The post-modern response to materialist metaphysics

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The post-modern response to materialist metaphysics

Todangst asked me about this awhile back, but I had to go review my sources to make sure I was getting the credits right. So much of this is internalized into the discourse community of rhetoricians that it's hard to remember where some of it comes from.

Okay, as I understand it, the physicalist or materialist metaphysical argument against the existence of God, as represented on this site in general, goes something like this. Please correct me if I'm misrepresenting something:

1. An objective reality exists; humans access this reality through perception

2. Personal existence and identity are axiomatic because any attempt to refute them results in a contradiction

3. The laws of logic are axiomatic (this is an assumption, but is based on justification)

4a. Ontological status implies existence; the term "non-existence" has no ontological status

4b. In order to be coherent, a concept must have a positive ontological status

4c. Terms like "supernatural" and "God" have no positive ontological status, are therefore incoherent (and therefore non-existent?); these terms cannot be defined without committing a stolen concept fallacy

Postmodern thinking would characterize this system as "positivist," that is a system of meaning that deals with inconsistencies and contradictions by declaring them "incoherent" or "meaningless" and disregarding them. Postmodernists regard positivist systems as being cool in that they deal comprehensively with the problem of contradictions, but criticize the inability of positivist systems to deal with particular kinds of questions because the system acknowledges no meaningful terms to represent the concepts involved.

Personally I think the goal of eliminating contradiction from discourse is laudable, but any closed system of meaning is always going to come up against the limitations of its incompleteness. Why make those limits any tighter than they need to be?

It's hard to characterize postmodernism (a term I'm using here to also refer also to deconstruction, structuralism, post-structuralism, semiology and probably a couple of other things) as having a central argument, but the various parts share some commonalities. One main feature is the departure from the ontological premises of early 20th century metaphysics in favor of a language or discourse-based approach:

1. It doesn't really matter whether or not a material reality exists; humans only have access to our interpretation of it

2. That interpretation (experience, thought and knowledge) happen in language. Some theorists (Austin) allow that certain mental contents are nonlinguistic or prelinguistic, but others maintain that there can be no thought without language.

3. Language is socially constructed and arbitrary; there is no necessary relationship between a sign and what it represents. So reality is constituted socially in language. (Much of early post-modern thought is about how particular constructions of language and constructions of reality are politically motivated, rather than guided by empiricism.)

4a. Logic is a type of linguistic discourse, therefore its rules are socially constructed. We assume its validity, but there is no unquestioned assumption that the rules of logic consistently reflect the dynamics of an external reality.

4b. Science and empiricism are types of linguistic discourse, therefore socially constructed and their validity cannot be assumed without question. Some theorists (Kuhn for example) even go so far as to say that scientific discourse is not sufficiently different from other types of social discourse to justify a distinction.

4c. Because reference to an external reality is not necessary, questions of coherence, meaning and related physicalist issues are not, as it were, material. Every term and concept has meaning with reference to its own system of signs and its own community of discourse.

Deconstruction specifically criticizes traditional early 20th century philosophy for constructing all kinds of dualities--existence/nonexistence, valid/invalid, positive/negative--pointing out that these are just arbitrary verbal constructs that don't necessarily reflect the way experience works and really just function to privilege one type of experience over another (usually for political reasons).

In regards to some of the recent discussions on RRS about contradictions and incoherences, semiology would view these representations as perfectly legitimate. Rather than being meaningless or discardable, a contradiction is a sign that functions as a placeholder for a concept that can't be represented in dualistic logic. In this way, discourse is capable of dealing with any type of question and isn't restricted only to questions which are coherent within a particular construction of dualities.

Incidentally, postmodern discourse enjoys the same kind of invulnerability to criticism that positivism does. The only criticism you can make of postmodernism is made in (socially constructed) language, so it's contradictory in the positivist sense.

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Good post. I'm not sure that

Good post. I'm not sure that I'm a positivist myself and I think that the 'God is incoherent' can be justified on post-modern grounds. I'll give it go. Smiling

Textom wrote:
1. An objective reality exists; humans access this reality through perception

Given that we understand the meaning of 'reality', yes.
(This comment will probably become more important later on.)

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3. The laws of logic are axiomatic (this is an assumption, but is based on justification)

My justification for logic is usually that it's a consequence of understanding the language properly. E.g. if you say that something is both x and not x then it would seem that you have no understood how to use the word 'not'. If you carry on using language like this, the word 'not' become worthless.

(Imagine telling someone you're not a theist and them then saying "but you could still be a theist" - it would be as if the word 'not' hadn't meant anything to them.)

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4a. Ontological status implies existence; the term "non-existence" has no ontological status

Um... I think we have it the other way around.
Existence implies an ontology but an ontology doesn't imply existence. (e.g. I'd say that a unicorn has an ontology, i.e. if it existed it would be as an animal, but it doesn't really exist.
Then again, ontology is one of those words that I've never fully understood and have picked up by how I think people are using it! Laughing out loud

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4b. In order to be coherent, a concept must have a positive ontological status

I'd add to this the clause 'when talking in the context of objective reality'. We can talk in other contexts and 'language games' where 'ontology' is irrelevent.

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4c. Terms like "supernatural" and "God" have no positive ontological status, are therefore incoherent (and therefore non-existent?); these terms cannot be defined without committing a stolen concept fallacy

This one I'm fine with. Smiling

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Postmodernists regard positivist systems as being cool in that they deal comprehensively with the problem of contradictions, but criticize the inability of positivist systems to deal with particular kinds of questions because the system acknowledges no meaningful terms to represent the concepts involved.

So long as the 'positivist' recognises that their rules are limited to the context of empirical reality, this isn't a problem.

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1. It doesn't really matter whether or not a material reality exists; humans only have access to our interpretation of it

'only'?
(I'll build on this in the next paragraph! Eye-wink)

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2. That interpretation (experience, thought and knowledge) happen in language. Some theorists (Austin) allow that certain mental contents are nonlinguistic or prelinguistic, but others maintain that there can be no thought without language.

I agree with this. For me, this is a modern linguistic restatement of Kant's transcendental idealism. He believed that objective reality existed regardless of the human mind (contradicting Berkely) but was filtered through our way of thinking.

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3. Language is socially constructed and arbitrary; there is no necessary relationship between a sign and what it represents. So reality is constituted socially in language. (Much of early post-modern thought is about how particular constructions of language and constructions of reality are politically motivated, rather than guided by empiricism.)

Right. But for communication to be possible then it is necessary that we have 'agreed' on a large part of it. So given that we are communicating, the rules are no longer arbitrary but transcendentally necessary.
"I think therefore I am" has become "we talk therefore we are sharing some constituted rules that we necessarily agree to."

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4a. Logic is a type of linguistic discourse, therefore its rules are socially constructed. We assume its validity, but there is no unquestioned assumption that the rules of logic consistently reflect the dynamics of an external reality.

Here we go back to my 'justification' for logic above, and my claim that once we are communicating, the rules of the language in use have become 'necessary'. Further more, 'reality' as we understand it is the 'reality' that is filtered to us through our understanding.
So as logic is based on the rules of language that constitute reality as we understand it, and as our communication implies that we share the same understanding, for all practical purposes, logic does accurately reflect 'objective reality'.

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4b. Science and empiricism are types of linguistic discourse, therefore socially constructed and their validity cannot be assumed without question.

Yes, but where the foundations depend on social constructions, these constructions are also necessary for any discourse on the subject. So if we are discussing matters of science then we have already accepted these foundations.

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Some theorists (Kuhn for example) even go so far as to say that scientific discourse is not sufficiently different from other types of social discourse to justify a distinction.

I think this is a post-modernist misreading of Kuhn's work.
Kuhn pointed out that science couldn't be neatly summed up by a buzzword like 'induction' or 'falsification', but that didn't mean that the distinction wasn't justified. It just meant that the distinction was a 'simple' one, that there were a number of complex factors involved.

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4c. Because reference to an external reality is not necessary, questions of coherence, meaning and related physicalist issues are not, as it were, material. Every term and concept has meaning with reference to its own system of signs and its own community of discourse.

Ofcourse. However, the physicalist system of discourse is the one that has grown out of our competence in dealing with 'reality' (given that we understand that time in the everyday context) so when we talk about 'reality' and 'facts of the world', the materialist rules apply. When Gav challenged us and pointed out that language could be used in 'non-referencial contexts' we said "fair enough, but most theists use 'God' in the referential context of 'reality'. Our argument is against their theology. If you gave us a new theology involving a God that doesn't refer to something in 'reality' then this argument would no longer be effective."
However, he didn't give us another context for God.
It appeared that he wanted to make use of 'alternative contexts' to discredit our argument without following the consequences of an 'alternative context' to his theology.

That said, if a 'post modern vs positivist' debate kicks of in here, I'll likely take your side in a lot of issues. I think that the RRS argues effectively against fundies as they are talking in the same context as us - 'reality'. Most people agree that atheists like at the RRS don't understand moderatism at all, with the positivist assumption that any relevent religious claims will be those made about 'physical reality' and that anything else is 'woo woo'. It'll be an interesting topic. Smiling


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I also don't disagree with

I also don't disagree with most of your points, Strafio. Smiling Two major points of emphasis/clarification:

Strafio wrote:
My justification for logic is usually that it's a consequence of understanding the language properly. E.g. if you say that something is both x and not x then it would seem that you have no understood how to use the word 'not'. If you carry on using language like this, the word 'not' become worthless.

This is Derrida's central insight: "x" vs. "not-x" is one of those dualities that imposes an arbitrary binary structure on the experiences around "x" (and Derrida would add, the duality definition is politically motivated). It's not a matter of misunderstanding the word "not," it's more a question of not restricting the meaning of the word "not" and not insisting that language has a particular, abstract, proper use. Sometimes "not" means the logical negation of something, that's true. But not always.

