Monday, August 06, 2007

Reply to Steve on Naturalism

I include the comments from this old post because Steve Lovell has an interesting response here that I intend to respond to. Though looking at it it looks as if Jason gave the response I was going to give.

Steve: As you know Lewis opposed reductionistic accounts of even physical phenomena. The "physical thing" we call the sunbeam has nonphysical properties which have to be siphoned off in order to make it a physicalistic account. The concept of the physical is supposed to be a) mechanistic, and b) closed and c) everything else has to supervene on that. At least that's the Hasker-Reppert definition of physicalism, which can be expanded to come up with an account of what naturalism is supposed to be. (We are happy to solve the physicalists' problem of defining themselves for them, and I have it on the authority of Blue Devil Knight that our definition is a good one).
If you look at even secular philosophers like Nagel who take the toolshed distinction seriously, we find that they push the limits of what is acceptable as physicalism. Nagel seems to have broken out of physicalism even if he hasn't found his way to theism (neither did Lewis when he accepted the argument), and while Searle tries to be a materialist, I think most people on both sides of the materialist debate think he fails to do so. The strongest physicalists like Dennett, Churchland, and company, including ordinary functionalists like the early Putnam try their best to explain the distinction away.
Materialism is an attempt to say that the world as analyzed by the senses and the method of science is the ultimate reality, and that everything else is a byproduct. Insofar as they are consistent materialists, they have to try to undercut Lewis's looking at-looking along distinction. you can't press it into the service of physicalism without begging the question.


  • At 1:41 AM, Blue Devil Knight said…

    I like your definition for the most part, depending on what you mean by 'mechanistic.' That term tends to invoke pictures of determinism and clockwork universes in people's heads.

    If quantum mechanics or quantum field theory [or whatever possibly indeterministic nomic regularities we find in basic physics] count as mechanistic, then your definition is fine.

    Merleau-Ponty, in his criticism of naturalistic theories of perception, spends many pages discussing 'the gaze', visually experiencing the world such that the biology, the meat, of the eyes, is invisible. I have always considered it a kind of knowing-how versus knowing-that kind of thing, but there is more to it than that (knowing how to ride a bike doesn't imply anything about consciousness, for instance, while knowing how to use one's gaze, in his sense, does).

  • At 8:00 AM, Steve Lovell said…

    Vic, I agree that it's difficult to call Nagel and Searle Naturalists in your sense (or any decent sense), but I still don't quite see why the Naturalist can't accept the toolshed distinction and use it in Naturalism's service. Of course, my own argument in your "The Trouble with Materialism" entry, suggests a possible reason why ... would you accept this argument?

    Also, I have a difficulty with some of your explanations of what Naturalism involves. You seem to imply that if Naturalism is true then all concepts must have an acceptable Naturalistic analysis.

    Let's take a common case. We may offer the following analysis of "Red" ...

    (R1) Something is red if and only if it is such as to cause the sensation "Red" in normal observers under normal conditions.
    (R2) Things cause the sensation "Red" in normal observers under normal conditions if and only if they have surface reflectance properties XYZ.
    (R3) Something is red if and only if it has surface reflectance properties XYZ.

    R1 is offered as an analysis in the sense of a conceptual analysis. R2 is an empirical statement. R3 is a naturalistic reduction.

    I can't help but feel that you sometimes confuse "conceptual analysis" with "reduction". Can't a naturalist legitimately offer R1 as an analysis and then go on to give R3 as a reduction motivated by that analysis?

    Why shouldn't the case of intentionality be similar? If Carrier makes constant use of intentional concepts in his explanation of intentionality, are you sure he isn't at the R1-like stage here rather than the R3-like stage?

    Does (R1)-(R3) offer an acceptable Naturalistic reduction of Redness? If not, why not?
    If so, then presumably the difficulty with similar reductions for intentionality etc is that the R1-like stage turns them into secondary qualities, and intenionality and other mental phenomena can't be thought of that way. The reason for this would be that with colour you can separate out the bit that's in the world (the surface reflectance) and the bit that's in our heads (the experienced quality of redness), but with mental phenomena it's all in our heads to start with.

    But "in our heads" has two very different possible meanings: "In our brains" and "in our minds". Why doesn't this give us somewhere to siphon things off to?

