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Author Archives: Michaelsudduth

Projects and Blog Update

Hello Friends:

I haven’t posted a blog since last spring.  Some of you may have forgotten that you were actually subscribed.  It’s been a very busy past six months, personally and professionally, but I‘m hoping to begin regular blogging as we approach the New Year.

At this time, I have a few announcements and a preview of a forthcoming blog.

First, I’m happy to announce that my book on empirical arguments for survival (in progress) is now under contract with Palgrave Macmillan, and the book is scheduled for completion and submission in November 2014.  The book will be published in the Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion series.  A recently revised Book Prospectus is currently available.

Second, I have two forthcoming articles.  (1) My recently completed article on empirical survival arguments for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy will likely be published in January 2014.  (2) In March 2014, my article on mediumship and survival will appear in Adam Rock’s edited collection The Survival Hypothesis: Essays on Mediumship (McFarland, 2014), which will also feature an article from fellow philosopher Stephen Braude.

Finally, in the next few weeks I’ll be posting a preview of a new article I’m writing entitled “Recalibrating the Empirical Survival Debate: the Role and Relevance of Predictive Power.”  In this article I explore the implications of predictive power for two prominent challenges to traditional empirical arguments for survival: the alternative explanation challenge (which tries to deflate the case for survival by appealing to alternative non-survival explanations of the data) and the antecedent probability challenge (which tries to deflate the case for survival by arguing that the survival hypothesis has a low antecedent probability).  I argue that standard survivalist responses to these long-standing challenges are inadequate when the challenges are reformulated in the light of salient issues surrounding the predictive power of the survival hypothesis.  In this way, I hope to bring greater clarity to some of the fundamental problems that infect traditional empirical arguments for survival.

Michael Sudduth

Update: Survival and the Empirical World

Greetings Friends:

I have been busy working on my book Survival and the Empirical World.  As indicated in my prior blog, I had to cut back on my planned blogging on the topic of my book in order to prepare a full project proposal which an interested publisher requested.  Between work on the proposal (which includes chapter drafts and a working bibliography) and my teaching load, there has been precious little time to devote to regular blogging on the topic as I had planned.  This of course will likely change once the semester ends.  I plan to use my blog to provide more regular updates on my book and share excerpts of book material as the manuscript takes shape.  In fall 2013 I may also set up a private online discussion group where chapter drafts will be available and we can have regular discussion of the book, including some live stream seminar-style sessions.

Also, at the end of May or beginning of June I will have completed my entry on empirical arguments for survival for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which—pending permission from the editor—I will make available on my website.  I will post a notice in my blog.

For now I have included the revised book abstract below, which includes a link to the current book prospectus. If you compare the current and earlier outlines of book chapters you will notice that I’ve narrowed the scope of what I’m covering in the book.  The main adjustment here has been the elimination of the final chapter in which I had planned to discuss some positive grounds for affirming the rationality of belief in survival.  For various reasons I have decided to only sketch some suggestions in this direction in the conclusion to the book rather than provide a more developed chapter-length argument.  The topic really deserves a book-length treatment, so I’m going to save a more developed argument in support of the rationality of belief in survival for a possible subsequent book, which will cover the larger territory of the epistemology of belief in survival.

Finally, a word of thanks to those of you who have emailed me about my book and your interest in the topic of postmortem survival.  While the comments section for my blog is currently closed, I do welcome emails from readers and try to answer all of them as time permits.

Michael Sudduth

Survival and the Empirical World (Book Abstract, 5/1/13)

Most broadly stated, Survival and the Empirical World is a philosophical exploration of the empirical approach to postmortem survival—the survival of consciousness or the self beyond physical death.  More specifically, in this book I critically evaluate the contention among many who believe in survival that there is empirical evidence that justifies belief in survival. I argue that the classical empirical arguments for survival as developed by prominent philosophers and survival researchers during the past century are unsuccessful.

My exploration of the classical empirical arguments for survival focuses on the “explanatory axis” of such arguments, specifically the contention that the survival hypothesis provides the best explanation of a wide range of empirical data drawn from the phenomena of mediumship, cases of the reincarnation type, apparitional experiences, and out-of-body experiences.  Although the empirical approach to survival has considerable merit and there is intriguing empirical evidence that is at least suggestive of survival, I raise significant doubt about the force of the classical arguments, especially where these arguments maintain that the survival hypothesis has the kind of explanatory success characteristic of scientific hypotheses. 

