Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Fallacy of Reification

I've taken a lot of flack about how I view logic et. al., in my recent debate with Dan Barker. Basically, the charge being leveled is that I committed the fallacy of reification. On some atheist discussion boards we're told that "Manata thinks logic is a THING." And, "Manata didn't see how Barker refuted him because Barker pointed out that logic isn't a thing."

Now, I thought I had responded to Barker's claim in the debate quite appropriately. I actually didn't spend much time rebutting it because it is actually a very ignorant charge to level at me. I simply pointed out that to simply say "logic exists" is not to commit the fallacy of reification. Indeed, the fallacy applies in my situation only if a sort of nominalism is adhered to. But one can't just *assume* nominalism and then, without benefit of argument, accuse another of reifying certain entities. Furthermore, no examples, either by Barker or by the amateur internet atheologians, are forthcoming in showing how, exactly, I committed this fallacy. Since so many atheists thought that I committed this fallacy I thought I'd write a post dealing specifically on the fallacy of reification. Furthermore, I will show by quoting from either respected atheists or respected philosophy and logic texts, that I committed no such fallacy.

Now then, what is the fallacy of reification? Morris Engel in his respected book With Good Reason defines this fallacy (aka, the fallacy of hypostatization) as treating "abstract terms as if they were concrete ones. Frequently we ascribe human properties to them" (124). Interestingly, a frequent example (e.g., Engel's text) of this fallacy is when evolutionists tell us that "nature selects" certain traits. The "Skeptic Files also agrees with the above when it defines this fallacy:

REIFICATION

Description: To reify something is to convert an abstract concept into a concrete thing. Reification is a Fallacy of Ambiguity. Reification is also sometimes known as a fallacy of "hypostatization".

Now, no evidence is put forth showing how I did the above. Why is it claimed, then, that I commit this particular fallacy. Well, it's simply because I say that "logic exists." Now, if one's ontology commits him to the view that the only entities which exist are concrete particulars, then when they hear me saying "logic exists" they hear me saying "logic is a concrete particular." Or, if one's ontology holds that only entities like rocks, trees, atoms, and neurons exist, then when one hears me say that logic exists then they hear me saying that logic is like a rock, or something. Therefore we can see that this fallacy is partly determined by one's ontological commitments. Thus when one hears me say that logic is an entity, it is assumed, because one holds to a materialist ontology, that I'm reifying logic, since only things like cake, cars, and cheetahs, are 'entities.'

We are told that we cannot call logic an entity. But this simply begs the question against the realist. We are told that logic "is not a thing" (to quote Barker). But all of the above trades on what ontological scheme one holds to. Given my particular view of ontology it is perfectly alright for me to refer to logic as an entity, and not commit the fallacy of reification. This is because I do not hold that to exist, or to be an entity, or to be a thing, is to be something like a small, hard, impenetrable marble. Am I within my rights to do so? Well, the Oxford Companion To Philosophy sides with me on this issue when it tells us that,

"'Thing,' in its most general sense, is interchangeable with 'entity,' or 'being' and is applicable to any item whose existence is acknowledge by a system of ontology, whether that item be particular, universal, abstract, or concrete. In this sense not only material bodies but also properties, relations, events, numbers, sets and propositions are - if they are acknowledge as existing - to be accounted 'things'" (p. 871).


Likewise, The Cambridge Companion To Philosophy (CCP) rightly notes that, "an object lacking spatio-temporal properties, but supposed to have being, to exist" is referred to as an "abstract entity" (p.3). Therefore we see that the fallacy of reification "turns largely on criteria of ontological commitment" (CCP, 409). Therefore, upon analysis, the reason this charge has been leveled at me is because the one who levels it holds to a certain ontological commitment which disallows anything that is not, say, marble-like, to be said to exist. But, given my ontological commitment, I've committed no such crime against logic. Therefore, without the ontological debate proceeding this charge, then all this charge amounts to is a question begging argument against the realist. Only if my ontology is disproved could someone say that I've reified said entity.

Now, I'm a theist, and so that automatically gets me labeled as someone who is deficient in his reasoning abilities. And so when I call logic an entity that is just more evidence that theists are stupid, because an entity is something like a rock, and so I'm saying that logic is something one could stub his toe on. But what happens when we put forth a couple atheists who maintain the same position on this view as I? Let me put forth two such paradigms of enlightenment: Michael Martin and Bertrand Russell.

