Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Some Remarks by Dummett

So I decided to read Michael Dummett's Truth and the Past to see if there was anything relevant for my dissertation. I suppose some of it may be, but I want to focus on some of the things he says in his penultimate chapter, "The Metaphysics of Time". Some of his arguments or considerations offered in this chapter are particularly weak or bordering on the question-begging (although, to be fair, these were just a series of lectures that have now been published in book form, so the brevity of some of the discussions is perhaps a little understandable). Of the four-dimensional model of the universe (by which he seems to mean a strange version of a tenseless, perdurantist view), for instance, Dummett says:

The four-dimensional model [...] deprives the world we observe of genuine change; there is only that of our awareness as we travel into the future. The model is grounded on the conception of our consciousness as moving through the static four-dimensional reality along the temporal dimension.

Now, first of all, no one that I know of holds a view like this. This reads like some unholy combination of a tenseless physical world coupled with a tensed mental world or else a timeless physical world coupled with a temporal mental world. Either way, no tenseless, perdurantist view is going to own up to anything like this. But Dummet continues:

A proponent of the four-dimensional model may deny this. We are, he says, irregular four-dimensional tubes (or hypertubes), with the peculiarity that consciousness attaches to our temporal cross-sections. Nothing changes: it is just that our different temporal cross-sections are aware of different things.

This is better, but it is still question-begging - the variation of an object along its temporal dimension, on a tenseless, perdurantist view just is the changing of the object. The perdurantist does not repudiate change, they give an account of it. Dummett misses the point here entirely. He continues:

This image is misconceived. Consider a description of other hypertubes, whose axes lie along a spatial dimension. To us these would appear long, very short-lived objects; if we learned that a different consciousness attached to each segment of one of the tubes, we should regard them as strings of distinct creatures. But if we were told that a different consciousness attached to each cross-section of such a tube at an angle orthogonal to its axis, and that the different consciousnesses varied continuously, we could make nothing of this at all.

It's not clear who the "we" is here (Van Inwagen and Dummet perhaps?), for quite a few people seem to be able to make sense of such things. Such a thing may be impossible, but it certainly seems intelligible or conceivable in a pretty strong sense. As we will see elsewhere, Dummett seems to like to think that if some view is contrary to a deeply entrenched belief of his, it must be unintelligible. Forget the fact that lots of other people seem to find it the opposite - or even to find that the denial of the perdurantist view is unintelligible itself!

Another less than stellar paragraph comes a few pages later, where Dummett writes:

Why should truth be explained in terms of knowledge? The question is whether it is possible to swallow the conception of a reality existing in utter independence of its being apprehended. [...] My question is whether it is intelligible to suppose that the universe might have been devoid of sentient creatures throughout its existence. What would be the difference between the existence of such a universe and there being no universe at all? To express the question theologically, could God have created a universe devoid of sentient creatures throughout its existence? What would be the difference between God's creating such a universe and his merely conceiving of such a universe without bringing it into existence? What difference would its existence make? It seems to me that the existence of a universe from which sentience was perpetually absent is an unintelligible fantasy. What exists is what can be known to exist. What is true is what can be known to be true. Reality is the totality of what can be experienced by sentient creatures and what can be known by intelligent ones.

It's not really clear here why we should take any of this seriously at all. This is all not so much argument as much as dogmatic assertion of Dummett's own crazy views. Of course, if one is already completely convinced of an antirealist view and think that such a view is necessarily true, one will likely find the scenario discussed here unintelligible. But that shows absolutely nothing. I could also hold crazy views about other things such that a very plausible view will then seem to me to be unintelligible. But that doesn't make the latter fact any evidence for my view - rather, it presupposes it. This is a particular example of how, unchecked, some badly formed intuitions and a lot of stubborness can snowball and lead one into incredibly implausible views. After all, many people will find the impossibility of Dummett's scenario unintelligible. After all, we normally do not think that the existence of stars or the wider universe is somehow dependent on us. That seems just as crazy (more, in fact) as the denial of the reality of the past that Dummett is so eager to escape from.

And notice his rhetorical questions! Here's a good example of the sort of thing I tell undergraduates not to do - introduce rhetorical questions in the place of actual argumentation, particularly when your opponents may very well have an answer for you. In this case, it seems perfectly clear what the difference would be between the universe existing or not, or being created by God or merely conceived. If the universe exists, all sorts of properties are instantiated, there are events occurring, etc. You may as well ask what the difference would be between me existing and me not - obviously, if I did not exist, certain properties would not be instantiated nor would certain events occur had I not been around. But the answer for the existence or non-existence of the universe is exactly parallel. To deny this as Dummett does would make the existence of the external world dependent on us so that it is literally metaphysically impossible that the universe could have been destroyed or ended up in some state such that sentient life never happened. This seems, to say the least, rather implausible.