    Ah, I see ... because to siphon the mind to the mind is the same as not siphoning at all. But does that necessarily make the mind a non-naturalistic thing? Couldn't an R1-R3-like reduction still obtain for the mind even in the absence of anywhere different to siphon the mind off to?

    If so, this would make the Nagel/Searle mysterionism (or whatever it's being called these days) look about right.

    Not sure where these leaves me ...

  • At 9:30 AM, Victor Reppert said…

    BDK : Mechanistic in my sense means free of meaning, free of subjectivity, free of purpose, and free of normativity. It does not mean deterministic.

    SL: But "in our heads" has two very different possible meanings: "In our brains" and "in our minds". Why doesn't this give us somewhere to siphon things off to?

    VR: Because you can indulge in a lot of loose talk about "the brain" but to serve its proper role in a physicalistic analysis of the world it can't have any fundmantally mental properties. All of those properties have to be nonmental, and the mental properties have to be systemic add-ups of physical properties, and these properties have to not be mind-dependent. In the final analysis, the serpent is chasing its tail.

  • At 10:14 AM, Jason said…


    (Note: I left a bit of a different reply--short I promise {g}--back in the previous thread, too.)

    {{Does (R1)-(R3) offer an acceptable Naturalistic reduction of Redness? If not, why not?}}

    I don't have any problem with R1-R3 _so far as it goes_. I'm relatively sure few (if any) Naturalists would have a problem with it, either.

    But this cannot be a sufficient reduction for purposes of 'naturalistically' explaining human behavior in recognizing 'red', if only because the "if and only if" leaves out pretty much all discussion of what's happening in the receiver. The conclusion is only about the reflective surfaces over there. (And I expect most Naturalists, unless they're just being casual in conversation, would have a similar problem with how far it goes.)


  • At 11:28 AM, Anonymous said…

    "Mechanistic in my sense means free of meaning, free of subjectivity, free of purpose, and free of normativity. It does not mean deterministic. "

    I, as a naturalist, would not accept that as a legitimate meaning for "mechanistic." It would certainly seem to rule out the possibility of those complex biological mechanisms we commonly refer to as animals.

  • At 12:27 PM, Victor Reppert said…

    What I mean is that these systems are mechanistic at the most basic level of analysis. Whatever of these things are are system byproducts at the organizational level. The real causation in the universe goes on without reference to them.

  • At 3:40 PM, Blue Devil Knight said…

    anonymous: I think Victor's characterization of naturalism is quite inclusive, and I wouldn't want to call someone who denied it a (metaphysical) naturalist.

    Victor isn't saying that all properties are physical, but that all properties must supervene on the physical. E.g., the property of being a heart or a lung is a biological property, but ultimately they supervene on the properties of physical objects (even if they aren't identical to or reducible to such physical properties).

    For those not in philosophy, property X supervenes on property (or properties) Y iff a difference in X implies a difference in Y. Equivalently, two things identical wrt Y are identical wrt X. So, two things with identical physical properties must have identical mental properties (and these physical properties may include the history of the objects, otherwise Twin Earth refutes supervenience).

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At 8/06/2007 09:53:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

The phrase "analyzed by the senses" caught my attention. I wonder if this isn't a key qualification.

Naturalism in is garden-variety physicalist form sees all knowledge of states as grounded in sensory interaction with the properties of those states. For example, I know it's raining because I see the rain coming down and feel it on my skin. I know lightning is striking because I see it and hear the thunder from it. I cannot sense the change in atmospheric pressure, but I can see the way the change affects the needle of a barometer. I know my fingers are moving because I can see them and feel them moving. I know people are conscious because I see them talking and moving their bodies. If someone were lying still with their eyes closed, unresponsive, I would know they were conscious only if I had an EEG or some other instrumental means of sensing activity in their brain. States that could not be known through their impingement on the senses, or states that could be known apart from such impingement, would either fail to qualify as physical or at least could not be described as physical in the ordinary sense of the word. This seems to be the common sense science-focused opinion of naturalism's rank and file. Am I off base here?

At 8/07/2007 01:29:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...

I agree that what's been offered isn't an analysis of the "experience of red", but merely an analysis of "red". But why can't the naturalist say the experience itself can't be further analysed, and yet remain a perfectly good naturalist?

