Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An important objection to materialism

The Trouble with Materialism
This is a follow-up to my previous post, The Concept of MatterI see a fundamental problem that is going to plague any materialist account of the mind. Materialists often piggy-back the case for materialism on the success of reductive analyses in science. But let's take one of the most successful scientific reductions, the reduction of heat in a gas to the mean kinetic energy of that gas. From one perspective, this reduction appears to explain heat away, in particular the element of heat that feels warm. By knowing that the air molecules are moving faster we can infer nothing about the fact that people are more likely to take their jackets off when that happens. They also feel warmer. But that, says science, is not an intrinsic feature of heat that is what happens to human minds in the face of heat. By siphoning off secondary qualities to the mind, the mechanistic reduction of heat is enabled. But when we get to the mind, we have no place to siphon of the "mental" properties.Edward Feser writes:One result of this is that materialists have, in the view of their critics, a tendency to give accounts of mental phenomena that leave out everything essential to them: qualia, consciousness, thought and intentionality get redefined in physicalistic terms, with the consequence that materialist analyses convey the impression that the materialist has changed the subject, and failed genuinely to explain the phenomenon the analysis was supposed to account for. This is arguably the deep source of the difficulties that have plagued materialist philosophies of mind. If the materialist conception of explanation entails always stripping away from the phenomenal to be accounted for anything that smacks of subjectivity, meaning, or mind-dependence, then a materialist “explanation” of the mind itself will naturally seem to strip away the very essence of the phenomena to be explained. Being, at bottom, attempts to explain the mental in terms that are intrinsically non-mental, such would-be explanations appear implicitly to deny the mental; that is to say, they end up being disguised forms of eliminative materialism. Some professedly non-eliminativist philosophers of mind come close to admitting this: Fodor, for instance, has famously written that “If aboutness (that is, intentionality) is real, it must really be something else.”A Short Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Oxford; Oneworld, 2005) pp. 172-173,This results in an interesting phenomenon; materialist philosophers attempt to give an account of some mental phenomenon. But either they implicitly bring in the very concepts they are trying to explain materialistically, or they give an account of the mental phenomenon in which the phenomenon to be explained isn’t recognizable. A good example would be Richard Carrier’s critique of my book where time after time he claims that intentionality can be explained in physicalistic terms while using one intentional concept after another to explain intentionality!
posted by Victor Reppert @ 11:03 PM


At 1:07 PM, shulamite said…
Why doesn't anyone bother to define matter in this debate? There is a continual confusion between "matter" which is a certain potency out of which something can be made, and "a material thing" which is something made out of matter and another principle.

At 6:19 AM, Joe Markus said…
The physicalist also seems to run into trouble even arriving at a concept of "physical"---see Hempel's dilemma.There's a nice little discussion here:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/

At 7:19 AM, Jason said…
I have some difficulty seeing a philosophical materialist considering "matter" to be a _potency_ (which seems like a potentiality rather than an actuality); and an extreme difficulty seeing a dedicated materalist considering "a material thing" to be made out of matter _and_ a "principle" (much less out of "another principle" which would imply that matter is itself a "principle"). Most materialists are not fond of Platonic idealism, which this is going to necessarily resemble.Granted, a non-eliminative materialist might accept something of this sort (at least in regard to principles); but then he's going to have a hard time accepting the independent existence of fundamental rationalities, which is the only thing a 'principle' in this case can be, _while also_ going on to deny supernaturalism and/or theism of some sort. (Which in turn is why non-e-mats insist pretty rigorously that principles are double-derivative realities at least: derivative from human perception, itself derivative from-and-only-from material reactions.)In any case, I think most materialists accept a scientific definition of matter: energy reacting and counterreacting in particular complex ways. The real fun comes in trying to define energy. {g}

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous said…
"Matter" is a concept; that is it is an intellectual abstraction. If science is empirical it should stick to percepts rather than forever trying to elaborate on intellectual contructs like "matter."We arrived at the notion of matter by abstracting from sensory experience. How can we explain matter by explaining away the very experiences that gave birth to the concept in the first place?

At 12:44 PM, Steve Lovell said…
I'm interested in the idea that secondary qualities are "siphoned off" into the mind, and that intentionality , qualia and the like are secondary qualities. According to Victor, since these are mental phenomena, there is nowhere to siphon them off to ...This is a nice way of putting things and highlights the difficulties in getting your head round these matters.C.S. Lewis has two relevant contributions here:(1) The Looking At - Looking Along distinction, formulated in his "Meditation in a toolshed"(2) His paper "The Empty Universe".Peter Williams has used the latter extensively in his critiques of Naturalism. If you search for him on this blog you should find some interesting material.As far as I can tell, very little serious philosophy has been written on (1). Allow me to explain the distinction ... Lewis imagines being in his tool shed and noticing there a beam of light coming in through the door. Now, looking-at the beam of light is quite different from stepping into that beam and looking-along it to the world outside. Lewis makes the case that neither type of experience can be assumed more "correct" or "true to reality". If, when looked-at, the experience of being in love appeared to be just a certain chemical oddity in the brain , this would in no way undermine the reality of what it is to look-along this experience, that is to actually be in love. For certain obvious reasons, looking-along cannot be eliminated from our understanding of "experience" as to look-at something is always to look-along something else. How does one avoid looking-along one's eyes?Now to me it is unclear whether this Lewisian distinction favours the Naturalist or the anti-Naturalist. The Naturalist's SideIf the sun-beam is just a physical thing, and yet is capable of being experienced in both these ways then might not intentionality or qualia be the same?The anti-Naturalist's SideLooking-Along cannot be eliminated. But when analysed, Looking-Along seems to depend on the existence of something having a "perspective on the world". Looking-Along is a triadic relationship between (a) The agent doing the looking(b) The thing(s) looked-along(c) The thing(s) looked-atWithout (a) there can be no looking-along. Talk of reducing the relationship to a diadic one (by reducing a) to (b)) appears nonsensical.Sometimes I find one line of thought the more persuasive, sometimes the other. Any thoughts Vic? Or Anyone Else?

At 10:02 AM, Jason said…
{{If the sun-beam is just a physical thing, and yet is capable of being experienced in both these ways then might not intentionality or qualia be the same?}}I'm not sure it's possible to talk even coherently about qualia without bringing in intentionality. And I consider the question of intentionality vs. non-intentionality to be something that requires settling _before_ going to examples of this sort.Put it this way: if the sun-beam is just non-intentional behavior, and yet is capable of being experienced by intentional behavior, then might not intentional behavior be the same thing (i.e. just non-intentional behavior)? The answer to this seems abundantly clear enough.The two sensory perceptions of the toolshed example shouldn't be pushed too far in themselves--Lewis was well aware that _both_ of these are sensory effects, and his point was to simply use the difference in _results_ as an _illustration_ of how information can be missed depending on perspective. (Conceptual perspective is what he was really talking about, but he used a physical example for analogical illustration.)

Jason Pratt


At 1/12/2007 09:10:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

I don't see proof of anything "important" at all above. As for "matter" being a mystery, the substance dualist's "super-matter" is surely a far far greater mystery.

At 1/14/2007 08:17:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Intentional explanations seem to not be a mystery. I went out the door because I wanted some fresh air. I go to church because I believe in Christianity. What's mysterious about that.

What we are calling "super-matter" is just saying that with respect to some things we can issue this kind of explanation as ultimate. What's mysterious about that?

At 2/15/2013 04:10:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congradulations, You sir are a waste of space. Who is dumb enough to go to school to get a PhD in Philosophy.

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