Berkeley’s Master Fallacy?

I'm currently teaching Modern Philosophy, and we are reading Berkeley's Three Dialogues.  Philonous's presentation of what Gallois (1974 Phil Review) calls Berkeley's "Master Argument"  (MA) was always particularly striking to me.   The majority of my concern about the argument was along Bertrand Russell's line of resistance: there is a confusion between imagining, say, a tree independent of mind and holding that the tree, in imagination, is dependent on the mind.  So I'm not sure the argument is sound.  I still have that concern, but yesterday morning I found myself having another problem with the argument.  Maybe NonSequitur readers can help me out here, because I, now, don't even think the argument is valid.  But it can be revised.  Here goes.

Here's Philonous's presentation of the MA (edited for space):

I am content to put the whole upon this issue.  If you can conceive it possible for … any sensible object whatsover to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so….

Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of conceiveing  a thing which is unconceived?

Now, I've always understood the MA to be one that establishes the falsity of materialism (or non-mentalism) and the truth of idealism (as the two being mutually exclusive and exhastive options).  That is, if you show the falsity of one, you've established the other.  The MA is a demonstration that materialism is false.  But as stated, it doesn't do so validly.  Here's a formalized version:

P1) If it is possible to conceive of a sensible object w/o a mind, then it is possible that those things exist without minds. 

P2) It is not possible to concieve of a sensible object w/o a mind.

C) It is not possible that there are sensible objects without minds.

Again, most folks object to P2.  That still seems right to me.  But even if you grant P2, the argument doesn't go through, because it's a fallacious form of inference: Denying the antecedent.  That is, the form of the argument is:

P1) If P, then M

P2) not-P

C) not-M

This is craziness.  Now, I think that there are two options for Berkeley-defenders to go here.  The first is to say that C, because it's not explicitly stated, isn't the conclusion.  But Philonous certainly seems to be convinced that he's shown not-M in the follow-up with Hylas.  And in the Principles, Berkeley takes it that MP on P1 with P2 establishes the falsity of idealism:

[I]f you can but conceive it possible for … any thing like an idea, to exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving it, I shall readily give up the cause. (PHK  22)

Now, this seems clear that he does think that P2 establishes certain truths, specifically, the truth of materialism and the falsity of idealism.  So I'm unsure that this first option is really a good interpretive one for Berkeley-defenders.  But it seems  plausible philosophically.

The second option is to read all those IF-clauses as ONLY IF-clauses. And so P1 should be, rather:

P1*)  I will agree that Materialism is true ONLY IF it is possible to concieve of a thing existing independently of a mind.

P2, then, works just fine to show that Materialism is false, by Modus Tollens, now.  So the other interpretive strategy is to read Berkeley's argument as needing a switch of antecedents and consequents.

This, by the way, seems even more philosophically plausible than the first option, as I think that P1* is much more plausible than P1.  Just because materialism is concievable, it doesn't mean that materialism is true (as P1 runs); but if materialism isn't even consistently conceivable, then that counts as very good evidence that it's false (as P1* runs). 

So this strategy saves the MA from the fallacy of denying the antecedent and has it with a more philosophically plausible first premise.  The only problem: you have to take it that Berkeley mixed up necessary and sufficient conditions.  When he's doing metaphysics.  That's uncharitable, to say the least.  Oh, and it also doesn't save it from the old Russell objection that P2 is just false. 

Showers of gold

I belong to a faculty union, now in it's third year of contract negotiations (for a contract which lasts four years).  The sticking point, unsurprisingly, is not money.  No one expects any of that–no one other than the administration, the top rung of which has been lavished with raises equal in some cases to my entire full time Assistant Professor salary.  No one is complaining; their punishment is that they get to be administrators.  The sticking point is workload. 

But that's not really want I wanted to talk about.  I'd like to talk about promises.  David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times, writes:

To be clear, I’m making an argument that’s different from “Government workers are overpaid.” I’m saying that they are paid in the wrong ways — in ways that make life easier on union leaders and elected officials, at least initially, but that eventually hurt both workers and taxpayers.

The best example is health insurance. Health plans for union workers and retirees are much more likely to require little or no co-payment, which leads to lots of medical treatments that don’t make people any healthier, and to huge costs. Ultimately, some of these plans will probably prove so expensive as to be unsustainable. Workers would have been better off accepting a less generous benefit package and slightly higher salaries.

 Got that.  He's not saying they're overpaid.  He's saying they're overpaid.

On a different point.  Workers negotiated those plans on purpose.  They accept lower salary in favor of better health and retirement benefits, because they understand that this is part of their compensation.  The responsibility for making these deals sustainable belongs not to them, but to the people with whom they negotiated.  If it doesn't, then Leonhardt has justified negotiation in bad faith, and has placed the blame on failing to follow through on promises with the promise breaker. 

In the moral universe, promises such as those outlined in contracts entail moral obligations to uphold them–however "unsustainable" they may be.  If they turn out, in this case, to be unsustainable, the fault lies with the promiser. 

**In other news.  Corporations have no personal right to privacy:

“Two words together may assume a more particular meaning than those words in isolation,” he wrote, adding that “personal privacy” suggests “a kind of privacy evocative of human concerns.”

The chief justice had examples here, too. “We understand a golden cup to be a cup made of or resembling gold,” he wrote. “A golden boy, on the other hand, is one who is charming, lucky and talented. A golden opportunity is one not to be missed.”

I wonder if Roberts noticed all of the clerks laughing.

Crazy Train

We've all been busy here at the Non Sequitur.  But today I had a moment for a short post.

Here's Paul Krugman on George Will (via Eschaton):

Oh, boy — this George Will column (via Grist) is truly bizarre:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.

And there’s the bit about rail as an antiquated technology; try saying that after riding the Shanghai Maglev.

But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.

Like Kramer on Seinfeld, I'd take issue with the last bolded comment.  This argument, such as it is, is classic Will:  The most dishonest kind of straw man used to provoke an explanatory hypothesis about the the straw manned arguer's motives and intellgence in making such bizarre and wrong-headed claims.  On the strength of this, you'll feel justified in ignoring anything else such a person would say.

This one is especially odd since trains are self-evidently awesome–and they're kind of bow-tie conservative-ish, like baseball.  Besides, as Sarah Goodyear points out, they do the same things planes do: they send you in a tube to another city.  The only difference is that trains usually drop you off downtown.