The weaknesses of the empirical arguments for survival have largely been masked by the way in which the debate concerning these arguments has been framed, for example, with an emphasis on how certain strands of data are quite improbable but for some hypothesis of survival.  I argue that the central issues of debate concerning the inference to survival from the relevant data must be approached with a particular recalibration of the explanatory axis of such arguments.  Such a recalibration will constellate the central issues of the debate around the predictive power of the survival hypothesis, rather than the alleged failures of alternative explanations of the data and hence the alleged surprising nature of the data but for survival.  This maneuver exposes a range of largely unacknowledged or unexplored auxiliary assumptions on which the explanatory inference to survival crucially depends.  I contend that once these assumptions are isolated and their implications traced out, it will be necessary to substantially rethink the three areas of traditional debate concerning empirical arguments for survival: (i) the content of the survival hypothesis, (ii) the assessment of the antecedent probability of the survival hypothesis, and (iii) how alternative explanations challenge the survival hypothesis.

In the light of the recalibration of the explanatory axis of empirical arguments for survival, I argue my central thesis:  we are not warranted in concluding that the survival hypothesis is the best explanation of the data traditionally adduced as empirical evidence for survival.  To the extent that the inference to survival depends on survival being the best explanation of these data or otherwise embodying a range of ostensible explanatory virtues (in a way superior to various competing hypotheses), the inference to survival suffers from debilitating defects.  I conclude with a call for survivalists partial to empirical arguments for survival to rethink the epistemological presuppositions of the tradition of “scientific” inquiry into postmortem survival.

Clarifying My Critique of Survival Arguments

In my previous blog (“’Wrong Turns’ in Arguments for Postmortem Survival”) I discussed in a general way my skepticism regarding arguments for postmortem survival construed as inferences to best explanation (IBE).  The initial wave of skepticism concerns problems that infect IBE arguments in general.  The second wave of skepticism concerns a number of problems that infect survival arguments in particular when they are modeled on IBE.  My previous blog primarily discussed the first wave of skepticism, of which I’ll have more to say at a later time.  In the next week or so, though, my blog will begin exploring the second wave  of skepticism, which has been the focus of a number of my papers.  Even if we can get clear of the first wave of skeptical concerns associated with IBE arguments in general, the attempt to fit survival into the IBE template as an ostensible “scientific hypothesis” is subject to substantial and I think fatal objections. 

For the moment, though, I’d like to offer a brief clarification about my position on survival and how my critique of IBE survival arguments is part of a larger program in the epistemology of belief in survival. This is prompted by some interesting emails from subscribers who have asked, for example, whether I think there are any good arguments for survival.  Although in my previous blog I indicated that my critique of IBE survival arguments doesn’t rule out there being good arguments for survival, some subscribers wanted more details about my viewpoint.  This is forthcoming, but for now I’ll offer some clarifications and sketch the parameters of the larger project in which my critique of IBE survival arguments is embedded.

First, to reiterate an important point in my previous blog, I’m not skeptical about postmortem survival. I personally believe in survival.  I think this makes some survivalists uncomfortable because their arguments have been dialectically framed as a response to physicalist objections to survival raised by individuals who are anti-survivalists.  I’m not in this camp, and my critique of IBE survival arguments isn’t committed to the truth of physicalism. Later in the present blog series I’ll discuss the nature and grounds of my personal belief in survival, as well as how these grounds interact with data drawn from research in the areas of near-death experiences, mediumship, apparitional experiences, and cases of the reincarnation type.  But it’s important to remember that I’m not out to debunk belief in survival.

Second, although I’m skeptical about IBE survival arguments, this skepticism does not extend to all forms of argument for survival.  There are different ways of arguing for survival, and different ways of answering objections to this belief by anti-survivalists.  Some approaches are not vulnerable to the kinds of objections I’m raising to IBE survival arguments.  I’d even say that, on my view, explanatory considerations and other inductive criteria (broadly construed) are both relevant and useful; but, with a few important exceptions, survivalists have not exercised caution or care in how they’ve handled their business here.

Third, when it comes to exploring the “goodness” of survival arguments, we should carefully consider the different functions of arguments for survival.  What are we trying to do with these arguments?  And this is particularly important as we explore the empirical arguments constructed from survival research and the data of parapsychology.  Are these arguments supposed to make belief in survival rationally compelling? Or are they supposed to add to the warrant of belief in survival, where other considerations also contribute to the warrant of belief in survival.  Are these arguments supposed to justify the belief that we survive death? Or are they supposed to justify beliefs about what the afterlife is like, given that belief in survival sufficiently warranted on other grounds?  Without exploring the meta-level question, it’s hard to know what it means to say “this is/is not a good argument for survival,” for the “goodness” of arguments is relative to their purported function, that is, what the arguments are trying to do.  “Good” for what exactly?

