Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A schema for theistic arguments

  1. We think thoughts that are about Fness.
  2. There is no good naturalistic explanation of how our F-thoughts manage to make claims about reality.
  3. The best explanation of how our thoughts succeed in being about Fness, of how our F-thoughts have intentionality, involves God.
As far as I know, the first to give an argument of this form was Descartes, and he contributed the first two of the examples below. Examples of Fs that might fit in this argument schema include:
  • God
  • infinity
  • duty
  • truth
  • reference
  • metaphysical possibility
  • good
  • proper function
  • normative
  • numinous
  • objectively beautiful

The point in this line of argument isn't that these properties depend on God. Rather, our grasp of these properties either is given to us by God, directly or not.

A related argument schema is to ask for the explanation of how we know F-facts.

[I may end up enlarging this list from time to time by editing this post. At least one of the entries is due to a commenter--see comments below.]


Heath White said...

I can imagine the skeptic having one of two strategies: either there is some naturalistic explanation (e.g. for thoughts about infinity) or our thoughts lack intentionality after all (e.g. for thoughts about God).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yup. The second strategy is, I think, less likely to be plausible. Consider that one can only deny the existence of God if our God-thoughts have intentionality. So the second strategy is not available to the error theorist about these things. It is only available to someone willing to say that, e.g., the word "God" is nonsense (and one can't then consistently say: "There is no God.") Of course, there are plenty such people.

As for the naturalistic accounts of how we come to have the concepts, my suspicion is that in a number of the cases what we get from the naturalistic story is not how we have the concept of F, but how we have a similar but not identical concept F'. Take our friend normativity (it's not in the original list, but I'll add it there once I finish this comment). We can perhaps give a naturalistic story about how we get the concept of acting in ways for which we get criticized (I am not sure, because "criticized" is itself a normative concept; maybe, "intentionally beaten with sticks") and in ways for which we don't get criticized, but that isn't going to give us a concept of normativity unless the "criticized" is "rightly criticized".

Daniel said...

I think this is an interesting and powerful argument. The fact that it's an inference to the best explanation gives it a rather different form from most arguments for God's existence.

I think it appears long before Descartes, however. The first expression of which I'm aware is near the beginning of Origen's De Principiis: "God is light; as John writes in his Epistle, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Truly He is that light which illuminates the whole understanding of those who are capable of receiving truth, as is said in the thirty-sixth Psalm, “In Your light we shall see light.” For what other light of God can be named, “in which any one sees light,” save an influence of God, by which a man, be- ing enlightened, either thoroughly sees the truth of all things, or comes to know God Him- self, who is called the truth? Such is the meaning of the expression, “In Your light we shall see light;” i.e., in Your word and wisdom which is Your Son, in Himself we shall see You the Father. Because He is called light, shall He be supposed to have any resemblance to the light of the sun? Or how should there be the slightest ground for imagining, that from that cor- poreal light any one could derive the cause of knowledge, and come to the understanding of the truth?"

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am not sure I see that this is what is going on in the Origen passage. Origen seems to be arguing that God is a necessary condition for all understanding and knowledge.

I wouldn't be surprised, though, if someone like Origen or Augustine made the argument.

Andrew said...

Would Beauty also fit into this list of F's?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yup. Just added it--thanks!

Andrew said...

It's been a while since I have read C.S. Lewis _Miracles_, but I think he gives an argument similar to this specifically pertaining to beauty, no? Perhaps you know better than I would, but this smelled of Lewis (of the Clive Staples sort).

enigMan said...

The Naturalist may well be forced by her explanations towards Heath's second suggestion, but she could plausibly claim that that is not really a problem. Do we think thoughts about F-ness, or do we only seem to ourselves to be so-thinking, especially when we use language? E.g. for ordinary talk of infinity, people are often thinking of the relatively (and indefinitely) very large. And not only do their thoughts often become incoherent (cf. the paradoxes), the more rigorous approaches to infinity often tend towards Fictionalism. As for the other cases, we do generally seem to reify stuff a lot (e.g. the colour purple), so would it be too surprising were our talk of such abstract stuff often to lack a definite reference, even while it was used in the description of reality (there being three sorts of cones in the retina, and photons everywhere)?

Alexander R Pruss said...

There are two ways of running the argument. One is reified, and that's how I phrased it, but one can also run it in an unreified way. Instead of asking, say, how we make reference to beauty, we can ask how our beauty-talk manages to have intentionality, i.e., manages to make meaningful claims about the world.

enigMan said...

Ah, so now I'm thinking that the Naturalist would probably go for Heath's first suggestion, denying your first premise and giving instead a Naturalistic explanation of the intentionality and reification. And now I think about it, I wonder why Heath's second suggestion should apply to thoughts about God. The intentionality might be fuzzy, given all the concepts of God around, but fuzziness seems to be ubiquitous anyway...