A LOVE SUPREME

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

God and Other Minds - Alvin Plantinga

A review of God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (1967)
Cornell University Press
by Alvin Plantinga


In this early work by Alvin Plantinga the first two parts deal with arguments for and against Christianity. Though a Theist and a Christian, Plantinga concludes that the arguments for God's existence are unsuccessful. After reviewing the atheological arguments against Christianity, Plantinga concludes:
"These atheological arguments are as unsuccessful as the arguments from natural theology we considered in Part I; natural atheology seems no better than natural theology as an answer to the question, 'Are religious beliefs rationally justified?'" (183) Part Three attempts "a different approach." (183)

Plantinga beings the third part by saying,
"It may be said, with the existence of God: the theist must be able to answer the question 'How do you know or why do you believe?' if his belief is to be rational; or at any rate there must be a good answer to this question. He needs evidence of some sort or other; he needs some reason for believing." (187)

Is belief in God "rational"? What are the "reasons" for believing in God? These have been questions of much historical debate, and at this point in Plantinga's book it is of considerable interest in light of the fact that he has rejected all arguments put forward thus far forward thus far. But rather than simply presenting another argument for the existence of God, Plantinga next makes a very interesting move:

"Obviously this raises many question. What is evidence? What relation holds between a person and a proposition when the person has evidence for the proposition? Must a rational person have evidence or reasons for all of his beliefs? Presumably not." (187-88)

So, Plantinga's question goes deeper: What is evidence? And must the rational person have evidence for all beliefs. Plantinga somewhat casually suggests, "presumably not," which will come as quite a startling conclusion for those coming out of Modernity and the various philosophical systems that are so rooted in the epistemologies of Classical Foundationalism.

Plantinga continues, "But then what properties must a belief have for a person to be justified in accepting it without evidence? Is a person justified in believing a proposition only if it can be inferred inductively or deductively from (roughly) incorrigible sensory beliefs? Or propositions that are obvious to common sense and accepted by everyone?" (188) These questions await further development by Plantinga in his future works. (See below) We leave these for now and proceed toward Plantinga's conclusion.

The primary point of Plantinga's work is to suggest that the belief in God is like the belief in other minds:
"There may be other reasons for supposing that although rational belief in other minds does not require an answer to the epistemological question, rational belief in the existence of God does. But it is certainly hard to see what these reasons might be. Hence my tentative conclusion: if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter."

The conclusion is worded in such a way ("my tentative conclusion") that seems rather disappointing at first, or perhaps even trivial and irrelevant. But two things are important to bear in mind. The first is the historical perspective. In his 1970 review of God and Other Minds Michael A. Slote said, "This book is one of the most important to have appeared in this century on the philosophy of religion." (The Journal of Philosophy 67 (1970): 39-45) Over the course of his career, Plantinga's work within the Analytical field of philosophy has helped contribute to vigorous debate in the belief in God and the place of evidence within that debate.

Secondly, it is important to understand the scope of the work and how it shifts the burden of proof. There is something of a paradigm shift that must occur by those who demand evidence for belief in God and yet take the existence of other minds for granted. There is a shift of the burden of proof from the assumption that the Theist must provide evidence for God's existence to now questioning whether this assumption is valid.

Must the Theist provide evidence? If so, then what about the existence of other minds? This is something we seem to take for granted, while at the same time demanding proof of the existence of God.

The purpose of this review, then, is primarily to highlight Plantinga's conclusion. In his 1990 Preface to the reissue of the book, Plantinga restates his conclusion:
"'If my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rationa; so, therefore, is the latter.' As I now see (with the acuity of hindsight), my chief aim was to make a suitable reply to the evidentialist objection to theistic belief: the objection that theistic belief is irrational or unreasonable or intellectually second- or third-rate because there is insufficient evidence for it. More exactly (and relying even more heavily on hindsight) my aim was to reply to that objection taken in the context or from the perspective of classical (Cartesian and Lockean) foundationalism. The main argument of the book is really an argument against that objection, so taken." (xi)

Again, Plantinga is boldly suggesting a shift of the burden of proof. Why do we believe in the existence of other minds. It seems to be something that we all take for granted. Are we thus irrational??? Or unreasonable??? Surely not, one would think. (One would hope!) And yet, if we do not need evidence for the existence of other minds, what does that suggest about our evidence for the belief in God? Is it possible that Modernity/Enlightenment epistemology is so deeply rooted in our thinking that we do not even have a paradigm for looking at the question of God's existence as one that does not require evidence or rational proof?

As I close the review I return to Plantinga's 1990 preface: "What I argued, in essence, is that from this point of view belief in other minds and belief in God are on an epistemological pare. In neither case are there good arguments of the sort required; hence if the absence of such arguments in the theistic case demonstrates irrationality, the same goes for belief in other minds." (xi-xii)

This book finds itself a bit bogged down in the mire of Analytical argumentation. In my opinion this is a weakness, because those unfamiliar with the Analytic tradition will find many parts to be a bit convoluted. Yet the basic points made and the conclusions drawn are historically important in the history of philosophy and also of ongoing importance to the discussion of the existence of God.

Notes and References:
The above review is of a very early work by Plantinga, and merely represents a few early (albeit important) questions. To understand Plantinga's thoroughgoing epistemology, see the Warrant trilogy:
Warrant: The Current Debate (1993)
Warrant and Proper Function (1993)
Warranted Christian Belief (2000)
The first two works are epistemological in the Analyitc tradition, while the third (and perhaps most accessible) deals specifically with Theism and Christian belief.

55 comments:

samlcarr said...

I guess one question that comes up and has recently been obliquely discussed by Ivan is the "on par" part of the argument.

I could have a belief that there is a Truth Fairy who visits me daily in my sleep and places interesting and true ideas in my mind. How would one distinguish such a belief in 'another mind' from a 'rational' belief in God?

ktismatics said...

"Hence my tentative conclusion: if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter."

Maybe I missed something here. Why does Plantinga assert that belief in other minds is rational? And why is it "obvious" that belief in God is "therefore" rational as well?

In our discussion at Ktismatics I've proposed various criteria which support my belief in other people. I don't believe that other people's minds exist apart from their physical brains. I can imagine a disembodied mind, but I don't encounter any in the world I live in. I also don't encounter other people's minds directly; I infer others' mental states from observing their apparently purposive behavior, listening to what they say, observing how they respond to what I do and say, etc. Based on all evidence at my disposal it seems that other humans are a lot like me, and I have inner access to the kinds of thought processes that I can only infer about others. So yeah, I'm pretty confident that other people are sentient beings. I'd say this confidence is both reasonable and pragmatic: if in interacting with others I assume that they can think, it seems to work out for me.