The statement "this just makes everything worthless" is the most frequent accusation leveled against postmodern thought--that by questioning binary opposition and distinctions, you make everything mean the same (or mean nothing). It's a slippery slope argument. In practice, the slope has really good traction, and thinkers move up and down it easily with only the occasional stumble. Yes, it would be possible to extend the thinking to the point of defeating all meaning, but in practice nobody really does that because it doesn't get you anywhere.

So then it follows...

Strafio wrote:

Here we go back to my 'justification' for logic above, and my claim that once we are communicating, the rules of the language in use have become 'necessary'. Further more, 'reality' as we understand it is the 'reality' that is filtered to us through our understanding.
So as logic is based on the rules of language that constitute reality as we understand it, and as our communication implies that we share the same understanding, for all practical purposes, logic does accurately reflect 'objective reality'.

From a postmodern perspective I'd agree that logic represents objective reality within the discourse of logic. But the discourse of logicians and analytic philosophers is only one of a very large number of competing discourses. It has its strengths and weaknesses, and in many realms of discourse its claim to be an accurate representation of objective reality is not seen as justified.

Also because logic is a representation, like any symbolic system it is necessarily removed from what it represents and is therefore (1) incomplete and (2) subject to mistakes in accuracy.

Once you pluck a phenomenon out of the stream of experience and give it a label, you are necessarily limiting (and thus reducing) it. That doesn't mean that you're not allowed to name things--you have to name things. It just points out the importance of being aware of the way in which your labels transform and restrict the experiences they describe.

Strafio wrote:
most theists use 'God' in the referential context of 'reality'. Our argument is against their theology. If you gave us a new theology involving a God that doesn't refer to something in 'reality' then this argument would no longer be effective."

However, he [Gav] didn't give us another context for God.
It appeared that he wanted to make use of 'alternative contexts' to discredit our argument without following the consequences of an 'alternative context' to his theology.

Yeah, from my vantage point those exchanges looked, not like a disagreement over ideas, but as a clash of competing discourses. Both parties were (sometimes inflexibly) insisting on their own applications for particular (essentially arbitrary) terms--so a total breakdown of the exchange of ideas was inevitable as long as that couldn't be overcome.

And this, I think, leads to the biggest advantage of what I'm calling postmodern thinking. It accepts the validity of discourses like early 20th century metaphysics and acknowledges that these discourses have a use. But when a particular discourse is failing to do what you want it to (and language is all about doing things) then it allows you to change to another discourse that works better for you. Postmodern thinking doesn't deny formal logic; it recognizes both uses and limitations of the discourse of logic and uses it ad hoc to do things that it does well.

 

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Textom wrote: This is

Textom wrote:
This is Derrida's central insight: "x" vs. "not-x" is one of those dualities that imposes an arbitrary binary structure on the experiences around "x" (and Derrida would add, the duality definition is politically motivated). It's not a matter of misunderstanding the word "not," it's more a question of not restricting the meaning of the word "not" and not insisting that language has a particular, abstract, proper use. Sometimes "not" means the logical negation of something, that's true. But not always.

I accept that sometimes our language use can be a bit looser, and it depends on our individual competence to interpret the meaning correctly within the context that it is being used. What 'logical language' does is recognise a particular part of our discourse, (our description of 'reality'), recognise the nature of this discourse and then devellop the rules to optimise it's function to its purpose.

Part of this purpose is to make it as clear, unambiguous and as easy to analyse as possible. It is ideal for settling disputes and obtaining the most accurate results possible from this kind of discourse. So the positivists certainly have this in their favour. When it comes to truth about the empirical world, they take what we all naturally aim to do in this discourse to it's optimisation.

I think that they only have problems when they assume that all forms of discourse ought to fit into the same structure.

Strafio wrote:
From a postmodern perspective I'd agree that logic represents objective reality within the discourse of logic. But the discourse of logicians and analytic philosophers is only one of a very large number of competing discourses. It has its strengths and weaknesses, and in many realms of discourse its claim to be an accurate representation of objective reality is not seen as justified.

Really? I guess we should define what we mean by reality.
Sometimes when we talk of reality we mean straight empirical facts like "that chair is green" or "that table is to the left of the chair". So when we're talking about that kind of reality (and I think it's our primary use of the word 'reality') then logical language is surely the right one for the job.

Although I also recognise variations.
For instance, it makes sense to ask someone if they 'really' believe in something, but beliefs might not be (and in my opinion aren't) in the discourse of empirical reality.

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Also because logic is a representation, like any symbolic system it is necessarily removed from what it represents and is therefore (1) incomplete and (2) subject to mistakes in accuracy.

Hmmmm... I disagree with this - I think it involves a contradiction.
It talks about a 'things in themselves' that is separate from our linguistic projections, yet to talk about 'things in themselves' is to put them within our linguistic structure.
What I mean is, what we consider to be 'truth' and 'reality' is necessarily grounded within our linguistic structures. So our 'logical representation' isn't removed from what it 'represents' because our idea of what it represents is defined by the very linguistic structures that our logic is based on.

(I'm not sure if I'm wording this well. Are you following me here?)

My point is, the argument in the quote above implies a reality outside our linguistic structure but I maintain that's an incoherent notion. Our notion of reality is defined within our linguistic structure and to attempt to abstract is outside of that is to surely steal the concept?

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Yeah, from my vantage point those exchanges looked, not like a disagreement over ideas, but as a clash of competing discourses. Both parties were (sometimes inflexibly) insisting on their own applications for particular (essentially arbitrary) terms--so a total breakdown of the exchange of ideas was inevitable as long as that couldn't be overcome.

Hmmm... I think a clash of discourse was involved, but I'm sure I remember both Hamby and myself wizening up to this and directly asking him that if his version of God didn't involve a referrent, what meaning did it have in what context?
We never got an answer from him, but that's possibly because he was waiting for the rest of the board to get there so he could tell it to everyone in one go. I think in particular he was waiting for Todangst.

I think a lot of the board suspected that he didn't actually have an alternate discourse for God, and was just trying to point out a technicality to make the argument look discredited, but maybe he had a genuine theology behind it. I guess time will tell.
A real clash of competing discourses regularly happens between me and a fellow called Topher. He's deeply entrenched in positivist thinking and we often spend several pages talking past each other in utter frustration!
I'll definately be linking him to this topic, and you'll see it nicely derailed as Toph and myself roll off on a giant tangent! Laughing out loud

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And this, I think, leads to the biggest advantage of what I'm calling postmodern thinking. It accepts the validity of discourses like early 20th century metaphysics and acknowledges that these discourses have a use. But when a particular discourse is failing to do what you want it to (and language is all about doing things) then it allows you to change to another discourse that works better for you. Postmodern thinking doesn't deny formal logic; it recognizes both uses and limitations of the discourse of logic and uses it ad hoc to do things that it does well.

Sounds like I'm definately a post-modern thinker then! Smiling
The bit in bold in particular sums up my thinking.
Although I think that post-modernism's name has been dragged through mud by its reputation for being an excuse to avoid logical arguments, and to just agree to disagree rather than get to the bottom of things. But then maybe that's just the rhetoric I've been hearing from these darn positivists! Eye-wink


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Strafio wrote:

Strafio wrote:

Hmmmm... I disagree with this - I think it involves a contradiction.
It talks about a 'things in themselves' that is separate from our linguistic projections, yet to talk about 'things in themselves' is to put them within our linguistic structure.
What I mean is, what we consider to be 'truth' and 'reality' is necessarily grounded within our linguistic structures. So our 'logical representation' isn't removed from what it 'represents' because our idea of what it represents is defined by the very linguistic structures that our logic is based on.

(I'm not sure if I'm wording this well. Are you following me here?)

My point is, the argument in the quote above implies a reality outside our linguistic structure but I maintain that's an incoherent notion. Our notion of reality is defined within our linguistic structure and to attempt to abstract is outside of that is to surely steal the concept?

Aha, your jedi mind tricks again. Sticking out tongue

Seriously, this is a good example of where discourses clash.

Your line of argument, which resembles one consistent with 20th century analytic philosophy, says that the stolen concept of talking about nonlinguistic things in language creates a contradiction (and is therefore out of bounds).

My line of argument, which resembles later 20th century postmodern thinking, says that a contradiction is a metaphor that stands in for a concept that can't be described without contradiction (and is therefore okay). A metaphor is less precise than a purely denotative description, but as long as we bear that in mind, it's all right to use it.

Furthermore, insisting on an inflexible distinction between binary opposites like "coherent" and 'incoherent" is (Derrida again) a political act as well as a descriptive one. These distinctions have their uses, but they are also subject to abuse. For example, this particular distinction serves to privilege those things which fit the description "coherent" and suppress discourse about the "incoherent."

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You're right in a way... I

You're right in a way... I used the contradiction as the common 'no go' that the positivist assumes. It's not difficult to re-word my argument in a post-modernist wording. You've made the point that this context where we talk about 'things in themselves' need not have the literalistic use of 'not', but while you've told us what it's not, you've done nothing to tell us what it is.

Logical language tends to be the standard in philosophy, or atleast my assumed standard. So my noting of a contradiction shows that I was expecting your argument to be presented in standard philosophical language. If you are breaking from this standard then I can no longer relate to your wording. I now need you to explain to me what you are talking about. You seem to have ruled out most ways of speaking that I am familiar with and have difficulty seeing where the meaning of this 'style' of language lies.

Does this style of language relate to an 'everyday' style that didn't come to my mind, or is it a language that I can only understand within the context of a culture/practice/use?
The post-modernists might have a point that 'alternate' uses of language shouldn't be ruled out by default, but if they break from the norm then they need to explain themselves otherwise how can we be expected to understand a word they are saying?


