Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Transcendental Argument for God (Or More Commonly Known TAG)

The Transcendental Argument for God first presented by Immanuel Kant in his 1793 book 'The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God'.  Kant's argument for the existence of God has been pretty much rejected, however Christian philosophers and apologists have continued to advance various versions of the Transcendental Argument for God.  

Transcendental Arguments for the existence of God, advance their argument by contending that  there are certain 'transcendent' aspects of reality (logic, mathematics, ethics and even science have all been posited for example). These things are taken to be transcendent due to the fact that it is claimed the transcend physical or observer based reality. The existence of such transcendent knowledge can only be explained by positing a God. The argument is generally considered a type of presuppositionalism and has been broadly rejected in most circles.   

However, the argument has received a lot of attention in the past couple of years. This can be mainly attributed to Christian apologist Matt Slick and his formulation of the Transcendental Argument for God which was thoroughly debated on the Atheist Experience Television Show. Of course Matt Slick contended that he won this debate with presenter Matt Dillahunty, such a conclusion is certainly dubious.

The argument presented by Matt Slick and CARM.org proceeds with the following premises: 

  1. Logical Absolutes. 
  2. Logical Absolutes are truth statements. 
  3. Logical Absolutes form the basis of rational discourse. 
  4. Logical Absolutes are transcedent.
  5. Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world. 
  6. Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature. 
  7. Thoughts reflect the mind. 
Commonly atheists and those who have raised objections to the 5th, 6th and 7th premises of the argument. But I believe the argument can be objected to and thoroughly undermined much earlier. In this post I intend to object to the argument on several points to show that the argument thoroughly fails to prove the existence of God. To do this I am going to thoroughly examine each of the premises the argument relies on. 

1. Logical Absolutes 
The first premise of the argument simply states that logical absolutes exist and the longer complete version displayed on the CARM page offers up the three rules of formal Aristotelian logic. It should be pointed out that Aristotelian logic has been far surpassed by modern predicate logic, though this doesn't necessarily undermine the Transcendental Argument for God.  

The three rules of classic Aristotelian logic are as follows: 
  • The Law of Identity 
  • The Law of Non-Contradiction
  • The Law of the Excluded Middle 
It's interesting that Matt Slick describes these as Logical Absolutes, rather than describing as tautologies or as the Aristotelian laws of logic. Describing them as logical absolutes is clearly intended to tacitly bring in the idea that these statements some how transcend reality. But I am more than happy to grant their argument the above logical absolutes.

 A extra note and important point: The Law of Identity used in the particular formulation by CARM explicitly endorses a type Platonism by stating that something that exists has a specific nature. 

Think of the world chair, does chair have a specific nature? You may want to say answer in the affirmative. We say many things are chairs and good legitimately use the word chair to describe chair like natural objects. Imagine a large rock which you can sit on and lean back into.

2. Logical absolutes are truth statements 
The above premise is bizarrely worded, what I really think they are trying to get across is that logical absolutes are true statements which are objectively true and can neither be false. This again we pretty much to have to accept, but I think it's important to point that while they are necessarily true they are at the same time vacuous.  

Consider the following sentences: 
  • Dogs eat bones.
  • If dogs eat bones, then dogs eat bones. 
The first sentence (which happens to be true) is capable of being shown to be true or false, even if it may be difficult to formulate a hypothesis to test in order to verify such a vague claim. The second statement, is true regardless of any empirical observation and is merely a tautology. It is possible to say of the second sentence and of all logical propositions that they are necessarily true. However what is the price for being absolutely true as such? Well that comes at a very high cost namely that such propositions lack any content. 

To quote Wittgenstein 'But in fact all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing' (Wittgenstein 1921:5.43) Such a view was developed in explicit rejection of Bertrand Russell's logical Platonism at the time. The view was that logical propositions were statements about logical objects. For Russell, logical objects were impossible to define and we must therefore become acquainted with them through 'logical experience'.(Russelll) Such a view is clearly problematic and I feel that the CARM argument can be brought into question on this point, it seems clear to me that the argument is relying on a type of logical Platonism. The rest of the argument from this point on depends on the truth of logical Platonism without having shown the truth of such a controversial position. This is something that becomes very clear in premise 3. 

