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Ray Brassier's rebuttal of anti-nihilist arg.

sdavio
Posts: 1,798
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11/17/2015 2:27:32 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Okay, so I've made quite a few threads devoted to a single kind of argument already, as well as extremely long conversations about just this in which gaining ground seems impossible, and this is another thread about it. It's the "appeal to hypocrisy" which is so often used to attempt to dismiss nihilism. But in his book "Nihil Unbound", Ray Brassier stresses precisely the same point I have been making ad nauseam about the argument which makes refuting various forms of meaning impossible by stating things along the lines of, "Saying that belief doesn't exist, is a statement of belief, therefore the argument is self-refuting."

I don't agree with all of Brassier's positions, but this is a great argument which evidences the failure of such attempts to defend intuitive concepts of mind (in Brassier's context this is in regard to eliminative materialism) much more clearly than I ever have:

"Ultimately, the question-begging character of the 'self-refuting' objection to [eliminative materialism] becomes readily apparent when we see how easily it could be adapted to block the displacement of any conceptual framework whatsoever by spuriously transcendentalizing whatever explanatory principle (or principles) happens to enjoy a monopoly in it at any given time. Patricia Churchland provides the following example, in which a proponent of vitalism attempts to refute anti-vitalism using similar tactics: 'The anti-vitalist claims there is no such thing as vital spirit. But if the claim is true the speaker cannot be animated by the vital spirit. Consequently he must be dead. But if he is dead then his claim is a meaningless string of noises, devoid of reason and truth.' Here as before, the very criterion of intelligibility whose pertinence for understanding a given phenomenon - 'life' in this case, 'meaning' in the previous one - is being called into question, is evoked in order to dismiss the challenge to it. But just as anti-vitalism does not deny the existence of the various phenomena grouped together under the heading of 'life', but rather a particular way of explaining what they have in common, EM does not deny the reality of the phenomena subsumed under the heading of 'meaning' (or 'consciousness'), but rather a specific way of explaining their characteristic features." (- from Nihil Unbound, my emphasis)

Hopefully the fact that the appeal to hypocrisy simply doesn't work as an argument will have become clear enough that at some stage those who oppose nihilism will recognize that it alone is not enough to destroy the entire nihilist position. I maintain my optimistic / naive hope that someday, there will be a debate about nihilism where the opposition attempts an argument other than this one.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
dylancatlow
Posts: 12,248
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11/17/2015 4:12:52 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Churchlands's example has no relevance whatsoever to the argument used against nihilism. In her example, the claim against vitalism is only self-refuting under an assumption it doesn't make. It's therefore only self-refuting if that assumption turns out to be correct. The argument against nihilism suffers no such problem, because nihilism is deemed self-refuting under its own assumptions. In other words, if those assumptions are true, then the claim is impossible to make, and if those assumptions are false, then the claim is groundless.
sdavio
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11/17/2015 4:52:56 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 11/17/2015 4:12:52 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
Churchlands's example has no relevance whatsoever to the argument used against nihilism. In her example, the claim against vitalism is only self-refuting under an assumption it doesn't make. It's therefore only self-refuting if that assumption turns out to be correct. The argument against nihilism suffers no such problem, because nihilism is deemed self-refuting under its own assumptions. In other words, if those assumptions are true, then the claim is impossible to make, and if those assumptions are false, then the claim is groundless.

I assume the assumption you're talking about is the objective truth of statements, and hence the presumed truth of the nihilist's statements of their own theory.

Of course, if we take the term "truth" in its broadest sense, then there must be some overlap between this and what the nihilist accepts. The problem is that the appeal to hypocrisy conflates their own narrow definition of truth with anything correlated with it.

This is what Brassier is getting at in this part: "anti-vitalism does not deny the existence of the various phenomena grouped together under the heading of 'life', but rather a particular way of explaining what they have in common".

Hence the example applies in just the same way. Just as the vitalist assumes that, since the interlocutor assents to "various phenomena grouped together under the heading of 'life'," this logically implies vitalism, the anti-nihilist argument groups any of those grouped under headings such as "meaning" or "truth" with their specific interpretation. Because those terms are so broad, the amount of phenomena with some kind of connotation within those words is vast, so that therefore the theory puts itself beyond criticism by only allowing for its own interpretation of any of the correlated words.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
sdavio
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11/17/2015 5:18:42 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 11/17/2015 4:12:52 PM, dylancatlow wrote:

How to discover the "logical structure of the universe": First draw a line around nothing (AKA do nothing). Then point out that on the other side of a 'line around nothing' must be 'everything'. Finally, you claim to have outlined the universe.

This is how all realist / rationalist philosophies ultimately function, and it's why a philosophy, which attempts to gain traction simply by contrasting itself with a view which is apparently impossible to hold, can never end up with substantial claims about states of affairs within the universe it has "outlined".
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx