Sunday, February 28, 2010

Divine simplicity and Aristotelian metaphysics

I've been told that Wolterstorff attributes the prominence of divine simplicity in the Christian tradition to the influence of Aristotelian metaphysics. Whatever the history of the issue may be, it seems that there is a perfectly good argument for divine simplicity that makes no reference to Aristotelian metaphysics, and whose only really controversial premise—the first one—is something that most theists should immediately accept (though Wolterstorff himself denies it). Let a "proper part" of X be a part of X that is not identical with X.

  1. (Premise) Everything other than God himself is created by God.
  2. (Premise) If God has proper parts, then at least one proper part of God is not created by God.
  3. No proper part of God is identical with God. (By definition of "proper part".)
  4. If God has proper parts, then there is something that is neither identical with God nor created by God. (By 2 and 3)
  5. God has no proper parts. (By 1 and 4)

One might quibble about (3). One might think that all of God's current parts are created by God, because at some point created new parts for himself, and then destroyed the old, non-created ones. However, (1) is not only true now, but it was always true. So there couldn't have ever been any non-created divine proper parts. I guess one could have a super-weird view on which God from eternity has been replacing his parts, and never had any parts that were not created by him at an earlier time. But that constantly changing view of God is surely incompatible with any reasonable take on divine immutability. (Take it as a criterion of adequacy on a theory of immutability that it rejects this!)

The real controversy will be about (1). But here I just want to make one point. The deep plausibility of (1) to theists does not come from Aristotelian metaphysics: it comes, rather, from a commitment to God as creator that appears at the heart of Judaism and Christianity. In fact, it may be that the direction of justification between (1) and Aristotelian metaphysics goes the other way: it is (1) that pushes the theist to more immanent views of universals.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Socrates and the problem of evil

Consider Socrates' thesis: any amount of external evils (i.e., anything other than vice or loss of virtue) is worth suffering for any gain in virtue. So if twenty years in the Gulag made one slightly less selfish and did not make one more vicious in any way, then it was all worth it.

As far back as I remember thinking about these things, something like Socrates' thesis seemed obvious to me (not that you could tell from my behavior). The man on the rack isn't happy, but if one were to choose between being on the rack and slightly more courageous and not being on the rack, one would be prudent in choosing being on the rack.

Suppose Socrates' thesis is true. This makes some aspects of the problem of evil rather easier to handle. For rarely are we in a position to know that some evil did not either make the person slightly more virtuous or at least offer the peson a reasonable opportunity to become slightly more virtuous. Even if the evil is something like dying in one's sleep, it is not crazy to think that dealing with this death in purgatory might not have made the person more virtuous.

Of course, there is still the question whether the gain in virtue couldn't have as well been produced in other ways. But perhaps this precisely kind of gain of virtue couldn't have been—and different kinds of gain of virtue are incommensurable.

This is not meant to give a theodicy. Rather, it is meant to be one of those posts where I try to identify yet another tool for the theodicist's toolbox.

Friday, February 26, 2010

An adverbial model for agent causation

The big problem for libertarian views of free will, especially agent-causal ones, is how to make the action come from both the agent and the agent's reasons. The compatibilist gives up on the agent part—or, more charitably, we should say that, roughly, she analyzes the action's originating from the agent in terms of the action's originating from the agent's reasons.

Here is a model. In the world, there is nomically explained causation. Maybe, charged particle A causes charged particle B to move away, because of the laws of electromagnetics. Maybe, massive particle A causes massive particle B to approach, because of the law of gravitation. Here is a very natural way to say what is happening here:

  1. A electromagnetically causes B to move away.
  2. A gravitationally causes B to approach.
The laws that are explaining the causation can be included adverbially in the causal statements. The laws from which the causation comes tag the causation, modify it. (In Aristotelian terms, we might even be tempted to say that electromagnetic causation and gravitational causation are analogically cases of causation—causation takes multiple forms.) The adverbial part here is crucial—the law really is doing much of the explaining here. In some sense, even, I would say that the lawmaker (that in virtue of which the law is a law) causes the movement of B or maybe causes A's causing of that movement. (I somehow like the latter, but in the free will case I think the former works better.) For some relevant background, see an unpublished paper of mine.