Anyway, I think we've slightly gone off topic from the point I was merely intending to illustrate by my use of the analysis of "is red".

My point was that some essential parts of an acceptable reductionist naturalistic analysis can contain reference to further things which are not themselves naturalistically defined. You've picked holes in my analysis, saying it misses out the important stuff, but that doesn't prevent it being an acceptable analysis.

What you need to do it to show why the same can't be done with intentionality (or the other mental concepts in play).

I'm guessing we're heading back towards the siphoning off argument (SOA). No bad thing, I'm just still not sure what I think about it (see my first paragraph in this post).

Out of interest, what if any relationship do you think exists between anomolous monism and the SOA. I think this would be my position if I were a naturalist.


At 8/07/2007 06:29:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Victor isn't saying that all properties are physical, but that all properties must supervene on the physical. E.g., the property of being a heart or a lung is a biological property, but ultimately they supervene on the properties of physical objects (even if they aren't identical to or reducible to such physical properties)."

Well, I'd be interested in hearing from Victor if that is a fair representation of his view.
I come away with the impression that he thinks naturalists have to be able to explain everything at the most basic level or it doesn't count as a naturalistic explanation. That position is quite absurd, imho. So I would be quite happy to see that I am mistaken and that Victor really thinks it is legitimate for a nturalist to treat consciousness as supervenient upon the physical without having to be reducible to the physical properties found at the basic level.

At 8/07/2007 11:04:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Indeed non-reductive forms of materialism have to be taken seriously. This kind of naturalism is the most sensible on my view. However, the physical must in some sense explain the mental if physicalism is true, and just saying "Well, it supervenes" doesn't cut the mustard here. The fact of supervenience is still a mystery without a reduction. Also, nonreductivists have real problems with mental causation, as Jaegwon Kim has amply demonstrated. If Kim et al are right that property dualism/substance physicalism makes mental states epiphenomenal, then it cannot be true that I believe that evolution is true because of the evidence. Rather, the supervenience bases of the relevant mental states obtain, and there is a causal relation between the superveniece bases but not the mental states. Hence I do not and cannot believe anything because there is good reason to believe it.

At 8/08/2007 06:48:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

Steve & all

The point I was heading toward in my previous post is that naturalists cannot invoke science at every turn and then disown the scientific commitment to practical empiricism. Critics of string theory point out that it needs more than mathematical credentials, it needs testability. Proponents of string theory counter that in principle it is testable, just difficult to test with the means currently available.

By that standard, the limits of "siphoning off" are pretty stark. That there is a red ball in front of me is something I can know only through the senses; in such a case a sensory-causal link is necessary between the object of knowledge and myself. That I am seeing a red ball in front of me (my experience of the sight of a red ball) is an object of knowledge to which I need no sensory link. If my epistemological link with experience is clearly non-sensory, it falls outside of the sense-based empirical framework that scientific knowledge is confined to. Proponents of naturalism cannot merely shrug and say that there are exceptions to every rule and not at least acknowledge the conceptual impasse. Unless it is a live option that science may discover that we sense our own experiences.

At 8/08/2007 01:04:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...


Naturalism is not only the name of a family of metaphysical theories but also of a family of epistemological theories. The two families are related, but I don't think they should be identified.

I suspect that naturalists of both stripes would be inclined to say that actually the sort of knowledge we have of our own experiences isn't the sort analysed by epistemological theories. The knowledge studied by epistemology is "knowledge that ...", it is propositional. The knowledge involved in knowledge of our experiences has a different form and is generally termed "knowledge by acquaintance". This, indeed, has been one of the main lines of response to "The Knowledge Argument" as inspired by Frank Jackson's "Epiphonomenal Qualia" & "What Mary Didn't Know" and Thomas Nagel's "What is it like to be a Bat?"

This is very closely related to Lewis's Looking-At/Looking-Along distinction. To my mind, the naturalist will endorse "sensory accounts" of our knowledge of what is looked at, but not necessarily of our knowledge of what we look along. And given how simple and intuitive the distinction is once it's been drawn, I find it hard to think it could do that much (positive) work on either side of the debate over siphoning off.


At 8/08/2007 08:14:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...


Unless it is a live option that science may discover that we sense our own experiences.

I think it's a live option that experience is the name we give to our sensation of what's happening in our brains. More in my comment to bdk, below.

