• Hugh Harris
    3
    The position I propose to defend is weak naturalism. Conforming broadly to the standard of scientific inquiry known as methodological naturalism, it can be distinguished from the stronger position of philosophical naturalism, which claims categorically that the natural world is all there is. I'm also contending that naturalism is more probable than supernaturalism.

    Weak naturalism: as far as we know, the natural world is all there is. I defend the claim that naturalism is more probable than supernaturalism, in my essay Naturalism versus Supernaturalism- the false dichotomy – I argue that the observance of the natural world along with its laws combined with the absence of any evidence of the supernatural, amounts to a strong prima facie case for naturalism, and its likelihood in comparison to the sans-evidence claims of supernaturalism.

    http://rationalrazor.com/2017/02/08/in-defence-of-weak-naturalism-post-2-a-response-to-gary-robertson/
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    Hi, welcome Hugh. I think methodological naturalism is perfectly OK, but I also think what you're proposing as 'weak naturalism' is still essentially philosophical naturalism, in that it draws a boundary between what it proposes as 'natural' and 'super' to it. But the question is, how do you draw that boundary?

    For instance on the linked blog page, I noticed this statement:

    When our children are ill, we don’t look for magicians or witch doctors summoning supernatural forces. Why? Because there is no evidence they work, and much evidence suggesting they’re harmful.

    Generally, such arguments are employed as part of the rhetorical armory against religous apologists.

    And while the statement is true - unless you live in tribal cultures, where shamans are still frequently consulted - even in modern urban culture, there are such phenomena as psychosomatic effects, like the placebo effect (which has even been shown to be effective for 'sham surgery' procedures.) Not to mention many other phenomena described generally under the title of 'mind-body medicine'. Which is not to say that one ought to trust faith-healers, or reject blood transfusions on account of scripture. But the boundary between what we categorise as natural and supernatural might not be so clear-cut.

    Also, there's a debate going on at the moment about what 'natural laws' are, and if you drill down, it's actually quite hard to account for them, in scientific terms. I think the general gist is that 'natural laws' are assumed by naturalism - after all, it could hardly get out of bed without them - but in itself it doesn't account for them. Not that it really needs to - but again, assuming that naturalism accounts for the order which allows it to work, is perhaps a little like 'the rooster taking credit for the sunrise'.
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    Actually my first example is incorrect. The existence of psychosomatic effects doesn't say anything about the natural/supernatural divide as such.
  • Hugh Harris
    3
    Hello Wayfarer
    I will endeavour to explain my position better in my next post. When I say weak naturalism, I mean it in the same sense of weak atheism. There is no reason to conclude that there is anything beyond the physical world unless evidence is provided for it.

    What exactly do you mean to say about "natural laws"? I don't see how it's a challenge to my argument. My argument doesn't suggest that naturalism must account or explain or cause the natural world. I'm agnostic on whether there is a cause to the natural world.
  • _db
    3.5k


    What do you mean by "natural"? What distinguishes the natural from the supernatural? Is it the apparently-obvious (but actually vague) notion of "spooky" things?
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    My argument doesn't suggest that naturalism must account or explain or cause the natural world. I'm agnostic on whether there is a cause to the natural world.Hugh Harris

    Well, if there is a cause, then the natural world is not 'all there is'.
  • Hugh Harris
    3
    "Well, if there is a cause, then the natural world is not 'all there is'."

    Exactly, I was explaining how the natural world has no need to account for itself.

    It may be, that within the natural world there is a "brute fact" or process which explains it. But we have no need of providing that explanation, to reject claims of a supernatural realm in the absence of evidence.
  • Wayfarer
    15.8k
    It simply amounts to agnosticism, then. Not that there's anything too much wrong with being agnostic, but it doesn't amount to much of an argument.
  • Sivad
    143
    What's your definition of natural? Is it equivalent to physicalism or is just that there is no design or purpose in nature?
  • Harry Hindu
    4.8k
    Also, there's a debate going on at the moment about what 'natural laws' are, and if you drill down, it's actually quite hard to account for them, in scientific terms. I think the general gist is that 'natural laws' are assumed by naturalism - after all, it could hardly get out of bed without them - but in itself it doesn't account for them. Not that it really needs to - but again, assuming that naturalism accounts for the order which allows it to work, is perhaps a little like 'the rooster taking credit for the sunrise'.Wayfarer
    A supernatural law would have the same problem.