Suppose now that Plato writes a book because of love of truth and Euthydemus fools Callias out of a desire to impress. Then, very roughly:

  1. Plato's love of truth Platonically causes Plato's writing of the book.
  2. Euthedemus' desire to impress Euthydemically causes Euthydemus' fooling Callias.
The nomic case provides us with a way in which causation has three relata[note 1]: the reasons, the agent and the action. But the agent and the reasons enter differently.

Strictly speaking, the analogy shouldn't be between the agent and the law, but between the agent and the lawmaker, or, even better, between the agent's form and the lawmaker.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carnap's probability measure

Carnap's objective prior probability measure was designed to make induction possible. Almost nobody uses Carnap's probability measure any more—the only exception I am aware of is Tooley in his debate book with Plantinga on evil. I have no idea why Tooley is using the Carnap measure—I thought it was out of date. In any case, it's easy to point out at least two things that are wrong with the Carnap measure, and hence why Tooley's arguments based on it need to be reworked. To explain the problems with the Carnap measure, I need some details. If you're familiar with Carnap measure, you can skip ahead to "Problem 1".

Carnap's prior probability measure is best seen as a measure for the probability of claims made by sentences of a truth-functional language with n names, a1,...,an, and k unary predicates, Q1,...,Qk. Let N be the set of names, Q the set of predicates and T the set {True, False}. Call the language L(Q,N). Say that a state s is a function from the Cartesian product QxN to T, and let S be the set of all states. There is a natural way of saying whether a sentence u of L(N,P) is true at a state s. Basically, you say that the sentence Qi(aj) is true at s if and only if s(Qi,aj)=True, and then extend truth-functionally to all states.

There is a natural probability measure on S, which I will call the "Wittgenstein measure", defined by PW(A)=|A|/|S| for every subset A of S, where |X| is the cardinality of the set X. This probability measure assigns equal probability to every state. Given a probability measure P on states, we get a probability measure for the sentences of L(Q,N). If u is such a sentence, define the subset uT={s:u is true at s} of S. Then, we can let P(u)=P(uT). The Wittgenstein measure does not allow induction. Suppose that we have three names, and two predicates, Raven and Black. Our evidence E is: Raven(a1), Raven(a2), Raven(a3), Black(a1) and Black(a2). Then, PW(Black(a3)|E)=1/2=PW(Black(a3)), as can be easily verified, because all states are equally likely, and hence the state that makes all the ai be black ravens is no more likely than the state that makes all the ai be ravens but with only a1 and a2 black.

So, Carnap wanted to come up with a probability measure that allows induction but is still fairly natural. What he did was this. Instead of assigning equal probability to each state, he assigned equal probability to each equivalence class of states. Say that s~t for states s and t if there is some permutation p of the names N such that s(R,p(a))=t(R,a) for every predicate R and every name a. Let [s] be the equivalence class of s under this relation: [s]={t:t~s}. Let S* be the set of these equivalence classes. Then, if s is a state, we define: PC({s})=1/(|[s]||S*|). In other words, each state in an equivalence class has equal probability, and each equivalence class has equal probability. If A is any subset of S, we then define PC(A) as the sum of PC({a}) as a ranges over the elements of A.

The merit of Carnap measure is that it assigns a greater probability to more uniform states. Thus, PC(Black(a3)|E) should be greater than 1/2 (I haven't actually worked the numbers).

Problem 1: Carnap measure is not invariant under increase of the number of predicates. Intuitively, adding irrelevant predicates to the language, predicates that do not appear in either the evidence or the hypothesis, should not change the degree of confirmation. But it does. In fact, we have the following theorem. Let u be any sentence of L(Q,N). Let Qr be Q with r additional predicates thrown in. Let ur be a sentence of L(Qr,N) which is just like u (i.e., ur is u considered qua sentence of L(Qr,N)).

Theorem 1: PC(ur) tends to PW(u) as r tends to infinity.

In other words, as one increases the number of predicates, one loses the ability to do induction, since PW is no good for induction. The proof (which is non-trivial, but not insanely hard) is left to the reader.

Problem 2: Let d be a sentence of L(Q,N) saying that indiscernibles are identical. For instance, let dij be the disjunction ~(Q1(ai) iff Q1(aj)) or ... or ~(Qk(ai) iff Qk(aj)), and let d be the conjunction of the dij for all distinct i and j.

Theorem 2: PC(u|d)=PW(u|d).

