Monday, 29 April 2019

Dr.Richard Whately on Evidences/Miracles and Hume's equivocation on Experience


Here is a wodge of Dr. Whately's Logic. You've seen it before but your sybaritic taste glutted on the sophisms of Mr. Hume refused it. Your wish to deny the fact of miracles lest they should lead to a position of faith is, as I pointed out, a groundless anxiety. A faithless generation requires them but even Moses coming back from the dead to confirm the message of the gospels would not convince. Whately would demur. They are useful if the ground of sufficient candour exists.
(repost)
A consistent theme of Whately’s is ‘evidences’. A couple of his books that I’ve come across are composed of annotations appended to what he considers seminal texts. Generally these annotations are chapter length reflections on the previous chapter of the mother text. Paley’s A View of the Evidences of Christianity is one and Bacon’s Essays is the other. 

Evidences is the short form of ‘evidences for the truth of the Christian religion’ or a quasi-rational justification. Though he is represented as having been at odds with John Henry Newman even while the latter was in his Anglican phase I find that both of them really did not believe that there were knock-down demonstrative proofs available in the domain of religion. In the early working out of what later became the illative sense Newman spoke of implicit reasoning and they both would I think have recognised that a prior cultivation of the heart was necessary for the living reception of ‘evidences’. For Whately the fact of miracles was central for faith. Without miracles the establishment of the faith as a world-wide phenomenon would be impossible. Google have his Easy Lessons on Christian Evidences with several chapters on that theme. His amusing retorsion on/of/to Hume on miracles cf. Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte is quite serious in intent.

Men were not to become his disciples in consequence of their knowing and perceiving the truth of what He taught, but in consequence of their having sufficient candour to receive the evidence which his miracles afforded, and being so thoroughly of the Truth as to give themselves up to follow wherever that should lead, in opposition to any prejudices or inclinations of their own; and then knowledge of the truth was to be their reward. There is not necessarily any moral virtue in receiving truth; for it may happen that our interest, or our wishes, are in the same direction; or it may be forced upon us by evidence as irresistible as that of a mathematical demonstration. The virtue consists in being a sincere votary of Truth;—what our Lord calls being 'of the Truth,'—rejecting 'the hidden things of dishonesty,' and carefully guarding against every undue bias. Every one wishes to have Truth on his side; but it is not every one that sincerely wishes to he on the side of Truth.

(from annotation to Bacon’s Essay Of Truth)

A note on David Hume's equivocation re 'experience' from Richard Whately might be a useful antidote:

EXPERIENCE.—This word, in its strict sense, applies to what has occurred within a person's own knowledge. Experience, in this sense, of course, relates to the past alone. Thus it is that a man knows by experience what sufferings he has undergone in some disease, or what height the tide reached at a certain time and place.
More frequently the word is used to denote that Judgment which is derived from experience in the primary sense, by reasoning from that, in combination with other data. Thus, a man may assert, on the ground of Experience, that he was cured of a disorder by such a medicine,—that that medicine is, generally, beneficial in that disorder,—that the tide may always be expected, under such circumstances, to rise to such a height. Strictly speaking, none of these can be known by Experience, but are conclusions derived from Experience. It is in this sense only that Experience can be applied to the future, or, which comes to the same thing, to any general fact; as, e. g. when it is said that we know by Experience that water exposed to a certain temperature will freeze.
There are again two different applications of the word {see Book III. § 10,) which, when not carefully distinguished, lead in practice to the same confusion as the employment of it in two senses; viz. we sometimes understand our own personal experience; sometimes, general Experience. Hume has availed himself of this (practical) ambiguity, in his Essay on Miracles; in which he observes, that we have experience of the frequent falsity of Testimony, but that the occurrence of a miracle is contrary to our Experience, and is consequently what no testimony ought to be allowed to establish. Now had he explained whose Experience he meant, the argument would have come to nothing: if he means the Experience of mankind universally, i. e, that a Miracle has never come under the Experience of any one, this is palpably begging the question: if he means the Experience of each individual who has never himself witnessed a Miracle, this would establish a rule, {viz. that we are to believe nothing of which we have not ourselves experienced the like,) which it would argue insanity to act upon. Not only was the King of Bantam justified (as Hume himself admits) in listening to no evidence for the existence of Ice, but no one would be authorized on this principle to expect his own death. His Experience informs him, directly, only that others have died. Every disease under which he himself may have labored, his Experience must have told him has not terminated fatally; if he is to judge strictly of the future by the past, according to this rule, what should hinder him from expecting the like of all future diseases ?
Some have never been struck with this consequence of Hume's principles; and some have even failed to perceive it when pointed out: but if the reader thinks it worth his while to consult the author, he will see that his principles, according to his own account of them, are such as I have stated.
Perhaps however he meant, if indeed he had any distinct meaning, something intermediate between universal, and individual experience; viz. the Experience of the generality, as to what is common and of ordinary occurrence; in which sense the maxim will only amount to this, that false Testimony is a thing of common occurrence, and that Miracles are not; an obvious truth, indeed ; but too general to authorize, of itself) a conclusion in any particular case In any other individual question, as to the admissibility of evidence, it would be reckoned absurd to consider merely the average chances for the truth of Testimony in the abstract without inquiring what the Testimony is, in the particular instance before us. As if e. g. any one had maintained that no testimony could establish Columbus's account of the discovery of America, because it is more common for travellers to lie, than for new Continents to be discovered. See Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte.
It is to be observed by the way, that there is yet an additional ambiguity in the entire phrase " contrary to experience;" in one sense, a miracle, or any other event, may be called contrary to the experience of any one who has never witnessed the like; as the freezing of water was to that of the King of Bantam; in another and stricter sense, that only is contrary to a man's experience, which he knows by experience not to be true; as if one should be told of an in&llible remedy for some disorder, he having seen it administered without effect. No testimony can establish what is, in this latter sense^ contrary to experience. We need not wonder that ordinary minds should be bewildered by a sophistical employment of such a mass of ambiguities.
Such reasonings as these are accounted ingenious and profound, on account of the Subject on which they are employed; if applied to the ordinary affairs of life, they would be deemed unworthy of serious notice.
The reader is not to suppose that the refutation of Hume's Essay on Miracles was my object in this Article.
That might have been sufficiently accomplished, in the way of a reductio ad absurdum," by mere reference to the case of the King of Bantam adduced by the author himself But this celebrated Essay, though it has often perhaps contributed to the amusement of an anti-christian sophist at the expense of those unable to expose its fallacy, never probably made one convert The author himself seems plainly to have meant it as a specimen of his ingenuity in arguing on a given hypothesis; for he disputes against miracles as against the Course of Nature; whereas, according to him, there is no such thing as a Course of Nature; his skepticism extends to the whole external world;—to every thing, except the ideas or impressions on the mind of the individual; so that a miracle which is believed, has, in that circumstance alone, on his principles, as much reality as any thing can have.
But my object has been to point out, by the use of this example, the fallacies and blunders which may result from inattention to the ambiguity of the word " Experience :" and this cannot be done by a mere indirect argument; which refutes indeed, but does not explain^ an error.

(from alphabetical appendix to Elements of Logic by Dr.Richard Whately)



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