At 8/08/2007 08:21:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...


Sorry to continue our conversation on this thread, but there's so much overlap across threads, I figured no one would mind. :P

You say:

In all of these cases we can ask, why is there something it is like to be in such-and-such brain state, or to have information on a global workspace? Couldn't the same physical process or information processing go on in the absence of an experience?

Let me tell you a just-so story.

Suppose that we have a sixth sense. Part of the neocortex is like a visual system that looks at the processes inside our brain. This system learns and recognizes patterns of brain processes in the same way that the visual cortex learns and recognizes structure in what we see. This sixth sense could also have focus and attention in the same way that the visual cortex has focus and attention. Then "experience" is just the name we give to "presently-in-focus brain processes."

Unity of consciousness arises because when you have one hierarchical network, you generally have a single point of focus. That point may move around in the same way that visual attention moves around, but, as with vision, the sixth sense sews together an apparently seamless picture of the most important activity taking place in the brain.

That there is something it is like to experience something implies a comparison. My just-so story delivers such a comparison in the same way that the visual cortex delivers comparisons of visual shapes.

Of course, this is just a crazy just-so story that I half-baked this afternoon, but it's not implausible.

Qualia may be a "hard problem," but it's not so hard as to have no conceivable solution. I just conceived of one.

At 8/09/2007 01:14:00 AM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...


I'd have thought this just pushes the problem one stage back. If the subjective feel of experience isn't a problem for your imagined sixth sense, it wouldn't have been a problem for any of the normal five senses either. So assuming that it is a problem, your just so story won't do the required work.


At 8/09/2007 06:51:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


I think you confused me with DL in your last post.

I agree that I should have mentioned acquaintance knowledge, and I know that epistemologies become intricate and nuanced.

That said, naturalism entails epistemological limits that inevitably enter into a discussion such as this. And naturalism's emphasis on science is relevant, I think (witness Russell's embrace of it as the fount of all knowledge, as Victor has wryly noted). If knowing is a physical state of a physical system, the knower, and if the object of knowledge is something whose physical properties cause the knower to be in that state, things get very strange as knowledge of objects/states external to the system give way to knowledge the system has about itself.

If the knowledge that I am having an experience consists of Part A of my brain sensing activity in Part B, and this fact is something Part A can come to know, then Part A can come to know that it is in a state of sensing Part B. That in turn means that a physical state of Part A (the state of sensing part B) is causing a physical state of Part A (the state of part A knowing that it is sensing part B). I am not sure that a state causing itself makes any sense in terms of biochemistry. Perhaps the physicalist will propose that the brain is rapidly switching back and forth between sensing and knowing it was sensing so that the two states never actually coincide.

In any case, knowlege by acquaintance consists of belief without physical evidence as commonly understood. In that respect it is like knowledge of the logic of syllogism. What physical evidence do I need to verify that if Socrates is a man and all men are mortal then Socrates must be mortal? That fact is simply apparent without recourse to evidence, just as the fact that I am sensing whatever it is I am sensing is also apparent without such recourse. (Note that this does not exactly evoke Jackson's knowlege argument, which quarantines the qualitative content of sensation, not the fact of its occurrence.) So I think there is some kinship between acquaintance knowledge and reasoning, and what is strange about the one (and difficult for naturalism/physicalism) is strange about the other.

At 8/09/2007 12:59:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...

Darek and Doctor Logic,

Yes I confused the two of you in my previous posts. Sorry about that. I must have scrolled through too quickly and caught sight of the wrong names.


Your suggested solution to the Qualia problem does seem vulnerable to the objection which I mistakenly addressed to Darek. However, your suggestion does look like it might help the naturalist out in response to Darek's latest post.


Of course, the naturalist has no particular axe to grind about what form "the senses" should take. We're used to the standard five, but "echo location" for example (going back to bats again) would be no more a problem for naturalists than other senses. Nor, I should think, would a sixth "internal" sense along lines similar to those DL has suggested. Wouldn't this resolve the difficulties you are raising?

The only question is as to what exactly such a sense would be detecting. Would it be detecting mere brain states? Could a naturalistically acceptable sense detect the mental state which supervenes on the brain state?

(Of course one might describe the eyes as merely detecting large accumulations of atoms, but we actually "see" objects ... so, again there is no immediate problem for the naturalist here.)