Thus, when we condition on the identity of indiscernibles, Carnap measure collapses to Wittgenstein measure. But Wittgenstein measure is worthless for induction. And often the identity of indiscernibles holds. For instance, suppose we have a1,a2,a3 as our individuals, and our evidence is this: a1,a2,a3 are each a raven, a1 and a2 are black. So far so good, we can do induction and we get some confirmation of a3 being black. But suppose we also learn that identity of indiscernibles holds for these three ravens. Then we lose the confirmation! And we might well learn this. For instance, we might learn that exactly a1 and a3 are male, and exactly a1 and a2 each have an even number of feathers, and that means that identity of indiscernibles holds.

Moreover, I think most of us have a background belief that our world has such richness of properties that, at least as a contingent matter of fact, the identity of indiscernibles holds for macroscopic objects. If so, then Carnap measure makes induction impossible for macroscopic objects.

Sketch of proof of Theorem 2: Let D be the set of states at which identity of indiscernibles holds. Thus, D is the set of states s with the property that if a and b are distinct, then there is a predicate R such that s(R,a) differs from s(R,b). Observe that if s is any state in D, then |[s]|=n!, where n is the number of names. For, any permutation of the names induces a different state given the identity of indiscernibles, and there are n! permutations. Therefore, PC({s})=1/(n!|S*|). Hence, PC({s}) has the same value for every s in D. Therefore, PC({s}|D)=1/|D|. But, likewise, PW({s}|D)=1/|D|. The Theorem follows easily from this.

Remark: Theorem 2 gives an intuitive reason to believe Theorem 1. As one increases the number of predicates while keeping fixed the number of names, a greater and greater share of the state space satisfies the identity of indiscernibles.

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.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Children and God

This builds on a comment I made to yesterday's post, which was inspired by a remark of my wife's.

If God does not exist, then, in normal cases[note 1], the biological parents of a child are the persons directly and fully responsible for the child's existence. Thus, if God does not exist, then the parents, collectively, have the sort of role that, on traditional Christian views on which God directly creates the human being by creating the human being's soul, God has. But for the human parents to see themselves as having this God-like role distorts the parent-child relationship. There is thus moral reason for parents to believe in a deity who directly creates each human being.

If one thinks—as I think one should—that the fact that one has moral reason to believe p is itself evidence for p (it is much more likely that one have moral reason to believe a truth than to believe a falsehood), it follows that the above considerations not only give a moral reason for to believe in a deity, but they give an epistemic reason as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

God and love

The following argument is valid. The only question is whether the premises are true.

  1. (Premise) A failure to see someone one loves as created by a good God is a defect (culpable or not) in that love.
  2. (Premise) A failure to see people as they are not is not a defect in love for them.
  3. (Premise) There is an atheist, x, who loves someone, y, and does not see y as created by a good God.
  4. x suffers from a failure of love in not believing y to be a creature of a good God. (1 and 3)
  5. If there is no God, then no one is created by a good God. (Tautology)
  6. If there is no God, then x does not suffer from a failure of love in not loving y as created by God. (2 and 5)
  7. There is a God. (4 and 6)

I am actually pretty sure of all the premises except (3). (It may be that the phenomenology of love is such that one always sees the beloved as created by God, even if one is an atheist.) If (3) is the point of uncertainty, one can supplement the argument by a dilemma:

  1. Either it is possible to love someone without seeing her as created by a good God or not. (Tautology)
  2. (Premise) If it is not possible to love someone without seeing her as created by a good God, then probably God exists.
  3. (Premise) If it is possible to love someone without seeing her as created by a good God, then God exists.
  4. Therefore, probably, God exists.
Here, (10) is justified by the earlier argument, and (9) is fairly plausible. One way to see (9) is to note that love is an obligatory attitude in certain relationships (e.g., parent-child ones), and it is unlikely that a doxastic necessary condition for having an obligatory attitude would be to have a false belief.

[I made some minor corrections.]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Externalism about prudential reasons

Consider this case, which a colleague tells me is standard. You are bleeding badly, and you need to get to the hospital. You get in your car. No ambulance is available. However, unbeknownst to you, your car's ignition is wired to a bomb. What should you, prudentially, do? Suppose you say "Don't go to the hospital, try to self-treat." Why would you say that? Well, it has better consequences than turning on the ignition. Call somebody who says this a "consequences externalist".