Fourth, and related to the prior point, it will be important to explore the relationship between inference/argument and other grounds for belief in survival. For example, near-death experiences open up the prospects for an experiential justification for belief in survival for individuals who have such experiences, in much the same way, so I’d argue, that religious experience opens up the prospects for experiential justification of theistic beliefs.  So how might experiential and inferential grounds for belief in survival interface? I explored this with reference to belief in God in my book on arguments for God’s existence.  I aim to do something similar with respect to belief in survival.

So, having said this, it should now be clear that my criticisms of IBE survival arguments are only the initial steps towards a more ultimate goal, which is to articulate an epistemology of belief in survival according to which we may precisely see the sorts of conditions under which belief in survival is epistemically justified or warranted, as well as how its positive epistemic status is related to discursive processes of reasoning and argument.  But to see this in clear relief requires first seeing why and how existing approaches and strategies are unsuccessful.

And so we can now finally return to my critical evaluation of IBE survival arguments.  In the first instance, I’m targeting actual IBE survival arguments that prominent survivalists have presented.  I don’t think these particular arguments accomplish what many survivalists claim they do.  Secondly, when I explore the reasons why these paradigmatic IBE arguments fail, it becomes clear to me that there’s a more general skepticism lurking in my critique. I’m skeptical about survival as an ostensible “scientific hypothesis” for which a justification is sought by trying to make belief in survival successfully conform to explanatory standards and inferential practices employed in the sciences.

I’ll devote my next blog to a critical engagement of the rather common claim among survivalists wielding IBE survival arguments that survival, like other scientific hypotheses, makes predictions.  Since the survival hypothesis allegedly has empirical consequences, it’s supposed to be a testable hypothesis, open to confirmation and falsification.  And of course since the predictive consequences of the survival hypothesis allegedly fit the data, it has great predictive power, and at precisely the points where other hypotheses do not fit the data.  Its predictive power is therefore an explanatory virtue that offers significant support for the claim that survival is the best explanation of the data.  In a week or so I’ll show why this line of argument is one of those “wrong turns” I think survivalists need to avoid.

Michael Sudduth 2/18/13

“Wrong Turns” in Arguments for Postmortem Survival

I’d like to welcome all the subscribers to my blog. Judging from emails I have received, many of you are excited about my blog and the current and forthcoming resources on my new website.  I’m looking forward to posting blogs every other week, or as time permits.  My current teaching load is pretty heavy and I’m juggling a number of writing projects.  But I’ll do my best to regularly post. If you’re subscribed to my blog, it will be sent to you by email.

Blog Plans

My plans for the blog are to discuss topics and questions related to my research and writing, specifically in the areas of postmortem survival, philosophy of religion, and analytical psychology and its relation to issues that fall into the former two categories.  A lot of people are interested in hearing more about my conversion from Christianity to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a topic that was discussed by a number of Internet bloggers about this time last year.  I have written a lot of unpublished material on Gaudiya Vaishnavism and my conversion, and I intend to present some of this material in the forthcoming FAQ section of my website.  Some of it will appear in my blog as well. 

Please note that at present posting comments in response to my blog is not permitted. If subscribers have comments or questions they’d like me to address, please email me at vedantinphilosopher@michaelsudduth.com. If you have a question, I’ll try to answer your question in the FAQ or blog. 

Postmortem Survival

My first series of blog posts will be on the topic of postmortem survival, roughly stated, the survival of the self or consciousness after biological death.  I’ve recently finished some articles on the topic (which may be accessed under Sudduth Articles at michaelsudduth.com) and have more forthcoming. I’m also in the preparatory stages of writing a book on the topic.  Forthcoming papers and chapter drafts of the book will appear on my website beginning early summer 2013.  In the present blog I want simply to sketch some of the specific issues I’ll be tackling in subsequent blogs.

