Sunday, December 19, 2010


I'm kind of bored, and I can only read and comment on so much of the RCP Constitution in one day (it's pretty heavy going), so I'll take a break and talk about the idiot du jour, Only the Sangfroid. I know, thin pickin's, but what the heck. And there's at least one little tidbit of interesting philosophy that comes up, although Sangy gives the point less attention than it deserves.

In our latest episode, Sangy inexplicably thinks I think he's done me some "injustice" by quoting and criticizing my original post about the infantilism of religion. This charge is incomprehensible; nowhere do I argue that I've been wronged, I just argue that Sangy is not merely wrong, but also egregiously stupid. But no, I'm definitely not asserting any injustice. (Although I will remark that in his followup comment, Sangy attributes to me words in quotation marks that I never wrote, except when quoting him. That is an injustice. But we should have enough information to not get our knickers in too much of a knot over Sangy's failures of intellectual integrity.)

I'll gloss over Sangy's perseveration on my own "infantilism" (Sangy himself does not shy away from insults in general, and I think my "reading comprehension" insult is quite sophisticated), and I'll let the incomprehensible... well, I guess it's supposed to be a barb... asserting that atheist bloggers aren't that smart, pointing to the title page of an almost fifteen year old article in a minor philosophy journal. (I might read it for giggles when I'm in school on Tuesday and can access it from the library. Anyone want to give me odds that it has any relevance whatsoever to the present discussion? Anyone want to bet that Sangy has read and comprehended the article? I could use some extra cash.) Instead I'll move on the philosophy. Sangy first quotes me:
The fundamental principle of atheism is the rejection of ethical and epistemic authority: even if there were some form of objective values, meaning or purpose, they must be knowable to each and every person capable of rational thought.
and responds
This is groundbreaking stuff. Since when do we link ‘knowability’ with ‘existence’?

Imagine that there exists an object which is causally inert. ["Since we're just saying, can I be taller?"*] It would be weird to say that the object doesn’t exist by virtue of our being unable to know of its existence. Indeed, that would be ignoring reality as it is and ignoring that ‘our preferences [...] and wishes have no effect on reality except through our actions’. This isn’t a revolution in thought, by the way. Positivism has been dead in the water for decades.
*Source: Mad About You, Television, who knows what episode.

Again, one must wonder if English is Sangy's first (or fifteenth) language: In the quoted passage I do not at all* link knowability with existence. (And why does he put knowability and existence in quotation marks? He's not actually quoting me; he's not talking about the words themselves, but the concepts they represent; and I don't see any way to plausibly interpret the quotation marks as scare quotes. Oh right: Sangy is a barely-literate pseudo-intellectual.) I just don't make the argument (at least not in the original post) is not that what we cannot know does not exist. I'm arguing against authority, that no individual can reasonably assert private knowledge of any objective truth. If Sangy hadn't actually quoted me, we could reasonably assume mendacity; since he does include the quotation that directly contradicts his interpretation ("even if there were some form of objective values"), we are forced to conclude gross stupidity and a complete failure of reading comprehension.

*Update: If you squint real hard, I you could read a linkage there, but you have to be deliberately obtuse, ignore the context (as I explicitly mention "epistemic authority"), and completely reverse the point I'm making.

But it is an interesting point: Can we imagine an causally inert object? Is such a concept even coherent? What is an object but a collection of causally relevant properties? Ordinary people don't ever talk about causally inert properties of ordinary objects: such as the happiness of a rock, or the consciousness of piece of cheese. Indeed, does a causally inert object differ at all from no object at all? If so, how? And even if the universe were as thick with causally inert objects as morons at the Creation Museum, who — besides philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals such as Sangy, and other professional bullshit artists — would ever care? Does Sangy assert that his "objective moral landscape" is itself causally inert? If so, how can he know anything specific about it, even by "reason"? If it is causally inert, it cannot cause any effect in his mind... even on a dualistic account of the mind. I suppose Sangy might assert that we can know things by reason that are not causally effective, but he does not separate existence from causal effect, but more generally from "knowability".

Sangy does, of course, claim to know about this "objective moral landscape" by reason, but I think that word does not mean what Sangy thinks it means: generally speaking, "reason" usually consists of more than loudly asserting one's opinion and insulting the misinterpretation and misreading of objections.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Larry versus the Moron!

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