Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lesson in logic

I probably should have given up on Steve Hays by now, since as I suspected, his knowledge in the area of natural theology is not much, and people who don't make convincing arguments from natural theology don't make convincing arguments period. However, Hays happened to fall into a rather common trap regarding the distinction between validity and soundness of arguments, so I can use this example to good effect.

Validity deals with the form of a deductive argument; it strictly deals with the form of an argument. An argument is valid if it follows from its premises as a matter of logical form, regardless of whether the premises are true.

Soundness is the additional consideration of whether the premises of the argument are true. A sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are also true. Since most premises are somewhat debatable, it will frequently be the case that an argument one person considers sound will not be considered sound by everyone. In that case, the argument is not compelling, so long as there is some articulable basis for disagreeing with the premises or finding them unconvincing. Sometimes, there will be a lower expected threshold for how persuasive the premises must be, so arguments might be said to be not cogent or not convincing. In any event, unless there is some way to make the premises sufficiently persuasive, then the parties simply have to agree to reasonably disagree.

But speaking of ways to make the premises convincing, there are some odd cases in which you deliberately use an argument that is valid but NOT sound, the most notable of which is the reductio ad absurdam (reduction to absurdity). In that case, you assume certain premises arguendo, that is, you accept them for the sake of argument. The purpose of the reductio ad absurdam is to produce a dilemma, which is a choice between two premises A and B he explicitly holds to force the person to discard one ("dilemma" being named for the two premises) . As Geach notes, this is within a legitimate class of ad hominem argumentation directed toward the person in question's inconsistency, because the purpose is to persuade someone to accept a premise that he is currently not inclined to do (viz., it is directed at changing an opponent's belief about a certain premise). However, the argument still must be valid, and to be sound as a reductio argument, all premises not explictly accepted for the sake of argument must still be true, and all premises accepted for the sake of argument must be premises that the opponent actually holds (either explicitly or by necessary implication, the latter of which usually requires a separate argument to show). In other words, the argument must stil be valid and sound as applied for the purpose of deductively reducing one of the opponent's premises to a contradiction of another premise. Note that it is also valid to challenge the soundness of an argument being applied as a reductio by challenging that the premise accepted for the sake of argument is a premise that one actually holds, and this is by and large the response that I (and others) have given to Perry and Daniel.

So turning to the situation, it is obvious that "Calvinism is monotheletism" or "Thomism is monotheletism" or "X is monotheletism" is a reductio ad absurdam based on the opponent also holding the premise "not monotheletism." If the opponent openly holds the position "monotheletism" or has no qualms about adopting the position "monotheletism," the reductio would be pointless. The argument would conclude "So you're a monothelite!," and the opponent would simply say "You didn't need an argument to show that; I would have just told you." As a reductio, it must be valid and sound as applied, meaning that whatever is not accepted for the sake of argument must be true and the argument must be valid. Because White himself said he considered the argument fallacious, I concluded that he couldn't possibly be using it this way, because it would be openly dishonest to use an argument that you knew was not valid and sound in its application as a reductio.

But Hays appears to be entirely oblivious even of the requirement that a reductio must be valid and sound in its application to be a legitimate ad hominem argument (viz., for the production of a logical dilemma forcing the opponent to choose between premises). My words quoted by Hays are in blue, and Hays's are in red:

The point is to pose a dilemma for the opponent. He can only stick to his position on pain of self-incrimination. If the opponent admits that he was wrong, then he can’t deploy a wrong argument against the other side. So, if Prejean were wrong, that would have direct implications for the wrongness, or lack thereof, of White’s position—if the cases are parallel.Of course, it’s unlikely that the opponent will admit he’s wrong. But in that event, before he can use that argument against Dr. White, he has to win the argument with his Orthodox disputants.

The problems are manifold:

1. An argument that isn't valid and sound to the extent required for a reductio can't serve to create a dilemma in the first place, because it can't reduce the premise accepted for the sake of argument (A) into a contradiction of the other premise (not B). So for my opponent to turn this argument against me, he must concede that it is both valid and sound (in the sense of all premises not accepted for the sake of argument being true and all premises accepted for the sake of argument actually being held by me).

2. It's only self-incrimination to "stick to my position" if it is actually the case that I hold the premise accepted for the sake of argument in the reductio. If I don't hold the premise and if no argument can be made for why I must hold the premise, then I can cheerfully go on asserting the argument until said opponent can actually make the reductio stick. Certainly, I am obliged to defend myself against the application of the reductio to myself if I perceive the argument to be formally valid, as I must with any formally valid argument, but I believe I've done that.

