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Archive for December, 2011

Are All Empirical Statements Merely Hypotheses?

Posted by allzermalmer on December 19, 2011

This blog will be based on an article done by W.T. Stace. It is called, Are All Empirical Statements Merely Hypotheses? It appeared in the philosophical journal known as The Journal of Philosophy Vol. 44, No. 2 (Jan. 16, 1947), pp. 29-38.

It is sometimes stated that all empirical statements are only probable. This was stated by those like, and especially by, Rudolph Carnap. One philosopher who disagreed, and said that some empirical statements are certain, was G.E. Moore. Stace shall agree with Moore, but with some qualifications. The statement that will be the exemplar of what is being talked about will be the statement of “This key is made of iron”. Now this statement is a singular statement like x is Y.

“To say that this proposition can never be more than probable means, I assume, that there must always be some doubt as to its truth. The question we have to get clear about is: what is the doubt, or what are the doubts, which those philosophers who say that such a statement can never be more than probable, have in mind?”

Some of the doubts could be as follows for what makes this empirical statement probable: the laws of nature are statistical, we could be deceived by some sort of demons or might be dreaming, or statements that we make rely on memory and our memory could be wrong. None of these things seems to be what has lead some to think that all empirical statements are probable. That is because these doubts are arising from practical doubt because of the frailty of human faculties.

The philosophers, like Carnap, seem to be relying on theoretical/logical doubt. This seems to be based on the logic at which we arrive at empirical truths, regardless of the frailties of particular human beings. They seem to be saying that we arrive at these empirical statements, like “this key is made of iron”, are arrived at by means of induction. And, through the means of induction, we never arrive at certainty by by means of probability.

Stace quotes Carnap on the basic idea of which is to lead to all empirical statements are merely probable. Take the statement that “This key is made of iron”. This proposition will be known as P1. We can test P1 by seeing if it is attracted by a magnet, if it is then we have partial verification of P1. So here is what Rudolph Carnap says, which leads him to state that all empirical statements are merely probable in his book Philosophy and Logical Syntax:

“After that, or instead of that, we may make an examination by electrical tests, or by mechanical, chemical, or optical tests, etc. If in these further investigations all instances turn out to be positive, the certainty of the proposition P1 gradually grows…but absolute certainty we can never attain. the number of instances deducible from P1 is infinite. Therefore there is always the possibility of finding in the future a negative instance.”

Now this is the logical problem that we face. Anytime we perform a new test, and the test is passed, it only adds a degree of probability to the statement that “this key is made of iron”. And the problem, further, is that we can’t completely verify the statement, or be certain of it, because we would have to complete an infinite number of observations. But this is not only practically impossible, it is also logically impossible.

But there is some ambiguity of what Carnap means, because there are two ways that this can be taken. The first thing could be about the different kinds of tests. For we noticed that he brought up the tests that could be done, like magnetic, electrical, chemical, and etc. So the it could be meant that the number of different kinds of test is infinite, which means we would have to make an infinite number of kinds of tests in order to achieve complete verification of the statements truth. But Stace has an objection to this position.

“If an infinite number of kinds of tests of the key were possible, this would imply that the key must have an infinite number of different characteristics or properties to be tested for. But even if an object can have an infinite number of characteristics, it would not be necessary to test for them all in order to identify the object as iron. All we need is to verify the defining characteristics of iron, which are certainly finite in number. and there is, of course, no logical difficulty about doing that.”

Now there is a second possible meaning for which Carnap has in mind. We could do a single test of a defining characteristic like “being attracted by a magnet”, or what other defining characteristics there might be. These tests only make the statement probable because we may find that the key is attracted one time and perform many of the same tests a thousand times in succession and find the same results as the first test. But we can never be sure that an instance will not turn up in the future in which the object will not be attracted by a magnet (problem of induction). “If the same thing happens in the same circumstances in a vast number of times, each time it happens makes it a little more probable that it will happen again, but it can never be quite certain.”

It is true that scientists perform the same experiments, this is the repeatably of the scientific tests. What one scientist is able to do in a test, it has to be reproducible by other scientists around the world. The same experiment can be repeated by the same experimenter over and over, or can be done by other experimenters around the world. But why are experiments repeated? Is it because each fresh instance of a positive result of the same test adds to the probability of the conclusion? It seems not.

Let us assume that we have an object that is to be tested. We want to test whether it is composed of a certain substance, which we can call X. Now let us suppose that there is only one defining characteristic of X which we call A. The scientist is testing for Y. If Y is found it is a sign that the substance is X. Now, is it true that A may be repeated many times. But why?

“It is not because he supposes that a barren repetition of instances of A makes it more probable that the substance is X. It is always, on the contrary, because he has doubts whether he has satisfactorily established by his observations of the presence of A. It is not the validity of the inductive inference from A to X that he is doubting, but whether A is really present…the doubt which the experimenter is trying to exclude is not any logical doubt about induction, but practical doubts arising from difficulties of observation, possible deficiencies in apparatus, difficulty in ensuring that the experiment is made in the exact conditions required, and so on. He is not doubting that the inductive premises will lead to an absolutely certain conclusion. He is doubting whether he has satisfactorily established the inductive premises.”

What is going on is that the scientist procedure is that a single observation is sufficient to establish an inductive conclusion with certainty. But this is only the case provided that the premises have been established. So it is not the inductive conclusion that is being questioned, but it is the premises that are being questioned. As Stace says, “What is implied by the scientist’s procedure is that a single observation or experiment is sufficient to establish an inductive conclusion with certainty, provided the premises have been established. I hold that the scientist is right.”

Stace locates the problem at three points. And this is the problem of how some philosophers have reached the conclusion that all empirical statements are merely probable.

(1.) One of the problems was how philosophers thought that scientists were repeating experiments to try to dispel logical doubts about the validity of induction. What the scientists were doing, in fact, was trying to dispel practical errors in observing or establishing the premises on which an induction rests. The question of probability doesn’t fall within the inductive argument, but outside of the inductive argument.

“That is to say, what is only probable is not that, if A is once associated with B, it will always be associated with B, but that A has actually been found associated with B; not that if a substance has a certain specific gravity it is gold, but that the substance now before me actually has that specific gravity…a natural mistake located the question of probability within the inductive argument instead of outside of it; have extrapolated it from the practical sphere of observation, measurement, and so on, where it actually belongs, to the logical sphere of the inductive inference in which in reality it has no place.”

So the problem is not in the inductive argument itself, but outside of the argument. What is outside of the argument is making sure that you have made an observation that meets with the premises of the argument. This is what constant testing is about, to make sure that the observations are in line with the premises. It is not the argument being questioned, but something outside of the argument that is being questioned.

(2.) Another reason that it seems that it is brought up that empirical statements are probable deals with the view of induction where an application of the inductive principle to a type of cases different from that of the Iron key. This other application is based on generalizing from observations. For example, we generalize from observations of a number from a certain class to the whole class. This means, from observing some white swans, we go on to generalize to the class of swans. From seeing a certain number of swans being white, and not observing any black swans, we go on to say that All swans are white. This will be dealt with a little later on.

(3.) This view seems to follow, as some philosophers think, from what David Hume had to say on the problem of Induction. Hume showed that we can’t “prove” a conclusion in an inductive argument. Because of this, some seem to have imagine that because we can’t prove it, we can at least make it probable. But it doesn’t seem that this follows from what Hume said on the problem of Induction. But Stace does think that something follows from what Hume said on this problem.

