Sunday, December 17, 2006

The -ism fallacy

Steve Hays's last reply gives me yet another opportunity to give a lesson in logic, and this one also happens to demonstrate the reason for his misuse of ad hominem argumentation and his confusion of premises and arguments. For Hays subscribes to an error that I call the "-ism" fallacy, which is more commonly known as sweeping generalization or (in Aristotelian terms) the fallacy of the Accident. This is falsely imputing some non-essential generalization about a group to an instance of the group. Say you're in an argument about an ostrich that turns on whether the ostrich can fly, and the opponent gives the following argument: "You admit that the ostrich is a bird. Birds can fly. Ostriches are birds. Therefore, ostriches can fly." This is the fallacy of the accident: while many birds can fly, it is not essential to being a bird that the organism in question can fly, so the admission that the ostrich is a bird does not entail acceptance of the accidental property. The form of this fallacy is easy to spot in anti-Catholic rhetoric, because it often takes one of two forms:
1. "As a Catholic, X MUST believe that...." Unless the proponent of the argument can actually present some argument for why the belief is essential, the argument is fallacious.
2. "Karl Keating (or insert your favorite Catholic here) doesn't argue that way." There is nothing in the essence of being Catholic that requires me to agree with these people. In addition to the sweeping generalization, this also commits the fallacy of the fallacy, confusing the truth itself with an argument for the truth. Keating might believe the right conclusion for the wrong reasons, so you have to deal with each argument on its own merits. If you can logically connect Keating's premises to mine, then it's permissible rational argumentation, but the burden is on the opponent to connect up premises held by Keating with premises held by me.

A helpful guideline is that one has to deal with one's particular opponent as a microcosm of the larger belief to which he belongs. All of your arguments must be targeted at his arguments and his premises. For the purposes of rational argumentation, "Catholicism" is whatever this particular Catholic believes. Now, you might choose your opponents selectively in order to be a good example of widely-held beliefs among Catholics, but in dealing with a particular opponent, you are committed to dealing with that opponent.

What often causes confusion is the use of certain labels in the form of a synecdoche. This is a conventional linguistic device that uses some generic label in place of a more specific characteristic. So, for example, when I use "Calvinism" in the context of argumentation, it is a label to stand for some particular distinctive belief associated with Calvinism, not some "belief-system," which will perhaps vary from person to person as among people who label themselves as Calvinists. Nor do I even mean some set of essential beliefs identified by the label, because it may be entirely impossible to identify what the essential beliefs connoted by the label are. It's just that "Calvinist" is a more efficient label than circumlocutions like "a person who believes X form of deterministic causation and Biblical authority" (for example), and rather than wasting words in this way, I simply use "Calvinist" to stand for a particular premise held by my opponent. If he doesn't like the label, I'm happy to use a new one (although preferably one that rolls off the keyboard easily), because the label is insignificant; only the premise matters. The whole point of labels and definitions is to make the concepts, beliefs, and premises mutually clear, so that the process of argumentation is meaningful.

Hays refers to using an argument "to discredit Catholicism generally" and "to discredit the Catholic belief-system in general, and he says that I am using the same argument "to discredit a belief-system in general due to its alleged association with monothelitism in particular," asserting that "The gist of the argument is that if monothelitism is heretical, and Calvinism is guilty of this particular heresy, then Calvinism in general is thereby falsified due to its complicity with a false doctrine." I am doing no such thing, and I would consider it fallacious to do so, meaning that I also consider it fallacious when an opponent tries to do the same. It is a wasteful and pointless derogation from the purpose of rational argumentation, which deals with premises. The fallacy of the Accident is particularly troublesome, because it shifts the focus of the opponent's principles in a way that tends to spill into other fallacies, such as ad hominem attacks based on some sort of general inconsistency as opposed to being targeted at a particular premise. Hays's misreading of Geach is based on a similar confusion.

With all this in mind, I can point out Hays's "basic mistakes":
1.i) Although I’m a dyothelite, I personally could be a monothelite and still turn Prejean’s argument against him. For the issue is one of consistency.As long as my opponent regards monothelitism as a heresy, then even if, ex hypothesi, I did not, I could still turn his own argument against him by showing that he has implicitly committed himself to a chain of reasoning which leads to the very thing he finds fault with in my position.