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Should I laugh because the

Should I laugh because the distinction can only be made using language?

I had a longer post, but I'd rather read your discussion. 

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Strafio wrote: You're right

Strafio wrote:
You're right in a way... I used the contradiction as the common 'no go' that the positivist assumes. It's not difficult to re-word my argument in a post-modernist wording. You've made the point that this context where we talk about 'things in themselves' need not have the literalistic use of 'not', but while you've told us what it's not, you've done nothing to tell us what it is.

Not clear on the antecedent for "it" in that last sentence.  What am I describing?  

 

Strafio wrote:
Logical language tends to be the standard in philosophy, or atleast my assumed standard.

The rules of argumentation, formal and informal logic and propositional calculus are all widespread, well-established conventions across not just philosophy, but also mathematics, semiotics, rhetoric and some branches of computer science.

While I haven't been able to backtrack the exact sources, the style of materialist metaphysics used on RRS is similar to that used by the "Analytic Philosophy" school which is a common orientation toward academic philosophy in English-Speaking countries (please correct me if this observation is wrong).  Continental European academics use a different metaphysics, as I understand it.  An informal poll of the philosophy professors around my campus (all U.S. natives) found very mixed feelings toward the metaphysics of Analytic Philosophy.  So it's a standard at certain universities and among the adherents of particular discourse communities, so this application of logic to questions of existence is not universal to the academic field of philosophy. 

In fact, this quote I came across by a guy named Clayton (should have written down the whole reference, my bad) seems typical of the kind of thing many academics in the humanities and social sciences are saying: "Due to postmodern considerations, claims of reason to universal validity and its claim to be able to derive important truths in a priori fashion from reason alone are now under severe challenge." 

Strafio wrote:
So my noting of a contradiction shows that I was expecting your argument to be presented in standard philosophical language.If you are breaking from this standard then I can no longer relate to your wording. I now need you to explain to me what you are talking about. You seem to have ruled out most ways of speaking that I am familiar with and have difficulty seeing where the meaning of this 'style' of language lies.

Yep, this is a pretty good description of the overall view of postmodern thinkers toward language. 

What you're calling "standard philosophical language" is a formal system of meaning in which all the users have--to whatever extent this is possible--agreed on fixed meanings for particular terms and applied them according to consistent rules. This is only true of a few formal systems of meaning, and it's deliberate.

When breaking from this set of standardized conventions, it creates the situation where communicants have to explain what they are talking about.  In order to see where the meaning lies, the communicants have to establish a common set of (abritrary) discourse conventions and monitor the application of those conventions in realtime.

Why bother?  Because "standard philosophical language" is necessarily incomplete--like any formal system.  There are certain kinds of "meanings" that it can't get at, because representing them creates contradictions.  But when you change to a more flexible discourse, it allows for more types of meanings to be represented.

In this view of language, communication is not the application of a set of predefined rules, it is a negotiation.  Linguists like Austin claim this is how communication actually works: participants establish which rules of communication they share, then go back and forth between speech acts, hashing out additoinal rules as they go, and error-checking/correcting along the way until the desired goal is reached.  

In the first part of this response when I asked for the antecedent of "it," that's a trivial example of this kind of negotiation.  This discussion thread overall, though, is an example of a more multi-dimensional negotiation, with the object that we're each mapping terms onto other terms and concepts from other discourse communities.  Seems to me to be going well Smiling

Strafio wrote:
Does this style of language relate to an 'everyday' style that didn't come to my mind, or is it a language that I can only understand within the context of a culture/practice/use?

Well I typically use an informal version of U.S. academic standard English when posting here, so it's not exactly 'everyday' language unless you spend every day at an unpretentious humanities academic conference (if there is such a thing).  There are various different highly-technical and jargony versions of postmodern discourse (the postcolonials are the worst, IMO), some of which require a lot of specialized knowledge to make any sense of. 

But I'm not talking about trading one formal system of meaning (standard philosophical language) for another formal system (academic standard English).  I'm talking about popping out of a single formal system into a kind of system of systems, to borrow terminology from Hofstadter.  This approach to communication looks at all the possible formal systems of meaning that could be used, picks the best ones, and applies them to the discourse in a self-conscious way. 

strafio wrote:
The post-modernists might have a point that 'alternate' uses of language shouldn't be ruled out by default, but if they break from the norm then they need to explain themselves otherwise how can we be expected to understand a word they are saying?

The argument for viewing language and discourse as a set of continous arbitrary negotiations is usually seen as starting with Derrida and continuing in Lacan (although there are important earlier influences as already mentioned).  The semoticians, especially Levi-Strauss and Saussure, added in components that made sense of the language relationships between (1) the thing being represented, (2) the thing doing the representation, (3) the person making the representation, (4) the audience, and (5) the rules that guide the construction of meaning out of all these diverse bits.  This was all done in the mid-20th century.  Since then, the basic view has been evolving rather than transforming, but the literature is extensive and exhaustive, so if you're interested I can point you to huge numbers of additional sources.

 

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Textom wrote: Okay, as I

Textom wrote:

Okay, as I understand it, the physicalist or materialist metaphysical argument against the existence of God, as represented on this site in general, goes something like this. Please correct me if I'm misrepresenting something:

1. An objective reality exists; humans access this reality through perception

2. Personal existence and identity are axiomatic because any attempt to refute them results in a contradiction

3. The laws of logic are axiomatic (this is an assumption, but is based on justification)

4a. Ontological status implies existence; the term "non-existence" has no ontological status

4b. In order to be coherent, a concept must have a positive ontological status

4c. Terms like "supernatural" and "God" have no positive ontological status, are therefore incoherent (and therefore non-existent?); these terms cannot be defined without committing a stolen concept fallacy

Ok, I will assume that 4c is the conclusion of the argument. If that is the case, there are so many issues with this argument, I could go all day.

The first issue is that is is not valid. I cannot see, without extreme question-begging, how 4c follows. First, you have not shown that "Terms like "supernatural" and "God" have no positive ontological status". What is the support for that? Which premises? It is a complete non-sequitor and question-begging. My guess is that you have characterized this argument incorrectly since I cannot imagine a charitable reading of it.

If I am missing something, then please lay out which premises support the conclusion and show what the relation is between the premises. Lacking that, the argument seems patently invalid.

Additionally, the argument has many issues with soundness:

Premise 3 is just wrong: "logic" (First order? Second Order? Inductive? Modal? All of logic?) is not "axiomatic", if by "axiomatic" you mean "self-evident" (which is what the dictionary says 'axiomatic' means). It is justified by the system, mainly (Although Godel's incompleteness argument suggests otherwise). And having studied much logic, I find that is far from self-evident!

Others have remarked on 4a as being incorrect. Existence implies ontological status, not the other way around.

4b is just wrong on its face. "Coherence" has nothing to do with ontological status but is a logical relation among a class of sentences. Unless you have some other definition of 'coherence' in mind. If so, you should be explicit with it.

1 is simply confused. Certainly one way we access "reality" is through perception, but that is not the only way. I have never seen the Horsehead Nebula, but I know it exists. My knowledge is not infallible; astrophysicists could be foisting a grand con. But until show that, I stand by my belief that the Horsehead Nebula exists. But this knowledge is not gotten through any "perception". There are a myriad of examples (logic being another one).

 

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It's not my argument,

It's not my argument, Flaffer.  Luckily I don't have to defend it.

The much better, more complete, more exhaustive version can be found by reading several of the essays here. That's the argument you want to take issue with, not my incomplete summary of it.

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flaffer wrote:

flaffer wrote:
Quote:

4c. Terms like "supernatural" and "God" have no positive ontological status, are therefore incoherent (and therefore non-existent?); these terms cannot be defined without committing a stolen concept fallacy

Ok, I will assume that 4c is the conclusion of the argument. If that is the case, there are so many issues with this argument, I could go all day.

The first issue is that is is not valid. I cannot see, without extreme question-begging, how 4c follows. First, you have not shown that "Terms like "supernatural" and "God" have no positive ontological status". What is the support for that? Which premises? It is a complete non-sequitor and question-begging. My guess is that you have characterized this argument incorrectly since I cannot imagine a charitable reading of it.

This is not my argument.

This is my argument:

 

Terms like "supernatural" or "immaterial" are broken concepts: They are attempts at reference that do not actually refer to anything. They are broken terms because they are defined solely in the negative (according to what they are not) without any universe of discourse (anything left over for them to be). As Deludedgod states (see link to his page at bottom) these terms are eliminative negative terms, which can only denote an empty set, meaning that any further talk using these terms is incoherent.

So we have words that tell us what something ISN'T, without anything left over for them to be.

Immateriality - defined as neither matter nor energy. So, what's left over for it to be?

Supernatural - defined as 'not nature' or 'above nature' or 'beyond nature'. So again, what's left over for it to be?

Now some might respond at this point: but we use negative definitions all the time in coherent attempts to make reference. And we can, provided that there remains something left over for them to refer to, indirectly. Negative definitions can provide information through their universe of discourse - what is not ruled out, is identified.

For example, if I were to hold out a box with a penny and a pencil in it, and say "the object in the box I am thinking of is not the penny", you'd know from the universe of discourse, the 'things in the box', that the object I was thinking of was the pencil. The negative definition and the universe of discourse provide the information together.

So the problem isn't just that terms like 'immateriality' and 'supernatural' are solely negative definitions, it is that they rule out any universe of discourse. There's literally nothing left over for these terms to refer to, so there's nothing left over for them to be. The terms are therefore meaningless, incoherent.

