Some Lecture notes of Davidson's Mental Events
A blog to discuss the argument from reason.
A. The Inadequacy Objection
A. Armchair Science
A. The Problem of Interaction
A. The Argument from Computers
Angus Menuge suggests the following argument in support of the claim that our intentionality is the result of a prior intentionality:
1. If something has a purpose, then it is designed.
2. Intentinality has the purpose of guiding behavior.
3. So intentionality is designed. (1 and 2)
4. But clearly, our intentionality was not designed by us, although it does enable us to convey our own designs.
5. Thus, our intentionality is the result of prior design. (3 and 4)
6. But…if something is designed, then it is the product of intentionality.
7. So, if our intentionality is the product of prior intentionality.
If this argument is correct, then intentionality can be grounds for thinking that our intentionality is the product of a prior intentionality.
James Ross, in his essay “Immaterial Aspects of Thought, presents an argument against a physicalist account of propositional content which I will call the Argument from Determinate Content. He writes:
Some thinking (judgment) is determinate in the way no physical process can be. Consequently, such thinking cannot be a (wholly) physical process. If all thinking, all judgment, is determinate in that way, no physical process can be the (the whole of) any judgment at all. Furthermore, “functions” amng physical states cannot be determinate enough to be such judgments, either. Hence some judgments can be niether wholly physical processes nor wholly functions among physical processes.52
Yet, he maintains, we cannot deny that we perform determinate mental operations. He writes:
I propose now, with some simple cases, to reinforce the perhaps already obvoius point that pure function has to be wholly realized in the single case, and cannot consist in the array of “inputs and outputs” for a certain kind of thinking. Does anyone count that we can actually square numberes? “4 times 4 is sixteen”; a definite form (N x N = N2) is “squaring” for all relevant cases, whether or not we are able to process the digits, or ralk long enough to give the answer. To be squaring, I have to be doing some thing that works for all the cases, something for which any relevant case can be substituted without change in what I am doing, but only in which thing is done.53
I should add that if we don’t literally add, subtract, divide, multiply, square numbers and take their square roots, not to mention perform all the complicated mathematical operations involved in, say, Einstein’s theory of relativity, then physicalism, which not only says that reality is physical but that physics, at least approximately, gets it right, is up the creek without a paddle.
Ross’s argument can be formalized as follows.
1. Some mental states have determinate content. In particular, the states involved in adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, in squaring numbers and taking their square roots, are determinate with respect to their intentional content.
2. Physical states are indeterminate with respect to intentional content. Any physical state is logically compatible with the existence of a mulitplicity of propostionally defined intentional states, or even with the absence of propositionally defined intentional states entirely.
3. Therefore, the mental states involed in mathematical operations are not and cannot be identical to physical states.
I had originally put this discussion on my original DI blog, but it got into some areas related to the Argument from Reason, and I noticed in reading the comments that Exapologist thought that the discussion should go over here. Exapologist claims, in the combox, that a Lakatosian philosophy of science permits a naturalist to accept the reliability of our rational faculties even if the probability that our faculties are reliable on naturalism is low or inscrutable.
Not if eliminativism is true.
This is a nice anti-materialist paper.
Darek Barefoot, in response to some criticisms of my book by Richard Carrier, has developed a version of the argument from mental causation based on two corollaries of naturalism and two corollaries of reason. The corollaries of naturalism must be true if naturalism is true, the two corollaries of reason must be true if there is to be the sort of rational inference we find in the sciences.
B. The Argument from Mental Causation
3. Mystery and Materialism
I suppose one can if all it means is not having any supernatural beings in the language game one plays. But, for example, my late teacher Peter Winch argued, in the essay "Understanding a Primitive Society" that saying, "Of course, science is true and Azande witchcraft isn't true," is an unacceptable form a realism that fails to recognize the differences in language games. I have a strong sense that these kinds of arguments leave people like Blue Devil Knight shaking their heads.
II. The Argument from Truth
III. Intentionality and the Supervenience Strategy
Another very popular view, which has even been accepted by some Christians, is a nonreductive materialist position. On this view, intentional states are not eliminated, they are not reducible to physical states, they are, however, supervenient upon physical states. Mental states are not identical to physical states, but given the state of the physical, there is only one way the mental can be.
Of course, earlier I indicated that supervenience of all non-physical states on physical states is part of what it takes for a world-view to be naturalistic. However, if mental states can be reductively analyzed in terms of physical states, then the supervenience is simply obvious. A difference in B requires a difference in A because, in the final analysis, Bs just are As. Again, if the B-states are eliminated from the ontology, then we don’t have to worry about a difference in B that is not guaranteed by a difference in A. However, for many, perhaps most philosophers who believe in a broadly materialist world-view, the reductionist and eliminativist positions are both implausible. For these philosophers, the supervenience relation has a job to do, it explains how it is possible for everything to be in the final analysis physical while at the same time maintaining the irreducibility and the autonomy of the mental realm.
