Why Is Physicalism Self-Refuting? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, we argued that physicalism and determinism are self-refuting because they undermine rationality.  At the end of part 1, we said that there are three conditions of rationality that physicalism does not allow, and Dr. Moreland explains them below:

First, humans must have genuine intentionality; they must be capable of having thoughts and sensory awareness of or about the things they claim to know. For example, one must be able to see or have rational insight into the flow of an argument if one is going to claim that a conclusion follows from a set of premises. We can simply see that if you have: 1) If P, then Q, and, 2) P, therefore, you also have, 3) Q. This requires an awareness of the logical structure of the syllogism itself.

 As we saw earlier in this chapter, intentionality is a property of mental states, not physical ones. Thus, this first feature of rationality is incompatible with physicalism . . . . Intentionality is not a physical property.

The second factor is the enduring I.  Moreland explains:

Second, in order to rationally think through a chain of reasoning such that one sees the inferential connections in the chain, one would have to be the same self present at the beginning of the thought process as the one present at the end. As Immanuel Kant argued long ago, the process of thought requires a genuine enduring I.

In the syllogism above, if there is one self who reflects on premise 1), namely, “If P, then Q,” a second self who reflects on premise 2), namely, “P,” and a third self who reflects on the concluding statement 3), namely, “Q,” then there is literally no enduring self who thinks through the argument and draws the conclusion. As H. D. Lewis noted, “One thing seems certain, namely that there must be someone of something at the centre of such experiences to hold the terms and relations together in one stream of consciousness.”  

However, we have already seen in a previous blog post that physicalism denies a literal, enduring I, and thus physicalism is at odds with this necessary condition of rationality.

The third necessary condition for rationality is libertarian freedom of the will.

Finally, rationality seems to presuppose an agent view of the self and genuine libertarian freedom of the will. There are rational “oughts.” Given certain evidence, I “ought” to believe certain things. I am intellectually responsible for drawing certain conclusions, given certain pieces of evidence. If I do not choose that conclusion, I am irrational.

But “ought” implies “can.” If I ought to believe something, then I must have the ability to choose to believe it or not believe it. If one is to be rational, one must be free to choose her beliefs in order to be reasonable. Often I deliberate about what I am going to believe, or I deliberate about the evidence for something. But such deliberations make sense only if I assume that what I am going to do or believe is “up to me”—that I am free to choose and, thus, I am responsible for irrationality if I choose inappropriately. But we have already seen that physicalism . . .  rule[s] out libertarian freedom.

Moreland, thus, concludes that physicalism rules out the possibility for rationality.  “It is self-refuting to argue that one ought to choose physicalism . . . on the basis of the fact that one should see that the evidence is good for physicalism. Thus, substance dualism is the best view of the self and is most consistent with the preconditions of rationality.”

  • Will there be a third part to this?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “But such deliberations make sense only if I assume that what I am going to do or believe is “up to me”—that I am free to choose”

    I think you can only say it’s not ‘up to you’ if some other agent is forcing you to choose. Regardless of whether you were determined to make the choice or not, you still get to choose the one you want. Just as Calvinists often believe that God knew exactly what crimes you would commit before you were born, and actually PLANNED that you would commit then, and yet you are still yourself responsible for said crimes.

    If you are faced with the choice of Coke or Pepsi, regardless of whether you are ‘determined’ to make the choice, you can’t say the choice was made for you. If someone wants to hold you responsible for choosing Coke, you can’t really point the finger anywhere apart from yourself. You chose the one you wanted – you didn’t WANT Coke and yet were forced to choose Pepsi. In any meaningful sense, you chose the drink you wanted.

    In a ‘crime and punishment’ situation, if the accused used the defence that ‘I was determined to do the crime, you can’t blame me for it’, then the court could simply claim that it is equally determined by the same forces to SENTENCE the criminal for the crime, and you’re back to square one. The outcome is no different to a ‘non-determined’ universe.

  • No. This series was only 2 parts.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “intentionality is a property of mental states, not physical ones”

    Why cannot mental states arise from physical ones? Moreland has yet to demonstrate that it cannot.

  • Hiero5ant

    Strong doxastic voluntarism is a losing bet for this argument. (Setting aside for the umpteenth time that “randomness” doesn’t help the LFW-er one bit.)

    Try cranking the water in your shower to maximum cold and “exercising your free will” to believe that it’s warm and report back here on how you did.

  • Hiero5ant

    Flagrant question-begging means never having to say you’re sorry.