3. Logical Absolutes form the basis of rational discourse 
The argument takes the fact that logical absolutes are necessarily true to show that they must themselves underpin rational discourse. This is justified in the following way: 'For example, I could say that a square is a circle (violating the law of identity), or that I am and am not alive in the same sense at the same time (violating the law of non-contradiction)'. However you can't state that a square is a circle, but this is not because logical absolutes are transcendent it is rather down to linguistic convention. Anyone who has a clear understanding of what a circle is  cannot say that it is at the same time is a square, if someone were to do so it would be because they didn't have an adequate understanding of the concepts involved. Some statements preclude the possibility of other statements for example saying during a game of chess that a pawn is on 'a4' precludes the possibility of their being a knight on 'a4'. The reason certain statements are absolute is down to the linguistic conventions that govern them and something that any English speaker should be able to see and claiming that logical absolutes form the basic of rational discourse seems to be obviously false. It is rather the common linguistic conventions shared among speakers of a language that allow for rational discourse. 

4. Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world 
This is the point where I believe the argument totally collapses, the 4th premise follows only from the others if we accept the doctrine of logical Platonism. As I believe there are good reasons for not accepting such a doctrine or one similar, I believe we also have good reasons in rejecting CARM's Transcendental argument for the existence of God. 

Matt Slicks' TAG Argument attempts to argue from logical absolutes (tautologies) to the existence of a God. Logical absolutes (tautologies) however while always true are vacuous of content and in Wittgenstein's terminology say 'to wit nothing'. Logical absolutes (tautologies) are dependent on both our linguistic conventions and the nature of the world and purely analytic statements. To hold that Logical absolutes were not dependent on the material world one would have to embrace a form of logical Platonism.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

'Men in Groups: Collective Responsibility for Rape' A Critical Response and Overview

Written by Larry May and Robert Strikwerda, Men In Groups is a 1994 philosophy paper originally published in feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. The paper went on to be republished in the widely ride anthology 'Ethics In Practice' meaning it has become one of the better known papers regarding male collective responsibility for rape. It is for this reason I have selected this particular paper to engage with. 

The abstract of the paper sets out four views the paper intends to criticize, before going onto to make the claim that in some societies men are collectively responsible for rape. The four views the paper intends to criticize are as follows: 
  1. Only the rapist is responsible, for it is he who committed the act of rape. 
  2. No one is responsible for rape due to the fact it is a biological response to stimuli.  
  3. Everyone is responsible since men and women both contribute to the rape culture. 
  4. The patriarchy as a whole is responsible, but no person or group. 
This response is going to be firmly aimed at providing a defense of the first position identified by the papers authors for criticism, as well as providing a criticism of the claim that in some societies men are collectively responsible for rape. The reason for defending only the first position is it seems clear to me that the other positions are quite obviously untenable. But in the spirit of intellectual fairness I will briefly outline why I believe positions 2,3 & 4 as untenable. 

2) It is clear that even if that some of the sociobiological theories of rape in fact do have some truth to them (this in itself is deeply controversial see Wiki for a brief overview and further sources), this does not make the act of rape morally acceptable. In saying that because rape may have a sociobiological aspect it is morally acceptable would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy. 
3) Again this is clearly a very objectionable view. It would appear to require us to hold women themselves in someway responsible for the rape of their fellow women.  
4) In saying that the patriarchy as a whole is responsible for rape we deny that it is possible for individuals or groups to be responsible for rape. May and Strikwerda want to hold that men as a collective group can be morally responsible for rape. But those who do not hold that men are collectively responsible for rape will likely still want to hold that it is the rapist that as an individual person is morally responsible. 

