Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Platonic realism to the rescue

Platonism is the view that there exist abstract (that is, non-spatial, non-temporal) objects (see the entry on abstract objects). Because abstract objects are wholly non-spatiotemporal, it follows that they are also entirely non-physical (they do not exist in the physical world and are not made of physical stuff) and non-mental (they are not minds or ideas in minds; they are not disembodied souls, or Gods, or anything else along these lines). In addition, they are unchanging and entirely causally inert — that is, they cannot be involved in cause-and-effect relationships with other objects.[1]

A popular objection to God's existence is the claim that appealing to God lacks explanatory power because you're invoking something inexplicable to explain what you don't understand. God is even more obscure than whatever you're trying to explain. 

It's unclear what it means to say God is inexplicable. Do they mean the concept of God is incoherent? Do they mean divine intent is inscrutable? Do they mean God's relation to time and space is mysterious? 

There are answers, depending on the specific allegation. But for now I'd like to focus on a different point. 

Physicalism is the default position of naturalists. However, some atheists admit that physicalism lacks sufficient explanatory power, so they fall back on Platonic realism or keep that in reserve. They use it as a blocking maneuver against Christian theism. 

But here's the irony: Platonic realism is even more inexplicable that what it's pressed into service to explain. On the one hand we have a reasonably clear grasp of what it means for something to be a physical entity. It's true that physics hasn't got to the bottom of what ultimately constitutes matter, but up to that barrier we have a fairly precise scientific idea of what matter and energy are–as well as having a ubiquitous phenomenological experience of matter and energy.

On the other hand, we have an even firmer grasp of what mental entities are. We have unmediated access to our own minds. We know our minds better than anything else. We have direct experience of what thoughts are. The furniture of consciousness. Those are the two basic categories of human experience and understanding.

But we have no grasp, no experience, of what it's like for something to be neither mental nor physical. There's no frame of reference. We can give it a label, but it doesn't match anything in human experience or understanding. It's just an opaque postulate. 

1 comment:

  1. Platonic realism implies there are an infinite number of abstract objects with no unifying principle. All causally disconnected. The various objects are appealed to by Platonic atheists to make sense of human experience. Yet, doesn't that seem to violate the principle of parsimony? Not only are explanatory causes multiplied, but they appear to be multiplied to an infinite quantity. Literally, infinities upon infinities.

    At least in divine conceptualism (if true), there is a personal God who unifies all of those objects. Who can also make sense as to how such objects, though causally effete in themselves, can somehow make a pattern like impression onto the contingent, ever changing, material world.