Hey, Remember _God and Other Minds_?
June 19, 2010 — 15:25

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Concept of God Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 19

[This post is not wholly unrelated to this one, which is a point I’ll be harping on for, oh, say, the next 30 years. It’s also not wholly unrelated to my recent confession concerning naturalism.] So Al is retiring as we know, and many people have been reminiscing about various aspects of his career. One thing that I think needs remembering is the brilliant and simple argument of _God and Other Minds_.
That argument, in brief, can be sketched as follows.
1. The case for the existence of other minds and the case for the existence of a Divine Mind are on a par (w.r.t. formal arguments).
2. If 1, then affirming one of them is rational if and only if affirming the other is rational.
3. It is rational to affirm the existence of other minds.
4. So it is rational to affirm the existence of the Divine Mind (supernaturalism).
My only quarrel is that I think the *philosophical* case for God is better than that for other minds, but let’s let that go. Here’s why it’s important to me to bring this up now. During grad school, I met many more people who had come to believe in God during or just prior to grad school than who lost their belief. But those few who did all seemed to suffer from the same kind of bad epistemology, something very much like what Al calls “evidentialism”: needing a pretty much indesputable argument for God’s existence to believe. (N.B. all, please, PLEASE, that this is not what evidentialism is in epistemology, the latter is a supervenience thesis about propositional justification).
Forget that this standard is not applied consistently. My point is that, yes, design arguments and cosmological arguments have disputable points (though it’s awfully hard to dispute the premises of Koons’s or Pruss’s arguments). But unless one starts out as an “antecende” naturalist (which, unfortunately, many do), then theism is the only game in town. And, naturalism is in shambles. It’s the Metaphysical Shrug. I think Hume is totally with me on this. Unlike Hume, I think we can go on to give more content to supernaturalism, but that’s a different matter. That’s the discussion we should be having.

Comments:
  • Wait — (2) is false, no? Grant that the formal arguments for both have equal epistemic weight. Still, aren’t the epistemic merits for other minds more impressive than those for theism? So, for example, the force and vivacity of other minds belief is much, much greater than for theistic belief — at least for very many people. Also, (and as James F. Sennett has argued in Modality, Probability, and Rationality), belief in other minds enjoys universal sanction. Theistic belief? Not so much.

    June 19, 2010 — 16:51
  • I haven’t read Plantinga’s book, but I have always wondered whether Plantinga was aware, at the time of writing, that the same argument from analogy is developed at length by Berkeley in Alciphron IV. Berkeley considers a number of strategies for proving the existence of other finite minds and argues that each of them can be used to prove the existence of God. Alciphron has never been very widely read, though. Do you know if Plantinga was familiar with it, if he developed the line of thought independently, or if there is some more complicated history to the argument?

    June 19, 2010 — 17:06
  • The vivacity varies by person and across time, which is why I put the parenthetical proviso on Premise 1.

    June 19, 2010 — 17:08
  • In fact, one way to put my point (here and in the first post linked to) is that philosophical arguments are great for helping clarify issues, make distinctions, explore the content of concepts, and even, to some degree, guiding belief. However, one’s beliefs are primarily guided by some kind of vivacity. I think Descartes, Locke, and Hume all make this point in one way or another (even if it goes against other things they say). Hume’s probably the clearest on this.

    June 19, 2010 — 17:11
  • Good question. There are no references to it in the book, but that doesn’t mean he hadn’t come across it, he was pretty widely read in the history of philosophy at a pretty early age.
    Do you have a link the text you could post here?

    June 19, 2010 — 17:14
  • There is an unrestricted copy on Google books. That link should go directly to the beginning of the fourth dialogue; the main argument starts in sect. 3, after a couple pages of stage-setting.

    June 19, 2010 — 17:42
  • Thanks Kenny.