Imagine that we have a single instance of A being associated with B, and we’ve ruled out all practical doubts from possible errors of observation or experiment. We now have, logically, two positions that we can take up.

The first is that we can assume the validity of the principle of Induction. So, in this single instance, we can conclude that A is always associated with B, and our conclusion follows with absolute certainer from our two premises of single observed association of A with B and the principle of induction. With these two premises, the conclusion is certain to start with, and so there is no increasing probability or probability at all.

The second is that you may not assume that validity of the inductive principle. Now this means that we follow Hume, which means that there’s no logical connection between the premises and the conclusion of induction. This means, nothing follows from induction, neither certainty nor probability. No matter how many single instances that support our inductive conclusion, the probability never arises above zero. (Karl Popper would agree with this point). There is no connection to say that because the conclusion obtained, that we can say that the probability of the premises rises some more. They are disconnected. It is like having three dots on a sheet of paper. They are disconnected from each other. So when we affirm one, we can’t affirm any of the others because they’re not connected with one another.

“I have affirmed that, given the inductive principle, a single case will prove the inductive conclusion with certainty, I ought to give a formulation to the inductive principle which embodies this…”If in even a single instance, we have observed that a thing of the sort A is associated with a thing of the sort B, then on any other appearance of A, provided the other factors present along with A are the same on both occasions, it is certain that A will be associated with B.””

There is the clause of “provided the other factors present along with A are the same on both occasions.” This forms part of the principle, which comes down to “Same cause, same effect”. There is an example to help make this point clear. If the bell is struck in air then it produces sound. But it doesn’t follow that a bell struck in a vacuum will produce sound. This is because of the clause that was inserted into the principle. The factors aren’t the same, and so they’re not the same type of thing. But it does introduce a new inductive discovery.

There is one obvious objection that one could make to this principle. It could be said that this new interpretation is merely an assumption that is incapable of proof. So if this is a matter of being arbitrary choice of how to formulate it in terms of certainty and probability, then we ought not to assume more than is necessary to justify our sciences and our practice. So someone could say, “it will be quite sufficient for these purposes to assume that, if A is associated with B now, it will probably be associated with B at other times and places. On this ground the probability formulation should be preferred.”

But putting the term certainty in there is not meant to be arbitrary, but it is mean to represent a formulation of the assumption which has been the basis of science and practice. But maybe Stace should be more clear, which is what he tries to do like as follows:

“If you have one case of a set of circumstances A associated with B, and you are quite sure you have correctly established this one association, then, assuming the uniformity of nature, or the reign of law, or the principle of induction-call it what you will- a repetition of identically the same set of circumstances A is bound to be associated with B. For if not, you would have a capricious world, a world in which A sometimes produces B, and sometimes it does not, a world in which the kettle put on the fire may boil today, but freeze tomorrow. And this would clearly be a violation of the principle of induction which you have assumed.”

Now, if you assume the principle of induction, then a single case validates an induction. But now Stace will try to prove his second contention that if you don’t assume the principle of induction, your inductive conclusion aren’t probable at all and there’s no repetition of instances, so no matter how great the number, then the probability is never raised above zero.

To establish this position, Stace will assume that Hume is right. This means, between the premises and the conclusion of an inductive argument there is absolutely no logical connection at all. This means that there is nothing to establish the slightest probability because they’re is no connection between them. So if we affirm one part, it has no connection to another to raise the probability of this part that is connected to what we affirmed. They are so completely disconnected that there’s no logical connection to even bring up probability.

For example, here is what Al-Ghazali said about causality, which is the same position that David Hume took up, and this is based in some ways on the principle of induction. “The affirmation of one does not imply the affirmation of the other; nor does its denial imply the denial of the other. The existence of one is not necessitated by the existence of the other; nor its non-existence by the non-existence of the other.” So when we affirm one thing with induction, like a correct experiment, this in no way can increase any probability when the affirmation of one doesn’t imply the affirmation of the other. How can you raise the probability when what you affirm has no connection to anything else to raise the probability of this other thing? You can’t.

Stace goes on to try to examine the types of cases in which generalize a whole class from a number of instances that are smaller than the whole class. Try to generalize about a whole class of swans from observing a few of the swans that are suppose to make up the whole class. If we observe one swan and it is white,nto conclude that all swans are white, we might be accused of generalizing from one instance. But if we make 10,000 observations, we might think we have a degree of probability to support the generalization. We go on to make observe 1 billion swans and they were white. This might lead us to go on to admit that the hypothesis has become even more probable. So, someone might say to defend the probability view, that how can we deny that we probability and use the probability view of induction?

“But the inductive principle only holds with the proviso, “if the factors present along with A are the same” in subsequent repitition of A. And this case of the swans is simply a case in which it is extremely difficult to be sure that this is so. A in this case means the defining characteristics of the class swan, and B means whiteness. Now different swans will have, along with the defining characteristics A, a number of other characteristics. and these will differ with different individual swans, not to mention circumambient differences of environment. Thus the first case of A you observed was really ACDE, and this was associated with B. The second case was APQR, the third AXYZ. Now, of course, it does not follow from the principle of induction that because ACDE was associated with B, therefore APQR and AXYZ must be associated with B. For we do not have there that exact repetition of the same sets of circumstances which the inductive principle requires.”

To try to remedy the situation that we are in, we constantly repeat observations of this class of swans. Now if we keep making these observations of A, and they’re found to have B, then we think it becomes more and more likely that we have eliminated other certain possibilities, and raise the probability. We want to eliminate some of the accidental characteristics of certain swans. This would be something like they’re size. food they eat, and the climates that they live in. When we rule out sets of circumstances as irrelevant, they become more probable.

The fundamental reason why there is constant repetition of observation on new members of class is that although in theory the association of A with B, once it is observed must always hold, is because in practice we never get our cases of pure A. “We can not isolate the system. It is always mixed up with extraneous circumstances. Thus the doubt which we are trying to dispel by repeated observations has nothing at all to do with Hume’s doubt about the validity of induction…” That doubt can’t be dispelled, no matter now many numerous observations we make. But the doubt that we are trying to get rid of isn’t the logical doubt. The doubt we are trying to get rid of is the practical doubt from the enormous complexity of nature, our frailty of our intellects which are unequal with the task to disentangle the complexities, or the inadequacy of the instruments that we have at our disposal to isolate the system present.

Some, like Carnap, have divided knowledge into empirical knowledge and necessary propositions. Necessary propositions would be those like mathematics and logic. Now the empirical propositions could be considered doubtful because the practical doubts that arise from our human infirmities. But this means that we ought to have the same doubts in concern with mathematics. This is why we have people that check our work in mathematics, to make sure that we made no practical doubts in the process that we followed.

“There is one sense in which mathematical, or, in general, deductive conclusions are certain this may be called the logical or theoretical sense. And there is another sense, which may be called the practical sense, in which they are only probable, since the mathematician or the syllogizer may err in his reasoning. The mathematician may miscalculate, and the syllogizer may make any one of a hundred mistakes. And if practical doubts are not a ground for denying that, in an appropriate sense, mathematics is certain, then practical doubts can not be a ground for denying that, in an appropriate sense, empirical conclusions are uncertain.”

“As it is with mathematical truths, so precisely it is with empirical truths. There is one sense in which an inductive conclusion is certain, namely, the theoretical sense that it follows with certainity from a single observation plus the inductive principle. And there is another sense, the practical one, in which it is probable only, because there may be errors in observation, experimentation, and the like.”