Michael Martin, in his paper "Does Logic Presuppose God", tells us that,

"Second, although some atheists have been materialists there is no reason why they must be and, indeed, many philosophical trained atheists are not. Many modern atheists assume a pluralistic ontology in which material entities comprise only one kind of entity in their ontology. Bertrand Russell, for example, was an atheist but believed in abstract mathematical entities."

And in his reply to Michael Butler Michael Martin tells us,

"Does Butler add anything to Frame's position? Yes, he does. He attacks TANG by wrongly assuming that I am committed to materialism. Maintaining that materialism cannot give an account of logic, he says that I as an atheist cannot. But although all materialists are atheists, not all atheists are materialists. Indeed, many atheists have a pluralist ontology. For example, some atheists believe that neither mental events nor numbers can be reduced to material entities. I am not a materialist. I do not know whether mental events are reducible to brain states--the question is still open for me--and I certainly do not think that the principles of logic are so reducible."


Now would the neophytes on the Infidel Guy forums tell Michael Martin and Bertrand Russell that they are committing the fallacy of reification? Would Dan Barker tell Michael Martin and Bertrand Russell that "they are silly" for saying "logic (or numbers) is an entity" because "logic (or numbers) are not things, there's no capital L (or N) floating around out there." Are we to assume that these atheists think the famed Michael Martin thinks that logic is some physical "thing" which "floats around" in the sky? If so, I ask them to rightly call them on the carpet for their "stupidity." If not, then on what basis do they level this charge at me? Indeed, even the famed "Secular Web" applies this fallacy in the exact opposite direction than the atheists who have complained about my logical sins. We read,

Reification / Hypostatization

Reification occurs when an abstract concept is treated as a concrete thing.

"I noticed you described him as 'evil'. Where does this 'evil' exist within the brain? You can't show it to me, so I claim it doesn't exist, and no man is 'evil'."


Here we see that the Secular Web treats evil as an existent thing. The fallacy is committed by the likes of our sophomoric atheist friends who say that since evil isn't some rock-like entity, then it can't exist!

In conclusion we note that the atheist objector is actually naïve about his subject matter. He uncritically assumes an ontological position, does not argue for that position, and then assumes, without benefit of argument, that his position is true; thus allowing him to charge me with this logical crime. We further note that it is entirely appropriate to speak of logic as an object, thing, or entity given our ontological commitment. We have further seen that their childhood heroes, Michael Martin and Bertrand Russell, speak the same way I do yet the mocking is strangely silent when it comes to them. If I'm a "dumb idiot" then so are they (on this issue). Michael Martin can be reached by phone and I suggest that they call him up and tell him how dumb he is. Lastly, we should note, that given their ontological schema they are consistent in saying that I have reified these items. But, let's note that they need to be consistent and deny the existence of: logic, numbers, proposition, sets, etc. If they do not deny the existence of these entities then they are part of their ontology and, as we have read, a member of one's ontology is properly called an object, thing, or entity. Therefore to mock me they must become anti-realist with respects to the above. Suffice it to say, that's a big pill to swallow but since it's not the purpose of this post to argue for a realist take on the above I'll leave it at that.

8 comments:

  1. I'm assuming that, since you said:
    Now would the neophytes on the Infidel Guy forums...
    this "flack" occurred there? Why don't you guys ever link to original sources? Stubbornness?

    Now, I'm a theist, and so that automatically gets me labeled as someone who is deficient in his reasoning abilities.
    I would hesitate to level the charge of stupidity/ignorance at anyone simply because of the absence or presence of god-belief.

    And so when I call logic an entity that is just more evidence that theists are stupid, because an entity is something like a rock, and so I'm saying that logic is something one could stub his toe on.
    You seem to only say that in scorning atheists, not in presenting your own view.

    But what happens when we put forth a couple atheists who maintain the same position on this view as I? Let me put forth two such paradigms of enlightenment: Michael Martin and Bertrand Russell.
    I was just pointing out to Steve that one need not be a materialist to be an atheist, as we were discussing the phil of mind.