How about God? God is presumably a disembodied mind. He is not observable by my senses; he does not speak in words. I have no experience with this sort of being; God is a categorically different kind of being from a human being. Based on my criteria for asserting with confidence that other people are sentient beings, I'm distinctly less confident in God's existence and sentience.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
I could have a belief that there is a Truth Fairy who visits me daily in my sleep and places interesting and true ideas in my mind. How would one distinguish such a belief in 'another mind' from a 'rational' belief in God?

You put the word "rational" in quotation marks, anticipating my response: It all depends on what you term as "rational." And this was one of the primary areas of investigation for Plantinga from the early going. His question: If we don't call someone "irrational" for believing in the existence of other minds without evidence, then why do we consider a believer "irrational" if they lack evidence for their belief in God? Essentially, do we need "evidence" to be "rational."

Ultimately, this leads Plantinga to suggest that there are beliefs that are "basic" to us. That we do not require "evidence" for, but that seem to be a part of our cognitive equipment - we believe them instinctively, hence they are properly basic.

Melody said...

Well...like Doyle said...we see other people and we can determine from observing them if they think in the same way we do.

All one has to do is interact with someone to know if they have an average mind or if they're mentally retarded.

So really, for people who haven't interacted with God it's the same as believing in the existance of a mind you've never had any interaction with at all.

Like on The Brady Bunch when Jan makes up a boyfriend, George Glass, so people won't think she's such a loser. The general reaction is, "Oh yeah? Prove it!" Because they've never seen any evidence that such a mind exists.
Of course by the end of the show Jan meets a boy named George Glass and they hit it off and she gets to introduce him to her shocked family.

So, while I don't feel compelled to prove God's existance for my own personal benefit, I wouldn't expect my having met God to be enough for someone who doubts His existance.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
Maybe I missed something here. Why does Plantinga assert that belief in other minds is rational?

Do you call someone "irrational" if they believe in other minds?

And why is it "obvious" that belief in God is "therefore" rational as well?

It seems obvious to me. What is your objection, precisely?

I don't believe that other people's minds exist apart from their physical brains. I can imagine a disembodied mind, but I don't encounter any in the world I live in. I also don't encounter other people's minds directly; I infer others' mental states from observing their apparently purposive behavior, listening to what they say, observing how they respond to what I do and say, etc.

Right. I think what you are describing as someone's "mental state" is "mind." Also, one might describe "mind" as something of the self-consciousness of a person.

You have perceptions of yourself and perceptions of other beings who look and seem to act as you do. As such, you attribute to them certain mental states. But what if it is all in your imagination? What if you are nothing but a brain in a vat? And that everything you think you perceive is in reality not real. (Crf. movies of recent decades: The Truman Show, The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor.)

Ktismatics: I'd say this confidence is both reasonable and pragmatic: if in interacting with others I assume that they can think, it seems to work out for me.

Right. But you are begging the question because, as mentioned above, how do you know that your senses and perceptions of others is reliable? Or that it is even real?

For example, if you really were a brain in a vat who is the result of an experiment of a scientist, then it would likely be in the best interest of the scientist to make you think that all of your perceptions were "real."....that is, until they began to give you the perception that you were online at the Theos Project chatting with a guy named Jonathan Erdman, who began to question your "criteria" for what is real, which perhaps begins the wretched process of self-realization and doubt....

Ktismatics:
How about God? God is presumably a disembodied mind. He is not observable by my senses; he does not speak in words. I have no experience with this sort of being; God is a categorically different kind of being from a human being. Based on my criteria for asserting with confidence that other people are sentient beings, I'm distinctly less confident in God's existence and sentience.

This is entirely unfair! And also very biased. You limit your criteria for judging a being's existence to your "experience" of them. Where do you get such "criteria"? It actually sounds a bit random to me. Can you justify that criteria?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
So really, for people who haven't interacted with God it's the same as believing in the existance of a mind you've never had any interaction with at all.

But aren't there people you have never interacted with that you still believe in???????

Is it irrational to believe in someone we have never met?

samlcarr said...

Jon, of course there are people that I've never met that I have interacted with and even more that I haven't nor ever will and I do beloieve that all these persons do/did/will exist. But, I do think that there's a difference.

I've been in a really down mood, nothing seems to be going right, solid blues, and my dog will come and lick my hand, nudge my knee, and generally try to break me out of the melancholy. So, is this also in the same class, an interaction with another mind?

It doesn't follow that just because I believe in other minds that they really do exist, does it?

ktismatics said...

"It seems obvious to me. What is your objection, precisely?"

I can't object to something I don't understand. Says Plantinga -- "Hence my tentative conclusion: if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter." What line of reasoning does Plantinga put forward to support this conclusion, which I don't find at all obvious? You find it obvious: can you explain it, or is it just so obvious to the rational mind that it needn't be explained?

In your interaction with my comment you invoke brains in vats and so on as reasons I should doubt my senses and my interpretations of experience It seems like you are taking the opposite tack from Plantinga: obviously my belief in other minds is irrational, so therefore... what? That it's okay to have an irrational belief in God too?

"This is entirely unfair! And also very biased. You limit your criteria for judging a being's existence to your "experience" of them. Where do you get such "criteria"? It actually sounds a bit random to me."

This just sounds like a rant. I tried to explain why I find it easier to believe that other human minds exist than that the mind of God exists. Again, I await an alternative position from you or Plantinga that goes beyond the extreme nihilism you've put forward so far.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
In your interaction with my comment you invoke brains in vats and so on as reasons I should doubt my senses and my interpretations of experience It seems like you are taking the opposite tack from Plantinga: obviously my belief in other minds is irrational, so therefore... what? That it's okay to have an irrational belief in God too?

No. The point is the exact opposite. I am NOT trying to get you to doubt the existence of other minds. What I am questioning is whether your so-called criteria is valid. I am suggesting that your criteria simply begs the question. But the point is to raise this question: Why do we need criteria for all of our beliefs? Why do we demand evidence for all of our beliefs?

Plantinga suggests that some beliefs are "basic" and as such they do not demand "criteria" or evidence" to be rationally believed. We (coming out of Modern philosophy) are used to thinking in terms of always having to have criteria/justification for all beliefs. And yet providing "criteria" or "justification" at some point seems to fail. At some point one goes back to basic beliefs that have to be taken as givens. One of these is our existence and the existence of other minds. These are basic beliefs.

What Plantinga suggests, is that if we accept the existence of other minds as "basic" then what about the existence of God? Could that also be a basic belief?