“The statement that empiricial knowledge may be theoretically certain is, of course, subject to the proviso that we accept the inductive principle. If we don’t accept it, then, of course, empirical knowledge is not even probable. It has no validity at all. In no case does any question of probability enter into the matter.”

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Averroes, Al-Ghazali, and Causality

Posted by allzermalmer on December 16, 2011

During the time period between 1037 and 1198 in Muslim philosophy were there were two ideas that were prominent on the view of causality. Of that period there were two defenders of the opposing viewpoints of causality.. For the theologian side there was Al-Ghazali. For the philosopher side there was Averroes. Al-Ghazali held that things happened, by causality, contingently. For Averroes, things happened necessarily. But they both agreed that things were caused by God, but for slightly different reasons.

Al-Ghazali read up on the philosophers’ position of causality, and the philosopher that had the most influence, and was the biggest defender of necessary causation, was Avicenna. Al-Ghazali wrote a response to Avicenna’s stance of causality and the relation it shared to that of God. Avicenna talked about the necessitation of causality, and how things are to happen a certain way and could not happen otherwise. Al-Ghazali presented an argument of causality based on things happening contingently. And all these things were done by the will of God.

Being contingent affairs, things can always happen otherwise than they do, and Al-Ghazli is talking about, what it was known as during his times, as efficient causation. This means, that because the sun has risen every day in the east, this doesn’t mean that the sun won’t rise in the west tomorrow. There is nothing logically contradictory in holding to either position separately, but you can’t hold on to both positions at the same time. They are contradictory. So we know that either one of those two things will happen. Which happens, we cannot say that it can’t happen otherwise than one way, like the sun will always rise in the east.

Al-Ghazli likes to use the analogy of cotton and a fire. Imagine, in modern day way, that we have a lighter in our hand and a piece of fresh picked cotton. We can put the flame right under the cotton so that the flame from the lighter is seen to be in “contact” with the cotton. We notice that the cotton starts to catch on fire and turn black as well. We don’t notice anything necessary between them, or for one thing to follow the other. Thus, we don’t observe that the fire has to make the cotton turn black and catch fire. We just notice this correlation between these two different events. And this happens because this is the way that God willed it to happen.

God can always, the next time we put the lighter under the cotton and make contact with the cotton, for the cotton to not catch fire or turn black. God has decided that, for this instance, the cotton should not catch fire. There is nothing that prevents God from doing this, because there is no logical contradiction for it not happening. Thus, when Abraham was surrounded by fire and never caught on fire, that he was not burnt. God did not will it to happen, and broke from the way that God usually willed for things to happen, like they did in past incidents.

We can have two propositions about causality. [1.]At time T^1, a person swallows a date while hungry. [2.]At time T^2, the person’s hunger is gone. Affirming the first proposition doesn’t entail the second proposition. Nor does the non-existence of state of events entail the non-existence of another state of affairs. For God, anything can be done that is possible. Thus God can will a person to remain hunger even after they ate a date, or God can make take aways someone’s hunger when they don’t eat. Things only have those dispositions for which God wills at any instance.

The philosopher Averroes responded to Al-Ghazali’s take on causality, and tried to show the response for which the philosophers have to the theologians take on causality. He wanted to point out that the philosophers do not deny that those things that are possible, but say that there are necessary things as well. Averroes stated that because we can’t observe the cause of certain effects by the senses that we only need to search harder for those causes that brought about these effects. This is because things have certain essences in them that make them comply to do certain things and respond in certain ways. This forms the necessary connection between cause and effect.

Averroes holds that there are four causes, and not just the efficient causation that Al-Ghazali dealt with. Besides efficient causation, there is the cause of form, the cause of matter, and the cause for the end. These other causes play into effects, and the stance from which necessary causation is linked. Averroes points out that when we have two things, that one is active and the other passive. From this, we can draw one relation from infinity of things that could happen between them or come from them causing on one another. But having this one relation limits those things that could come from all the possibilities that aren’t logically contradictory.

One of the reasons for this is that certain things are a certain way. The necessity seems to be in that of the name and definition. For example, it is necessary, for fire to keep its name and definition, that it keeps its “burning power”. Thus, it is similar to “All bachelors are unmarried males”. This means that things are limited unto the meaning of things, and that they can’t deviate from them based on this. Thus, based on the definitions and name, in conjunction with the four causes, things happen necessarily. This is also related to things being one, which is based on its essence. This is what the definitions and names are supposed to capture, which is the essence of things. The very essence of things means that only certain necessary things can happen, and this helps to make cause and effect a necessary connection. There is a necessary connection between cause and effect.

So, for example, let us go back with the example of the date. . [1.]At time T^1, a person swallows a date while hungry. [2.]At time T^2, the person’s hunger is gone. Now there is a necessary connection between these two propositions. The first of them would be from the four causes. There would be the necessary connection between the forms, the matter, the efficient cause, and the final cause. But within this it comes about because of the very essence of the date and the human being. There is an active and passive connection between their essences in this situation, and this means that based on the definition of these essences, one thing follows from necessity because of the other.

One of the major themes involved is that God knows all things, and knowing them, while being omniscient, entails that things necessarily happen because of God knowing them. God knows all the essences of things, which means that God knows the active and passive relation between things at all times. This also entails that God knows the four causes, and what necessarily follows from these things. It is also based on God’s will, because only things that have knowledge can have a will. Thus, when it comes to a causal connection, when we affirm one thing, it necessarily follows the entailment of the second thing. Thus, when we affirm the cause, it necessarily follows that a certain consequent shall follow, and this is the effect.

What seems to be one of the major differences would be involved with the definition of things, or at least their very essence which is trying to be captured by the definition of something. Al-Ghazali doesn’t seem to be affirming the essence of things, while Averroes seems to be affirming. One of the other differences is that Al-Ghazali isn’t using the other three causes, and is only focusing on one of those causes. Averroes is using four causes, which means that it is using efficient cause like Al-Ghazali exclusively focuses on. What they do both agree on, though, is that God is the cause of things, in some way or form.

For Averroes, things happen out of necessity because God knows the essence of all things, and God knowing something entails that it happens out of necessity. While for Al-Ghazali, things happen because God wills them to happen. One can allow for miracles because God decides to break “habit” of usually having the cotton catch fire when it is touched by a flame, like God did with Abraham. For Averroes, there are miracles of this sort as well. God knowing that Abraham will not catch fire means that Abraham will not catch fire. Things happen out of necessity because of this. God’s knowledge of things is the cause of them.

One way to look at this deals with the “Why” question. This can be broken down into two parts. It is that something produces the item, or that something explains the need or function of something. Al-Ghazali deals with what produces the item, while Averroes deals with explaining the need or function of something. The need for an explanation based on the function is the necessity of why it happened, while dealing with the something that produces an item is one that is contingent, and has no real function for something being brought about out of necessity. Both the theological side of Al-Ghazali and the philosophical side of Averroes take different stands on these positions. One only takes the first parts of something that produces an idea, while the second take the first part and also incorporates the second.

