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Reciprocating Bill

Posts: 4265
Joined: Oct. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: July 14 2008,20:37   

BarryA calls "materialists" on their faith. It is by faith alone that materialists assume they aren't subject to Descartes' demon, aren't brains in beakers, aren't in the grip of the Matrix:

Faith and Reason

...Philosophers have known for hundreds of years that data provided to us by sense impressions cannot be the basis of absolute knowledge. Renee Descartes, for example, famously demonstrated this with his “evil demon” thought experiment. In this experiment Descartes posited an evil demon “as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me.” The evil demon is so powerful he is capable of presenting an illusion of the entire world, including Descartes’ sense impressions of his own body, to Descartes’ mind. If such an evil demon actually existed, Descartes’ sense impressions would be misleading him, and the outside world, including Descartes’ own body, would not in fact exist even though Descartes’ sense impressions confirmed unequivocally that they did.

Here’s the fascinating part of the experiment. How do we know the evil demon does not exist? Answer. By definition, the data presented to our minds by our senses cannot demonstrate his non-existence. In fact, we cannot know with absolute certainty he does not exist. We take his non-existence purely as a matter of faith.

But Barry, you too may be a Boltzman brain, a brain in a beaker, in the grip of the matrix. Your faith, your thoughts about God, your deepest communing with Christ: perhaps all were programmed into your experience for malicious purposes. You are confident of your moral absolutes. But there are no babies, there are no bayonets, there are no mothers, and there never have been - only virtual babies and virtual atrocities designed to arrest your attention. Your absolute certainty on moral issues is not simply mistaken. It has no referents at all.  

Seems to me, then, with beakers, Cartesian demons and matrices in both the numerator and denominator of the "faith/reason" debate, that the faiths that sustain our mutual rejection of this possibility cancel.

But even with this algebraic simplification (we both accept on faith that we aren't brains in beakers), you grind on with many uncanceled and painfully unrequited faiths, faiths in baroque, concrete, obsolete propositions about the supernatural, God, absolute morality, resurrections, and other notions that lie forever beyond confirmation. Faiths with no analog within the worldview of naturalism. And among those baroque objects of faith we find, in fact, demons. So Descarte's demon is rather a more real possibility to you than to me.

All the while, those of us who embrace methodological naturalism return to our concerns, employing that powerful set of assumptions to build an edifice of consilient knowledge and predictive theory derived from our empirical explorations.

I'm going to tend my beakers now. You're in one of them.

Myth: Something that never was true, and always will be.

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
- David Foster Wallace

"Here’s a clue. Snarky banalities are not a substitute for saying something intelligent. Write that down."
- Barry Arrington

  29999 replies since Jan. 16 2006,11:43 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

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