26 May 2013

A-Rausing converstion

Yes, I know. That title is the greatest pun in the history of humankind. You can deliver my honorary plaque later this week.

Anyway, the mighty Randal Rauser offered a commentary on our conversation on his blog, which you can read here. My reply is right there at the top of the comments, but here it is anyway. Randal's subsequent response is one I'll respond to in my own blog post.

Since I pinned our whole conversation to my blog (which I enjoyed thoroughly), I think that I'll let my arguments there speak for themselves. But I would like to comment on a couple of points specifically.
If you want to talk about “red flags”, anybody without formal
philosophical training who dismisses as “profoundly stupid” a nine
hundred year old family of philosophical arguments that are still
defended and discussed with great seriousness by professionally trained
analytic philosophers today, says more about their own ignorance and
(sorry, but I have to say this) arrogance, than they do about the alleged collective stupidity of all those philosophers.
There is no shortage of stupid arguments and absurd beliefs that have survived for centuries, or longer, nor of ridiculous ideas that have been entertained by some of history's brightest minds (Isaac Newton, for example, spent most of his life as an alchemist). Given that the majority (70%+) of academic philosophers accept or lean toward atheism, I think it's a safe bet that few of them are impressed with the ontological argument. I'm sure there are people who think it's great, and that's fine. Personally, I think there are some fairly good and complex arguments for theism, and some really mind-numbingly stupid ones; for my money, the ontological argument definitely falls in the latter category. As to whether you were defending the argument or simply describing it during the course of your exchanges with Johno, I'll leave that open for the sake of charity.
Speaking of charity,
Third, the root of the problem emerges when Mike D basically dismisses the entire discipline of philosophy as “bullshit”.
That's not just an overstretch as josephpalazzo said, but a complete misrepresentation. I love philosophy. I engage in it and read it often. I think it's supremely important. Even when someone like Stephen Hawking says "philosophy is dead" I recognize that when he proposes model-dependent realism he's proposing a philosophical idea. Even in the post you reference (the summary; the other one is just a copy & paste job of our conversation) my objections to your argument are philosophical. It wouldn't make much sense for me to talk about the isolation objection to coherentism and the epistemic value of science in one breath and then dismiss all of philosophy in the next. In fairness to you, I fluctuate between colloquial hyperbole and and academic specificity somewhat arbitrarily, so I don't blame you a bit for the confusion.
BUT... I'm also a firm believer that to be a good philosopher, you must also be a good scientist. I think that in a perfect world they wouldn't even be separate disciplines. Science is a methodology for comprehending what reality is and how it works. Philosophy essentially establishes propositions, based upon rational introspection, that attempt to deal with problems of defining, perceiving, interpreting and communicating reality. But in order to understand which propositions might actually be correct, you need science – because philosophy without science is confined to rational introspection, and science has often showed our cognitive models of reality to be primitive and incomplete. The door swings both ways, of course – the best scientists have a good grounding in philosophy, too. Lisa Randall's book "Knocking on Heaven's Door" comes to mind as a terrific example.
Furthermore, in all the exchanges I've read and personally had with philosophers over the years, much of it is drowned in semantics and almost purposefully esoteric obfuscation. I will always love philosophy, but the most profound and challenging insights I've read in philosophy have almost always come from scientists.
So I'm definitely, definitely not dismissing the entire discipline – quite the opposite. It's just my opinion that there is a lot of absurdity and semantic nonsense that gets batted around as profound by people who ought to know better, and a resistance to discard useless philosophical ideas made irrelevant by advances in science (see the book "Philosophy in the Flesh").
Lastly, regarding the existence of the moral law. The point I made in our conversation is that if such a moral law exists, it is either objectively accessible to us or it is irrelevant to the human condition. I often say on my blog that the only thing worse for religion than a God who probably doesn't exist is a God who might as well not exist. I believe the same is true for an objective moral law. If the only way to access it is via subjective intuitions, unverifiable claims of special revelation, or necessarily biased interpretations of scriptures, then you just have a cacophony of people who are certain they are right no matter how much their ideas oppose each other.

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