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Monday, November 26, 2012

Brad DeLong Jumps the Shark

You see, because he once reasoned wrongly about a situation he found himself in, that proves that Thomas Nagel is dumb!

When you find yourself calling one of the greatest philosophers of the last half century dumb, something has gone wrong. And in this case, the problem is that Nagel has trampled upon DeLong's religious faith, which is materialism. This is naturally a shaky faith, since there is not a single shred of evidence in favor of its truth. So when a prominent, non-religious philosopher like Nagel notes that besides lacking any evidence in its favor it seems very implausible, there is nothing for it but to declare him stupid, so he can be safely ignored and the faith can be protected. 

16 comments:

  1. Well, your reason and Thomas Nagel's reason may provide you and him with transcendent access to objective reality, so that--as he says in his book--when he sees the sun rising on his right he knows immediately by the metaphysical necessity of the case that he is not going south but north.

    My reason does not: it is a set of heuristic guesses made by a jumped-up monkey with a set of brain circuits designed to detect whether the fruit is ripe or it is safe to jump to the next branch.

    And I hold with Hume that just because the sun usually rises in the east does not mean that it will always rise in the east.

    And, indeed, as I explained there was one morning when I saw the sun rise due south.

    I don't believe your or Thomas Nagel's reason provides either of you with transcendent access to objective reality. And I think your strange delusion that it does simply reinforces my point that jumped-up monkeys like you and me do not have magic brains that give us transcendent access to objective reality.

    :-)

    Brad DeLong

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    1. But Brad, if I follow your logic, than the idea that Nagel and I (and you) are just making heuristic guesses is itself just a guess on your part!

      If so, on what basis could you possibly advance for preferring your notion to ours, other than that, well, you prefer it? Why should you believe we are "jumped up monkeys"? After all, the theory of evolution is just a guess! It has "worked" in the past?! What, you think you have some direct access to reality to tell that it worked? That is just a guess on your part as well.

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    2. Or look at it this way, Brad: if you *really* thought that all knowledge claims, were just "heuristic guesses made by a jumped-up monkey" then you ought to be very humble about Nagel's claims: I would think you would say, "Well, Nagel's guess is different than mine, but what do I really know?"

      But nope: you are damned certain Nagel is wrong. What an extraordinary position for a jumped up monkey to be taking!

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  2. No, I shouldn't be humble. Nagel says that my reason could not have evolved because my reason has transcendent access to objective reality--and one thing that my reason has transcendent access to is that my reason has transcendent access to objective reality.

    But I don't believe that my reason has transcendent access to objective reality.

    In that case either (a) I am wrong, and my reason is wrong in thinking it does not have TATOR, in which case my reason clearly does not have TATOR--but Nagel claims that his reason does.

    He might be mistaken...

    Alternatively, I am a being of different order than he is--an ape while he is an angel. That is possible...

    On the other fork, I am right in my belief that my and his reason does not have TATOR--and Nagel's belief that he does is just another sad delusion of a jumped-up monkey.

    Nagel's root problem is that he has to convince me that my reason knows things and knows that it knows things that my reason tells me that it does not know. An argument that depends on convincing me that I know things and know that I know things that I believe I do not know has a very high hill to climb...

    :-)

    Brad DeLong

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    1. "In that case either (a) I am wrong, and my reason is wrong in thinking it does not have TATOR, in which case my reason clearly does not have TATOR--but Nagel claims that his reason does."

      "Has access to" != "had accessed."

      The logic of the sentence above is about equivalent to "Nagel says I am capable of learning arithmetic. But I have not learned arithmetic. Therefore, Nagel is wrong!"

      You are aware that philosophical rationalists have offered some explanations as to why, despite having access to the world of forms, some people remain staring at the shadows on the cave walls?

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    2. "my reason has transcendent access to objective reality--and one thing that my reason has transcendent access to is that my reason has transcendent access to objective reality"

      Sounds very much like Landsburg on mathematics.

      Anyway, can Nagel point to any non-evolved thing with TATOR?

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    3. Ken, Nagel is both an atheist, and a self-described naturalist. He certainly would not dream of pointing to any such thing! What he has come to conclude (as has Chalmers, another atheist and naturalist) is that consciousness itself must somehow be a fundamental part of "nature."

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  3. Nagel chose the example. Nagel made the claim that it is his reason's direct access to objective reality that tells him: (a) the sun rises in the east, (b) if east is on my right I am facing north, and thus (c) when I see the sun rising on my right I know that I am facing north, and know that I know, and know that I know that I know.