Since the launching of my website, I’ve noticed a number of discussions in blogs and Internet discussion groups about a few of my previous and forthcoming papers on postmortem survival.  I hope to use my blog to discuss and clarify my position and arguments, as well as share aspects of argument that are forthcoming in my book on survival but not a part of my current papers.  Hopefully this will also help correct some rather significant errors in how my view and arguments have been presented.  I’m afraid that thinking on this topic among Internet bloggers partakes of many of the conceptual confusions that characterize even some of the professional literature.  So it may be worth trying to further clarify several forks in the road where I think my survivalist critics are taking the wrong turn.  That being said, my main goal is to encourage serious inquiry into a topic that has held my personal and professional interested for the past eight years.

Among the issues I plan on discussing is the concept of survival itself.  What is it that is supposed to survive death? Christian philosophers in the recent and thriving tradition of analytic philosophy of religion have explored the traditional Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection from the dead in the light of central concepts and problems in the philosophy of mind.  However, since my exposure to H.H. Price’s work many years ago, I’ve been interested in disembodied or discarnate survival.  On this view, it is “consciousness” that is postulated to survive biological death and to continue in the absence of a body and functioning brain. Perhaps we must also posit something like a “soul” if consciousness requires a substratum of some sort.  At this juncture, the question of what survives becomes more specifically what we might call a “content of consciousness” question.  What aspects of our consciousness, mental life, or individual psychology continue after death? Does enough of it continue to suppose that I have survived death?

But there’s another reason for focusing on discarnate or disembodied survival, say as opposed to the prominent western religious concept of bodily resurrection from the dead.  It is discarnate survival that is most relevant to the evaluation of alleged empirical evidences for survival drawn from parapsychology. Data collected from near-death experiences, mediumistic communications, and apparitional experiences are—if evidence for survival—evidence for the continuation of consciousness (or at least some part of it) in the absence of a physical body or functioning brain.  Granted, there are also cases where living agents exhibit ostensible past life memories, birthmarks, skills of various sorts, and other features possessed by some formerly living person.  Although these cases of the reincarnation type do not require conscious states in the absence of a body or functioning brain, they do rather naturally suggest the persistence and re-embodiment of a soul or immaterial substance capable of exhibiting consciousness, at least when reunited to a body.

Now there’s another important connection between the concept of survival (as disembodied consciousness or soul survival) and these domains of ostensible empirical evidence for survival.  What we postulate regarding the nature of consciousness or the soul impacts how well the hypothesis of survival can actually account for or explain the observational data drawn from the above four domains of parapsychological research.  The point is worth explaining, especially since one of my main criticisms of empirical arguments for survival depends on this observation.

The most widespread and deeply entrenched method of arguing for survival purports to follow a form of scientific reasoning according to which a hypothesis is justified or warranted for acceptance based on its ability to explain observational data in a way superior to all known nearby explanatory competitors, and where explaining the observational data involves the data being a non-trivial predictive consequence of the hypothesis.  Less technically stated, if our hypothesis is true, then the world should look a certain way and should not look another way.  The survival hypothesis is often treated in this way, as an inference to best explanation, the best explanation of data drawn from near-death experiences, mediumistic communications, apparitional experiences, and/or cases of the reincarnation type.  But the ability of the survival hypothesis to explain anything, including data from these four domains of research, depends largely on the content included in that hypothesis itself or in conjunction with various auxiliary hypotheses that will jointly lead us to expect the world to appear one way as opposed to another.  Among other things, we’ll have to adopt a particular stance on the beliefs, intentions, and powers of discarnate agents, such that their having those beliefs, intentions, and powers (as opposed to not) would lead us to expect particular observational data.  So the efficacy of explanatory arguments on behalf of survival depends on postulating a survival hypothesis with sufficient content to make genuine predictions sensible.

Best Explanations and Likelihood of Truth

It is clear from my current papers on survival that I think empirical arguments for survival, specifically construed as inferences to best explanation, are subject to a number of debilitating, and perhaps even fatal, objections.

To briefly rehearse the form of argument I’ve addressed in my papers.  Many survivalists are quite convinced that data collected from near-death experiences, mediumistic communications, apparitional experiences, and cases of the reincarnation type (severally or jointly) constitute good evidence for survival. More precisely, the evidence makes survival at least more likely than not, if not highly probable.  This judgment of evidential probability rests on the premise that (i) the survival hypothesis is the best or superior explanation of the data from among a small group of known nearby explanatory competitors.  To this explanatory premise is usually added the additional premise that (ii) the antecedent likelihood of survival (i.e., its likelihood independent of the empirical data allegedly suggestive of survival) is not too low.