Sure, and the purpose of such an argument would be precisely for the opponent to cease to view "the very thing he finds fault with in my position" as a fault by forcing him to choose between his condemnation of monothelitism and some other premise that is reducible to monothelitism. But even for the monothelite to use the argument to reduce that other principle to monothelitism, to accept the "chain of reasoning," the monothelite has to accept the argument as valid and sound for that purpose. Otherwise, he is a Sophist, presenting arguments that he knows to be fallacious and/or unsound. It would be equally sophistical for a dyothelite. The dyothelite would then be using an argument aimed at converting a belief in dyothelitism to monothelitism, which would be an argument with a conclusion that he considered untrue, which would make him a Sophist as well. A responsible participant in reasonable dialogue can never deliberately make an argument that he considers to be not valid, not sound, or not directed toward a true conclusion; that is the definition of sophistry (i.e., arguments not aimed at producing true beliefs). In this case, the sophistical purpose is to show "inconsistency" in the sense of "this person has poor reasoning skills," but that is an illegitimate ad hominem, not being directed to any particular premise.

ii) Remember that this is not a debate over whether monothelitism per se is true or false. Rather, its falsity has been taken for granted by Prejean, and he is using monothelitism to discredit a belief-system in general due to its alleged association with monothelitism in particular.The gist of the argument is that if monothelitism is heretical, and Calvinism is guilty of this particular heresy, then Calvinism in general is thereby falsified due to its complicity with a false doctrine.

I am doing no such thing, and in fact, Hays admits that I am doing no such thing by pointing to the fact that the argument isn't directed at showing the falsity of monothelitism. Rather, the argument is intended to provoke a dilemma for people who already reject monothelitism. More specifically, it is aimed at people who aren't going to chuck dyothelitism, meaning that they will be forced for the sake of consistency to reject Calvinism (which in this case is a synecdoche for particular beliefs in Calvinism). Perhaps people who discard this particular belief will still consider themselves Calvinists, viewing the belief as non-essential to Calvinism. Perhaps some will discard monothelitism. All I care about is forcing the choice on the particular belief in question.

iii) Now, having framed the debate in those terms, if there is a parallel version of the argument which is applicable to Catholicism, then I could use that against Prejean regardless of where I personally stand on monothelitism, for I might be using it to discredit Catholicism generally.

Certainly, you might, and if you were, then it would be illegitimate and probably even sophistical to do so. The terms in which the debate has been framed are not legitimate terms of rational argumentation.

Even if I regarded monothelitism as true rather than false, and even if I regarded Catholicism as implicitly monothelitic, which—ex hypothesi, I’d take to be a positive feature—I might also find many other objectionable features in Catholicism, regardless of whether I took issue with its Christology, so that—for purposes of mounting an internal critique—I could seize on its Christology to discredit the Catholic belief-system in general, by trading on the logical structure of Prejean’s own argument.

Two important things to note here. First, Hays admits that you have to consider the argument valid and sound by the admission that the counterargument trades on "the logical structure of Prejean's own argument." That is an admission by Hays that White could not have the legitimate ad hominem use of the argument against me that Hays was urging, because White by his own admission considered the argument fallacious (defective in its logical structure). Second, to avoid sophistry, the argument would have to be directed at a premise in particular, and more specifically, it would have to be directed at a premise that the proponent of the argument considered untrue. The purpose of any "internal critique" can't be to show inconsistency generally; it MUST be directed at using the inconsistency to change some particular belief. It would be sophistical (not aimed at producing true belief) to simply point out a dilemma without the goal of forcing a choice between the two premises. As I'll discuss below, there is a legitimate information-gathering purpose for which this might be done (specifically, to determine which of the premises the opponent in question is going to throw away), but that isn't technically showing anything.

It’s a way of putting pressure on his own position. If I force him to back down, then that’s one less objection to my own position.This only works if he happens to exercise that particular option. He may have other options open to him, and choose to exercise another option. If so, then, assuming I were a monothelite, I’d thereupon withdraw that particular line of argument. But you don’t know how your opponent will react until you confront him. So it’s worth exploring the options.

"Exploring the options" can't include asserting an argument that you consider to be fallacious or unsound or leading to an untrue conclusion, and similarly, you can't "withdraw that particular line of argument" if you consider it both valid and sound. It's a legitimate question to ask why someone's argument doesn't touch his own position; that requires the person to construct a defeater, and if the defeater involves the argument being not valid or not sound as applied to the opponent, to withdraw the argument. But it is only a question; it is not an answer to the argument. If the proponent of the argument decides that the argument is not valid or not sound as applied, then he might indeed withdraw it. You can "wait and see" to some extent. But even this is a legitimate tactic only if you truly consider the opponent to have a like premise to yours, so that you think his defense will either cause him to spot that the argument is fallacious or unsound or to differentiate the like premise more explicitly from yours. In any case, the point of the question isn't formally to show anything, inconsistency or otherwise. It's an information-gathering technique, just like asking an opponent to provide definitions, and it is fallacious if used as an argument. Hence, all of this talking of "putting pressure" and "forcing" results is just double-talk, trying to make the statement into more than it is. If it is actually deployed as an argument, then it must be deployed as a valid and sound argument against a premise. To do otherwise, particularly as an excuse to avoid answering the argument yourself, is sophistry.