Ktismatics: I tried to explain why I find it easier to believe that other human minds exist than that the mind of God exists. Again, I await an alternative position from you or Plantinga that goes beyond the extreme nihilism you've put forward so far.

Per the above, Plantinga's project is quite the opposite of what you are perceiving it to be. However, if you are convinced that your "criteria" for the existence of other minds is impenetrable then Plantinga's argument in God and Other Minds will not hold water with you.

But as far as I can tell all of your criteria are based on the perceptions of your own mind. That is why I suggested the classic brain-in-a-vat argument, because if all criteria depend upon the perceptions of your mind then all criteria would fail if your mind was being deceived. That is why I suggest that your criteria essentially reduces itself to saying: It is not possible that other minds do not exist because I perceive them. In this case, I think one merely has to ask how you know that your perceptions are reliable and functioning properly.

Again, to restate: The point is not to plunge into nihilism or extreme skepticism. It is merely to suggest that some beliefs are "basic", and indeed properly basic.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
I've been in a really down mood, nothing seems to be going right, solid blues, and my dog will come and lick my hand, nudge my knee, and generally try to break me out of the melancholy. So, is this also in the same class, an interaction with another mind?

I would say so.

It doesn't follow that just because I believe in other minds that they really do exist, does it?

Right. I would agree with that.

samlcarr said...

Ivan and I have both been hearing 'voices' but coming to different conclusions about the phenomenon.

IVAN: Question 37. Recent letters written by the late Mother Theresa, make mention that she has not once heard the voice of either God or Jesus. Apparently she had been listening intently but wrote that she in fact never felt or heard from her Diety. I have heard several people mention this recently, and the thought has occurred to them during a Church services. Nobody ever hears from God. Why is that Sam?

SAM: I don’t know about Mother Theresa. For me, when I read the NT and particularly the gospels I think that I get something of what God is trying to say to me. But it is not limited to that at all - a walk in the forest, sometimes clouds, mountains, a heck of a lot of stuff and situations in which God speaks to me.

IVAN: I have similar experiences, only I know I am talking with myself. But I find this extremely interesting how you interpret your God Sam.

SAM: This is funny! So, all along here’s God been talking to you and you yet insist that S/He doesn’t exist? You actually prefer to believe that you are schizoid?

IVAN: Hang on a moment… what if its you that’s schizoid? Your hearing the voices of someone else aren’t you??

Can we get a psychiatric opinion?

I think this illustrates a practical problem of likening the belief in God to how we think of any other 'Other'. One man's other is another man's self!

ktismatics said...

"Plantinga suggests that some beliefs are "basic" and as such they do not demand "criteria" or evidence" to be rationally believed."

So I guess this is the gist of Plantinga's position. What is a "basic" belief? Is it something we believe without ever having really thought about it? But that wouldn't be a "rational" belief. Maybe he means there are beliefs you have to hold before you can be rational about anything else. I'll assume that's what he means.

From our limited human perspective everything is possible but nothing is certain, so we do what it takes to get by. We start out life by acting as if some things were certain: if I'm hungry and cry someone will feed me; if I eat I won't be hungry; if I crawl along the floor I won't suddenly float up to the ceiling, etc. Even insects operate this way -- these aren't beliefs; they're instincts. I agree that we don't start looking for criteria to justify these instinctive assumptions until after the fact. But making the criteria explicit reveals what otherwise remains hidden to us: that the things we take for granted are actually based on assumptions. Are there parts of the world where I could float up into the sky? Are there individuals or cultures who do float up from time to time? What would it take to get a person to float in the air? And so on.

Even before they're a year old kids start acting as if other other humans have thoughts and intentions similar to their own. That's how kids learn from other people: they don't just imitate; they infer intent from observable behavior and speech. Kids do tend to overgeneralize, though: the dog understands me when I tell him to clean up after himself but he's just being naughty; the rock rolled down the hillside because either it felt like it or somebody pushed it. Eventually the kid figures it out: humans understand things that dogs don't; sometimes stuff just happens in the world without anybody purposely making it happen. But still... Monkeys never do seem to understand that other monkeys act with intent. Severely autistic people never seem to understand that others humans act with intentions similar to their own, which is perhaps the main reason autistic kids have such a hard time learning to understand language.

So the point is: humans are instinctively equipped to act as if other humans exist, they can understand me, and I can understand them. It's pragmatically useful for humans to do this, just as it's pragmatically useful for the rabbit to act as if bad things will happen if the coyote catches him. Belief, rationality, criteria, and all the rest come later, built on this instinctive platform that's apparently unique to humans. The rabbit keeps running from the coyote without ever developing beliefs or criteria.

We haven't talked about whether humans instinctively act as if God exists or why it might be pragmatically useful to do so. But this seems like a good place to stop. Are we on the same page here?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
Are we on the same page here?

Fascinating. Actually, I now believe that we are. But first things first.

Ktismatics:
What is a "basic" belief? Is it something we believe without ever having really thought about it?

More or less.

Ktismatics: But that wouldn't be a "rational" belief. Maybe he means there are beliefs you have to hold before you can be rational about anything else. I'll assume that's what he means.

Not necessarily...well, ok, actually, maybe....There are beliefs that are "basic." We use many "basic" beliefs to infer and argue to various conclusions. But why can't these basic beliefs be considered "rational"? If a basic belief is not rational then the only other alternative is that it is an irrational belief - and that doesn't sound right to me.

Interestingly, Plantinga's epistemology actually finds support from your observations:

Ktismatics: So the point is: humans are instinctively equipped to act as if other humans exist, they can understand me, and I can understand them.

This is one of Plantinga's fundamental points: That we are designed in such a way that when we are functioning properly in an appropriate epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth then our true beliefs are warranted. (Warranted Christian Belief, 206)

That's the technical (yet compressed) definition of Plantinga's concept of "Warrant." Applied to the case of our knowledge of others, an example of Plantinga's has striking resemblance to some of your observations. For example, you (Ktismatics) said:
Even before they're a year old kids start acting as if other other humans have thoughts and intentions similar to their own.

Plantinga states, "A child's belief, with respect to his mother, that she has thoughts and feelings, is no more a scientific hypothesis, for him, than the belief that he himself has arms or legs; in each case we come to the belief in question in the basic way, not by way of tenuous inference to the best explanation or as a sort of clever abductive conjecture. A much more plausible view is that we are constructed ('hardwired' to use the current buzz word) in such a way that these beliefs naturally arise upon the sort of stimuli (being spoken to in 'motherese', for example) to which a child is normally exposed." (Warrant and Proper Function, 71)

Keep in mind that this is not to exclude inductive belief formation. We obviously have various ways of reasoning to conclusions. So, we have beliefs that are basic and other beliefs that are the result of a reasoning process.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam,
You made mention of hearing God's voice through nature. In response Ivan said:
I have similar experiences, only I know I am talking with myself. But I find this extremely interesting how you interpret your God Sam.

