Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Wed Apr 15 2009 - 08:21:02 EDT

Hi Ted,
The problem is not your history here, it is your philosophy. Robert Boyle's statement proves my point that "Those who claim MN has been used as a principle for hundreds or thousands of years are in love with retro-diction; they thrive on anachronism." The way MN is meant today would have been inconceivable to Boyle and his colleagues; they were mainly religious believers who did natural philosophy and 'science' and didn't divide them like we do today.
Again Ted, you are supporting the negative definition of MN 'one ought not to invoke divine omnipotence in natural philosophy.' But there is nothing positive or helpful in that (except maybe for debates with creationists or IDists, which is not for the most part seriously academic)! The positive case for naturalism (MN or otherwise) seems often to slide too easily and directly into scientism. This is why Dawkins and Dennett and Harris are so pleased to see religious folks defending MN and TE; it supports their case more than it presents a responsible case for balancing 'science, philosophy and religion,' which is what, it seems to me, that you and Keith and George are ultimately seeking. But where are your non-natural silence?
During Boyle's time, and the 'invisible college' he was involved in the Royal Society, one could not so easily divorce 'philosophy' from 'science' and 'religion' as one can do today. The idea of MN as it is put forth today would have been entirely foreign to him as a more holistic person than how natural scientists now speak in their specialist jargon. Division of academic labour has increased since then, wouldn't you agree Ted? To accept this supports my point; to reject it goes against the (western) history that we are both reading.

Divorce is actually a very good term to associate with MN; it is the divorce action of a philosophy (or cf. Keith's MN = philosophical assumption) that would bias and privilege and distort the balance in the academy.
It is valuable to mention that in Boyle's time (31 yrs Descartes' junior, 16 yrs Newton's senior) there were no human-social sciences to compare with his 'natural philosophy' and thus his 'ordinary course of Nature' is simplistic and one-sided in terms of trying to understand 'non-natural' elements. But to some people here at ASA in our era, such a distinction is not so important to make. 'Bah humbug,' they say! 
Would you suggest, Ted, that Waterloo was a 'natural' battle, that it was 'natural' for Handel to compose the Messiah, that Dostoevsky's books were a 'natural' result of his character and history, that Ghandi stood up to the British 'naturally' in his time, that the internet was a 'natural' invention? No, of course not; these things sound absurd. Yet, listen to a naturalist...and the story becomes quite different. Hallelujah reductionism! "Oh, but it's just methodology," you say?
The same question must go to you then, Ted, as already to Keith and to George, neither of whom have chosen or dared to answer it: what are these 'non-natural agents,' which are not at the same time 'supernatural'? Is it dogmatic to avoid such open talk (I'd welcome a private message on this too, just so I know you're not bluffing with MN ideology) about these things? The definitons of 'science' in our epoch depend on it. Merv was at least ready to concede some ground on this, i.e. agreeing that non-natural agents exist that are not supernatural. Nietzsche's almost-post-modern philosophical hammer is waiting for the answer.
As I assume you are well aware from your work in HPS, Ted, late 20th century philosophy of science has shown that there are many sciences and not a single, monolithic science, bowed to 'naturalism.' The idea that 'natural agents' should dictate what counts as 'science' at the cost of 'non-natural agents' is today ridiculous to defend. But perhaps this is not what you are suggesting? I'd be glad for your clarification.
Gregory __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now

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Received on Wed Apr 15 08:21:27 2009

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