Monday, April 16, 2007

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.

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At 4/16/2007 03:29:00 PM , Blogger Deuce said...

Hi, Victor, I think you can argue for the inseperability of consciousness from intentionality from the other end too. It's not just that intentions must have conscious content to account for rationality, but it also seems that "raw feels" must possess intentional content. For instance, the difference between the appearance of red, and the appearance of green, is simply that the appearance of red is of red, and the appearance of green is of green. It appears to me, in fact, that qualia are entirely defined by their content - their of-ness or aboutness. You can't even begin to describe one without talking about what it is of.

At 4/18/2007 10:08:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

A few points.

1. Introspection and meaning.

Introspection provides useful clues about what we mean, but doesn't determine what we mean. When I say "water" and have an experience, my twinearthian will have the same experience, but we mean different things. In this case, only less ignorant people will know what we both mean, and they don't have to share either of our experiences.

(For those not familiar with twinearth, imagine me and a twin in an identical neural state on different planets thinking 'My mom is over there.' Even though our brain states and experiences are identical, we are thinking about different people: the person that our thought is about is different).

2. The unconscious bee people.

Say we found a really complicated bee-like creature, which has internal content-bearing states (semantic content as described in too much detail in a previous set of comments). We can ignore the question of consciousness in this bee, but if it has contents 1 and 2, and generates 3 via a syntactic operation (a la Fodor or Chomsky) on 1 and 2, then we have a form of inference (it may be a crappy inference, a statistical inductive inference, a deductive inference).

Let's say such a bee is not conscious. In that case by definition it can't introspectively access what it 'means' and obviously doesn't know anything about inference. The evolved bee can reason, but is not conscious. Hence, just because our inferences often (not always) have a phenomenological feel associated with them does not imply that this is essential feature.

To deuce, I am saying that the divide and conquer strategy is sound: we can ignore consciousness but still constructively address many other problems of how representational systems work, and it turns out we end up with features that map quite nicely onto the semantic properties of truth, reference, and other denizens of propositional attitude psychology.

So far I have said nothing, positive or negative, about experiences and whether they too have the same or different type of content. The point is that even while ignoring that question, progress can and has been made on the question of mental content.

3. Experiences versus propositions

I tend to think conscious contents are different than propositional contents. Experiences (e.g., visual experiences) are nonpropositional and we never experience propositions: propositional contents are theoretical constructs from which the curtain is being raised by neuroscience.

Since we never experience propositions, I don't quite know what to say of Victor's claim that we have introspective access to our inferences since he thinks inference operates over propositional contents.

Note I commented extensively on the problem of conflating or too-closely-connecting propositions and experiences here. Plato would never have made this mistake.

4. There is still a hard problem.

I don't buy the arguments that the divide and conquer strategy has major problems, but I still think that one factor in the division is still left a mystery: conscious experience. Arrogance about the ontology of experience is silly at this point in time, but cocksure proclamations which are no better than intuition pies still come a' flyin' from all sides. We are so ignorant at this point in time that nobody's intuition should be taken all that seriously. Even the intuition that experience is a "hard" problem, harder than that of digestion, inheritance, or how an individual neuron works.

At 4/20/2007 08:39:00 AM , Blogger Jason said...

Oy. Catching up and synthesizing some kind of pertinent comment on the several post-and-comment collections in this series, going back to Victor's post which gave a link to Tom Clark's "Kill the Observer" paper... whew. Almost as nose-bleeding as trying to catch up on check reconciliation from last summer. But not quite, so I guess I'll procrastinate on that for a little while longer and write a nosebleed-length comment instead. {g}

I _have_ followed the discussions from that first through related threads, with much interest and appreciation--except when the illusion of conscious will from Furman showed up, but as usual nowadays I treated him as the Furbee he claims to be (even if not in quite that description) and just ignored him. {wry g}

That being said, Ed does make for a pertinent example to talk _about_ (not _to_; no point in trying to talk to, much less with, an illusion of a person), because among all the relevant discussions that have happened going back to Tom Clark's article, it is _that_ topic which I have the most concern about.

