Wednesday, February 29, 2012

La Gazza Ladra

I read somewhere that Wagner once said "Rossini is to opera what a pimp is to sex" or something along those lines. Whatever. I still love Rossini's overtures. Since he was born on February 29, 1792, I thought I would honor his birthday by posting my favorite: La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). You've heard this piece a thousand times even if you don't realize it. I love it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Plantinga and Externalism

My post on Plantinga's EAAN and classical global skepticism was linked by two recent Philosophers' Carnivals (here and here), and just in case anyone was wondering -- which I really doubt -- I thought I'd explain an offhand comment I made to the effect that I don't think Plantinga is really an externalist.

Internalists maintain that what qualifies a belief as knowledge is another belief, or perhaps another internal mental state. When asked why you believe something, you have to say "Because..." and give another belief or beliefs that provide(s) sufficient grounds for it. "Why do you believe Socrates is mortal?" "Well, because I believe all men are mortal, and because I believe Socrates is a man." Externalists maintain that what qualifies a belief as knowledge are the factors, external to the mind, that the belief is about. I believe there is a tree in front of me; if the reason I believe there is a tree in front of me is because there is a tree in front of me, then my belief has the status of knowledge. (There are internalist-externalist debates elsewhere in philosophy as well; in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, etc.) This leaves a lot out of course. The shorthand version is whether one has to know that he knows something in order to know it. Internalists say yes, externalists say no, and Plantinga says ... sometimes.

So there isn't anything at all like a simple, single answer to the question whether warrant for grounded beliefs requires that the subject know that the ground is an indicator of the belief; sometimes this is required and sometimes it is not. And the reason is not far to seek. In some cases it is perfectly in accord with proper cognitive function to believe A on the basis of B even if you have never had any views at all as to whether B is an indicator of A; in a wide variety of other cases a properly functioning human being will believe A on the basis of B only if she has first learned that B reliably indicates A.

That's from page 44 of Warrant and Proper Function (sixth paragraph from the end here). Now I agree with Plantinga on this. Sometimes you do need to have this second-order knowledge in order to have the first-order knowledge, and sometimes you don't. He seems to be suggesting that these cases can't be systematized; on that point I'm not as pessimistic as him, but it wouldn't really surprise me if they couldn't. Regardless, once you concede that you sometimes need to know that something is a reliable indicator of something else before you can have knowledge of the something else, you're no longer a pure externalist. Perhaps you're something more along the lines of an Alstonian internalist-externalist, I don't know.

Now in the previous post I claimed that Plantinga's EAAN is essentially a global skeptical argument that arises from within externalist and naturalized epistemology. Does the fact (or my claim at least) that Plantinga's epistemology is not purely externalist change that? I don't see how my qualification of Plantinga's externalism has any point of contact with his EAAN. And even if it did, it could easily be weeded out. I explained how Plantinga's argument fits into externalist epistemologies in the previous post, so I would just refer you there. Plantinga, it should be noted, has written elsewhere that his argument does not presuppose any particular epistemological framework, but as you can guess, I disagree with him on that too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quote of the Day

Pantheism claims there is no existence beyond the universe, that the universe is all there is, and that the universe always has existed. Atheism claims that the universe was not created and no entity exists independent of the matter, energy, and space-time dimensions of the universe. But all the data accumulated in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries tell us that a transcendent Creator must exist. For all the matter, energy, nine space dimensions, and even time, each suddenly and simultaneously came into being from some source beyond itself.

It is valid to refer to such a source, entity, or being as the Creator, for creating is defined as causing something -- in this case everything in the universe -- to come into existence. Matter, energy, space, and time are the effects He caused. Likewise, it is valid to refer to the Creator as transcendent, for the act of causing these effects must take place outside or independent of them.

Not only does science lead us to these conclusions, but so also does the Bible. It is the only holy book to do so.

Hugh Ross
The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd exp. ed.

Friday, February 17, 2012

More Favorite Movie Scenes

Finding Forrester

Death to Smoochy

Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Matrix Reloaded

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Buckaroo Banzai


Boondock Saints

Rain Man

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oh come on

I really don't get this. A mother sends her pre-schooler to school with a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice, and potato chips. The school decides that's not healthy enough so they purchase a lunch for the child and charge it to the mother. The child eats three chicken nuggets from the purchased meal and nothing from the brought lunch.

From first through eighth grade my sack lunch consisted of an apple and a peanut butter sandwich. Not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just a peanut butter sandwich. I bought milk at school and drank water from the water fountains. I remember being disgruntled at my lunches but it got me through the day. That pre-schooler had a veritable feast compared to what I got as an eighth-grader. The mother points out, rightly, that she knows what her child will and won't eat, and she is able to pack her lunches accordingly. And that's a pretty healthy lunch, after all. For the school to step in and interfere with her child's diet is disturbing to me.