You might find yourself balking at this. You might feel that you use terms like 'immateriality' or 'supernaturalism' all the time, and the terms seems to make sense. Well yes, we may use the terms, and we may even feel that they 'make sense', but in reality the only way we can actually have them make sense is if we unconsciously steal from the concept of naturalism. And if you stop and think about it, this is what we do: we end up thinking of 'immateriality' in terms of materiality (i.e. energy), or 'supernaturalism' in terms of nature (something we can feel, see, hear, etc.).

You might also feel that you know of a way to solve the problem: by turning to euphemisms like 'beyond nature' or 'above nature' instead of 'not nature'. However, unless you can show how these distinctions lead to a difference, these euphemisms are all ontologically identical with 'not matter/not nature' - they still all rule out any universe of discourse.

Others might reply that we can form coherent concepts without reference.

But this has no relation to the matter, seeing as this deals with terms that attempt to make a reference! In this case, such terms that fail to make a reference are incoherent.

Certain types of words in a language set do and must to refer to things to be coherent, such as nouns and adjectives, and the word supernatural is, in literal context, attempted to be utilized as both. Again, the point before you is this: terms like 'supernatural' are defined solely negatively, without any universe of discourse and yet they are intended to denote something. How can such terms have any meaning?

Any attempt at reference must denote at least one attribute, or fail to elimnate any universe of discourse, or be rendered incoherent.

Terms like 'supernatural' are attempts at reference that fail to denote any attributes, and eliminate any universe of discourse.

Terms like 'supernatural' are therefore incoherent. 

 

 

 

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Textom wrote: It's not my

Textom wrote:

It's not my argument, Flaffer.

It's not mine either. Thanks for presenting the link.

 

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flaffer wrote:

flaffer wrote:

Premise 3 is just wrong: "logic" (First order? Second Order? Inductive? Modal? All of logic?) is not "axiomatic", if by "axiomatic" you mean "self-evident" (which is what the dictionary says 'axiomatic' means). It is justified by the system, mainly (Although Godel's incompleteness argument suggests otherwise). And having studied much logic, I find that is far from self-evident!

Oddly enough, these are the the precise points I actually do make concerning logic and 'axioms'.

http://editthis.info/logic/The_Laws_of_Classical_Logic#Controversy 

http://editthis.info/logic/Main_Page

So  I'm not sure how this point came to be reprsentative of my position, or the position of any like minded person on this board. 

 

Quote:

Others have remarked on 4a as being incorrect. Existence implies ontological status, not the other way around.

Existence necessitates ontological status. I agree.

Not sure what you mean concerning 'the other way around". To have ontological status does not imply 'actual existence' is this what you mean? If so, again, I agree, in fact we both likely call this a reification error.

Quote:

4b is just wrong on its face. "Coherence" has nothing to do with ontological status but is a logical relation among a class of sentences.

Coherence has 'something' to do with a lack of ontological status: if a term is completely eliminative, then it has no meaning other than as a contradistinctive to 'something' i.e. a synomym for 'nothing'

Quote:

1 is simply confused.

Agreed. It has nothing to do with my argument.

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"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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todangst wrote: This is

todangst wrote:

This is not my argument.

This is my argument:

(Snipped arguments pasted from essays and other threads) 

Yep, this argument is perfectly good, *within the realm of its own discourse.*   As has been proven repeatedly in many old threads I've read on RRS, it's airtight and cannot be shown to have any major problem as long as its basic premises are accepted.

My point is that, once you introduce ideas from other discourses, it's not so airtight anymore.  These ideas from other fields are legitimate scholarly claims that question, not only the assumption of the validity of logic (which is kind of old hat), but also the division of concepts into "coherent" and "incoherent" camps and the portrayal of language as something that can ever have a reproducable relationship to concepts or reality.

I guess my objection is that I feel that sometimes RSS presents the "'supernatural' or 'immaterial' are broken concepts" argument as a widely-accepted or monumentally unassailable scholarly consensus  (or irrefutable truth).  In fact, it is an argument that struggles with other equally valid claims in the arena of ideas.

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(by the way, I'm treating

(by the way, I'm treating you as the advocate for post-modernism in this argument, so if I use the word 'you' then I'm not necessarily talking about your position but the position you are advocating.)

Textom wrote:
Not clear on the antecedent for "it" in that last sentence. What am I describing?

First you made a point about 'things in themselves' existing outside our linguistic bounds. When I called 'incoherence' you claimed that you were using a different discourse that didn't necessarily have the same rules. If so, you have ruled out the discourses that I am used to into discussion. So to me, that bit about 'things in themselves' are currently meaningless.

This leaves two possibilities:
1) There is a genuine discourse under which such talk is meaningful, in which case you could perhaps explain it to me. Give me some examples that I might have come across before, give examples of the relevence it could have to a persons life/practice and how they might use such a discourse.

2) There isn't really such a discourse.
The 'there might be an alternate discourse' was merely an excuse to avoid the incoherence charge. This is the one I suspect is the case, but I could be wrong. (I think that post-modernism can often be abused in this way)

Quote:
The rules of argumentation, formal and informal logic and propositional calculus are all widespread, well-established conventions across not just philosophy, but also mathematics, semiotics, rhetoric and some branches of computer science.

Yes, but these aren't the source of these conventions.
They have been develloped out of the implicit conventions of our most basic language, our 'everyday' language. What I mean by 'everyday' language is language that more or less all competent speakers will be familiar with. All the non-specialist uses of language that we are all likely to be familiar with in our everyday lives. The more specialised languages e.g. of maths and science, are more develloped versions, based on the implicit aims of everyday language.

For instance, science aims to describe the world using the same implicit principles that we use when first describing a picture. So describing things might be the basic mode of discourse, and then the specialist language tries to devellop this according to this aim.

Quote:
Due to postmodern considerations, claims of reason to universal validity and its claim to be able to derive important truths in a priori fashion from reason alone are now under severe challenge.

I'm not sure about that.
It makes the point that 'technically' that the claims of reason might not be absolutely universal but for all practical purposes, most questions are presented, or atleast presentable, within a familiar discourse where the rules of reason apply.

As to reading, I've got a fair bit on my plate.
I'll be getting the 'Introducing' title on rhetoric, and maybe post-modernism too.


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Textom wrote: Yep, this

Textom wrote:

Yep, this argument is perfectly good, *within the realm of its own discourse.* As has been proven repeatedly in many old threads I've read on RRS, it's airtight and cannot be shown to have any major problem as long as its basic premises are accepted.

My point is that, once you introduce ideas from other discourses, it's not so airtight anymore. These ideas from other fields are legitimate scholarly claims that question, not only the assumption of the validity of logic (which is kind of old hat), but also the division of concepts into "coherent" and "incoherent" camps and the portrayal of language as something that can ever have a reproducable relationship to concepts or reality.

Dare I say, "Typical response from a postmodernist."

Your parenthetical denigration of logic as a means of understanding is getting tiresome.

I am hoping that by re-reading your initial post you will see the hypocrisy of calling this argument as

Textom wrote:
*within the realm of its own discourse.*

You're not playing by your own standards.

Textom wrote:
Personally I think the goal of eliminating contradiction from discourse is laudable, but any closed system of meaning is always going to come up against the limitations of its incompleteness. Why make those limits any tighter than they need to be?

 

Textom wrote:
I guess my objection is that I feel that sometimes RSS presents the "'supernatural' or 'immaterial' are broken concepts" argument as a widely-accepted or monumentally unassailable scholarly consensus (or irrefutable truth). In fact, it is an argument that struggles with other equally valid claims in the arena of ideas.

I suppose my argument is that some people want these things to be real so badly that they will find any way they can to justify them even using fringe philosophy.

Also, this is not to say that the materialist position is 'irrefutable truth' and if I ever hear of a 'scholarly consensus' then I will be sure to let you know.

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Some terms do not refer

I wanted to delete this entry as I wanted to rewrite it for brevity. The post above is the one I want to post. Had an exception thrown when I posted it and I thought the posting had failed.

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Argument from nowhere and non-referring expressions

So no one lays claim to the argument I eviscerated earlier. I can see why, seeing as it is invalid and nonsensical. I would note that even summaries of arguments can fail because either they are bad summaries of an argument (they do not reflect the author's actual argument) or they build the argument in such a way that they are uncharitable to the author's intent. So I guess it is the former in this case.

Anyway, let's get to what todangst does argue:

Quote:
Terms like "supernatural" or "immaterial" are broken concepts: They are attempts at reference that do not actually refer to anything.

I would respond that there are some explicit assumptions in this point. First, it is not the case that all forms of 'supernatural' and 'immaterial' refer; adjectives do not refer to anything. So, todangst must want to say that the noun forms of the terms are the ones that are "attempts at reference".

But this brings me to my second point: not all expressions refer and, I would claim, terms like 'supernatural' and 'immaterial' are not of the class of referring terms. They are more like abstract concepts like 'cancer' and 'art'. These expressions do not refer to any physical object.

Marga Reimer puts the point this way in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on reference:

Quote:
some perfectly meaningful expressions do not seem to be referring expressions, in which case a theory of how they refer, of how their reference relates to the meaning or truth of sentences in which they occur, would be beside the point. It seems more reasonable (or at least more intuitive) to suppose that such expressions derive their meaning from something other than reference.

It seems to me that the terms todangst is using are more like terms like 'art' and 'cancer' then 'unicorn' or 'chimera' (in its noun form).

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Sorry for multiple posts

Sorry for the double posts. I received an exception when posting and tried to post it again.


