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.