But what does it mean to say that it has better consequences than turning on the ignition? I suppose it's because something like this pair of conditionals is true:

  1. Were you to turn on the ignition, the bomb would explode and you'd die immediately.
  2. Were you not to turn on the ignition, you'd live longer.
But in fact we live in a world that, as far as we know, is suffused with indeterminism. There is a tiny chance that if you turn on the ignition, the electrons from the battery will quantum tunnel around the bomb's igniter and to the car's spark plug. There is a tiny chance that if you don't turn on the ignition, a quantum event will increase the heat in the bomb and make it explode. And so on.

If something like generalized standard Molinism (i.e., Molinism generalized to indeterministic stuff other than free will) is true, (1) and (2) are perfectly well defined. But suppose no such view is true. So, really, all we have at the time of the decision are objective probabilities: it is overwhelmingly likely, given the physical state of the world, that if you turn on the ignition, the bomb will explode and you'll die immediately, etc. So, it seems, the consequences externalist has to be deeming the conditionals true when the probabilities are high enough.

So, it seems, the consequences externalist is saying that you ought not to turn on the ignition because it is exceedingly likely, given the actual arrangement of the universe at the time of the action, that doing so will let you live longer, and it is exceedingly likely that turning on the ignition will not.

Fine. Now imagine that you in fact turn the ignition, the electrons quantum-tunnel around the bomb, and all is well (maybe eventually the bomb quantum-tunnels into the sun, too). This is exceedingly unlikely, but is compatible with everything in the story so far. According to the consequences externalist position I've sketched, you in fact did the wrong thing—even though it had better consequences than the alternative. You did the wrong thing, because at the time of the decision the objective probabilities were against this decision.

But to say that in this case you did the wrong thing goes against the guiding intuitions of the consequence externalist. Once you admit that you might have done the wrong thing even though it had the better consequences, you should probably just abandon the consequence externalism altogether, and move from objective to subjective probabilities.

Now, there is something the consequence externalist can say. She can say that we evaluate subjunctives by probabilities when their antecedents are false, and by consequents when the antecedents are true. This is messy, but not crazy. So, in the case I've described, (1) is false because it has a false consequent and true antecedent, but (2) is true because the objective probability of the consequent given the antecedent is low at the time of the action.

But if the consequence externalist says this, she has the following weird thing to say. She has to say that (a) turning on the ignition was in fact right, but (b) had you not turned on the ignition, turning on the ignition would have been wrong. Why does she have to say (b)? For if you had not turned on the ignition, the subjunctive conditional (1) would have been true. It would have been true because it would have had a false antecedent and hence would have to have been evaluated according to the objective probabilities.

So, oddly, you did the right thing, but had you not done it, it would have been the wrong thing. That is weird indeed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sexual orientation

Suppose for the sake of the argument (and, I think, contrary to fact) that same-sex sexual relationships are on par with opposite-sex ones, except instrumentally vis-à-vis reproduction. I think if one accepts this, then one should not consider sexual orientation to be a significant aspect of one's identity.

If George legitimately loves Patrick, then that should be a significant aspect of George's identity. Likewise, if he legitimately loves Suzy, then he should understand himself in part in terms of that love. But sexual orientation is not love. It is not an interpersonal relationship per se. For instance, heterosexuality and homosexuality are tendencies to develop an attraction only to people satisfying a certain necessary condition (being of the opposite or of the same sex as oneself, respectively), and to be attracted to them in part because they satisfy that condition.

But why should one take a tendency to develop certain attractions to be a significant part of one's identity? Such a tendency is a second-order relational trait. But it is first-order legitimate relationships with other people that, I submit, are what really matters. Of course, if one of these attractions is to morally illegitimate relationships, then it may matter for one's moral development that one does or does not have that attraction. But I was assuming, for the sake of the argument, that both kinds of relationships are legitimate.

However, one might think that if one's sexual orientation is unjustly discriminated against, then it makes sense to identify with it, out of solidarity with other people who share that orientation. If so, then there is an extrinsic reason to identify with a sexual orientation in the face of discrimination. That said, I am not completely sure that unjust discriminators should be allowed to dictate what we identify ourselves with (I have some Danish ancestry, which I hardly identify with; if there were discrimination against Danes, should I start identifying with it?). Still, I feel the force of the idea. And, if this response to my argument works, then it makes sense for non-heterosexuals to identify with their sexual orientation to the extent that they are the subject of unjust discrimination.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Divine simplicity and theistic reductive accounts

Some theists give reductive accounts of such phenomena as morality and proper function in ways that involve contingent divine mental states. For instance, one might say that the proper function of x is to A if and only if God designed x to A, or that we ought to A if and only if God wills for us to A. Such reductive accounts are apt, however, to be in tension with divine simplicity.