As for being created versus merely conceived, that also seems too plain to even deserve mention - if God merely conceives of something, it does not exist, whereas if he creates it then it does. And so the differences will be just those between existing and not existing (as for his "What difference would it make?", if it is asking something beyond this, I have no idea what it is or why it would be relevant). He says, "It seems to me that the existence of a universe from which sentience was perpetually absent is an unintelligible fantasy," but, on the contrary, it is his view that seems the unintelligible fantasy. He says, "What exists is what can be known to exist. What is true is what can be known to be true. Reality is the totality of what can be experienced by sentient creatures and what can be known by intelligent ones," but all this is perfectly compatible with realism - it is only incompatible if we make these out to be actual analyses, where the epistemic claim in each statement is analyzing the metaphysical one. But even if we accepted these statements, there seems no good reason to read them this way. After all, the right hand side contains what already appear on the left, thus making such analyses circular and hence no good in developing any kind of theory. But there seems no other option for a view like Dummett's. Dummett simply seems to be confused, like most antirealists, and to have canonized that confusion as dogma.

UPDATE (7/27/08): I've just discovered that an Anthony Rudd in a 1997 Phil Studies article entitled "Realism and Time" makes an argument against the B-theory of time very similar to that of Dummett's against 4Dism, with all the same horribly mistaken assumptions. Rudd's arguments in this piece are, to put it politely, quite weak.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Metaphysical Thoughts I: Past Notes

I finally finished a second chapter of my dissertation (chapter 3), clocking in at 34 single-spaced pages! That was quite a marathon. Anyways...

This post is yet another entry in my Past Notes series. These are just random thoughts on issues in metaphysics, encompassing times, for instance, when I've flirted with Carnap/Putnam type views and endurantism. Part II will be posted later with post-2002 stuff.


I am me. Who else could I be? To ask about a counterfactual situation where I was someone else is like entertaining the idea tha the Sun might not have been the Sun. It is meaningless.

The opposite of self-identity? There is none. Try to contradict it and what you say will be meaningless. A=A cannot be thought otherwise.

We cannot escape from metaphysics - every claim we make is saturated with ontology. To say that metaphysics is meaningless is itself a claim of metaphysics. "There is a cat on the mat" is a metaphysical claim. Even if we try to say it all formally, we are still being metaphysical. How can we avoid metaphysics and yet say or think anything? "Metaphysics is meaningless" is self-refuting.

Let us say it is secured through concepts that material objects exist independently of us. That will hold only in case we are right about our conceptual argument. The fact that even we could not imagine it to be any other way than right does not make it so. We must assume certain things in making any argument and so will always rest on assumptions which might be false, though perhaps invulnerable to doubt.

I learn what a material object is through experience. I have a continuous experience of a certain sort. I develop a sense of object permanence. Soon I have a full conception of a material object as a distinct object of experience - it is the kind of thing I can interact with in such and such a way and interacts with others in such and such ways. A famework for thought and experience thus arises. Whether the rudiments or beginnings of such are already in me is another question. Of course, perhaps I experience things from the beginning as discrete objects. But this seems odd. In any case, idealism could not be correct - the mental is, at the very least, those things we know of which are not material objects. To say material objects are mental in nature is to change the meaning of words and disregard their common usage. There might be some properties, known or unknown, in common between material and immaterial things, yet the distinction still remains. If idealism was true, I could not think it. I could only whether idealist "material objects" were idealist "mental" in nature. This is similar to Putnam's brain-in-a-vat. Realism is almost by definition true - it is a commitment of our thought and action, our language and concepts.

I cannot consistently deny realism. It is implied in all our assertions. Realism is not a theory - it is the way in which we must think. It cannot be unmasked.