    June 19, 2010 — 18:02
  • christian

    with “exapologist”, i think that (2) is false. but i would also add “clearly false”.
    *there are no plausible arguments against the existence of other minds. of course, there are skeptical arguments that aim to show that we cannot know there are other minds, but that’s different. on the other hand, there are plausibly sound arguments against the existence of a divine mind. we would have to be clear about what ‘divine’ entails, but i’m assuming that you mean something god-ish. these are not skeptical arguments either.
    *i’ve been in contact with quite a few organisms that seem to have minds. for example, i hang out with organisms, my friends, and they seem to have minds. but, unfortunately, i have never been in contact with an immaterial divine thing that seems to have a mind.
    so, i have experiential reasons to think there are other minds, but i do not have experiential reasons to think there is a divine immaterial mind. i have arguments against the existence of a divine mind, but none against the existence of other minds. this is important, why?
    because this is why (2) is pretty clearly false. i affirm the existence of other minds and that’s clearly rational. it’s rational for me to think you have mind trent. but i don’t think there is a divine mind. there’s nothing irrational about that belief because there are good reasons for holding it.
    of course, you may think that there are really good arguments for the existence of god. i don’t, but i could be wrong about that. i only mean to say that belief in other minds attached to bodies we interact with is very different from belief in a divine mind. only crazy people are in doubt about the former. on the other hand, non-crazy and intelligent people deny the latter.

    June 19, 2010 — 20:20
  • Perhaps the answer to my titular question is “No” because I’m presupposing the first half of the book where he shows that there is no good philosophical argument against God from evil. And there are all kinds of naturalists who think there are good arguments against the existence of minds. I’m not just talking about the Churchlands (I won’t venture a guess as to their sanity), for the average physicalist–that is to say the average philosopher–doesn’t believe in the sorts of minds that the folk find obvious. The folk tend to think materialists a bit daft (or confused by “philosophy crap”) and I won’t nay say them here.
    And I agree with Plantinga (and more recently van Inwagen), that there are no good philosophical arguments from evil against the existence of God. Now I’m on record in print as saying that one might have a *basic* belief of the form “Nothing could justify that” when beholding a horrendous evil, but that’s really what Plantinga calls a “nonargumentative” defeater at the end of WCB. That’s another matter though.
    And really nothing you say implies that there are any good *arguments* for the existence of other minds. I think the term “experiential reasons” might be a bit off for its “seeming” that there are other minds, but I’m happy to grant that it’s properly basic. But that feeds right in to Plantinga’s point: belief in God can be properly basic too, so they’re on par in that regard.
    It seems to most people that there’s something more than nature. We see the world *as* created (I think this might actually be what Romans 1:20 is saying). Frankly, it just seems obvious. In a way it seems more obvious than that other there are other human minds. I can imagine a scenario where they are illusions or androids. I can’t escape the createdness with which the contingent world confronts me. Ultimately, I’m more convinced that God exists than that you do.
    Maybe the world doesn’t seem created to you. That bums me out, it really does, but, like Plantinga, I have come to the conclusion, unpopular and “rude” as it might sound, that you’re not functioning properly. You may not be *culpable* for this, but that’s what I’m afraid is true. I think it’s really not your fault, I think it’s likely a social thing. Much of belief is. You’ve likely had unfavorable circumstances. But I think divine grace can reach into any circumstance if one is willing.
    But Al’s not out to convince you if you don’t want to be convinced. The point is that there are suggestive but philosophically questionable arguments which support a properly basic belief that there are other minds, and that the bulk of the rationality of believing in other minds comes from there being properly basic. Likewise, there are suggestive but philosophically questionable arguments which support the basic belief that there’s a Creator.
    When I consider the arguments for other minds, I see their philosophical limitations, but they tend to confirm for me that my basic conviction is on track.
    When I consider the theistic arguments, I see their philosophical limitations, but they tend to confirm for me that my basic conviction is on track (in fact the fact that there’s a long history of versions of the arguments from widely divergent philosophers very much confirms for me that my basic conviction is on track).
    For me, God and other minds are about on par epistemically.
    What I was lamenting was when people’s basic conviction falls away because of their concern over the philosophical problems with the arguments. I think that’s a lamentable malfunction. And I think it’s the kind of malfunction which could be overcome or prevented by reflection. That is why I wrote this post.