Here is why. If divine simplicity is true, then God has no contingent purely intrinsic features. One way to argue for this claim is that if divine simplicity is true, then God is the truthmaker for all claims purely about God (this is the Oppy account of divine simplicity, further developed by Jeff Brower and myself). Thus if God has a purely intrinisic feature F, then God is the truthmaker of the claim that God has F, and hence the existence of God entails that God has F, and hence God has F essentially. Another way is with the intuitive argument that if God has a feature (think of it as trope-like rather than as universal-like) F and F is accidental, then F cannot be identical with God's essence (since F and the essence have different modal properties—the essence exists in all world where God exists while F doesn't). But that is contrary to divine simplicity.

Now, plausibly, if two worlds do not differ with respect to the purely intrinsic features of x, but the worlds do in fact differ, then they must differ with respect to something extrinsic to x. Therefore, if God has no contingent purely intrinsic features, and God exists necessarily, then any two worlds that differ, must differ in respect of something extrinsic to God. Thus, all contingent facts supervene on created reality, i.e., on that which is extrinsic to God.

In particular, this means that there cannot be two worlds where the same created stuff exists, and the only differences are in God's intrinisc mental states. In fact, it is impossible for there to be intrinsic contingent mental states in God.

This does not destroy the possibility of the theistic reductionist accounts of proper function and morality. But it does mean that these accounts cannot make the contingent divine mental states be independent of what is, in fact, in creation. On the contrary, these mental states have to supervene modally on creation. But if so, then there are certain features of creation such that, necessarily, x has function F or y ought to A if and only if these features obtain. And if there are such features, why not analyze the function or the ought directly in terms of these features?

(This does not mean that God is left out. For these features are in creation, and God's creative and concurrent causality is involved in them.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to ever tell that your prayers have been answered?

Can we Christians ever tell that our prayers have been answered? I pray for E and E occurs. Can I ever know that God acted on my prayer rather than E occurring completely independently of my prayer? It turns out that the answer is simpler than one might think, and that we can know this much more often than one might think.

Consider the property of Reasons Maximalism (RM) that an agent might have. An agent has RM if and only if whenever she chooses an action A, she chooses it on account of all the unexcluded reasons she is aware of in favor of A. Suppose, for instance, that I have a duty to visit a sick friend and I enjoy her company even when she is sick, but, on the other hand, it's a long drive and the hospital is depressing. Nonetheless, I do visit her. If I don't have RM, I might be visiting her only out of duty or only for pleasant companionship. But if I have RM, I am visiting her because of both duty and pleasant companionship. And if I have RM and decide not to visit her, then I will decide to do that because of both the long drive and the depressingness of the hospital.

I submit that God has RM. Being perfectly morally good and perfectly rational, in every decision God takes into consideration all the unexcluded reasons he has. Of course, in the end, it may not be possible for him to act on all the reasons, because some of the reasons will pull in different ways. But his choice will have been made on the basis of all the reasons he is aware of in favor of it. Moreover, in the case of an omniscient being, the reasons she is aware of in favor of A is the same as the reasons she has in favor of A. Thus, God chooses A on the basis of all the unexcluded reasons he has that favor A.

Now, that I've requested something good and grantable is always a reason to grant the request. In rare cases, it will be an excluded reason—perhaps I earlier authoritatively commanded the person to stop granting my requests for a day. But I cannot think of an exclusionary reason God might have against considering our requests for good things. (If God promised not to hear our requests, that would be an exclusionary reason, but he made no such promise.)

I don't know exactly how to analyze "grantable". One class of non-grantables are states of affairs ruled out by divine promises. Another class of non-grantables are states of affairs that cannot be brought about, whether because they are metaphysically impossible or because they are metaphysically necessary. It may also be that people's free choices are non-grantables. However, perhaps when we pray that x (where x is not God) might freely do A, God reinterprets our prayer charitably as a prayer that x be given lots of reason to do A, and that is a grantable. I do not know whether things that God has already promised are grantables, but I am inclined to think they are (cf. the sick friend visit case).