2.i) Another related problem with his response is that he fails to distinguish for whom or for what the ad hominem argument is meant to be valid and/or sound.In the way I deployed it, the appeal doesn’t turn on assumptions which Prejean and I may share in common, but assumptions which Prejean and his Orthodox critics may share in common. That’s the pressure point.

First, assumptions we share or don't share in common has nothing to do with logical validity, which is strictly a question of logical form. The formal process of drawing inferences from premises is not a matter of debate; it defines rational argumentation. Second, arguments have to be directed at premises, and one's own belief about the premises DOES restrict what sorts of premises one can target and what sorts of arguments one can advance in that regard. One can't advance an argument intended to disprove a premise that one considers true, for example, and one can't advance an argument if one doesn't believe that it is sound (valid with true premises apart from those accepted for the sake of argument). The goal of rational argumentation is belief in true premises, so it is sophistry to present an argument as showing something about the truth value of a premise if it does not. Third, as I said, if your goal is simply to discover which of the premises I would reject, then that isn't an argument. In point of fact, I would reject the premises I am alleged to share with Calvinism (which I deny even holding) and affirm the ones that I share with Orthodoxy. Consequently, the only thing this argument, if made to stick, would accomplish would be getting me to reject a premise which you consider to be true in favor of one you consider to be false. If that isn't sophistry, I don't know what is.

ii) Remember, this is not *my* argument. Rather, it’s the argument of his Orthodox critics. I’m simply pointing the reader to an argument which they have deployed against his position, an argument which is structurally parallel to the argument which he is using against my position.

And pointing to the application against someone else's position as a defense of your own is the fallacious use of tu quoque. It is an illegitimate ad hominem attack; the use of the argument is not intended to change a premise. Moreover, to do this, you would still have to grant that the structure of the argument is valid; otherwise, it's sophistry.

3.Yes, I—as a Calvinist—believe in determinism. This doesn’t mean I believe in just any form of determinism. Or that every form of determinism has the same consequences. As a Calvinist, not every version will do. One can be a secular determinist. Or idealistic determinist. Or pantheistic determinist.
4.For reasons I’ve already given, I don’t regard his argument as valid in application to my own position.

To dispense with (3), as I said above, by "Calvinism," "determinism," and the like in the context of a particular opponent, I don't mean anything else that the particular form of determinism that the opponent holds. Ad (4), validity deals with the form of an argument, not its application. Your use of the argument against someone else is an admission that you consider the argument valid. If it is a question of soundness, then you still have to view the premises that aren't accepted for the sake of argument as true. It would appear that if you accept Perry's argument that all of these other positions entail the same sort of determinism as Calvinist determinism, then any sort of defense that would excuse the argument from applying to you would apply mutatis mutandis to Catholicism. On the other hand, if I reject the deterministic premise, then the argument is irrelevant. Either way, you have no premise against which to assert the argument, meaning that its assertion against Catholics must be sophistry.

Even if this were correct, consider the consequences:i) Perry regards Scotism, Thomism, and Molinism as implicitly monothelitic. ii) Apparently, Prejean doesn’t deny this charge.iii) Prejean extricates himself from heresy by distinguish between original Thomism and Banezian Thomism.iv) But Prejean is still a professing Catholic. Is he going to concede that Scotism, Banezian Thomism, and Molinism entail a heretical Christology?Is he going to say that Scotus, Suarez, De Molina, and Cajetan, et al. were heretics?Doesn’t the Catholic church regard these versions of theological determinism, however qualified, as theologically orthodox options?

Note the fallacy of the Accident. Certainly, I can think that Scotus, Suarez, Molina, Cajetan, et al. made mistakes. They're human, after all. That doesn't make them heretics. If it turns out in the mature reflection of the Church that some ideas can't be reconciled with Catholic doctrine, then those views will be labeled erroneous. This is hardly unusual. Epiphanius's views on icons are considered wrong; Augustine's opinion on infants being damnable for original sin has been rejected; Thomas Aquinas's view on the impossibility of the immaculate conception was wrong; numerous Fathers belief that Mary sinned is wrong. They're no more morally culpable for these errors than they were for not knowing the atomic number of uranium; the state of theological inquiry had not reached the level of sophistication to analyze them meaningfully. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with numerous Catholics having different and even conflicting opinions as to the viability of certain speculative doctrines of various authors. That's why, on matters in which legitimate theological diversity is allowed, anyone attacking Catholicism must attack all of the legitimate alternatives.

i) This is a very revealing statement of Prejean’s own position. According to him, natural theology can tell us that God does not have literal emotions, that God does not make choices from among possible worlds, that God does not have propositional knowledge, that God doesn’t literally elect from among people, &c.

Yes. These things are logical absurdities given God's attributes of impassibility, aseity, simplicity, and the like.

ii) From what version or representative of Catholic (or Orthodox) natural theology is Prejean getting his information?

All of them. Divine impassibility and unchangeability are dogmatic in both East and West.

iii) He’s also assuming, without benefit of argument, that revealed theology doesn’t draw sufficient distinctions between God and his creatures to distinguish literal predications from anthropomorphisms.

I'm not assuming that. I'm saying that if revelation doesn't tell you that something is anthropomophic, but natural theology says it must be, then it's anthropomorphic. You don't need a contextual clue to tell you that God does not literally have "wrath."

iv) Do I believe all these things?a) Does God have literal emotions? Depends on what you mean. Does God *feel* things the way we feel them? I’m not prepared to say that. And there are some senses in which it is untrue. In general, I subscribe to divine impassibility. What I am prepared to say is that God has certain attitudes of approval or disapproval.

With a sufficiently robust ontological framework, I think such attitudes can be coherently sustained. Lactantius appears to have done so in On the Wrath of God. But that has to be grounded in a real ontological gap between God's causation of good and His causation of evil. Without that, it is sheerly incoherent.

b) Does God make choices among possible words? Depends on what you mean.As I’ve explained on other occasions, I don’t regard a possible world as an item from a mail-order catalogue from which God chooses a world to instantiate.Rather, God knows himself. In his self-knowledge, he knows what he is capable of doing. And the actual world does not exhaust what he is able to do. A possible world is an instance of what God could possibly do.In this respect, I agree with Peter Geach.

But the analytic framework in which that distinction becomes coherent requires a certain ontological view or reality, and particularly, of evil as a privation. Moreover, it can't view possible worlds as a potentia in God. This "exhaustion" language is troublesome in that regard. There is no "part" of God that is unactualized, no God in reserve.

c) Does God have propositional knowledge? Depends on what you mean.God has beliefs. True beliefs. d) Does God literally elect individuals? Yes.

I don't understand what it means to say that "God has beliefs." Are beliefs something other than God? If not, then what sense does it make to say that He has them. Literal election strikes me as similarly nonsensical.

v) What makes any of this anthropomorphic? Unless Prejean is going to take the position that God and man have nothing in common, then the Biblical ascription to God of certain attributes or actions analogous to man does not, of itself, amount to anthropomorphic language.

I take the position that God and man have nothing in common, meaning that the ascription of this sort of language is analogous in the Thomist sense of the term, but not in the sense of definite likeness and dissimilarity. But you're getting at the problem; most of your exegesis I would consider philosophically impossible.

vi) And, as I said before, Scripture also distinguishes God from man in a variety of ways.

And this form of analogy, as if there can be definite likeness and dissimilarity with God, is completely unacceptable for Catholics or Orthodox Christians.

Is that how the covenant community operated in OT times? Did the priests and prophets, scribes and lawyers begin with natural theology before exegeting the OT? Is that how Jesus and the Apostles reasoned with 1C Jews?

No. It isn't necessary to have a fully-developed rational theology in order to believe. The Jewish people were prone to anthropomorphic thinking, even when they got beyond their primitive philosophical roots, and it isn't illegitimate to express views in a way that is understandable to the audience. At the same time, we've got a couple of thousand years of intervening experience on what is and is not entailed by the existence of an Incarnate God, so that excuse is not really available to us. We have to respond to our surroundings as well.

And so, to be consistent, you also apply the historical condemnation of monothelitism to broad swaths of Catholic tradition as well, viz. Scotism, Molinism, & Banezian Thomism, which implicates the Franciscan and Jesuit orders a system of heresy.Seems to me that that’s more of a problem for Catholicism than Calvinism.

