Jumped-Up Monkeys with Darwinian Heuristics vs. Angelic Reasoning Beings with Direct Unmediated Access to Objective Reality Sun-Sets-But-Sun-Also-Rises Cage Match Smackdown Weblogging
UPDATED: To keep commenters from going down blind bypaths due to my imprecision. Bear with me: I am just a jumped-up monkey, after all...
Thomas Nagel argued that his reason could not have been the result of blind Darwinian evolution. He said:
- My reason tells me that if the sun is rising on my right then I am going north then.
- I believe I am going south.
- I believe I see the sun rising on my right
- My reason tells me that I must reject one of these two beliefs because they are inconsistent--either I must conclude that I am hallucinating, or I must conclude that I am not going south.
- Et cetera…
- This kind of transcendent access to truths of objective reality is not something that a jumped-up monkey with Darwinian heuristics can have.
- Therefore I am more than a jumped-up monkey with Darwinian heuristics: I am angelic reasoning being with direct unmediated access to objective reality.
I responded that he knew nothing of the kind:
His Darwinian heuristics had made a Humean guess that because the sun had risen on his right if he was facing north every single previous day, that the same held true today. I pointed out that this might be wrong--that he did not know that because the sun was rising on his right he was facing north, and did not know that he knew that he was facing north, and did not know that he knew that he knew he was facing north, but that he was just guessing.
And, to underscore this, I pointed out that I had once seen the sun rise due south, in which case if I had put the sun on my right I would have been facing not north but east. (I did not point out--but could have--that the claim that if you are facing north east is on your right fails at the South Pole: at the South Pole east is not on your right, north is on your right.)
This seemed to me to be conclusive: what Thomas Nagel took as a canonical example of an angelic reasoning being with direct unmediated access to objective reality was, when examined, nothing of the kind--but rather merely another example of the sad delusions to which jumped-up monkeys operating on error-prone Darwinian heuristics are liable.
Now Gene Callahan enters the ring on the side of the angelic reasoning beings with direct unmediated access to objective reality. I don't think he does any better than Nagel.
Tell me what you think:
La Bocca della Verità: Brad DeLong Jumps the Shark: You see, because he once reasoned wrongly about a situation he found himself in, that proves that Thomas Nagel is dumb! When you find yourself calling one of the greatest philosophers of the last half century dumb, something has gone wrong. And in this case, the problem is that Nagel has trampled upon DeLong's religious faith, which is materialism. This is naturally a shaky faith, since there is not a single shred of evidence in favor of its truth. So when a prominent, non-religious philosopher like Nagel notes that besides lacking any evidence in its favor it seems very implausible, there is nothing for it but to declare him stupid, so he can be safely ignored and the faith can be protected.
Brad DeLong: Well, your reason and Thomas Nagel's reason may provide you and him with transcendent access to objective reality, so that--as he says in his book--when he sees the sun rising on his right he knows immediately by the metaphysical necessity of the case that he is not going south but north. My reason does not: my reason is a set of heuristic guesses made by a jumped-up monkey with a set of brain circuits designed to detect whether the fruit is ripe or it is safe to jump to the next branch. And I hold with Hume that just because the sun usually rises in the east does not mean that it will always rise in the east. And, indeed, as I explained there was one morning when I saw the sun rise due south.
I don't believe your or Thomas Nagel's reason provides either of you with transcendent access to objective reality. And I think your strange delusion that it does simply reinforces my point that jumped-up monkeys like you and me do not have magic brains that give us transcendent access to objective reality.
But Brad, if I follow your logic, than the idea that Nagel and I (and you) are just making heuristic guesses is itself just a guess on your part! If so, on what basis could you possibly advance for preferring your notion to ours, other than that, well, you prefer it? Why should you believe we are "jumped up monkeys"? After all, the theory of evolution is just a guess! It has "worked" in the past?! What, you think you have some direct access to reality to tell that it worked? That is just a guess on your part as well.
Or look at it this way, Brad: if you really thought that all knowledge claims, were just "heuristic guesses made by a jumped-up monkey" then you ought to be very humble about Nagel's claims: I would think you would say, "Well, Nagel's guess is different than mine, but what do I really know?" But nope: you are damned certain Nagel is wrong. What an extraordinary position for a jumped up monkey to be taking!
Brad DeLong: No, I shouldn't be humble. Nagel says that my reason could not have evolved because my reason has transcendent access to objective reality--and one thing that my reason has transcendent access to is that my reason has transcendent access to objective reality. But I don't believe that my reason has transcendent access to objective reality. In that case either (a) I am wrong, and my reason is wrong in thinking it does not have TATOR, in which case my reason clearly does not have TATOR--but Nagel claims that his reason does. (i) He might be mistaken... (ii) Alternatively, I am a being of different order than he is--an ape while he is an angel. That is possible... On the other fork, (b) I am right in my belief that my and his reason does not have TATOR--and Nagel's belief that he does is just another sad delusion of a jumped-up monkey.
Nagel's root problem is that he has to convince me that my reason knows things and knows that it knows things that my reason tells me that it does not know. An argument that depends on convincing me that I know things and know that I know things that I believe I do not know has a very high hill to climb...
"In that case either (a) I am wrong, and my reason is wrong in thinking it does not have TATOR, in which case my reason clearly does not have TATOR--but Nagel claims that his reason does." "Has access to" != "had accessed." The logic of the sentence above is about equivalent to "Nagel says I am capable of learning arithmetic. But I have not learned arithmetic. Therefore, Nagel is wrong!" You are aware that philosophical rationalists have offered some explanations as to why, despite having access to the world of forms, some people remain staring at the shadows on the cave walls?
Brad DeLong: Nagel chose the example. Nagel made the claim that it is his reason's transcendent direct access to objective reality that tells him: (a) the sun rises in the east, (b) if east is on my right I am facing north, and thus (c) when I see the sun rising on my right I know that I am facing north, and know that I know, and know that I know that I know.
I, by contrast, point out that that example is not an example of transcendent reason grasping objective reality, but of a Humean guess that might be wrong--and was in fact wrong.
I understand that you wish that Nagel had picked another, less silly example of reason's transcendent access to objective reality. But that was the example that he picked. And that he picked that example is evidence of the--extremely weak--strength of his case...
I do wonder: Does Gene Callahan have any idea what he has committed himself to when he endorses Thomas Nagel's claim that Nagel has transcendent direct access to truths of objective reality? I think not:
Thomas Nagel: Does Gene Callahan have any idea what he is committing himself to in endorsing Thomas Nagel's claim to have transcendent access to objective reality? I think not:
I decide, when the sun rises on my right, that I must be driving north instead of south... because I recognize that my belief that I am driving south is inconsistent with that observation, together with what I know about the direction of rotation of the earth. I abandon the belief because I recognize that it could not be true.... I oppose the abolition of the inheritance tax... because I recognize that the design of property rights should be sensitive not only to autonomy but also to fairness...
Game, set, match, and tournament!