    We further note that it is entirely appropriate to speak of logic as an object, thing, or entity given our ontological commitment.
    Simply put, how would conceptualism tie in here? Do we define concepts as concrete particulars? Even in your own view, logic exists within the mind of God, correct? Would you say that the existence of logic is dependent upon the existence of minds? Or would you say that "logic exists" is an coherent statement to make in describing a mindless, lifeless universe? Would you say that logic is contingent upon the existence of God?

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  2. "In conclusion we note that the atheist objector is actually naïve about his subject matter."

    Aren't you just trying to convince yourself of what you've wanted to believe all along? That's what it appears to this reader.

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  3. The irony is that Barker has a reputation for having a very high IQ, but he dismisses Manata's metaphysical questions as meaningless.

    Yet there are many secular philosophers who take these same questions quite seriously and regard them as a challenge to naturalism--a challenge that demands a secular alternative.

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  4. Danny,

    Regarding conceptualism. I'd say God;s a conceptualist while I'm a realist. Abstracta have an extr-mental existence for me, not for God.

    So, I'd say the existence of logic is dependent upon the existence of God's universal, invarient, and necessary mind. To hold otherwise is to subject you to the criticisms I leveled at Barker during the debate.


    Angela,

    What happens is, when you follow the analysis, my point follows; *regardless* of whatever conviction I may or may not have.


    Steve, right. And not only that, but there are naturalists (like Martin) who hold to the existence of non-material entities while remaining naturalists (or trying to). What's ironic is that Barker wouldn't snidely remark to Michael Martin, at an atheist convention, "Uh, Michael, logic is not a THING floating around out there." He wouldn't do this because [a] he's intellectually hypocritical and [b] Martin doesn't believe that yet believes they exist and [c] Martin would approriately answer his question and make him look uninformed on the subject.

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  5. If atheists are giving you flack for committing "the fallacy of reification", then so much the worse for the philosophical credibility of those atheists. There are few more ancient and respectable philosophical questions than that of the ontological status of abstracta (and few more ancient and respectable positions to take on that question than realism). Whitehead's quip that the Western philosophical tradition is nothing more than a series of footnotes to Plato was never more true than on this issue.

    Isn't it obvious to anyone with a grain of philosophical competence that to charge a metaphysical realist about logical laws with "the fallacy of reification" is a petitio principii of the crudest kind? If your critics are content to beg substantive questions so egregiously, why don't they go one better and charge all theists with "the fallacy of deification" merely because they think God is a real entity? :)

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  6. So, I'd say the existence of logic is dependent upon the existence of God's universal, invarient, and necessary mind.

    Yes, we know that's what you've said. And this reification fallacy side street, appears to be a lovely place to give flak back to the atheist sophmores you despise, but when will you be supporting your boast with a convincing argument and some "logic" of your own?

    Why is the existence of logic dependent on your personal god's alleged "universal, invarient, necessary, omni-uber-whatever" mind?

    Why can't it exist in the minds of any material biological organism or silicon chip, able to perform some basic level of inference?

    Why doesn't it disappear in a lifeless material universe, or one comprised of only single cell organisms?

    I'm not sure quoting Micheal Martin is going to help establish the conclusions of your entire TAG philosophy, but if it helps you smirk at some posters on IIDB, so much the better for you.

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  7. Daniel "the pansy" Morgan wrote, "Why don't you guys ever link to original sources? Stubbornness?" Morgy complain about not providing links? Ha! That's a laugh. Last I read this sissy wouldn't allow my own links in my comments to him.

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  8. George wrote:

    "Why is the existence of logic dependent on your personal god's alleged "universal, invarient, necessary, omni-uber-whatever" mind?

    "Why can't it exist in the minds of any material biological organism or silicon chip, able to perform some basic level of inference?

    "Why doesn't it disappear in a lifeless material universe, or one comprised of only single cell organisms?"


    I think you just answered your own question, George. If the laws of logic "exist in the minds of any material biological organism or silicon chip, able to perform some basic level of inference", then the laws of logic would not be necessary; they would be contingent on the existence of those organisms, organisms which do not necessarily exist and which can go out of existence. They would "disappear" when those organisms disappeared.

    In other worlds, the laws of logic would be mutable, which is an unacceptable conclusion.

    God, however, being a necessary being, has always existed and can never cease to exist. Furthermore, He exists timelessly. If the laws of logic exist in His mind, then they are immutable.

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