Thursday, August 18, 2005

Occam's razor

Patrick said:


It's cruel of you to dig up some of those links, PP. Posting Link 2 was especially heartless. Steve Hays must find it pretty humiliating to see you link to the discussion with me where he made believe that a certain claim made by Archbishop Chaput committed him to open theism. That was a real trainwreck.


I said:


Well, now, let’s see. If I was so disappointed with my performance in that exchange I could either delete it altogether or at least delete Patrick’s side of the exchange. But it’s all there for all to see.

And what they will see is that Patrick tried to save the good Archbishop from heresy by imputing to him one or another—or was it both at the same time?—position to him, viz. Thomism or Molinism. As a matter of fact, Occamism is a third alternative, but Patrick is apparently unacquainted with that. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, there’s more than one version of Molinism as well.


Patrick said:



Actually, Occamism isn't a third option with respect to the issue of Predestination. It's really just a position on reconciling foreknowledge and freedom, but I guess you don't realize that foreknowledge and Predestination are distinct, though obviously related, issues. Kind of makes your snide superiority seem pretty silly, doesn't it?


I said:


Wherever did I get the silly idea that the Occamist option might have anything to do with predestination? Hmm. Well, just for starters, the title of his treatise might contain a wee bit of a clue:

Tractatus de praedestinatione et de praescientia Dei et de futuris contingentibus (Franciscan institute publications [Philosophy series], 1945).

Hint? Hint?

You really wonder why Patrick keeps coming back to get slapped down again. Is he doing penance for venial sin or something?


Patrick said:


But let me ask you--did you ever _open_ the book by Occam? No, I didn't think so.


Some guys just don’t know how to quit when they’re behind. Here’s the table of contents:


Question I: Are passive predestination and passive foreknowledge real relations in the person who is predestinate and foreknown?

Question II: In respect of all future contingents does God have determinate, certain, infallible, immutable, necessary cognition of one part of a contradiction?

Question III: How can the contingency of the will, both created and uncreated, be preserved in the case of its causing something external? That is, can the will, as naturally prior to the caused act, cause the opposite act at the same instant at which it causes that ct, or can it at another subsequent instant cause the opposite act or cease from the caused act?

Question IV: Is there a cause of predestination in the predestinate and a cause of reprobation in the reprobate?

Question V: In view of the fact that the propositions “Peter is predestinate” and “peter is reprobate” are opposites, why cannot the one succeed the other in truth?

William Ockham. Predestination, God’s Foreknowledge, & Future Contingents, M. Adams & N. Kretzmann, eds. (Hackett 1983).


As we can see, from the table of contents alone, predestination is an integral element of Occam’s analysis.

And I’m quoting from the table of contents because I also have the full text before my very eyes--since I own the book in question. I can just as easily lift direct quotes from the body of the text, if need be.

I realize that Patrick is a glutton for punishment, but now might be an opportune time to throw in the towel before he does himself, his cause and his side even further damage. Just an idea.


  1. Obviously, I am a glutton for punishment, since here I am again, trying to talk to Steve Hays.

    First, notice that I asked Steve whether he had ever opened the book by Occam that he posted the title of--a book written in Latin, as the title shows. He replied by posting from the table of contents of a _different_ book, this one written in English. So there are two things to notice. First, he changed the subject instead of answering the question. Second, even if in doing so he wasn't being deliberately sophistical (perhaps he understood my use of the phrase "that book" to refer to the type, which might include the untranslated version of the text, rather than to the token), the facts that he claims to own the book and that he can cut'n'paste from it still don't show he's ever read it(I myself own quite a few books I haven't yet had time to read), or, indeed, that he had ever opened it _before I asked him_ whether he had.

    Next, Steve acts as though he were well versed in the contemporary literature on Providence, but he apparently doesn't know that at least in the contemporary debate, 'Ockhamism' is a term that is used to refer to a view on foreknowledge. Specifically, the Occamist claims that there is a distinction between soft facts and hard facts. Soft facts are facts about the future: and my acting in certain ways (in the future) actually determines God's beliefs about what I'll do in the future. Notice that since this is a position strictly on foreknowledge, it cannot possibly, in itself, serve to help with the issues of predestination or providence. (Since it is demonstrable that simple foreknowledge cannot account for either.)

    Obviously, Occam, as a Christian philosopher, held views on other matters, including predestination. However, as I say, the term that Steve used, in the context in which he used it, has--for those who know the literature--a very clear meaning. It's OK that Steve isn't aware of the meaning. But his perpetual attitude of superiority wears quite thin in the light of his obvious ignorance. In any event, my initial reply to Steve about his misplacement of Occamism as a theory regarding Providence was based on the current usage of that term in the context of contemporary philosophy. I did not mean to imply that Occam held no views on Providence or Predestination, since, as I said above, obviously he did.

    Steve, why don't you do a post where you gloat a little about your deliberate sophistry regarding my, "for some reason," trying to "settle old scores" with you by popping up on PP's blog and "declaring victory."

    You're not fooling anyone, Steve, except the fools.

  2. It is not a different book, but an English translation of the very same book. And it's the content that counts.

    And, yes, quoting from primary source material is a pretty good way of establishing, for his own lips, what the Occamist position was.

    And, no, it's not just a matter of Occam having views on other matters, including predestination. The relation of three things: freedom, foreknowledge, and foreordination, are equally integral to the debate. Occam was proposing a method of harmonizing the three.

    Since Patrick has obviously not bothered to read Occam's tractate, he's talking through his hat--as usual.

    Patrick tries to save face by claiming that his usage is based on current usage. And what is current usage based on? Occam, perchance? Or is it Bugs Bunny?