Going back to the initial discussion on Tom Clark's article, I had said at the time that I couldn't find a way in his methodology to (in effect) keep one 'observer' while 'killing' another. Now, I _can_ see (not physically but as a metaphorical way of describing a theoretical construct instead--more on that later!) that he himself is rightly and reasonably concerned to keep that one observer--since otherwise he would have no way to claim that he ought to be treated in some fashion other than an interesting cabbage. On the other hand, naturalistic atheism requires that the other 'observer' not really exist. So I can sympathize (in principle if not in practice) with a concern on his part to affirm both cases.

The problem, though--aside from whether that second observer is not really an observer--is this. I can see being convinced that the second observer doesn't exist while the first observer does. But I have severe problems with the notion that the first observer really is an observer while being itself a derivative effect of the second observer (or from manifestly and only the same kind of processes which produced the second ostensible observer) which isn't, never was, and remains not really an existent observer.

As a theist (including a supernaturalistic theist), I am not restricted to having that existent observer being _only_ an effect of the process that happens-to-resemble-an-observer-but-actually-isn't. Whether an atheist is also not restricted to this _while continuing to affirm atheistic notions_ (naturalistic or supernaturalistic either one), is the challenge that atheistic epistemologists necessarily must face and overcome in some legitimate fashion.

I don't find this being accomplished yet in practice, though; and I don't even see this being something that can be legitimately accomplished in principle, either.

What I do find happening, among atheism proponents when discussing human epistemology--which necessarily includes their own epistemology--is a commitment to propositions that involve two different kinds of quality to human mental behavior; in just the same way that I have such a commitment specifically as a supernaturalistic theist. (Or, putting it the other way around, they have just the same kind of epistemological commitments that I would consider to be grounds for believing theism, and eventually supernaturalistic theism, to be true.)

One kind of quality is explicitly or tacitly linked to the notion that human mental behavior derives from non-intentional, non-sentient behaviors of reality (whether the evident natural system or otherwise). This claim synchs well enough with atheism, although an atheist will have to add an 'only' to that notion (_only_ from non-intentional, non-sentient behaviors of reality).

The other kind of quality involves insisting that the proponents' _own_ behaviors _not_ be entirely identifiable (including reducible etc.) with the kind of behavior-sourcing that an atheist needs to keep affirming in order to explain human behaviors without reference to a not-atheistic reality.

The theist, especially the supernaturalistic theist, is not in a position of being hampered by this problem. A supernaturalistic theist doesn't believe the natural system is sentient (not necessarily or completely so anyway), but does believe that our existence as persons involves _some_ kind or level of derivation from natural reality; even an extensive derivation. We also believe our existence as persons need not be entirely explicable on those terms. Running into a qualia dichotomy in practical application (as well as in principle), therefore, is not only something we're inclined to expect, but also something that cannot give us any problem.

On the other hand, if I was not a theist (supernaturalistic or otherwise) and I found that I necessarily had to affirm a dichomatic qualia set in regard to my own existence and claims as a person, where one of those qualia didn't fit into an atheistic reality--then I would have proportionately strong grounds to conclude that I ought to affirm not-atheism instead.

This is exactly the same principle application that proponents of not-theism are themselves appealing to, when they try to present a case that excludes the second kind of qualia being an explanatory factor in human epistemology: look!--_all_ our behaviors can be explained, or seem increasingly likely to be explained, in terms of non-intentional behaviors, mere automatic reactions and counterreactions along with maybe undirected random spurts of behavior hearkening back to quantum behavior (the point being that such random spurts of quantum behavior are still entirely undirected and intrinsically non-intentional.)

What is the appeal to this, for an atheistic (or at least non-theistic) apologist? Is it not obvious? Is it not in principle acceptable to the atheistic proponent? Does an atheistic proponent not expect it to be acceptable in fair logical disputation, even if opponents are (understandably) annoyed by the apparent results? If an atheistic proponent goes this route (and it seems obvious to me that atheistic proponents routinely go this route), do they not consider resistance to it either to be incompetency, or willful fudging?