    I, by contrast, point out that that example is not an example of transcendent reason grasping objective reality, but of a Humean guess that might be wrong--and was in fact wrong.

    I understand that you wish that Nagel had picked another, less silly example of reason's transcendent knowledge of objective reality. But that was the example that he picked. And that he picked that example is evidence of the--extremely weak--strength of his case...

    Brad DeLong

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    1. No, Brad, sorry, Nagel was not driving at the North Pole. In the context in which he was speaking, he was absolutely correct.

      Here is the syllogism fully expanded:

      p1) Where I live, the sun rises to the east.
      p2) I am driving in the area in which I live.
      p3) If I am driving south, the rising sun will be on my left.
      p4) The rising sun is on my right.
      c) I am not driving south.

      Nothing in the above is a "Humean guess." You have distorted Nagel's example into some universal empirical proposition like "Rising suns are always in the east." But of course that was not what he was saying: he was (quite clearly) saying two contradictory propositions cannot both be true at the same time. Your "empiricist turn" here is a complete red herring.

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    2. And: "his reason's direct access to objective reality that tells him the sun rises in the east"

      False, false, entirely made up by DeLong.

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  4. Speaking of dumb:
    "...I saw the sun rise at 11 o'clock by the compass."
    That means that the sun rose at north by northwest. The correct way to say what he means is "I saw the sun rise at my (or the plane's) 11 o'clock.

    I agree that the anecdote doesn't mean what he thinks it means and I'm surprised he thinks it shows anything. But if the quoted portion is representative of the argument in the book, I'm disappointed.

    I must confess I've never grasped the argument that if consciousness developed by random chance, nothing reason tells us about the material world is reliable. Am I misrepresenting the argument? I'd really love to understand this, because I've seen it so many times (or misunderstood it so many times), from people I have no doubt are smarter than me, as if it were devastating to materialism.

    The fact of the world's existence is the primary argument against materialism, and speaking just for myself, I need no other. Self-awareness and consciousness are no proof at all, because we don't understand them. They could well be materially explainable phenomena. Materialist claims that they have explained them are ludicrous, but non-materialists sputtering that that would mean our knowledge isn't really knowledge don't mean much. It might not be.

    Dr. DeLong used his rough monkey heuristics to make a very weak claim with certainty: that Dr. Nagel's rough monkey heuristics do not directly grasp transcendent reality. And he is right, as far as he goes.

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    1. Gabe, DeLong's gross misinterpretation of Nagel's example makes it a not very good example. But look at what Nagel is using the example to note:

      "In that case, I see that the *contradictory beliefs cannot all be true*, and I see it simply because it is the case. I grasp it directly...."

      In this case, the two beliefs were:
      1) The sun rises to the east; and
      2) I am heading south and the sun is rising to my right.

      Nagel chose to drop belief 2, which in ordinary cases is the right decision. DeLong triumphantly notes... sometimes it would be correct to drop belief 1!

      So DeLong's example actually *makes Nagel's case in the exact same way Nagel's example does* rather than contradicting it in any fashion.

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  5. I agree that the example is dumb, what I said at the end I meant as a more general assessment of the critique of a particular argument that I find persuasive (the critique, that is).

    If consciousness developed by random chance (via natural selection), then we have no cause to expect that reasoning from sensory input will provide reliable information about reality.

    Is that a fair rewording of the argument? If so, I don't understand why it's harmful to materialism. It's certainly not beneficial to theism, as far as I can tell.

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    1. "If so, I don't understand why it's harmful to materialism."

      The problem is this: once you assert your par. 2, then we have no cause to expect *any* reasoning provides reliable information about reality, only that it promotes survival. But if *that* is so, then we have no reason to expect the reasoning that is used to argue for materialism, or for evolution, for that matter, provides any reliable information about reality. So any materialist who accepts your par. 2 but continues to argue for materialism is making an argument that his own premises say probably can be safely ignored!

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  6. "I decide, when the sun rises on my right, that I must be driving north instead of south, it is because I recognize that my belief that I am driving south is inconsistent with that observation, together with what I know about the direction of rotation of the earth. I abandon the belief because I recognize that it could not be true.... I oppose the abolition of the inheritance tax, it is because I recognize that the design of property rights should be sensitive not only to autonomy but also to fairness..."

    Yes. Let's look at what Nagel is using the example to note.

    Brad DeLong

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    1. Brad, see my new post giving a careful textual analysis of Nagel's argument. You will see that your polar flight case is an *example* of what Nagel is talking about, rather than a counter-example.
      http://gene-callahan.blogspot.com/2012/11/trying-to-clear-up-delongs-muddle-for.html

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