    June 19, 2010 — 21:58
  • @Trent:
    The vivacity varies by person and across time, which is why I put the parenthetical proviso on Premise 1.
    Yes, that’s exactly the problem — i.e., exactly why Plantinga’s argument is a failure. Other minds belief has maximal force and vivacity, and for virtually all people. Not so for belief in God. These are serious, substantive disanalogies.
    This is a point that goes way back to the Plantinga-Quinn exchanges. I don’t think Plantinga’s case has ever overcome this problem — a problem admitted by at least two Christian philosophers who devoted their dissertations to Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, by the way: James F. Sennett (who covered his pre-warrant phase) and James K. Beilby (who covered his warrant phase). Andrew Chignell and Keith DeRose make variations on the same point.
    In any case, all this is moot, since Plantinga’s analysis of warrant suffers the fate of death-by-counterexample, as has been demonstrated by (e.g.) Keith Lehrer, James Taylor, and Richard Feldman (one of your dissertation advisors, no?)
    Also, regarding this business about non-Christians not functioning properly through no fault of their own: Isn’t there a serious problem here when you combine this point with (i) Romans 1 (the whole, “you’re without excuse a and under God’s wrath for not believing, since the existence and nature of God are not just seen, but clearly seen” argument that Paul makes there) and (ii) the ought-implies-can principle?

    June 19, 2010 — 22:50
  • I’m a pluralist about epistemic desiderata. Al’s proper functionalism fails as a theory of knowledge. But that’s OK, proper-function rationality is still an important property and one connected to epistemic justification in important ways.
    But, again, the vivacity stuff is just completely irrelevant to the point. I’m a radical internalist. I think totally dysfunctional people can have important and valuable epistemic properties. But that’s not what’s in question here. Precisely what you call the failure is an illustration of an important point from GOM which I’m trying to underscore and I don’t know how to put it any better than I did in the last paragraph of the last post.
    You write: ” Other minds belief has maximal force and vivacity, and for virtually all people. Not so for belief in God.”
    But that’s false. I’m not sure what your standards are on “virtually all” but globally (in a spatiotemporal sense) virtually all people have been supernaturalists. Atheists are few and far between outside of the hothouse of Western affluence.
    Here’s Romans 1:20.
    Here’s Romans 1:20
    Romans 1:20 (New International Version – UK)
    20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
    So what’s the problem now? As I said, I think creation does make it clear there’s a Creator. I’ve offered a theory about why some people don’t see it or at least claim not to see it. I don’t think the “ought implies can” objection has any traction here, any more than it does if a drunk who drives through your fence has an excuse in the impairment of his faculties. It’s true, of course, that he *couldn’t* avoid the fence at the time. But that’s no excuse.

    June 20, 2010 — 7:42
  • Mike Almeida

    exap,
    I reviewed your post on Feldman’s counterexample to the sufficiency of Plantinga’s conditions for warrant. I’m probably misreading it, but I find it hard to see the counterexample (I left a similar comment there). Here’s my worry.
    The designer (who replaces the cosmic blast) knows that your chances of thinking of a non-prime number are extremely high if this occurs in a way equivalent to arbitrarily selecting a number in that range. So he designs you in such a way that a number arbitrarily selected from that range occurs to you when you hear the word ‘prime’ and you form the belief that it’s non-prime. This is part of a design to have you form true beliefs about these numbers. Why do you lack warrant for those beliefs?
    Look, God designs me in such a way that I form the belief ‘that’s a live tree’ when in the presence of live trees and (many) dead trees. Given the preponderance of live trees, the mechanism, though not infallible, seems to provide warrant to my belief that that’s a live tree. All I’ve done is replace numbers with trees, prime numbers with dead trees, and the word ‘prime’ with the observation of a tree. Otherwise, the cases are the same.
    There are similar examples. I form the belief that that’s regular old H2O in the presence of a liguid body that has the stereotypical properties of H2O. I get the same belief in the presence of watery stuff that’s not quite H2O (heavy water, for instance, watery stuff with dangerous isotopes). But the belief that that’s H2O seems warranted. Where’s the disanalogy?

    June 20, 2010 — 10:54
  • Mike Almeida

    Let me try this link exap to your post.