So, our requests for grantable good things are always an unexcluded reason for God to grant the request, and God being omniscient is aware of this. Moreover, God is a concurrent cause in all good events (in fact, in all events, because evil is a mere privation, but nevermind that), so that all good events count as caused by God. Therefore, by RM, if I pray for grantable good, and God brings about the request, then God produces the good in part because of the request. So, a sufficient condition for my knowing that an event has happened as a result of my request is that (a) I prayed for it, (b) it was good, (c) it was grantable and (d) it occurred.

In particular cases, these conditions are very commonly satisfied. If you pray for someone's safety during a trip, and she returns safely, she does so in part because of your prayers. If you pray that you find a lost object, and you do find it, you find it in part because of your prayers. If you pray that a friend might recover from an illness, and she recovers, she recovers in part because of your prayers.

Now, you might say that because of the "in part" this is unsatisfying. You might want to know when it is that God grants it solely on account of your prayers. Assuming the thing you prayed for was good, the answer is: never. If it was good, then God had a reason to bring it about, and by RM if he brought it about, he brought it about in part because it was good. The one exception would be if there were an exclusionary reason, such as a divine promise that he will only bring this good about as a result of prayer. But Revelation does not, I think, tell us that god has such exclusionary reasons, and we can presume he doesn't. So it is never the case that a good you prayed for was granted solely because you prayed for it.

But perhaps you want to know something else: You want to know if it is the case that the good would not have been granted had you not prayed for it? Well, sorry: this can only be known if Molinism is true and God reveals it to you. But I think Molinism is false. Given the falsity of Molinism, there will be no facts of the form: The good would not have been given had you not prayed for it. For had you not prayed for it, God would still have had the reason in favor of it given by the fact that it was good, and he still might have acted on the reason. That said, sometimes you can know that the event would still have been given—for instance, when the event was promised by God. However, you can never know that the event would not have been produced had you not prayed for it, when the event is good. (I leave open some questions about praying for neutral and bad things.)

Can we ever know that our prayers have not been granted? Maybe not. For it seems reasonable for God to grant our prayers by giving us something greater than what we prayed for, something we weren't wise enough or knowledgeable enough to ask for. Suppose George has a flu he knows about an undiagnosed cancer he doesn't know about. He prays to be cured of the flu, but instead God cures the cancer. That's better than what George asked for, and George cannot complain that his prayer has been unanswered. Any substantive good in curing the flu is there in the curing of the cancer, and if George had known he had the cancer and had any sense, that is what he would have prayed for the healing of. In that case, George's prayer was, arguably, answered, but George cannot know how it has been answered. Though if he is a Christian and reflects on Scripture, he can know that it has been answered somehow. And of, course, healing faults in the soul would be even better than curing the flu or healing a cancer.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Asserting and endorsing

So, I've been puzzling for a long time over the existence of lying-like phenomena. For instance, I set up an automated website that gives false information about the weather, presenting it as true. When the website falsely says: "The current temperature in Waco is -2oC", most people will, I think, say that I haven't, strictly asserted this. After all, I might even be dead by this point. However, what I did is relevantly like lying.

Consider also a continuum of cases. I sign a letter to a third party. I know the letter contains false central claims. But there is a continum here based on how much I've contributed to the letter and how aware I am of its contents. As long as I know that the letter contains false central claims, it seems to matter little morally whether I am the sole author of the letter or have signed it without knowing any particulars about the contents—in both cases, I am dishonest in a way equivalent to lying. For purposes of the morality of honesty in communication it should not be necessary to draw the line between fully asserting and signing.

A friend suggested to me that one talk of a "constructive assertion", where "constructive" is a legal alienans adjective: a "constructive A" is not an A, but has the same normative consequences of Aing. But I think there is a simpler solution. We simply talk of the endorsement of propositions. It is wrong to endorse when one knows one is endorsing a falsehood. (That's the easy case. It may be tricky to come up with a rule that handles cases where you do not have full knowledge.)

"Endorsing propositions" generalizes "asserting propositions". For to assert a proposition is simply to present a proposition and endorse it. Actually, it may be that every full act of endorsement includes a presentation as well. After all, one's act of endorsement has to somehow indicate what proposition one is endorsing, and one has to do that by means of some linguistic or quasi-linguistic convention, such as setting down one's after a written expression of the proposition or nodding after someone else has expressed the proposition orally. If one takes this wide view of presenting a proposition, then one does in fact assert what the website says and what the letter says, even when one does not know the content of either. If one does not like this conclusion, one can give a narrow account of presenting.