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Strafio wrote: Textom

Strafio wrote:
Textom wrote:
Not clear on the antecedent for "it" in that last sentence. What am I describing?
First you made a point about 'things in themselves' existing outside our linguistic bounds. When I called 'incoherence' you claimed that you were using a different discourse that didn't necessarily have the same rules. If so, you have ruled out the discourses that I am used to into discussion. So to me, that bit about 'things in themselves' are currently meaningless. This leaves two possibilities: 1) There is a genuine discourse under which such talk is meaningful, in which case you could perhaps explain it to me. Give me some examples that I might have come across before, give examples of the relevence it could have to a persons life/practice and how they might use such a discourse. 2) There isn't really such a discourse. The 'there might be an alternate discourse' was merely an excuse to avoid the incoherence charge. This is the one I suspect is the case, but I could be wrong. (I think that post-modernism can often be abused in this way)

Actually it's possibility c), which is that there are many different forms of discourse that deal differently with "incoherence" and "things in themselves" and I didn't choose a particular one to describe. Probably the two that I'd be most familiar with are semiotics and speech-act theory, if you'd like me to present either of those in another post.

 

Strafio wrote:
Textom wrote:
The rules of argumentation, formal and informal logic and propositional calculus are all widespread, well-established conventions across not just philosophy, but also mathematics, semiotics, rhetoric and some branches of computer science.
Yes, but these aren't the source of these conventions. They have been develloped out of the implicit conventions of our most basic language, our 'everyday' language.

My info from history history suggests this is factually incorrect. The earliest known attempts in the West to codify the language of logic and argumentation come from the Classical Greeks, especially Aristotle, who made it their stated objective to lay down the rules by which claims could be analyzed systematically. Since then, these rules have been expanded by scholars (not ordinary people) and taught as an academic subject. What I'd call 'everyday language' has many features in common, but doesn't consistently apply the rules used by the formal system called 'logic.'

Strafio wrote:
Textom wrote:
Due to postmodern considerations, claims of reason to universal validity and its claim to be able to derive important truths in a priori fashion from reason alone are now under severe challenge.
I'm not sure about that. It makes the point that 'technically' that the claims of reason might not be absolutely universal but for all practical purposes, most questions are presented, or atleast presentable, within a familiar discourse where the rules of reason apply.

Well I've seen the claim "supernatural things exist" presented pretty frequently on RRS, and it always seems to get the response "supernatural is incoherent." That suggests to me, unless I'm misunderstanding something, that the form of logical discourse that concludes "supernatural is incoherent" is incapable of representing information about terms like "supernatural."

Strafio wrote:
As to reading, I've got a fair bit on my plate. I'll be getting the 'Intoducing' title on rhetoric, and maybe post-modernism too.

The subject is vast; people spend their whole professional lives reading and writing about it, and there's no substitute for reading the primary sources. But Christopher Butler's "Postmodernism" is a good, short and accurate introduction

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darth_josh wrote: Dare I

darth_josh wrote:

Dare I say, "Typical response from a postmodernist."

"Typical" being a... compliment? Smiling

darth_josh wrote:
Your parenthetical denigration of logic as a means of understanding is getting tiresome.

Please, feel free to skip over anything I write that you find tiresome. 

darth_josh wrote:
I am hoping that by re-reading your initial post you will see the hypocrisy of calling this argument as

Textom wrote:
*within the realm of its own discourse.*

You're not playing by your own standards.

Textom wrote:
Personally I think the goal of eliminating contradiction from discourse is laudable, but any closed system of meaning is always going to come up against the limitations of its incompleteness. Why make those limits any tighter than they need to be?

I'm reading here that you're saying it's hypocritical to substitue one closed system for another, Josh?

I agree, but I chose words carefully when I wrote "why make those limits..." in the quote above.  All systems of meaning are inevitably doomed to incompleteness.  So why use a very tightly-constructed, more-incomplete system like postivist logic when you can use a more loosely-constructed, more complete system like semiotics or deconstruction? 

 

darth_josh wrote:
Textom wrote:
I guess my objection is that I feel that sometimes RSS presents the "'supernatural' or 'immaterial' are broken concepts" argument as a widely-accepted or monumentally unassailable scholarly consensus (or irrefutable truth). In fact, it is an argument that struggles with other equally valid claims in the arena of ideas.

I suppose my argument is that some people want these things to be real so badly that they will find any way they can to justify them even using fringe philosophy.

Also, this is not to say that the materialist position is 'irrefutable truth' and if I ever hear of a 'scholarly consensus' then I will be sure to let you know.

I'm not sure which philosophy you're referring to as "fringe" here, Josh.  If numbers of people count for the definition of "fringe," then postmodern ideas are much much more common than materialist positivist ideas.  But in certain communities--like universities with a heavy Analytic Philosophy orientation--materialism would be the mainstream version of philosophy. 

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flaffer wrote: So no one

flaffer wrote:

So no one lays claim to the argument I eviscerated earlier. I can see why, seeing as it is invalid and nonsensical. I would note that even summaries of arguments can fail because either they are bad summaries of an argument (they do not reflect the author's actual argument) or they build the argument in such a way that they are uncharitable to the author's intent. So I guess it is the former in this case.

Yep, it was a summary, and in this case it was a bad summary resulting from a still-incomplete understanding of the original argument.  I don't need to uncharitably misrepresent someone else's argument in order to eviscerate engage in productive discussion about it.

And good luck with your argument against Todangst's argument.  A brief glance back through the threads in this forum will reveal that you're the fifty jillionth poster to make these exact same counterarguments.   I doubt you'll have any more success in arguing against Todangst *within the terms of materialist metaphysics* than any of them did.

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Evisceration and Engagement

textom wrote:
Yep, it was a summary, and in this case it was a bad summary resulting from a still-incomplete understanding of the original argument. I don't need to uncharitably misrepresent someone else's argument in order to eviscerate engage in productive discussion about it.

I do not think that "eviscerate" and "productive engagement" are mutually exclusive. The use of 'eviscerate' was to emphasize the arguments invalidity: if an argument is invalid, it is not really an argument.

textom wrote:
I doubt you'll have any more success in arguing against Todangst *within the terms of materialist metaphysics* than any of them did.

I am not using "terms of materialist metaphysics"; in fact, I consider myself a dualist about mental terms in that I do not believe that mental terms can be reduced to physical theory. My concern was with the poor use of certain terms of semantics, namely reference. We shall see.

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Re: Reponses to todangst

todangst wrote:

Oddly enough, these are the the precise points I actually do make concerning logic and 'axioms'.

http://editthis.info/logic/The_Laws_of_Classical_Logic#Controversy

http://editthis.info/logic/Main_Page

So I'm not sure how this point came to be reprsentative of my position, or the position of any like minded person on this board.

I was just reacting to the particular post by textom. If no one actually makes the claims in it, then so be it.

todangst wrote:
Existence necessitates ontological status. I agree.

Not sure what you mean concerning 'the other way around". To have ontological status does not imply 'actual existence' is this what you mean? If so, again, I agree, in fact we both likely call this a reification error.

That is exactly what i mean: ontological status does not imply existence; if possibilism is true, there are entities that do not exist (i.e., are actual) but do have ontological status.

todangst wrote:
Coherence has 'something' to do with a lack of ontological status: if a term is completely eliminative, then it has no meaning other than as a contradistinctive to 'something' i.e. a synomym for 'nothing'

I do understand how the term 'nothing' , as part of the term's definition, is related to the term 'something' (i.e., "nothing" is the denial that there is something, among other things). However, I am not sure how you think this is related to the notion of "coherence". Do you mean something like "understandable" or "makes sense" and "incoherent" would mean "nonsense" or "not understandable"?

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Textom wrote: Actually it's

Textom wrote:
Actually it's possibility c), which is that there are many different forms of discourse that deal differently with "incoherence" and "things in themselves" and I didn't choose a particular one to describe. Probably the two that I'd be most familiar with are semiotics and speech-act theory, if you'd like me to present either of those in another post.

Do so. Although I've no doubt that these discourses exist, I don't see how they would make 'things that exist without linguistic structure' a useful concept.

Quote:
My info from history history suggests this is factually incorrect. The earliest known attempts in the West to codify the language of logic and argumentation come from the Classical Greeks, especially Aristotle, who made it their stated objective to lay down the rules by which claims could be analyzed systematically.

And what was the discourse of the 'claims' he was basing this on?
What he was doing was taking the aims of discourse, implicit in his everyday language, and optimising it more to suit these aims. These rules didn't materialise in a vaccuum.

Quote:
What I'd call 'everyday language' has many features in common, but doesn't consistently apply the rules used by the formal system called 'logic.'

Bear in mind that I'm not necessarily claiming that all everyday language necessitates logic. My first claim is that our logical language is useful because it is an optimised version of some of everyday language. A non-logical discourse might be possible, but if so, which everyday use is it based on? (some examples would be really helpful here!)

Quote:
Well I've seen the claim "supernatural things exist" presented pretty frequently on RRS, and it always seems to get the response "supernatural is incoherent." That suggests to me, unless I'm misunderstanding something, that the form of logical discourse that concludes "supernatural is incoherent" is incapable of representing information about terms like "supernatural."

Yes. We have two different discourses in hand.
Describing the world (where 'supernatural' is meaningless) and analysing our language (where 'supernatural' has meaning by the way we use it) and with this latter one we can work out what other discourses it has meaning in, if any.

Quote:
The subject is vast; people spend their whole professional lives reading and writing about it, and there's no substitute for reading the primary sources. But Christopher Butler's "Postmodernism" is a good, short and accurate introduction


That's the one I'll get then.


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Here's a brief version of

Here's a brief version of Semiotics, then.  I'm going to have to simplify and leave a lot out, but I'll be happy to elaborate.

C.S. Pierce was the first to see the "sign"--the basic unit of meaning--as a relationship between three elements: the 'real-world' object being represented, the symbol that represents it, and the audience that makes meaning out of the other two.  Pierce's great innovation was the idea that the relationship between these three elements can't be reduced to a relationship between any two of them--all three must be considered in the construction of meaning.