    June 20, 2010 — 13:09
  • Trent,
    You wrote:
    I don’t think the “ought implies can” objection has any traction here, any more than it does if a drunk who drives through your fence has an excuse in the impairment of his faculties. It’s true, of course, that he *couldn’t* avoid the fence at the time. But that’s no excuse.
    How does that fit with this other thing you wrote:
    Maybe the world doesn’t seem created to you. That bums me out, it really does, but, like Plantinga, I have come to the conclusion, unpopular and “rude” as it might sound, that you’re not functioning properly. You may not be *culpable* for this, but that’s what I’m afraid is true. I think it’s really not your fault, I think it’s likely a social thing.
    In any case, your assertion about the vast majority of people being supernaturalists may or may not be true, but doesn’t seem to help you make your point. Most supernaturalists of the past have been polytheists — something Paul is clearly railing against as an instance of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness in Romans 1. Also, what are we to make of the billions of Buddhists? Suppression of the obviousness of theism? Stephen Maitzen has some papers on the demographics of theism that points against Paul’s “suppression” hypothesis.

    June 21, 2010 — 4:20
  • “metaphysical shrug” is good. If that’s an original coinage, congratulations. I think it’s right that materialism as worldview can tend to mean “I just don’t care much about seeking explanations (for mind, value, creation) any further”.

    June 21, 2010 — 11:01
  • As far as I know, I coined “metaphysical shrug” for Naturalism in class last semester or the semester before. I’m glad you like it: promote it!

    June 21, 2010 — 12:07
  • christian

    Trent,
    And there are all kinds of naturalists who think there are good arguments against the existence of minds. I’m not just talking about the Churchlands (I won’t venture a guess as to their sanity), for the average physicalist–that is to say the average philosopher–doesn’t believe in the sorts of minds that the folk find obvious.
    I don’t know much philosophy of mind. But I can’t think of any good arguments against minds, or even common arguments against minds. Now, by ‘minds’ I am not assuming that in order to be a mind something must be non-physical, or nonnatural. For example, a mind might just be a highly organized brain. So, with that said, I’d be curious what these alleged “good arguments” are that naturalists have been proposing and whether they would apply to the conception of mind mentioned above.
    Anyway, my point is that it seems to me that there are other minds and I strongly suspect I’m not alone in this seeming. I’m ok calling such a belief basic, although I would throw out the Plantingan account of what its justification consists in. Moreover, I don’t think there are good reasons to give this belief up.
    But things are very different for belief in a divine mind. First, this belief does seem to assume some form of dualism, whereas mere belief in other minds does not. Second, this belief is widely rejected, whereas belief in other minds is not. Third, we actually see and touch bodies that behave as if they have minds, we do not see and touch either a divine mind directly or a divine body that behaves as if it has a mind. Let’s call these “experiential reasons”.
    What I was lamenting was when people’s basic conviction falls away because of their concern over the philosophical problems with the arguments. I think that’s a lamentable malfunction.
    Those are three non-philosophical, or ‘mundane’ reasons to think belief in a divine mind is not on a par with belief in other minds. They are experiential reasons for thinking that belief in other minds is not subject to problems that belief in a divine mind is subject to. They are reasons to think that belief in a divine mind may be defeated or undermined or made less rational by considerations that do not apply to belief in other minds. Now, you may think you can answer these worries by developing a theory of human nature and God and His purposes. For example, perhaps many people are subject to some really odd malfunction. OK. Though I would reject that story, that’s not my point.
    My point is that that very story, however it gets told, conjoined with the claim that there is a divine mind is not epistemically on a part with the mundane belief that there are other minds.