A consideration in favor of the wider view is this. Suppose you assert that p, and I say: "Yes." It seems fairly reasonable to say that I've asserted that p by means of a prosentence. But there will be cases when I say it without having paid any attention to what you said, and I agree out of cowardice or trust. If one thinks that I don't assert in the website case, one should say that I don't assert in this case. But I think in this case I do assert. For take the case where I say: "Yes, p." In that case, it sure seems that I have made an assertion, even if I repeat "p" completely mechanically and absentmindedly. If so, then likewise a "Yes" without the "p" part should be an assertion. And the only reasonable thing for it to be an assertion of is that p. (One might say that "Yes" is an assertion of "I agree with what you've just said" or "What you've just said is true." But that's probably not correct, because then the "Yes" has additional entailments that the proposition that p did not have: it entails that you spoke and that I exist.)

In any case, even if one not convinced by my suggestion that all endorsement involves assertion (or re-assertion), I think it is correct to say that the general phenomenon for the morality of lying to discuss is endorsement.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Causal closure of first-order facts

Consider the following doctrine: First-order facts are causally closed. This doctrine neither entails nor is entailed by the doctrine that the realm of the physical is closed under causation, but it is a doctrine of a similar sort. It might, in fact, be preferable as a statement of the causal closure condition that naturalism is committed to, because the notion of a "first-order fact" seems to be clearer than that of a "physical fact".

If semantic properties of beliefs enter into causal explanations of physical facts, then first-order closure is false, unless semantic properties of beliefs reduce to first-order facts. But it is unlikely that they reduce to first-order facts. One reason to think that they don't reduce is that semantic properties such as truth and reference, if they are expressible in first-order terms, will give rise to liar-type paradoxes within the realm of the first-order. But, plausibly, the realm of the first-order is free of such paradoxes.

In any case, seeing the dualist as someone who denies the causal closure of the realm of first-order facts, as someone who thinks that mental states can cause effects in virtue of their properly semantic properties, seems to me to be illuminating.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Asserting a conjunction

One might think that to assert a conjunction is the same as asserting the conjuncts. However, the lottery paradox shows that this is false. I can relatively unproblematically say: "One of x1,...,xN will win. x1 won't win. ... xN won't win." But if I said "One of x1,...,xN will win and x1 won't win and ... and xN won't win", then I would have said something I know to be necessarily false.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"If it weren't true that p, I'd still believe it."

Somehow the sentence in the title sounds wrong: it seems to betray a lack of intellectual virtue—indeed, it suggests a vicious doxastic stubbornness. But surely there are cases where uttering the sentence is not a sign of vice. If the negation of the five minute hypothesis weren't true, I'd still believe it. I wonder if one thing that isn't going on here might not be this: counterfactuals of the form "q → I do A" are often elliptical for "(q & I know q) → I do A." And it would be stubborn to know that q isn't true and yet believe it (typically).

Monday, February 8, 2010

"p and I don't believe that p"

A number of folks seem to think that there is some innate "pragmatic contradiction" in assertions of the form: "p and I don't believe that p". Certainly, whenever I've heard these Moorean sentences mentioned, the mentioner assumed this. Yet, there are counterexamples to the "pragmatic contradiction" thesis. And this fact seems to be pretty well-known to people in the relevant field. I mentioned that I had some counterexamples to an ethicist and he found it surprising and interesting. But I then mentioned it to some epistemologists, and they were quite unimpressed. So, here, we have a case where inter-area communication in philosophy has failed: the people in the relevant area know that a thesis is false, while folks in other areas act as if the thesis were uncontroversially true.

For what it's worth, here are some of my counterexamples to the thesis. These counterexamples provide cases where one quite sincerely and unproblematically utters an instance of "p and I don't believe that p". Nobody I've met finds all the examples compelling. In all the examples below, "p" is a sentence and the quotation marks are meant to be right-angle quotes so one can substitute within them.