Is it possible that Ivan and yourself might (at times) be experiencing a very similar thing? Perhaps a deep feeling of transcendence? Perhaps a sense of awe? If so, then I find that quite interesting because this is what Plantinga (following John Calvin) calls the sensus divinitatis.

samlcarr said...

I think we were speaking of having similar sorts of experiences where the normal is surpassed in some way and the experience as a whole feels as if it has a special significance, perhaps even a life reinterpreting function. But Ivan feels that's from inside of himself whereas I am willing to think that it could be the work of the Other. the question is, how would one know which is which?

Nice to see you guys have got, through some irrational process, onto 'the same page'.

But since we do agree that our tendency is to treat others anthropomorphically, my question is still, when is that justified and when not? I have no idea what my dog was thinking when i felt that he was trying to cheer me up. Similarly could not one project the same onto God?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
But since we do agree that our tendency is to treat others anthropomorphically, my question is still, when is that justified and when not? I have no idea what my dog was thinking when i felt that he was trying to cheer me up. Similarly could not one project the same onto God?

"Justification" is entirely a synthetic and artificial affiar - that is, what counts as "justification" is pretty much whatever we all agree on. Usually what counts as a "justification" for a belief is highly dependent upon the belief in question....I would say...

And, yes, I agree that we project quite a bit on to God. Your example of the dog is a good one. By and large I think that for most of us humans we "god" is mostly what we want him to be. Much of this is cultural, as well. In America, for example, god is a commodity and a product to be marketed as "a good buy."

Tim said...

Jon,

You write:

Plantinga continues, "But then what properties must a belief have for a person to be justified in accepting it without evidence? Is a person justified in believing a proposition only if it can be inferred inductively or deductively from (roughly) incorrigible sensory beliefs? Or propositions that are obvious to common sense and accepted by everyone?" (188) These questions await further development by Plantinga in his future works.

There is, of course, a sizeable body of epistemology, both before and after Plantinga's essay, directed to answering these sorts of questions.

In addition, you write:

So, Plantinga's question goes deeper: What is evidence? And must the rational person have evidence for all beliefs. Plantinga somewhat casually suggests, "presumably not," which will come as quite a startling conclusion for those coming out of Modernity and the various philosophical systems that are so rooted in the epistemologies of Classical Foundationalism.

Why would a classical foundationalist think one needs evidence for all of one's beliefs? The whole point of classical foundationalism is that there are some beliefs one is justified in holding apart from any support they might receive from other beliefs. Plantinga does have a beef with classical foundationalists, but this isn't it.

ktismatics said...

So we're in agreement: humans come naturally to regard one another as beings whose intentions and thoughts are a lot like our own. What next?

"If a basic belief is not rational then the only other alternative is that it is an irrational belief - and that doesn't sound right to me."

I think something like "arational" or "nonrational" is what we need here. The rabbit isn't being rational when it runs away from the coyote. Its behavior may appear reasonable to us as observers, but to assert that the rabbit uses reason to decide on the best course of action is an anthropomorphism, as I'm sure you'd agree. A bacterium that gets itself spread to other hosts by causing its current host to cough or sneeze: this too looks like a reasonable survival strategy, but the one-celled organism isn't acting rationally -- it just does what it does.

So does Plantinga contend that, when a creature's hard-wired behavior look reasonable to us, it must be also be rational; i.e., it must be the result of some mind's conscious thought? Since the animal didn't generate these thoughts, there must be a rational designer of the animal's reasonable behavior? And since humans can reason and can appreciate the reasonableness of hardwired behaviors, then we can appreciate the way the designer thinks, a sort of sensus divinitatus that's built into our rationality? Which means our rationality points to the rationality of God and to the imago Dei in man?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Tim:
Why would a classical foundationalist think one needs evidence for all of one's beliefs? The whole point of classical foundationalism is that there are some beliefs one is justified in holding apart from any support they might receive from other beliefs. Plantinga does have a beef with classical foundationalists, but this isn't it.

Good point, Tim. The terminology you cited (especially the use of the term "Classical Foundationalism") was unfortunate.

Go away! And embarrass me no further!

Jason Hesiak said...

I think this illustrates a practical problem of likening the belief in God to how we think of any other 'Other'. One man's other is another man's self!

If one is to make the transition from lack of belief to belief, then the above dialogue between Sam and Ivan seems to speak to the need for a "breakthrough", figuratively speaking of course. In architecture there are "breakthrough spaces", in which the form of the building, or the original source that is in a sense outside of the world or the building, is most readily and purely apparent in built manifestation. I don't think the "breakthrough" occurs from thinking. I really think the "breakthrough" occurse in Grace and the response to it. I think Grace goes to the core of our very being, and so also of course to our thoughts and our beliefs. And I think Grace is the ultimate transition point between "mental states." In other words, I doubt that you just come to think that Grace is true and so then its suddenly what was the voice of myself becomes the voice of some Other. I'm saying I think Grace transforms me, and the very event of the transformation makes it obvious; there is a structural relationship between grace giver and grace reciever that requires the existence of an "other".

:)

Jason Hesiak said...

I think something like "arational" or "nonrational" is what we need here. The rabbit isn't being rational when it runs away from the coyote. Its behavior may appear reasonable to us as observers, but to assert that the rabbit uses reason to decide on the best course of action is an anthropomorphism, as I'm sure you'd agree. A bacterium that gets itself spread to other hosts by causing its current host to cough or sneeze: this too looks like a reasonable survival strategy, but the one-celled organism isn't acting rationally -- it just does what it does.

Kant?

Jason Hesiak said...

Go away! And embarrass me no further!

Funny. Like Tim, I had kinda noticed the relation to Foundationalism, here. But I said nothing, as I didn't want to "embarrass" my good friend The Erdmanian :) I am curious, however, to hear Plantinga's "beef" with Foundationalism...??

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason:
Funny. Like Tim, I had kinda noticed the relation to Foundationalism, here. But I said nothing, as I didn't want to "embarrass" my good friend The Erdmanian :)

Job 42:6

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
I think something like "arational" or "nonrational" is what we need here. The rabbit isn't being rational when it runs away from the coyote. Its behavior may appear reasonable to us as observers, but to assert that the rabbit uses reason to decide on the best course of action is an anthropomorphism, as I'm sure you'd agree.

