Saturday, June 23, 2012

Philosophical Brain Teaser

Philosopher and apologist Dr. Glenn Peoples of the Say Hello to My Little Friend blog and podcast recently asked his facebook friends and fan-base the following question: 
"Does 'We could reasonably expect John Smith to believe X' mean the same thing as 'John Smith could reasonably believe X'?"

Now, the rules on his facebook page were to give either a "Yes" or "No" answer--nothing more.  I answered "No," that the two statements are not the same.  While we await for Dr. People's answer to the question, I've decided to hash a few things out on paper as it were.  Dr. Peoples is incredibly sharp, and a keen logician, so I look forward with great anticipation to his answer.  Meanwhile, here are my thoughts to the brainteaser....

One might answer, “No,” because in the first instance, the subject that is reasoning to the conclusion in question is “we” and not John Smith.  When it says, “We could reasonably expect,” that means that it is the plural subject engaging in the process of human reason.  Now, human reason is the logical process of coming to a conclusion (either by means of induction, deduction or the lesser-known abduction) based upon certain observable criteria and assumptions about how the object under question operates.  If John Smith believes X, and we conclude that we can expect him to believe X, we do so based upon what we know about John Smith, as John is the object of the human reasoning process.  Simply put: in the first case, it is the group-think "we" who reasons concerning X (John Smith's belief in X), while in the second case, it is John Smith who reasons to X (X being simply and only "X" and not a greater proposition as in the first case).  

On the other hand, one might answer “Yes,” because in the second instance, the subject engaging in the reasoning process is John Smith, and not the group.  But surely this begs the question (not the logical fallacy), because the statement itself is a reasoned one, and stands outside of itself.  In other words, it says, “We could reasonably expect that John Smith could reasonably believe X.”  In this case, the group-think is presupposed, and of course, it is presupposed, even without altering the sentence.  Therefore, one may answer “Yes” to the question that the two statements are identical, because both statements argue that the group-think is reasoning about John Smith’s belief concerning X.  The added element in the second statement is that John Smith also reasons to belief in X.  

Of course, the answer to this question depends also on whether there is a moral component to the adverbial usage of reason.  If “John Smith reasonably believes X” is understood in moral terms, then the group-think judges John for his belief, and whether or not it is following the dictates of what constitutes what someone should or shouldn’t believe.  In the case of the moral component of “reasonably” in the second case, it would differ from the first, for the first case's moral usage has its main locus in the subjective knower, as it basically says, “What we know about John Smith dictates to us that he would, indeed, believe X, and we make a judgment based upon this information.”  The reasoned, rational judgment is good and right, and contains a moral component. 

Now, in the second case, we have the a priori conclusion of John's character and person: “We deduce that based upon what we know of John’s intellect, ethics, and choices, that he will believe X.”  Now, the difference here lies in the subjective knower and the conclusions the subject draws.  But it is clear that both sentences must assume something about John, and the use of reason.  

By contrast, however, one might argue that the answer to the question is how we define the word “reasonably” in each case.  In the first case, one might say that “reasonably” is used in a strict deductive fashion without the moral component, whereas in the second case, the door is opened to the moral use of the term as it is related to John’s character, among other things, such as his cognitive abilities, knowledge, and intellect.  So, there is a moral component in the second case that is apparent, but it is absent in the first.  But this is a real stretch, for the in the first case, for the group-think to believe that John Smith would  believe X, they must know something about him, including his character.  In the second case, the group-think (or single observant) also presupposes John’s character in believing X, and while in order to believe X, it is John who must use his reason, the group-think also does.  So “Yes” the two statements say essentially the same thing. 

I look forward to Dr. Peoples' answer, and I am confident I will learn much from it, for I could be way off base here.  Nevertheless, I'm thankful for this exercise in thinking.  Thanks Glenn!  

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