1. An expert tells me "p" and adds that ordinary people like me don't believe that p. But "p" is a sentence so replete with technical vocabulary that not only do I not know what all the words mean, I cannot even parse its grammar. I sincerely tell someone else: "p and I don't believe that p". In this case, I believe that "p" is true, but I don't believe that p. There are two responses I hear to cases like this. Some people say that the distinction between believing that p and believing that "p" is true is specious, and hence the sentence embodies a pragmatic contradiction. These people have a very low bar for what counts as belief and assertion. They will have to accept the next counterexample. Others say that the sentence is not an assertion if I don't understand it. I worry that this sets the bar for assertions too high. These folks may reject the next example for the same reason, but some of the others might still work for them.

2. An expert tells me: "p and you don't believe that p. Work out the consequences for yourself." I'm not very good at logic, so I have to do this step by step. I thus say: "p and I don't believe that p. By conjunction elimination, p. Hey, that's cool! I didn't know that p, and now I do."

3. Suppose I believe that one has no beliefs when one is in the afterlife, because the afterlife is an undifferentiated beliefless mist of joy. I write you a letter to be opened after my death. In the letter I say: "p. And I don't believe that p. I don't believe it, because right now I am an undifferentiated beliefless mist of joy. Therefore: p and I don't believe that p."

4. I write a paper. I think everything in the paper is true. I present the paper at a conference. When I present it, I am really tired. I am reading the sentences outloud, and sincerely, but I cannot parse all of them, nor do I believe their content. Some of the sentences are intermediate steps in the argument, and I've completely forgotten them (or I never believed them in the first place, though I believed them to be true; sometimes, I write down things in the course of a proof by copying and pasting an existing sentence and transforming it by rules of inference—that's just a matter of syntactic manipulation—without bothering to figure out what the new sentence means). But I still believe that whatever I am saying is true. One of the sentences is "p". So I read the sentence: "p". I then add, surprised at myself: "You know: p and I don't believe that p. I don't believe it because it's too complex to parse, and I remember that this is one of those steps that I've forgotten completely."

5. I program a robot to bring you a drink whenever I say to you: "I don't believe that the robot will bring you the drink, and the robot will bring you the drink" (this example works better with the Moore sentence re-ordered in this way). Now, you keep on interrupting me, never letting me say a whole sentence. I say the sentence sincerely; I don't believe that I will finish the sentence, and hence I don't believe the robot will bring you the drink, but the sentence is so constructed that if I do manage to say it, it'll be true, and that's all that sincerity requires.

6. I'm deaf and have been learning out how to vocalize. I do not believe I can do so yet. I know you're standing somewhere where you can't see my lips and I can't see your reactions. I say to you: "I can speak and I don't believe I can speak." I can say this sincerely, because although it's true that I don't believe I can speak, I also know that if I do succeed in saying it, it is true.

7. I have a mental inertia on which once I form the intention to do an action such as saying a sentence, often I am unable to stop even if I change my mind prior to beginning the action. (Unlike in #6, this is actually the case for me.) So, while the sentence is proceeding from my mouth, it need no longer be true that I have any intention of saying it—though I had to have had that intention. Suppose that I know that as soon as I fully form the intention to speak, Fred will (e.g., by neural manipulation) bring it about that I do not believe that p. So, right now I believe that p, but I know that at the time of utterance I won't. I say: "p but I do not believe that p." This example rests on taking the present tense in a sentence to refer to the time of utterance, not the time of deliberating whether to speak. I think this is correct: think of sentences like "It's 12 o'clock", which you utter while watching the clock—you time yourself to begin to speak so that the clock strikes 12 while you're speaking (or maybe at the very end; Richard Gale has an argument that "now" refers to the time at the end of a sentence, by reference to sports announcers who say things like "He's got the ball, no Jones has now taken it from him, but, wait, no, now he's got it back!")

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A fun argument for dualism

I'm told that a version of the following argument is somewhere in C.S. Lewis:

  1. (Premise) Our embodiment is universally seen as funny.
  2. (Premise, justified inductively by 1) Our embodiment is objectively funny.
  3. (Premise) The essence of the funny is incongruity.
  4. (Premise) If materialism is true, there is no incongruity in our embodiment.
  5. (Premise) If materialism is false, then dualism is true.
  6. There is incongruity in our embodiment. (2 and 3)
  7. Materialism is false. (4 and 6)
  8. Dualism is true. (5 and 7)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cooperating with evil

Here is an interesting case raising the question of when it is permissible to cooperate with evildoers.