Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hasker on the divide and conquer strategy

Typically in the philosophy of mind we hear that there are two kinds of problems for naturalists. One is to account for raw experience or raw feels. Given physicalism, can we have the sorts of experiences that we would ordinarily think we have. The other concerns our intentional states.
Now many philosophers have suggested that the latter problem is less of a serious problem for physicalism than the former problem. The argument from reason deals primarily with the latter problem, and so in some sense it might be thought to be superfluous in this sense: if physicalists can get around the problem of qualia, dealing with intentionality or reasoning should be pretty easy.

Steven Stoljar in the essay on Physicalism for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:

As with the knowledge argument, the issues surrounding Kripke's argument are very much wide open. But it is important to note that most philosophers don't consider the issues of intentionality as seriously as the issue of qualia when it comes to physicalism. In different vocabularies, for example, both Block (1995) and Chalmers (1996) distinguish between the intentional aspects of the mind or consciousness, and the phenomenal aspects or qualia, and suggest that it is really the latter that is the central issue. As Chalmers notes (1996; p. 24), echoing Chomsky's famous distinction, the intentionality issue is a problem, but the qualia issue is a mystery.

William Hasker, however, does not seem to see it quite this way. He writes:

A maneuver that has recently become somewhat popular needs to be taken account of here. Some philosophers have thought it plausible to accept a functionalist account specifically for intentional states, while conceding the "phenomenal properties" objection for qualia and giving some other account (e.g., token identity) for those states. Once again let us concede, for the sake of argument, that th functinoalisty can successfully identify intentional states in causal-functional terms. Even so, ther eare at least two reasons why this maneuver does not succeed in disposting of the materialist's problem with intentional states. For one thing, some intentional stattes do involve qualitative "feels"; being embarrassed about one's appearance is an example of such a stae. In general, emotional states involve both a particular qualitative feel and also an intentional reference to whatever it is that one is happy, sad, proud, indignant, or embarrassed about. For these particular states, the "divide and conquer"strategy can't succeed.

An even more fundamental problem, however, is encountered in the "aboutness"which is the very essence of an intentional state. There just is such a thing as thinking about something, worrying or hoping that something may happen, believing that so-and-so is the case, deciding on a certain course of action--and in such cases one ordinarily has a distinct, conscious awareness of the "intentional object" of one's mental state. This sort of mental state is utterly familiar to each one of us, and if anyone were to claim not to understand what is meant, such a claim would be entirely lacking in credibility. Furthermore, the claim that a person is in such an intentional state is clearly not equivalent, logically or conceptually, to any causal-functional description of the person. The causal-functional properties of the sate identified by functionalism can be completely described and explained in terms of the physical structure and behavior of the state in question and its relations to other physical states. There is simply no place in such a description for the "aboutness which is essential to intentional states as such. And so we can pose a question parallel to he one asked previously: Are these causal-functional states such that they essentially involve "aboutness"? If the do not involve "aboutness" then they just are not intentional states--once again, the subject has been changed. If they do, then a crucial, and logically essential, aspect of those states has been left unexplained; we still have no idea how "aboutness" is to be incorporated into a materialist world-view.

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At 3/21/2007 07:53:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

On his second point: a main goal for naturalistic approaches to intentionality (propositional contents) is to give an account of reference, which is the type of aboutness that propositional states are taken to have (e.g., the twinearthers have internal states that are about twater). This gets you truth, which gets you the ability to have error. All important semantic properties, regardless of their association (or lack thereof) with qualia.

Perhaps he addresses such accounts later. I'd be curious where he does in his book so I can review it.

Also, when he says:
Furthermore, the claim that a person is in such an intentional state is clearly not equivalent, logically or conceptually, to any causal-functional description of the person.

As long as it turns out to be extensionally equivalant, that is the most important thing (similar to water and H20). Water is not logically or conceptually equivalent to H20, but it is identical to H20. Just like lightning is electrostatic discharge. Meanings aren't a good guide to ontology, which is why philosophy is of limited use when we don't yet have the extension nailed down.

At 3/22/2007 06:55:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

It is interesting to read Hasker's comment and then go over and read the Stanford online article on Functionalism--specifically, the subhead under Introspective States. (The following subhead, Functionalism and the Norms of Reason, is also of interest for obvious reasons.)

By no means do I despair that a layman (like myself) can grasp the essentials of the AfR or the problem of intentionality. But the academic references on the subject are so prolific and even the summaries of them are so esoteric that they do put a lot of smoke in the air, so to speak. Can someone hope to adjudicate them on an informed basis without actually being a philosopher? And are the issues as rarified, nuanced and inscrutably tangled as the academic summaries make them appear? These are questions that are bound to confront even a reasonably well-read explorer of the issues.

At 3/22/2007 05:59:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Derek: there is a wall of terminology in every philosophical debate (e.g., think of all the goofy terminology in theology).

Usually the terms turn out to be shorthand for ideas that are pretty simple. Any good intro philmind book should define all the terms clearly. Not that I know of one off hand. Indeed, most intro to philmind books I have seen sort of suck: very idiosyncratic and tendentious (e.g., a goofy Wittgensteinian perspective).

But the thing to be wary of, which you are rightly wary of, is hyper-specialization within a field that is making incorrect assumptions to begin with. In such subfields people are basically wasting time. This is how I look at theology. But it might hold for "functionalist" theories of mind, too. Philosophers, with a few assumptions, end up making elaborate and creative edifices with lots of subtle distinctions that in the future will look foolish or like a waste of energy (e.g., a 500 page PhD on the truth conditions of the word 'hole').

I think it is important to be wary of philosophers who say "You just don't understand" when you question their basic assumptions. Dennett likes to do this. If they are good philosophers, they will be able to explain it to you (perhaps there are exceptions in philosophy of very technical fields: philosophical implications of renormalization techniques in quantum field theory).

Philosophy is weird. It aims to question assumptions, but philosophers, unconstrained by data, are subject to some of the most silly fads which end up sucking the life from the discipline. Naturalism right now is probably a bit of a fad (though it happens to be right :)). I think this is unhealthy, even though I think naturalism is true.

At 3/22/2007 09:59:00 PM , Blogger stunney said...

If I'm reading him right, Hasker is basically arguing that functionalism is dishonest.

I.e., you have to have eithereliminative materialism or the non-naturalizability of intentionality.

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