Strikwerda and May begin their criticism of the position that only the rapist himself is morally responsible for rape on the third page of essay under the title '1. The Rapist As Loner or Demon'. (May and Strikwerda 1994:136) It is here that they primarily outline their criticism of what I contend is our common sense notion of moral responsibility; namely that the individual who commits the morally grievous act is solely responsible act regardless of mitigating or other circumstances. While rape is mainly committed by individual men, according to the authors of the paper 'rape is not best understood in individualistic terms' (May and Strikwerda 1994:137) This is due to the fact 'that individual men are more likely to engage in rape when they are in groups, and men receive strong encouragement to rape from they way they are socialized as men' (May and Strikwerda 1994:137). No empirical data is given for this claim that rape is not best understood in individualistic terms and the claim seems to run counter to my own experiences as a man. According to May and Strikwerda, male group interaction plays a crucial role in the incidence of rape in western societies by instilling negative attitudes in regards to women. Such negative attitudes appear hard to understand by only focusing on the perpetrator of the rape himself and can be better understood in men as a collective group.

Even if we accept that May and Strikwerda's assertion that rape is not best understood in individualistic terms it doesn't follow that men as a collective group are morally responsible for rape. Assuming that men do instill negative attitudes in each other regarding women, would we hold those who have never committed or orchestrated a rape morally responsible? I would suggest that such collective moral responsibility flies in the face of most commonly accepted accounts of moral responsibility. While moral responsibility is to be differentiated from causal responsibility, our common conception of moral responsibility places a much greater burden on the agent. According to May and Strikwerda, 'Most of those who engage in rape are at least partially responsible for these rapes, but the question we have posed is this: are those who perpetrate rape the only ones who are responsible for rape?'. (May and Strikwerda 1994:138) In a certain sense I want to say, Yes. Though men might be influenced negatively by their peers the decision to act on this negative attitudes in regards women lie solely with them. Surely a moral distinction should be made between those who have succumbed to the negative attitudes introduced by the wider male community. Those who commit grievous acts are the ones who bear the sole burden of responsibility. 

Such moral intuitions run wide throughout ethical theory and in general life for good reason. Burglars and violent criminal often come from very damaged backgrounds and disadvantaged socio economic groups. The wider society is at least partly causally responsible for the situation that these disadvantaged people find themselves and it might be fairly said that the rest of society could do more to support the most disadvantaged. But those who commit the acts of burglary and violent crime are the one who are morally responsible, society in general in some very loose way may be partly causally responsible for the ultimate action of the burglar or violent criminal. They are no way morally responsible for the actions of the burglar or violent criminal.  

Individuals who commit rape are the ones who are morally responsible for rape. To hold that men collectively are responsible for rape is to conflate causal and moral responsibility. If men in groups do spread negative attitudes in regards to women which then play a causal role in cases of rape, those men are in some way causally responsible for acts of rape. This account of moral responsibility is both in-keeping with our common conception of moral responsibility, but also allows us to take a stance against negative attitudes in regards to women due to the causal role they may or not play in the incidence of rape.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Regress Argument Against the Language of Thought Hypothesis

This objection has plagued the Language of Thought hypothesis (aka LOTH) since it's very conception. In fact Jerry Fodor included a reply to such objections in his 1975 book the Language of Thought, however these objections have refused to go away. It dubious whether such objections to the Language of Thought hypothesis do in fact under the hypothesis. 

Many of the supporters of LOTH often appeal to the idea of a language of thought to explain a number of things about our natural languages. For example the language of thought has been appealed to in order to explain the following: 

  • How natural languages (i.e French, English, Russian etc.) are learned 
  • How our natural languages are to be understood 
  • And finally how utterances in a natural language can be meaningful 
There are couple of instances in Fodor (1975) which empathize the points above. For example Fodor claims that natural languages are learned through a process of forming and confirming hypothesis regarding the translation of sentences in natural language into mentalese sentences. The LOTH gives us a representational medium in which the representation of the truth conditions of natural language sentences can occur. The Language of Thought theorist further posits that our natural languages are understood because such understanding consists in the translation of our standard natural language sentences into sentences in mentalese. Again sentences in our standard natural language are taken to meaningful in virtue of the meanings of the corresponding mentalese sentences.  

Simon Blackburn (1984) has claimed that either explanations of this kind lead to an regress as we ought to have to give an explanation of how a language of thought is learned, or that they are simply gratuitous because if it is possible to give a successful explanation which doesn't lead to regress, we ought to have given such an explanation for our natural languages without positing a language of thought at all. 

