Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What you see is what you "get"?

The non-visualizibility of concepts is integral to arguments for the immanteriality of the intellect. (It is also a major victory over crude empiricism. Sometimes small gains are enough.) All that is needed to show that the mind is more than an empirical viewing box, as Descartes did with his chiliagon illustration, is elicit acts of conception which exceed the powers of empirical perception. What we know is more than what we can see, with our eyeballs and with our “mind’s eye.” The point is not that our conceptions exist outside our minds --after all they are our conceptions-- but that they exist in our minds in an intellectual, as opposed to perceptual, way. Do we deny chiliagons are possibly materially real? (If I make one tonight out of a sheet of construction paper, dear reader, I’ll mail it to you.) Do we deny they are conceptually real even when not materialized? They exist apart from our tactile and neural constructions of them.

If things like “literally” and “chiliagons” existed only in our minds (i.e., as phantasms), we would never come up with the idea, since we can’t visualize them. Hence, they do exist in a way that exceeds, or so to speak awaits, our grasp of them. Such abstract things have esse intelligibile et naturale (i.e., an intelligible existence as their own nature), but can also exist in a different mode by esse intentione (i.e., with an ‘intentional’ existence).

Now, suppose someone objects, "This demonstrate that we can conceive of something immaterial, but doesn’t prove that this immaterial whatever-it-is has real existence outside our minds. I mean, I can visualize world peace, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to stop the folks in Darfur."

I would immediately challenge this claim about Darfur. You cannot visualize world peace, since, who can really say in clear detail what would have to change, who would have to die, etc., for it to come about? What you can do is conceive of “world peace” and associate mental images with that concept. Can we visualize “humanity”? No, but we can conceive of it. Can you visualize your self, viz., your enduring identity at every spatiotemporal point of its existence? No, but you can grasp such a concept. Can you visualize God? No, but etc. etc.

People say their life flashed before their eyes at a moment of near death–which for all I know may really happen visually, but I doubt it–yet that kind of claim only makes sense to others by conception, not visualization. Even though we cannot “see” our entire life, such a thing exists, and in a way that does run through but does not stay within our minds.


unBeguiled said...

Just because you cannot grok how a material system like a brain could produce and experience abstract concepts does not mean that the phenomenon does not occur.

Your argument takes this form:

I do not understand how X could be the case. Therefore, X cannot be the case.

the Cogitator said...



I have been busy the last few days in Taipei, Taichung, Hong Kong. The woes of attaining the joys of being an expat.

I will address all your latest comments in this thread, since I don't like multiplying threads.

1. My Amazon address is accurate only if it says 1325 Sydney Place, Jacksonville, FL 32205. Interesting question… Thanks in advance??

2. About my grok problem.

You have once again failed to demonstrate the slightest grasp of the import of the arguments relating to intellectual immateriality. The problem is that you misunderstand the problem: It is not an empirical problem; it is a categorical problem. Formal operations, for instance, are determinate in a way that physical operations cannot be. Intellection is, for instance, universally abstract in a way that physical "signs" cannot be. The contents of sensory experience are analytically non-identical with the physical correlates we infer as their causal substrate. And as for intentionality…

Intentionality and physical order are simply, categorically mutually irreducible. This is hardly a "pet claim" of Thomists. Read some J. Levine. Read some J. Searle. Read some C. S. Pierce. Read some F. Brentano. Read some J. Kim. Read some W. Vallicella. Read some S. Kripke. Read some K. Gödel. Read some D. Melser. Indeed, read some D. Dennett: he is so committed to physicalism, and yet aware of the intentionality problem, that he denies the latter on behalf of the former.

Probably the best medicine I can suggest to help you overcome your lust for reductionism, is M. Polanyi's short The Tacit Dimension. Until you get over that illness, you are digging your own ditch as you dig your own stairway.

The issue is simply not one that can be overcome by "more brain studies." Intentionality, and its related immateriality, is, like purpose and action (cf. R. Taylor's Action and Purpose), simply not reducible to behavioral categories. Intentionality, purpose, action, formal order––these are simply "their own things" and not to be trifled with. Certainly, it is true to say that intellection occurs "naturally" insofar as it is metaphysically contiguous with the operations of its natural agents; but this must be qualified by the fact that nature, thus, operates with both material and immaterial powers.

In any case, consider the following scenarios (which I borrow from R. Taylor):

a. A man attending a debate raises his hand in order to get the attention of debater Q, and thereby both attracts the attention of debater Q and scares off a fly.

b. A man attending a debate raises his hand in order to get the attention of the moderator, and thereby both attracts the attention of the moderator and scares off a fly.

c. A man attending a debate raises his hand in order to scare off a fly, and thereby both attracts the attention of debater Q and scares off the fly.

Behaviorally, and I should say neurologically, these events are indiscernible. Only on the supposition of a distinct purpose ("in order to") can they be differentiated. Likewise with intentionality. Physically indiscernible phenomena can have different intentionality, different meaning. Physical causation is, to palm from Walker Percy and Pierce, dyadic, whereas language–-qua intentionality in action––is triadic. Physical things only stand in formal, theoretical bonds with each others as we evoke those bonds by the intentional, immaterial power of referential language. An atom simply does not and cannot "refer to" something else; but language can and, incessantly, does.

You might have a go at this piece of mine at PhilPer:

2. Concerning your axioms for our discussion, I have a few replies, but will try at the utmost to be brief.

"A wise man [A] proportions his belief [Pa] to the evidence [Gc]."