    There is a way the world is and then there are the patterns we find in the way the world is, and we call those patterns, "laws".

    Any description of the supernatural would have to include it's causal relationship with the natural. When that is done, we will no longer use the term, "supernatural". Everything would simply be "natural".
  • Mariner
    376
    Any description of the supernatural would have to include it's causal relationship with the natural. When that is done, we will no longer use the term, "supernatural". Everything would simply be "natural".Harry Hindu

    And then a perfectly useful word like "nature" and its related concepts would have become useless.

    To see the point from another angle. "Natural" is often opposed to "artificial". Obviously, everything which is "artificial" is also "natural" (if we are looking at "natural" as a distinction from "supernatural"). But that does not mean that we can discard the notion of artificiality.

    Perhaps the notion of "naturality-as-distinguished-from-supernaturality" is useful in a similar way.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.8k
    And then a perfectly useful word like "nature" and its related concepts would have become useless.Mariner
    What is the meaning of "supernatural" in the absence of the "natural"?

    To see the point from another angle. "Natural" is often opposed to "artificial". Obviously, everything which is "artificial" is also "natural" (if we are looking at "natural" as a distinction from "supernatural"). But that does not mean that we can discard the notion of artificiality.

    Perhaps the notion of "naturality-as-distinguished-from-supernaturality" is useful in a similar way.
    Mariner
    "Artificial" is often used to define man-made things, but since man is a natural outcome of a natural process, then everything it makes is also natural. "Artificial" is a term used to distinguish between the "natural" and "man-made". Since the term, "artificial" is a term created when man thought of himself as separate from nature, and we recently find out that we aren't, then the term itself loses its meaning and is relegated to the trash heap of other terms that we have used but found to be useless in the light of new knowledge.
  • Mariner
    376
    Since the term, "artificial" is a term created when man thought of himself as separate from nature, and we find out that we aren't, then the term itself loses its meaning...Harry Hindu

    That's the point. It loses its meaning in some contexts (when we are discussing metaphysics) but not in others (when we are discussing, say, environmentalism). "Artificial" is a useful word when it is properly used. When it is not properly used, of course it is less than useful.

    Note that "properly" here does not refer to rules of grammar, etiquette, or something like that -- it refers to the transmission of meaning. If a word is useful to transmit some meaning in a given context, then it cannot "lose its meaning" because it is useless in another context.

    What is the meaning of "supernatural" in the absence of the "natural"?Harry Hindu

    "Natural", both in Latin and in Greek (phusis), was originally related to birth. Natural was "whatever is born". Many things, not limited to gods, were not conceived as being "birthable" back then. The word was useful; and its derivatives (supernatural, unnatural, preternatural, and the more rarely spotted subnatural) were well defined in accordance to the original meaning, referring to birth.

    Translating this ancient worldview to a modern, atheistic worldview, "supernatural" would apply to things like (ironically) natural laws. And the question then becomes, is it important to distinguish between "the world of birthable things" and "the world of non-birthable things?" If this distinction is still useful, and if we still want to discuss these worlds hierarchically, then "supernatural", "unnatural", etc., are still useful. Even within an atheistic worldview. All that is required is for those who profess this view to purge the word from its theistic aroma :).

    Or, if they prefer, to coin new words. The main point is, to simply discard a word and not replace it with an equivalent is a curtailment of our semantic possibilities, and this is usually a loss, probably a grievous one.
  • Sivad
    143
    Are views like panpsychism or neutral monism compatible with naturalism?
  • Sivad
    143
    But we have no need of providing that explanation, to reject claims of a supernatural realm in the absence of evidence.Hugh Harris
    But is there really an absence of evidence? There is some evidence for the supernatural. Granted that the evidence is open to interpretation, but doesn't weak evidence or uncertain evidence still count as evidence?
  • Harry Hindu
    4.8k
    Any description of the supernatural would have to include it's causal relationship with the natural. When that is done, we will no longer use the term, "supernatural". Everything would simply be "natural". — Harry Hindu

    And then a perfectly useful word like "nature" and its related concepts would have become useless.
    Mariner
    How so? "Nature" would then be synonymous with "reality", or "multiverse". So even if "nature" did lose it's meaning (and I don't think it would), we'd still have other words to use.

