Thursday, October 16, 2008

What is Metaphysical Naturalism? Part Four--The Caveats

Given the divided nature of the many categories of "Naturalism," which include "strong" to "weak" definitions, it is necessary to state the position of this Academy as "strong."

This is the fourth part of a series in trying to understand the nature of metaphysical naturalism. In Part One it was noted that "not even the naturalists themselves all agree, using different terminology for exactly similar philosophical positions; or using precisely similar terminology for differences that may be subtle, or may be extremely and fundamentally different." What is Metaphysical Naturalism? Part One

"Metaphysical" naturalism is called "ontological" naturalism in some quarters, and those who use the word "ontological" may make some clear distinction between the use of the two words. In the unofficially described "mission" of this blog immediately below the blog title I deliberately use the sentence, "Seeking ontological rationality in every aspect of conscious existence." So this Academy accepts them as identical.

In What is Metaphysical Naturalism? Part Two, ontology was described from Wikipedia as "a branch of metaphysics that studies being, and so this is the view that the supernatural does not exist..." Yet, "scientific" naturalism takes this same view, and those naturalists who use the word scientific also vary in their overall differences with other's who use the word. It may be a small, minor difference; it may be a fundamental difference.

The Academy does not use the word scientific because other, better known naturalists who have fundamental differences with the Academy's definition call themselves scientific. One case in point is the website full of famous names who are asociates or contributors to the site, famous people who go along with the idea that, "...the epistemic theme of the [scientific reductivism, i.e., that scientific naturalism] is to 'drop the soul and free will [in order to be] rid of the fictional supernatural agency that blocks true explanations of phenomena.'" [italics added] What is Metaphysical Naturalism? Part One continued

The Academy is not reductivist, which bring us to the first caveat of its strong [1] definition of naturalism. The caveats are used because I did not wish to disturb the original definition of naturalism accepted by the Academy, written by B.A.G. Fuller. It is true that I did amend Fuller's definition to the degree that I removed what was scientific in it, and replaced it with what is only ontological and acceptable without making it necessary to "drop the soul and free will."

Perhaps one day I shall be able to incorporate the caveats into Fuller's definition, but I will not do so until I can do it without making it incomprehensible. The caveats allow the Academy's distinct differences to be set apart, rather than lost in their incorporation. Fuller's definition is difficult enough for the beginner.

The libertarian, philosopher, lecturer, professor and contributor to the Cato Institute Tibor Machan, wrote to me asking what Fuller meant by the word "tychistic." Machan said he had looked it up in every source he could think of and could not find the definition. Adding that definition was one of the amendments I made.

Machan also said he disagreed with Fuller's use of the word "deterministic" to describe the affairs of men. I agree with him, but Fuller was talking about the universe, not about men. Men are sui generis and while they must follow the laws of nature that govern material objects such as our bodies are, man's mind has its own laws of nature, those of the nature of life. Man is a creature of volition and of reason; together, these allow our species many exceptions to those laws which rule strictly empirical entities that have no volition, and those creatures with volition but without reason.

That is the reason I have today once again amended the Academy's Description, to include the clause "except in the affairs of mind."

Amended 11.16.08

"Naturalism, challenging the cogency of the cosmological,i mechanical,ii and moral argumentsiii, holds that the universe requires no supernatural cause and government, but is self-existent, self-explanatory, self-operating, and self-directing, that the world-process is neither mechanistic nor anthropocentric, but purposeless, deterministic (except for possible tychistic* events, and) except in the affairs of mind; and is only accidentally productive of man; that human life as physical, mental, moral and spiritual phenomena, are ordinary natural events attributable in all respects to the ordinary operations of the laws of nature; and that man's ethical values, compulsions, activities, and restraints can be justified by non-reductive monism, [] without recourse to supernatural sanctions, and his highest good pursued and attained under natural conditions, without expectation of a supernatural destiny"----(amended from B.A.G.Fuller see Naturalism)

* (Tychism: any theory which regards chance as an objective reality, operative in the cosmos; [ibid])

First Caveat:

--AND that

this description neither explicitly nor implicitly exlcudes the existence of the human soul, nor of free will, when:"'soul' is a "veridical perception"** of consciousness;" and "free will is the mind’s freedom to think or not;" (Ayn Rand)

With this, we must consider that the better known advocates of scientific naturalism say the "soul" and "free will" are illusions; not that they are not real as either concepts most people accept and act upon, nor as physiological forces that can be ostensibly identified with medical monitoring equipement. What scientific naturalism makes clear is that free will is not "free of the forces of environment, genes, memes, and other influences beyond the control of human to avoid having to deal with."