So already the Classical idea of a correspondence between symbols and the things they represent was called into question by this early version of the "semiotic triangle" that introduces a third element that is necessary for meaning.  It's notable that pierce himself was a dedicated logician, but he saw logic as a sub-branch of semiotics, a branch specialized for making particular kinds of meanings.

Since Pierce there's a huge list of semioticians who made big contributions, but basically they've all made additions to the original semiotic triangle, pointing out that in order to have meaning, you not only have to have a signifier and a signified and an audience, but also a code for interpreting the relationship between the signifier and signified, an audience that is aware that it's participating in a meaning-making activity, context of occasion, culture, previous interactions between the participants, intentionality of the sign-maker and various other interesting hobbyhorses.  Some semioticians make a distinction between a "signified" as an internal linguistic entity, and a" referent" as an external phenomenon in reality, but not everyone bothers.  If you go to Google images and type in "semiotic triangle," you'll get a sampling of the models that are out there in the arena of ideas.

 So unlike logic, which deals with a limited subset of the possibilities of language and (in some schools) seeks to define and categorize consistent relationships between language and thought (or language and experiences), semiotics both (1) incorporates the language of logic and (2) moves beyond the subset of language studied by logic to encompass all possible ways of making meaning.

I'll illustrate with a concrete example, borrowing heavily from J.L. Austin's speech act theory. The other day I told my wife, "I put the hairbrush on the desk," by which she understood "I put the toothpaste on the sink."  This is a true story.  I couldn't think of the words "toothpaste" and "sink" at that moment, so I used whatever words I could come up with instead.  Because of what we'd been talking about earlier that day and because she's used to my linguistic eccentricities, she understood what I meant in spite of what I said.

There is no set of consistent rules that guides the substitution of the words "hairbrush" and "desk" for the words "toothpaste" and "sink."  The decoding of the meaning of the statement was entirely context dependent, and derived not from any kind of predictable or reproducable conventions of language but rather from my intention as the speaker, her contextual knowledge as auditor, our personal code of communication that we use between us, and the experience of all the communications we've had in the past.  According to Austin, this type of communication--along with an extensive vocabulary of grunts and gestures--is what makes up the majority of communicative acts.  Pay attention someday and you'll notice how few words people who know each other actually use.

So from a semiotic perspective, declaring something "incoherent" doesn't end the conversation.  When you say something is "incoherent," all you've done is describe it as having a particular characteristic terms of logic, which is itself only one method within the larger realm of making meaning.  It would be more accurate, in semiological terms, to say something like "'supernatural' is incoherent in logical terms," and then move on to talk about other ways that the signifier 'supernatural' means things.

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Incoherence and triadic relations

I still am unsure what 'incoherence' and 'coherence' come from the "semiotic perspective". Let me try to proffer what I think you mean by it.

A note: I am not an expert on Peirce and have only come across him in narrow circumstances. So what I say about him may be well off the mark. Please enlighten me if needed.

A terminological point: I believe Peirce used "semeiotic" rather then "semiotic", which I believe was coined by Saussere. I have read that they are two different things and Peirce's notion is quite different then Saussere's. Or so I have read, anyway.

My main issue with the triadic relation is the seeming implicit claim that is it exhaustive of meaning in a global sense. I think there are many terms which do not have objects solely as their denotation, namely what I call "theory-laden" terms. I mentioned terms like 'art' and 'cancer'. 'Art' does not pick out particular objects (although certainly objects are a part of it). Nor does 'cancer' pick out a particular object (although objects are also a part of it). They are terms which rely on certain theories which generate concepts which do not have objects as their sole constituents.

If I am right, then 'supernatural' and 'immaterial' are like 'art' and 'cancer'. It is not enough to say "Those terms pick out nothing, therefore they are incoherent." In Peircian terms, they are missing one leg of the of triadic relation of "signs". Peirce might not have much truck with such terms.

And it shows another disagreement: I do not think the terms are genuine referring expression, so even saying "They denote the empty set, therefore they are empty (i.e., incoherent?)" does not have much persuasive affect on me.

Btw, I think terms like 'Santa Claus' and 'unicorn' are the same as 'supernatural' and 'immaterial' in one sense: they are theory-laden. I think the latter are misused because I believe they are terms which are products of a very bad theory (or set of theories). But I am not a materialist either; I guess this puts me in a weird spot. I can see it would take my Ph. D. thesis to work out all the nuances of this; I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

 

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If there were a verb meaning "to believe falsely," it would not have any significant first person, present indicative. - Ludwig Wittgenstein


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Yeah, I had to skip a lot

Yeah, I had to skip a lot and Peirce isn't really widely used.  I could easily have started with Saussure instead.  Peirce's triangle is more simple than most: a much more common one these days is the one that designates the signifier, the signified, the audience, and some aspect of the context or code used in communication, either as another point in a semiotic "pyramid" or variously along the lines that connect the points in the triangle.

As I mentioned briefly (but it didn't stand out) many semioticians bypass the problem of referents by insisting that the 'signified' is separate from the 'referent,' with the referent being the actual real-world phenomenon, and the 'signified' being the mental image of the referent that is created in the audience (triggered by the signifier). So under this way of doing things, it doesn't matter if referents are verifyably 'real' in any sense, because we're only dealing with mental states when we talk about meaning.

Personally I'm of the camp who prefer to say that it doesn't matter for the purposes of semiotics whether or not there are really real referents or not. We only have access to systems of representation organized with language.

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Textom wrote: We only

Textom wrote:

We only have access to systems of representation organized with language.

Hey. I said that earlier. lol.

Me wrote:
Should I laugh because the distinction can only be made using language?

 

 

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I more or less agreed with

I more or less agreed with everything in your semiotics article, but I think that it's a case of misapplication to bring it up in the atheist vs theist context.

Textom wrote:
So from a semiotic perspective, declaring something "incoherent" doesn't end the conversation.  When you say something is "incoherent," all you've done is describe it as having a particular characteristic terms of logic, which is itself only one method within the larger realm of making meaning.

Very well, but the meaning that we are discussing in the context of 'is there a God' is usually within a logical discourse. E.g. there's a rhetorical effect to a real person wanting you to do something compared to a fictional monster.
Theists often want to make use of reality rhetoric, but when questioned will try and fall back on a different discourse. Trying to have their cake and eat it, so to speak.

 

Quote:
It would be more accurate, in semiological terms, to say something like "'supernatural' is incoherent in logical terms," and then move on to talk about other ways that the signifier 'supernatural' means things.

The reason why this is usually missed out is because it is implicitly clear that both parties are aiming to talk on 'logical terms'. Although the theist might be referring to other forms of discourse, this is an unintentional conflation and we need to be able to point this out in a clear way.


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Strafio wrote: The reason

Strafio wrote:


The reason why this is usually missed out is because it is implicitly clear that both parties are aiming to talk on 'logical terms'. Although the theist might be referring to other forms of discourse, this is an unintentional conflation and we need to be able to point this out in a clear way.

I disagree, Strafio.  I think it's implicitly clear to one party (the RRS side) that the discussion of concepts like 'supernatural' is being discussed on logical terms.  To the other side, maybe not always so clear.  And maybe not so clear that there's a difference between the specialized language of logic and the other types of discourses they're used to.

(Recall that most English teachers in the U.S. are deeply embedded in postmodern thinking, and that pretty much every college in the U.S. requires every student to take a freshman writing course, which includes lessons in 'critical thinking' and is taught by an English teacher.  Philosophy courses, on the other hand, are electives unless you're a Philosophy major, and logic is not typically a course that draws a large audience.)

I agree that it's bad argumentation to misuse concepts from something like traditional Western metaphysics to support something they don't actually support (having the cake and eating it too, as you say).  But by the same token, to cram every attempt at discussion of signifiers like 'supernatural' into the procrustian bed of traditionalist metaphysics is like forcing somebody to eat your cake, or have none at all. 

Oh, and I realized that I never made the final point of all this talk about semiotics: it's an example of an alternative discourse to the logic of traditional metaphysics.

Because the signified can be just a mental entity with no necessary relationship to a "referent" in the real world, it follows that the referent is the least important element in the semiotic model of the sign.  There doesn't even need to be any possible real-world referent in order for the sign to construct meaning successfully.

That's why a statement like "'supernatural' is incoherent because it has no ontological status" doesn't halt semiological discourse. It's true within the specialized language of metaphysics.  But ontological status, if it means the possibility of a real world referent, is irrelevant to the construction of meaning for a sign. 

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darth_josh wrote: Textom

darth_josh wrote:
Textom wrote:

We only have access to systems of representation organized with language.

Hey. I said that earlier. lol.

Me wrote:
Should I laugh because the distinction can only be made using language?

 

Yeah, Josh, we all know our Godel, hopefully.  It's implicit in any discussion that uses the deconstructionist premise that "meaning is arbitrary" that we have to accept the premise and then go ahead and discuss it using (abritrary) language constructions. 

Maybe it's all wrong.  Maybe not.  I choose to accept the hypocracy and talk about it anyway because, hey, it's a good living.

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Textom wrote: I agree that

Textom wrote:
I agree that it's bad argumentation to misuse concepts from something like traditional Western metaphysics to support something they don't actually support (having the cake and eating it too, as you say).

It's not just western metaphysics here.
Western metaphysics was develloped out of an everyday use of language, that had the same aims implicitly, but was undevelloped to meet them. This is the language we use to make descriptions in everyday life, to describe how the world is. Philosophers might advocate logic and metaphysical language by saying: "See this everyday use of language that you use to describe the world? This way of thinking does what you're trying do, but it's more develloped."