    Since the term, "artificial" is a term created when man thought of himself as separate from nature, and we find out that we aren't, then the term itself loses its meaning... — Harry Hindu

    That's the point. It loses its meaning in some contexts (when we are discussing metaphysics) but not in others (when we are discussing, say, environmentalism). "Artificial" is a useful word when it is properly used. When it is not properly used, of course it is less than useful.

    Note that "properly" here does not refer to rules of grammar, etiquette, or something like that -- it refers to the transmission of meaning. If a word is useful to transmit some meaning in a given context, then it cannot "lose its meaning" because it is useless in another context.
    Mariner
    Meaning isn't derived at all from context, but from the intent of the speaker or writer. It is up to the listener and reader to discover the intent, not the context, being used. When we misunderstand some use of a word, it is because we misunderstood the intent, not the context.

    The word, "artificial" would only still be used by those that still hold on to the belief that we are separate from nature. If they don't believe this, then the are unwittingly misusing the word, or using it in a way to communicate something in a way the listener (who still believes that man is separate from nature) can understand. They wouldn't be consistent in their world-view and their use of some term. This happens a lot because most people don't seem to take the time to integrate their varying views on certain subjects together, much less their terms they use with their views.
  • Mariner
    376
    Meaning isn't derived at all from context, but from the intent of the speaker or writer. It is up to the listener and reader to discover the intent, not the context, being used. When we misunderstand some use of a word, it is because we misunderstood the intent, not the context.Harry Hindu

    Meaning is not derived at all from context? Not even a little bit?

    Let's test this theory.

    Trump.

    What do I mean by that word?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    3.5k
    Meaning is not derived at all from context? Not even a little bit?

    Let's test this theory.

    Trump.

    What do I mean by that word?
    Mariner

    Are you just talking about disambiguation? If we're talking about bridge, it'll mean one thing; if about politics another, and so on? Wouldn't you still need to rely on the speaker following Grice's "Be relevant" maxim? And then we're back to intention. Wouldn't it be reasonable to say we look to context for clues to the speaker's intention? (And assume they're following the maxims, etc.)

    All that is a long way from saying that the meanings of words are *derived* from either context or speaker's intention. It's important to remember that compositionality is a thing. We use the words we do to form novel assertions (questions, commands, etc.) because of the meanings those words have.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    The case fails because there's no evidence for the natural world (either).
  • Harry Hindu
    4.8k
    Meaning is not derived at all from context? Not even a little bit?

    Let's test this theory.

    Trump.

    What do I mean by that word?
    Mariner

    Do you realize what you just asked? You asked, "What do I mean...." In other words, the meaning is related to your intent. What is it that you intended when you typed that word on the screen? Didn't you intend to try and trip me up with an example of a word that has at least two meanings (one is the last name of the President of the United States while the other is a decisive, overriding factor (aka a trump card))? Isn't that the idea you had in your mind just prior to you typing the word on the screen?

    It's not that I'm left with trying to figure out the context in which you are using the word. The context is this particular discussion on a internet philosophical forum. I'm left with trying to discover your intent which I believe was simply trying to show me that you need context in order for words to mean things. But I just showed how that is incorrect. Even the speaker can get the context wrong. It is what they intend to say, but don't get it out right, or when the listener doesn't interpret the intent properly, that results in miscommunication.
  • Mariner
    376
    Isn't that the idea you had in your mind just prior to you typing the word on the screen?Harry Hindu

    So, Trump is not merely the person or the card, it is also the idea of tripping someone up -- assuming you interpreted my intent correctly.

    Curious.