And yet, when the same principle is applied by theists, in appeal (via this or that version of the AfR) to that stubborn _other_ qualia which cannot be ignored or discounted on peril of denying one's _self_--the qualia represented by the observer Tom Clark is at pains to reassure us he is _not_ trying to claim is non-real--then suddenly the principle application becomes all obscure and opaque, or else accusations are given of appeal to a mere God-of-the-gaps result.

The situation can be illustrated more pithily by noting that there are two kinds of non-reductive materialists: those who are otherwise trying to affirm atheism, and those who are supernaturalistic theists. {g}

And both groups are saying pretty much the same thing, epistemologically, _except_ insofar as their ideological affirmations go. One group draws the conclusion from non-reductive materialism, that natural material behaviors aren't the sole source of our epistemological characteristics. The other group refuses to draw that conclusion, because then they wouldn't be atheists anymore.

(Which, let me add, wouldn't necessarily be unreasonable on their part: they may believe they have exceedingly good reasons in _other_ regards to stay atheistic, or at least not-theistic, and don't see why a weird disconnect in their materialism here should trump those other reasons. That being the case, they'll put up with the weird disconnect.)

Still, I think non-theistic proponents (atheists and dedicated negative agnostics) should be more sensitive, even for their own apologetic purposes, to the problem. I don't believe I'm being intransigent or dull-witted, when I see an epistemic explanation being proposed for acceptance, that involves treating all human mental behaviors as being essentially and only non-intentional, while the advocate of this explanation nevertheless expects me to treat _him_ as being anything other than an illusion of conscious will himself.

So, to take a recent example, BDK writes (in the comment Victor is referencing above, where BDK loses some patience regarding propositional/experiential distinctions): {{If the three propositions [of the classic Socratic syllogism] are in the brain, that isn't enough for there to be an inference in the brain, but if the brain entertains the first two and produces the third via some syntacic operations that (on the surface) follow the rules of inference, that would count as inference.}}

Obviously, BDK is making an effort at describing this inferential process in non-intentional terms. 'The brain' (as an organ) 'entertains' two propositions and somehow 'produces' the third 'via some syntacic operations' that 'on the surface' follow what we would call the rules of inference. That is, this non-intentional organ does this non-intentionally, following only on the surface (meaning it might look that way to us but that would only be a perceptual illusion on our part) some rules of inference that... but how did those rules come about? Those rules were invented or discovered by us, weren't they?--as actively intentional agents. Not as non-intentional brain organs. Which is why it must be said that these other brains only appear on the surface to be following those rules.

This exclusion of intentionality from a description of brain operations is not incidental. It's necessary, because under atheism anything that looks-or-even-is really intentional has to have been produced by-and-only-by, and is still being upkept by-and-only-by precisely those non-intentional operations. The first thinking humans were taught to think by their parents (as Richard Carrier once told me years ago--in some frustration, I think. {g})

Well, yeah; but when _I_ say that, then everyone realizes I'm making some kind of theistic claim. When an atheist says it, he has to be talking about the sort of thing BDK is here describing with his mere brain language: non-intentional, but still it counts as 'inference'. The first thinking persons were taught to think by their non-thinking parents.

I repeat: this is not incidental. It is absolutely necessary to have this or something essentially like it if atheism is true. The practical problem, though, is not exactly with the non-thinking teachers. (I like to riff on that, but don't get hung up on it. {s}) The practical problem is this:

if what BDK described is all it takes to have 'inference', then why should I treat him as a person?

Sure, there are 'social reasons' of mere convenience--here and now, in this time and place. Go back sixty-five years, though, to Europe; or go several thousand miles southeastward into Africa (for a current religiously-linked example of the same principle in application.) Social reasons of mere convenience, get moved when inconvenient.

In a couple of different (and otherwise unrelated contexts), I happened to be reading about the Holocaust again this week. How many Jewish scientists and philosophers were saying exactly this kind of thing, in the days before the initial phases of the Final Solution? Quite a few, or so I gather; that was the enlightened scientific (non-churchy-or-synagogy) way to think. Oh, they didn't mean to include _themselves_ in that description, of course--_they_ were substantially _different_ than what they were claiming about _all_ humankind. That was supposed to be understood.

But someone didn't buy that.

