Best of: Comments I’ve Made on Other Blogs

On this page you will find comments I made on other blogs that I am particularly fond of. Some of my most articulate thoughts have been comments on other blogs, because I have been inspired by the thoughts of the author, whether I agree or disagree with them. I see this as one of the main values of blogging. 

god and ethics

Posted on Wintery Knight from 11/17/13 to 11/18/13

Introduction: Wintery Knight shared a paper purporting to show that ethics cannot claim objectivity without God. The article was flawed and attacked a straw-man version of moral realism, so, as a moral realist, I shared why the article’s argument against realism was flawed. This back and forth ensued.

Meister’s argument against an objective moral system (known by its proponents as moral realism) without God is question-begging, to say the least. He argues that realists must answer ontological questions and epistemological questions about moral properties separately. The realist can easily reply with the analogy of vision. We are epistemologically justified in believing what we see is in front of us is real (read: exists in our ontology) because vision is a reliable method of knowing, as confirmed by empirical knowledge. Thus, the ontological argument is that what exists in front of us is real because it is the best explanation for why we see what we do given epistemological justification for believing what we see. This same argument can be applied to moral properties: we perceive an action as wrong, and we are epistemologically justified in believing this because the ontological existence of the moral properties that make that act wrong figure in the best explanation for why we make that judgment. This is epistemological justification enough! Meister’s argument has been met, unless by justification he means a sort of greater purpose that justifies why morality exists. But this is to beg the question in favor of God, as surely this kind of reason could only be provided by a higher power. Thus, the moral realist can offer epistemological justification for moral truths, but Meister wants theological justification for moral truths because he presumes they are needed for an objective morality. Stated like this it is clear that he assumes the truth of his conclusion. Thanks for sharing!

This argument has nothing to do with epistemology. The argument is about ontology. What grounds the existence of objective moral values and duties? On atheism, there is no grounding. We are accidents, the universe is an accident, and there is no reason to believe that we have some special value or special obligations to one another that are independent of our opinions and preferences – which vary by time and place. For an atheist, all questions of right and wrong are like adopting clothing preferences. Standards of what is acceptable evolve and there is no objective way to measure better vs worse. Who is to say that saris are better than bow ties? The scary thing is when you realize that this is how atheists understand prohibitions on slavery and abortion, or endorsements of marital fidelity or charity.

I quote, “By arguing for a belief in or knowledge of morality without providing a justification for morality, atheists confuse moral epistemology (moral knowledge) with moral ontology (foundational existence of morality). […] As already noted, being moral and having a reasonable foundation or justification for being moral are two very different issues.” This seemed to be the only argument given against moral realism, so I pursued it, and showed how it is an invalid argument. Moreover, epistemology has everything to do with ontology because epistemological principles are needed to justify an entry into our ontology; epistemology is central to all philosophical pursuits.

As for what grounds the existence of objective moral properties: naturalistic physical properties, because moral properties are supervenient and emergent properties of physical states of affairs. The mind is a non-physical thing that emerges from the complex causal nexus of physical brain states. The mind supervenes on the brain because if we made an exact duplicate of a brain and both brains were in the same brain state, then both minds would be in the same mental state. A supervenes on B if there can be no change in A without there being a change in B. Likewise with moral properties: if two states of affairs are exactly identical in their non-moral properties then they are identical in their moral properties. On this account is not an “accident” that wrongness supervenes on the physical act of harming someone because there is a nomological and physically necessary causal relation between the non-moral properties and the emergent moral properties.

So, during the Jurassic age, when there were no human beings, there was no morality, right? It seems to me that what you’ve done here is given an account of morality that is relative. That is, it is relative to the chemical make-up of people’s brains. (Note: I am a substance dualist, not a materialist, but let’s go with materialism for the sake of argument). The chemical make up of people’s brains obviously change over time and from place to place. And, on your view, that means that morality changes from place to place and at different times. So, these leaves with relativism, which is what I argued before.

There is no objective morality on atheism, because the universe is an accident and we are accidents. What an atheist can do is describe what different groups of people with different evolved brain chemistry arrangements believe. An atheist can say “those people think slavery is right, because of their brain chemicals” and an atheist can say “those people think that abortion is right because of their brain chemicals” and an atheist can say “those people think Nazism is right because of their brain chemicals”. But there is no way for an atheist to make any objective moral judgments about different evolved customs and conventions in different times and places, because morality is arbitrary on atheism.

