No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument

The editor of Philosophia Christi has kindly permitted me to post on my website a preprint of my article “No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument: A Response to David Reiter”. The article is scheduled to appear in the Summer 2011 issue along with a short rejoinder from David. It was a profitable exchange, and it’s gratifying that Philosophia Christi considers TAG to be worthy of critical scholarly discussion. Van Tilians should also be thankful for sympathetic, well-informed critics like David. May his tribe increase!

7 Responses to No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument

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  3. Fantastic article!

    As a staunch critic of TAG myself, I’m nearly always interested in defenses of TAG, and this one is fairly effective, at least in its narrow purpose. Two of Reiter’s three criticisms, as paraphrased in your paper (I didn’t read his original article), seem weak and unpersuasive, and you respond to them deftly. However, I have two additional concerns…

    My first concern is that this idea of having a type II argument is superfluous. If it demonstrates that God actually exists, then is that not the most telling measure of its effectiveness? From what you’ve written, it looks like Reiter believes the premises of an argument should be not one whit stronger than absolutely necessary for guaranteeing the conclusion, otherwise we face a “dilemma” of superfluity. But this seems to me an entirely foreign idea. For example, suppose I’m constructing an argument which requires a premise of the form Pa, but instead I defend the stronger premise (x)(Px). [As it happens, this is exactly what I've been doing with respect to an argument for strong agnosticism I've been toying with.] Now, surely I COULD go ahead and tone down my claim to just Pa. But if I have a natural defense for (x)(Px) which is not too different than what would be required for defending Pa, why is it a problem for me to go ahead and reach for establishing the stronger premise? Similarly, if the TAG apologist can establish []P, why should he feel obliged to restrict himself to merely establishing P, even if P is all he requires for his argument? At worst, it seems to me that the TAG apologist has made extra work for himself [though I don't think this is the case, not just for the very good reasons you give in your response]. But Reiter seems to think this hurts his case in some way, and I don’t see how. Is there perhaps something in Reiter’s original paper which explains this?

    My second concern, though, is directed against TAG itself. As I said, I’m a staunch critic of TAG, and one of my chief criticisms, echoing Reiter, is that I have never encountered a well-structured and unambiguous formulation of it. Consider the following irony: You mention that Collett’s formulation is a good example of an ill-structured TAG; but in my own reading, Collett’s is the MOST structured (though apparently intentionally undefended). For example, where Collett has endowed TAG with a clear logical form, Bahnen in his debates with Stein, among others, used TAG almost as a rhetorical device, without any recognizable (to me, anyway) logical structure at all.

    You rightly point out that this is not a problem for the shared principles of the family of TAGs. However, it seems to me that it IS a shared problem within the family of TAGs. Instead of providing examples of where Reiter’s criticism is appropriate (i.e. Collett’s form), shouldn’t you be more interested in citing a counter-example where Reiter’s criticism is inappropriate? I was very much hoping for you to point me in the direction of a well-structured version of TAG. When you declined, I was quite disappointed. If you have time, perhaps you could do so here on the blog.

    Anyway, I appreciate you writing this. It is informative and interesting! It makes me happy to follow your blog.

    –Ben Wallis

    • Thanks, Ben. Your thoughtful feedback is appreciated.

      Regarding the second concern: I am currently preparing for publication a paper that presents a theistic argument from logic which could well be viewed as a version of TAG. (Recall that, in my view, TAG is better understood as a project in theistic argumentation or a family of theistic arguments, rather than one specific argument.) All this to say: watch this space!

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