Wednesday, October 23, 2013

C.S. Lewis's Argument against Naturalism, part 6

In earlier posts in this series I presented C.S. Lewis’s argument from reason, G.E.M. Anscombe’s objections to it, and my response to Anscombe. In this post I’ll go over Lewis’s response to Anscombe

The Second Edition of Miracles
Lewis changed the title of the third chapter of Miracles, from “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist” to “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism.” His revision of the argument from reason deals with several of Anscombe’s criticisms, such as his conflation of the nonrational with the irrational (which he accommodates by simply substituting the former term for the latter), and the paradigm case argument. His primary revision deals, appropriately, with Anscombe’s primary criticism: the claim that explaining a belief in terms of grounds or causes are two distinct types of explanations that are not in competition with each other.

Causes and grounds
As Lewis puts it, we use the word “because” in two different senses: to indicate a cause-effect relation (“He cried out because it hurt him”) and to indicate a ground-consequent relation (“It must have hurt him because he cried out”). The former is a dynamic connection -- his being hurt is what caused him to cry out -- while the latter is a logical one -- his crying out is our ground for believing that it hurt him.

He further emphasizes this by giving two illustrations of it: first, just as we can use the term “because” in two different senses, so we can use the word “follow” in two different senses. We can use it in a temporal sense (“B followed A”), which corresponds to the cause-effect relation; and we can use it in an eternal or logical sense (“B follows from A”), which corresponds to the ground-consequent relation. The first describes an accidental relation, while the second describes a necessary one.

The other illustration he offers is to point out that acts of thinking, i.e. inferences, are unique: they are about something other than themselves, and as such, can be either true or false. This is not true of other events, or even of other acts undertaken by a subject. Inferences, then, can be understood in two different senses: they can be seen as subjective physical, physiological, and psychological events in the brain (cause-effect), or as insights into something other than themselves (ground-consequent).

The problem comes in when we recognize that if a belief could be fully accounted for by a cause-effect relation, there would be no room left for the ground-consequent relation to play a role in reaching the belief. How could having or not having a ground-consequent relation have any bearing on the belief? It would be held regardless, because

… if causes fully account for a belief, then, since causes work inevitably, the belief would have had to arise whether it had grounds or not. … But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?{1}

Thus, contra Anscombe, Lewis argues that these two types of explanation are in competition with each other. If the grounds of a belief have nothing to do with one’s coming to hold that belief, then the grounds are simply irrelevant. One would hold the belief whether it had grounds or not, because it has been caused.

Yet Lewis also recognizes that both relations need to apply to a belief in order for it to be valid. It needs a ground-consequent relation in order to be epistemically justified; without it the belief would not be derived from a reason, and so would not be valid. The ground-consequent category must be valid and accepted in order for inference and human knowledge to be valid and accepted. However, the belief also needs a cause-effect relation in order to take place at all; even if we ignore the principle of causality for the sake of argument, any belief that just spontaneously appeared in the mind without any cause could not make any claim to being valid, since it would not be derived from a reason.

In order to resolve this, Lewis argues that the ground-consequent relation and the cause-effect relation must coincide. They must be united into a single explanation in order for a belief to be valid. In other words, the ground of the ground-consequent relation must also be the cause of the cause-effect relation -- not merely by being the ground for it (because then every possible conclusion would be caused) but by being seen to be the ground for it. “If you distrust the sensory metaphor in seen, you may substitute apprehended or grasped or simply known. It makes little difference for all these words recall us to what thinking really is.”{2}

This “seeing to be” is essentially any truth-tracking element that connects the knowledge of something to that which is known. For Lewis, it is similar to the correspondence theory of truth: the degree to which a belief corresponds to what is known is the degree to which what is known is known. If the belief were totally explicable by something other than what is known, it does not qualify as knowledge. In the same way, “the ringing in my ears ceases to be what we mean by ‘hearing’ if it can be fully explained from causes other than a noise in the outer world -- such as, say, the tinnitus produced by a bad cold.”{3} Once we have factored the tinnitus out of the equation, whatever is left over is what qualifies as real, valid hearing. Similarly, valid knowledge is what is left over once we have factored out causes of a belief other than what is known (as a cause). Thus, any account of our reasoning capacities that does not provide for them to be connected to what is known is essentially an argument that no argument is valid, and is therefore self-refuting. It is comparable to saying, “I heard that everything we hear is produced by tinnitus.”

After this analysis, one could be forgiven for taking Lewis’s point to be that naturalism is somehow inconsistent with the correspondence theory of truth,{4} or with his account of how the ground-consequent and cause-effect relations apply simultaneously to the same belief. However, his argument is much more basic than this: naturalism is the view that everything can be accounted for by natural processes. But natural processes only provide cause-effect relations, never ground-consequent ones. This further explains Lewis’s rejection of Anscombe’s claim that more than one type of explanation can apply to the same belief: according to naturalism, naturalistic explanations are the only ones available. It is all well and good to argue that one type of explanation of a phenomenon does not rule out another, but only as long as one accepts both types of explanation. Lewis’s point is that naturalists do not. For the naturalist, natural explanations are the only ones allowed; and natural events progress according to cause-effect relations rather than ground-consequent relations. As such, naturalism cannot account for ground-consequent relations. Yet without them, no belief, including the belief that naturalism is true, could ever be epistemically justified, and could only be true by chance.

It is not enough simply to say that different “full” explanations can be given for the same event. Of course they can. … The question that is still open is the question of whether the kinds of mental explanations that must be offered in any face-saving account of rational inference are compatible with the limitations placed on causal explanations by materialism. If not, then there is a conflict between the existence of rational inference and materialism. This means that materialism refutes itself if it presents itself as a rationally inferred belief (or a belief that depends crucially on the existence of rational inference).{5}

The evolution of reason
Having reworked his argument, Lewis finds it necessary to rework his response to one of the possible objections to it: namely, that evolution can account for our reasoning processes to be (generally) valid. Those early human ancestors whose beliefs accurately corresponded to the world were those who stood a much greater chance of survival. So over time, those who reasoned more and more correctly passed on these capacities to their offspring more readily.

Leaving aside the assumption this scenario makes -- that a capacity for abstract thought would have a positive impact on an organism’s chances of surviving and producing offspring -- this requires us to believe that thoughts, before natural selection touched them, were not originally rational. They were, instead, merely subjective events, responses to stimuli. However, the relation between response and stimulus is not the same as the relation between knowledge and the truth known. An organism with a fully developed eye is not any closer to knowledge of light than an organism that merely has a light-sensitive spot. No improvement of a response to a stimulus could ever lead to genuine knowledge.

Perhaps adding more to the equation will help. In addition to a mere biological capacity, there is also experience and expectation, instruction and tradition. So our ancestors could learn from their experiences to expect things to be a certain way, and could then pass this gleaned information on to their descendants. They learned from experience that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

But expectations like this may only be fulfilled accidentally. As such, they do not connect what is known to the knowing of it; beliefs formed in this way would not be epistemically justified. Reason and inference come in precisely when we look for the nature of the connection, to see if the fulfillment of an expectation is essential to it or not. Moreover, such a scenario could not apply to logical axioms. “My belief that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another is not at all based on the fact that I have never caught them behaving otherwise. I see that it ‘must’ be so.”{6}

A third potential escape route might be to reject truth and affirm pragmatism. Reason is merely useful as aid to practice, and is not meant for speculation. But of course, naturalism is the product of speculation. It goes far beyond our experiences, both individually and collectively, to say that the universe is all that exists. Nature is an abstraction, not something presented to the senses. Naturalism is something some people infer, not something some people experience or practice. Moreover, it is a universal negative, and a universal negative is not something that can ever be experienced.

Lewis concludes his rewrite of chapter three by contrasting the naturalist with the supernaturalist. The latter is guilty of many of the same things as the former: one cannot experience supernature anymore than nature. The supernatural is also an abstraction, going beyond our sensory experiences.{7} The difference between the two is this: first, the supernaturalist is not guilty of a universal negative, like the naturalist; and second, the supernaturalist is not advocating a worldview which calls the validity of such abstractions into question.

The paradigm case argument
What of Anscombe’s (and Antony Flew’s) criticism that by erasing the distinction between valid and invalid reasoning, Lewis has emptied these concepts of meaning? That he is posing a skeptical threat argument akin to radical skeptical claims like Descartes’s evil genie or Nozick’s brains in vats? Victor Reppert argues that Lewis’s argument in the second edition of Miracles is no longer in a skeptical threat format, but a best explanation format.

Neither the first edition argument nor the second is, I believe, a pure case either of a Skeptical Threat Argument or of a Best Explanation Argument. However, the earlier edition seems to correspond more to the Skeptical Threat argument than does the second. In the first edition we have the suggestion of an argument like this: “If thoughts are produced by irrational causes, then beliefs are likely to be false. What if all beliefs were produced by irrational causes? Then we would have no knowledge. And if Naturalism is true that has to be the story. So we’d better not accept Naturalism.” In the later edition we are simply told that in order for rationality to be possible two systems of connection, the Ground-Consequent system and the Cause and Effect system, must coincide, and this is possible only if naturalism is false. Thus the revised edition corresponds more closely to the Best Explanation Argument.{8}

In other words, the version of the argument from reason in the second edition argues what is necessary for our knowledge to be valid, and then shows that naturalism cannot meet these requirements. Thus, it is not presenting the absurdity that all of our beliefs might be invalid. If this were a problem (and I have argued in the previous post that it is not) it can be, and has been, resolved by reforming the argument to meet it. Reppert concludes, “It seems to me that Anscombe’s Paradigm Case argument is ineffective against this sort of argument.”{9}

Anscombe argued that, “if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they are genuinely his reasons, for thinking something -- then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements we make about him.”{10} However, the argument from reason is precisely the claim that, if naturalism is true, these conditions do not hold.

