Sunday 4 November 2018

My metaphysics (brief, uncompromising)

Because thinking is primary (from Rudolf Steiner) we immediately need to distinguish thinking - because thinking knows itself to be self-contradicting. We need (at least) a thinking that can withstand the scrutiny of thinking.

We need, that is, a coherent Primary thinking - i.e. which satisfies all other kinds of thinking - which explains all other kinds of thinking - which explains itself.

...Although the conviction that this explanation is true must be intuitive.

In short, we need a thinking that rests solidly upon intuition, and which is never contradicted by itself.  

A thinking that is both coherent and validly experienced.

To move to metaphysics; why should intuitive validity be true? (Rather than a delusion.) Only if it is built into Men by a personal creator god... This requires, minimally, a god that has equipped Man with the ability to know reality (including god itself).

However, this ability to know reality is Not the same as Man's original essence of being; Not the same as Man's agency.

Thinking is primary, agency is primary...

Therefore, there is an intrinsic potential conflict between agency and intuitive thinking.

In other words, Man can know - by Primary thinking; but Man's agency must choose to know.


Chiu ChunLing said...

I think that it is best to distinguish agency from volition.

Freedom requires three things, volition, agency, and knowledge.

Agency is simply that our own actions affect our outcomes, for better or worse. Volition is what makes actions ours as well as defining what outcomes we consider better or worse. Knowledge of which outcomes really are connected to our possible actions, so that our choice of actions becomes a real choice of outcomes.

It is easier to craft a situation in which we can see how lack of knowledge, without impairment of agency or volition, makes us unfree. The classic short story (though it is hardly a story as such) "The Lady and the Tiger" illustrates the problem of knowledge. If you have a unimpeded choice of two possible actions, but do not know which action leads to the outcome you prefer and which to the outcome you fear, then you are not meaningfully free, only at liberty.

It is more difficult to separate volition and agency. We can imagine a scenario in which there is only one door, or perhaps where there are still two doors but both lead to the same outcome (or outcomes which are different but not in any way that we care about, if there are two doors leading to the tiger, it hardly matters whether they are both the same tiger).

But volition is invisible from the outside, it is what makes a man prefer a lady over a tiger and presumably motivates him to the door he believes contains one over the other. This is precisely why we are able to argue over whether such a thing exists, even though all our intentional actions (including arguing) presuppose it. "Intentional" means nothing more than that you willed your action rather than having it happen for some reason against your will.

We can say of a series of events that the body and neurological processes of a given described entity were involved in their causal process or not. But we rely on intuition as to whether that means the involvement was voluntary, whether the entity corresponds to a actor rather than being merely an object.

This is why Mormon doctrine speaks of agency and knowledge as gifts of God. They are the two components of freedom that can be detected or affected from without. God can tell us what consequences arise from which actions. God can make it so that we are able to act, can provide that there is more diversity of possible consequences to our actions. That Heaven exists at all and that we have the opportunity to enter certain actions possible on our part, and that we are informed that Heaven exists and how we may get there, is all that God can do for us. If we do not of ourselves prefer Heaven and strive for it, then God can do nothing about that.

Our volition must be our own, and have always been so, or it is not our volition.

Zamfir said...

This is excellent Bruce. I have one quibble: I don't agree that the conviction that the explanation is true "must be intuitive" if by that you mean that the only way to be convicted of its truth is by some kind of sheer intuitive impression of its truth. On the contrary, I'd say the conviction is rationally forced on anyone who reflects seriously on the nature of our knowledge. Let me explain (and see if we actually disagree about this):

(1) Internal coherence is the only test of truth possible even in principle for us--since the evidence is always really some set of other beliefs or experiences, and those are mediated by further beliefs and assumptions, etc.

Therefore, (2) the only test of truth possible for us could never be valid unless internal coherence has some strong tendency to correspond to how things really are in the objective world.

But (3) there couldn't be any such tendency to correspondence unless our cognitive faculties are naturally oriented to truth--since there are far too many ways in which any other kinds of faculties would be radically misleading, and no way even to rationally-coherently believe that it's unlikely that we're in one of those bad situations unless we assume our faculties are naturally oriented to truth.

But (5) any naturalistic argument for thinking our faculties are even likely to be naturally oriented to truth begs the question--since it works only when empirical evidence is in the premises, and there is no rational-coherent basis for thinking we are even likely to have assessed the evidence properly except on the assumption that our faculties are naturally oriented to truth.

Therefore (6) the only non-question-begging argument for thinking our faculties are even likely to be reliable is non-naturalistic, i.e., includes the assumption of a benevolent Creator of our faculties who intended them to be oriented to truth.

Therefore (7) only if there is such a benevolent Creator could any test of truth possible for us have any tendency to be valid.