And that’s what concerns thinking people about atheism – the lack on an objective standard. It’s that atheists think that morality is like choosing what is appropriate dress or what is appropriate food. Brains evolved by chance, and what brains think is moral is also unguided and arbitrary, varying by time and place, with no way for one brain to judge another brain as “right” or “wring” except by majority rule.

Moreover, it seems to me that you are a materialist, so here are some other problems with morality on atheism. 1) Atheism means no free will, so you can’t make moral choices anyway. 2) Atheism means no ultimate judgment when you die for what you’ve done. So on atheism, you can do whatever you like to feel happy, because society’s conventions are just arbitrary by time and place. If you can get away with enslaving people, killing unborn children or engaging in sex tourism with children, by all means do it. Just don’t get caught and judged by your society’s arbitrary conventions. Self-sacrificial acts of goodness are particularly irrational on atheism. 3) Atheism means no human rights, such as the right to life. Human beings are accidents. They are just animals who evolved by accident.

Morality is a thing that simply doesn’t apply to atheists. Atheists can be moral if they feel like it, by sensing the moral values and duties that are set by a Creator and Designer. But then they are just sensing a realm of objective moral values and objective moral duties that they cannot account for in their own worldview.

No, I am claiming that during the Jurassic Age there were moral properties that obtained on physical states of affairs. Correctly stated moral propositions if true, would be objectively true. I described what I take to be the correct view (emergentism, otherwise known as property dualism, so you are wrong that I am a materialist) of consciousness to describe the concept of supervenience. I then noted that just as mental states are emergent and supervenient on brain states, so to moral properties are emergent and supervenient on non-moral properties. “Moral properties are emergent and supervenient on non-moral properties”. I never claimed that moral properties are emergent and supervenient on brain states per the “brain chemistry” theory you incorrectly attributed to me, that would indeed be relativism.

Think of it this way. There is a grouping of atoms, say two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2o). It is in virtue of that chemical makeup that this molecule has the phenomenal properties of wetness, liquidity, transparentness, etc. We have called the entity that has these phenomenal properties ‘water’ since before we knew ‘water’ was composed of H2o, but nevertheless, when we pointed to water and said ‘water’, aside from pointing to the phenomenal entity that we experience, we were also pointing to H2o. Our interaction with the phenomenal properties of water was in virtue of our interaction with the atomic structure of water, such that the atomic structure causally regulated the use of our term ‘water’. Thus, when we discovered that the atomic structure of water is H2o, we posited a synthetic necessary identity claim “water is H2o”. It is a necessary identity claim because in all possible worlds anything that is called water is composed of H2o because H2o regulates the use of the term ‘water’, and it is a synthetic identity precisely because it is not an analytic identity: no amount of conceptual analysis of the term ‘water’ would have yielded the conclusion that it is composed of H2o.

The atheistic moral realist is well within his rights in positing something similar for moral properties. It is in virtue of the subvening non-moral properties of an action or state of affairs that it has the supervening moral properties that it does. So the moral property ‘good’ might be causally regulated by one or a set of non-moral properties, in that our experiencing the moral property ‘goodness’ was in virtue of experiencing non-moral properties. If this is so then our moral principles will be synthetic necessary identities because non-moral properties will causally regulate the use of moral property terms across all possible worlds. The result is that there is nothing “accidental” or “arbitrary” about morality for the scientifically-minded atheistic moral realist. A moral property supervenes on the non-moral properties it does as a matter of logical necessity. Because there is a necessary entailment between certain moral properties and certain subvening non-moral properties the moral realist has no difficulty in saying that the actions of Nazis were and are morally wrong, and that slavery was and is morally wrong.