For Averroes, the world and God are both co-eternal. And God is the sufficient cause of all things. There is the essential cause and the efficient cause. These are based on teleological cause and efficient cause. When the essential cause exists, it necessitates the efficient cause. But for Al-Ghazali, there is no real essential cause. There is the efficient cause from which it is God’s will from which things happen as they do. There is no necessity, or essential cause, for which things must follow as they do. The only thing that would come close to this would be based on God’s will for things to happen in a certain way that they do. And one of the differences for this is that Al-Ghazali held that the world has not always existed and that God created the world, which is to negate the eternal existence of the world. While for Averroes, the world has always existed alongside the world. This is where the essential cause is affirmed by Averroes and denied by Al-Ghazali.

One of the other differences between Averroes and Al-Ghazali based on their idea of causality is that God can only do things out of necessity for Averroes. While for Al-Ghazali, God can do anything that isn’t self-contradictory and doesn’t have to do things out of necessity. One way to look at this is that they both uphold causality of some sort. But for Al-Ghazali, the efficient causation holds, but it is not because those things that we attribute as the cause is what brought about the effect. There is no link, which we find through the senses, which show this link. Thus, if we hold to the causal relation of A and B, Al-Ghazali doesn’t say that it is because of A that B happened. While for Averroes, it is because of A that B happened. One of the reasons that Al-Ghazali objected to the necessarianism of causality is that it seems to reject miracles, and the miracles are attested to in the Qur’an.

One of the big differences is that one holds that there must be a cause for something, which is what Averroes holds to. While on the other hand, for Al-Ghazali, things don’t need causes in order for them to happen. Now what is understood here is that of a necessary cause, or an essential cause. These would be the four causes. Thus, Al-Ghazali objects to these four causes, and that is because they are based on the Greek philosophers, who were pagans. So Al-Ghazali objects to these ideas, and presents an idea of causality which is devoid of the pagan influences, but also consistent with the view of God in the Qur’an.

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On Causality by Al-Ghazali

Posted by allzermalmer on December 16, 2011

This blog will be based on one chapter of a book done by  the Arabic philosopher Al-Ghazali. This blog will be derived from the 17th discussion/chapter in his book The Incoherence of the Philosophers, which is based on the idea of causation. You can also find his take on causality on page 96 of this PDF.

Al-Ghazali was, what can apply, an Islamic philosopher. He eventually took up Sufism, and was also part of the Ash’arites. He went after some of the influential Islamic Philosophers vies like Al-Farabi and Avicenna (Ibn Sina). These two philosophers held a view of necessary causation. And this is where Al-Ghazali brings up the Ash’arite view, and the one used against the idea of Necessary Causation. And the view espoused by the Ash’arites and Al-Ghazli becomes known as Occasionalism.

I will quote some of the arguments and points made by Al-Ghazli in his book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. These quotes will be taken from the PDF given above, and the chapter starts on page. 96 with the title of “Refutation of their belie in the impossibility of a departure from the natural course of events.”

“In our view, the connection between what are believed to be the cause and the effect is not necessary. Take any two things. This is not That; nor can That be This. The affirmation of one does not imply the affirmation of the other; nor does its denial imply the denial of the other. The existence of one is not necessitated by the existence of the other; nor its non-existence by the non-existence of the other. Take for instance any two things, such as the quenching of thirst and drinking; satisfaction of hunger and eating; burning and contact with fire…or any other set of events observed to be connected together…They are connected as the result of the Decree of God (holy be His name), which preceded their existence. If one follows the other, it is because He has created them in that fashion, not because the connection in itself is necessary and indissoluble. He has the power to create the satisfaction of hunger without eating, or death without the severance of the head, or even the survival of life when the head has been cut off…”

This is the stated view of Al-Ghazli and the Ash’arite. Now some of the philosophers who believe in necessary connection, of those times, might give a certain refutation or questioning of what Al-Ghazli stated. So Al-Ghazali will give an example of what he is talking about with causality, and how certain objections might be presented. Al-Ghazali uses the example of fire and cotton, (in distinction from David Hume’s example with billiard balls.)

“Since the inquiry concerning these things (which are innumerable) may go to an indefinite length, let us consider only one example-viz., the burning of a piece of cotton at the time of its contact with fire. We admit the possibility of a contact between the two which will not result in burning, as also we admit the possibility of the transformation of cotton into ashes without coming into contact with fire. And [the philosophers] reject this possibility.”

Now there are three objections that can be presented. The first thing, possibly, raised by someone who holds into necessary causation, could be along these lines: Fire is, by itself, the agent of burning. It is by it’s very nature to take part of burning, and it cannot refrain from doing it because it does it not by choice. When it comes into contact with a something that is receptive to it, an effect follows necessarily. But Al-Ghazali has a response to something along these lines.

“We say it is God-who through the intermediacy of angels, or directly- is the agent of the creation of blackness in cotton; of the disintegration of its parts, and of their transformation into a smouldering heap of ashes. Fire, which is an inanimate thing, has no action. How can one prove that it is an agent? The only argument is from the observation of the fact of burning at the time of contact with fire. But observation only shows that one is with the other, not that it is by it and has no other causes than it.”

There could be an objection to this, by the philosophers. But they might accept a part of the argument, but have their own twist to it. They will accept that we observe one with the other, not that it is by it and has no other cause. They would say something along these lines: This is not That, but both of them have their own capacities which allow us to distinguish one from the other. We can take the example of how one things softens under the sun and another hardens under the sun. This is because They are different receptive capacities in these objects, and they necessarily respond like This and like That out of the necessity of their capacity when acted upon by another certain capacity.

Al-Ghazali, in a previous section of the Incoherence of the Philosophers, he refutes the idea of the capacity of things that they must necessarily act in a certain, and he references back to that previous refutation. That is a long argument in itself, and shall be skipped over here.

There is another objection the Philosophers could raise: Now that you deny necessary causation, and replace it with contingent causation, this would mean that anything could happen at any moment. For example, you could drop the ball from your hand and it would go shooting up into the sky and outer space. It could turn into an elephant and crush your hand, and other logically possible things like this. This would mean that God has no well-defined course in which He brings things about, and that what God brings together as cause and effect would be arbitrary.And Al-Ghazali responds.

“If you could prove that in regard to things which ‘can exist’ there cannot be created for man a knowledge that they ‘do not exist’, then these absurdities would be inescapable. We have no doubt in regard to the situations described by you. For God has created for us the knowledge that He would not do these things, although they are possible. We never asserted that they are necessary. They are only possible-i.e., they may, or may not, happen. It is only when something possible is repeated over and over again (so as to form the Norm), that its pursuance of a uniform course in accordance with the Norm in the past is indelibly impressed upon our minds.”

“Now, if in extraordinary times, God breaks the Norm by causing such a thing to happen, then our cognitions (that a certain possible thing ‘does not happen’) will slip out of our hearts and will not be recreated by Him. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent us from believing that: (a.) something may be possible, and may be one of those things to which God’s power extends; (b.) in spite of its being possible, it might have been known as a rule in the past that God would not do it; and (c.) God may create for us a knowledge that He would not do it in this particular instance. So the philosophers’ criticism is nothing but obstinate fault-finding.”

Al-Ghazali goes on further to meet the criticism of the philosophers, and this is a partial response to the criticism of the capacities of things, which is suppose to be part of their necessary connection.

“We agree that fire is so created that when it finds two pieces of cotton which are similar, it will burn both of them, as it cannot discriminate between two similar things. At the same time, however, we can believe that when a certain Prophet was thrown into the fire, he was not burnt-either because the attributes of fire had changed, or because the attributes of the prophet’s person had changed. Thus, there might have originated-from God, or from the angels- a new attribute in the fire which confined its heat to itself, so that the heat was not communicated to the prophet. Hence, although the fire retained its heat, its form and its reality, still the effect of its heat did not pass onwards. Or there might have originated a new attribute in the prophet’s body which enabled it to resist the influence of fire, although it had not ceased to be composed of flesh and bones.”