If so, this "sense" would seem to simply be "introspection" by another name, and no worse for that ... but in other respects it would have the same issues I mistakenly addressed to you instead of DL.

On "knowledge by acquaintence", I think you misunderstand the point I'm making. In this phrase "acquaintance" isn't some particular way of acquiring the same sort of knowledge, knowledge that something is the case, as can be acquired by other means. Rather, it is a completely different kind of thing. Despite this, the two types of "knowledge" may be intimately related. Indeed, they seem to be related in much the way that looking-at and looking-along are related. Can't the naturalist allow that the senses are "looked along"? Why should it be a problem for the naturalist to say this, particularly if it only produces "non-propositional forms of knowledge" (like knowledge by acquaintence)?


At 8/10/2007 06:39:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


I believe that Chalmers has somewhere used acquaintance in referring to knowing that we are experiencing, as opposed merely to experiencing. A cat may be conscious, but it doesn't know that it is. Anyway, this may not affect your point.

Re looking along as opposed to looking at, the problem may be that in naturalism both processes are supervenient on chemical sequences. Presumably the biochemical correlate is looking along itself?!

Naturalism in most forms entails causal closure of the physical. Closure entails that all connections are causally based in physical properties of states. Now, let's put the case in terms of objects of thought instead of objects of knowledge/acquaintance. Assume that in the case of thoughts about actual objects/states, there is a real connection between the thoughts and their objects; the object causes the thought about the object to be the way it is. Suppose I think about the current biochemical state of my brain. I may set up a Cartesian logical connection such as, "I am thinking, therefore the part of my brain necessary for conscious thought is chemically active." But "I" am my brain and "thinking about" is a brain process (state sequence). So my brain's current process is causally connected with its current process. I doubt that a purely physical process being causally connected to itself makes any sense.

Take a simple feedback system, a room with a thermostat. The thermostat reacts to the room temperature by switching on the heater, which raises the temperature, which causes the thermostat to respond by switching off the heater. Is the process causing itself to be the way it is? No. Each state is caused by the previous state, which is true of all physical processes. "Feedback loops" are just ocillators of varying degrees of complexity. Tuning fork vibration is a feedback loop. The process in the room with the thermostat is not causally connected with itself in any non-trivial way.

Imagine that a scientist is telling you about a vat of reacting chemicals and you ask him, "What causes the process in this vat to occur as it does?" Wouldn't it be odd if the scientist included among the causes of the process the process itself? To say that among the causes of a physical process is the selfsame process is either trivial or simply incoherent.

At 8/10/2007 12:53:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DL: just saw your comment.

You give a fairly standard functional-level description of some things that might be happening when we have qualia (e.g., Crick and Koch have a theory where 'the front of the brain looks at the back [i.e., sensory processing] parts of the brain'). This well may be on the right track, as a story about what correlates with qualia.

To point out how this doesn't solve the problem, I could build a robot that integrates information from many sensory arrays, uses that integrated representation of the world to guide behavior. But experience, qualia, raw feels, aren't necessary to explain it's behavior.

For any complicated causal-functional story you tell, I'll ask the same thing: where are the qualia? This same functional-causal process can occur without any accompanying experience, and the behavior of the system can be explained just fine in these functional-causal terms, and qualia/experiences/subjectivity never come up.

That's the hard problem. While it would be great if a blogger solved it in the comments on Victor's blog, I tend to be skeptical.

Note I am drawing no metaphysical conclusions from my skepticism about causal-functional stories. I am a naturalist. But naturalists need to be careful not to oversell how much they can explain.

This is why I talk about the NCC (neural correlates of consciousness) and PCC (psychological correlates of consciousness). Searching for both is an active, exciting, and quite alive area of active research. The Hard Problem needs to wait for these easier problems. I know philosophers can't resist speculating, but they are like ancient Greeks trying to figure out the nature of space and time. The necessary conceptual infrastructure for even posing the questions in well formulated ways are just not there yet. Not even close, IMO.

At 8/10/2007 05:09:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Just to be clear, I was largely playing devil's advocate. I tend to think that qualia will succumb to a causal-functional story. However, I can't see how right now. THe difference between me and someone like CHalmers is that I don't put a whole lot of stock in my present predictions about what I think once the science is "done." That is, I look at it as a shortcoming of my imagination/conceptual base more than something that urgently requires a metaphysical overhaul.