Fodor's response to such objections can be found in Fodor (1975) and goes roughly as follows:

  • The Language of Thought is innate it is not learned.
  • The Language of Thought is understood in a different sense to how we understand our natural language comprehension. 
  • That sentences in a language of thought are not meaningful in virtue of another meaningful language but rather in a completely different way. 
While Fodor's replies to the regress argument aren't totally plausible and may not convince everyone. But Laurence and Margolis (1997) have pointed out that the regress argument against LOTH (at least in the form that Blackburn presents it) relies on the assumption that the language of thought is only posited to explain certain facts about natural language acquisition and natural language comprehension. If it can be shown that there is other empirical phenomena for which the LOTH provides a good explanation then the hypothesis is not gratuitous in the way Blackburn suggests. In fact there does seem to be a good deal empirical evidence that can be best explained by positing a LOT (consider both the systematicity and productivity argument). 

Monday, 17 December 2012

An Introduction to Divine Command Theory

People still often attempt to make the connection between God and morality and is something theists often argue in favor of. Such theories have a long history in philosophy for example, Aquinas and many other philosophers and theologians have held the belief that all of morality is ultimately grounded in some particular theistic framework. Divine Command theory is essentially the claim that morality is dependent on God and his commands, with the moral good action being the one that is commanded by God. Of course the content of these various commands vary from religion to religion. What all versions share in common is that they claim morality ultimately rests on God. Divine Command theory has been widely criticized by philosophers but still carries significant weight in the religious community.  

First, I want to examine the supposed link between morality and God that Divine Command theorists claim there is. For one many in modern society don't believe in the existence of God, which appears to be problematic for the Divine Command theorist. As we may want to hold that many of those who do not believe in God are morally good people. It appears that the Divine Command theorist either has to hold that they are not morally good or that such individuals are only good when they're actions happen to coincide with the commands of God. Secondly, what if the God(s) is unjust as the ancient Greek gods of mount Olympus were portrayed to be. This again would seem to be problematic for Divine command theorists, however the majority of theorists would assert that God by definition couldn't be unjust. 

However if we accept that God is moral we are faced by another problem one that was first formulated by Plato over 2000 years ago. Namely, the Euthyphro Dilemma found unsurprisingly in the dialogue Euthyphro. Essentially the dilemma can be presented as such: 
Either acts are moral because God commands us to undertake them. Or alternatively God commands these actions because they are morally required. 
This taken in turn with the following premises seems to seriously undermine the Divine Command theory: 

  1.  For the claim that God is good to be both meaningful and true, there must be an independent criterion of goodness independent of God's commands
  2. If we accept that there is some criterion of goodness or morality independent of God's commands, then we have to accept that Divine Command theory is false. 
So we conclude that for the claim that God is good to be meaningful and true, we must reject Divine command theory. Some however do not accept that Euthyphro dilemma gives us grounds to reject Divine Command theory and that the command theorist can successfully answer the objection in a number of ways. 

However philosopher Ralf Cudworth the leader of the English platonists during the 17th Century also formulated an argument against the Divine Command theory. Cudworth's argument against the Divine Command theory can be summarized in the following way: 

  • 1) If Divine Theory is correct, God commanding us to torture an innocent child to death would be morally right. 
  • 2) However, it is not true that if God did in fact command us to torture an innocent child to death this command would make such an action morally right.
  • C)Divine Command therefore is false or incorrect. 

20th Century Philosopher and theologian, Philip L. Quinn (passed away 2004) best known for his defense command theory responded by asserting that it is not possible that God could command the torturing and ultimate death of a small child. However God could never command such a thing because God is inherently and necessarily just. This as many have pointed out appears to be absurd. If we take a look at the following presentation of Quinn's argument.