  3. As to your claim that "it's the content that counts"--well, that's the point of my distinction between type/token. This distinction, then, is presumably another aspect of contemporary philosophical discussion you don't know about?

    As to your question about what durrent usage is based on, it's largely based on Alvin Plantinga's paper "On Ockham's Way Out." Again, it's evident that you don't know the literature. No crime in that, but at least it belies your pretention to be some kind of expert on the matter.

    Just out of curiosity--what makes it evident that I haven't read Occam's book? Is it the fact that I know what Occam's views on foreknowledge are? I'm afraid I can't quite follow the inference there, but, then, you're a genius and I'm not.

  4. I guess I also want to reply to Steve's claim that I'm trying to "save face" by "claiming" that my usage is simply the contemporary philosophical usage. First, I'd invite Steve, or any other reader to actually take a look at the contemporary usage and see if I'm accurately representing the scene. Hint: I am.

    Second, the notion that I need to "save face" is kind of silly. First, I'm posting anonymously. Second, in my non-anonymous life, I actually work professionally on these issues. I really don't have anything to prove here about my grip on them--I've proved it to anonymous referees and to rooms full of professional philosophers. I no more have to "save face" here than I do in the classroom, when a sophomore poses what he thinks is a devastating objection to something I've just said, and then simply won't fathom that his objection is, to put it kindly, misguided.

  5. Once again, you're playing game. The type/token distinction is irrelevant to the content (questions 1,4-5, in the body of the text) of Occam's tractate in terms of whether predestination figures fundamentally in his analysis of freedom and foreknowledge. If you'd read it, you'd know it.

    As to Plantinga, this is another stalling tactic of yours. What is Plantinga's essay based on? It's based on Occam. If fact, he quotes from the very same translation I'm quoting from. Cf. Analytical Theist, p270, n16. Only I'm using the newer, second edition.

    So, to judge by your sorry performance thus far, you haven't read either Occam or Plantinga.

    It really wouldn't hurt you to check your facts before you sally forth everytime to get shot down everytime.

    But it's your funeral, not mine.

  6. Yes, Steve, obviously, I've never read either Plantinga or Occam, plus you're able to "shoot me down." Also, the sky is red and pigs can fly.

  7. Patrick says that usage of the term 'Ockhamism' "is largely based on Alvin Plantinga's paper 'On Ockham's Way Out.'"

    According to Patrick, "Occamism isn't a third option with respect to the issue of Predestination. It's really just a position on reconciling foreknowledge and freedom..."

    Indeed, according to Patrick, since Ockham's position "is a position strictly on foreknowledge, it cannot possibly, in itself, serve to help with the issues of predestination or providence."

    However, unlike Plantinga, whose actual exegesis of Ockham is superficial at best, Marilyn Adams and Norman Kretzmann are accomplished Ockham scholars. From their "Introduction" to the standard English translation of William Ockham, *Predestination, God's Foreknowledge, and Future Contingents*:


    Ockham's main business in this *Treatise* is to resolve problems for Christian theology, arising from its acceptance of the philosophical claim that some things are both future and contingent. Briefly, an event, action, or state of affairs is contingent, if and only if it is both possible for it to be and possible for it not to be. Ockham takes it to be part of Christian doctrine (i) that 'Peter will be saved' and the like are future contingent propositions, and (ii) that God has infallible foreknowledge of future contingents. But Aristotle's fatalistic arguments in *De interpretatione*, Chapter 9, seem to imply that (i) and (ii) are incompatible. Ockham responds by developing a view regarding truth and future contingents which he uses to deal with other problems about predestination and God's foreknowledge as well.

    The remainder of this Introduction provides some background for a study of Ockham's *Treatise*. We shall begin (in Part I) with his exposition of Aristotle's fatalistic arguments, together with his solution of the problems arising from them. Then (in Parts II-IV) we shall see how Ockham applies his view about truth and future contingents to handle four related topics." (pp. 2-3)

    Then we get to part II of the translator's *Introduction*:

    "II. The Ontological Status of Predestination and Reprobation:

    Another of the essential applications Ockham makes of his view of future contingents in the *Treatise* is to the problem of the nature of predestination (and reprobation). He takes particular pains to reject two theories relating to this problem. The first of these (Theory 1) is the view that predestination is a 'real relation' (the relata of which are the predestinate person and God). The second (Theory 2) is the view that active predestination consists in and passive predestination depends on acts of God's will in the past -- acts that, because they are past, cannot be changed and that, because they are acts of God's will, cannot be obstructed.

    According to Theory 1, considered at the very outset of Question I of the *Treatise*, to say that a person is predestinate now is to say, at least in part, that there is something real -- the form of passive predestination -- inhering in that person now. The inherence of this real form necessitates that person's receiving supreme blessedness on the day of judgment. Thus from 'Peter is predestinate' one may validly infer 'On the day of judgment God will give Peter supreme blessedness.'... (p. 12)

    OK, so according to these Ockham scholars, (i) Ockham uses his view of truth and future contingents to deal with problems about predestination, and (ii) the problem of the nature of predestination and reprobation is an *essential* application which Ockham makes of his view.

    Patrick says that, "Obviously, Occam, as a Christian philosopher, held views on other matters, including predestination."

    This is a vast understatement. Ockham didn't just 'hold views on other matters'. Rather, he specifically developed his view as a way of understanding the issues of predestination and reprobation.

    Patrick's claim that Ockham's view "cannot possibly, in itself, serve to help with the issues of predestination or providence" is entirely contrary to Ockham's own goals for his treatise on predestination. Predestination was the whole reason Ockham developed his distinctive views.