Well, I think the difference between the instinct of a rabbit and the beliefs that we hold is that there is a cognitive process that involves belief formation. Because we are dealing with beliefs, rather than behavior there is the descriptive term "rational" and "irrational." Can we describe some beliefs as "arational"? Well, that's a good thought. Perhaps this is more to the point of what a "basic" belief is.

I would lean towards calling the beliefs "rational" still, but perhaps it is more a matter of semantic preference.

Ktismatics: So does Plantinga contend that, when a creature's hard-wired behavior look reasonable to us, it must be also be rational; i.e., it must be the result of some mind's conscious thought? Since the animal didn't generate these thoughts, there must be a rational designer of the animal's reasonable behavior? And since humans can reason and can appreciate the reasonableness of hardwired behaviors, then we can appreciate the way the designer thinks, a sort of sensus divinitatus that's built into our rationality? Which means our rationality points to the rationality of God and to the imago Dei in man?

Yes to the above, with a few qualifications. In terms of a "rational designer" Plantinga's position is a bit ambiguous to me. On the one hand he maintains that his epistemology, strictly speaking, need not fit within a Theistic framework. That is, evolution could have designed our cognitive functions. On the other hand, Plantinga does use his epistemology to develop arguments against Naturalism and in favor of Theism. I'll have to review this a bit more in his Warrant trilogy. Hopefully I can do that in the near future and post on it a bit more intelligently.

The idea of "sensus divinitatis that's built into our rationality," as you put it, is a good idea of where Plantinga is coming from...or at least where I am coming from while thinking that I understand Plantinga!

Ktismatics,
Now that you have a general idea of Plantinga's perspective, what do you think about the main premise of God and Other Minds: That belief in other minds is similar to our belief in God. Does this analogy still seem sketchy and suspicious to you? Or does the connection seem more reasonable?

ktismatics said...

Now that I have a better understanding of Plantinga's proposal I'm in a better position to respond to it. Since rationality is central to his considerations, I want to explore it a little further.

"Well, I think the difference between the instinct of a rabbit and the beliefs that we hold is that there is a cognitive process that involves belief formation."

I think it's useful to account for instinctive behavior in a discussion of rationality. The rabbit's behavior is rational in the sense of being understandable by and consistent with reason, but it's not rational in the sense of being generated by the rabbit's ability to reason. I don't think it's appropriate to assign the rabbit's motivation a priori to a category different from human motivation. Since part of what we're trying to figure out is the basis for asserting rationality in ourselves and others, we ought to distinguish how our rationality differs from the rabbit's. Hard-core behavioral psychologists thought there was no qualitative distinction. Besides, we've both acknowledged that a lot of human thought is non-reflective, almost automatic and instinctive -- kind of like a rabbit's.

"Because we are dealing with beliefs, rather than behavior there is the descriptive term "rational" and "irrational.""

From inside your own head you can acknowledge the beliefs that motivate your behavior. However, I don't have direct access to others' beliefs. Instead, I have to infer beliefs from others' behavior, including their verbal behavior; i.e., what they tell me their beliefs are. So in positing the existence of other minds I have to rely on inferences from behavioral cues -- so I can't make the radical distinction between behavior and reason that you propose.

How do I know that my own behavior is based not on instinct but on my beliefs? As we've discussed, ordinarily even my belief-based behavior is pretty automatic. The idea of "belief" is a way of categorizing certain kinds of conscious behavioral motivations and distinguishing them from unconscious motivations like instinct. "Belief" is a word and a concept that we learned to use in acquiring language, so that when I tell you I "believe" something I expect that you'll understand what I'm talking about.

So the whole concept of "belief" is based on interpersonal agreement about what things are and what words are used to describe them. Again, I have no direct way of knowing whether your ideal of "belief" is the same as mine, but in observing the way you use the word I can make that inference. Again the distinction between idea and behavior is blurry.

A "belief" is a mental state or activity that motivates my behavior. But belief is also a behavior -- a mental behavior. Suppose I introspect about my own motivations and conclude that it's because I believed I ought to it, or was expected to it or could get away with it. In stating my belief I'm reflecting on my own mental behaviors that generated my motivation. Even if I'm consciously weighing a decision based on belief, that very activity is a kind of mental behavior that I can perform.

A rabbit's mental behavior is more complicated than that of a bacterium, and a human's is more complicated than a rabbit's. We can assign names like "instinct" and "reason" to these different cognitive functions, but I believe that making the distinctions too drastic is to fall a mind-body dualism that's not necessarily warranted.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason:
I really think the "breakthrough" occurse in Grace and the response to it. I think Grace goes to the core of our very being, and so also of course to our thoughts and our beliefs. And I think Grace is the ultimate transition point between "mental states." In other words, I doubt that you just come to think that Grace is true and so then its suddenly what was the voice of myself becomes the voice of some Other. I'm saying I think Grace transforms me, and the very event of the transformation makes it obvious; there is a structural relationship between grace giver and grace reciever that requires the existence of an "other".

Very profound, Jason.

I tend to agree with you. The Grace Event is something that seems far more fundamental to our being than a cognitive process. Coming to a cognitive conclusion about grace and its possible effects does not necessitate that one will actually encounter a Grace Event. Yet, interestingly enough, I have talked to people for whom it seems that the cognitive process led up to a Grace Event. Perhaps this is what Paul speaks of when he talks about "destroying ever lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of God." That there may be cognitive barriers that prohibit one from even giving Grace another thought....on the other hand, sometimes a Grace Event can just grab ahold of a person, seemingly against their will. (Crf. Jean Valjean)

Jason Hesiak said...

Sweetness is my weekness, and profundity is my speacialty :) And goofyness is my habit.

ktismatics said...

"I tend to agree with you. The Grace Event is something that seems far more fundamental to our being than a cognitive process."

So this Plantinga discussion is just sort of an amusement for you and Hesiak, maybe a tool to trot out to reassure the potential new converts that they're not being irrational, but it doesn't really matter much when you get right down to it? And here I was having such a good time, working hard to understand and interact with the ideas, writing my little follow-up post about Davidson, only to discover that we're about to break into a chorus of "Just as I Am."

jhesiak@gmail.com said...

Doylomania...you'll notice that my interaction with this Plantinga has been fairly minimal. I actually found your comments enlightening. I'll be honest, though...from the beginning his quasi connection to foundationalism...among other things...kind of turned me off.

I am, however, still wondering if his a-rationality, or sub-rationality, or whatever it is, bears some resemblance to Kant's notion of the senses' relation to reason...

Jonathan Erdman said...

The Kantian idea of the relation of sense to reason?