  • 1) Divine Command theory is correct, all moral requirements are ultimately derived from God's commands. 
  • 2) All moral requirements derive from God, before God made any commands there were no moral requirements. 
  • C1) No moral requirements can exist before a God has made divine commands. 
  • P3) However according to Quinn, even before God had ever made divine commands there were requirements of justice restraining his divine commands. 
  • C2) The requirements of justice constraining God's divine commands were not moral requirements. 
This line of argument appears to be terribly problematic, how can one say that the requirements of justice constraining God's commands were in no way moral requirements. It is commonly taken that justice is an important element or the aim of morality itself. Even if these kind of problems have always haunted Divine Command theory from its very conception, it is apparent that the argument holds a lot of sway among religious individuals and some academic theologians. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Philosophy Video: Introduction to Ethics and Moral Issues by Richard Brown

I have previously featured Richard Brown's Introduction to Philosophy video lecture series on this blog. However, Dr. Richard Brown has another online philosophy class this time dealing with ethics and moral issues. While ethics and morality, aren't Richard Brown's particular area of expertise (the majority of his research being undertaken in the philosophy of mind) it is very clear throughout the lectures that he has a very good understanding of the subject matter. Each lecture consists of a number of slides with Richard Brown running through the content contained on the slide in more detail. The course takes a largely historical approach after beginning with a lecture explaining philosophical ethics. The course would make a good starting point for those who want an introduction that allows them to read and engage with academic works in the field of ethics. While it doesn't make for a totally comprehensive introduction to the topic of ethics (mainly due to the fact the course consists of 8 lectures); anyone who has become interested in the topics of ethics and wishes to learn more would find this is a good starting point. 

The rest of the lectures can be found at: OnlinePhilosophyClass 

For those who wish to find out more about Dr Richard Brown I recommend you visit his academic page

Friday, 14 December 2012

Dennett's Objection to the Language of Thought Hypothesis

The well known philosopher Daniel Dennett formulated one of the first serious objections to the language of thought hypothesis (LOTH) in his review to Jerry Fodor's (1975) foundational book on the subject. Dennett's objection is essentially that it is possible for their to be propositional attitudes without explicit representation. To make his point Dennett introduces an example:
In a recent conversation with the designer of a chess-playing program I heard the following criticism of a rival program: “it thinks it should get its queen out early.” This ascribes a propositional attitude to the program in a very useful and predictive way, for as the designer went on to say, one can usefully count on chasing that queen around the board. But for all the many levels of explicit representation to be found in that program, nowhere is anything roughly synonymous with “I should get my queen out early” explicitly tokened. The level of analysis to which the designer's remark belongs describes features of the program that are, in an entirely innocent way, emergent properties of the computational processes that have “engineering reality.” I see no reason to believe that the relation between belief-talk and psychological talk will be any more direct. (Dennett 1981: 107) 
The rival but critical chess programmer assigns a propositional attitude to the rival program; namely that the rival program thinks it should move its queen out into play early in the game. Such an ascription of a propositional attitude is both useful and predictive. For example when we wish to program our chess computer to play the rival program we may consider the fact that the other program thinks it should get its queen early and respond by making sure we have an adequate defense for such an event. But if we understand how chess programs operate we know that there is no internal representation within the code of a chess computer which represents the propositional attitude that the program 'should get its queen out early'. Dennett sees no reason why the relation between our standard everyday belief talk and talk of psychological processes will be anymore direct than in the chess program/computer example. 

The chess program doesn't have  a dispositional or potential, belief regarding the early movement of its queen. Rather it operates with the belief that it ought to get its queen out early in the game.There appears to be lots of everyday examples where we reason using certain rules of inference without directly or explicitly representing this rules of inference.  

This objection from Dennett hasn't been particularly well received and it is widely regarded that Language of Thought theorists can provide a more than an adequate reply to such objections. The standard reply involves distinguishing between the rules regarding the way Mentalese data structures are manipulated and the data structures themselves. The Language of Thought hypothesis is not committed to every rule being explicitly represented. It is a nomological fact that in a computational device can be explicitly represented some have to be hard wired into the system. It is in this way that language of thought theorists do not have to contend that rules will be explicitly represented, it is data structures that have to be explicitly represented. With these data structures being manipulated formally by rules, causal manipulation is not itself possible without explicit tokening of these representations. It is possible to account for dispositional propositional attitudes in terms of an appropriate principle of inferential closure of explicitly represented propositional attitudes. 