“We see that one who covers himself with asbestos sits down in a blazing furnace, and remains unaffected by it. He who has not observed such a thing will disbelieve it. Therefore, our opponents’ disbelief in God’s power to invest fire or a person’s body with a certain attribute which will prevent it from burning, is like disbelief on the part of a man who has not observed asbestos and its effect. Things to which God’s power extends include mysterious and wonderful facts. We have not observed all those mysteries and wonders. How, then, can it be proper on our part to deny their possibility, or positively to assert their impossibility?”

Now the philosophers might agree that God’s power extends to all that is possible and  that no power extends to that which is impossible. Everything has been divided into three kinds. [1.] an impossibility that is known; [b.] the possibility that is known; and [c.] those things we are hesitant in affirming their possibility or their impossibility. So what does Al-Ghazali mean by “impossibility”? Would it be a combination of affirmation and negation in the same thin, then say those two things don’t presuppose the existence of the other.

For example, it seems that Al-Ghazali is saying that (a.) God has the power to create will without knowledge of the object of will; (b.) God has the power to cause movement of a dead man’s hand to look like they are alive and write a book while holding a conversation with you; (c.) or God could cause a body to move when the person is not alive and in the body and etc. The problem becomes that when these things are possible, all distiniction between voluntary and spasmodic movements are gone. “No controlled action will be an indication of knowledge or power on the part of the agent.” This, indirectly, points out the problem of Other Minds. We could say, with the problem of the “dead man” moving looking like they’re alive, that we can’t tell if their conscious like us or if they’re just machines/zombies without consciousness like us.

Al-Ghazali responds to their point in this manner, but first responds to what he takes to be “impossible”.

“No one has power over the Impossible. What the Impossible means is the affirmation of something together with its denial; or the affirmation of the particular together with the denial of the general; or the affirmation of two together with the denial of one. That which does not fall under these heads is not impossible. And that which is not impossible is within power.”

“The combination of blackness and whiteness is impossible; for by the affirmation of the forms of blackness in a subject we understand the negation of whiteness, and the existence of blackness. Therefore, if the negation of whiteness is understood by the affirmation of blackness, then the affirmation of whiteness together with its (understood) negation will be impossible.”

“It is not possible for one person to be in two places at the same time. For by his being in the house we understand his not-being in the not-house. Therefore, it is impossible to suppose his being in not-house together with his being in house which only means the denial of his being in not-house.”

“Nor is it possible that knowledge should be created in inorganic Matter. For by inorganic Matter we understand something which has no cognition. If cognition is created in it, it will be impossible to call it inorganic Matter in the sense in which we understand it. If in spite of the new-created cognition, the stone does not cognise, then it will be impossible to name as knowledge this new-created thing which does not enable its subject to have any cognition whatsoever. So this is the reason why the creation of knowledge in inorganic Matter is impossible.”

“When we say that blood becomes sperm, we mean that one and the same Matter has put off one form to take on another. So the final outcomes is that one form has passed away, and another has come into existence, while Matter remains unchanged beneath successive forms. Again, when we say that water becomes air because of heat, we mean that Matter which had received the form of water has now discarded that form to receive another. So the Matter is common; it is only its attributes which change. Similarly, therefore, we may speak of the Rob becoming a serpent, or of dust becoming an animal. But between the Substance and the Accident there is no common Matter.”

This is a response to point (b.), which is about the person that we took to be dad looking like they’re alive and writting a book and talking with us.

“…we must say that in itself it is not impossible. For we ascribe all temporal events to the will of One who acts by choice. But it is to be rejected insofar as it is subversive of the usual course of events. Your statement that the possibility of such a thing will destroy the probative value of the adjustment of an action is an indication of knowledge on the agent’s part is not true. For it is God who is the agent; He makes the adjustment, and performs the action-through the dead man.”

Now Al-Ghazli has a response to point (c.), which is based on us not being able to tell the difference between voluntary and spasmodic movements. And this point also deals with the Problem of Other Minds.

“As regards your statement that thee remains no distinction between voluntary and spasmodic movements, we will say that we know such a thing from ourselves. When in our own case, we observe a distinction between the two states, we designate the cause of distinction as power. And then we conclude that what actually happens is only one of the two possible things-i.e. either the state in which movement is produced by power, or the state in which it is produced not-by-power. So when we look at someone else, and see many coherent movements, we acquire the knowledge of his power over the movements. Now, this knowledge is one of those cognitions which are created by God, and which depend upon the continuance of the regular course of events. Knowledge of this kind can only tell us of the existence of one of the two possible things. But, as shown earlier, it does not prove the impossibility of the alternative.”

And such is part of Al-Ghazli’s view on causality, or more specifically, Efficent Causation. His position touched on problem of Other Minds, Things continuing as they have before (Uniformity of Events), Change in things to keep uniformity of Matter, and God is the cause of all events.

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Parmenidean Dogma

Posted by allzermalmer on December 9, 2011

This blog is based off an article done by W.T. Stace. The article is called Parmenidean Dogma, and appeared in the philosophical journal Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 90 (Jul., 1949), pp. 195-204.

“By the Parmenidean dogma I mean the proposition that “something cannot come out of nothing.””

We usually hear of this first proposition, and also hear of the second proposition that usually follows from it, i.e. “something cannot become nothing.” But we shall be dealing with the first proposition, which is the Parmenidean dogma. It is called the Parmenidean dogma because Parmenides was the first person who made it into an explicit form of an abstract metaphysical proposition. The idea might have been part of human thinking before Parmenides, but he was the first to formalize it.

It is not hard to see that this dogma could come out of common experience. We have the examples of trying to get a rabbit out of an empty top-hat, cannot get blood out of a stone, cannot take money out of an empty wallet. These are part of some of our basic experiences, and these were taken on to become part of the Parmenidean dogma. We can find that something suddenly appears before us, and we will almost immediately wonder where it came from. We ask, “Where did it come from? It must have been somewhere all the time. It couldn’t have come out of nothing.”

“Just as the common experiences of stones which are hard and grey, or leaves which are green and soft, gave rise to the metaphysical concept of substance, so these other common experiences gave rise to the Parmenidean dogma. Thus common-sense truths are rashly erected into universal metaphysical principles of all being. They harden into dogmas. they solidify into prejudices so deep that in a little while men say that anything which contradicts them is “inconceivable”.”

These types of dogma help to fetter human advancement. The reason is that we come to hold these idea, and yet at the same time we never try to advance beyond it, because it seems inconceivable for them to be any different. Take for example Euclidean geometry. This looks to be our common-sense idea of the geometry of the world that we experience. From this position, it seemed inconceivable that two straight lines could enclose a space. But, however, this all changed with the non-Euclidean geometry, which was invented by Georg Riemannan

This dogma happens to be very influential, and can be found throughout western thinking. For example, it has been held in Western philosophy for a long time because of Parmenides. It has also become part of our thinking in science, or at least in many scientific thinking. As has already been pointed out, it is also part of our common-sense thinking as well.

Now Parmenides used his idea of in a very interesting way, and one that helped to make him famous. He would talk about substance and being, and these were to be major categories of how the world is. But it would also prohibit certain things.

