Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On a more personal note

Well, my primary goal in having a discussion with Steve Hays was to assemble a record to demonstrate why I thought reasonable discussion with him was impossible, and I think I've done that as follows:

To the contrary, there’s nothing irresponsible about using an argument you yourself regard as unsound as long as it is sound *for your opponent* given *his* intellectual commitments—in contradistinction to your own.

The only issue is what you’re trying to accomplish by that maneuver. It would be irresponsible to use an unsound argument to prove your own position. It is not irresponsible to use an unsound argument to disprove the opponent’s position as long as it would be sound for him.
I make no such admission. It doesn’t have to be valid and sound for me, only for my opponent. Prejean’s problem is that he fails to distinguish between the argument and the function of the argument. An argument needn’t to be sound, in and of itself, for me to put it to use as a sound argument against my opponent as long as it is sound for him. That’s the point. There’s the argument in and of itself (e.g. determinism [allegedly] entails monothelitism), and then there’s the purpose it serves as *part* of an ad hominem argument (ex hypothesi, Catholicism would be guilty of the same).
I can use a bad argument to produce a true belief. For the bad argument is my opponent’s own argument. And the point of turning his argument against him is to show what a bad argument it is. This is not a direct argument for a true belief, but an indirect argument for a true belief.

Every statement here is one that I reject that anyone engaging in rational argumentation can do. I can't see excusing the use of an argument that is unsound in and of itself based on its function anything other than sophistry. So that's it for that issue. We're done; we can't have a reasonable discussion on any substance. Hays's entire defense of the use of the argument by either a monothelite or a dyothelite is based on these beliefs, meaning that I consider it illegitimate as well.

But now that the objective matters are put to rest, I can address the numerous errors that Hays has made in his mind-reading. The trouble with having bad arguments is that they often persuade you to think things about an opponent's mind that are neither necessary nor true. These are a good deal easier to answer, since I have the advantage of access to my own mind, which Hays does not. So, away we go:

Prejean’s latest reply is a typical specimen of how he performs under pressure. He makes a sweeping, unguarded claim. When that is shot down, he introduces some face-saving distinctions which were absent from his original post, and the pretends that his opponent is at fault for failing to take his retrofitted argument into account in his previous response.Needless to say, I respond to what people say when they say it. I appreciate Prejean’s need to do a patch-up job on his earlier performance, but I’m not responsible for the inadequacies of his earlier performance.

Except that what I am saying now is the same thing I was always saying. Hays misread me then (and I don't have to assign fault to him for doing so, but he did), and rather than clarifying the matter, he assumed he was right and responded accordingly. But he wasn't right about it being a "sweeping, unguarded claim;" he simply took it that way and lacked the decency to ask whether he was right. All of the distinctions I have in mind now, I had in mind when I first wrote on the subject, and there is a record for all that (although Hays has applied his art of mind-reading to that as well). But there is a subjective claim here, which is essentially that I realize that I have been "shot down" and have introduced a distinction to save face, and I can answer that claim pretty easily:

1. In absolute seriousness, anyone who accepts Hays's original argument on this point after this whole dialogue is not a person whose opinion I respect sufficiently to care about what he thinks of me. This is a threshold question about fairness in arguments, and if someone is willing to let unjust arguments pass at this level, then I don't consider him competent to judge me.
2. The entire purpose of talking to Hays at all was to produce a record for people about whose opinion I actually do care, none of whom would think that I had lost face in the first place. This record is being compiled to explain why Hays is not even sufficiently reasonable to attempt dialogue. It is a cautionary tale for people who might be otherwise inclined to interact with Hays that his ideas of what is "fair game" are outside the bounds of reasonable argumentation.
3. It is ironic that Hays speaks of losing face, given that the entire debacle was started by Hays's use of Daniel's argument as a face-saving maneuver for White, who evidently lacked the wherewithal to substantively answer my own argument. Why would I need to save face from my argument going unanswered?
4. Even in the worst-case scenario of being so stubborn to not even realize that I have been beaten, I can affirm that I am just that stubborn. If I have been "shot down," I am blissfully unaware of the fact, meaning that Hays's characterization is still wrong. I honestly believe that what I am arguing now is the very same thing I argued from the beginning.

I’d add that Prejean is a repetitious writer, so I won’t respond to every redundancy.

I've found this helps with certain people to prevent me from being taken out of context.

No, for purposes of rational argumentation, Catholicism is whatever a professing Catholic is supposed to believe. If his actual beliefs are in conflict with what he’s supposed to believe, then it’s fair game to point that out.

But I am ultimately the arbiter of what I am "supposed to believe;" indeed, I can specify what that term means by ipse dixit. Unless you are interpreting "supposed to believe" in the very way that the person does, then you haven't showed a conflict. At best, you've made an argument for why the label "Catholic" is confusing for others, but that doesn't have anything to do with rational argumentation, so it isn't "fair game" at all. This is why I subjectively consider most Protestant arguments against particular Catholics useless. The Protestants have some idea that Catholicism is a monolith that can be imputed to each individual, but that's not the way Catholicism works.