Epistemologically they are correct. Metaphysically they are wrong. Where they are correct is that all life exists in an environment, not in a vacuum. Within that environment forces exist which cause life to make choices where it can, or to make simple adaptations where it can. No one is denying that if you are driving down the highway and a deer jumps in front of you that you must a quick decision based on the total environment, such as the proximity of other cars, the proximity of the railing on the outside of the highway or of the concrete divider in the middle, whether or not you have passengers to think of, etc, and that all these considerations leave you no choice but to act.

However, scientism in naturalism declares that because you have no choice but to made a decision, your will is not free, when in truth it is free; it is free to hit the deer or not; to hit another car or not; to risk the lives of your passengers and hope they fare better than the deer--or not to risk their lives; to hit the deer--or not.

As Ayn Rand said, free will is the freedom "to think or not." Life does not live in a vacuum. Only in a total conceptual vacuum would life be free of memes, genes, environments, and other life and considerations that impose the absolute need to act when one would care not to act at all.

Scientific naturalism is wrong in declaring that this denies man the right to claim his will is "free." You are always free to answer the phone, or not; to scold your child for wrong doing, or not; to risk the lives of other passengers on the road by swerving to miss the deer and then lying afterward to say it was all you could think to do other than to hit the deer and damage your car. You always have the freedom to do the opposite, or to do something alternative which may be to do nothing at all. An angry man whose wife just asked him for a divorce may care nothing about the life of the deer, hit it, and continue driving; he might even laugh and think such irrational things as "God isn't going to slow me down by putting a frigging deer in my path. I'll show him."

It is a metaphysical difference between the Academy and scientific naturalism. "From a naturalistic perspective," states one scientific wesite, "there are no causally privileged agents, nothing that causes without being caused in turn. Human beings act the way they do because of the various influences that shape them, whether these be biological or social, genetic or environmental. We do not have the capacity to act outside the causal connections that link us in every respect to the rest of the world. This means we do not have what many people think of as free will, being able to cause our behavior without our being fully caused in turn." [italics added]

The metaphysics of that website are those of determinists, believing in the doctrine that every fact in the universe is guided entirely by law, the law of the impenetrability, translation and impact of matter, allowing only for mechanical causation.

The Academy holds that man is not deterministic, is not therefor mechanical, meaning he is able to make choices even if the need is for choices he would rather not make. If a billiard ball strikes another ball at a certain speed and angle and with a certain amount of backward or forward spin or with no spin at all, each of those scenarios is mechanical and is predictable. But striking ball has no choices; the struck ball has no choices. But scientific naturalists wish to put man in this same basket of eggs.

"By understanding ourselves as fully caused, and by seeing just how we are caused (by our genetic endowment, upbringing, and social environments), we dramatically enhance our powers of prediction and control, [over ourselves,] reduc[ing] unwarranted self-righteousness, moral superiority, pride, shame, and guilt. People don't create themselves, so responsibility for their character and behavior isn't ultimately theirs, but is distributed over the many factors that created them. And after all, were we given their environmental and genetic conditions, we would have become what they are, and acted just as they did: there but for circumstances go I." [italics added]

Determinism means the doctrine that all the facts in the physical universe, and hence also in human history, are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes. In psychology, it means the doctrine that the will is not free but is determined by psychical or physical conditions. Determinism is synonomous with fatalism, necessitarianism, destiny. [Dictionary of Phil; Runes] "There but for the circumstances go I."

I know a woman who became a nurse, worked at a hospital long enough to gain her early retirement, then left for another job in the pharmacutical industry, where again she worked long enough to gain early retirement, and now is earning her Doctorate in Nursing. She has had her share of life-changing moments. Her husband has an incurable, debilitating disease which eventuall kills everyone who has it. Don't tell me people don't make themselves.

I took up a relationship with someone who had an infant and a toddler. I didn't have to do this. I could have chosen otherwise. I now have the infant and the toddler as two sons in their thirties, and I am very proud to have done the things that helped make them the men they are today. I didn't have to do everything I did. I did less than some parents do; much more than other parents would have done. I made myself into a proud father. Don't tell me I didn't create myself into that role.