Philosophers often distinguish between weak supervenience and strong supervenience. According to weak supervenience, B-properties weakly superven on A-properties if and only if things that are alike in their A-properties are always alike in their B-properties. What this establishes is a constant conjunction between A-properties and B-properties. It does not really show that there is anything about the A-properties that guarantees that the B-properties will always be the same. Nevertheless, we must remember what caused problems for reductionist accounts of mental states. The physical, I maintained, is incurably indeterminate with respect to propositonal states. Whatever story we tell at the physical level is compatible with a multiplicity of stories at the mental level. This kind of constant conjunction claim, however, explains little. There is, for example, a constant conjunction between increases in the homicide rate in New York City and increases in the rate of ice cream consumption. We could say that the homicide rate supervenes on the rate of ice cream consumption, but we will have explained nothing. We will not have shown that ice cream consumption is responsible for homicides, or vice versa, or whether these are just two unrelated effects of a common cause (an increase in the city’s temperatures).
I should add that a good deal of confusion in the discussion of neuroscientific discoveries and their relation to the philosophy of mind often occurs at this point. What neuroscience if often able to do is provide correlations between certain mental states and activity in certain parts of the brain. These are often taken as proof of materialism, but there is no good reason why dualists should not expect these correlations to exist. Further, it must be emphasized that correlation between mental states and physical states is not the same as identification of mental states with physical states.
Strong supervenience is the claim that B-properties strongly sueprvene on A-properties just in case things that are alike in A-properties must be alike in B-properties. On this view the supervenience isn’t just a brute conjunction, it is necessarily so. However, as an attempt to explain anything, this seems inadequate as well. Religious expalnations are often taken to task as being god-of-the-gaps explanations, this just seem to me to be a necessity-of-the-gaps explanation. “Why, if Jones’s beliefs could be 5 or 6 different ways given the physical, or perhaps, given the physical, Jones could be a zombie with no beliefs at all, does Jones have the beliefs he has?” If the answer is “Well, there’s this strong supervenience relationship that exists between the physical and the mental, so it’s necessary, it looks as if we are taken no closer to an explanation as to why Jones has the beliefs he has.
Why does the supervenience relation exist, if it does? It is pure dumb luck? Is it a Leibnizian pre-established harmony set up before the foundation of the world by God? (This might not be naturalistically acceptable). Presumably, it is not a physical relation, so why does it exist? Unless there is something about the physical that guarantees that the mental be only one way, the supervenience relation needs to be explained.
There is what James Stump calls a “classic reflexivity problem” for the suprevenience theorist. For supervenience theory, everything is either physical, or supervenes on the physical. So, the supervenience relation is going to have to be either physical or supervene on the physical, if supervenient physicalism is true. But does it. Stump summarizes an argument originally presented by Lynch and Glasgow to contend that the supervenience relation itself cannot be admitted into the supervenient materialism’s ontology, which I have altered slightly for the sake of congruence with previous discussion:
1. For physicalist, all fact must be materialistically acceptable. That is, th eyare facts about physical things, or about things which are ontologically distinct from the physical, but strongly supervene on the physical.
2. There must be some fact—the explanation—in virtue of which B-properties supervene on A-properties; call the S-facts. What kind of facts are S-facts? There are two options for materialistically respectable facts:
a) They themselves could suprevene on A-properties. But then there is an infinite regress problem, for now we have to explain this new supervenience relations, which in turn needs to be explained, and so on ad infinitum. So this is no good.
b) Or, the S-facts could not just be further A-properties, that is, facts about the physical entity. But then these facts do not bridge the explanatory gap betweent he B-facts and the A-facts.
Perhaps the supervenience theorist can simply accept the suerpvenience relation as an unexplained brute fact. If so, as Stump suggests, the apparent explanatory advantage of materialism over dualism, based on parsimony, is dissipated. In addition, there are more problems for this position when we come to the problem of mental causation.
Intentionality is more than just a puzzle for naturalism, it is a deep and profound problem distinct from, and as serious as, the “hard problem” of consciousness. Reduction of understood intentional states and propositional intentional states seems to be inherently impossible. Elimination of those states eliminates states essential to the operation of the natural sciences on which the credibility of naturalism is founded. Non-propositional successors to propositional attitudes cannot do the job assigned to them. Supervenient materialism commits the materialist to a materialistically unacceptable relation between the physical and the mental, and, as we shall see, presents serious problems in accounting for mental causation.Theories of the universe that make the mental basic fact of reality, such as theism, pantheism, or idealism, do not have the problem of unacceptably terminating explanatory chains were mental states. Thus the problem of intentionality provides one good reason for preferring a broadly mentalistic world-view to a broadly materialist world-view.