“Change always involves the arising of something new, something which wasn’t there before, something therefore which has come out of nothing. If an object changes from green to red, then the red has come from nowhere, and the green has disappeared into non-existence. And as this contradicts the dogma it cannot have happened.”

But this seems to contradict the way we like to view things as well. That is because it makes change look like an illusion, and that’s even the conclusion that Parmenides stated based on the Parmenidean Dogma. For we do notice a change in colors, going from one color to another, or something change from one thing to another, or one state to another state. But this shows that there is change, which means that it contradicts the dogma. This would seem to indicate that there is something wrong with the Parmedian Dogma. This is involved with the Problem of Change, and one can read Heraclitus to see what happens with the Problem of Change and what can come from this.

This became such a problem back in the days of the ancient philosophers, that Aristotle came out with an answer to the problem of change. It seems to come out and try to answer the problem with a certain invocation of potential.

“Aristotle, as we know, believed he had “solved” the problem of change-a problem artificially created by the dogma and otherwise non-existent-by inventing the categories of potentiality and actuality. The rabbit was, by means of these categories, successfully produced out of the top-hat. This was very awkward because we had just looked into the top-hat and seen that the rabbit was not there. There is only one solution. The rabbit was in the hat all the time. But it wasn’t an actual rabbit. It was a potential rabbit. That is why we couldn’t see it when we looked. Potential rabbits are invisible.”

These ideas, which are developed by Parmenides, went on to influence how people reacted to it. Aristotles response went on to influence many generations of people with his response. This went on down through Aquinas of the Middle Ages, down to the present times that we live in. This, in some ways, goes to show the influences that the Parmenidean dogma went to have on philosophy and some reactions to it. “It was Parmenides who was responsible for potentiality”, because developed it to continue with the dogma in some form.

We can even find that it has even become a dogma of science. Alan Guth, in his book The Inflationary Universe, helps make this point when he says that, “”Being is ungenerable and imperishable,” wrote Parmenides in about 500 B.C., in a passage that helped to create the philosophical approach that today we call science.” So we can find that science does rely on this dogma as well, and forms one of the major foundations for science, and our view of the world. It comes from common sense experience, and we come to find it hard to think of a world that doesn’t follow such a principle.

“Clearly [Parmenidean Dogma] produced the scientific maxims of the conservation of matter and the conservation of energy. These ideas are not empirical generalizations. They are simply a priori deductions from the dogma…It is plain that scientists supposed that matter could neither be created nor destroyed because they supposed it inconceivable that something could come out of nothing or go into nothing.”

Now, it is true that we don’t see matter coming in and out of existence. We find the conservation of matter to be inline with our observations and with common-sense. It agrees with our observation of not finding rabbits coming out of empty top-hats, or finding money coming out of an empty wallet. This is what has helped to suggest the conservation of matter to begin with. But it is plain that these observations we have made are insufficient to base on which to found a universal principle about the nature of matter throughout the universe. But at least we can rely on experience for this one, to a certain degree.

But the conservation of energy itself is in a worse off position than that of matter. This isn’t support by common observation, but is flatly contradicted by it. Imagine that two people are throwing a baseball to each other, over a house. When one person throws it up into the air and over the house, there is a certain amount of kinetic energy being used. But now imagine that the ball gets stuck on the roof and doesn’t move from the roof in a week. What we notice through experience is that the energy was there when it was thrown, but disappeared when the ball got stuck on the roof. This energy disappeared. But, when a storm comes by and dislodges the ball and falls off the roof, we notice that the same amount of kinetic energy appears again. The energy was there, disappeared, and the same exact amount of energy reappeared. So what happened to the energy during that week of being lodged on the roof?

“If you consult experience, observation, the answer is that it had gone out of existence altogether. But this does not square with dogma. So the scientist invented the fiction of potential energy- Aristotle’s Parmenidean concept- to make it square. Not only is this concept supported by no evidence whatsoever, but it is in this case even flatly self-contradictory. For potential energy simply means no energy which is not now energizing. It is non-energetic energy.”

This is partially covered in another blog done here, by the same author.

But now, in recent physics, the two principles of conservation of matter and conservation of energy have disappeared. For, now both principles are combined together to form a new principle. This new principle is the principle of conservation of matter-energy. This means that energy and matter turn into one another. Matter can turn into energy, and energy can turn into matter. This follows the Parmenidean dogma, because two principles form the new single principle of conservation of matter-energy. Something still cannot come out of nothing. This is helps bring out the idea of form and matter, which seems to be related to the Parmenidean dogma.

“We suppose that two quite different things are really, in spite of their difference, the same thing, because one is a different form of the other or because they are both forms of something underlying. Another variant of the same idea is the notion of “aspects”. There are supposed to be different aspects of the same thing.”

Now an empiricist might agree to talk of such a way, the idea of form and matter, but they do not hold to it being true. It’s just a mode of speech that we use. For you can say that A and b are two forms of one thing, then either this one thing is an underlying substratum that’s unempirical, or you mean that one thing is A itself or B itself. Now, if you say that A is form of something which, by the very hypothesis under question, is different from it, specifically b, you are just talking nonsense. Purple cannot be a form of red, would be an example.

We find the category of form everywhere. For example, we say that diamond and charcoal are said to be forms of the same thing known as carbon. But charcoal and diamond are palpably different things. We also hear that heat, light, and electricity are different forms of energy. So, with all this in mind, how is this a result of the Parmenidean dogma? Empirically what is observed in the cases just mentioned would follow similarly to this. The charcoal disappears into nothing, and the diamond appears from nowhere. The heat disappears out of existence, and the light comes out of nothing.

Instead, what we do to try to avoid this, is to make an equivalence to be set up. This way we can say that heat is replaced with light, light replaced with the original amount of heat doesn’t affect this procedure. This just becomes a part of the regularity and orderliness in the changes that happen in the world. But all these observed facts contradict the Parmenidean dogma, but we say that heat has never gone out of existence and has exited for all time. We just say that it has existed in another form.

“The category of form in this case does the same work as the category of potentiality in the case of the [baseball] thrown up on the roof. And the one is as much a fiction as the other. And both fictions have been developed in our culture in order to square observed facts with the Parmenidean dogma.”

Now, one position in philosophy is that of causation. Certain theories have been proposed, and one of them has been based on the Parmenidean dogma. This type of idea is based on the cause and effect being identical. This is the idea of identity theory of causation. This means that all effects are completely and literally identical to their causes, which in turn means that there is no such thing as change in the world. But some cannot accept that there is no change in the world, and would thus have to say that the effect is another “form” of the cause. This helps bring out Parmenidean origin of the identity theory. This is because the effect must be identical with the cause, because if this were not the case, then something came into existence in the effect that was not in existence before. This means that something has come out of nothing.

Some try to save this theory of causation, and come to say that the cause and effect might not be identical but they’re at least alike. But this, as well, is contradicted by experience. Lighting is totally unlike its effect, that of thunder. One is a visual phenomena, and the other is an auditory phenomena. But this theory cannot even be made clear because the fact of resemblance is a matter of degree, and this makes it impossible for the theory to say how much resemblance there is between the cause and effect are required. And it is certainly possible that everything in the universe resembles everything else in some of it’s characteristics, no matter how much unlike they are.