As for your final notes.
1. I have already noted that I am not in fact a materialist, but a property dualist, such that whatever story you can provide for free will I can likewise attribute. There is a connection between property dualism and agent-causal libertarianism, the strongest pro-free will view now on offer. Atheists can coherently subscribe to property dualism, so it remains a mystery why atheists cannot believe in free will as you claim.
2. This point just assumes that without final judgment there cannot be moral objectivity. If moral realism is true then human agents can hold each other accountable for morally wrong actions. I endeavored above to show how moral realism is a viable position, so if you’re worried about objective standards and accountability moral realism provides it.
3. Negative rights, which are rights not to be treated in certain ways can be derived from moral duties, which are duties to treat persons in certain ways, and which the moral realist can adequately provide from the moral principles based on the moral properties that obtain in the world.

Male robot thinking about something.
Posted on Bloggingisaresponsibility, in response to “Can A Computer Be Conscious part II

Introduction: Bloggingisaresponsibility posted a fascinating entry exploring the plausibility of computer consciousness, and whether we could ever know that computers were conscious if they were in fact conscious. Follow the link just above to check it out, I don’t want to steal his work. Our conversation was as follows:

  1. One of the main ideas I see you pointing towards is the notion that ‘thoughts’, considered as a blanket term for outputs of a function that match our pre-theoretic intuitions on said mental concept, are neither necessary nor sufficient for consciousness. If I understand you correctly, it seems you are noting the need to establish what class or type of ‘thought’ is sufficient, or at least necessary, for us thinking we perceive consciousness, and this before we can attend to the harder problems of consciousness. If so, then I agree; how can we expect to uncover what physical networks are sufficient for the realizability of consciousness, if we cannot find a working epistemological process for being justified in thinking something is conscious?

    Enter the Turing test. The test is often dismissed as too simple, but taken as an empirical basis for justifying our judgment on the presence of consciousness in an entity, I think it is ingenius, and for precisely the reason that it specifies what sorts of outputs (thoughts) are sufficient for consciousness. What we are looking for is evidence that we are justified in thinking that something is conscious, as it doesn’t seem we will ever (or at least not for a long time) be able to directly perceive consciousness.

    Consider: to pass the Turing test a computer must lie. Not only would the human interlocutor be well advised to ask the computer whether it is a computer, they will ask the computer “personal” questions. Now, there is no doubt that a computer program can be programed to tell a certain story, such that, the computer isn’t exactly lying, per se. I think this is about the level current computers put up to the Turing test are currently at. But I think it is conceivable that soon a program will both know that it is a computer program without human features such as hair color, weight, etc, and be able to lie about the human features it has. So, if a computer passes the Turing test, then it will be because it knows how to lie effectively, and it will know how to lie because it is aware that it is actually a computer program. This, I submit, would be a self-awareness sufficient for consciousness, so that if something passes the Turing test we are epistemologically justified in positing that it is conscious.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I wanted to address an important insight you expressed in your post. Cheers!

    • Very well put! Also, always feel free to post long comments (and never apologize for them!). I learn a lot from comments, so I definitely don’t want you or anyone else hesitating out of concerns for length. In fact, often the best part of these articles are the comments and the discussions that ensue.

      Your first paragraph is mostly on the mark on what I was arriving at. I would however say that the kinds of activity that give rise to consciousness may not even be thoughts to begin with. That is, consciousness may arise from patterns that correspond to how thoughts are implemented on a particular medium (like the human brain), but that would be a byproduct, rather than anything essential to thinking.

      Your thoughts on the Turing test are fascinating. I never thought of it as a consciousness test, just an AI one. The perspective on lying and consciousness is interesting.

      Although I think a computer can still be conscious and concoct elaborate lies, as far as any test goes (and all the ones I can think of are inadequate), that Turing test might be the best one.

      • You’re right, Turing certainty meant his proposed test to be an assessment to answer the question ‘can machines think?’ In that way, it was meant explicitly to address the ‘intelligence’ of machines, and thus, the possibility of AI, as you noted.

        I suppose my extrapolation from ‘thinking’ to ‘consciousness’ is routed in the connection between the Turing test and its ancestral routes in Descartes. Descartes, as a substance dualist, thought that mind and body were distinct substances, such that, though man’s body is a machine (his words not mine), we are more than machines because we have souls, and the evidence for this difference is the fact that machines, “could never use speech or other signs as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others. […] And the second difference is, that although machines can perform certain things as well as or perhaps better than any of us do, they infallibly fall short in others” (Discourse on the Method of Property Conducting the Reason). Given Descartes dualist convictions, I read him as positing an early version of the Turing test to test for the soul, which I understand as consciousness. (Full disclosure: I’m not a substance dualist, though I am open to arguments for property dualism and functionalism).