  • Boz

    OP said: “Often I deliberate about what I am going to believe, or I deliberate about the evidence for something. But such deliberations make sense only if I assume that what I am going to do or believe is “up to me”—”

    Bill Pratt, can you through force of will choose to believe that the earth is made of marshmallow? Or that gravity forces objects apart?

    I can’t do this. Of course I can lie, and pretend to believe this. But I cannot choose to genuinely believe something. Can you?

  • Boz

    Op said: “Second, in order to rationally think through a chain of reasoning such that one sees the inferential connections in the chain, one would have to be the same self [be comprised of the exact same configuration of atoms] present at the beginning of the thought process as the one present at the end.”

    why? How do we know this?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I believe the original idea that led to the internet and the World Wide Web was that the army wanted a system that would keep going even if different sections were destroyed. There’s no one ‘place’ that is producing the system.

    It would make sense that the brain would evolve in the same way – different areas get damaged and still the person survives. A brain that shut down completely as atoms were replaced, or even if major sections were destroyed, would be at a disadvantage to one that continues. Similarly, a creature whose brain couldn’t follow through a rational chain of reasoning would be at a big disadvantage to a creature with a brain that could.

    You may take a philosophical stance that the latter creature that completes a chain of reasoning is not the ‘same’ creature that BEGAN the chain of reasoning, due to replacement of brain cells. But that in no way is an argument against that creature’s ability to MAKE the chain of reasoning, and I don’t see how it constitutes a refutation of physicalism.

  • Mental states supervening on physical states do not help physicalism. As long as the causation is one way, from physical to mental, and not vice versa, then all of our thoughts, desires, feelings, beliefs are determined by physical laws.

    Now, if you are saying that mental states have real causal power, then you are no longer a physicalist, but a dualist. But I doubt that’s what you’re saying.

  • Andrew Ryan

    You’ve lost me. Mental states arise from physical states; yes they are determined by physical laws. And yes, our mental states cause physical changes. But seeing as mental states are still basically physical ones, this isn’t surprising. No, I don’t believe I’m a duelist. I’ve seen no evidence or persuasive argument that the supernatural is required to explain mental states.

  • Dualism has nothing to do with the supernatural. In fact, neither I nor Moreland (from his quotes) have mentioned the supernatural even one time in the dozen or so recent posts on philosophy of the mind.

    The whole argument revolves around the fact that material, physical causes cannot explain the numerous and pervasive mental states and properties that characterize human consciousness. If material causes are insufficient to explain human consciousness, then the dualist suggests that there must exist something non-material, something called “mind” or “mental.”

    I am curious, though, how you react to the self-defeating nature of physicalism. Are you not merely programmed by your heredity and environment, through the laws of physics, to believe in physicalism? Am I not, likewise, programmed to believe in dualism? Neither of of us are actually using reason to defend our positions, because on physicalism there is no such thing as reasoning. We are just dancing to our DNA, as Dawkins likes to say.

  • Again, I ask you to read the comments guidelines. This comment is not helpful to the conversation at all.

  • Hiero5ant

    On the contrary, it is helpful to an enormous degree.

    Andrew points out that a key claim has not been demonstrated, and I point out this is an obvious example of the fallacy, petitio principii.

    Applying the Golden Rule, I would most certainly want to be informed by any interested party if *I* had committed an easily demonstrable fallacy; and so, I reciprocate.

    A good reply that would really put me in my place would be something that sounded like, “I can see how you’d think that, since I did not quote his work in detail, but he indeed establishes this point in such and such a passage”.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I’ve already TOLD you my reaction to your claim of self-refutation. I refuted it! See my other comments here for why I don’t think Moreland’s argument works.

  • Andrew Ryan

    It’s an argument from ignorance to draw conclusions from a current inability to completely explain how the brain produces consciousness. I don’t see you offering alternative, NON-physical explanations. You may not have mentioned the supernatural, but I don’t see what other non-physical explanations you are positing.

    “No such thing as reasoning”.
    I already answered that point too. You might as well argue that computers cannot calculate, given that they are ‘determined’ to come up with the answers they do – that would obviously be a false conclusion to draw.

  • Pointing out a fallacy is not a problem. It’s the use of the word “flagrant” and the phrase “means never having to say you’re sorry” that is inappropriate. I am trying to clean up the sarcasm and snarkiness in the comments.

  • Sorry. I did not scroll back up to your earlier comments to see your answer.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “I did not scroll back up to your earlier comments to see your answer.”

    No problem at all Sir. All the best.

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