28 July 2010
Polymeron, one of the nice commenters over at CommonSense Atheism thought this was a pithy statement, which makes me happy. It actually exemplifies the reason why I get rather frustrated when listening to people who are supposed to be high-end philosophers, making the same old essentialist fallacy time and time again.
Don't get the wrong idea - I try not to make a habit of hanging out with such types, but we had a chap called Brian Leftow over in Belfast last year, and he gave a talk on the existence of God, which was chocka full of the essentialist fallacy - there is a dude called Alvin Plantinga who tried to reformulate St Anselm's tired old Ontological Argument (check Wikipedia if I'm losing you here), and basically comes up with one that again milks this fallacy like a prize cow. As if "God the Thing" can have "Omnipresence the property". Silly silly silly.
Maybe it's because in medicine we are used to breaking things down and reassembling them, and seeing whether what holds at the micro holds at the macro. Maybe we can see big pictures emerging from the little pictures more acutely than some (not all!) of our Philosophy pals. Indeed, Richard Swinburne was over also, and he made similar mistakes to Plantinga and Leftow in assuming that "mind" and "soul" were *things* that you could say stuff about, rather than viewing the human organism as a system, with internal states, inputs and outputs. Maybe we are just aware that we can mislead ourselves very subtly in our reasoning, and we are careful not to make claims that we can't back up with evidence from another source, or use to generate testable predictions.
I rather think the job of philosophy would be a good deal easier, and half the punters would be able to be more gainfully employed, if this simple principle was emphasised a little more - not just in academic philosophy, but in life in general. Systems display behaviours, folks. Got it?
Now THAT was high-brow for this time of the evening, wasn't it?
Posted by Shane at 21:25