Tuesday, November 24, 2009

McDowell's Trilemma Argument - Part 13

In post #11 on McDowell's Trilemma, I suggested a somewhat complex and less-than-obvious way to bridge the logical gap between the following two claims:

2b. Jesus claimed that he could forgive sins.

4b. Jesus claimed to be God.

Before continuing the discussion of my more complex proposal, I will finish looking at a simpler reconstruction of McDowell's thinking:

2b. Jesus claimed that he could forgive sins.
3a. Jesus believed that only God could forgive sins.
4b. Jesus claimed to be God.

Although one could raise doubts about the truth or probability of premises (2b) and (3a), the logic of the argument appears to be flawed. This argument is subject to a counterexample that is similar to the one I used against my more complex reconstruction of McDowell's thinking:

(CE2) Jesus made it plain to other people around him that he did not believe that only God could forgive sins.

In this case, Jesus might well believe himself to be God, but he would fail to make a public claim to be God, because the beliefs that he professed would not carry the implication that he was God.

Strictly speaking, a counterexample to the logic of an argument only shows that the argument is not a valid deductive argument. But the previous non-hybrid arguments were not taken to be deductive arguments anyway. They were viewed as providing a good reason to believe their conclusions, if the premises were true. So, the bottom-line question here is, does the hybrid argument provide a good reason to believe the conclusion, assuming the premises to be true?

A counterexample to the validity of a deductive argument can be completely imaginary, unrealistic, and far-fetched. So long as the counterexample is logically possible, the deductive argument is proven to be invalid. But when we are not dealing with a deductive argument, a counterexample needs to be stronger than this. It should be not only logically possible, but be realistic or somewhat probable.

(CE2) might not be true, but it is more than a mere logical possibility; it is at least somewhat probable (e.g. have one chance in ten of being true). So, (CE2) also works against the above argument, even though we conceive of the argument as non-deductive. (CE2) casts doubt on the claim that the combination of (2b) and (3a) provide a good reason to accept the conclusion.

Furthermore, (CE2) points to a whole category of circumstances under which the inference would fail. In short, (CE2) points to a necessary condition for the application of the concept of "claiming to be X". More specifically, since the argument here is not that Jesus is directly and explicitly claiming to be God, the relevant concept at work is "making an implied claim to be X."

The implication involves a logical inference, and in the situation described by (CE2), Jesus has publically rejected or denied a key premise required in the logical inference. Therefore, he cannot be taken as publically advocating or suggesting the relevant inference.

Let me restate this point in different words. If Jesus publically rejected the view that "Only God could forgive sins", then (unless he proclaimed the opposite view at some other time), we cannot take his claim to be able to forgive sins as a subtle way of claiming to be God.

Let's consider a less controversial example of this. Suppose I am a detective who is investigating a murder. After a careful investigation of the crime scene, and interogation of serveral suspects, I announce my conclusion: "The butler did it." Suppose that the victim had one, and only one, butler, and that contrary to my own assumption, this butler happens to be a woman. Have I therefore made the claim that "The murderer is a woman who worked for the victim." ?

I certainly did not make such a claim directly and explicitly, but it is also the case that I have not made an implied claim that the murderer is a woman. I simply have not made a claim about the murder being a woman. This is because I believe (mistakenly) that the butler is a man, and I have no intention to try to get people to think otherwise.

So, a necessary condition of making an implied claim is that one must publically accept (or at least not publically reject) the premises involved in the logic of the alleged implication. In the case of Jesus claiming the power to forgive sins, this carries the implication of Jesus' deity only if Jesus publically accepts the additional premise that "Only God could forgive sins". (CE2) thus points to a general category of possibilities or circumstances in which the claim to be able to forgive sins would fail to imply the deity of the person making the claim.

In the next installment I will return to the more complex proposal for re-constructing (fixing) McDowell's reasoning concerning Jesus' claim to be able to forgive sins, and this will involve further analysis of the concept of "making an implied claim".