Monday, 5 November 2007

Shopping for Apples and Appendixes

This is the final installment of my ongoing series of posts on Reid's shop argument.

In my previous post, I noted that the sceptic’s attempt to refute step (1) of the Shop Argument fails. However, the sceptic can also attempt to undermine the Shop Argument by refuting step (2); that is, the sceptic may argue that the fact that two faculties come from the same shop does not imply that they are equally trustworthy. In fact, it is quite easy to construct a counterexample to step (2) of the Shop Argument. For instance, the Apple computer company manufactures both ipods and desktop computers.

Now I am a big fan of the Apple ipod and would gladly class it among the ten greatest 21st century inventions. However, I also believe that the Apple desktop operating system remains the most non-user friendly invention to curse the planet and that their production should be immediately discontinued. (Okay, so I don't really believe this, but let us just suppose that this is true for the sake of argument.) The fact that both Apple ipods and desktops are produced by the same manufacturer, and even constructed in the same factory in Thailand, does little to ameliorate my approval of the former and disapproval of the latter. In short, the fact that both come from the same shop hardly seems like sufficient reason to assume they are of equal quality.

The same point can be made using an example from the natural world. For instance, few naturalists would disagree with the claim that the human eye is a marvel of biological engineering and that it executes its function in a superbly exquisite fashion. However, the same could hardly be said for the vermiform appendix, which fails to perform the task it was originally designed for and may even become inflamed and rupture, resulting in the painful death of its human host. Admittedly, both the eye and the appendix were produced in the same factory of nature, but while one works wonderfully the other doesn’t seem to work at all.

(NB: There has been speculation among scientists that the appendix may play some yet unknown lymphatic, exocrine, endocrine function. However, most physicians and biologists agree that it is merely a vestigial organ (a leftover from our cellulose-digesting herbivorous ancestors) that presently serves no significant function in humans.)

Consequently, the fact that two things proceed from the same shop or manufacturer does not entail that they are equally effective. A further story must be provided if we are to assume that the efficacy of the one entails the efficacy of the other. The need for Reid to provide additional grounds in support of the Shop Argument is made even more acute in light of the sui generis nature of reason vis-à-vis the senses. What makes the Apple and appendix analogies particularly striking is that the respective manufacturers (namely, the Apple computer company and Nature) produce very different products. If Apple only produced desktops and laptops, then one wouldn’t expect much of a difference in the quality of their products since both are merely types of computers. However, ipods are sufficiently different from computers to allow for a significant disparity in quality between the two.

Likewise, the fact that our rational faculties are sui generis vis-à-vis our sensory faculty increases the likelihood that there may be a difference in the reliability between the two. In brief, the sui generis nature or reason vis-à-vis the senses places a greater burden on Reid to say why he assumes that the reliability of one entails that of the other. This is not to deny that both our rational and sensory faculties are products of Nature—i.e., come from the same shop. Rather, it is to recognise that the same shop may produce two very different products of radically different quality.

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