Now, of course, I would need to do a lot more work to spell out many sub-arguments here, but I hope you'll agree that this sketch is plausible. My point is that (plausibly) the conviction that an explanation like yours is true does not _have to be_ grounded in a sheer "intuition" but, on the contrary, it _may_ also be grounded in an a priori argument that any competent thinker _must_ endorse once he or she reflects long and hard on the very nature of our cognitive life. Or here is another way to make the claim: Such an explanation _may_ be rationally accepted merely on the basis of intuition, and understood as "thinking that explains all other thinking" and justifies it, etc. But once the thinker is forced to consider more rigorously his or her cognitive situation, the sheer intuitive force of the explanation is no longer enough; instead, further thinking that validates its intuitive force is now necessary to make the whole system of thoughts coherent, and the further thinking reveals that some form of theism is a rationally necessary part of any system of human thinking that is basically coherent.

Sorry for the long commment. I wasn't able to think of how to condense it any more than this. I wonder if you agree with my idea.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I tend to regard agency in a unified structural and historical sense - rather than functionally.

Agency is *because* we had a primordial essence, co-eternal with God; it is what is independent of God's creation, independent of our reality as sons and daughters of God... it stands outside of all these.

Agency is *why* we can genuinely (and indeed rationally) 'rebel' against God, reject God and creation.

@Zamfir - My writing here is descriptive, in the sense that it is this is how it works for me. I regard some kind of intuition of simple/ complete/ apprehended aspects of reality as the ultimate solidity of which I am capable.

Anonymous said...

I think this metaphysic's primary assumption is false. Feeling, emotion is primary. This is how we orient ourselves in the world. Thinking is secondary, a later addition.

You've implicitly admitted this by saying thinking relies upon intuition.

Chiu ChunLing said...

More generally, our belief that logic is valid is itself intuition, as is our actual practice of logical thinking. While you can lay out formal rules of inference and follow them, nobody does unless their intuition of what is and is not logical already confirms that those rules are valid.

Even if someone were to try, their lack of intuition about what is logical would doom them to fail.

Anyone who is good at logic has to be good at it at an intuitive level, able to 'leap' several inferences ahead, even if they are then trained and practiced in the art of breaking down a larger intuition into a series of simpler intuitions that are expressed as the basic rules of inference. Knowing which series of inferences lead you towards a significant rather than trivial result is a matter of intuition which cannot be reduced to a rule of inference.

As for "agency", I'm making a point about precise terminology which happens to touch on an important doctrinal issue. Being an agent means being a causal link, it does not require being a person or moral accountability for the chain of causality which passes through the agent. An agent can be determined or indeterminate without being volitional. Conversely, a being could be volitional without having any relevant agency, your will could be a mere spectator in your body with no power but merely wishing to believe that it was in control. Or you might not have a genuine will at all, you could be a philosophical zombie.

I see the great dispute not in whether humans are agents, but whether they are people and thus morally accountable for what they do. Of course I'm indifferent on that point, I see no functional difference in what would be just regardless of whether humans are people or automatons. The various efforts to make some practical scheme of what 'should' be done about applying justice based on whether humans have innate capacity for volition or not are incoherent. Gravity doesn't care whether you fall off a cliff intentionally or not. It doesn't matter whether you wish to use a parachute or not, what matters is whether you actually end up deploying it. The ecological laws of complex systems mean that certain kinds of behavior will lead to population crash, regardless of whether those behaviors were freely chosen or mere instinctive expression of genotype.

But intentions are essential to meaning.

Then again, so is agency. If you have volition, you can still fall off a cliff unintentionally, you can try and fail to deploy a parachute (including by just not having one). Without agency to serve your volition, you would be meaninglessly helpless. So I'm not saying that agency doesn't matter. I'm saying that it is something that could be taken away without you ceasing to be you, just like knowledge.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - I would say that feeling is an abstracted component of intuition - which does not exist in isolation. Whereas intuition, in the sense of direct knowing, is an experience of all consciousness; we begin by stuff knowing a lot of stuff; built-in.

BTW I'm not trying to say that 'everything' can be derived from one or two assumptions - like Descartes. I would regard that as a misguided modernistic quest. That would be misreading my intent.

Chiu ChunLing said...

"Abstracted" is probably the wrong word. "Mediated through the physical sensations" is probably a more accurate rendering.

Intuition is necessary to consciousness, but consciousness is not required for intuition. It's not just that we begin by knowing some things by intuition, but that we cannot begin otherwise.

While reducing all of our knowledge to that which can be derived from only a couple of assumptions is indeed taking things a bit too far, it certainly is good to try to identify as many of our fundamental assumptions as possible. And reducing the number of assumptions is a great help to that process (of course, we cannot really eliminate an assumption from our thought till we identify it, but it is not meaningful to say that you've identified all your assumptions if you can only keep a fraction of them in mind at a time, so eliminating contradictory assumptions--and even redundant ones--once you identify them is necessary).

Obviously, our real assumptions will differ from what we formally acknowledge for purposes of communicating with others. This is because communication requires that we identify the assumptions held by another person (whether or not we share all or even any of them). Communication breaks down when we rely on assumptions that the other party doesn't accept. So not only is a smaller set of assumptions helpful to the clarity of our own thinking, it also makes communicating easier (though some things still can't be communicated because they irreducibly rely on assumptions that are not universal).