Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This is funny

I just received a book that is extremely obscure that I've been wanting for some time. I learned of it by reading J. P. Moreland's book Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity, in his chapter on the argument from mind. He addresses, at one point, the claim that naturalism -- or alternatively, determinism -- is self-defeating. It takes away any reason why we should accept naturalism or determinism because it takes away reasons. In defense of this, he quotes the existentialist philosopher and theologian Hans Jonas from his book On Faith, Reason and Responsibility. I've looked for this book periodically on AbeBooks but there has never been a single entry for it when I did. I looked for it on WorldCat, but I could only find two libraries that have it, both in California. However, a few months ago I tried (yes, it should have been obvious) and I found a copy from a used bookstore. Now I have it on my desk and am very happy.

The quotation Moreland uses is from pages 42-3 and deals explicitly with epiphenomanlism, the view that all that appears in the mind is a by-product of what the body is doing. Thus, the mind has no power itself to act; it may seem like it does, but when we decide to do something what is really happening is that the mental by-product that appears tricks us into thinking it came before the action it allegedly led to. In fact, the action appeared first, and the mental by-product appeared afterwards. It had to, unless we give the mind some sort of self-motive power, and this conflicts with naturalism and determinism. Here is the quote in full:

So much for the internal critique of the concept of epiphenomenon. More devastating still are the consequences which flow from it for everything else: for the concept of a reality that indulges in this kind of thing, for a thinking that explains itself by it, and for itself as a thought of that thinking. Here the charge is not inconsistency but absurdity.

First, what sort of being would that be which brings forth, as its most elaborate performance, this vain mirage? We answer: not a merely indifferent, but a positively absurd or perverse being, and therefore unbelievable. If living behavior were nothing but a deaf-mute pantomime, performed by supremely sophisticated physical systems without enjoyment of subjectivity, it could well be termed pointless but not strictly absurd. The show becomes absurd when it accompanies itself with music as if its predecided paces were set by it. A lie can have a function, but not here: the mechanical needs no bribe. And yet it should sound -- in will, pleasure and pain -- a siren song with no one there to seduce? A song that only sings its error to itself, including the error of being the singer? Something devoid of interest in the first place, and with no room for its intercession in the second, should stage the grandiose comedy of interest, shamming a task that is not there and a power it does not have? The sheer, senseless futility of such an elaborate hoax is enough to disqualify it as a caricature of nature. He who makes nature absurd in order to circumvent one of her riddles has passed sentence on himself and not on her and has forfeited the right to speak any more of laws of nature.

Even more directly than via the slander of nature has he passed judgment on himself by what his thesis says about the possible validity of any thesis whatsoever and, therefore, about the validity claim of his own. Every theory, even the most mistaken, is a tribute to the power of thought, to which in the very meaning of the theorizing act it is allowed that it can rise above the power of extramental determinations, tat it can judge freely on what is given in the field of representations, that it is, first of all, capable of the resolve for truth, i.e., the resolve to follow the guidance of insight and not the drift of fancies. But epiphenomenalism contends the impotence of thinking and therewith its own inability to be independent theory. Indeed, even the extreme materialist must exempt himself qua thinker, so that extreme materialism as a doctrine be possible. But while even the Cretan who declares all Cretans to be liars can add, "except myself at this moment," the epiphenomenalist who has defined the nature of thought can not make this addition, because he too is swallowed up in the abyss of his universal verdict.

Thus we have a twofold reductio ad absurdum, according to the twofold question of what to think of a reality that brings forth this futile mirage and what of the attempt of this self-confessed mirage to establish a truth about that reality. Nature as an impostor on the one hand, a theory destroying itself on the other, was the outcome of the scrutiny.

Now, the title of this post is "This is funny" yet nothing funny has been mentioned yet. Here's what's funny. I typed the above quote and planned to post it as a Quote of the Day. In doing so, I went back to and found the page with this book on it. As I copied the URL address, I looked at the picture of the book presented on Amazon. It's my book. I don't mean it's the same edition or the same publisher as the book I just bought, I mean it's numerically the same book. It has the same folds in the cover, the same discoloration on the top.

It just made me laugh.

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

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