A is an agent. Pa is a proportionate action by A. Gc is the grounding condition (or conditional grounds) for Pa.

Now consider the following statements:

A wise man [A] never plays the lottery [Pa] since the evidence clearly suggests he will not win [Gc].

A good husband [A] adjusts his commitment to his wife [Pa] based on the evident worth of her love [Gc].

A good friend [A] considers someone his friend [Pa] only when he is certain someone will be a great ally [Gc].

A virtuous child [A] bases his attachment to and respect for his parents [Pa] on the evidence that they will raise him well and provide for his success [Gc].

A wise man [A] bases his immediately upcoming decision [Pa] strictly on what he has done before [Gc].

A wise man [A] bases his adherence to rationality [Pa] on the evidence that it conforms to the reality in which he is immersed [Gc].

A wise man [A] bases his immediately upcoming decision [Pa] strictly on what the evidence of his sense indicate he will do [Gc].

A wise man [A] adjusts his commitment to truth [Pa] on the evidence he has for there being such a thing [Gc].

A good man [A] proportions his commitment to his ideals [Pa] to the evidence that they work and will be accomplished in his life [Gc].

A good soldier [A] bases his loyalty to his country [Pa] on the evidence that his country will win the conflict at hand [Gc].

You will notice an analogical "soft spot" in all these claims, and, thus, in your own: there is either a distinct circularity in the above claims (e.g., we only see rationality works in reality by rationally applying the fruits of our reasoning to the rationally ordered description of reality) or a crucial non sequitur between them and the goal they describe. After all, on what evidence did you base your assent to your axiom? And, short of holding that axiom as an evidentially indefatigable proposition, what necessitates you accept it on purely evidential grounds? Doesn't it just make good sense to proportion our belief to the evidence for it? If so, however, what sense does it make to say "making good sense" is rooted in evidential certitude? And round and round we go.

The problem with your axiom is thus twofold: first, that evidentialism only goes so far in personal relationships and commitments to the good, and, second, that Christianity is a personal commitment to the good. Our assessment of evidence is automatically and properly correlated with our ethical and "eudomaniacal" instincts for our own good. It is not irrational to opt for some good even when the evidence for its viability is not deductive. This is what James Ross (following Thomas Aquinas) means by cognitive voluntarism and cognitive finality. I would tell you to read Ross, but I know reading what I base my scattered claims on, is not your thing.

"Corollary #1: A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition."

Is this corollary dubitable? If so, on what grounds should I believe it? If not, …?

"Corollary #2: It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

("Great Scott," I said to myself when I saw this, "he's disinterring Clifford of all people!?" Mais c'est la vie…)

What is the evidence for this claim? What kind and what amount of evidence would suffice to ground this claim?

If it requires sufficient evidence, it can't be a first principle. If it doesn't require adequate evidence to be credible, it refutes itself as a non-evidential certitude.

I would now ask you to consider the following claims and see how evidence fits into them:

Our certitude of the reliability of our memory is based on evidence.

Our certitude of the reliability of our sensory perception is based on evidence.

Our certitude of the reality of other people's minds is based on evidence.

Our certitude in passage of time is based on evidence.

If you can ground the above certitudes without resorting to evidence drawn from them, I will be more amenable to your positivistic evidentialism. As it stands, however, I find your epistemology and metaphysics stiflingly shallow and self-destructive. I would once more insist you get my fuller reply by reading things I've already said. To wit, I have written before about my worries about a purely fact-driven epistemology:

Another piece of mine at PhilPer addresses the issue of faith and reason:

unBeguiled said...

What is the evidence for this claim?

None at all. I am suggesting these as axiomatic. So we can converse, rather than talk at each other. From Wiki:

In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be either self-evident, or subject to necessary decision. Therefore, its truth is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other (theory dependent) truths.

We need a fraking axiom!
We need some basic starting point. Some epistemic starting point that we both think is either self-evident or that we just decide that we agree is true. Until then, attempting further conversation is futile.

Any ideas?

the Cogitator said...


I understand your desire for an axiom, and I appreciate you offering what you did. I was not rejecting your axiom beacuse it was axiomatic, but because it demands an evidential basis for axiomaticity that it itself cannot fulfill/provide. If your entire theory or rationality is evidentialist, then its foundation must also be evidentially corroborated. But I find that extremely odd and wonky.

Anyway, here's what I think: I'm in the middle of moving to a new apartment, applying for a work permit and an alien residence certificate, and applying for grad school in a foreign country, so, my life is hectic these days, to say the least. That being the case, I really don't have the mental energy at this juncture to "do" a quasi-formal dialogue. My recommendation is that you remain a "follower" of my blog, keep dropping in, and we basically just stay in touch.

But if you would like to ponder my axiomatic inclinations, I suppose my axioms would include the law of noncontradiction, the law of identity (or law of specific being), the law of sufficient causation, and the idea that "Rational people should pursue as much good as is possible".

unBeguiled said...

OK, I'll keep following.

All your axioms are fine except for sufficient causation. That does not seem self-evident to me, and also seems refuted by empirical data.

(Of course, you could claim that quantum randomness is only apparent, but that would just expose an unjustified assumption.)

I found your reading list, to say the least, unbalanced. I shall pursue the good and give it some symetry.

I struggle to maintain The Middle Way myself. Perhaps you've noticed.