack of good publicly available argument. To make this case, one has to be in a position to show that all the apologetic arguments for the different religions fail. That is a non-trivial task (and I think an impossible one, because the apologetic arguments for Catholicism as a matter of fact are successful).

It's worth noting that even though the principle that one shouldn't introduce legislation based on something lacking good publicly available arguments may be correct, it is not a principle we really want constitutionally enshrined. The consequences of striking down all laws whose introducers (or maybe the voters for which) lacked good publicly available arguments would be really scary by everybody's lights.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Truth and grounding

Say that a proposition p is "grounded" provided that it has its truth value solely in virtue of reality being a certain way, i.e., of some fact about the existence/non-existence of entities and the possession/non-possession of properties/relations by entities, and the proposition is about reality being in this way.

Say that a proposition p is "extrinsically truthvalued" if and only if either p has truth as an extrinsic property or p has falsehood as an extrinsic property.

The following claims seem to me to be true:

  1. A non-self-referential proposition is necessarily grounded iff it is necessarily extrinsically truthvalued.
  2. Some non-self-referential propositions are necessarily grounded.
  3. Some non-self-referential propositions are necessarily extrinsically truthvalued if and only if all non-self-referential propositions are necessarily extrinsically truthvalued.

It follows from the above claims that all non-self-referential propositions are necessarily grounded. Claim (2) seems the least controversial. Singular existential propositions are, clearly, necessarily grounded. Claim (3) is a claim that the truthvalue of a proposition is ontologically homogeneous across non-self-referential (nsr) propositions—either truth/falsity is always an extrinsic property of a nsr proposition, or it never is. This seems plausible to me.

Claim (1) seems the most controversial to me, but one direction is pretty plausible. If a nsr proposition p is grounded, then it holds or fails to hold in virtue of reality being a certain way, and is about reality being that way. Moreover "reality being that way" does not involve an intrinsic property of p, since if it did, then p would be self-referential. So, if a nsr proposition p is grounded, its truth/falsity is a matter of something extrinsic to p. What is most controversial, I think, is the claim that if truth is extrinsic to p, then p is true in virtue of some reality being a certain way. But even this claim seems to have signfiicant plausibility. If truth is extrinsic to p, then p is true in virtue of being related or not related to aspects of reality beyond p in some way. And it is rather plausible, then, to suppose that those aspects of reality are ones in virtue of which p is true and about which p is.