Monday, September 17, 2007

Reply to exapologist on neutral monism

Exapologist wrote:

I'm not sure why we're supposed to accept (1). It seems to entail that neutral monist accounts of matter (e.g. Type-F monism) aren't forms of naturalism. Of course, you could define 'naturalism' in such a way as to preclude neutral monism, but I'm not sure how interesting that would be.

Dan Stoljar has a couple of papers defending Type-F monism -- they're worth checking out!

In any case, since I think neutral monist theories are naturalistic theories are naturalistic theories (at least some versions of it -- Spinoza's version is borderline), I think premise (1) is false, rendering the argument unsound.

The problem here is that in the way I have drawn the distinction between mentalistic and materialistic world-views. A world-view counts as mentalistic if "mental" type explanations can be basic explanations. A materialistic world-view is one in which mental-type explanations cannot be basic explanations. I can't figure out how to be neutral about that.


At 9/17/2007 04:51:00 PM , Blogger exapologist said...

In your original formulation, though, you construed the argument in terms of *naturalism*, not *materialism*. One can be a naturalist without being a materialist, as you of course know.

My idea is this. To use a toy model in the most literal sense: think of our working hypothesis of substance in terms of tinker toys. Now suppose our theory of substance makes it impossible to get consciousness out of tinker toys. What to do? Well, how about revising our theory of substance so that it *is* capable of accounting for consciousness? I believe this is what Thomas Nagel was recommending at the end of his famous (and hilariously titled) paper, "What is it Like to Be a Bat?"

Now there are theories out there, like Type-F monism, that are in the spirit of Nagel's proposal. I mentioned Stoljar. Another is David Chalmers. Chalmers briefly sketched and defends a variation on panpsychism (and does a nice job of eliminating a lot of the objections and mischaracterizations of it, I think) in his The Conscious MInd.

So why isn't this sort of proposal naturalistically acceptable? Granted, it may not me *materialistically* acceptable, but who cares? Why must a non-theist be wedded to *materialism*? Of course, they need not.

At 9/17/2007 05:16:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

I have expressed skepticism, in my book and elsewhere, as to whether a geniunely naturalistic world-view could be naturalistic but not materialist, in such a way as to be better able to meet the challenges posed by the argument from reason. Now if all we are hoping for in our naturalism is to avoid traditional theism, then there are world-views out there that might hope to do that. Absolute Idealism is my favorite example, because that is exactly where C. S. Lewis went when he accepted the argument from reason. But you do have to end up saying that the natural world isn't what we thought it was, that, in its basic furniture, there are "mental" states which are not just Darwinian systemic by-products.

But in that case there is something in the basic building blocks of the universe that is smarter than blind matter. The debate then proceeds as to which of those world-views best fits the facts.

This was a set of conference papers on idealism.

At 9/17/2007 05:36:00 PM , Blogger exapologist said...

I have no interest in avoiding theism. If the data points in that direction, then hooray for theism! Putting that red herring aside, I don't see how you infer from my hypothesis that substance is capable of instantiating *consciouness* that it is therefore "smarter" than matter. That seems like a leap. I think that if we have a theory of substance that allows for consciousness, then the mechanisms of mutation and selection are capable of making creatures "smart". It's at this point that I think Draper is right and Plantinga is wrong.

At 9/18/2007 06:37:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


>>I don't see how you infer from my hypothesis that substance is capable of instantiating *consciouness* that it is therefore "smarter" than matter.<<

You mentioned panpsychism earlier. Doesn't panpsychism propose that matter is really "smarter" than materialists--including most scientists--take it to be? If not, perhaps you can briefly give your defintion of panpsychism.

At 9/18/2007 12:07:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

How do you revise our theory of substance so that it does account for consciousness? If consciousness is a somehow fundamentally different process from the process in, say, an avalanche, how are they different. A materialist like Doctor Logic would say that it is simply a matter of how the particles are organized via natural selection. The concept of materialism that I work from is that it that purposive explanations are kept out of the basic level, and the system is closed, so whatever else is true has to be true in virtue of what's going on in the mechanistic substrate (except for anything Platonistic, which of course won't have any causal power in the physical world). The only way out of this would be to put the "mental" on the basic level, or deny causal closure, neither of which seem very naturalistic to me.

At 9/18/2007 02:18:00 PM , Blogger exapologist said...

Hi Darek and Victor,

I don't have a full-blown account of substance of the sort your asking for, but I *do* think that Chalmers and Stoljar have gotten the ball rolling in a plausible direction. A good place to start, then would be to read Stoljar's papers, and the last several chapters of Chalmers' The Concious Mind.

BTW, I'm not sure why you keep bringing up absolute idealism. I haven't said anything about that view. I don't find it attractive any more than, say Moore or Russell did after their analytic turn. But maybe that says more about my prejudice against non-analytic philosophy.

At 9/18/2007 02:27:00 PM , Blogger exapologist said...

Whoops: "you're"; not "your"


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