Thursday, December 27, 2007

Armchair science

A. Armchair Science
Richard Carrier, in his critique of my book, accused me of doing armchair science maintaining that a materialist account of reasoning would invariably be inadequate. Science is continuously expanding our knowledge of the mind and its capabilities, and while present science may not yet have all the answers as to how the mind works, it is the height of presumption to assume an adequate physicalist analysis of the mind will not be forthcoming. To make matters worse, my argument contains no discussion of current work in cognitive science and neuroscience.
First of all, my argument never denies that brain science can discover a great deal about how the mind works. However, we need to ask what exactly we are expecting science to discover here. Scientific analyses of cognition give us numerous correlations between mental states and brain states. As Moreland puts it:
It will do no good for the naturalist to claim that once we know more about the brain, we will be able to explain how mental states emerge in the developing brain. At best, such a so-called explanation would merely state a correlation about the fact that such emergence regularly obtains and dualists are happy with such correlation. But a correlation that answers a question is not the same thing as saying how the emergence is exemplified.
I have been arguing that there is a logico-conceptual chasm between the physical and the intelligible world. On my view physical analyses, by their very nature, must perforce be compatible with a multiplicity of mental states, or with the absence of mental states entirely. Success in finding correlations will not solve this problem. Bridging the chasm isn’t going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. What neuroscience is going to have to come up with is an intertheoretic reduction between the mental and the physical. However, even many naturalists are convinced that such a reduction will not be forthcoming.
Consider the frequently maintained assertion that no “ought” statement can be derived from an “is” statement. Whatever you think of this argument, it seems an inadequate response to say that this claim is guilty of armchair science, that somehow if we mapped the brain and the rest of the physical world well enough we could figure out what moral norms are true and which are not. The kind of assertion made by normative ethics is something that we can see cannot possibly follow logically from scientific claims about the physical world, however comprehensive or sophisticated.

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