    June 21, 2010 — 12:15
  • Re: Consistency and Culpability
    Culpability comes in degrees. I think we are rarely fully excused or fully without excuse. I offered one possible exculpating factor, in part to play nice (though sincerely so).
    And notice that the “no excuse” message of Paul in no way depends on it’s being obvious that the world is created. Rather, the signs only need to be strong enough for someone to be culpable in not investigating further, where further investigation is rewarded by progressive revelation. I’ll be giving a talk on this kind of Pascalian point at the University of Arkansas in November.
    Re: Polytheism
    A. I don’t think most supernaturalists have been polytheists. I think that’s the lingering influence of Hume’s a priori history of natural religion (What a good read though! Reminds me so much of reading Lucretius De Rerum Natura, a brilliant mind in over their head at empirical matters really makes for a show of intelligence! (Less so when it’s vice versa as when bad philosophy is marketed as “theoretical physics”)). There’s good data that monotheism is actually the better default. Really, though, and I’ve blogged about this a good bit here, what most people are, including Christians, really, are henotheists: one supreme being and many smaller deities. The angels in Judeo-Christian theology are essentially minor deities. Indeed, I think the Saints qualify as minor deities. I.e., they have the qualities attributed to minor deities in the past. That we now shy from calling them “gods” is really sociological more than theological. Jesus talks about us being gods and the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of “deification” doesn’t raise eyebrows among the learned of the West. APPENDIX: There’s a relevant book forthcoming by my colleague C. Stephen Evans. I’ve read the MS and it’s very good. It should be coming out within a month or two (with a really nice cover with a snowy peak!). You can read about it here.
    http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Signs-Knowledge-God-Arguments/dp/0199217165/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277140262&sr=1-1
    B. Even if polytheism were the majority view–which, again, I assert is false–that wouldn’t go against any thesis I’ve advocated, for (i) it still shows naturalism to be a bad fit for human experience, and (ii) God typically works by degrees. Polytheism is a start, and polytheists have shown a remarkable proclivity for accepting monotheism when it’s presented to them! Paul doesn’t really rail against the polytheists, I think that’s a bad reading of the text. He uses it as a bridge to move them on to understanding of YHWH. Paul is here doing for the Gentiles what he does a few chapters earlier for the Jews when he argues from the Hebrew Scriptures. Even if Hume’s evolutionary natural history of religion were true, that would no more go against Xn theism than the truth of the evolution of human bodies would tell against design (i.e. “squat”).
    Re: Buddhism
    There aren’t currently “billions” of Buddhists and I have some doubts about there being billions even in the history of the planet, but that’s not so relevant. Buddhism’s rejection of rationality takes it out of the running in my book. I’ve learned lots from studying Buddhism, I think it has great insights, teaches many truths, provides a modicum of enlightenment, etc. But I think the rejection of reason means all bets are off when it comes to its applicability in this context. It’s not as if they make a good case for naturalism! Indeed, they might as well count as honorary theists in this case since their spiritualism is much more friendly to Christianity than naturalistic atheism. I wish my Buddhist brothers would turn to reason, but I think they’ve got a lot more accurate picture of the world than naturalists do.

    June 21, 2010 — 12:33
  • You lose me a bit toward the end, but this I want to respond to.
    “But things are very different for belief in a divine mind. First, this
    belief does seem to assume some form of dualism, whereas mere belief in
    other minds does not. Second, this belief is widely rejected, whereas
    belief in other minds is not. Third, we actually see and touch bodies
    that behave as if they have minds, we do not see and touch either a
    divine mind directly or a divine body that behaves as if it has a mind.
    Let’s call these “experiential reasons”.”
    I’d be really surprised if theism entails dualism of any kind. I think van Inwagen, Zimmerman, Hudson, and a host of other brilliant folks would take you to task there.
    I also think belief in other minds *does* entail dualism. If you don’t like dualism, then naturalism might not be for you, see Mike Rea’s _The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism_.
    And I don’t think dualism is widely rejected. I think it’s very narrowly rejected, in fact. I think I made that clear above. It’s in fashion among a certain strand of academic. That does not impress me in the least. Take a look at Lycan’s “Giving Dualism Its Due,” it’s a good read. Melnyk is the only living human I’m aware of who actually defends physicalism. People like Perry are up front in admitting that their position is best called “antecedent physicalism” and is analogous to fideism in religion.
    We observe phenomena–we needn’t touch them–which exhibit signs of intelligence in other humans. The arguments are tenuous, but the best explanation is to attribute mind as a cause of the phenomena. We observe other phenomena–on a larger scale–which exhibit signs of intelligence behind the cosmos. The arguments are tenuous, but the best explanation attributes mind as a cause of the phenomena. Par for the course.
    The mind the folk believe in isn’t fully subject to physical causation. The folk believe in libertarian free will. So the minds they believe in are not the “minds” compatibilists believe in. As was recently pointed out on this blog, almost all the libertarians in free will theory are theists. I say, “score.”

    June 21, 2010 — 12:45