This 'description of the world', use of language is very useful in our lives, and we place great value of it. So to establish something in this practice is a valuable rhetoric. Most theists I've come across on this board want to make use of this rhetoric. The only exception that comes to mind in losingstreak who is very open in his 'anti reason' attitude.

I agree that much of this board appear to demand a limitation to one type of discourse, and that's something I disagree with, but for the most parts their are correct in their refutation of theism as they correctly intuit that theists want a piece of the 'descriptive reality' pie and evaluate their arguments accordingly. Your post-modernist arguments vindicate losingstreak, but do not apply to the rest because while their arguments might apply in a non-logical context, their aims are almost always to establish a 'fact' within a logic based context.

Quote:
Oh, and I realized that I never made the final point of all this talk about semiotics: it's an example of an alternative discourse to the logic of traditional metaphysics.

I don't see it as alternate. I see logic being based on semiotics.

Quote:
There doesn't even need to be any possible real-world referent in order for the sign to construct meaning successfully.

It depends what sort of meaning you are going for.
You could say that the word 'God' has meaning as a curse e.g. Oh my GOD!!
Or you could say 'supernatural' is what you say when you find something puzzling or mysterious.
Both the words would have meaning, but not the sort of meaning that theists want to take out of these words. When you consider the kind of meaning that most theists are aiming for, you see that the RRS is using the correct context in reply.


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flaffer wrote:

flaffer wrote:

Anyway, let's get to what todangst does argue:

Quote:
Terms like "supernatural" or "immaterial" are broken concepts: They are attempts at reference that do not actually refer to anything.

I would respond that there are some explicit assumptions in this point. First, it is not the case that all forms of 'supernatural' and 'immaterial' refer;

But whether or not this is the case is moot; unless you can provide another means for rendering these terms meaningful other than through reference, holding that there are other ways to render a term meaningful in of itself does not provide meaning for these terms. Please recall that the problem is actualy twofold: terms like 'supernatural' are universal eliminators, they rule out any universe of discourse. They can only be used as contradistinctives of 'anything' and thus are synonyms for 'nothing."

A point discovered not by me, but by theologians and buddhists alike. 

Quote:

But this brings me to my second point: not all expressions refer

Such expressions do not rule out any universe of discourse.

Quote:

and, I would claim, terms like 'supernatural' and 'immaterial' are not of the class of referring terms.

I disagree. However, we need not focus our battle here, as the second dilemma concerning the universal eliminative 'nature' of these terms remains as a problem.

Quote:

They are more like abstract concepts like 'cancer' and 'art'.

Abstract concepts make references. But the real point here has to do with identity itself.  How else can you make sense of a term like 'cancer' or 'art' unless you instantiate mentally it in some manner? How can you think of something without any identity?

Quote:

These expressions do not refer to any physical object.

I don't see how this is possible, unless by 'physical object' you mean 'an actual object before me." Yes, they can exist as abstractions alone, without an extra mental existence, but how can a concept exist unless it is instantiated as a mind object?

We can talk about a 'cancer' of the soul, but to 'know' that there is such a 'cancer' we point to objects, either real or imagined, a behavior, an action. Otherwise, what meaning can the term have, denuded of any identity?

At any rate, you may disagree with this all you like as it is not significant to my point: the key point remains that even if you reject these terms as attempted references, you must still explain 1) what they can mean, in the face of the reality that they eliminate any universe of discourse.


Quote:
Marga Reimer puts the point this way in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on reference:
Quote:
some perfectly meaningful expressions do not seem to be referring expressions,

Again, this is moot (as I say in my original essay) unless you can utilize another way of providing meaning for terms like 'supernatural'. Again, the second problem still glares: these terms rule out any universe of discourse.

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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Textom wrote: That's why a

Textom wrote:

That's why a statement like "'supernatural' is incoherent because it has no ontological status" doesn't halt semiological discourse. It's true within the specialized language of metaphysics. But ontological status, if it means the possibility of a real world referent,

It does not. It means to posses identity.

 Perhaps the word 'ontology' is the problem here. I continually see people bring up the confusion between concepts and entities with a real extra-mental existence.

This discussion has nothing to do with such a distinction. 

We are talking about what it takes for a concept to be a concept. And a necessary condition for a concept is that it have some identity.

To exist is to exist as something, to have attributes, characteristics, i.e. identity.

There is one concept that rules out any universe of discourse: the concept of 'nothing'. It gains its meaning as a contradistinctive. Terms like 'supernatural' are synoyms for 'nothing' seeing as they, too, are contradistinctives. The sole way of granting 'meaning' for these terms is to violate their own definitions and steal from naturalism.

 

 

 

 

Quote:
 

is irrelevant to the construction of meaning for a sign.

No, it is completely relevant, as it is impossible to have a sign, without identity. A term that rules out any universe of discourse cannot be a sign by definition, as it cannot 'point' to anything, no matter how you wish to define 'pointing'.

 

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"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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flaffer wrote: todangst

flaffer wrote:

todangst wrote:
Existence necessitates ontological status. I agree.

Not sure what you mean concerning 'the other way around". To have ontological status does not imply 'actual existence' is this what you mean? If so, again, I agree, in fact we both likely call this a reification error.

That is exactly what i mean: ontological status does not imply existence; if possibilism is true, there are entities that do not exist (i.e., are actual) but do have ontological status.

Then please read the above post.  Again, I do no see why discussions of 'abstractions without real world correlates' and 'real world entities' even arises in this discussion, as the discussion relates to a priori matters: the axiom of identity. No real world correlate need apply.

 

todangst wrote:
Coherence has 'something' to do with a lack of ontological status: if a term is completely eliminative, then it has no meaning other than as a contradistinctive to 'something' i.e. a synomym for 'nothing'

Quote:
 

I do understand how the term 'nothing' , as part of the term's definition, is related to the term 'something' (i.e., "nothing" is the denial that there is something, among other things). However, I am not sure how you think this is related to the notion of "coherence". Do you mean something like "understandable" or "makes sense" and "incoherent" would mean "nonsense" or "not understandable"?

I mean it in the most basic, metaphysical sense of the axiom of identity.To define an 'entity' in such a way as to violate the axiom of identity is to render the term meaningless, unless and only unless the term is intended as a contradistinctive.

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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Textom wrote: I guess my

Textom wrote:

I guess my objection is that I feel that sometimes RSS presents the "'supernatural' or 'immaterial' are broken concepts" argument as a widely-accepted or monumentally unassailable scholarly consensus (or irrefutable truth). In fact, it is an argument that struggles with other equally valid claims in the arena of ideas.

As far as I can see, I've yet to hear a positive argument attempting to demonstrate a way for rendering terms like 'supernatural' meaningful. All I've heard is complaints that there 'other ways to render terms meaningful other than reference'. To that I say: your point is moot, unless you can demonstrate how these ways can be applied to the term 'supernatural', in order to render the term meaningful in any theological sense imaginable.

So, to tell me that we can render phrases such as  'as far as' meaningful without relying on a sign-signified relationship tells me nothing, unless you want to say that saying "god' is equitable with saying 'as far as'! 

So my counter concern to your concern is the illusion created by arguing that 'there are other ways to render meaning' or 'we need not concern ourselves with reference' - the illusion is that the tacit belief that this response somehow solves the problem, when in fact it doesn't even attempt to deal with the problem. (I'm also concerned about the confusion that holds that this is a discussion about real world entities and abstractions without an extra mental existence, but I hope that misperception has been removed)

 

Oh, and to me, its not a grand pronouncement to hold that completely eliminative terms are incoherent save as contradistinctives... it's simply a rather basic point that theologians themselves realized nearly two eons before I was born  - to define something as beyond nature is to contradict the axiom of identity and define 'it' into incoherence. 

 

 

 

 

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"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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todangst wrote:

Correction: items (2) and (3) in my illustration of cultural semiotics above should refer to "signifier" rather than "sign."  A slip of the typing, and the forum won't let me edit the original post.

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todangst wrote: As far as

todangst wrote:

As far as I can see, I've yet to hear a positive argument attempting to demonstrate a way for rendering terms like 'supernatural' meaningful.

To render 'supernatural' meaningful within the assumptions of the formal system laid out in the "'supernatural' is incoherent" argument is not possible.  The deck is stacked against any such argument, with the definitions limited such that the conclusion is automatically invalidated by any necessary premise. 

So if you're asking for that argument, I can't do it.  Nobody can.

But here's a (positive) description of a way that "supernatural" is rendered meaningful from the perspective of (the randomly-chosen discourse of) cultural semiotics, for the sake of having an example:

1. The speaker presents the signifier: the word 'supernatural'

2. The audience perceives the sign, along with any contextual communicative clues such as text context, body language, etc.

3. The audience compares the sign with sets of intepretive codes in a nonlinear, recursive process.  These codes are heavily influenced by context, culture, and personal motive/bias.

4. The internal text that the audience generates in response to the signifier 'supernatural' can be said to be the 'meaning' of the sign in this context.  As long as the audience generates a responding text, the sign is said to be 'meaningful.'

 Again, some audiences will apply specialized concepts like 'identity' and 'ontological status' to the presentation of the sign 'supernatural.'  But others will not.  Regardless, the sign still has meaning, whether it fits particular criteria of the "'supernatural' is incoherent" argument or not.

todangst wrote:

Oh, and to me, its not a grand pronouncement to hold that completely eliminative terms are incoherent save as contradistinctives... it's simply a rather basic point that theologians themselves realized nearly two eons before I was born - to define something as beyond nature is to contradict the axiom of identity and define 'it' into incoherence.

To present this claim as "a basic point that theologians realized" is potentially misleading in its imprecision.

