Basic actions?

actionWe do many things by doing something else. You might move across the room by walking and walk by moving your legs. But do you move your legs by doing something else? You might think, yes: by sending nerve impulses from your brain. And maybe you do that by sending around other such things in your brain? But are “you” really doing those things that happen in parts of you?

The priest and philosopher Nicolas Malebranche argued that no-one can really do anything themselves because in order to do something, you need to know how to do it — and we don’t know how to cause all that neural stuff that needs to happen for our bodies to do anything. (He thought God is really the one who does everything.) This isn’t a good argument. To know how to do something must mean knowing how to do that something by doing other things (eg. how to move your hands and fingers while playing the piano). So if you must always know how to do everything, then you must know how to do the things by which you do that other thing: how to make your fingers move, and then probably how to send those neural signals, and then how to do whatever you do to do that; it’s an infinite regression. To make the regression stop, there must be some things we just can do, so that we can do more complex things by doing those things. Continue reading

The pastor and the steam engine

In many of my recent posts, I could have referred to a story in an old philosophical article. I’ll quote it here, along with some other parts from the article.

From R. E. Hobart: “Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It”:

We have been accustomed to think of a thing or a person as a whole, not as a combination of parts. We have been accustomed to think of its activities as the way in which, as a whole, it naturally and obviously behaves. It is a new, an unfamiliar and an awkward act on the mind’s part to consider it, not as one thing acting in its natural manner, but as a system of parts that work together in a complicated process. Analysis often seems at first to have taken away the individuality of the thing, its unity, the impression of the familiar identity.

For a simple mind this is strikingly true of the analysis of a complicated machine. The reader may recall Paulsen’s ever significant story about the introduction of the railway into Germany. [I have not found the original story.] When it reached the village of a certain enlightened pastor, he took his people to where a locomotive engine was standing, and in the clearest words explained of what parts it consisted and how it worked. He was much pleased by their eager nods of intelligence as he proceeded. But on his finishing they said : “Yes. yes, Herr Pastor, but there’s a horse inside, isn’t there?” They could not realise the analysis. They were wanting in the analytical imagination. Why not? They had never been trained to it. It is in the first instance a great effort to think of all the parts working together to produce the simple result that the engine glides down the track. It is easy to think of a horse inside doing all the work. A horse is a familiar totality that does familiar things. They could no better have grasped the physiological analysis of a horse’s movements had it been set forth to them.

Hobart’s point here relates to free will, of course. This is the point I made in “Can you be the ultimate origin of your own choices?” Hobart makes an explicit comparison later:

After all, it is plain what the indeterminists have done. It has not occurred to them that our free will may be resolved into its component elements. (Thus far a portion only of this resolution has been considered.) When it is thus resolved they do not recognise it. The analytical imagination is considerably taxed to perceive the identity of the free power that we feel with the component parts that analysis shows us. We are gratified by their nods of intelligence and their bright, eager faces as the analysis proceeds, but at the close are a little disheartened to find them falling back on the innocent supposition of a horse inside that does all the essential work. They forget that they may be called upon to analyse the horse. They solve the problem by forgetting analysis. The solution they offer is merely: “There is a self inside which does the deciding”.

This also describes what I called anti-explanations.

I can also recommend reading the whole article for a good exposition of a view of free will that I can get behind. I’ve never spelled out my view and arguments fully on this weblog, but Hobart does most of that here for me. There’s something more I want to say — and I have said some of it — but Hobart’s argument should already prove quite clearly how free will is nothing like contradicted by determinism.

Can free will solve the problem of evil?

I recently read a good post on the problem of evil by another blogger. There was one thing I disagreed about, however, and I thought it deserved a reply long enough to be its own article.

As for what the problem of evil (or theodicy) is, I’ll just quote the mentioned article:

One of the many variations of the problem goes as follows: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” This is often contributed to the philosopher Epicurus, summarized by the theologian Lactantius. However the actual authorship remains debated.

The point remains, if God is an omnipotent being, then how does evil exist without God himself being at least in some form evil?

Well, I would put it as “god must not be perfectly good” rather than “god must be evil” if evil exists, but never mind that now. What I’m actually taking issue with is the discussion of one alternative solution to the problem:

The second issue is that many people claim free will, or more simply any human action at all, creates this evil. This is a sort of pessimistic view, but still a valid one. It claims that as humans have the ability to choose their actions, the result of those actions create the very evil itself, not god. I always found this argument to be curious just based on the fact that it uses free will to justify both evil and God. The discussion of God and free will has had an odd history, and for many people the Doctrine of Predestination pops up in their heads, but nevertheless it is a valid argument. To me it seems in many ways the existence of free will negates the omnipotence of God, and therefore changes the entire essence of God for so many defending it.

The question that sorely needs answering now is: What is free will? What are the options for what it could logically be — and do those allow god to avoid the responsibility for human evil? Continue reading

Tiede ja yliluonnolliset selitykset: metodologisen naturalismin tarpeellisuus

Sulkeeko tämän tärkeän ja moninaisen inhimillisen toiminnan silkka luonne pois viittaukset yliluonnollisiin ilmiöihin? Millä tavoin kukaan voisi perustella sellaista väitettä?

-Alvin Plantinga (käännös omani)

No, kun kerran kysyitte…

Continue reading

What’s the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?

See here for the Finnish version: Mitä eroa on hengellisyydellä ja uskonnolla?

Ah, words with extra baggage. Caring about clarity of communication, one has to hate them.

Is “spiritual” the same as “religious”? Or is spirituality something better or more genuine? Or is it really just the same thing? Or are they unrelated?

In truth, this is one of those annoying cases where a word has two different meanings. Continue reading

Mitä eroa on hengellisyydellä ja uskonnolla?

See here for the English version: What’s the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?

Jos välittää kommunikaation selkeydestä, monien sanojen ylimääräinen painolasti on varsinainen riesa. “Hengellisyys” on yksi niistä.

Onko “hengellinen” sama kuin “uskonnollinen”? Tai onko hengellisyys jotakin parempaa tai aidompaa? Tai onko loppujen lopuksi kyse samasta asiasta? Vai eivätkö ne liity mitenkään toisiinsa?

Todellisuudessa kyseessä on yksi näistä ärsyttävistä tapauksista, joissa sanalla on kaksi eri merkitystä. Continue reading

Sopivan tarkoitushakuista – HS:n rasismigallup

No English version at this time, sorry; this took long enough to write.

Vähän aikaa sitten ilmoitin pitäväni taukoa tänne kirjoittamisesta marraskuun ajan National Novel Writing Monthin takia. Nyt tekee kuitenkin mieli kommentoida erästä asiaa, ja aikatauluni on sen verran sekaisin muutenkin, että kirjoitan nyt tämän verran. Kirjoituksen punainen lanka pääsi vähän rispaantumaan matkan varrella, mutta tulipahan kirjoitettua.

12.11. Helsingin Sanomat raportoi teettämästään rasismigallupista jossain määrin provosoivalla otsikolla: Rasismi teki pesän Suomeen. Ajattelin jo silloin, että olisi kiinnostavaa analysoida lehden tapaa muotoilla ja esittää kysely esimerkkinä siitä, miten kumpikaan, kyselyn muotoilu eikä tulosten esittäminen, ei ole pelkkää neutraalia tiedon käsittelyä. Continue reading