Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

A double-aspect theorist might object at this point that our entire discussion of the double-aspect theory thus far has been based upon a misunderstanding of it. He might claim that he can slip between the horns of the dilemma we have posed for him. The common reference he needs is achieved while the contradiction we point out is avoided, if the same thing can be considered in two bodies of discourse from different points of view. He believes this possible and holds that in one perspective a piece of human behavior can be seen as a determined event while in another perspective the same thing can be seen as a free act. The behavior seen as the trigger being pulled in the event-perspective is seen in the action-perspective as the pulling of the trigger. The difference in perspective removes the contradiction, without precluding common reference.

But this approach does not remove the contradiction; it only appears to do so. The appearance is created by the metaphor of "different points of view." The notion of points of view is based on an analogy between vision and propositional knowledge.

Different visual points of view on the same object present, so to speak, different pictures of one and the same thing. These pictures can be radically different -- for example, the view of a coin on edge and the view of the coin's face. Yet these pictures do not contradict one another; they are simply different. They do not conflict precisely because they are pictures of the object; they make no claims about the object itself.

Propositional points of view are like visual points of view in some ways, but are different in a crucial respect: The propositions which collectively constitute a point of view on some subject matter are not pictures of the subject matter. If they are affirmed, they are claims about the subject matter itself. It is one thing to say that a coin on edge looks like a two-dimensional rectangle; it is another thing to affirm that the coin on edge is a two-dimensional rectangle.

What perhaps lends plausibility to the analogy is the way in which certain propositions are expressed. For example, "He was standing to the right of the desk" and "He was standing to the left of the desk" seem to be contradictory, but both could be true, if stated by persons who viewed the situation from different visual points of view. But this use of the expression "different points of view" is simply another way of expressing the requirement of the principle of noncontradiction usually expressed by "in the same respect."

Thus these two statements, if both true, are not expressions of contradictory propositions. Either they are not fully explicit statements of the same proposition or they are not fully explicit statements of different propositions. If they are statements of the same proposition, then the difference in point of view has been discounted and no contradiction is involved; if they are statements of different propositions, then the points of view are included in the propositions as part of the states of affairs being described. In the latter case, since the subjects of predication are different, the propositions cannot be contradictory. Thus, the difference of points of view construed in this way is of no use to the double-aspect theorist; Sfc [free will] and Nfc [determinism] are contradictories; they refer to the same thing in the same respect.

The flaw in the points-of-view analogy can now be explicated. Different visual points of view produce different pictures of the same thing. By treating propositional knowledge as if it were vision, one easily takes for granted that contradictory propositions are merely different pictures of the same thing. On this analogy, contradictory propositions would be incompatible only if they were affirmed from the same point of view. If they are affirmed from different points of view, however, such propositions are only different pictures of the same thing.

But here the analogy is carried too far. A proposition affirmed from a given propositional point of view about something other than the point of view itself does not characterize the point of view. Instead, someone uses it it [sic] pick out some other state of affairs and affirms that this state of affairs obtains -- obtains independently of the conditions of one's knowing it and talking about it. Thus, the contradictory propositions affirmed about the same state of affairs from different propositional points of view are no less contradictory for their being affirmed from these different points of view. These propositions are not about the points of view from which they are affirmed, but about some other state of affairs; what they articulate is that state of affairs, independent of anyone's knowing it and talking about it. If it happens that the point of view of one affirming a proposition is confused by him with what he is talking about, then he makes false statements about the world.

Our point can be restated more briefly. The difference between visual points of view depends on the conditions for seeing, not on what is seen. Propositional knowledge about something, however, claims to articulate states of affairs, not the conditions of one's knowing them to be so. Different propositional points of view are precisely different conditions for one's knowing and talking about things. Hence the difference of points of view in this case makes no difference at all; differences in propositional points of view are precisely excluded by the claim involved in the affirming of any proposition: that the state of affairs which it picks out obtains

Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., Germain Grisez, and Olaf Tollefsen,
Free Choice: A Self-Referential Argument

3 comments:

JS Allen said...

What a bizarre line of argument. Proper committed naturalists would be eliminativist with regards to the existence of propositional knowledge, so it's beyond weird to insist that the naturalist stance cohere entirely with a free will stance, based on the argument that "propositional knowledge must not be contradictory".

That's almost as "clever" as saying, "Some people *choose* not to believe in free will, so free will must exist"

Jim S. said...

Well, first, this is an argument against determinism not naturalism. There is a parallel argument against naturalism, but that's not what these authors are addressing. And being a determinist does not lead as inexorably to eliminativism.

Second, I agree with you that naturalists should be eliminativists, but most naturalists resist it; eliminativism remains a minority view among naturalists.

Third, if some people really do choose not to believe in free will, then free will must exist. That's not too far from their overall argument that they present in the book. Whether or not it's clever does not interest me as much.

JS Allen said...

Doh! I missed that. Yes, determinism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive. And I agree with your other points.