At 8/11/2007 08:10:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...


That is, I look at it as a shortcoming of my imagination/conceptual base more than something that urgently requires a metaphysical overhaul.

Probably wise!

If there is a hard problem in consciousness, maybe it is defining consciousness to everyone's satisfaction because the question "why is there something it is like to sense X?" is easily answered with plausible (if hypothetical) mechanisms, IMO.

At 8/11/2007 05:21:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


You wrote:

>>Can't the naturalist allow that the senses are "looked along"? Why should it be a problem for the naturalist to say this, particularly if it only produces "non-propositional forms of knowledge" (like knowledge by acquaintence)?<<

It occurs to me that I didn't address this point very directly. Acknowledging an unbridgeable divide between objective and subjective points of view itself verges on dualism, or some kind of Kantian dichotomy. But the problem with closure arises also. Is there something qualitative in experience that is only appreciated subjectively--the redness of red, the painfulness of pain--that causes objectively observable effects? If so, then how can the objective causal story be complete? Naturalism tends to assume the objective story to be complete as far as causation is concerned, but then whatever is unique to the subjective account must be epiphenomenal. Epiphenomenalism is toothless dualism, but dualism all the same.

What can be said of qualia can be said of propositional content as well. Black-and-white Mary is the twin sister of the man in the Chinese Room. The objective causal story--to the extent that it remains objective--will only include the effects of physical artifacts such as sentences on brain function. The meaning (propositional content) borne by those artifacts can only be seen "looking along," not "looking at." Right off the top, this rules out physical actions caused by rational understanding. It is not as obvious that rational thought sequences are also ruled out, but I think that is true as well. "Looking at" the brain can only reveal the properties of subvenient physical states as causal drivers. It seems to me that one of the goals of supervenience theory is to allow some kind of existence to what is only appreciated by "looking along" while implicitly denying it causal status.

At 8/12/2007 03:18:00 AM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...


I'm not sure where to go from here. We may be at something of an impasse. The causal loops you are referring to do sound odd, but I'm not sure that they are incoherent.

Allow me to ramble ...

I recall a passage in John Polkinghorne (quoting Don Cupitt, I think), where the following situation is imagined:

By setting up mirrors appropriately and subjecting myself to the necessary trepanning, I could put myself in a position to see my own brain, and in particular to see the brain events which are (believed to be) my current visual experiences.

In such a case, my visual experience (from "the inside") is of my visual experience (from "the outside"). Here we have a puzzling causal loop, but not one in which I can see any incoherence.

Talk of brain states / events / processes "looking along themselves" sounds odd, but I don't see any incoherence.

If the states are imagined as simple "atomic" physical states having no "parts", then that would, I think, be problematic.

I think the mental difficulty arises because the "looking-at / looking-along" distinction suggests that there is something doing the looking along which is separate from the thing which is looked along. To think this way is to invest too much metaphysics into the distinction.

Whenever we find ourselves with that mental image, we can also immediately see that the thing which is doing the looking-along also has further parts which are themselves "looked along". The naturalist will think this movement from "thing looking along" to "thing looked along" will ultimately leave us with nothing which is only "looking along" and not also "looked along".

I agree that what goes for Qualia also goes for propositional content. I also agree about the "completeness" of the the objective story under naturalism. But I don't see that this automatically makes Qualia and propositional content epiphenomenal in any objectionable sense. From the "objective" view point, they are explanatorily redundant, but this doesn't mean they play no explanatary role at all ... only that they don't play such a role in the "objective" story. The naturalist can allow that there are other purposes and other stories whose truth supervenes upon the truth of the "objective story".

Well, that's my ramble. As I say, I'm not sure where this leaves us. Are we at an impasse?

I will say that I'm not sure I believe much of the above ... I'm just trying to give the naturalist a sympathetic hearing.


At 8/13/2007 07:55:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


I understand your objections. I don't think we're stuck quite yet. There are still some additional angles to explore.

Consider Dennett's intentional stance concept. Attributing propositional attitudes to other human beings, chess-playing computers, and anything else is in Dennett's view a strategy for predicting behavior given limited cognitive and informational resources. It is a tool of convenience much the way Newtonian mechanics is in comparison to quantum physics.