Although initially confident about this approach, I have come to adopt a more skeptical attitude.  For the past two years I’ve been fairly confident that this way of developing the case for survival faces insurmountable difficulties and should probably be abandoned.  It would appear that some survivalists are less than happy with this conclusion.  I find myself in the rather challenging position of having a significant degree of empathy for these survivalists (as I am—contrary to what some writers have suggested—a survivalist), but I simply don’t share their conviction about the force of traditional empirical arguments, at least not in the form in which they currently exist.  I suspect I also don’t share the epistemological assumptions that appear to drive their interest in turning survival into a “scientific” hypothesis.

Consider some of the general problems with the above form of reasoning that are not as much as acknowledged by survivalists who employ this argumentative strategy in the effort to justify belief in survival.  And I’ll begin by placing the survivalist argument in an optimal position. Let’s grant something that I think ultimately we can’t really grant. Let’s suppose that we’re in an epistemic position conducive to making reliable judgments about survival being more likely than its various explanatory competitors.  OK.  How exactly do we get to absolute judgments of probability on the basis of premises affirming superior comparative probability?  Again, never mind the problem of teasing out comparative probabilities from comparative explanatory virtues.  Even if we grant that the survival hypothesis is more likely than explanatory competitors B, C, and D, how does the survivalist reach a conclusion about the survival hypothesis being likely true, more likely than not, much less very likely?

Mundane examples may help illustrate the difficulty here. It may be more likely that John robbed the bank than Tim, but this does not by itself sanction the stronger claim that it is likely true that John robbed the bank.  It might be of course, but it might also be that the higher likelihood of the one hypothesis is washed out by the fact that both hypotheses are all things considered pretty improbable.  A’s being more likely than B (relative to some body of evidence) doesn’t tell us how likely A is, unless of course we can specify the probability of B (relative to the evidence).  The same holds true for comparative explanatory power.  Hypothesis A may be a better explanation of data than hypothesis B, but this does not by itself sanction the stronger claim that hypothesis A is a good much less great explanation.  Mary may be a better math student than Jane, but if Jane is pretty incompetent, Mary’s superiority is hardly a glowing endorsement of Mary’s math skills.

If I follow the response of one prominent survivalist (shared with me through personal correspondence), the inference from A is more likely than B to A is likely true is sanctioned because all the alternatives besides A and B are highly implausible.  The suggestion seemed to be that, however weak we might judge A and B to be, one of them must be the real deal.  If I know that a bank was robbed, and I have two plausible suspects (John and Tim) and no other plausible suspects, then it must be that either John or Tim robbed the bank.  If it’s more plausible that John robbed the bank than Tim, then surely we can conclude that this is the likely truth of the matter.

I don’t think this works without granting a pretty extravagant assumption, one no less controversial than the survival hypothesis itself.  It should be clear that this line of argument depends strongly on the assumption that all other explanations are highly implausible, and to such a degree that we’re warranted in concluding that it comes down to “either John or Tim robbed the bank, and no one else did it.”  But which explanations are we claiming to be highly implausible?  Clearly, we can only judge as implausible the explanations that have been proposed and inspected.  But the needed assumption must cast a wider net.  We must really have warrant for supposing that the currently available set of explanations contains the real deal, and that we’ve narrowed it down to only two in this set.  Otherwise the entire argument is simply a form of the “only game in town fallacy”: no other reasonable explanation is available, so this explanation is the correct explanation.  But this is one of those forks in the road that I refuse to take.  I don’t see that we have an adequate justification for the claim that our current stock of explanations contains the correct one, nor that we can narrow the candidates down to just two hypotheses within this set, nor can we claim with sufficient justification that one of the hypotheses (survival) has a clear explanatory advantage.  These are all highly questionable assumptions. These are wrong turns, and I’m afraid survival arguments are simply lost as a result at this point.

The Antecedent Probability of Survival

But the problems don’t end here.  Think now about “antecedent probability”? By virtue of what can we say that the antecedent likelihood of survival is not too low? How low is too low?  What even approximate value is being ascribed to the survival hypothesis here? How is this even being determined?  It is typically being determined by arguments that purport to show flaws in arguments against survival.  OK.  Let us grant that there is a particular flaw in this or that argument against survival.  Maybe all physicalist objections to survival are based on defective arguments.  What follows? We lose some reasons for supposing that the survival hypothesis is false. But it’s far from clear how this results in the more general assessment that the antecedent likelihood of survival is not too low.  The antecedent likelihood of survival can be just about anything you want it to be by including or excluding anything you want from your background knowledge and placing greater or lesser weight on other considerations like simplicity. And, apart from the difficulty of determining these initial antecedent probabilities, we might sensibly wonder whether we need explanatory inferences to boost the epistemic credibility of hypotheses that already enjoy a sufficiently favorable epistemic status at the outset.  So if the survival hypothesis has just the right sort of initial favorable epistemic status to make it a good candidate for explanation, it’s at least not clear how its explanatory power is going to improve the epistemic situation.