If I understand negative theology correctly, this is a basic point of negative theology that negative theologians realized long ago.  To suggest that it's a basic point common to a large number of people, or even a large number of theologians, is not necessarily accurate (I don't have poll information on theological opinions available to me).  Also, the fact that this particular population of thinkers thought of it a long time ago, or the number of theologians who agree with it, doesn't in itself make the idea any more likely to be accurate.

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textom wrote: The deck is

textom wrote:
The deck is stacked against any such argument, with the definitions limited such that the conclusion is automatically invalidated by any necessary premise.

Actually for the sake of completeness, this isn't entirely accurate.  There are two ways (there might be one I'm missing) to attack the "'supernatural' is incoherent" argument within it's own rules, both of which consist of making counterclaims to basic assumptions:

1. The "Doesn't everyone need..." essay states that grounds for naturalistic assumptions are sufficient to justify those assumptions.  It could be argued that the grounds are not sufficient.

2. The "Problem of Induction" essay argues "If you don't look for certainty, and you know about modern probability and statistics, the problem of induction is not a problem at all."  It could be argued that the questions at stake here (e.g. existence) require that certainty be taken into account, and therefore the problem of induction is a problem.

But both of these counterclaims are, like the original claims, assumptions.  So any dispute over the validity of the claims would boil down to a matter of opinion.

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I think that your discussion

I think that your discussion with Todangst and myself have the familiar pattern as with Gav.

You correctly point out that the word God can have a meaning as allowed by semiotics. Neither of us really disagree with that. We agree with your examples, like grunts, looks, saying the 'wrong' word can all be meaningful.

The thing is, and this appears to be the point you need to address here, we are talking about a certain linguistic practice of describing the world, the practice that all people are familiar with. They might describe a scene in a story, or something that happened to them, or how they want something to be, etc.
Our implicit assumption is that most theists use the word God in this way. This is the common way people use the word 'God', and when they use God in this it is criticisable by our arguments.

If their God concept is to be immune from our arguments then they have to be using it in a completely different way. This is compatible with certain theologies, and is certainly a challenge to the RSS claim that all religion is irrational, but for the common theologies that we are currently targeting our arguments stand.


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Strafio wrote: I think that

Strafio wrote:
I think that your discussion with Todangst and myself have the familiar pattern as with Gav. You correctly point out that the word God can have a meaning as allowed by semiotics. Neither of us really disagree with that. We agree with your examples, like grunts, looks, saying the 'wrong' word can all be meaningful.

Yes, I also see the resemblance, and I'm glad there's some common ground Smiling 

Strafio wrote:
The thing is, and this appears to be the point you need to address here, we are talking about a certain linguistic practice of describing the world, the practice that all people are familiar with.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that all people are familiar with this linguistic practice.  I'd agree that everyone has access to the rules of the practice, and people can pick up the important parts pretty quickly, but only a tiny minority of the people really have a grasp of it. 

 

Strafio wrote:
Our implicit assumption is that most theists use the word God in this way.

Yes, I see this assumption at work, and I agree that it is often justified and I don't have a problem with that.

My issue is with these other assumptions, that I also sometimes see at work:

(1) The only allowable definition for words like 'God' are the materialist/natural definitions; the only permitted references to concepts like 'God' are the ones that use this definition.

(2) Any discourse that departs from the conventions of materialist metaphysics is defined as meaningless and therefore can be discounted (the positivist position).

(3) (putting this one up even though I'm not sure about it) The formal system of logical discourse (as defined by concepts selected from the tradition of Analytic Philosophy) encompasses all possible valid reasoning.  Any mental activity which departs from this formal system is, by definition, not descriptive of any question pertaining to metaphysics.

(4) all the starting assumptions of the "'supernatural' is incoherent" argument are true. 

Typically the pattern I see is the theist using 'God' is defeated by the materialist argument, then tries to change to a different discourse (or explore other discourses) in which the still-existing issues can be discussed, but can't get anyone to come along on a search for common ground.  The materialist side of the argument refuses to recognize the shift in discourse (or discounts all other discourses as meaningless) and continues to insist on the original assumption about the use of terms like 'God.'

And now I'm back around to my original rhetorical point: if RRS's goal is to win formal logical arguments, then you have succeeded.  If your goal is to map out a strong, consistent materialist argument against the existence of God, then I don't know of any better argument--well done. 

If your goal is to persuade an audience to come around to your viewpoint, maybe not so much.

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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Textom wrote: I wouldn't go

Textom wrote:
I wouldn't go so far as to say that all people are familiar with this linguistic practice. I'd agree that everyone has access to the rules of the practice, and people can pick up the important parts pretty quickly, but only a tiny minority of the people really have a grasp of it.

I think you underestimate people.
Their grasp is entirely intuitive and implicit rather than recognising explicit rules like analytic philosophers do, but they have competence enough required for the job at hand. It's a bit like how only few of us are olympic runners, but nearly all of us are atleast familiar with basic running because basic running is a practice we come across in everyday life, but only few of us take it to an athletic standard. There'll be large difference in technique and the like, but even the basic runner will grasp the the basics that the more advanced one has built his practice on.

Quote:
My issue is with these other assumptions, that I also sometimes see at work:

Okay, I kind of see where you're coming from with these.
These are all things that I'm also looking at addressing.
Nevertheless, I think that our use of these assumptions in argument can be justified, (maybe that's what we need to work on for rhetorical purposes) but I think these assumptions also play a part in a negative attitude towards those who don't abide by them.

Quote:
Typically the pattern I see is the theist using 'God' is defeated by the materialist argument, then tries to change to a different discourse (or explore other discourses) in which the still-existing issues can be discussed, but can't get anyone to come along on a search for common ground.

I'm not sure about that.
The theists that accept the argument, like Wavefreak and Cptn Carrot continue to explore possibilities within the current discourse. (You noticed Wavefreak using set theory and materialist assumptions to try and argue for some kind of transcendence)
I don't think most of our visitors are familiar enough with discourses/language games in order to make use of them.

The closest I've seen was Gav, and although we did shout past him a little at first, it wasn't long until we got our head around his claim and then instead of repeating analytic assumptions we put the challenge forward:
"If your language isn't analytic, what is it?"
This gave him the perfect opportunity to demonstrate a discourse within which he could give 'supernatural' meaning. He'd merely pointed out that we couldn't rule out the possibility of such a discourse. On it's own, that's an irrelevent technicality.

So what's your current evaluation so far?
Do you think that the assumptions behind the materialistic argument can be justified, that most people are using this discourse anyway?
And perhaps more care with the wording too?
Rather than sounding dogmatic with 'such and such is meaningless', we show that it is meaningless under certain assumptions that we believe everyone naturally works with and then challenge them to try and work with different assumptions?


Textom
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Cool, I'm happy with this

Cool, I'm happy with this outcome. I like RRS, and I'm interested in seeing it do well in the arena of ideas. If my professional opinon on how the case against the more mindless forms of theist dogma can get an airing and some fair consideration, that's all I ask.

Strafio wrote:
So what's your current evaluation so far?
Do you think that the assumptions behind the materialistic argument can be justified, that most people are using this discourse anyway?
And perhaps more care with the wording too?
Rather than sounding dogmatic with 'such and such is meaningless', we show that it is meaningless under certain assumptions that we believe everyone naturally works with and then challenge them to try and work with different assumptions?

I agree that it's not necessary to always qualify everything with "under the assumptions of X"--it's cumbersome and more effective if made clear from the outset anyway.

I think the naturalist assumptions are very persuasive. I find the extra step in those assumptions (that I'm characterizing as positivist) that the justification for materialism excludes the possibility of anything else is less persuasive, but that's a topic for another thread.

And finally, based on my own pre-de-conversion experience, I believe that the assumption that many theists consciously or unconsciously already use is that God is an entity who is not material, but who has an effect on the material universe.

(And just a little N.B. reminder here for anyone reading this who is tempted at this point to try to argue with me against this characterization of God: it's not my characterization; it's my interpretation of a common theist characterization.)

And this is where the communication invariably breaks down. Even when shown that the concept of a 'non-material entity' is incoherent in logical terms, the jump to "therefore cannot exist" or "therefore cannot be talked about" is the part that is not persuasive in most cases. Logical, valid, but not persuasive. There's always an escape hatch through special pleading for the nature of God (which is not *fallacious* special pleading, in the theist mind, because it is justified by assumptions about God's unique role in/relationship to the universe).

IMO it is necessary to to temporarily take on a system of meaning that is capable of engaging these incoherent ideas in order to continue to engage the audience in productive dialog at this point. It doesn't weaken the materialist argument or invalidate its conclusions to temporarily suspend its verdict or admit its possible flaws.

Hope this is actually helpful and not just me riding my iconoclastic hobbyhorse.

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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Textom wrote:

Textom wrote:
And finally, based on my own pre-de-conversion experience, I believe that the assumption that many theists consciously or unconsciously already use is that God is an entity who is not material, but who has an effect on the material universe.

Yeah. I think that's the key here.
That's what separates theologies like Buddhism and Wittgenstein's from mainstream theism. They see 'something' to the God concept without steal concepts like 'cause' from naturalism. The more of a fundamentalist the theist is, they more they tend to emphasise God's 'real' causal effect on the world.

Anyway, hang around long enough and I might devellop a polished rhetoric based on the argument from incoherence. I know the rhetorical effect that it had on me.

By the way, you never commented on that post I made about Davidson's anomalous monism. (In Wavefreak's thread)
If you have the time then I'd be interested to know what you think.


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I haven't forgotten about

I haven't forgotten about the Davidson: it's still in my queue.  I looked at it, but saw that I'd have to spend some time working through it before being able to develop a response.  I'll work on that next. Smiling

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert