Reason and the First Person -- the theistic argument from active reasoning (1 of 3)

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the last for chapter 18, can be found here.]

[This entry starts chapter 19, "The Theistic Argument from Active Reasoning".]

My previous two chapters not only continued my line of argumentation, but also (in their own way) summarized, and illustrated through practical applications, the points of my argument, in an imaginary informal debate.

Dialogues, however, although useful in some ways, are not formal arguments; and as these second-section chapters are perhaps the most critical in my entire book, I will take one more chapter to summarize and re-present the argument yet again, before continuing with my inferences.

My argument can be developed from several directions, although the final result is the same in each case. As even now I am still not sure which 'beginning point' is best, I have presented slightly different variations for each run-through; and I will do this again here.

I find myself, however the situation came about, behaving in a certain way, in order to maximize my efficiency in relating to reality. This behavior may be called simply 'thinking' or 'reasoning', or more precisely 'analysis'. What does this behavior, as I actually and/or necessarily claim to practice it, involve and entail?

1.) I find that when I engage in this behavior, it seems to me that a quality exists above and beyond the mere flow of stimulus in and out of me. I seem to be a contributor to the process. The responses flowing from me, seem more than the sum-total of the impulses coming into me. I perceive I am 'adding' something to the chain of causation. I perceive I am 'acting'. (Note: My mere perceptions of this are not the same as a conclusion, or even a necessary presumption, that I am 'acting'. But I have to start somewhere.)

Furthermore, I find that other entities similar to myself claim to have this same property or ability; in fact, their sheer behavior of 'claiming' anything--of claiming to claim--is itself a testimony on their part to this behavior (even if that testimony to apparent behavior turns out to be wrong).

2.) I find I must stoutly presume that my perceptions in general are not utterly unreliable. There is not even any real question of behaving otherwise. The imagining of a counter-presumption with corollaries (of any sort whatever) may perhaps be possible; but to "draw any conclusions" or otherwise "use" this counter-proposed impression or presumption (i.e. that my perceptions are utterly unreliable), is to deny the accuracy of that counter-proposition with respect to the reality of me.

If my perceptions of reality are utterly unreliable, every conclusion or action I take would be equally unreliable (even if incidentally effectively corresponsive). But that means my perception or proposal of "general unreliability of perception" would also itself be unreliable (even if in fact true).

It is impossible to claim my general incompetence of perception to be true, and simultaneously mean anything useful and distinctive by the claim. Admittedly, such a behavior might take place (I can type the phrase, for instance) but I cannot accept, or assent to, the claim without immediately violating the claim; which means that 'I' cannot actually 'accept' the claim. Whatever I do and whatever I claim, the very instance of my claim entails a logically prior claim to some degree of perceptive competence. And I find other entities similar to myself (such as you, my reader), who claim to behave (and so thus behave even in the claim) the same way.

3.) I find, in tracing these perceptions, an even deeper and more primary presumption: I not only must presume that at least some data reaches me with adequate correspondence to reality; but I must also presume I can adequately process at least some of this data.

The arrival of the impressions or data I use in 'thinking' may be sequentially and/or causally prior to my 'thinking'; but the possible effectiveness of my 'thinking' must be presumed before any judgments about that data can be accepted.

If I flatly cannot adequately think, then 'I' quite literally cannot 'mean' anything even by saying "I flatly cannot adequately think." I can tape-record my voice and the recorder can play back my voice, but the mere utterance of the sound does not entail the ability for the 'utterer' to itself 'mean' something by the sounds. And I find that this corresponds to my own impression that what comes out of me is in some way more than what goes into me. If I was only a tape-recorder (even a fantastically complicated one), 'I' literally could not 'mean' anything by proposing such a condition ("I am a fantastically complicated tape-recorder") as a fact.

4.) I find that these perceptions of mine lead to discovering (or at least they involve) a central presumption concerning the actual reality of myself. It is, even if only tacitly, a necessary and unjustifiable presumption: I can act (not merely that I perceive myself as acting). Not necessarily always, not necessarily with total efficiency; but I nevertheless must still be able to act.

If I try to reduce this or explain it further, I find I have merely repeated the proposition or else I have denied it. Repeating it does not lead me to a deeper truth; denying it leaves me no ability to (quite literally) 'do' anything further--at least, not without cheating and secretly smuggling this ability back in.

It is a proposition that is sheerly unjustifiable as it is; because any attempt to justify it (or, alternately, to explain it away in terms of more basic events) requires that its qualitative properties be accepted first from the getgo. A justification of our justification ability cannot succeed due to its circularity, and thus cannot reliably lead to truth; and a deconstructive reduction of our justification ability requires either eliminating justification ability outright (thus destroying the deconstructive reduction attempt itself) or rejustifying the justification ability at a 'deeper' level, which again becomes circular.

My ability to actively think is the Golden Presumption of any inference I draw; and in order to argue to anyone other than myself (such as to you, my reader), then I must extend this Golden Presumption to stoutly include your capability to actively think as well.

5.) Therefore: whatever other truths I discover about this quality or characteristic or ability of mine; or whatever truths I propose or discover about reality other than myself; I should not contradict this central presumption: I (and you, quite literally "for purposes of argument") do possess the ability to act.

Any purported hypothesis or conclusion which denies this, I should reject; indeed, even if I "accepted" such counter-presumptive hypotheses or conclusions I would be claiming something about myself which such hypotheses or conclusions deny, and thus I could only be making a mistake by proposing such hypotheses or conclusions, if I take my own thinking seriously.

6.) After spending some time processing data, I learn that human beings--such as myself--are (at least apparently) derivative creatures. We are born, and we die. We are affected against our "will" or our "desires" or our "wishes" (whatever may be true about those words), by other entities. Something other than me myself seems to have brought me into existence, and my continuance is ultimately a factor of this other thing or set of things. What properties does this thing, this producer, have?

(Notice I have qualified myself here; I am leaving room to discover that I myself am the ground of my own existence. I might discover that I am derivative of myself, and thus that something other than myself only seems to have brought me into existence.)

7.) There are properties distinctively attached to the concept of action: initiation; choosing; not-necessarily-automatic behavior; simultaneously non-random and non-determinate behavior. (The two terms 'random' and 'determinate' are not opposites: effects may be determined by random causes.)

So I ask the question about this Producer which I have discovered that I do presume about myself: does it act?

There are two mutually exclusive and fundamentally basic hypotheses about this Producer: It can act (in at least the same fashion that I can act); or It cannot act.

(Note: The question of its existence would fall in line with the question about its mere behavior: if this Producer did not exist, I would not be here to ask the question. If this Producer did not produce effects, then again I would not be here to ask the question. What behaviors does the Producer exhibit? That is the question.)

8.) Can one of these alternative characteristics of the Producer (can act / cannot act) be solidly removed--or 'deducted'--from the list of possibilities?

9.) If the Producer cannot act, yet It can still behave, then what is It doing?

There are only two basic behaviors in my experience: actions, and reactions. There are also composite behaviors, but the sheer description of them as 'composite' requires a tacit recognition that those behaviors are exhibitions of a combination of distinctive behaviors: and again, these are actions and reactions.

If I choose to pick at the scab on my arm, the scab shall react in response to my choices--it shall behave in an automatically necessary response to my contribution and to its surrounding environmental conditions. It shall fall off, and bounce a bit when it hits a solid object, or perhaps displace a tiny splash when it hits a liquid, and/or various other things of that sort; and the path of its fall will be determined by vector energy states of my contribution, as well as by gravity, elasticity, air currents, and quantum behaviors to some degree. The scab does not (as far as I can tell, anyway) contribute to its own fate in any sense which is not determined for it (randomly or otherwise) by its relation to other realities. It is re-active. And the water which splashes or the chair cushion which deforms and reforms elastically (giving the scab a bounce) are continuing the chain of reaction: they are counter-reactive. But their behavior is qualitatively not different from the scab's reaction (although physically and chemically they will be different--that is, in accordance with particular quantities of material and energy states, in a given space).

Counterreactions are only 'counterreactions' as a matter of descriptive convenience, for tracing the path of reaction. But actions are not reactions, and reactions are not actions: they are qualitatively distinct. If this Producer is not actively initiating events, then its behaviors must be utterly reactive and counterreactive; or else they are unintelligible to me, and I am left without any opinion about it whatsoever--including the opinion that its behaviors are 'unintelligible'.

(Note: If its behaviors do not correspond adequately to behaviors I am familiar with, then there is no way I could even propose a Producer. I could simply sheerly assert that Its behaviors are unintelligible, but then I am left with my own existence--and evidently the rest of reality--which does seem to correspond with behavior of that type, both from within and from without. My own existence and the fundamental behaviors I discover about myself and about other things, indicate that action and reaction are not concepts utterly alien to the character of the Producer, and thus to the Producer's own behaviors, whatever unimaginable else they may be.)

10.) I can discover from observation that the great bulk of reality around me behaves reactively; so this seems a plausible place to begin for answering the question as to the most fundamental property characteristic of the Producer.

Does the Producer only react and counterreact? Is its behavior purely automatic, non-purposive, non-choosing? In a word, is 'atheism' (of either the naturalistic or supernaturalistic type) true?

11.) If atheism is true, then non-sentient behaviors would be ultimately behind all effects. 'All effects', includes my own sentience. Automatically reactive causes would ultimately be producers of all effects. 'All effects', includes my own action ability.

12.) If atheism is true, then either automatic causation produces non-automatic effects (and/or reactions produce actions); or no such thing as non-automatic effects (or initiated 'actions' per se) really exist.

13.) If no such thing as non-automatic effects really exist, then I cannot justify even the possible reliability of my own 'thinking' behavior, because such a 'justification' (no matter what particular shape it entailed) would under that hypothesis be only one more necessarily automatic response to stimuli, under the same suspicion about reliability as the behaviors it was put into play to help ratify.

This suspended limbo of justification would extend to anything I 'thought' about atheism, too. If only necessarily automatic behaviors exist, then I cannot defend even the possible reliability of my proposing that only necessarily automatic behaviors exist; much less could I defend even the possible reliability of my taking that proposition and building consequent positions out of it.

Any real strengths a science has, for instance, shall have been borrowed tacitly, either from the belief that the Producer is an Act-er, or from the belief that although the Producer only reacts it could still possibly produce real actors (who can possibly justify the cogency of atheism or any other theory and proposition--thus providing, for instance, strong sciences).

If only necessarily automatic behaviors exist, there is no way for me to reliably believe that I had reliably discovered this. Indeed, it would even be impossible (no matter how it seemed to my perception) for me to sheerly choose to assert this as a fact, or even a hypothesis, to work from. What seemed my raw choice would be only one more necessarily automatic behavior with questionable reliability.

14.) Therefore, the proposition that there can be nothing except necessarily automatic, fully and blindly reactive behaviors, can and should be deducted from the option pool.

In fact, this proposition is always tacitly denied by any thinker who holds any worldview (even if the worldview, such as the philosophy of hard materialism, distinctively promotes this concept.) It may still be true, but it cannot be justifiably concluded nor can it be the presumptive ground for justifiable conclusions.

[Next up: the problem of proposing action from reaction under atheism]


Jason Pratt said…
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