In particular, there is nothing wrong with saying that even large number of individual Catholics have made mistakes. Indeed, the Magisterium has made authoritative declarations to that effect in the past. It could very well be that Scotism, Thomism, and Molinism are ALL implicitly (materially) heretical, although not subjectively (formally) heretical because they did not intend to deny Catholic belief. That's one of the great things about being Catholic. We don't believe that dogma is so perspicuous that disagreement separates the Church.

Wow! He knows what a synecdoche is. Very impressive. In his next reply I expect he will also flaunt his command of the multiplication tables.

I confess that it wasn't obvious to me that everyone who read my blog would know (and have known and forgotten) what "synecdoche" means, much less see the application to using labels to stand for particular premises. I wasn't using the term to flaunt my intelligence anyway. I thought it would be helpful for people who might not have thought explicitly about these matters in some time, which was the point of giving lessons in logic in the first place.

To the contrary, this is exactly what Prejean is doing, and it’s his modus operandi. He can never win an argument on exegetical grounds, so he tries to win an argument on tactical grounds through guilt-by-association. Whenever he gets into a debate over Calvinism, he attempts to discredit Calvinism as a whole by tarring it with the odium of Nestorianism.

Here's Hays's mind-reading again. As I said before, I am uninterested in Calvinist exegetical arguments, because I don't share the concept of Scriptural authority on which they are based. If I had seen a convincing argument for the Calvinist concept of Scriptural authority (or conservative Evangelical, Chicago Statement, or whatever other version you like), then I might have a different view. But I have no idea how two people with different concepts of Scriptural authority can even have a meaningful exegetical discussion. This is why I prefer to talk about the methods that we have in common, rather than those that we don't.

Hays is entirely wrong about me wanting to "discredit Calvinism as a whole." All I want is to know truly and accurately whether certain Calvinist beliefs do or do not entail a belief identified in the historical records as being condemned by the Council of Chalcedon that bears the label Nestorianism. That's it. Maybe such Calvinists decide that Nestorianism, properly understood is not that bad. Maybe they conclude that the Bible does not prohibit Nestorianism as a belief based on their concept of Biblical authority, as the Assyrian Churches did. The ONLY claim that I am interested in rebutting is this one: Calvinism is Chalcedonian. Forget about whether Chalcedon was right or wrong; I'm just focusing on the extremely narrow question "What did Chalcedon condemn?" That is what matters to me, because it is a narrow disciplinary issue that can be answered by agreed-upon methodology to reach the truth as best we can know it. That observation may well implicate large numbers of Catholics in the same mistake, and that's fine. My goal is to know what the facts are; if the facts implicate as many or more Catholics as Calvinists in material heresy (though likely not formal heresy), then so be it. I wouldn't dream of special pleading on the point; that would be thoroughly dishonest.

It has been a pattern among certain opponents of mine to try to make every interaction into a full-on rugby match for Catholicism versus Calvinism, and all I care about is drawing one or two boundary lines in the correct place. Everybody keeps trying to make this bigger than it is. That "cumulative argument" that Hays keeps talking about isn't even on my radar. My approach is "forget the sides entirely; what do we know to the best of our ability?" I said to Eric Svendsen once that I'm not an apologist for Catholicism, but I am an apologist for historical fact. I want to know what it is that we can know to the point of being practically indubitable from historical research and logical argumentation. And thus far, that is all I have ever intended to do. I want to get tiny, hyper-technical questions of church history and philosophy correct, because I strongly believe that people who make bigger claims without getting the details excruciatingly correct simply make themselves wrong on a much larger scale. So I think that there is value in spurning the overreaching issue and focusing on microscopic ones with the hope that a broader structure will become clear by collecting these tiny points of light.

None of this matters for Hays, of course. With him, alas, I can't even discuss the tinier things reasonably.

And for the record, the distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta DOES require a distinction between good and evil. That's why Anselm can coherently say that worlds in which God sins aren't even possible, even though conceivable. See Freddoso's article that you linked.

EDIT -- Forgot to bring up a couple of remarks that I thought were quite apt:
The Bible was comprehensible in the sense of being meaningful, but it was incomprehensible in the sense of being referentially opaque.

This is an excellent description of the situation when God is the object of knowledge. I find sufficient evidence for God's unknowability in Scripture that I think even the audience at the time would have known this, despite not having formally constructed all the details of divine unknowability.

Is 21C Catholic theology meaningful to you, but referentially opaque in relation to the way it will appear in another thousand years or so?

I suspect so. I certainly wouldn't be willing to predict the future in this regard. There are possibilities I can rule out, but I can't really specify what might be discerned by future reflections.