I don't mean by this that Blue Devil Knight is advocating genocide. I'm willing to believe he has at least as much concern about that kind of thing as I do. But, that's because I believe that a human being _really is_ more than a bag of meat and bone wired for sound (as I recently read of Nietzche putting it.) And when _I_ believe that, and act on that belief, I'm believing and acting in congruence with my metaphysical beliefs.

An atheist, though, has to believe that a human being is really nothing more than a bag of meat and bone wired for sound--except when it happens to be inconvenient to propose that. We might be marvelously effective bags of meat and bone, in surviving to propagate our genetics for making more of those bags of meat and bone, but that's it. There may be a grand illusion involved in there somewhere, but the illusion is only an illusion to an illusion of conscious will--assuming it makes any sense to say that an illusion of something, i.e. something that isn't really there, can be under an illusion _about_ something.

Consequently, I dissent from Victor, about "the issue of intentionality simpliciter" being a good deal less hard for the naturalist (meaning the atheist) than the issues of how intentional content becomes propositional and then comes to be present to consciousness. If anything, it's the other way around. There might be difficulties in the other two, I'm not knocking that; but it seems to me that once the atheist has humped intentionality to begin with, he's pretty much got the latitude he needs to work on the other two problems without any rush. In the worst case scenario, he can just apply the same kind of humping he used to get around the intentionality problem. Ding, the end!--what's the problem? The methodologies were accepted for humping intentionality, weren't they?

Did I put that in an affrontive way? I would apologize for the offense, but what exactly is it I am supposed to be caring about the feelings of? A non-intentional brain??

If we can ignore the question of consciousness in the bee, and still have the bee performing inferences (be it "a crappy inference, a statistical inductive inference, or a deductive inference"), then we can ignore any question of BDK's consciousness, too, regardless of whether his "inferences" are crappy or not. And pretty much squash him whenever he happens to become personally inconvenient to us, assuming enough other people _don't_ ignore the question of his consciousness, and insist on answering it in the affirmative, and insist on some other important notions necessarily following from that, and so decide to make it more inconvenient for us to squash him than not. The tools {smirk}--don't they know that consciousness is irrelevant to 'reasoning'?

When the day comes (which frankly it probably has already--been a while since I checked) that my cousin decides to throw away that Furbee, it isn't as though she will be doing anything wrong. She could tear it to pieces if she wanted to, or feed it to the dog, or set it on fire and burn it up, or gas it until it stopped working, or shoot it in the head--if it was a particularly effective Furbee at doing certain things, she could have it dig a pit for its body before she shot it in the head. If she wanted to save money on ammo, she could wait until she had something else she wanted to shoot in the head, and then set them up so that both heads get the single bullet.

Granted, she couldn't do these things and then get much of anything convenient for her afterward from the Furbee (oh, pieces of its insides for her to play with maybe); so she'd better get what use she cares to have from it now before she disposes of it.

Who cares? It's only a Furbee.

"Arrogance about the ontology of experience" may be "silly" at this or any other point in time. But it's also what allows BDK to make claims and arguments to us (including ethical ones) with an expectation that we will treat him as a person, and not as a Furbee. His proclamation about proclamation is no less "cocksure" than the "intuition pies" he's _complaining about_. I myself have an intuition, or heck even a raw gracious act of charity, that BDK should be treated as a person with rights and respect and stuff like that. Should _that_ intuition "be taken seriously"? Or not? (Apparently not, considering the level of ignorance involved in our understanding of neurology at this time...)

I'll be more brief about the contention that we never experience propositions; it's the same exact problem in principle, though, that I've been talking about.

I think everyone can agree we don't necessarily experience them _sensorially_. If we don't experience them in _some_ way, though, then we aren't having propositions at all. To say the least, this will render any argument at all from BDK untenable--show me these 'propositions' he claims to be having!

He _can't_ show them? Well, why should I accept that he's having them, then? He himself says he isn't experiencing them!--meaning, that he isn't _physically_ experiencing them. How can a theoretical construct _itself_ be physically experienced?