The theory of identical causation, and it’s resemblance off-shoot, is part of the baseless objection to Cartesian dualism. For we usually consider it “inconceivable” for mind and matter to interact, or could influence one another. This, evidently, is because they’re suppose to be unlike one another. So the cause is unlike the effect, and find that the Parmenidean dogma ha a hand in the objection to Cartesian dualism.

There is another example, which is that of Absolute Idealism. One tenet of Absolute Idealism is that the higher cannot come out of the lower.This means that beaut and goodness cannot come out of nothing, and this would be involved if they came out of what is lower than themselves. Thus, they must have always been in existence in some say. They must be eternal.

“Indeed, on the Parmenidean view everything must be eternal, since nothing can ever come into existence. This is in fact the theory of absolute idealism, since it holds that if anything does come into existence it cannot be real, but is only an appearance. From this point of view absolute idealism is in all its expanse nothing but a vast elaboration of the Parmenidean dogma.”

Now some might question the absolute idealist, and one response would be that the pre-existent values in the absolute are invisible like the potential rabbit. This is what is meant by saying that they’re transcendental. And transcendental means not phenomenal, and not phenomenal means not visible. But if you give up the Parmenidean dogma, then all of this disappears.

Now it will be maintained that the Parmenidean dogma is either an empirical generalization or a necessary truth. Now it can’t be an empirical generalization when we’ve noticed that there’s contradictories of it being an empirical generalization. Thus, we’re left to come up with it as a necessary truth. And it would seem that many, especially Parmenides thought of it as a necessary truth. And Parmenides even used it to contradict experience, and yet such an idea is common and doesn’t strictly come from Parmenides himself. And it comes to be seen as “inconceivable” for something to come out of nothing, but this is like two straight lines enclosing space with Euclid’s geometry.

Now it seems that David Hume settled this issue of the Parmenidean dogma not being a necessary truth. He brought this up in “Why a cause is always necessary“. His answer to the Parmenidean dogma being a necessary truth doesn’t have to deal with necessary connection, and are independent of it. His answer of the Parmenidean dogma not being a necessary truth would still be valid even if we admit of necessary connection. What Hume argued against was that “whatever beings to exist must have a cause of existence.”, which we can call the causal proposition, was a necessary truth.

“[Hume] points out that we can easily imagine- he is using the word in the strict sense of having a mental image of- we can easily imagine something coming into existence without a cause.Thus you can easily imagine a billiard ball suddenly appearing on the table here, literally beginning to be, without any cause, or if you like, coming from nowhere…Now it is impossible to have an image of something which is self-contradictory. For instance, you cannot imagine a round square. Therefore the fact that you can imagine a thing or event proves that it is not self-contradictory. Therefore since you can imagine a thing coming into existence without a cause, this proves that it is not self-contradictory. Hence the causal proposition cannot be an analytic a priori truth.”

Now there is another type of “proof” that can be presented.

“When it is said that a thing is self-contradictory, this is of course elliptical. Only propositions can. So when it is said that a thing is self-contradictory what is meant is that two contradicting propositions follow from the assertion of its existence. Therefore if anyone says that something is self-contradictory we ought always to ask him to set out the two contradicting propositions. It follows that, if a thing or event can be completely described without remained in a set of propositions none of which contradicts another one, then the thing or event cannot be self-contradictory.”

Now let us imagine that some thing or event, X, comes into existence out of nothing, passes from non-existence to existence, at time T. We can describe this in only two propositions, (1.) that X did not exist before time T, and (2.) that X existed after time T. These propositions don’t contradict one another, because they deal with different times. Now, if it were said that X both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time, then this would be self-contradictory. Thus, X coming into existence out of nothing is not self-contradictory and not a necessary truth. Thus, it is neither an empirical generalization and a necessary truth.

This can also be applied to causal propositions. Suppose that X came into existence at time T without a cause. This can be described with 3 propositions. (1.) X did not exist before time T, (2.) X existed after time T, (3.) before time T there was no event which stood in the causal relation to X. None of these propositions contradict one another. Now this shows that it’s not an analytic (a priori) truth, and we seem to be left with a synthetic (a priori) truth.

Now it is commonly held that there are no synthetic a priori truths. But this being the case now doesn’t mean that there are no synthetic a priori truths. So if the Parmenidean dogma is a sythetic a priori truth, then it will have the character of being intuitively necessary. But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. For example, children don’t seem to have a problem of thinking of fairies popping out of nowhere in front of them, and things of this nature. They find it intuitive that this can happen, which means it’s not intuitively necessary that the Parmenidean dogma is a synthetic a priori truth. Some propositions in mathematics seem intuitively necessary, but these are analytic truths and we can prove them step by step. But the Parmenidean dogma doesn’t look to be demonstrably step by step, and thus not intuitively necessary. So it seems that the Parmenidean dogma is like someone who says that “the Earth is flat”. It might seem intuitively necessary that the earth is flat, but there doesn’t seem to be any demonstrable way to back up this intuitive necessary truth that they hold. “But it is quite clear that what has happened is that he has mistaken a psychological feeling of certainty, such as is derived from a deep-rooted prejudice, or a logical necessity.”

“We reach the result that the Parmenidean dogma is baseless…It does not follow that some of the ideas based on it may not be useful. Perhaps potential energy may be a useful fiction. It is necessary if the principle of conservation is to be preserved. And that principle, though it cannot claim to be an absolute truth, is doubtless a valuable methodological assumption.”

“But in general our picture of the world will be changed- and changed evidently in the direct of a more empirical philosophy. We shall not invent hidden substances underlying the changes of things in order to preserve the things from going in and out of existence. We shall not invent a hidden mysterious energy which underlies heat, light, and electricity. We shall say that the principle that they are all “forms” of energy means only that when a given amount of motion disappears and is replaced by a given amount of heat, these are equivalents in the sense that the original amount of motion can be made by suitable means to appear again and displace the heat.”

Now, this also means that Newton’s infamous “action at a distance” can be accepted. Back in Newton’s day, people looked for mechanical answers, which was basically about showing one object coming into contact with another to make it move. But Newton’s formulation of gravity said that it was action at a distance, which was where one object doesn’t come into contact with another. This was a scandal in Newton’s time, but people came to accept it (reluctantly) because it worked so well with predictions. So there’s no contradiction to suppose that a cause happens here on Earth, and all of a sudden effects something on the other side of the universe with nothing intermediary between them. The rejection of the Parmenidean dogma means that the mind is perfectly open to admit action at a distance if ever the evidence should point to it.

“In general the moral is: anything whatever can happen- anything except round squares, two two making five, or other self-contradictions. It is simply a matter of evidence. I have sometimes been asked what is the value of empiricism. Sometimes I am afraid it is used to rule out possibilities. Sometimes it appears as a narrowing influence. But its true function is to free the mind from prejudices, to free us from the bondage of supposing that our prejudices are laws of the universe. Instead of narrowing our view-point, it should open our minds and our imaginations to the possibilities of new paths and hitherto undreamed progress in knowledge. It should strike off many ancient fetters from our minds.”

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Hume’s Philosophy of Religion

Posted by allzermalmer on December 8, 2011

This blog is based on a paper written by Nicholas Capaldi. It was published in the philosophical journal International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter, 1970), pp.233-240. It’s called Hume’s Philosophy of Religion: God without Ethics.

The author wants to bring up six things about Hume, and his talk on God and things of that nature. These can be derived from Hume’s philosophical works; the works be of Treatise of Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.