II. Why Propositional Attitudes Can’t Be Eliminated
Eliminative materialism is a frequently misunderstood position according to which there are no propositional attititudes. Its primary advocates have been Paul and Patricia Churchland. If would be a mistake to say, as some commentators have, that eliminative materialism is the view that there are no mental states. Nor, at least in some significant sense, can it be said that eliminative materialists deny the existence of intentionality. What I have described earlier as simple representation will certainly not be denied by eliminative materialists. What the eliminative materialist denies is the existence of propositional attitudes. These would include believing a proposition, doubting a proposition, fearing that a proposition is true, desiring that a proposition be true. So it is true that eliminative materialist claims that there are no beliefs.
To be fair, the eliminativist position is somewhat more complex than that. Eliminativism maintains that “belief” and “desire” are not mental states we are directly aware of, as “seeing red” or “feeling sick” would be, but are posits of a theory called “folk psychology.” In the history of science, “folk” theories have been succeeded by scientific theories. Sometimes the scientific theories absorb the “folk” theories in such a way that the “folk” theory is taken to be fundamentally right; just standing in need of some development by the scietific theory. In other cases, such as the move from Ptolemaic astronomy to Copernican, the succeeding theory showed the previous theory to be dead wrong, and the posits of the theory to be nonexistent. The Churchlands maintain that when neuroscience “looks under the hood” of the brain it will not find objects in it corresponding to “belief” and “desire.” Hence the right thing for science to do given this state of affairs is to deny the existence of beliefs and desires in much the way present-day science denies the existence of phogiston and ether.
The self-referential rebuttal is pretty obvious. “Come on Paul, you expect me to believe that, Paul?” Or, we could even present an argument that if eliminative materialism were true, no one could possibly know that it was true.
1. Knowledge is justified, true, belief (plus maybe a fourth condition).
2. If eliminativism is true, then no one believes that eliminative materialism is true, since there are no beliefs.
3. Hence, if eliminativism is true, no one knows that eliminativism is true (consequence of 1 and 2).
Here the Churchlands would reply that our standard definitions of knowledge are, of course, laden with folk-psychological assumptions, and when those are overthrown and a new theory based on neuroscience is developed, a fully adequate conception of knowledge will emerge.
Now the promise of successor concepts seems to many people to be, at best, a huge promissory note drawn on future science, and we are told very little about that the successors are actually going to look like. The successor concepts are going to have to do everything for us that we thought propositional attitudes did, except that these will be a more neurophysiologically accurate way of talking about human behavior and will not be propositional states.
Now propositional attitude psychology does a lot of work for us, in everyday life, and in science as well. Lynne Baker makes this point:
Suppose I dialed your phone number and said “Would you join us for dinner at our house on Saturday at 7:00?” You replied “yes.” On Saturday, I act in the way I should act if I believed that you were coming to dinner. But if neither of us had any beliefs, intentions, or other states attributed by “that”-clauses, it would me amazing if I actually prepared dinner for you and if you actually showed up.
Consider the whole practice of political polling which is very often able to predict the outcome of elections before they occur. Pollsters ask respondents who they intend to vote for, or who they believe is best equipped to deal with health care or terrorism.
What is most critical, however, is that if science is what every naturalist I know says that it is, a rational method for discovering the truth, then it we have to be able to know the precise content of the terms and concepts we are using. This is especially true in the area of mathematical reasoning, which is at the heart of physics. We have to be adding, not quadding. The definite integral has to be definite if it is to do the job assigned to it. There has to be some state of the person that recognizes the mathematical content of, say, Maxwell’s Equations (which to me is the propositional attitude of understanding that p), and if there has to be such a state, why should we not call this a propositional attitude.
It seems to me that there is an introspectively accessible state of knowing what one means when one says something. Now it may be that the full and complete content of what we know when we say it is not known to us. For example, I can say “I want a glass of water” without having any idea of the exact chemical composition of water. But there has to be an internally accessible content of the term “water” which will allow me to recognize whether I have been given a glass of water or a glass of coke. Of course there can be errors here, if it turns out that “What he thought was H2O was H2SO4.” But one might be tempted to think that sulfuric acid was water, but it would be unlikely to be tempted by the likelihood that Coca-Cola is water, because Coke doesn’t look at all like water, but sulfuric acid sort of does. All of which suggests to me that we do have internally understood concepts of what we mean by words, and if we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to get through life. I don’t see how you can accept the existence of internally understood concepts of what we mean by words without also accepting propositional attitudes. I also fail to see the possibility that further brain-mapping is going to change this situation. This seems to me to be an insuperable difficulty for eliminative materialism.
Labels: elimnative materialism
I've gone a little off my usual procedure by responding to some objections to my arguments from someone who thinks the argument is undermined by Anscombe's non-causal view of reasons is correct, on my original blog, Dangerous Idea blog. People who have been following from here might be interested in looking at that discussion over there.