        Thanks for your response and kind welcome.

      • Connecting Turing to Descartes. Awesome!

        The connection between thinking and consciousness is a very common one, and a natural one to make. Who knows, maybe I’m being too dismissive of that connection?

        Let’s say you walk home and do so completely on autopilot, to the point that you don’t even remember walking home. Would you argue that you were conscious while walking home?

        One of the premises behind my dismissal of thinking as essential to consciousness is the claim that such events are not conscious events. But is this justified? What if they were conscious events and were forgotten?

        This opens up a can of worms, but it does bring up some confounding points between consciousness and memory that can undermine the premises I assented to in part 1 and re-iterated in this article.

        Thank you for commenting!

    • The Turing Test is not a test for consciousness. There is no test. This is known as the ‘other minds’ problem. There is no test and there never will be. It is simply a fact that it would be impossible to demonstrate machine consciousness. It would be too paradoxical if the researcher were able to demonstrate the consciousness of his machine but not of himself.

      According to Popper’s rules and any rules that I’ve come across, the theory that machines can be conscious is not scientific. Strictly speaking it is less scientific than panpsychism. As BiaR says in his essay somewhere towards the end, it is difficult to be sure that panpsychism is not true.

      I don’t think it is difficult to conclude that the phrase ‘machine consciousness’ is an oxymoron by almost any definition of the terms, but we must concede that we can never demonstrate that it would be impossible, and for exactly the same reasons that we cannot demonstrate that it would be possible.

      As always, I feel that it is a mistake to ignore Kant. He saw that more than computation was required for mental phenomena and categorical thought. Ordinary consciousness would depend directly on his fundamental phenomenon and would be impossible in its absence. I am therefore I think.

      • Right, passing the Turing test is meant to provide epistemological justification for our judgment that computers can be intelligent. The natural sciences use a coherestist model of justification, but as any foundationalist will tell you, coherentism does not guarantee that those beliefs that are justified are true, and the coherentist must and does acknowledge this. It is with this in mind that natualistic scientific methodology allows that we can be justified in a belief, without knowing for absolute certain that that belief is true, such as, for example, if that belief is not empirically verifiable given our current technology. I do not deny that the thesis ‘consciousness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for intelligence’ is controversial, though I have endeavored in this section to motivate that claim. My point is that if the Turing test can provide epistemic justification for holding that computers can be intelligent, then the Turing test can provide epistemic justification for the belief that computers can be conscious, in some appropriate sense. The problem of other minds, and solipsism more generally, continues to be relevant, but philosophy should and can provide epistemic principles that justify our beliefs about other minds, even if they do not guarantee the truth.

  2. I see your point about doing things on auto-pilot, and certainly will concede that we do things without being conscious of doing them. What I think this suggests is a difference between consciousness, and conscious thought, where attention is focused on certain things. When I consciously decide to get up and get a glass of water it can be said that I am conscious that I want water. This is because I am reflecting on myself. There is the ‘I’ that exists throughout all my actions and makes those actions possible, and there is the reflective ‘I’, that is made possible by, and thinks about, the subsisting ‘I’. When you walk home on auto-pilot you still manage to get home, because your consciousness doesn’t stop existing when you are not consciously thinking about it. I am suggesting that the Turing test, or Descartes’ version of it can give us reason to think an entity possess the reflective ‘I’. As the reflective ‘I’ is made possible by a subsisting ‘I’, this gives us reason to think a computer possesses consciousness. (Note: I am borrowing slightly from the work of Edmund Husserl, the pioneer of phenomenology, here.)

    • Thanks!

      In order to ensure I understand, I’d like to confirm we mean the same thing when we write “consciousness”.

      I use it as a synonym for awareness. Unless I am aware of something, I’m not conscious of it, and if I’m completely unaware, then I’m completely unconscious.

      Is that how you are using “consciousness”?

      • I initially meant consciousness in the subsisting and pre-reflective way, but now I see that in order for my initial argument to go through I should understand it as you do.

      • I’d like to understand your view of consciousness better. Could you provide more details?