1. A man could not have reasons, because his mental processes are dictated by purely natural processes that care not a whit for logic and rationality.

2. Even if a man could have reasons, he could not have good reasons. Whatever beliefs he reached would be brought about by cause-effect relations (such as association of ideas) because naturalism precludes the ground-consequent relation. Even if the beliefs were true, they would only be accidentally true.

3. Even if there were good reasons for a man to hold a belief, they could not be his reasons. They played absolutely no role in his coming to hold that belief, and if they did not exist, he would hold the belief anyway, since the natural processes responsible for his coming to hold any given belief would be operable regardless. As such, how exactly could any good reasons that might exist for the belief be rightfully called “his”?

Anscombe’s claim that reasons are not what bring about beliefs, but “are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to explain himself”{11} seems plainly false. At least some of the time, we arrive at a belief as a result of a reason. This is what we usually think reasoning consists of. We can, of course, distinguish reasons and causes in general; but to completely disconnect reasons from the occurrence of a belief is not only wrong, it is fatal for our claims to be reasoning beings.

Any adequate account of the relation between reasons and causes must provide an account of the role that convincing plays in our cognitive economy. The idea of being convinced by something seems to imply that reasons are playing a causal role. Anscombe is attempting not merely to distinguish, but to divorce reasons-explanations from causal explanations, considering the former to be noncausal explanations. And insofar as she is divorcing these types of explanations, her critique of Lewis is faulty. If reasons cannot be part of the explanation of how we come to hold beliefs as a matter of personal history, then human rationality as we ordinarily understand it simply does not exist.{12}

That Lewis thought the argument from reason survived Anscombe’s criticism is demonstrated by his inclusion of it in his final book, published posthumously:

No Model yet devised has made a satisfactory unity between our actual experience of sensation or thought or emotion and any available account of the corporeal processes which they are held to involve. We experience, say, a chain of reasoning; thoughts, which are ‘about’ or ‘refer to’ something other than themselves, are linked together by the logical relation of grounds and consequents. Physiology resolves this into a sequence of cerebral events. But physical events, as such, cannot in any intelligible sense be said to be ‘about’ or to ‘refer to’ anything. And they must be linked to one another not as grounds and consequents but as causes and effects -- a relation so irrelevant to the logical linkage that it is just as perfectly illustrated by the sequence of a maniac’s thoughts as by the sequence of a rational man’s.{13}

Anscombe herself thought that the second version was “much less slick and avoids some of the mistakes of the earlier one; it is much more of a serious investigation. … The argument of the second edition has much to criticize in it, but it certainly does correspond more to the actual depth and difficulty of the questions being discussed. … The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has these qualities, shows his honesty and seriousness.” She even acknowledges that how the grounds of a belief are connected to its actual occurrence remains an unresolved problem.{14}

Several years after Lewis’s death, a “rematch” of sorts was arranged by the Socratic Club, with Anscombe defending her own position, and J.R. Lucas defending Lewis’s. When the smoke cleared, the argument from reason was still standing tall.{15} And perhaps the most ironic twist in the Lewis-Anscombe debate is that Anscombe’s husband, Peter Geach, seems to have agreed with Lewis.{16}

{1} C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 2nd ed. (London: Collins, Fontana Paperbacks, 1960), 20.
{2} Ibid., 21, italics in original.
{3} Ibid., 22.
{4} Of course, according to Lewis’s argument, naturalism is inconsistent with the correspondence theory of truth. By disallowing the ground-consequent relation, naturalism disallows the connection between what is known and the knowing of it.
{5} Victor Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 68-69.
{6} Lewis, Miracles, 2nd ed., 24.
{7} However, this does not mean that the effect of a supernatural event cannot be experienced with the senses. “Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary processes of textual corruption, miraculous bread will be digested” (Lewis, Miracles, 1st ed., [London: Bles, 1947], 72; 2nd ed., 64).
{8} Victor Reppert, “The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues,” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 37 n. 21.
{9} Ibid., 39.
{10} G.E.M. Anscombe, “A Reply to Mr C.S. Lewis’s Argument that ‘Naturalism’ is Self-Refuting,” in The Collected Philosophical Papers of G.E.M. Anscombe, vol. 2: Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981), 229.
{11} Ibid.
{12} Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, 65.
{13} C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964), 165-66. For another post-Anscombe version of the argument, see A Grief Observed (1961; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), 41.
{14} Anscombe, Collected Philosophical Papers, vol. 2, ix-x.
{15} J.R. Lucas, “The Restoration of Man,” Theology 98 (1995): 451.
{16} Peter Geach, The Virtues: The Stanton Lectures 1973-4 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977), 26-28, 48-53; Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, 45 n. 1.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

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Steve Law said...

Thanks Jim, this has been a fascinating read.

Jim S. said...

It ain't over yet! One more post to go. It will be on similar arguments to Lewis's and the objections raised to them.