Here are the 6 points:
[1.] “Hume never denied the existence of God.”
[2.] “He rejected the “ontological argument.””
[3.] “He accepted the existence of God, and he accepted the argument from design.”
[4.] “God exists, but his properties are unknown to us.”
[5.] “Morality is independent of religion (but not of God).”
[6.] “No one of the characters but every one of the characters in the Dialogues speaks for Hume. The message : morality is independent of religion.”

Point 1: There’s no where in Hume’s books does he say that God doesn’t exist, imply that God doesn’t exist, or say that he believes that God doesn’t exist.

What should be noticed about this is that Hume is considered the “Common Ancestor” from which all forms of modern empiricism are derived. To play off of the words of A.N. Whitehead, “The safest general characterization of the Empiricist philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to David Hume.”

As Bertrand Russell once said of him, “David Hume (1711-76) is one of the most important among philosophers because he developed to its logical conclusion the empirical philosophy of Locke and Berkeley, and by making it self-consistent made it incredible. He represents, in a certain sense, a dead end: in his direction, it is impossible to go further. To refute him has been, ever since he wrote, a favourite pastime among metaphysicians. For my part, I find none of their refutations convincing; nevertheless, I cannot but hope that something less sceptical than Hume’s system may be discoverable.”

And, by James Seth:”It would be unjust to both Locke and Berkeley to say that they stopped short of these [sceptical] conclusions from theological or other prejudices. The truth is that empiricism was only a part of their philosophy, the other part  being…of a rationalistic type; so that we cannot describe the sceptical philosophy of Hume as the complete logical development of the Lockean and Berkeleyean philosophy, but only as the logical completion of the empirical element in the philosophy of his predecessors. That which had for them been a part becomes for Hume the whole: he is an empiricist pure and simple, and he shows us with singular insight the ultimate meaning and consequences of pure empiricism.”

Point 2: Hume objected to the “ontological argument” for God. The reason that he rejects such an argument is that it is a priori, or not based on experience. Being an empiricist, he found problems with a priori arguments. And of his time, a priori arguments were very common and so had a problem with those arguments.

Hume is notorious for his assessment of causation (which was done by other philosophers like Al-Ghazali, Malebranche, and Berkeley). The a priori arguments usually dealt with causation, and especially necessary causation. With Hume’s treatment of these things, he found them all unacceptable. Thus, he rejected them. But he even affirmed his belief in causation (based on his empiricist position), and also affirmed the argument from design (a posterior argument).

Point 3: Hume accepts the existence of a God, and he does it through the argument from design. And this point usually comes as a shock from people. They tend to think that Hume didn’t believe in God, let alone accept the argument from design. But he happens to make this point throughout his writings.

“The order of the universe proves an omnipotent mind . . .” Treatise of Human Nature

“Wherever I see order, I infer from experience that there, there hath been Design and Contrivance . . . the same principle obliges me to infer an infinitely perfect Architect from the infinite Art and Contrivance which is displayed in the whole fabric of the universe.” A Letter From A Gentleman to his friend in Edinburgh

In the Enquires Concerning Human Understanding, there is a section called “Of a Particular Providence and of a Future state”. In this section, Hume’s friend defends Epicurus, and accepts the arguments from “the order of nature”.

“The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author ; and no rational enquirer can after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion” The Natural History of Religion

He accepts the “truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God” in the Dialogues.

Point 4:

“Even though God exists, we cannot know any of his properties or characteristics. The argument from design proves the existence of a cause but not the nature of the cause. It is the failure to note this distinction which leads some readers to misinterpret Hume and attribute to him a rejection of the argument from design.”

He goes on to think that we come to accept that God exists, but beyond this we can say no more. The reason is that experience shows it, under Hume’s position, but that we can’t tell anything more from it. So, reason supports the belief, but reason stops there. To pick between particular religions  or religious belief, is beyond the mere acceptance of God and experience. The rest we draw out from this acceptance isn’t drawn from experience, but is drawn from faith and divine revelation.

As Hume said around the end of the Enquires Concerning Human Understanding, “Divinity or Theology, as it proves the existence of a Deity, and the immortality of souls, is composed partly of reasonings concerning particular, partly concerning general facts. It has a foundation in reasons, o far as it is supported by experience. But its best and most solid foundation is faith and divine revelation.”

Point 5: Hume denied that morals need to be grounded on a religious foundation. He believes that we can have morals, and follow through with them, without having recourse to a religious foundation for the morals.

“In the Enquiry Concerningt he Principles of Morals, Hume develops his entire moral theory with utter disregard for religion. He does make an important statement about God in order to show that his moral theory is compatible with the existence of the God one finds in the argument from design (p. 294). Since God is the “cause” of nature, including human nature, the naturalistic ethics to be found in man is also the “effect” of God. The important distinction to be kept in mind is that Hume’s ethics is consistent with the existence of God, but it is not derived from religion.”

The point is that it’s compatible with God, but it does not necessarily entail that one needs a religious foundation for morals to have morals. It should be obvious that one doesn’t need to belong to a religion to believe in God. And if one doesn’t belong to a religion, then they just might not have a religious foundation for morals. The point is that Hume “maintains a skeptical
posture” towards the religious foundations of morals.

Point 6: In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, he happens to make two points. There are three characters involved in a dialogue, and all three agree on two things. These two things seem to point to Hume’s actual beliefs, among those that he’s already stated in his other works.

These two points are already characterized in the previous 5 points. Two of them are agreed up on by all the people in the dialogue. Thus, we seem to be able to reasonably infer that he held to these two things and a foundation of some of his beliefs.

These two beliefs are that Hume “accepts the existence of God” and accepts that “morals need not be founded on religion”. All three characters, Philo, Cleanthes, and Dema, agree upon these points. As Capldi said, “First, all of the characters agree that God exists. Second, all of the characters agree that no moral implications follow from the initial agreement.”

Further, there is something interesting brought up, which seems consistent with what Hume has said else where. The author points out that Hume points out that “We cannot legitimately infer moral conclusions, that is, practical conclusions for guiding human behavior, from theological premisses.” This looks to be of the Is-Ought gap that Hume had pointed out, and became infamous for.

Hume, basically, said that we can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”. This “ought” would be like moral statements of “You shouldn’t kill people except in self-defense”. A statement of “is” would be like the descriptive statement of “Brutus helped kill Julius Caesar.” We can’t derive the moral statement from a descriptive statement of what we’ve observed with experience.

The reason that we can’t derive a moral conclusion from a theological premise is because of two things. The major one is that Hume pointed out that, from his empiricism, we can’t go beyond affirming the existence of God. We can’t go further because we can only get the conclusion of the existence of God but not of his properities. And these theological premises are going to add on properties to God, once they accept the existence of God.Hume takes this as illegitimate.

The second point is the Is-Ought divide, which he pointed out. Even if these theological premises were in fact true, descriptions of how things are, you still can’t derive the moral conclusions from those “is” statements. You can’t derive that moral conclusion from those (true) theological premises.

So even if we don’t accept God, we still can’t accept a moral conclusion from true (non-theological) statements. We can see how Hume would come to the conclusion that one doesn’t need a religious foundation for morals. Both groups can’t derive their moral conclusion from descriptive statements.

The other point, for Hume, was that even if we affirm the existence of God, it doesn’t imply moral conclusions. “Prior to Hume it was common for philosophers first to “prove” God’s existence and then to draw moral implications from that proof. Hume pointed out that these are two
separate questions, and the positive answer to the first by no means
implies a positive answer to the second.”

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