        For all I know, we may agree and are simply talking about different things, but using conflicting labels.

  3. My view on consciousness, is that it emerges from the complex neurophysiological interactions in and of neural networks. When these interaction become sufficiently complex, with enough feedback loops, consciousness emerges. This consciousness is defined by it’s ability to be conscious of spatial-temporal entities, such as trees, predators etc. Understood in this way, gazelles have consciousness because consciousness is not co-extensive with intelligence. When the complexity of neural networks reaches a point where the being can become conscious of non-spatial-temporal entities, such as their own feelings, beliefs and desires, then they are intelligent.

    Along these lines, when you are on auto-pilot, you possess consciousness, it is just the fact that in those moments you are non-intelligent. On auto-pilot you still respond to spatial-temporal entities, which suggests that some bare level of your being is conscious of them. It is just that you are not conscious of you being conscious of them.

    Thanks for you question, I hope I addressed it clearly.




3. Posted on SelfAwarePatterns, in response to his “Science, Philosophy, and caution about what we know”

Introduction: SelfAwarePatterns examines various ways to separate philosophy and science conceptually. I highly recommend reading his piece as it is informative and well written. SAP seems to suggest that what is distinctive about philosophy is that we cannot be 100% certain that philosophical conclusions are true. I agree, but I think the same is true of scientific claims. Nevertheless, I offer another way of distinguishing philosophy from science, that falls along standard rationalist vs empiricism lines. Rather than just drawing this distinction, I attempt to argue that strongly rationalistic intuitionism gives us a wider range of knowledge than empiricism and science. 

  1. Excellent writing on a very pertinent and fascinating area of knowledge. I am one of those persons who think that science is a branch of philosophy, and I think this because philosophy deals with logical possibility and science deals with physical possibility, where a thing is logically impossible if it violates a law of logic (such as noncontradiction), and a thing is physically impossible if it violates a law of nature (such as the laws of gravity or thermodynamics). Something can be physically impossible but logically possible, such as a human flying by just flapping their arms, but nothing can be logically impossible and physically possible. For this reason, science falls under the domain of philosophy, as philosophy can rule out possible scientific positions but science cannot rule out philosophical positions.

    With this distinction in mind, I want to note that many historians think that Galileo disproved Aristotle’s theory of gravity not by conducting an actual experiment, but by using a thought experiment to show it harbored a logical impossibility. Galileo noted that if we drop a cannon ball and a cannon-ball tethered to a musket bullet, and Aristotle’s theory that heavier things fall faster is true, then the cannon-ball tethered to the musket ball falls faster and slower than the cannonball. It falls faster because the combined weight of the cannonball and the musket ball make it heavier than just the cannonball, but it falls slower because the musket ball falls slower than the cannonball as it weighs less, and drags on the cannonball it is tethered to. This is a logical contradiction, so Aristotle’s theory is erroneous. From this logical impossibility Galileo made conclusions about the physically impossibilities entailed by Aristotle’s theory, in order to posit theories about the laws of nature. What this suggests is that the difference between philosophy and science is not methodological, as philosophical inquiry about logical possibilities benefits science, but rather that science is only concerned with conclusions about the laws of nature, whereas philosophy is concerned with conclusions about the laws of logic and by extension its implications for the laws of nature.

  2. Thanks, and I appreciate your thoughts. Good points. I agree that science is a philosophy. And that logic is vital in science for forming hypotheses.

    Regarding laws of logic versus laws of nature, what is logic? Is it empirical? That is, are the rules of logic the most fundamental laws of nature? Laws that are so fundamental that they are part of our minds? If not, then from where does logic originate?

    If two logicians reach different conclusions, how do we resolve the difference? Bring in additional logicians? But what if no clear consensus emerges? (As is often the case in philosophy.) In science, these disagreements eventually get resolved by empirical evidence, but it’s pretty rare for anyone to conclusively win a philosophical argument.

    Finally, what about things like quantum mechanics, which don’t seem very logical, but that we are forced to accept due to the mountains of empirical evidence?

    I hadn’t heard that about Galileo’s experiment. It doesn’t quite fit with the picture of him I got from my readings (admittedly not exhaustive), where I was struck by how much of an empiricist he was. I don’t doubt he did a thought experiment first, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have chanced only doing that before publication.

