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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Some Thoughts on Brute Necessities

We may say that something is brute—in the sense of “brute” as it occurs in “brute fact”—if there is no reason, in any relevant sense of “reason”, why it obtains or occurs. If something is brute, it is inexplicable: there is no reason why it is the way it is. Many theses in philosophy seem to hinge on the existence of brute necessities: necessities which, if they obtain, obtain for no reason in any relevant sense of “reason”. Consider logically brute necessities. For our purposes, we can take these to be necessities which, though they obtain, cannot be demonstrated to obtain by classical logic. Some examples may be necessary existents—including God, on many conceptions—as well as essential-but-unshared properties, non-analytic necessities or “necessary connections”, and undoubtedly many more. If there are any logically brute necessities they are logically arbitrary. For example, it might very well be true that God necessarily exists, but a system of classical logic could never have “God exists” as a theorem; as far as logic is concerned the truth value of “God exists” is just as arbitrary as “there are eight planets in the solar system”. Even though the former might be metaphysically necessary and the latter not, logic is blind to this distinction.


Are there any cogent arguments for or against the existence of logically brute necessities? Let us assume for the moment there are no logically brute necessities. In that case, it must be logically demonstrable that there are none; that is, it must be logically demonstrable that no logically indemonstrable proposition is necessarily true. This is so because if there were no logically brute necessities, and this itself was logically indemonstrable, we would have a necessary truth[1]—that there are no logically brute necessities—that was logically indemonstrable, giving us at least one example of a logically brute necessity. So if there are no logically brute necessities, it logically demonstrable that there are none. What would such a demonstration look like? How could someone logically prove all necessity is logical necessity without implicitly or explicitly defining it to be so? If they didn’t define it to be so in their proof, aren’t they appealing to the very sort of metaphysical necessity they claim to reject? How else could one prove the two notions coincide? I won’t venture to say I can see a priori there is no such proof, because I can’t, but nevertheless I remain skeptical. If you think there is such a proof, I’m open to it: All I ask is that you show me.

Finally, I’d like to close with a potential example of a logically brute necessity. Consider:

(1) “(1) is necessarily true.”

Assuming (1) expresses a proposition and bivalence holds for propositions, what (1) expresses is either true or false. If true it is necessarily true, and if false it is necessarily false.[2] Yet there is a plain sense in which (1)’s truth value, though necessary, is utterly arbitrary. There is no logical proof of its truth or falsity to be had. (Once again, I’m open to the idea there’s a logical proof if you think you have one.) One might even imagine that there are many such propositions, each asserting its own necessary truth, some being necessarily true while others are necessarily false, each as a matter of brute fact. Of course, (1) bears dangerous affinities to the Liar and related paradoxes, and it remains unclear how a solution to them would affect (1). All the same, it gestures in the right direction.

That’s enough from me. What do you think? Any comments, questions, or criticisms are welcome. ^_^



[1] I am assuming here something along the lines of S5, that modal matters are themselves necessary: It couldn’t be the case, for example, that something might have been necessarily true even though it in fact isn’t. So if there are no logically brute necessities, it is logically impossible for there to be any, otherwise it would be logically possible for there to be some, and thus we would have something which could have been necessary even though in fact it wasn’t.

[2] This requires the same assumption as footnote 1. Assuming S5 is the correct modal logic, (1)’s modal status is itself necessary, irrespective of whether it is necessarily true or necessarily false. It just can’t be true that, though a proposition is necessarily true, it might not have been necessarily true.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Jason, this is Alex from philosophy club.

Your post is pretty cool, I must say. I have a question: Would you
say that moral truths are brute logical necessities?

Also, I was wondering how you would respond to something I remember JP Moreland said in his book Scaling the Secular City. He said that it would be incredibly surprising if the products of a naturalistic evolutionary
process happened to evolve such that their moral intuitions coincided with real moral truths, because it would seem very coincidental if the requirements of survival for carbon based lifeforms such as ourselves
happened to coincide with objective moral truths. His point was that since we do know some objective moral truths, it's probable that we arent the products of a naturalistic evolutionary process, which he probably turned
into an argument for the existence of God. What do you think of this line of reasoning?

Quirinius_Quine said...

Do you mean logically brute necessities? On my usage, logically brute necessities aren't logically necessary, they are logically contingent. Logically brute necessities are those which are necessary but not logically necessary. Metaphysical necessities are one type of logically brute necessity (and the *only* type, I would wager, but others would dispute this) And yes, I do think that moral truths are metaphysically necessary, and so they are logically brute necessities, in my view.


"Also, I was wondering how you would respond to something I remember JP
Moreland said in his book Scaling the Secular City. He said that it would
be incredibly surprising if the products of a naturalistic evolutionary
process happened to evolve such that their moral intuitions coincided with
real moral truths, because it would seem very coincidental if the
requirements of survival for carbon based lifeforms such as ourselves
happened to coincide with objective moral truths. His point was that since
we do know some objective moral truths, it's probable that we arent the
products of a naturalistic evolutionary process, which he probably turned
into an argument for the existence of God. What do you think of this line
of reasoning?"