Not so much. None of that is dogmatic in Catholicism; it is in Calvinism. Even if Thomism entailed the results of Calvinism, the fact that Thomism is directed at preserving the dogmas of the Church, even if it turns out that it cannot do so coherently, distinguishes it from open rebellion. Likewise if Molinism entails Pelagianism. Thus, it would be possible for either of those classes to accept an argument that their view could not be reconciled with Catholic dogma and to abandon it. Calvinism entailing monotheletism would be a different matter.

Other issues aside, you do the same thing in reverse by demoting exegetical theology. So your “multiple checkpoints in reality” are not coequal. Revelation takes the hindmost.

No, it's simply a non-contradiction check. There's no logical priority involved; it's just that texts are typically prone to multiple interpretations, and it just may happen that it is impossible to tell which interpretation is correct without having a check. In many matters of natural theology, the conclusions are sufficiently definite and compelling that they can be used to rule out bad interpretations.

Reliable for what? If reliable at all, *different* sources of information are reliable consistent with what makes them differ from one another. They are not always equally reliable on the *same* subject, otherwise they wouldn’t be different.

That's why it's important to identify points of contact. The nature of God is a good point of contact between natural theology and revelation. The Resurrection is a good point of contact between history and revelation. What makes a convincing case is having the same answer at numerous tangent points between independent disciplines.

So, on your view, our prior beliefs are immune to correction. Revelation should never be in a position to challenge our preconceptions.

Not at all. These other areas simply act as a check against overreaching claims about what revelation says. The fact that God is described as having "wrath" means something, but philosophy says that the "something" cannot be extended beyond certain limits. In areas where other disciplines allow judgment, Scripture might determine the matter.

You’re confounding the order of knowing with the order of being. Even if it were tautologous at the epistemic level, that hardly renders it tautologous at the ontological level. So the divine will would not be an arbitrary fiat.

That would be true IF natural theology were an independent source of knowledge about God. But with respect to revelation, it is an act of the divine will, so you are using an act of the divine will to specify the divine nature. That is tautological voluntarism at the ontological level.

i) Calvin did not reject a distinction between the potentia absoluta and the potentia ordinata. What he rejected was theological voluntarism.ii) And I’d reiterate that Reformed theology is not the sum-total of whatever Calvin believed. “Calvinism” is merely a conventional label for one theological tradition. Calvin is a major representative of Reformed theology, but Calvin is not our Magisterium. Scripture is.Supposing that another theologian could improve on his formulations, so what?

I disagree with both claims in (i) based on what I know of the scholarship; I think he made both claims incoherently. I'm perfectly happy to accept whatever other solution that you have in mind; I am saying that I have never this position taken coherently by any Reformed author ever, Calvin simply being a prominent example.

i) I merely distinguish between the power of contrary choice (i.e. between good and evil) and the power of alternative choice (i.e. greater or lesser goods, incommensurable goods). God has the latter, but not the former.

There is no such thing as a choice that is not a power of alternative choice. Evil can't be chosen for its own sake, because evil is ontologically nothing.

ii) Yet traditional debates over libertarianism include both brands of freedom. And this debate extends to the sphere of divine action. For example, one of the libertarian objections to divine impeccability is that God cannot be praiseworthy unless his liberty includes the power of contrary choice:
This is why it’s artificial for you and Robinson to excise peccability from the libertarian lexicon.

It is no different than the conclusion that Freddoso quoted from Anselm; worlds in which God does evil are conceivable but not logically possible. They are not "possible worlds" in the proper sense. That ontological move for excluding conceivable worlds in which God does evil from possible worlds is hardly unusual.

i) Calvinism doesn’t have a distinctive position on Biblical authority. Rather, it simply codifies the classic Protestant position on Biblical authority—something it shares in common with confessional Lutherans, Evangelical Anglicans, Fundamentalists, and other conservative Evangelicals.

Synecdoche again. I mean it to apply to anyone who holds it; I have no idea why anyone has this belief on Biblical authority. This means that I find none of these people to pose a serious intellectual threat to Catholicism either.

ii) The Reformed doctrine of providence does undergird our doctrine of Scripture in a way that’s not the case with more libertarian traditions.

Yes, and that is the view being targeted as entailing monotheletism, so this is simply piling up reasons not to believe the Reformed doctrine of Scripture.

iii) I’d add that our hermeneutical approach is not essentially different from contemporary Catholic Biblical scholarship, viz., Brown, Fitzmyer, L. T. Johnson. Where we come to a parting of the ways lies not with the basic methodology (i.e. the grammatico-historical method), but with the authority of the exegetical results.

Admirably stated.