    • You pose great questions!

      My immediate reaction is that the laws of logic are made true by all the facts of all possible worlds, and we know this from intellectual intuitions — how things seem to us at first appearance in the mind’s eye.

      This is also why empiricism cannot give us full knowledge of what is logically possible. The empirical sciences discover whether x is physically possible in our world. Philosophy uncovers whether x is physically possible in other possible worlds. Whether x is physically possible on other possible worlds provides philosophers with more testable implications/hypotheses to work with and confirm than they would have if they were limited to just the facts of our world (for example, Mark Timmons and Terry Horgan use another possible world, Moral Twin Earth, to suggest that there it is physically possible for the moral realist’s causal regulation semantic theory to be true but with different moral properties regulating our shared moral terms, which the realist cannot allow). Thus, that logical possibility spreads out similarly over all possible worlds and the philosopher is studying logical possibility allows him to consider events that are not physically possible in our world, which creates the potential for more varied knowledge than that provided by empiricism alone.

      It might seem that given the intuitionist view I am proposing, that we cannot explain how to resolve conflicts when two philosophers have different intuitions. Providing a solution for this is not easy, but I think Michael Huemer has successfully argued that a first step is to remove external theoretical commitments that might obscure how the philosophers see things. More has to be done to address this problem, but I think that the Huemer’s point is sufficient to justify moving forward in testing intuitionism in other areas while more work is done to solve said problem.

      As for your point on quantum mechanics: let me be the first to admit that I do not know as much as I should about quantum mechanics. The little I do know leads me to say, however, that the results of quantum mechanics have been surprising given the theory of special relativity, but there is nothing logically impossible about quantum mechanics. It doesn’t require the existence of the equivalent of circular squares. If you are suggesting that it is unlikely that philosophers would have proposed quantum mechanics in the absence of the mounds of evidence gathered by physicists, then I agree, but that might be because of theoretical biases that would prevent philosophers from denying causal determinism and positing indeterminism at the quantum level. I’m not saying that physicists have not earned their accolades, and that philosophers would eventually have figured out what physicists did, but through intuition, I’m only suggesting that there are important ways of gaining knowledge that the empiricist/scientist cannot access.

      I’ve read in a few places that the cannonball experiment was a thought experiment (’s_Leaning_Tower_of_Pisa_experiment, and in Doing Philosophy by Ted Schick, PhD from Brown U), but I think you’re right that he probably tried out the experiment in person before publishing. Though maybe not on the top of the Tower of Pisa!

      • A lot of good information and new concepts and thinkers I need to look up. Thanks!

        My concern with relying on intuition is that our intuitions, outside of everyday life, don’t seem very trustworthy. If we hadn’t been taught since elementary school that the earth orbits the sun, we’d intuitively believe that it was the opposite, as, with the notable exception of a minority Greek philosophers, most of humanity did until the scientific revolution.

        From what I’ve read, most historians do think the experiment happening at the Tower of Pisa is apocryphal, but that he did do a similar experiment somewhere. (It may have been more like rolling large vs small balls down a ramp.) His argument with Aristotelians on the minute difference in when the balls touched ground sounds like a classic Galileo debate about the pragmatic results versus philosophical purity.

        • The intuitionist is definitely obligated to respond to your objection that intuitions in general aren’t trustworthy; this thought has been the main objection to intuitionism since the get-go, and rightly so.

          Although this might be an unsatisfying response, I think the intuitions that we work with in philosophy are distinguished from our everyday intuitions by how we have those intuitions and not the qualitative feeling of having an intuition. In philosophy and everyday life, intuitions have the qualitative feelings of ‘immediateness’ ‘self-evidence’ and ‘seemingness’.

          Before Copernicus, I might have had the belief ‘the sun orbits the earth’ and held it as seeming self evident and appearing to be so. We now know this to be false. But rather than saying that therefore philosophical intuitionism is faulty, I think we should reconsider whether the false intuition was a philosophical intuition. It seems here that we have visual perceptions, that cause the formation of certain beliefs, and then these beliefs are taken to be obvious, as they have the explanatory power of explaining why we had the visual perceptions in the first place (Gilbert Harman has argued that this feature of a theory is what distinguishes science, and empiricism from rationalism).

