You used to say that it was so easy, but you’re trying now… Barefoot Bum’s metaphysic-epistemic confusion

The Barefoot Bum had a major meltdown because I contracted:

And even if the universe were as thick with causally inert objects as morons at the Creation Museum, who — besides philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals such as Sangy, and other professional bullshit artists — would ever care? [Source: The Barefoot Bum, ‘Injustice’]

To:

[W]ho — besides philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals such as Sangy, and other professional bullshit artists — would ever care [about truth]?

While I stand by the way I parsed his post (after all, he is asking who would care if causally inert objects existed, which means he’s asking who cares what actually exists and is therefore true), I didn’t intend to misrepresent him.  It is often the case that people who are losing a discussion will find some trivial reason to brush the conversation off, and I suspect that this is what’s going on here.

Meanwhile, he started addressing some of the problems in yet another post entitled ‘A Neutral Worldview‘.

In one sense, metaphysics is not about the world at all, but about the most basic principles about how we shouldthink.  [Source: The Barefoot Bum, ‘A Neutral Worldview’]

While it’s clear that, in general, the Barefoot Bum is a Graduate of Wikipedia, it should be evident to just about everybody that the Barefoot Bum is right off his rocker here.  Let’s get a better definition of metaphysics:

It is not easy to say what metaphysics is. Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject matter: metaphysics was the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.” It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, and for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics—first causes or unchanging things—would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Secondly, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things; the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical. [Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ‘Metaphysics‘]

The Barefoot Bum is describing epistemology.  Again with the SEP:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry. [Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ‘Epistemology’]

Indeed, this definition looks eerily familiar…

One way of looking at metaphysics is as the definitions of the fundamental philosophical fields: What does it mean to say we know something? What does it mean to say that something exists? What does it mean to say that something is good or beautiful? And, most importantly: What do we mean when we call a proposition true? Your answers to these questions comprise your metaphysical system. [Source: The Barefoot Bum, ‘A Neutral Worldview’]

(Note: I’m distinguishing between two separate questions, ‘What does it mean to say that something exists?’ and ‘What does it mean for something to exist?’  It might be unfair to expect the Barefoot Bum to say what he means, but they’re different questions.  The first is epistemic; the second is metaphysical)

Because the starting point is so incredibly wrong-headed, the rest of his piece is incoherent blather.

But the presuppositional apologist is by definition engaged in apologetics, which is some form of communication; if the apologetic is actually happening, there must be some congruence between the apologist’s metaphysical system and the skeptical listener’s. If the presuppositional apologist claimed there were no congruence at all, then he would be implicitly claiming that he was not engaged in apologetics, that he was simply making noises in the air his listener was unable to understand. So the presuppositional apologist must claim congruent neutrality, and therefore his protestation that there is no “neutral” ground on which to stand must be at least irrelevant and at worst intentionally misleading.  [Ibid.]

Errrrrr…. ummmm…  What?

The presuppositional apologist is by definition engaged in apologetics… okay… and apologetics is a form of communication… right … and if the apologetic is actually happening (as opposed to..?) then there must be some congruence between the apologist’s metaphysical system and the sceptical listener’s…

Nope.  I’m baffled.  Surely there must be some congruence between the apologist’s and the sceptic’s language (taken as, perhaps, meaning such that words mean roughly the same thing).  That’s how communication works.  When I say, ‘I like marzipan’, we share a common understanding of those words such that they make sense.  We might muck it up occasionally, but — in general — we share the meanings of words.  Why does that mean that we have a congruence in our metaphysical system.

Well, it doesn’t.  The fact that we share the same universe means that we share the same metaphysical system.  The apologist doesn’t live in a private universe where God exists, after all.  Or perhaps ‘metaphysical system’ means ‘way of describing that which is’, in which case the Barefoot Bum is still incorrect.  The Barefoot Bum might say that no causally inert objects exist and yet we can still understand each other though I consider causally inert objects to be possible.

Perhaps — perhaps — the Barefoot Bum should stick to words and concepts he understands?

Again, I’ve been too wordy.  Check out this nugget from the end of his post:

The second tactic, asserting that naturalism “fails to account” for things like logic, reality, ethics, etc. could be trivially addressed by presupposing such things directly, without the mediation of the Christian God. [Ibid.]

Yes.  You could address the failings in naturalism by abandoning naturalism.  Well done.  Gold star.

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3 thoughts on “You used to say that it was so easy, but you’re trying now… Barefoot Bum’s metaphysic-epistemic confusion

  1. You should have cited that whole first paragraph, esp.

    “Not only is the field itself subtle and complex, but it is frequently conflated (not necessarily unjustifiably) with other philosophical fields, especially ontology.”

    Oh dear.

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