3. An admission that I was wrong in this case would entail that I believe the premise that you seem to believe is shared (i.e., determinism) is wrong. Why on earth would a Calvinist make an argument aimed at reducing to absurdity a premise that he himself holds? That's why the use of this argument by a Calvinist would subject him to a legitimate charge of inconsistency; he would be attacking a premise that he really does hold.

4. On the flip side, I am attacking a premise (Calvinist determinism) that I really do NOT hold, and my reply to Perry and Daniel has been to say exactly that I do not hold the premise. If it turns out that I DO hold it, I still wouldn't have to retract the argument. In fact, given that I consider it valid and sound as applied to Calvinism, I wouldn't even be able to retract it. So if I admit error regarding my response to Perry and Daniel, I would presumably have to convert to Orthodoxy or to change my beliefs in some other way. In any case, it would be completely immaterial to the charge against Calvinism; people paying attention to that debate (although I completely welcome those who do so) will find nothing there that will defend Calvinism, because my entire response is based on NOT sharing a premise with Calvinism

"If being advanced as a serious challenge to my consistency, then White must consider the argument both valid and sound (else it wouldn't actually demonstrate that inconsistency). If White is advancing an argument that he himself doesn't consider valid and sound as applied for the purpose you describe, then he would just be dishonest."

Hardly. He would simply be raising the objection for the sake of argument. There’s nothing the least bit dishonest about that tactic. Rather, it takes the form of an internal critique. You don’t have to share your opponent’s assumptions to answer him on his own grounds.

This is simply a mistake. You accept premises for the sake of arguments. An objection is an argument; you can't raise arguments for the sake of argument. It would be dishonest using a reductio argument that you didn't consider valid and sound as a reductio argument, just as it would be dishonest to use ANY argument that you didn't consider valid and sound. For a reductio argument to take the form of an internal critique, it must take the form of a reductio (that is, it takes a premise actually held by the opponent to a contradiction of another premise). You don't have to share the opponent's premise to do this, but your argument must still be valid and sound for the purpose of reducing that premise to the contradictory premise.

“Ironically, in that case, it would be a legitimate use of Geach's tu quoque rationale against White to point out that he is using an argument which, if he conceded its validity, would be compel him to accept premises that conflict with other premises he holds.”

That is a complete misreading of Geach’s explanation. In his illustration of the foxhunter and the animal rights advocate, the foxhunter does not have to concede that the opposing position is cogent. To the contrary, he’s raising this objection for the sake of argument, on the assumption that the opposing position is false.

Cogency is a property of arguments not premises. Objections are not raised for the sake of argument; premises are. What Hays ought to have said is that one doesn't have to concede the truth of a reductio premise to apply a reductio argument, which is true (you ordinarily apply a reductio argument precisely because you believe the starting premise is NOT true). In fact, that is exactly what Geach said (emphasis added): "You start from something *he* believes as a premise, and infer a conclusion he won’t admit to be true." Hays is the one misreading Geach, because he evidently doesn't know the difference between a premise and an argument. But the inference of a conclusion requires a valid and sound argument, so you do have to accept the validity of a reductio argument and the truth of every premise that you have not accepted for the sake of argument to use it against someone. Since I know of no dispute between Daniel and James White on any premise BUT determinism, I assume that if White concedes the validity of the argument by applying it as a reductio, he would also necessarily concede the absurdity of his own position as entailing monotheletism.

“I suspect that White is actually trying to render forth some sort of proverbial platitude like ‘If you attack people with fallacious arguments, then people will attack you with fallacious arguments.’"

No, the comparison is far more specific. Prejean contends that Reformed determinism entails monothelitism. Prejean’s Orthodox opponents contend that Scotist, Thomist, and Molinist versions of determinism entail monothelitism.The common denominator is determinism, regardless of the particular version it takes.

I don't believe in Scotism, Banezian Thomism, OR Molinism (either the original, or per Suarez). That's part of the problem with Perry's argument. Banezian Thomism in particular is based on Cajetan's theory of analogy, which more or less everyone concedes to be a Scotist reinterpretation of St. Thomas; a similar charge could be leveled at Suarez's version of Molinism. Now that people are getting back on board with the philosophia perennis more rigorously and treating St. Thomas's doctrines of analogy, divine simplicity, and the like more rigorously, the Thomism/Molinism debate has been practically rendered obsolete as a fundamental misconception of God's metaphysical operation.

“But the ‘make a conclusion in this field of theology, transport it over here and use it as a club to beat someone over the head’ fallacy is not in any logical textbook that I have ever seen.”

Actually, I believe that White treated that as a separate objection. One of the points of dispute is theological method.

That's by no means apparent by what he said, and even if it also had this sense, it was clearly directed at my argument as well.

Calvinism has direct Scriptural prooftexts for predestination. Prejean, as well as Perry and Daniel, act as if they can simply sidestep the direct exegetical evidence for Calvinism and negate its Biblical foundations by appeal to some inference-of-an-inference-of-an-inference from philosophical Christology.

Actually, I think your exegetical method includes reckless anthropomorphism because you don't have the philosophical wherewithal to know when your claims are absurd when applied to an entity that could even possibly be God. So, for example, you believe that God has literal emotions, that God makes choices from among possible worlds, that God has knowledge propositionally, that God literally elects from among people, and all sorts of other things that can't possibly be applied to a being that could qualify as God. Personally, I'm with Augustine that you have to get your philosophy at least straight to the point of being consistent with your professed faith before you can do exegesis intelligently, so from my perspective, starting from the Bible is ridiculous on its face. You have to get your natural theology straight first before you even start trying to obtain an articulate and reasonable theology.

More from Hays:

A couple of basic errors in this reply

i) It isn’t necessary to mount an independent argument every time if a preexisting argument is available.

That's trivially true, but we are discussing the use of this particular argument.

ii) Moreover, it is not irresponsible to use the same argument against your opponent which he is using against you when he is subject to the very same criticism.

IF you are willing to concede the validity and soundness of the argument as applied as a reductio, THEN it is not irresponsible.

iii) Furthermore, this is not based on assumptions shared in common between White and Prejean, but Prejean and his Orthodox critics.

If it's strictly true that White doesn't accept the premises of the argument to the extent required for the argument to be a successful reductio, then he would be dishonest to assert it, because the assertion of a reductio implicitly accepts the truth of all premises not explictly accepted for the sake of argument. But with regard to the disputed premises, the dilemma itself, it's true that if White rejects one or the other premise freely, then the reductio won't work on him. Which premise does White reject: determinism or dyotheletism?

iv) It is also true that at some point we also need to show why it is unsound in application to our own view. But the initial countermove is hardly the only arrow in our quiver:

a) Both White and I have marshaled many direct arguments in support of Calvinism.

b) Both White and I have also marshaled many direct arguments in objection to Catholicism—and, in my case—in objection to Orthodoxy as well.So it’s not as if our defense is limited to a tu quoque response.

The question isn't what other arrows might be in the quiver. The question is how this arrow is being handled. By using an argument as a reductio against someone else, you concede a great deal about the validity and soundness of the argument, which creates a burden on you to explain how it is that you concede all this while denying its applicability to yourself. I have been quite diligent about explaining why I believe this particular argument does not apply to me, as have numerous other Catholics, including Dr. Michael Liccione, Dr. Philip Blosser, Dr. Scott Carson, and (listed last, but certainly not least) Fr. Alvin Kimel. For someone who hasn't done anything in the way of responding to use the argument would be grossly irresponsible.

c) In addition, both Prejean and his Orthodox critics are guilty of the very thing he falsely accuses us of.For he acts as if raising his Christological objection automatically discharges him of any duty to respond to the exegetical arguments for Calvinism or against Catholicism. So he is using his Christological objection to deflect attention away from the exegetical debate because he knows he can’t win on exegetical grounds.

d) Apropos (c), the underlying issue remains the issue of theological method. Does philosophical theology trump exegetical theology? That is what renders his argument unsound in objection to Calvinism. For his argument to have any traction, it would need to have a traceable basis in divine revelation. Otherwise, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You can’t do theology by stipulation.

First, I don't think that presenting philosophical arguments automatically discharges me of responding to exegetical arguments. What it does is render Calvinism infeasible as an alternative for the people I am trying to convince, which are those who consider the historical condemnation of monothelitism authoritative. Conversely, if I think that any exegetical argument renders my view infeasible for a reasonable person, then I would certainly respond to it. But that is the only thing that I would consider a "loss," and I have seen no compelling argument that doesn't turn on a premise that can be gratuitously denies (frequently, a peculiar view of Scriptural authority or, in the case of anti-Catholic arguments, a peculiar view of Catholic authority). If I don't think that people are going to have any good reason to accept that premise, then there is no need to respond to it.

I've made the analogy to astrology before, and I'll make it again. I'm not going to try to prove an astrologer wrong over whether this particular conjunction between Jupiter and Mars means people are going to make more money on average, because I don't think there is any good reason to think his method reliable in the first place. It seems more expedient to just ask "What reason do you have to think that Jupiter and Mars have anything to do with it?," and if he can't give one, then I'm justified in ignoring whatever he says. Frankly, I just use you as examples of what happens when you aren't careful and rigorous in your thinking, and particularly, when you don't have multiple checkpoints in reality for your beliefs. This is why I consider the methodology of putting "exegetical theology" ABOVE "philosophical theology" or "historical theology" necessarily suspect. If you can't independently come up with consistent results using all indicia for truth that you consider reliable, if you have to resort to competition between them, then it seems to me that your whole concept of truth and objective reality is defective. That strikes me as a fundamental problem common to lots of later thinkers, notably Kant, Reid, Descartes, and Leibniz. Stoic and Aristotelian-influenced Christian thinkers, particularly the Scholastics and most particularly St. Thomas, tended not to do that.

Second, my argument at Calvinism is targeted against people who would become Calvinists by mistakenly thinking that it was consistent with their beliefs. If someone wants to accept the concept knowingly, if they want to take this concept of Biblical authority, then there is little I can do about it. Lots of people have figured out that their belief in Calvinism was inconsistent with the rest of their beliefs, so that's my target audience. Other people have felt compelled to believe certain things, knowing that they have serious intuitive objections, and I can help them by showing that the belief is not rationally compelled. But if you are, with full consent of the will, committed to the idea of the Calvinist concept of Biblical authority, then it may well be the case that there is nothing I could possibly say that would change that. It's possible to construct a cognitive fortress, and that appears to be what Frame, Poythress, Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Helm, and a large number of others have done. So long as they have no capacity to sally forth to hit people who don't share their view of Biblical authority, then they aren't a threat to me.

You used the word “libertarian” to define your own position. You took this word from contemporary philosophical action theory. That is where it derives its meaning.i) If you wish to invest it with a nonstandard sense, then you need to explain your idiosyncratic usage the first time you first introduce the term to define your own position.

I thought I was pretty clear in saying that I was talking about the Thomist/scholastic definition of God's freedom. I also thought that it was relatively clear in the philosophical context that the translation of libertarian freedom to God was not univocal. If it wasn't, then I will explicitly state that I am adopting the Thomist position as outlined by, inter alia, Barry Miller and Gregory Rocca. Sorry for any lack of clarity on my part.

ii) No one said that evil is a power. Rather, evil is an object of power.

That seems philosophically no better. The only object of a power can be a good; evil can't be willed for its own sake.

iii) To identify your own position as libertarian, only to deny that there is such a thing as the freedom to choose evil, is simply eccentric.

It would not be for a Thomist, so perhaps that clarification will help.

iv) Do you deny that it lies within God’s sheer omnipotence to do evil? Not whether he would, but whether, other attributes aside, he could.

"Other attributes aside" as applied to God violates the divine simplicity, so I consider the statement nonsensical. No, it does not like within God's sheer omnipotence to do evil.

If so, how do you redefine omnipotence?

Same way all scholastics did: in terms of potentia absoluta. Specifically, it is defined by lack of ontological limits imposed on God by creation.

God's freedom pertains to potentia absoluta, which in turn pertains to ontological dependence. The notion that different possible worlds represent different potentia in God says that God varies from world to world, which is simply modal polytheism

Prejean suffers from reading incomprehension. What I said is that if divine freedom is defined in libertarian terms, then God is pure potentia rather than pure actus since his choices are thereby dissevered from his nature or moral character.

All I say in saying that God has libertarian freedom is that He could have done other than He did, that His actions were not determined by His nature or moral character. This does not contradict God as being actus purus. God being actus purus entails that God is simple, so we can't even speak of God's will, nature, and moral character as being separate things. The fact that God can choose otherwise in an undetermined way says nothing at all about there being unactualized potency in God. God can be fully actual and yet not determined in any effects. Indeed, being purely actual precludes such limitation.

“Also, Hays's remark regarding God's goodness here proves that Hays has defined divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will.”

Prejean suffers from an unfortunate inability to distinguish between my own position and the position I oppose.

No, I distinguished them and spoke to yours. There is no way of identifying what the divine goodness is in your regime other than what God does. You simply affirm, presumably on the strength of revelation, that whatever God reveals to be good is good, but there is no ontological support for the claim, no natural theology as it were. To say that what God does is in accordance with his nature is tautology in your formulation; it's something you affirm without giving any additional content.

I do not define divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will. Rather, that’s an implication of the libertarian position he espouses. Libertarianism is inherently voluntaristic.

No, it just happens that lots of libertarians are also voluntarist.

Actually, possible worlds flow from the Scholastic distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta, for God’s potentia absoluta is not exhausted by his potentia ordinata.

Yes, and the way you have defined God's nature and moral character, it's incoherent. I point out that Calvin himself rejected the distinction, and it was his reliance on some muddle-headed concept of mystery in the divine nature, effectively confusing epistemology and ontology, that is in some way responsible for the debasement of the concept in contemporary discourse.

It also follows from certain counterfactual propositions in Scripture.

... which is convenient, because you've implicitly contradicted those as well. This is why I like to get the philosophy straight before going to exegesis.

Strictly speaking, a possible world is a synonym for divine omnipotence (i.e. for what God can possibly do).

Then you ought to have no qualms either with the statement that God's freedom is libertarian (i.e., that he could have done other than He did) and that God not being able to work evil is not a limit on God's omnipotence, since there is no possible world in which God works evil. Good luck explaining how your view allows multiple possible worlds.

i) More reading incomprehension. I didn’t say that he was “constrained.” Indeed, I said the opposite. ii) However, unless one is a voluntarist, God’s choices are characterized by all his attributes. His will is not a sheer will. His omnipotence is inseparable from his other attributes. This is why he cannot do everything of which he is otherwise capable.

What you said in (ii) is exactly the "constraint" I was talking about. You are suggesting that God cannot do something of which He is otherwise capable. That sounds like God as a maximally possible intersection of great-making attributes, the same sort of perfect being nonsense that comes from modeling God implicitly according to dependence on creation. The notion that God's attributes act as constraints on each other is nonsense. It certainly isn't from Anselm or Aquinas.

Yes, it would suffice for Prejean to show that Reformed theology is, indeed, irrational and unjustified. So when is he going to show us rather than tell us?

Right about the time that you can provide an argument that it is at least arguably rational and justified, i.e., based on a premise that cannot be gratuitously denied and that many people are not likely to gratuitously deny. Like I said, it's not my business to deal with quacks who can't convince me they aren't quacks.

You're simply asserting two prima facie incompatible concepts [soft determinism and a compatibilist definition of free will] without argument.”

You haven’t shown them to be prima facie incompatible.

Well, the compatibilist definition of free will is based on the idea that a decision can't be guaranteed unless determined, and soft determinism entails that the divine will does not guarantee decisions, so they seem obviously contradictory to me.

“Given your metaphysical assumptions, I don't think it is possible for you to coherently affirm the existence of any of those distinctions.”

He doesn’t *think* it’s possible. And *why* he doesn’t think it’s possible he doesn’t say.

For one thing, because you don't coherently explain why there is a distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta, but you rely on it anyway.

In that case, he can’t read the Latin Fathers in the original. What about his knowledge of Greek? Can he read the Greek Fathers in the original?If not, then he has no mastery of the primary sources of patristic theology, in which case his triumphalist appeal to Nicene Orthodoxy and the like should be judged accordingly.

Which is the fortunate part of living in a society where the opinions of those who do study these things for a living are relatively freely disseminated, and that the opinions of various scholars are evaluated against the opinions of other competent scholars in the same area, so that even people like me can have conceptual access to their works, provided that I believe the methodology employed by these scholars is a solid and reliable independent criterion corresponding to reality (which I do). If I had to rely on my own original translations of everything, then I probably wouldn't do as good a job, and more generally, the scholarship as a whole couldn't do as good a job, because there is no way I could reproduce the same level of expertise. But this system allows a handful of scholars to be truly expert in each author, so that the coherence of large numbers of reliable opinions can be examined. So I am not the least bit shy to say "Don't take my word for it," when it comes to any patristic opinion, and I freely encourage people to read what is on my bookshelf.