Update (16 Feb): In Belgium you start sending your kids to school pretty early, when they're three years old -- although really it's more like organized play time. We have some very close friends, fellow expatriots, who have a diabetic child and they refused to send him to school because of it. They knew the difference between when he was just acting up and when his behavior indicated something about his blood-sugar level. When they'd go shopping in the middle of the day with their child, they'd get stares, and sometimes even accusations: "Why isn't your child in school?" But they wouldn't budge because their child's diet had a direct and immediate connection to their child's health. Maybe my strong negative reaction to this story was fueled by thinking of my friends (who are back in the States now) and the idea of a bureaucrat deciding that he knows better what to feed their child than they do.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

Mentality is often considered naturalistically suspect and in need of a naturalistic vindication, or "naturalization." For many naturalists, Cartesian immaterial minds are the worst case: they are almost invariably presumed to be transnatural entities, beyond any possibility of naturalistic redemption. Steven Horst is typical; he simply declares "Philosophical Naturalism...involves rejection of paradigmatically supernatural entities and properties (e.g., Cartesian souls)." This is unwarranted. As every introductory student of philosophy knows, Cartesian minds were conceived as causally interacting with bodily objects and events, and again as everyone knows, Descartes was taken to task, immediately, for this eminently commonsensical idea. It was his illustrious contemporaries, like Leibniz, who, by denying minds' interaction with matter, placed minds outside the natural world. If we wanted "paradigmatic" supernaturalists about minds from the period, we would do better to mention Leibniz with his pre-established harmony, Malebranche and his occasionalist followers, and others. It may well be that Descartes's idea of an immaterial mind in causal relations to material bodies was inherently flawed, or that as a matter of fact Cartesian immaterial minds do not exist. But that is something that needs to be shown, by a naturalistically acceptable procedure. The point is that Cartesian minds were conceived as part of the causal-explanatory structure of the natural world; if they do not exist, they do not exist as part of the natural world. It isn't as though they are kicked upstairs into a supernatural world and find a home there. The problem with immaterial souls, as with phlogiston and caloric fluids, is that there are no such things as far as we know. It would be nonsense to think that all we found out about phlogiston and caloric fluids was that they turned out to be transcendental, supernatural entities.

Jaegwon Kim
"From Naturalism to Physicalism: Supervenience Redux" (Romanell Lecture)
Proceedings and Addresses of The American Philosophical Association 85/2 (2011): 109-34.
(footnotes omitted)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Laws and "Laws"

Moral laws are often claimed to be laws only in a metaphorical sense since there are clear differences between them and laws of nature. Laws of nature allegedly brook no exceptions, but we can always (or nearly always) envision exceptions to moral laws, cases in which it would be allowed to ignore a particular prohibition. There is a moral law to tell the truth, but if we are hiding Jews from the Nazis we don't have to tell them about it (there's a disturbing case of this in The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom). The point is that moral laws are not absolute while physical laws are.

However, I think this is a misunderstanding. The exceptions to moral laws are cases where one moral law comes into conflict with another. The moral law that we should preserve life has more authority than the law that tells us to tell the truth, so we lie to the Nazi who asks us if we are hiding any Jews. But there are exact parallels with physical laws. The law of gravity dictates that the magnet will fall to the ground, unless the law of electromagnetism dictates that it will stick to the side of the refrigerator. The second law overrules the first in this case. This doesn't say anything against gravity. The law of gravity, when stated strictly, is defined in a vacuum, with no other forces in play -- that is, it is defined with all other things being equal (ceteris paribus). This is the same with moral laws. These laws are being described in a moral vacuum, where no other moral issues are in play. If the only moral thing at issue is whether to tell the truth or not, there is a moral law that says we should tell the truth, ceteris paribus. If other moral issues come into the picture, then they may interfere with it so that it will no longer be the case that we should tell the truth, in the same way that if other physical forces are in play, an object may no longer obey the law of gravity by falling towards the center of mass.

Of course, there's another way in which physical laws and moral laws are dissimilar: we can choose whether or not we obey moral laws but, for the most part, we cannot choose whether or not we obey physical laws. I say "for the most part" because I can choose to jump up and thereby thwart the law of gravity for a few moments, but if I jump off a cliff I can't choose to stop falling. Whether that means moral laws can only be considered "laws" in a metaphorical sense is something I leave to my readers. Perhaps it's the physical laws that are the metaphors.

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This is very sad

The last veteran of World War I has passed away. Not the last combat veteran, the very last person who served in the military during the war to end all wars. It's the end of an era. My father once told me he had a teacher who claimed she came to Oregon on the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon. I actually doubt this, but you hear things like it and you feel a connection with the past. Having people who fought in the great war meant we were connected to it in some way. Now that connection is gone. About a year ago I read about the oldest man in the world (who has since passed away) who remembered the day President McKinley was assassinated because it was the day he got his first haircut. At the time I wished I could introduce my children to him so he could tell them that story, and have them remember being told about the day McKinley was killed in their old age. I tried to express that kind of connection with this short story.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I'm sorry

but this is hilarious. So is this.