Monday, October 25, 2010

Hume's Argument against Proving Miracles

1. John's testimony is a proof of a miracle.
2. A miracle is an event which violates a law of nature.
3. We ought to believe propositions which have a high(er) probability of being true.
4. Either we believe John's testimony is proof of a violation of a law of nature, or we don't.
5. If we believe John's testimony is proof, then we believe that a law of nature was violated.
6. But the probability that a law of nature is violated is lower than the probability that John's testimony is false.
7. Therefore, we ought to believe that John's testimony that a miracle occurred is false.

What if, instead of denying premise 1 as a result of the reductio, we deny premise 2? This seems to make more sense; for why would God set in place laws of nature that He would have to break in order to do what He wills? It seems plausible that the laws of nature are more flexible when a supernatural being is involved. For instance, maybe there is a law of nature that every human dies a bodily death; but does that mean that it is not possible that there is another natural law that if the spirit is then raised to life, the body is also raised to life? This would entail that eventually every human whose spirit is raised to life is also resurrected in body. That this has not yet happened is not conclusive proof that it will not happen. In fact, the Christian doctrine is that every human dies but is also raised to life at the second coming of Jesus. Can we not count this as a law of nature which, having not been experienced yet by us, appears implausible? Then a miracle, like the resurrection of Jesus, would be defined as "an event which occurs so rarely, though according to a law of nature, that it almost merits disbelief"?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review of "Reasonably Vicious"

This morning I stumbled upon Henry Richardson's review of Candice Vogler's book, Reasonably Vicious, in which he concludes that Vogler's account of reasons is inextricably linked to Anscombe's notion of intention. Vogler puts forth a model of calculative reasoning in which sometimes actions of the set A are done as a means to actions of the set B, where actions of the set B are not done for calculated reasons at all, but simply because we feel like it or want to. For example, I go to the grocery store to get ice cream- this belongs to set A. I get ice cream to eat it, just because I want to- so this action belongs to set B. Richardson notes that either this easily invokes a regress of reasons (someone can ask, well what is your reason for wanting to eat ice cream? ad inf.) or there is some resource that justifies B actions that could also be used to justify A actions without reason. If it's really justifiable to eat ice cream just because I want to, then it is also justifiable to go to the store because I want to, even when I don't buy anything (and it's not a means).

Richardson points out that unless we see Vogler's project in light of Anscombe's, her differentiation between A type and B type actions doesn't make sense. Vogler, like Anscombe, focuses on actions already done and looks for reasons that the agent took to be a reason for action-- the de facto motivation for the act. My reasons for eating ice cream may be many-- I am hungry, my body needs a quick burst of energy and sugar will provide that, and ice cream has sugar, etc.-- but those do not have to link up to my consciousness in the same way that reasons to A in order to B do. Vogler, as Richardson says, is concerned with providing "intelligibility" to actions "by indicating an action's calculative form."

Yet this sort of theory of justification seems to be prey to the same problems of epistemological internalism. In the way that an internalist account of knowledge often fails to connect justified belief with external truth, so an internalist account of reasons may illuminate actual moral motivation in a descriptive way without capturing the external normative reasons for action that pertain to an agent, whether or not she takes them to be reasons for her to act.