    Words can refer to things that are not in their dictionary definitions ("Trump" just did that), depending on the context. Which means the context (here, a philosophical discussion) has a role. That's all I'm pointing out here.

    It is what they intend to say, but don't get it out right, or when the listener doesn't interpret the intent properly, that results in miscommunication.Harry Hindu

    Yes. I don't disagree with that (not with what Srap Tasmaner said. But it doesn't go far enough when it dismisses any relevance of context.

    Perhaps I'm misinterpreting you :D. But you did say that meaning is "not derived at all" from context, and this seems to contradict the experience of any proficient language user.

    I'm sure we can reach a formulation that gives the proper weight to the speaker's intent and to context without dismissing one or the other.

    After we reach that formulation, we can examine once again whether discarding any word (be it "Trump", a quite ambiguous word, or "artificial", a much less ambiguous one) can be justified on account of it being useless in a given context, even though it is useful in another.
  • Sivad
    143
    The case fails because there's no evidence for the natural world (either).The Great Whatever

    Only if we take evidence to mean absolute incontrovertible proof. People like to say "no evidence" but that's really just rhetoric, there's plenty of evidence for both the natural world as well as the supernatural, it's just that the evidence is open to interpretation and can fit a variety of theories or worldviews.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    It depends on your prior assumptions. Nothing qualifies as evidence simpliciter – but if you look at the priors, there's no evidence for them either, and so on.

    All ordinary experience is perfectly compatible with everything being 'supernatural.' There's literally no reason to believe one or the other.
  • Sivad
    143
    It depends on your prior assumptions. Nothing qualifies as evidence simpliciterThe Great Whatever
    Evidence is just anything that can be used to support a proposition. The quality of the evidence is determined by how well it supports the proposition. I guess it seems reasonable to require stronger evidence for propositions which call into question or contradict more accepted and well supported ones, but nothing can really be established on prior assumptions alone, that would just be dogma.
  • Sivad
    143
    All ordinary experience is perfectly compatible with everything being 'supernatural.' There's literally no reason to believe one or the other.The Great Whatever
    I agree that it's compatible but the main objection to ideas like occasionalism or ontological idealism is that they over-explain things and that physicalism is a much more parsimonious explanation. So there is some reason to think physicalism may be the case.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Physicalism is not more parsimonious than idealism or any infinite number of other hypotheses.
  • Sivad
    143
    I'm not saying it doesn't have problems but it does seem like the most simple and straightforward explanation on offer.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    3.5k
    So, Trump is not merely the person or the card, it is also the idea of tripping someone up -- assuming you interpreted my intent correctly.

    Curious.

    Words can refer to things that are not in their dictionary definitions ("Trump" just did that), depending on the context.
    Mariner

    Surely not.

    Even if we assume that

      by asking @Harry Hindu what you mean by "Trump," you intended to trip him up,

    that's not at all the same as

      the word "Trump" in this context referred to the idea of tripping someone up.

    Tripping him up was what you intended to achieve by what you said; it's not the meaning of what you said.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    3.5k
    It depends on your prior assumptions. Nothing qualifies as evidence simpliciter – but if you look at the priors, there's no evidence for them either, and so on.

    All ordinary experience is perfectly compatible with everything being 'supernatural.' There's literally no reason to believe one or the other.
    The Great Whatever

    Or any of the "infinite number of other hypotheses," it seems.

    I'd like to understand this better. Am I right in thinking you're really talking about the relationship between theory and evidence in general, and not just this particular case?

    So Theory N has one set of assumptions, and they determine what counts as evidence for Theory N; but Theory S has a different set of assumptions that determines what counts as evidence for Theory S. Since -- by definition -- there's no evidence for the assumptions of either, you can choose whichever assumptions you like, and in that sense all ordinary experience is compatible with either Theory S or Theory N. You cannot possibly have a reason for choosing, say, the assumptions of Theory N, because assumptions -- again, by definition -- are just what we don't have reasons for.

    Do I have all that right?
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    It is possible, in theory, to have reasons for assumptions. I doubt there are any reasons for the assumptions behind physicalist worldviews.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    3.5k
    Got it. Not what I was thinking then.
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