December 13, 2018

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Chillingworth on Strange Extractions in Chymistry and Logick

In your sixt parag. I let all passe saving only this, That a perswasion that men of different Religions ... may be saved, is a most pernitious heresy, and even a ground of Atheisme. What strange extractions Chymistry can make I know not, but sure I am, he that by reason would inferre this conclusion, That there is no God, from this ground, That God will save men in different Religions, must have a higher strain in Logick, then you or I have hitherto made shew of. In my apprehension, the other part of the contradiction, That there is a God, should much rather follow from it. And whether contradictions will flow from the same fountaine, let the Learned judge.

William Chillingworth, The Religion of the Protestants (1638), p. 14

I'm not sure what name to give to the fallacy Chillingworth is diagnosing. It seems to me that it is still a common one. It's perhaps related to slippery slope. I think it has to do with a confusion between three propositions:

  1. People who start by accepting P are prone to move on to the more extreme view Q.
  2. People who say they accept P might really intend to insinuate Q.
  3. P entails Q.

Even assuming that Q is really as bad as one thinks it is, (3) is the only one of these that actually provides evidence that P is false. Chillingworth's opponent (as quoted) has written something that certainly sounds like (3), but probably intended something like (1) or (2). However, neither (1) nor (2) has any bearing on the truth of P. (1) is relevant to whether one ought to promote belief in P, and (2) is relevant to whether one should go around saying that P, but there are some truths that, for practical reasons, it's best to keep quiet about. This isn't necessarily a matter of thinking that ordinary folk 'can't handle the truth'. It could be that this particular truth, without additional context, would be misleading evidence or would be taken as implying something false.

Chillingworth's example is a nice one because, as he emphasizes, P (God saves people in different religions) actually implies that Q (atheism) is false, and so can't also imply that Q is true unless it does so by explosion.

Posted by Kenny at December 13, 2018 3:21 PM
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