Here is a little blurb from a previous blog where I inserted a bit of my understanding of Kant that might be pertinent:

"Kant said that we don't necessarily know "the things in themselves" - the nouma. Rather, our minds organize it's perceptions and leaves us with the "phenomena". The difference between nouma and phemoumena is, as I understand it, the difference between "the thing in itself" and how we perceive and categorize "the thing in itself." Hence Kant was consumed with how our minds categorize "the reality." But for me Kant leaves the question of our connection with reality hanging..." ("Map Maker's Dilemma")

Hesiak Attack: Is this where you are going?

Jason Hesiak said...

Erdman, I have yet to read any Kant directly. I've only heard lots of stuff from lots of other folks. You being one of them. But what you quoted...no that's not what I was thinking of. And I think that goes in a bit of a different direction from what I was thinking of, which is the following:

In short, can we really make a rigid distinction between the phenomenological experience of music (the non-rational, but not irrational and mystical) and the mathematical reality “behind the music” (the true and rational aspect of music)? Stated slightly differently, is the beauty of music to be discerned only or primarily in terms of proportional relationships or must we also necessarily include the phenomenologico-existential experience of music in our discussion of musical aesthetics? If the latter, how do we avoid an over-subjectivized understanding of musical aesthetics in which anything can count as beautiful music?
- from:
http://churchandpomo.typepad.com/conversation/2007/09/what-makes-musi.html

Jason Hesiak said...

the link again...in pieces...

http://churchandpomo.typepad.com/conversation/

2007/09/what-makes-musi.html

Jason Hesiak said...

To be clearl, though...partially what I was thinking of what a QUESTION as to whether this "rationaly" or "arationality" that you guys have been discussing might relate to Kant...??

The quote I was thinking of seems to consider heavily the sensible experience of...whatever (the music)...and not just the mind's phenomenoligical perception of "reality". Especially in the context of the rest of that post...

...???...

samlcarr said...

the above dialogue between Sam and Ivan seems to speak to the need for a "breakthrough", figuratively speaking of course

I think I'll stick to my guns. if Ivan and I are hearing the same voice then breakthroughs are not needed.

ktismatics said...

"you'll notice that my interaction with this Plantinga has been fairly minimal."

I was more surprised at the Erdmanian's remarks: "Perhaps this is what Paul speaks of when he talks about "destroying ever lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of God." That there may be cognitive barriers that prohibit one from even giving Grace another thought." I.e., philosophy and cognitive psychology are useful in opening someone to a "grace event," but afterwards grace alone suffices. And grace reveals all these other non-graced thoughts as lofty, against the knowledge of God, and worthy of destruction. Well I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. Anyhow, since I've gotten this far I may as well carry on.

As I understand his argument, Plantinga infers from rational behavior -- behavior that's sensible and consistent with reason -- a rational mind that would have instilled this behavior in creatures. This mind would be God. And because man understands the rationality of behavior and thought, he also understands the mind of God.

What I've been trying to work my way through is the issue of whether rationality and mind stand categorically apart from instinct and body. And I don't think they do. Only humans can be said to act based on beliefs. I would agree with Plantinga that identifying criteria for one's beliefs tend to happen after the fact, that the beliefs motivating our behaviors we tend to hold tacitly, without a lot of conscious scrutiny. But at some point we do scrutinize our beliefs, evaluating them in cognitive terms. This rational evaluation of belief, like belief itself, is distinctly human.

Plantinga argument for the intrinsic "rationality" of belief in God hinges on whether human rationality "participates" some eternal rational order or some perfect mind. I don't think his argument is strong enough in this regard. Both empirical philosophy and cognitive science have explored ways in which rationality can emerge "from the ground up" as a human cultural artifact. That's what Davidson is on about in my latest post; it's also part of Tomasello's project in looking at language acquisition.

From an evolutionary standpoint rationality would garner extra survival benefits by building incrementally on "reasonable" adaptive instincts. One can imagine a fairly smooth pathway from clever adaptive behavior to reasoned behavior that might take place in small increments. Even in our own experience we can recognize that some actions require more thought or belief than others, and that thoughts and beliefs tend to ride on top of more instinctive motivations like hunger, comfort, sex, happiness, etc.

Even if human rationality did evolve incrementally, and even if children learn to be rational incrementally, one could still contend that this gradual emergence of rationality reflects a historical movement toward godlikeness in nature -- a sort of slow intelligent design. But I think that contention would have to go all the way down to the single-celled organism that "cleverly" induces sneezing and coughing in its host in order to get itself propelled to some new host. The Darwinist position is that these kinds of behaviors arise because they're adaptive to the environment, and not because they're moving toward some goal of greater complexity and rationality. I read somewhere that a third of the earth's biomass is made up of single-celled organisms, so simplicity seems to have its adaptive advantages.

I think if the conversation were to end here it would be reasonable to talk about the "grace event" and criteria by which one believes that it's attributable to God. Briefly, though, even a bottom-up evolved intelligence is still intelligent -- it would be uniquely able to resonate with an alien super-intelligence if one were to make contact.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: I.e., philosophy and cognitive psychology are useful in opening someone to a "grace event," but afterwards grace alone suffices. And grace reveals all these other non-graced thoughts as lofty, against the knowledge of God, and worthy of destruction. Well I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. Anyhow, since I've gotten this far I may as well carry on.

I wouldn't say that all "non-graced thoughts" are lofty and against knowl. of God. I'm not sure how that was implied from what I said.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
Plantinga argument for the intrinsic "rationality" of belief in God hinges on whether human rationality "participates" some eternal rational order or some perfect mind.

But this is explicitly NOT Plantinga's position. It is a bit complex (as I have mentioned), but Plantinga does directly say that the design plan might come from either God or evolutionary process. As such, Plantinga's epistemology (as he develops it) does not require participation in an eternal rational order or a perfect mind. Plantinga is not explicitly developing an epistemology (in the old order of Christian Apologetics) such that if one accepts it one is automatically obligated to believe in God. He does believe that on his epistemology one is more rational to believe in God b/c he believes there are good arguments for the existence of God within the framework of his epistemology. Yet the epistemology itself does not necessitate belief in God.

chris van allsburg said...

I wonder if Plantinga's view on things that are "properly basic" as foundational beliefs is influenced by Common Sense Realism, which contra Hume, doesn't try to "prove everything." Hume put a real kink in the gears of modern philosophy by declaring that on observation alone, we have no rational basis for assuming that the future is like the past. In other words, he should that causation is not observed.

Jason Hesiak said...

Hey Sam,

You said: I think I'll stick to my guns. if Ivan and I are hearing the same voice then breakthroughs are not needed.

Are you referring to the lack of need for a breakthrough in your conversation with Ivan or the lack of need for a figurative breakthrough of something "Other" into our world of sameness-in-relation-to-ourselves?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris:
I wonder if Plantinga's view on things that are "properly basic" as foundational beliefs is influenced by Common Sense Realism, which contra Hume, doesn't try to "prove everything."

Yes. Plantinga explicitly and directly cites Thomas Reid on numerous occasions.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
From an evolutionary standpoint rationality would garner extra survival benefits by building incrementally on "reasonable" adaptive instincts. One can imagine a fairly smooth pathway from clever adaptive behavior to reasoned behavior that might take place in small increments. Even in our own experience we can recognize that some actions require more thought or belief than others, and that thoughts and beliefs tend to ride on top of more instinctive motivations like hunger, comfort, sex, happiness, etc.

One of the arguments that some make against Evolution is that there is no "truth" and "survival" are not necessarily connected. That is, the pursuit of true beliefs, for their own sake, does not seem to have a connection with survival. In some cases, yes: Is it true that the bear is chasing me in order to kill me. But "truth" as a pursuit for its own sake does not seem to be an aspect of survival.

I have mixed feelings about the above argument. What do you think about the relationship between truth and survival?

ktismatics said...

I'm disheartened after discussing Plantinga at length only to discover that I'd missed the point entirely. I'll have to try again later. Meanwhile, regarding truth and survival, I agree with your assessment. There's survival value in being able to detect that that is truly a bear. In that regard all sorts of primitive creatures act according to truth, but again, saying that these creatures pursue "truth" is to anthropomorphize. But you can see how the idea of truth would come from self-reflection on our attempts to discern accurately the features of the world.

"Truth for its own sake" is certainly an abstraction that less cognitively complex creatures would never imagine. But it does seem that even "primitive" human cultures try to understand things about the world that have no pragmatic survival value. Why bother? Maybe it's fun. Maybe you get bored once you've gotten really good at finding food. Humans are good at adapting to a wide range of environments: maybe this abstract ability helps humans to imagine what it might be like to live somewhere other than here. And humans are also good at adapting the environment to themselves, which also requires a considerable amount of abstraction in order to see the "truth" that this rock could be shaped into an arrowhead.

ktismatics said...

One of the side effects of sentience is that humans can abstract the criteria for their actions from the actions themselves. This makes it possible to identify truth as one such criterion. Separating motivation from behavior means it's possible to separate truth from adaptation. Whether that's a side benefit or a side effect is a matter of debate.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
I'm disheartened after discussing Plantinga at length only to discover that I'd missed the point entirely.

No. Not the "entire" point. Just the qualification that Plantinga is not trying to build an epistemology that traps people into believing in God. Of course, neither is his project to develop a "neutral" epistemology. As far as I can tell, Plantinga developed a Christian epistemology and then kind of acknowledged at the end, "You know, belief in God really isn't required. Evolution could be responsible for the design plan."

samlcarr said...

Jason, sorry your Q slipped past me as I was trying to figure out whether K & E were/are on the same page or not. Actually it's interesting that i suspect that Ivan and I are on pretty much the same page too, that is a different 'same page', if you get my point, and therefore no break-ins or -throughs may really be needed.

ktismatics said...

Okay, I'm ready to get back to the task. To quote myself from a prior comment: "So does Plantinga contend that, when a creature's hard-wired behavior look reasonable to us, it must be also be rational; i.e., it must be the result of some mind's conscious thought? Since the animal didn't generate these thoughts, there must be a rational designer of the animal's reasonable behavior? And since humans can reason and can appreciate the reasonableness of hardwired behaviors, then we can appreciate the way the designer thinks, a sort of sensus divinitatus that's built into our rationality? Which means our rationality points to the rationality of God and to the imago Dei in man?" Erdman agreed with this summary, pointing out that man's rationality need not have been created -- it could have evolved to the point where man "naturally" understands the mind of God. Okay, fine. Now...

In my lengthy discussion of this point I cited evolution primarily to propose that rationality, while qualitatively different from the instinctive reactions generated by less complex animal brains, is still continuous with instinct. Instinctive reactions are "rational" in that they are consistent with what a fully reasoning creature might do in the circumstances. And human reason is even more adaptive than instinct because it allows for more flexible and diverse judgments about what's the best course of action in a given situation. So human intelligence is continuous with animal intelligence, regardless of whether the one evolved from the other.

So now we get back to Plantinga's point that we started with: Hence my tentative conclusion: if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter. From your description it seems that Plantinga contends that my belief in other minds is like my belief in my own mind: something we have to take for granted if we're going to be rational about anything. To which I've tried to respond on two different tacks. One, even primitive creatures react "reasonably" to the world and one another without reflecting on why or how they do it, and without being rational. So this non-reflective ability to act "as if" doesn't distinguish rational from non-rational minds. Second, following Tomasello and Davidson, who in turn follow the later Wittgenstein, my belief in my own rationality is inextricably bound up in my understanding of what other people mean by rationality and belief. So self-awareness and other-awareness are two sides of a three-sided triangle, the third side being the working definitions of "rationality," "belief," "criteria," and all other such self-reflective words. We can agree on the meanings of these words because we can agree on what the words point to in terms of mental activity.

So, back to Plantinga: thinking rationally without reflecting on it doesn't mean that rationality has to be assumed. But I can reflect on it, in a way that simultaneously asserts the rationality of myself and the other. God doesn't participate in this interdependent emergence of self-awareness and other-awareness, either in the developing child or in the ongoing development of rationality as a human cultural artifact. So I can't say that my God-awareness is similar to my self-awareness or my other-awareness. His mind might work in some way that's completely different from my own or from other humans. Add into the discussion God's purported non-corporeality and his ability to communicate directly to minds without speech, and God's difference from humans gets even greater.

Saying "I believe in the existence and rationality of God" is a rational statement, in the sense that speaking and acting on the basis of conscious belief is a criterion for distinguishing rationality from instinct. But the criteria for asserting the truth of this belief are different from saying "I believe in my own existence and rationality" or "I believe in the existence and rationality of others." The one doesn't follow from the other. So I don't buy Plantinga's basic contention -- assuming I understand it the way you do and he does, that is. This iterative process of agreeing on word meanings and features of the world they point to -- it's an illustration of the way human rationality works and validates itself.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Plantinga started off his section on Other Minds by saying, "Must a rational person have evidence or reasons for all of his beliefs?" (188)

As far as I can see you and I seem to be in fundamental agreement on the way human beings "work" with respect to the Davidson Triangulation, except one difference: You would say that the interaction with other minds constitutes some sort of evidence (or criteria) for our beliefs, whereas I would say that such interactions could be products of fantasy or imaginary projections of Mind, and as such they do not qualify as evidence.

So, let's flesh out the differences in our abstract thoughts by focusing on a specific phenomena: Pain.

In this book, Plantinga specifically focuses on pain:
"We cannot come to know that another is in pain in the way in which we can learn that he has red hair; unlike his hair, his pain cannot be perceived. And, on the other hand, although some propositions ascribing pain to a person are incorrigible for him, no such proposition is incorrigible for anyone else. We cannot observe the thoughts and feelings of another; so we cannot determine by observation that another is in pain. How then do we ever know that another is in pain? What is our evidence?" (188)

Plantinga asks the question of "evidence." But he is not a skeptic, as we have discussed: "It must be conceded that in a perfectly ordinary use of "see that," one may properly claim to see that someone else is in pain." (189)

The question is whether or not this "see that" constitutes evidence, no? I can "see that" someone is in pain, but does this constitute evidence, strictly speaking?

Plantinga cites Norman Malcolm, who speaks for Wittgenstein here (notice the use of your term, "criterion"):
"Do the propositions that describe the criterion of his bein in pain logically imply the proposition "He is in pain"? Wittgenstein's answer is clearly in the negative. Pain-behavior is a criterion of pain only in certain circumstances. If we come upon a man exhibiting violent pain-behavior couldn't something show that he is not in pain? Of course. For example, he is rehearsing for a play; or he has been hypnotized and told, 'You will act as if you are in pain, although you won't be in pain'....The expressions of pain are a criterion of pain in certain "surroundings," not in others." (215-216)

So, on your understanding, would you say that if I "see that" someone is in pain that this constitutes evidence. We have heard from Plantinga and Wittgenstein (third hand!), but how does this relate to your thinking?

ktismatics said...

You have available to you sensory evidence -- groans, grimaces, swelling, rubbing the painful area, etc. You also have the verbal evidence -- the person says she is in pain. You can't experience the other person's pain directly, by feeling it. But if the sensory and verbal evidence corresponds to what you regard as pain, and if you assume that the other person experiences pain more or less the way you do, then you can infer with reasonably high probability that the other person is experiencing pain.

ktismatics said...

I think it's easier to be a doctor for humans than for animals, and for adults than for children, because the detectable signs of pain can be supplemented by the patient's verbal report of her subjective and inner experiences. Trying to explain health problems to a doctor in a foreign language makes you acutely aware of how important it is to be able to describe what's wrong with you.

Jason Hesiak said...

You can't experience the other person's pain directly, by feeling it.

But what is compassion? Or sympathy/empathy? I once had the realization that compassion is the ultimate craft - craftsmanship being the joining of things that would otherwise be separate :)

Jason Hesiak said...

"directly"...gotcha...but maybe I'd still say there's some crossover...its late maybe i'll try and make some sense out of what i just said later...crap...lol...

ktismatics said...

I agree that empathy is possible, an "I feel your pain" sort of thing. This can happen only because we perceive others as being like ourselves in some basic way. We can recognize that they are in pain and have a sense of what it feels like to them.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Plantinga said,
"It must be conceded that in a perfectly ordinary use of "see that," one may propery claim to see that someone else is in pain."

Some very good points made here, but it seems as though we are all in something of a fundamental agreement with the above statement, even if we disagree on whether or not "seeing that" someone is in pain qualifies as evidence. In "the perfectly ordinary use" of the term "see that" we can (as Plantinga says above) "see that someone else is in pain."

We can flesh these thoughts out a bit more, but as I get ready to go in to work this morning, let me now finish off Plantinga's thought, relating the experience of "seeing that" another is in pain and "seeing that" God exists:

"In a similar use of the term the theist, impressed by the harmony and beauty of the universe or the profundity of the Scriptures, may justifiably (even if mistakenly) claim to see that God exists."

So, that is P's connection between our experience of "knowing" other minds exist and our experience of "knowing" that God exists. Do you see how they are on par with each other in the way he develops it from the example of pain?

Before, you (Ktismatics) did not buy this connection. Having fleshed it out with the example of experiencing someone's pain, do you find P's point more compelling or less? If I can "know" that someone else is in pain in the ordinary way (by somehow sensing their pain, even though I do not have access to their mind), why can't I "know" that God exists on the same basis?

ktismatics said...

"Seeing that" is evidence; "hearing that" adds more evidence -- both help me to infer the other's pain from the evidence. But this inference requires that I too have experienced pain -- that I can relate or empathize with the other as a similar kind of being.

You quote Plantinga: In a similar use of the term the theist, impressed by the harmony and beauty of the universe or the profundity of the Scriptures, may justifiably (even if mistakenly) claim to see that God exists. His position hinges on what "similar" means here. I can "feel your pain" because I can see/hear evidence provided by you and I can infer its meaning because I've experienced similar things myself. Plantinga says that I can "see" evidence for harmony and beauty in the universe and infer God from that. But when I see evidence of pain, it's in that person who's experiencing pain; I don't see someone beyond that pain who may have caused the pain. So if I see evidence for harmony in nature, I'm seeing something about nature, not about what causes nature.

Further, nature isn't like me in the same way as another individual person, or a group of people, or even a dog, is like me. So when I see features of nature it takes a bigger, more abstract jump to see it as relating to myself. So if I see a grass fire, do I "feel" its pain? I'd say no, I don't. I feel bad about it, maybe afraid of it, maybe angry, but I don't relate to it in the same way as if I saw someone whose pants were on fire.

Regarding the profundity of Scriptures, I can see it as evidence of the profundity of the minds that wrote it and of the experiences they had. I can recognize profundity in writing because writing is a human means of communication, a source of evidence about the person who is doing the writing. If I read a good book I don't infer evidence of someone behind the writer who guided the writing. If the writer tells me about someone he knows I'm prone to believe what he or she has to say, once again because I can relate to other people as being similar to myself. If someone writes about a conversation he had with a flying squirrel I'm more dubious, since I've not experienced such a thing and I find it unlikely that it really happened based on what I know about squirrels. Reading about someone who created the material universe, or who is a non-corporeal spirit? Harder for me to relate to than if it was some ordinary human being, hence harder for me to believe.

mentieth said...

Interesting stuff. I need to read some Plantinga now.

The challenge that is laid forth by the work is to the atheist: change the foundation upon which you believe in other minds or accept my God. However - note I haven't read the book - one may ask, 'what is so special about God that He is to be lumped with other minds as "truly basic"?' I've tried tackling something similar, relating to ontology, in a blog post of mine, feel free to check it out:

http://paradoxicalpanoply.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/eclectic-thoughts-on-things/