However, Newtonian physics was defined by observation of the outside world through the senses. Taking the intentional stance is not. We do not observe certain behaviors of human beings and then decide that it would be convenient to tie these behaviors together by attributing them to beliefs and intentions. We introspectively recognize our own beliefs and intentions and their relationships to certain behaviors we exhibit. We know that we are ourselves are conforming to the intentional stance even as we take the intentional stance toward certain objects, but we do not take the intentional stance toward ourselves the same way we take it toward objects around us. Here is another way to consider the "looking at"/"looking along" distinction.

So we have some kind of deep divide. Lewis took the divide itself to be evidence of two sides to reality; if one side of this divide contained the other, the perceptual divide would evaporate. I think you question whether there cannot be conformity across this divide that allows one side--the non-purposive physical side--still to be running the show.

I don't know if you caught any of the exchange about laws of physics and the rules of logic under July's post "Mapping Dualism and Materialism." There I put forward the following argument to show that the physical cannot subsume the mental. Given naturalism/physicalism, mental processes are higher order processes that are determined by and dependent upon the laws of an ideal physics. This in turn means that the rules that seem to govern these mental processes are themselves determined by and dependent upon the laws of an ideal physics.

The models for rules governing mental processes are other bodies of rules pertaining to emergent or higher order processes, such as the laws of optics, aerodynamics, biology, genetics, etc. In all these cases the special science rules are determined by and dependent upon the laws of physics. However, determinacy and dependency cannot be maintained between the rules of logic (syllogism, for example) and the laws of physics--even an ideal physics. Therefore thought, at least rational thought, cannot be conceived physicalistically or construed within a single causal context as naturalism requires.

Doctor Logic, in his last response, compared the laws of logic to the laws of baseball except to note that the laws of logic hold across all possible universes.

The weakness of my presentation, as I see it now, was that I said that thought does not always conform to the laws of logic. Even irrational thought conforms to the laws of logic in the sense that an airplane with insufficient wing surface to get off the ground conforms to the laws of aerodynamics. I should have said that there are certain objects, such as airplanes and minds, to which certain bodies of rules demonstrably pertain and that the pertinence of the rules is entailed by the natures of the objects. However, I don't think this stumble was enough to derail my main point.

At 8/14/2007 01:38:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...


I largely skipped the discussion you refer to in your last post. I looked in on the early stages and decided to give that one a miss.

I agree that Dennett's intentional stance is intended as a mere stance and technically doesn't commit him to any supervenience claim. I also agree that this line of thought is downright daft, and is at the route of why Dennett's book "Conciousness Explained" has been labelled "Conciousness Denied".

However, my "Wittgensteinian" line, wasn't intended as anti-realist. Rather simply as a way of highlighting that discussion can refer to different "levels" of reality, accessed in different ways, and that this fact is not obviously inconsistent with naturalism. This is why I wrote that the truth of the other stories might supervene on the objective story. The truth of these other stories need not merely amount to an instrumentalist endorsement either.

I also agree that logic doesn't supervene on the physical, although I'm not sure the naturalist should agree with us.

What I'm not sure of is how all this is relevant. Does this have some relation to the idea that the supervenient levels are explanatorily redundant? Perhaps so. We want to say that we think as we do because we are influenced by our grasp of the laws of logic, and this seems to require that the laws of logic influence our thoughts in some way, but if it's incoherent to say that these laws supervene then it isn't clear that the laws of logic can influence our thinking.

I'm not sure if this is your line of thought or not. If it is, then I think the naturalist has only one response: Psychologism.

I've discussed Psychologism on Victor's blog before (perhaps even with you, but I can't remember). I actually think this is the way that the naturalist should go. This will entail a reconceptualising of the laws of logic, to some extent relativising them. This would make logic supervenient on a naturalistic base, so would fall foul of arguments for the incoherence of that notion.

Is this the direction you were headed? If so, we've come a rather long way from where we started, which is my main reason for wondering whether this was what you intended.


At 8/15/2007 09:47:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

We do not observe certain behaviors of human beings and then decide that it would be convenient to tie these behaviors together by attributing them to beliefs and intentions. We introspectively recognize our own beliefs and intentions and their relationships to certain behaviors we exhibit. We know that we are ourselves are conforming to the intentional stance even as we take the intentional stance toward certain objects, but we do not take the intentional stance toward ourselves the same way we take it toward objects around us.