A chess program involves at least some certain explicit representations (for example chess board, pieces and some of the rules). Which of the rules of the program are explicit and which are implicit is an empirical matter of fact. What Dennett's objection essentially does it point to the fact that some rules may be emergent out of the implementation of explicit rules and data structures. This does not undermine the language of thought hypothesis, as it possible to account for these emergent rules in terms of data structures and explicit representations. 

Dennett D (1981), Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1981

Did Wittgenstein have Asperger's Sydrome?

Wittgenstein is now commonly featured on lists of people suspected to have asperger's syndrome. As Wittgenstein is deceased it may impossible to ever definitively prove that he in fact had asperger's. It is well established that posthumous diagnosis of psychological conditions or syndromes is highly unreliable but this still hasn't quietened the debate regarding whether many of history's great minds in fact had asperger's syndrome. 

Many have become interested in the question of whether Wittgenstein had asperger's, with much of this contemporary interest in the question of whether the great philosopher had asperger's being stirred up by Michael Fitzgerald's 2004 book 'Autism and Creativity: Is there a link Between Austim in Men and Exceptional Ability'. In this book Fitzgerald gives Wittgenstein as a case study, claiming that the development from the ideas of the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations was in part caused by Wittgenstein's social development. With the method taken in the Philosophical Investigations having a particular focus on the social dimension of language. Fitzgerald alleges that this development mirrors the personal development of many people with asperger's syndrome. This is certainly a rather contentious claim, in fact there are group of Wittgenstein scholars called the new Wittgensteinians who rejected the traditional view that there are two separate Wittgenstein's as such, rather contending that the clear distinction between the thought of the early and late Wittgenstein is false. If such a interpretation is correct (I personally doubt it is) it seems to seriously undermine  Fitzgeralds example of Wittgenstein as a case study of social development.  

Some have gone further than Fitzgerald in asserting that Wittgenstein has asperger's syndrome. Example being the Japanese psychologist Y. Ishiskaya who in his paper 'Wittgenstein and Asperger Syndrome: Did Wittgenstein have this syndrome?' concludes that Wittgenstein in fact did have Aspergers, classification ICD-10. This diagnosis was undertaken by examining Wittgenstein's social interactions throughout his life and concluding that much of Wittgenstein's social behavior was consistent with an individual with Asperger's syndrome.  
His interpersonal relationships were characterized by ego-centricity and a lack of concern or empathy for others as well as a lack of a sense of social interaction. He tended to be detached and isolated from others, but did seek close relationships with a few people, often one person at a time. The conduct of his daily life was dominated by the tendency to be obsessive, stereotypic, and persistent. He was reported to have been clumsy, and his accent and intonation when speaking to have been bizarre.(Abstract, Ishishkaya 2003) 
All of this according to Ishishkaya is taken to be sufficient to diagnose Wittgenstein with Aspergers syndrome. The validity of historical diagnosis is subject to serious scrutiny with many people being suspicious of such posthumous diagnosis.  

However there appears to be significant evidence that Wittgenstein displayed many of the traits that are associated with asperger's syndrome. Many of the stories and accounts featured in Ray Monk's brilliant biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein seem to be quite consistent with the claim that Wittgenstein in fact did have asperger's syndrome. It seems that the claim that Wittgenstein may of in fact had asperger's syndrome to pretty plausible, I suggest that anyone interested in claims regarding whether Wittgenstein did in fact have asperger's read Ray Monk's biography. While Monk never claims or states that Wittgenstein had asperger's syndrome it appears that Wittgenstein's personality and character is at least consistent with a diagnosis of asperger's syndrome. 

While it will not be possible to definitively answer the question of whether Wittgenstein had asperger's syndrome, some of the evidence does point towards a diagnosis of Wittgenstein being aspergic. The problem with both Ishiskaya and Fitzgerald's claims is that posthumous diagnosis of such conditions is highly unreliable. With all that being said the possibility that Wittgenstein was aspergic may better help us understand both the man and his work a little bit better. 


Fitzgerald M, (2004), Autism and Creativity: Is there a link Between Austim in Men and Exceptional Ability
Monk R (1991), Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Vintage