This is a pretty thorny issue. My first reaction would be to ask whether he thinks our intuitions are in fact good guides to the realm of moral truths. If he thinks they are, then I would suggest conducting research to find out whether the moral intuitions we actually have are in fact those that a purely naturalistic theory of evolution would predict. If they are, I think we can conclude, given the premise that moral truths are metaphysically necessary, that it is indeed likely for evolution to lead to the correct moral truths. On the contrary, if our actual moral intuitions aren't those that a purely naturalistic theory of evolution would predict, then obviously the theory is in trouble, since it makes a false prediction. In that case we would have to look elsewhere for the source of our intuitions. If, however, Moreland thinks that our actual moral intuitions are *not* correct, I would ask him why this is so, given that there is a sumpremely good God who providentially directs the evolutionary process (or created us directly-- the consequences are no better). As for this:

"... it would
be incredibly surprising if the products of a naturalistic evolutionary
process happened to evolve such that their moral intuitions coincided with
real moral truths, because it would seem very coincidental if the
requirements of survival for carbon based lifeforms such as ourselves
happened to coincide with objective moral truths"

I would counter this by saying that if Moreland thinks it is coincidental that the
requirements of survival for carbon based lifeforms coincide with objective moral truths, he must either think that the flourishing of carbon based organisms has no connection to the genuine moral truths--so that, e.g., there's nothing wrong with killing people--or that if it does, is does so only contingently--e.g., even though killing people is wrong, it might not have been. I don't think either horn of the dilemma is a very comfortable one for Moreland to rest on.

John Falicki said...

But *are* there in fact *any* objective moral truths outside of context? I rather doubt it. One must always look at the context, throughout the entire history of the human race. For instance,
"killing people": in the movie "300", most of us would likely agree that those ferocious Spartans did the right thing in killing all those Persians; indeed,
they saved Western civilization. Or how about a contemporary what-if: we all know that overpopulation will eventually destroy this planet if it isn't stopped. China has 1.3 billion people, and India has 1.1 billion, and both are still growing. Suppose one of these nations reached a population of, say, 6 billion: wouldn't the other nations of Earth have the moral or at least survival right to declare war and kill a large number of those people, just to save themselves and the entire planet? If China or India allowed their populations to reach a level of 6 billion, that would be an implicit declaration of war on all other nations, saying in effect, we're going to dominate you and destroy you by attrition, strictly by our sheer numbers. Or let's take the incest prohibition: it's a damn good idea in most contexts everywhere, but if you had a small population on an isolated island that was in danger of dying out for lack of sufficient reproduction, then incest might indeed be a good idea to make as many babies as possible. Or torture: if you had 4 children and someone kidnapped them, and taunted you saying they were going to be allowed to die slowly in some secret location, wouldn't you feel justified in torturing the kidnapper to force him to reveal their location? I guarantee you I would! I have two young children and they are the world to me, and I wouldn't hesitate to do what it took to get them back, without any moral reservations at all. Context is everything; you cannot have moral absolutes. There are *no* "objective moral truths" outside of context. I guess that's one of the reasons that Nietzsche has always been one of my favorite philosophers.

Quirinius_Quine said...

Hi John, thank you for your comment; I think it raises some important issues.

Actually, I agree with you that that there may be no (or very few)
moral truths that hold independently of context. I like to distinguish between moral objectivism and moral absolutism: Moral absolutism is the thesis that moral truths in general hold always and everywhere, so that, e.g., it's never okay to lie, even if doing so would save someone's life. On the other hand, moral objectivism holds simply that for any given (fully specific) situation there is an objectively right and wrong choice (or right and wrong sets of choices). I think moral judgments are objective in the sense that (a) they are true or false, and hence not merely ways of expressing emotions or attitudes, and (b) that their truth or falsity does not in general depend on whether people think they are true or false. I agree that if I had children and someone kidnapped them I would feel justified in torturing them to prevent my children from being hurt. (And I think you would agree that the wrongness of the kidnapper's actions is not just a matter of taste or opinion.) But I see no reason to think that any of this is inconsistent with my really being justified in torturing the kidnapper, even if torture is wrong in general. I think that we have what some ethicists would call prima facie duties duties which hold "by default" but which can be overridden by other, stronger duties. Thus my duty not to kill people (such as Smith) can be overridden by my duty to protect the innocent (say if Smith is attempting to bomb a school bus). Killing people, even Smith, remains an undesirable state of affairs, but it is not nearly as undesirable as allowing him to bomb the school bus. So I don't think that we need to embrace any form of subjectivism or relativism in order to account for the dependence of morality on circumstance, nor for the fact that we are sometimes justified in doing what it is in general wrong to do.

John Falicki said...

Ok, Jason, I'll buy that.