Of course, a hypothesis that is evidentially probable to degree .5 relative to evidence e might, in principle, have its evidential probability boosted to .7 or .9 by expanding the evidence set to e*.  So in principle the initial or antecedent probability of survival could be increased.  Let’s even grant that explanatory power can do this sort of thing.  The basic problem is that no survivalist is willing to state the initial numerical values being assigned to the survival hypothesis, much less how these could even be approximately determined.   Therefore, we have no idea whether or to what degree explanatory considerations are doing anything other than providing a cover for simply re-asserting an initial judgment about the epistemic credibility of survival.  And this might come dangerously close to what William James said is often dubiously passed off for “philosophy:” a mere rearranging of our prejudices.

Survival as the Alleged Best Explanation

Now I have not to date developed the above two particular problems that survival arguments will face as inferences to best explanation.  I’ve chosen rather to focus on the alleged truth of (i)—survival is the best explanation of the data. More precisely, I’ve examined some fairly widespread arguments that have actually been offered for this claim.  I’m afraid to say that these arguments, even as developed by some capable philosophers, don’t really live up to what is claimed on their behalf.  In fact, they seem to be rather significant failures.

In my next blog I’ll note some of these more serious defects in arguments for survival construed as inferences to best explanation, but I’ll specifically explore the ways in which survivalists have cleverly masked these logical defects.  It isn’t just that the arguments are defective; it’s also that these defects are hidden or concealed as the result of how the arguments are presented. “Masking maneuvers,” as I choose to label them, are not necessarily conscious maneuvers on the part of survivalists.  There’s no plot here to trick people into believing in survival with dishonest argumentation.  Some survivalists really do think that their arguments are strong, even compelling.  And they are . . . to them.  I don’t wish to rob them of what is probably an important bit of doxastic autobiography.  But their portrait of survival arguments is largely a matter of the survivalist “connecting the dots” in the light of his own subjectivity, much of which appears to be unconscious in the dialectical unfolding of argumentation.  For the same reason, people who believe in God clearly see evidences of design in the world, and people who believe in miracles clearly see Jesus Christ in a Turkish coffee stain.

Of course it does not follow that there are no good arguments for (i), much less would it be fair to characterize my dismantling of arguments for (i) as “anti-survival” arguments. A few Internet bloggers seem to have made the mistake of supposing that an argument against an inference from p1, . . . ,pn to c is an argument against c.  But this is transparently fallacious.  Losing reasons for believing c is not to acquire reasons for believing the negation of c.  My arguments are not anti-survival, anymore than someone who argues against Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence is presenting an anti-theist argument.  An “anti-survival” argument would be an argument that purported to show that the survival hypothesis is false.  I have claimed no such thing, which is good since I actually believe in survival, and I’m generally not in the habit of arguing that my beliefs are false.  But I’m also not in the habit of supporting my beliefs through arguments that I judge to be logically defective. With any luck, wheeling away the rubbish might just clear the ground for something more sensible.

I suspect that some readers have drawn the anti-survival inference because I’ve expressed skepticism about whether we will ever be able to effectively argue that (i) is true.  Even this, however, is not a reason to give up on arguments for survival.  There are other strategies of arguing for survival in addition to “best explanation” strategies.  These are certainly worth exploring.  However, let’s take the worst-case scenario. What if all arguments fail? Is belief in survival any worse off epistemically?  I’m afraid that the tacit assumption of many survivalists is old-fashioned evidentialism, roughly, the view that a belief is rational only if it is backed by evidence.  Of course many survivalists, like most garden-variety evidentialists, want their beliefs to conform to evidential standards of a particular sort, standards that will make their beliefs appear scientifically respectable. But this is another one of those “wrong turns.”  And this one leads to a dead end.

I’d say it’s time to rethink the entire epistemology of belief in survival, unless we wish to remain content with a constant reshuffling of subjective probabilities by hands that can, in the final analysis, sign off on nothing more than an embarrassing promissory note of empirical validity.

Michael Sudduth 2/8/13