There are 3-dimensional objects. These are not mere time-slices of the "real" objects, which are the spatiotemporal series. Real change requires this - the same object to have one property at one time and a different one at the next (replacing the other). If the real objects are space-time worms, there can be no change. Each worm has each of its properties in every time. Consider a coffee-worm. At 1:00 it has the properties of being hot-at-1:00 and cold-at-2:00. At 2:00 it has the exact same properties. Objection: The worm does not at 1:00 have the property of being hot, rather it has the property of being-hot-at-1:00. The same with 2:00. And it always has exactly the same properties. Consider a poker, where one end is hot and the other cold. Point to one end and say that at that point the poker is hot and point to the other say that at that point the poker is cold. But the poker cannot be both hot and cold. What is really true to say is that the poker has the property of being hot-at-poker-end and the property of being cold-at-handle-end. Objection: But it is not the same object that changed. The properties changed, but so did the object. One temporal slice is not another. So this is not sufficient for real change. Space-time worms, then, cannot be the "real" objects, but rather the three-dimensional objects we know and love.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Moral Indexicals, Or Why Judgment Internalism Is Not Evidence Against Objectivist Moral Realism

So one argument I've come across more than once is that Judgment Internalism - on the version I am here interested in, the view that, insofar as one is rational, moral judgments will be intrinsically motivating - provides evidence against moral realism or at least against objectivist versions thereof (could a subjectivist view count as moral realist? I'd have to think about that, but it's late so I won't). The reasoning here is that objective facts are not intrinsically motivating, so when one makes a moral judgment one can't be judging that some objective fact is the case. I have two main responses to this argument, either one of which would effectively defang it:

First, I would contend that in fact not all moral judgments do motivate on their own. Consider this one: 'Ian Spencer ought to A'. That's not going to motivate me to do anything unless I know that I am Ian Spencer. Andy Egan thinks that since self-locating beliefs such as 'I' beliefs are motivating and hence that moral judgments must be self-locating beliefs ascribing to oneself the property of being such that one's ideal rational self would prescribe or proscribe such and such. But notice that, as we just saw, the only moral judgments that are in fact motivating are the ones that contain an explicit first-person reference. This has nothing to do with the fact that it is a moral judgment - it only has to do with the fact that it contains a first-person indexical! So Egan is right to find the motivating factor in a motivating moral judgment to come from self-location but he is wrong to think that this has anything to do with the relativity of morality. After all, an moral realist objectivist could perfectly well agree that self-location is doing the work here but disagree with Egan's relativism - the non-motivating third-person judgment and the motivating first-person one express the same facts and these can perfectly well be objective, morally realist facts. Similarly, 'Ian Spencer is being chased by a bear' and 'I am being chased by a bear' express the same objective, realist fact even though the latter will motivate me all on its own whereas the former will not (that requires me to know that I am Ian Spencer). Note that this also shows that there may also be non-moral judgments that are also intrinsically motivating insofar as I'm rational!

Second, suppose I am wrong about the above. Notice that Judgment Internalism says that it is only if one is rational (or insofar as one is so) that one is motivated by moral judgments. But if we view morality as in the business of dealing with reasons for action, we can view moral judgments as embodying or expressing reasons for or against different actions. Now, insofar as one is rational, one will be motivated by one's reasons. So judgment internalism follows nearly-trivially from just these two conceptual points about morality and its connection with rationality. No need for relativism or emotivism or what-have-you. The nature of rationality and morality jointly do all that work for us. So whichever of these two arguments you choose to employ, it looks like the move from Judgment Internalism to relativism or anti-realism done for.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Christ and Proper Functioning: Past Notes

More past notes. You'll be able to see the beginnings of a self-formation view (see some of my other blogs on this) take shape here as well as me toying with various connections with morality and God.


No one goes to Hell for not being a Christian. Everyone is headed there anyways - because we are human. Christians are merely those who have opted for the way out.

To be a Christian - to follow Christ, to have Christ as Lord, to love, to be conformed to Christ, to glorify God. It is to function properly - how were designed by God to be. How were we designed to be? To glorify Him and live with Him and one another in perfect joy by loving God and one another perfectly. To live according to design is to live as God wants and thus also being as God wants; we are in His kingdom and have Christ as Lord. As Lord, he tells us and shows us how to love - and so we follow him. He is the perfect example and therefore we try to conform to him. Lord -> glorify -> love -> conform -> follow. Following is the first step in making Christ Lord. We follow to conform and in doing so love and thus glorify God, who is in this way Lord over our lives. All the ways of describing the goal of Christian life are linked.

There must be a sense in which ultimate freedom includes not being able to do certain things the one who is less free can do. This connects with the fact that we can have a hand in building our own character.

He is a good thief = he is successful at doing thief-like things - he functions well as a thief. He is a good person = he functions well as a person - performs functions of personhood. This is a good action = conforms to the standards = is the action of a perfectly good person. Bad = fails a standard of goodness. - He is a bad thief. Evil = bad person/bad action + ?
What does it mean to function well as a person? If we try to figure this out on our own, we can try to give an ethical imperative to try to capture this, like the utilitarians or Kantians. But these will always fail in some case or other. Why, after all, is conforming to utility functioning well? Why is this what it means to perform the functions? Kantianism fares better, but it still cannot cope with actual life. Is morality conventional? Is being good a conforming to our own constructed standards? The Christian answer is that being good is being as God designed us. Pleasure, pain, partiality, impartiality, value and valuelessness all find their fit in the Christian view of goodness. What does it mean to say that God is good? Obviously, He is good by definition. All He does is good, for what higher standard must He conform to than His own? This shows that all accusations against God are unfounded - it is to mistake the Creator for part of His creation.

What are signs of improper functioning of humans? Pain, for one. Improper functioning causes unpleasantness. We are averse to improper functioning. No matter how drawn to it, we still function improperly and thereby experience unpleasantness in some area, some lack of perfect peace and joy. This obviously, however, does not make utility a mark of goodness - pleasure and pain, rather, are consequences of moral life rather than its nature. We know things are meant to be different. All of this coincides with the divine command theory of ethics yet diverges in so far as ethical life is in our nature from God rather than imposed on it bey God - real ethics is an ethics of character rather than rule-following. Ethics does need God, but not for the lame reason that moral law requires a law giver. Ethics needs God because humans and their life need a Creator. Law is a formalization of a way of living - it is a formal descriptions of the way things are done by perfect people. Law is to be followed not because it is law but because it is the way one lives if one is perfect. This is perfect law - God's law. Human law, falling short, is obviously not the same kind of thing.

In Adam, therefore -> No proper function - cannot enter into God's reign. Christ's death and resurrection paid for all sins. In Christ, therefore -> cost of improper function paid - free to enter into God's reign, freed from sin. In Adam, are considered as him and are in fact as him. In Christ, are considered as him and are made to be as him - Christ paid our way into the kingdom of God and proper functioning. Christ triumphed over sin, death, all the powers, and Satan. How? The weakness of the world.

That our proper function is a certain way is part of the background of our lives and how we think - especially how we think morally, no matter how confused we may otherwise be or become.

As free I shape my decisions, my character, myself, my future - I build for myself a future destiny of what I will be for all eternity. Adam and Eve were flawless but not perfect or complete. To bring out this original flawlessness we might call it by perfection and simply say they lacked completion or the fulfillment of what they were. To live perfectly would have been to grow into completion. The incomplete may sin or not - they are on the path of building themselves. The complete may not- they have completed the project of becoming what they are. So my free will expresses itself in perfection through the possibility of falling into sin, while my free will expresses itself in completion through the impossibility (in the resurrection). Some, however, will end their time of making with something which is not what they are but a mockery of it - something which cannot of its own free will go into completion because it has wrought itself fully but as a marred, malfunctioning shadow of what it could have been. Such are those who do not find themselves in the kingdom.

Components of Internal Autonomous Freedom: Freedom of the Will, Self-determination of character, Rationality (full?), Autonomy.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thoughts on Love and Desert: Past Notes

More past notes while I gather my thoughts to comment on some recent articles. This is just me puzzling over love and desert:


Love dictates morality. Immoral love is imperfect and dictated to by true love. The original "ought" is to love.

What does it mean to deserve punishment? Is this something irreducible or can it be explained in terms of something else? Look at some of the reasons for punishment - it was threatened in order to be a deterrence (Gen 2-3), it provides correction (punishing a child - many times in the Bible), it makes one an example for others (Ananias and Sephira). Is there any sense, though, in which evil by itself simply deserves punishment? Let us look at punishment's opposite - reward. What does it mean to deserve reward? Some reasons for reward - promised in order to be an incentive, it provides positive reinforcement, it makes on an example for others to follow. Is there any sense, though, in which good by itself simply deserves reward? Is there any intrinsic merit or demerit? What does it mean to deserve something at all? Irreducibility seems attractive - look at the urge for revenge (I am offended, this person deserves punishment). Clearly desert is intricately connected with normativity and consequences of actions. Maybe I deserve whatever is a consequence to myself (foreseeable) of what I do. But this is not enough for an adequate analysis. What else is needed?

Isn't love by nature active? Isn't it more than a mere feeling? Consider Frankfurt's analysis and its natural fittingness over Velleman's. Love considers its object as an end - a final end. Is the beloved, though, valuable because it is loved or is it loved because it is valuable? Love will give of itself - it is self-sacrificing. Even self-love is like this - I will forgo other things in order to do things for myself. I do not love myself for any other end than myself. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

When I feel guilty I wish to make atonement - I feel I ought to suffer. What does this say about deserving?

What is the connection between fault and desert? You deserve what you are responsible for - whatever leads to desert is your fault. Anything else?