This is an empirical question, and it is not clear at all it is true. It is the difference between 'theory-theory' and 'simulation-theory' accounts of how children develop theories of mind. You are advocating a kind of simulation theory (what mental state would I be in if I were behaving that way). Sellars was probably the first full-fledged theory theorist (Empiricism and the PHilosophy of Mind was the essay where he developed it).

Theory-theory is very anti-cartesian, whereas simulation theory is a neo-cartesian theory of theories of mind. It gives pride of place to a putative immediate and intuitive grasp of our own minds. Theory theorists, OTOH, think that theories of mind are on the same epistemic footing as theories in physics or biology. We observe stuff, and try to explain it.

Even if, as an adult, you seem to immediately apply concepts of the mental to others (and yourself), this doesn't mean that the theory wasn't a tough achievement, but that the theory eventually became automatic and habitual (the way someone might say that someone has an Oedipal complex after studying Freud for 20 years).

At 8/16/2007 06:45:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


>>We observe stuff, and try to explain it.<<

The question is, is all the stuff we observe observed with the senses? Or, to take it from a slightly different angle, is there any such thing as "introspection," and if there is, how do we know there is? By inspecting? Or by introspecting?


It does seem like we've wandered far afield. Lewis felt that the obstinate divide between objective and subjective points of view was a fundamental clue about the nature of reality. A naturalist might view it as nothing more than an oddity. Hence the value of other means to distinguish the mental.

Regarding psychologism, if it is considered as a possible remedy for naturalism it does not alleviate the problem over the independence of rules of logic except perhaps to question that independence. But if the rules of logic do not pertain across possible worlds (which is an analytic truth, I believe) then a lot of other stuff is up for grabs--including whatever lines of reasoning are trotted out in favor of psychologism.

Simply as a practical matter, proponents of psychologism presumably recommend their viewpoint on the basis that it is the most rational by comparison with its alternatives. If they in the next breath redefine "most rational" to mean, "most in conformity with our psychological habits," then they take away their own steam, don't they? Unless they go on to argue that our psychological habits are somehow aligned relevantly toward objective truth, in which case we are again outside of psychologism.

At 8/16/2007 12:28:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...


Yes, psychologism is a very slippery doctrine. I remember posing the following question to a group who were attempting to avoid the conclusion of the AfR by appeal to psychologism:

"You are implying that other logics are possible. Possible in what sense? Surely not logically possible, as by definition these logics contradict our own."

There seems to be some sort of appeal to a kind of possibility broader than logical possibility, "absolute" possibility, perhaps.

My head quickly starts to hurt when I think about such matters.

I think at this stage the AfR looks good, but then we've wondered so far from the original topic of the thread that I'm no longer sure we're addressing my original concern rather than other matters which "came up" as we went along.

In short, I'm not sure my original concern, kindly redated by Victor, has been addressed. That concern was with some criticisms of the naturalist program which say that particular reductions are unsuccessful because the reductions refer to things which couldn't be part of a naturalistic supervenience base. The problem with this criticism of attempted reductions is that reductions have a preliminary analysis phase, and at that stage the naturalist doesn't need to disavow the mental. To convict the naturalist of smuggling in non-naturalist elements into his supervenience base, you need to be sure of which stage of reduction the naturalist is at.

But perhaps Victor was redating because of my concerns about siphoning off rather than because of my concerns about the relationship between conceptual analysis and acceptable reductions.


At 8/17/2007 08:02:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


Well, there seems to be a connection between your ideas of analysis versus reduction and the "siphoning off" phenomenon.

I'm not sure I'm catching the sutleties here. Perhaps it's a question of why, on naturalism, objects have physical properties but additionally have the ability to provoke sensation. A drop in room temperature trips the thermostat, and also gives me a filling of being chilled. But there is a strong prima facie case to be made that the response of the thermostat is qualitatively different than my feeling of being chilled. Why do the temperatures of objects, in addition to affecting other objects in measurable ways, yield effects in terms of sensations that are not comparably measurable?

In other words, if sensation is mysterious (doubly so on naturalism), then the physical causes of sensation partake in a certain way of that mystery. Could this be part of Lewis's point?


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