The Hard Problem of Rational Inference: A Reply to Blue Devil Knight
Blue Devil Knight expressed some frustration with the fact that I don’t adequately distinguish between different types of problems that naturalism faces in giving an account of the mind. There is a widespread conventional wisdom in the philosophy of mind that there is a proposition/intentionality side and an experiential side of the philosophy of mind; that there are puzzles perhaps on the proposition side, but there are deeper problems are problems related to consciousness. My response is that while these problems should be distinguished, I think I have good reason to suppose that they can’t very well be divorced, and the divorcing them in the way that many philosophers of mind want to makes things perhaps easier for the naturalist or materialist than it really is. Here’s why.
Let’s take the traditional syllogism:
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Is this a valid argument? We all think that it is valid. However, that depends upon whether the argument has three terms, four, five or six. In other words, the meanings of the terms we use have to be constant throughout the syllogism. Do we mean by men males adults, or humans? Do we mean by mortal subject to physical death, or subject to complete extinction? Christians would say we are mortal in the first sense but not in the second, atheists normally think that we are mortal in both senses. Am I talking about Socrates the ancient Greek philosopher, or the dog my philosopher friend named after him?
In order to argue validly, I have to know what I mean by these terms. My knowledge of what I mean by something is something that seems to me to be open to introspection. Now admittedly the extensions of the terms are fixed in part by my causal relation to the world, but if I don’t have access to the “in the head” part of the meaning of these terms, I can’t reason. If I can’t truly say “I know what I meant by that,” I’m in trouble.
There are, to be sure, some information-theoretic analyses of, say, birdsong or bee dances, which show how information can be transferred from one critter to another. However, I take it that you can’t go to the birds and ask them what they meant by their song and get an answer. If you have a good consciousness-independent conception of informational content, then it seems to me that you are going to have the problem of how this content can be present to consciousness, because the kind of reasoning that I am engaging in while writing this response is, and must be present to my consciousness.
That’s why I don’t think a naturalist can refute the argument from reason without coming up with a decent-looking solution to the hard problem of consciousness. And then there are other problems on top of that.
It seems to me that there are a some distinctions I ought to make, between the issue of intentionality simpliciter, the issue of how intentional content becomes propositional content, and then the issue of how intentional content comes to be present to consciousness. I think the last two may be a good deal harder for the naturalist than the first one.