          What I am saying is that this intuition was based in experience, of seeing how the sun rose and set in the horizon. This is what distinguishes it from a philosophical intuition; philosophical intuitions are not based in experience, and this because they are known just by reflecting on the terms and concepts themselves, and how they connect. In other words, philosophical intuitions are how we have a priori knowledge. That is why I don’t think the intuitionist is committed to saying that our pre-Copernican thoughts of the solar system were philosophical intuitions. What is more, I don’t want to suggest that philosophical intuitions are infallible, most intuitionists think we can make mistakes when thinking about concepts, that is, we can be mistaken on what we take to be a priori, and thus our intuitions are fallible. But due to conceptual error and not from drawing the wrong conclusions from experiences; the latter is what makes everyday intuitions fallible.

          The distinction between the two types of intuitions as being rooted in the distinction between a priori vs empirical (a posteriori) knowledge fits nicely with the distinctions I made in my last comment about the distinction between logical and physical possibility. Everyday intuitions are, I have argued, self-evident and obvious, because they are conclusions from sensory experiences, and philosophical intuitions are self-evident and obvious because they are known immediately in virtue of the meanings of the terms and the relevant concepts.

          For example, if I visually perceive that a grapefruit is bigger than an apple, and a watermelon is bigger than a grapefruit, then I might have the everyday intuition that the watermelon is bigger than an apple because I know from experience that if A is bigger than B and B is bigger than C, then A is bigger than C. The equivalent philosophical intuition would be had even if the person had never had the experiences necessary to conclude that if A is bigger than B and B is bigger than C, then A is bigger than C. If a person understands the meaning of ‘bigger’ and how logical connectives work in a proposition, then they do not need experiences to know the above statement, they know conceptually/a priori that A is bigger than C. So, tying this together with my previous comment: science deals with empirical/everyday intuitions to establish physical possibility for our world, whereas, philosophy deals with philosophical intuitions to consider logically possible physical possibilities on other possible worlds that we cannot know through experience.

          Concluding, I am grateful for your question, as it has allowed me to supplement my thoughts from the previous post. In other words, many thanks for responding to my comments!

          • I suspect we agree on the relation between logic and empirical discovery, but that I’m more skeptical of a-priori answers. Not that I won’t take them if empirical data is unavailable. For me, philosophy is great for clarifying questions and potential answers. I think those are the logical possibilities you’re talking about. I’m just cautious of accepting a philosophical answer as THE ANSWER, if you know what I mean.

            Thank you for a fascinating discussion.

            • It’s been a pleasure. I agree with what you’ve said. I think it is well advised to be cautious of accepting a philosophical answer as the answer, but I think the same should be said for scientific answers.



  1. #1 by Sue on February 10, 2014 - 4:33 am

    Wintery Knight is of course one of those pretentious Christian bloggers who pretend that they are different from and (especially) superior to those of a secular/atheist/agnostic persuasion.
    And why?
    Because they believe in and promote all of the now archaic nonsense associated with the Bible, “Jesus” and the mommy-daddy “creator”-God .
    Jesus was of course never ever a Christian – he was always and only a Jew.
    The Bible is essentially a work of religious fiction which was fabricated to consolidate the worldly power of the church “fathers” who won the inevitable culture wars of their time and case.
    The “creator”-God is an emotionally primitive childish, even infantile notion. It is a terrifying in its implications and essentially God-less.
    Because it means/implies that God is entirely apart and separate from both human beings and the World Process. We are of course completely entangled within and dependent upon both the Living Divine Reality and the World Process – even for our next breathe.

  2. #2 by Adam Voight on April 14, 2016 - 9:59 am

    I like the first comment on this page about moral realism and atheism, but you could make your position stronger by filling in the details about how logical supervenience of moral onto non-moral is actually done. IN my view, this can only be done with a valid theory of the domain area. For example, biology supervenes on physics because of a theory about what living things are that has been accepted by everyone, even Chalmers.

    So it follows that if you want to get others to accept moral supervenience on the physical, you would do best to make it supervene on the biological first, which will then give you the physical as a bonus.

    Is there another work where you take this next step?

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