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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

James Anderson and non-contradiction

Dr. James Anderson has recently completed, with Greg Welty, the forthcoming paper "The Lord of Non-Contradiction," in which he argues for the existence of God from the laws of logic. We may divide the argument into two portions, the first where he holds that there is a necessarily existent mind, and the second that such a mind must be the mind of God. His summary of the first part of the argument proceeds thusly:

"The laws of logic are necessary truths about truths; they are necessarily true propositions. Propositions are real entities, but cannot be physical entities; they are essentially thoughts. So the laws of logic are necessarily true thoughts. Since they are true in every possible world, they must exist in every possible world. But if there are necessarily existent thoughts, there must be a necessarily existent mind" (p20).

Of course this is a summary only, and in the full paper each step in this argument is carefully defended with sub-arguments. For my own part, while I am mildly suspicious of concluding that propositions are thoughts (as opposed to properties or contents of thoughts, or something along those lines), I only firmly disagree with two steps in this initial argument for a necessarily existent mind: First, it is not the case that the necessary truth of a proposition requires the necessary existence of a proposition; second, it is not the case that the necessary existence (as a thought) of some proposition requires the necessary existence of some particular mind. I do not discuss in this blog post the latter portion of the argument, in which he concludes that the necessarily existing mind is God's.

Friday, December 16, 2011

a contextualist solution to skeptical problems

Consider a skeptical hypothesis H, such as "I am a bodiless brain in a vat," and an ordinary knowledge claim O, such as "I have hands." Adapting the suggestions of Keith DeRose (1995, "Solving the Skeptical Problem," The Philosophical Review 104.1), we may claim the following:

(1) I don't know that ~H;

(2) If I know that O, then I know that ~H;

(3) I know that O.

From these three individually-plausible premises a contradiction appears to follow, and this motivates us to seek a solution to what we can term the "skeptical problem." DeRose's solution is to appeal to epistemic contextualism, which may allow us to affirm (1), (2) and (3) all at once without contradiction. In particular, an epistemic contextualist is free to suggest that the knowledge we have of O is a different sort of knowledge than that we seek for H. On this view, there is a context C1 in which we don't know that ~H, and a context C2 in which we do know that O. Thus the premises may be reformulated as follows:

(4) I don't know/C1 that ~H.

(5) If I know/C1 (know/C2) that O, then I know/C1 (know/C2) that ~H;

(6) I know/C2 that O.