I'm certainly willing to agree that propositions are theoretical constructs. To be honest, I think consciousness experiences are non-empirical constructs (call them theoretical even), too. But a theoretical construct isn't something that strict neuroscience per se can "raise the curtain" on, while still retaining the actual existence of the theoretical construct; any more than neuroscience can do anything but deny or be agnostic about the real existence of Plato's ideal forms.

Which doesn't mean that I think Plato's notion of ideal forms holds much water (literally or figuratively!) But at the end of the day, this naturalistic treatment of propositions is going to be another case of: it really exists (because if we didn't claim a real existence for it we would be claiming we ourselves have no propositions for argument!), but it's _really_ something _else_ than what we necessarily have to otherwise claim it to be. Abstract theoretical constructs can't be empirically studied by neuroscience. There isn't a little guy in our stomachs moving things around (despite what those old cartoons between cartoons on ABC's Schoolhouse Rock might have led us to believe. {g}) There _isn't_ a man "behind the curtain" here, there or there. There won't be one, on the same merely naturalistic principles, behind the curtain of human mentality, either.

So hey, what's the problem, then, with sending in an army of winged monkeys to take over the place, if we can expediently succeed in doing that? {g}

Jason Pratt

At 4/20/2007 11:19:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

To clarify one point in response to Jason, I never insinuated that we or other animals are not conscious (see my point 4). I have always said this was a crazy view. I think we are not unconscious bee people, but that doesn't mean our apian friends can't have internal states that refer, are true or false, trade in inferences, or communicate the contents of these states to other bees.

What I said (and it isn't a dogma, but something I can back up) is that arrogance about the ontology of consciousness is unfounded.

There are lots of intuitions that fly around. Some of the more popular ones:
1. No matter what the neuropsychological sciences reveal in the future, they will never address my concerns about qualia.
2. Zombies are possible.
3. Consciousness is merely a biological process like digestion or respiration. To disagree is to be no better than a vitalist.


I am up to date on the relevant science, and I can confidently say that everyone is just ignorant, and not in the same way that the young-earth creationists are ignorant. We are all ignorant: there is no science out there that, once learned, will clear things up, that will convince all but the most ideologically trapped person. We are like the presocratic philosophers grasping for a theory of physics. Some of us may be right, but nobody knows it and nobody has sound arguments. The confident folk produce mere predictions about a 'future brain science', predictions based on intuitions.

The people who think their predictions are obviously true are free to act as such, see where it leads them. And maybe one of them will end up, in 500 years, looking as prescient as Democritus. Or maybe someone will come up with a good argument that we should swallow their intuition pie.

I do think we are basically a complicated arrangement of molecules, but would no more be tempted to destroy a person than to wantonly destroy a Michelangelo, another "mere" bunch of molecules. Clearly the theist will need some help in thinking about the moral implications here if they would need convincing not to become a homocidal maniac in a solely natural world. But that takes us way past the relevant into the ludicrous.

At 4/27/2007 06:30:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I insanely said of our unconscious bee people friends:
and obviously doesn't know anything about inference

Insert 'consciously' between 'doesn't' and 'know.' I think they probably do have knowledge (though of the world their content is about, not their own inferences, but this is far from obvious).

At 4/30/2007 11:32:00 AM , Anonymous Deuce said...

Hi, BDK:

To deuce, I am saying that the divide and conquer strategy is sound: we can ignore consciousness but still constructively address many other problems of how representational systems work...

So far I have said nothing, positive or negative, about experiences and whether they too have the same or different type of content.

I don't doubt that progress has been made studying things that are related to intentionality, but I think you've sort of papered over an important issue that I was trying to bring up.

If I am correct that raw consciousness involves intentionality (indeed, that qualia are defined by their intentional content), then attempting to solve the problem by dividing consciousness from intentionality is obviously impossible. In that case, all you're doing is dividing one thing with intentionality from another thing with intentionality, rather than dividing intentionality up to be analyzed on its own. So while you may say that you "have said nothing... about experiences and whether they too have the same or different type of content", the very attempt to draw the line there assumes that there is a difference. What the intentional realist like myself would charge is that you're actually dividing something else, and calling it "intentionality", and then trying to explain it, but that you've actually lost sight of what it is about intentionality that really needs explaining.

