Monday, December 03, 2012


Mutual Masturbation

Brian Leiter uses the more academically seemly term "log rolling" but I am not so constrained. Leiter points to the comments of Mohan Matthen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, about Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga trading laudatory reviews of their recent books attacking naturalism and evolution. Here's Nagel [cough] on Plantinga and vice versa.

As Leiter says, "Nagel and Plantinga are capable philosophers, who have done high quality professional work." That makes Matthen's observation all the more pathetic:
Plantinga writes, "Nagel supports the commonsense view that the probability of [life evolving by natural selection] in the time available is extremely low." And this, he says, is "right on target." This is an extremely substantive scientific claim—and given Plantinga's mention of "genetic mutation", "time available," etc., it would seem that he recognizes this. So you might hope that he and Nagel had examined the scientific evidence in some detail, for nothing else would justify their assertions on this point. Sadly, neither produces anything resembling an argument for their venturesome conclusion, nor even any substantial citation of the scientific evidence. They seem to think that the estimation of such probabilities is well within the domain of a priori philosophical thought. (Just to be clear: it isn't.)
As already noted, by his own admission, Nagel relied only on popular science writing. And Plantinga has not displayed particularly cogent thought about science.

Really, guys ... get a room!

Oh my lord. That is quite the image to pair with this discussion! Wow! Not that it isn't appropriate, but still . . . wow. You went there. Congratulations, sir, congratulations.

One interesting fact about Nagel is that he wrote his dissertation on Sartre. And if one looks carefully at his famous "What is it like to be a bat?" essay, he in fact alludes to Sarte's famous distinction between consciousness (pour soi) and beings (en soi) at a crucial moment.

Elsewhere in his corpus -- I believe it's in the Introduction to Mortal Questions but I can't find my copy for some reason -- Nagel explicitly prioritizes "intuitions" over theories. But there's compelling evidence that his intuitions have been shaped by Sartre. As a result Nagel seem to take the Sartrean intuitions are mere common sense. I can tell you, not even Sartre thought that!

As for Plantinga, his "intuitions" are so deep in American Calvinism that his are equally suspect. Mere Christianity, maybe; mere common sense, definitely not.
Oh my lord. That is quite the image to pair with this discussion! Wow! Not that it isn't appropriate, but still . . . wow. You went there.

Like I said, I'm not constrained by academic niceties.

By the way, as to your considerations of Plantinga, do you have Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, ed. Robert T Pennock, 2001? There quite a bit by and against Plantinga in it. Much of it has been published elsewhere but might be hard to find. If you're interested, I could send you the titles and original publication data and pdf anything you might want.
I don't have that, no. I'll look at the table of contents and see if there's anything in there I'd like to read. I appreciate the offer; thank you.

I do have Naturalism Defeated? and I've been working through those articles. I was thinking of writing something on Plantinga and Nietzsche, but haven't made up my mind whether I will or not.

By the way, it turns out that I was wrong in my claim that Nagel wrote his dissertation on Sartre. I'd picked up that claim from Steve Fuller, who I assumed to be reliable about basic matters of fact. But he isn't; the claim isn't true.

I do think there's some interesting Sartrean influence on Nagel, and that his "intuitions" aren't as innocent and common-sensical as he presents them as being, but he didn't write his dissertation on Sartre. Fuller made that up, or passed it along from someone else who did.
I'll get the table of contents pdfed today (12/7) and if you send me your email address to catsharkAToptonlineDOTnet, I'll get it to you.
Whoops ... That's today 12/6 (never try to figure out the date until you've had your morning coffee). Anyway, I have the index pdfed and will sent it as soon as I get your email address.
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