My father was raised in a family with a background that might have caused others to lose hope in becoming better. There was depression, alcoholism, spousal abuse, horribly angry family arguments that included my mother, yet my father lifted himself out of that, built a home and raised three children very comfortably; managed his money well enough to be more than comfortable in retirement; and became known by many people around the world who shared his hobby of antique cars, which included his writing of the manual for judging certain model years at public showings where trophies and ribbons are awarded.

He married a woman with a severe medical condition that many in her generation experienced. But in my experience growing up with her, I don't remember seeing anyone as bad off as her who was not in a wheelchair. This did not hold her back from accompanying my father in his travels around the country with his cars, nor from giving her children all the attention, care and love they needed. Her condition could have held the entire family back as she had several major corrective surgeries while I was growing up. But I don't remember missing out on anything that I ever wanted, or ever wanted to do.

Don't tell me my parents did not "make themselves." Absolutely they had all the genetic, familial, memetic, medical and environmental situations to deal with that scientism says causes us to be "fully caused" in our beings, and which prevent us from being "the ultimate originators of ourselves or our behavior, [and whereby] we can’t take ultimate credit or blame for what we do."

But Free Will is Not All; There's the Soul

Don't forget, free will is not the only concern of the first caveat. The other concern is the soul when soul is a "veridical perception" of consciousness;" and where veridical perception is "a direct relation of awareness between a conscious subject and an object of empirical or abstract content."

This means that the soul, being either of empirical or abstract content, is simply an object of cognition. It is the meaning of that "direct relation of awareness" where the ideas of scientism differ from those of metaphysical naturalism. And this difference is metaphysical. They do not deny the relationship of your consciousness to your soul; they deny that the soul is anything more than physiological reactions that are measurable and which have nothing to do with our deepest emotional resources.

Both scientific and metaphysical naturalism deny that the soul is transcendental, from the supernatural god-realm, into the empirical world where it resides in our physical beings, and then back into the supernatural realm of the afterlife.

But scientism, regarding the soul as supernatural because people take it be of supernatural origin, makes no sense.

It is a cognoscentum, meaning it has validity as something of which we are conscious, and that as a veridical perception of consciousness it is something perceived which exists--as the next caveat states:

AND that

"consciousness" is "the faculty of awareness—the faculty of [veridically] perceiving that which exists;" (Ayn Rand)

AND that

"that which exists" is "an 'existent' be it a thing, an attribute or an action;" (AR)


that "an existent" is "veridical perception and memory, or abstract and ideal e.g. in conception and valuation;" (ibid Runes)

Naturalism, by its epistemology, presumes that humans have made a mistake by defining supernaturalism as that which has existence in the god-realm; that it is misidentified as belonging to a realm that is not of human, organic origins; and further, that accepting this misidentification is the negation of reason where reason is the opposite of the faith associated with the belief in the god-realm.

But scientism goes much further, turning it into a mechanical element of our existence. The website I have been quoting specifically states that they are not making it mechanical, that to the contrary, "the physical universe has produced, in us, marvelously complex and adaptive organisms, with the capacity for self-reflection, wonder, suffering, and joy. Far from mechanizing humanity, naturalism re-enchants the physical world by showing how consciousness and choice don’t involve supernatural processes."

Well, that's nice, but they can't have their cake and eat it, too. Either our "adaptiveness" gives us freedom of choice or it doesn't; either we have free will, or we don't. If we don't, we are not adaptive. If we don't have free will, nor the soul to be the mirror and the conscience of our consciousness existence, then it is true what the scientific naturalists say:

"Instead of supposing people can simply will themselves to be otherwise, we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do; [and so] we see that there but for circumstances go I, the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life."

Accepting scientific naturalism means giving up the "freedom to think or not," because genes, memes, and environment, etc, cause us to be "fully caused," and "fully caused" allows for no free will.

[1] and just as necessary to add the caveats at the end in order to distinguish this Academy of Metaphysical Naturalism from other metaphysical schools and schools of naturalism. But I would add that the terms "strong" and "weak" are unnecessarily vague, and that the categorical names are better, names such as metaphysical; teleonatural; ontological; Christian; humanist; deterministic; non-deterministic; reductive; non-reductive; etc. However, as I have demonstrated, these categories are no more apt to be difinitive than are the words "strong" and "weak."

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