Experiences (e.g., visual experiences) are nonpropositional and we never experience propositions: propositional contents are theoretical constructs from which the curtain is being raised by neuroscience.

One immediate problem I see with this is that a theory is itself a collection of propositional content. So to say that propositional content is a theoretical construct reduces to saying that theories are theoretical constructs.

I also don't agree that experience is non-propositional. As Decartes said, you may fool me all you like with false appearances, but you can never fool me into believing that there are no appearances. It seems to me that experiences come with certain knowledge. The experience of green, for instance, comes with a certainty of the experience - a proposition like "There is green" or "I see green". That is, you know that the possible world in which you see green is actual. Even if that green doesn't really correspond to something in the outside world in the way that you think it does, you can still know that there is phenomenal green.

While your strategy is to divide and conquer, mine is to figure out how all this stuff works together.

To that end, one problem I've been interested in for a while is where propositional content comes from. Let me elaborate on what I mean: Take anything you believe, and ask yourself why you came to believe it. You'll probably come up with another set of propositions. Ask yourself why you came to believe that, and so forth.

Now, eventually this must stop. It cannot be the case that we all have an infinite regress of propositions serving as reasons for everything we believe. However, it's also clear that this line cannot stop arbitrarily, with some propositions that we just believe for the heck of it. There must be some point at which our propositions make contact with external reality.

So that's the problem I'm interested in when I ask where propositions come from. It's easy to see how we get one proposition from another, given that we have rational inference and deduction, but it's not easy to see where propositions enter the picture in the first place. How do we get from external physical reality, for instance, to basic propositions about physical reality?

That's where I think that conscious experience enters the picture, and it's another supporting reason for why I think that experience is propositional. Our experience provides us those base propositions, the truth of which we can be certain, and from which we directly or indirectly infer all of our other propositions. If I am correct, conscious experience is where the conversion from external objects to propositional content based on those objects first takes place, and hence it's the place where intentionality (propositional content) enters the picture. And not only that, but it's intentionality in its most basic, pre-linguistic form, where the propositional content cannot be confused with the words used to express it. If I'm right about this, then attempting to understand intentionality by dividing it from consciousness is about as disastrous a move as you could make, since it's the very basis of propositional content.

At 5/04/2007 11:28:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Deuce: do monkeys, which presumably have conscious experiences of colors, also have propositional knowledge of the kind you suggest when we have experiences?

I think conscious experience might be sufficient for intentionality (some kind of aboutness), but not necessary. Note I avoid the word 'intentionality' and focus on more specific properties: truth, reference, inference-usability.

As for the puzzle that 'to say that propositional content is a theoretical construct reduces to saying that theories are theoretical constructs.' Again, within a certain propositional attitude explanation of science, this is right. Fodor would say that we use propositional attitude psychology to explain behavior. This includes scientists' behavior. The scientist doesn't even need to know he is using propositions in his theory making (just as a monkey doesn't know it is using propositions when it is solving tough logic problems). Note that scientists don't think about propositions. They think about their subject matter. It is philosophers wedded to propositional attitude psychology that impose this interpretation on scientist's behavior and cognitive life.

I have never experienced a proposition, at least to my knowledge.

You are interested in epistemic justification and how to avoid the circularity when it is assumed that all justification is deductive inference from one set of propositions to another. That is a tough problem. I tend to be a foundherentist.

On the other hand, I also am sympathetic to eliminative materialism (wrt propositions, not consciousness), so the problem must be re-expressed differently in an eliminativist framework, either in terms of public linguistic justifications or nonpropositional cognitive virtues.

I think that you might be right that conscious contents help to ground knowledge in humans. But that doesn't imply that conscious contents are propositional. They can contribute contents to symbols that are ultimately integrated into propositional format. Or the conscious contents could have a merely causal relationship with propositional contents (e.g., seeing the newspaper saying 'Kennedy is dead' triggers (causally) the propositional content that Kennedy is dead). And conscious contents can have their justification in a reliabilist framework.


At 5/04/2007 11:30:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Illiteracy is not a problem of seeing, it is a problem with the translation or coupling between the nonpropositional experiential contents and cognitive/propositional contents.

I stole that from Dretske.


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