Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mental Representation on intentional content: a failure of entailment?

DI Post from Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ed Feser on the Argument from Intentionality

Originally dated Nov. 21 2006
The following is from Philosophy of Mind: an Introduction, by Edward Feser. Hat tip: Joe Markus from the Internet Infidels Discussion board.

When you draw your mother, you are creating a kind of representation of her. But notice that it is not the particular physical features of the drawing itself - the form of the lines you make, the chemicals in the ink you use, and so forth - which make it a representation of her.........Someone looking over your shoulder as you draw might later on produce an exact copy of the drawing you were making. Perhaps the person admires your craftsmanship and wants to see if he or she can do as well. But in doing so the person would not, strictly speaking, be drawing a respresentation of your mother - he or she may have no idea, nor any interest in, who it was that you were drawing - but rather a representation of your representation. And, in general, the very same image could count either as a drawing of an X, or as a drawing of a drawing of X - or indeed (supposing there's someone looking over the shoulder of the second artist and copying what he or she was drawing) as a drawing of a drawing of a drawing of an X, and so on ad infinitum.......Even if we count something as a drawing, and therefore as possessing some intentionality or other, exactly what it is a drawing of is still indeterminate from its physical properties alone. The same is true not just of drawings, but also of written and spoken words (for to say or write "cat" could be to represent cats, but it could also be to represent the word "cat") and indeed any material representation, including purported representations encoded in neural firing patterns in the brain. There seems in general to be nothing about the physical properties of a material representation that make it a material representation of an X as opposed to a material representation of a material representation of an X.......Sometimes, however, you are determinately thinking about a particular thing or person, such as your mother. Your thought about your mother is about your mother - it represents your mother, and doesn't represent a representation of your mother (representations, pictures, and the like might be the furthest thing from your mind). But then your thought, whatever it is, cannot be entirely material. Given that there's nothing about a material representation per se that could make it a representation of an X as opposed to a representation of a representation of an X, if your thought was entirely material then there would be no fact of the matter about whether your thought represented your mother as opposed to a representation of your mother. Your thought is determinate; purely material representations are not; so your thought is not purely material.

posted by Victor Reppert @ 3:49 PM


At 5:47 PM, Jim Lippard said…

"There seems in general to be nothing about the physical properties of a material representation that make it a material representation of an X as opposed to a material representation of a material representation of an X."

This seems patently false. What makes an image of my mother an image of my mother is the fact that it resembles my mother--the images on my retina, the images in my visual brain maps cause stimulation of the neurons associated with my mother due to that similarity; and those associated with my mother are there as a result of my visual experiences with my mother (and are linked to other neurons as a result of my memories of experiences and thoughts about my mother).

Likewise even for stipulated/dubbed representations--they only are recognized as representations because of the appropriate neural connections in my brain, which are there because of past experiences and memories.

Without the appropriate connections in somebody's neural systems (or equivalent memory stores causally connected up in the right way to the world), there's no representation.


  • At 3:54 PM , Blue Devil Knight said...

    While I agree that resemblance isn't necessary or sufficient for something to be a representation, the passage makes too much of this fact. More generally, just because we can't tell if something is a representation by studying its intrinsic properties (e.g., what it resembles), that doesn't imply that representations aren't natural. It seems to be a straw man.

    Natural represenatations clearly have to be more complicated than all that and minimally must take into account relations (either causal or informational or predictive) to the thing being represented. This was the point of Twin Earth.

    Neuroscientists studying how the brain represents the world don't just stare at the brain to figure out what it is representing, but always study how the neuronal activity relates to what is happening out in the world (e.g., showing different stimuli to the organism while recording the neuronal activity). If the neuronal activity is informative about the world, then it has met one of the conditions for being a representation of that feature of the world. I'd call such information-bearing states proto-representations, as you need to add more details to get the ability to misrepresent and to resolve different but coextensional contents.

    I think Lippard is right to focus on memories. Consider a simple example of a representational system studied by neuroscience: songbird learning. Early on, birds hear the songs in their mileau. Then, they do no singing for quite a few months, but then start to actually produce song that is almost identical to what they heard months ago. How is this ability to be explained? It seems natural to say that they have stored an internal representation of the original song, and that this representation guides the emergence of the correct song later in life.

    While this example is inadequate to provide a full-fledged theory of intentional contents (the song, arguably, isn't actually about anything), I think that the fuller story about intentional contents (i.e., things with truth values and referents) will have to include in its story something about the laying down of an original core of representational contents (proto-representations) that are later able to be activated and used to guide behavior even when the proximal stimulus is absent.

    Dretske tackles all this stuff head on in his Knowledge and the Flow of Information. He's brilliant.

  • At 4:04 PM , Blue Devil Knight said...

    PS. I said the SONG doesn't represent anything, but there are internal states that represent the original song. Similarly, human children, during some learning period (perhaps even evolution), acquire a rich bed of representations, or information-carrying structures, of the world. These can then, independently of the stimulus, be used to guide behavior wrt to the world, and even be activated incorrectly (e.g., activate the 'mom' structure when you see someone that looks like your mom).

    i.e., song:bird :: mom:human

    PPS. Paul Churchland's new book will include a fairly extended critique of 'resemblance' based theories of representation. I have no idea when it is due out.

VR: This is a fascinating exchange beginning with Feser's initial remarks, Jim Lippard's reply, and Blue Devil Knight's further response. Here's my enduring problem. Suppose I maintain that you can't get an ought from an is. I mention some simple naturalistic thing that, you can see, clearly cannot entail a moral obligation. OK, you reply, it's more complicated than that. If you add in a whole lot of neurophysiology, and specify all the social relations involved--if you could see all of that, you would be able to see what the moral obligations are. But, it seems to me that there is always going to be a logical gap.

The same thing is here. No matter how much you specify the neurophysiology, the causal context, etc. etc. etc., the physical information just seems insufficient to fix reference, because it is information of the wrong kind. There's no logical entailment from"such and such physical information is the case" to "X is about Y," and to be quite honest, it looks as if there cannot be such an entailment.

This connects to the Vallicella exchange I referred to earlier.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Vallicella on the indeterminacy of the physical

This thread of discussions concerns something that I am going to be getting into, the indeterminacy of the physical and its relation to intentionality.


Gilson's defense the AFR

Doctor Logic on modeling

Doctor Logic apparently wants to explain intentionality and the ability to understand it, in terms of modeling.

I think we need to get a whole lot clearer on what we mean by modeling. It seems a mistake to explain meaning in terms of modeling, since as I understand modeling, it somehow has to have meaning already.

There are two things I look for when I see a naturalistic account of any of the phenomena required for reason. First, I look to see whether the description is really physicalistically acceptable. Is it really skyhook-free, or does it slip the skyhook in through the back door, use the word "brain" to make it sound naturalistic, and call it good. Carrier's account of intentionality reeks of this kind of procedure, as does Dennett's attempt to explain intentionality in terms of the intentional stance.

The other is to see whether the rational phenomena are recognizable when we get through. Does it really look like consciousness, or reason, or normativity has really been explained, or has it simply been explained away and replaced with a lot of scientific talk. Sometimes we are honestly told that we are being presented with an error theory: that what we thought was going on when we reason really isn't. I take it that is what it means to be an eliminativist about some dimension of folk psychology.

I wondering if Doctor Logic has Dennett's account in mind here, from Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A further response to Guminski on naturalism: Must naturalists accept causal closure?

So so long as the entities in question are embodied, we are still within the real of naturalism?
What that means is so long as there is a material base of some sort, objects can do all sorts of things that contradict the laws which ordinarily govern those same entities, and we are still good naturalists?
I should add that certainly the gods of Greece were no doubt embodied beings (they, for example, could literally mate with humans). The Mormon god is a physical being. Does naturalism exclude LDS theology? Some more orthodox theists accept the idea of an embodied God. Are they naturalists?
To my mind physicalness requires being governed by physical laws. Can you still call something an electron if it starts not acting like an electron.
We also don't have a definition of embodiedness. What is it for something to be embodied? Does it mean "having a location in space and time" or does it mean something else.
But really, this is a question for naturalists. Can you be a naturalist without accepting a causal closure principle of some kind? There is a sense in which I shouldn't be telling a naturalist that he is not a naturalist. I can say what I mean by naturalist and then argue against the doctrine so defined.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Thomas Nagel's description of reason

Thomas Nagel described reason as follows:
Reason, if there is such a thing, canserve as a court of appeal not only against the received opinions and habits of our community, but also against the peculiarities of our personal perspective. It is something each individual can find within himself, but at the same time has universal authority. Reason provides, mysteriously, a way of distinacing oneself from common opinion and received practices that is not a mere elevation of individuality—not a determination to express one’s idiosyncratic self rather than go along with everyone else. Whoever appeals to reason purports to discover a source of authority within himself that is not merely personal, societyal, but universal, and that should persuade others who are willing to listen to it.

Nagel also maintains that both affirming and denying the existence of reason raises philosophical problems.


The Doglike mind

The doglike mind

I have tried to stress throughout the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only. The strength of the critic lies in the words "merely" or "nothing but. He sees all the facts but not the meaning. Quite truly, therefore, he claims to have seen all the facts. there is nothing else there, except the meaning. He is therefore, as regards the matter at hand, in the position of an animal. You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning. And in a period in when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliberately go about to inspect in analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience. The extreme limits of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about the study of the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism. The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral bio-chemistry.

From "Transposition" in The Weight of Glory, pp. 71-72.

This seems like a good passage to begin exploring the idea of intentionality. What does it take to understand pointing. Do dogs have intentional states? If they do, it seems they don't recognize then as such.

The link here tracks back to an original DI post I did in 2006.

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The Secular Outpost: A Metaphysical Naturalist Manifesto

The Secular Outpost: A Metaphysical Naturalist Manifesto

This is Arnold Guminski's defense of commonsense naturalism. I'd like to pose a couple of questions. First, what is Guminski's criterion for supernatural as opposed to natural? Is spatiotemporal location all that is needed or do we need something more.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

God of the Gaps and the Argument from Reason

W wrote: In your argument from reason, for example, you demand a step by step, no gaps, defense of reason in a physicalist universe. (And Doctor Logic has said similar things).

VR: No, I don't require such a thing. I maintain that there is a conceptual disparity between the mental and the physical. In fact the physical is typically defined in terms of the absence of the mental. I see attempts to accommodate the mental to the physical that either explain the mental away or "sneak in" the mental to into a presumably physical explanation, and then try to tell me that it's a good physical explanation because it's being attributed to the "brain."

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A Clarifying Passage from Feser on Property Dualism

Edward Feser, Philosophy of Mind, a Beginner’s Guide (One World, 2006) p. 113.
Property dualism would thus appear to lead to absurdity as long as it concedes to materialism the reducibility of the propositional attitudes. If it instead takes the attitudes to be, like qualia, irreducible to physical states of the brain, this absurdity can be avoided: for in that case, your beliefs and judgments are as non-physical as your qualia are, and there is thus no barrier (at the least of the usual mental-to-physical epiphenomenalist sort) to your qualia being the causes of your beliefs about them. But should it take this route, there seems to be much less motivation for adopting property dualism rather than full-blown Cartesian substance dualism: it was precisely the concession of the materiality of propositional attitudes that seemed to allow the property dualist to make headway on the interaction problem, an advantage the is lost if the concession is revoked; and while taking at least beliefs, desires, and the like to be purely material undermines the plausibility of the existence of a distinct, non-physical mental substance, such plausibility would seem to be restored if all mental properties, beliefs and desires, as much as qualia, are non-physical. Moreover, property dualism raises a puzzle of its own, namely that of explaining exactly how non-physical properties an inhere in a physical substance.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Clarifications for Doctor Logic

DL: First, you equivocate between function and purpose when you relate arguments regarding purpose to irreducible complexity. I'll add that I think that design is inferred by utility, which might be considered purpose. However, ID pseudoscience eschews consideration of utility because that would require the introduction of theology. IC is not about utility to the designer, but about function.

VR: There’s supposed to be no purpose at the basic level, but Darwinist explanations claim that there is reducible teleology in virtue of the existence of function. Therefore, a design argument needs to argue based on irreducible complexity. Are the kinds of purpose that are out there in the world reducible to function generated by random variation and natural selection? That’s what the debate is about where design arguments are concerned. All I was doing was explaining how such arguments go. As I pointed out, (and said commentators take note) I said I wasn’t defending those arguments, only explaining how those arguments go.

DL: Second, you equivocate between the different meanings of subjectivity. Subjectivity has at least 3 meanings. It can mean personal belief, personal taste, or something inherently supernatural. Materialism happily admits the first two, but not the third. Reductionism does not imply that I don't have tastes that are subjective in the first two senses of the term. Only greedy reductionism would say that, and I think greedy reductionism is rather silly.

VR: Of course, where the existence of the mental states that give rise to tastes can be accounted for naturalistically is what is at issue between naturalists and their opponents. However, what I mean by subjective is that states exist from the point of view of one person but not from the point of view of someone else. Let’s take the statement ‘I am Victor Reppert.” It is a truth that I know, but if we take the indexical content out of it, it turns into “Victor Reppert is Victor Reppert,” a miserable tautology. Hence, there seem to be truths for me that are not truths for other persons, in virtue of my being who I am.

That kind of subjectivity is going to be a problem for a world-view that says that physical facts entail all the other facts.

Another argument against materialism that appeals to subjectivity would be arguments of the “What Mary Didn’t know” variety. Again, this is not a kind of argument I am defending, but what I am doing is producing a typology of arguments.

DL: Third, it is not true that morality is absent at the physical level. It is more accurate to say that morality is a matter of taste, just like there is gastronomic taste. Yet, should we determine that gastronomic taste is subjective; we would not declare that gastronomic taste was an illusion or did not really exist. Of course it exists, but it is a feature of large assemblies of matter, not of individual particles. (IOW, you equivocate between morality and absolute morality.)

VR: One, this assumes that propositional states can be states of conglomerations of matter. I have trouble with this idea, because I think you can add up and conglomerate physical states until the cows come home, and you will never reach the conclusion that some particular propositional attitude obtains. This is not an argument made up by rabid Christian apologists; this is the essential point of Quine’s indeterminacy of translation argument and Davidson’s argument against psychophysical laws.

I am not talking about absolute morality; I am talking about objective morality. I think these need to be distinguished. I think you agree with me that if materialism is true, then there are no objective moral truths. Again, I am not endorsing these arguments; I am putting these arguments into a typology. Even subjective morality doesn’t exist at the basic level; it has to be a “system feature.”

DL: As for the argument about rational faculties, that is still quite susceptible to what you refer to as inadequacy objections. The fact is that you cannot have a rational argument for the axioms of rationality because you would need to invoke those axioms in the process. So there is no guarantee that rationality is valid in a mentalistic world.
VR: Again, I am sketching the arguments at this point. Details later. However, I don’t claim that theists have a proof of the axioms of logic while atheists don’t. That would be a skeptical threat argument, a type of argument that I have always criticized. There are inadequacy objections to arguments from reason, and I am planning to answer them.

VR: There cannot be a scientific proof that scientists do not exist; that would undermine the scientific enterprise which constitutes the very foundation of materialism.

And what I am arguing there is that it is going to be difficult to give an Error response to arguments from reason. You agree with that.

Yet, materialism does not imply that rationality does not or cannot exist. If it did, then you would have a case.As it stands, you at best have the case that you don't yet know how materialism can explain some facet of rationality. And I really think you don't have that much because there are quite conceivable explanations for physical, rational machines.

VR: I think it’s more serious than that. The building blocks of the universe exclude rational characteristics, and adding these blocks up into conglomerations is not going to entail the existence of propositional states. And if you get propositional states, you still don’t have mental causation in virtue of logical connections.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Thinking Christian exchange on the argument from reason

They're going at it on the argument from reason over there, too.


The general problem of materialism

IV. The General Problem of Materialism
The argument from reason is best understood as an instance of what I call the general problem with materialism. The difficulty here is that the materialist holds, at the rock-bottom level, the universe is an empty universe. As Lewis observes:
The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life, and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance gradually empties this rich and genial universe, first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account: classified as out sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed “souls” or ‘selves” or “minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods, that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a “ghost,” an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our habit of personifying men; a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Subject had lost. There is no “consciousness” to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is “not the sort of noun that can be used that way.”
When Lewis says the universe is empty, we mean that it is empty of many of the things that are part of our normal existence. As I indicated, at the rock-bottom level, reality is free of normativity, free of subjectivity, free of meaning and free of purpose. All of these features of what makes life interesting for us are, on a materialist view, late products of the struggle for survival.
On the materialist view purpose must reduce to Darwinian function. The purposeless motion of matter through space produced beings whose faculties perform functions that enhance their capacity to survive and pass on their genes. In the final analysis “purpose” exists in the world not because there is, in the final analysis, any intended purpose for anything, but rather because things serve Darwinian functions. The claim that this type of analysis fails to adequately capture the kinds of purposiveness that exist provides the basis for arguments from design based on, for example, irreducibile complexity.
Just as clearly, according to materialist world-views, reality is free of subjectivity. The facts about the physical world are objective facts that are not relative to anyone’s subjectivity. And, once against, arguments from consciousness are advanced to try to show that a physicalist perspective on the world is going to leave out subjective inner states. Hence we have arguments which point out that when all the physical facts with respect to pain are given, we don’t seem to have the grounding for, say, the state of what it is like to be in pain. We can imagine a possible world in which all the physical states obtain but whatever it is like to be in pain is missing. Arguments from consciousness arise from these considerations.
And, equally, there is the fact that normativity is absent at the physical level. There is the notorious difficulty of getting an “ought” from an “is.” Let’s begin with all the naturalistic facts about, let us say, the homicides of Ted Bundy. We can include the physical transformations that took place at that time, the chemical changes, the biology of the death process in each of these murders, the psychological state of the killer and his victims, the sociology how membership in this or that social group might make one more likely to be a serial killer of a serial killer victim, etc. From all of this, can we conclude that these homicides were morally reprehensible acts? We might know that most people believe them to be morally reprehensible acts, but whether they are reprehensible acts or not does not follow from any of this information. So, if all facts supervene on the physical facts, how can it be true that these actions were really morally wrong?
But there are other types of norms. In addition to the norms of morality, there are the norms of rationality. Some patterns of reasoning are correct and others are not correct.
We ought to draw the conclusion if we accept the premises of a valid argument, and it is not the case that we ought to draw the conclusion of an argument if the argument is invalid. Some people have raised the question of how these norms can exist if naturalism is true. As William Lycan observed,

It’s interesting that this parallel [between ethics and epistemology] goes generally unremarked. Moral subjectivism, relativism, emotivism, etc. are rife among both philosophers and ordinary people, yet very few of these same people would think even for a moment of denying the objectivity of epistemic value; that is, of attacking the reality of the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable belief. I wonder why that is?
Hence there are anti-materialist arguments that ask how it is possible for rational norms to exist.
Further, on the face of things at least, physical states are not about other physical states. Physics suggests that particles and states have relations to one another, but it doesn’t seem to be part of physics to say that one state is about another state. Hence arguments from intentionality are advanced to challenge materialistic world-views. What is more, there is certainly no propositional content at the physical level. It does seem to be possible to entertain a proposition. Here I am not even talking about belief (I think that p is true) or desire (I want p to be true) but just the process of entertaining the proposition and knowing what it means. It seems possible for propositions to be true or false, and for certain propositions to follow from others.
V. Error theories and the argument from reason
At this point I am not endorsing these arguments, (commentators please pay attention) but am only saying that arguments of this sort are possible. One way for the skeptic to respond to those arguments is with an error theory. We think there are objective moral norms, but we are mistaken: moral norms are subjective. We think conscious, subjective states really exist, but strictly speaking there aren’t. As Susan Blackmore puts it:

“each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is someone inside who is in charge."’

By referring to the self as illusory, she is saying that what we ordinarily think of as consciousness doesn’t exist. As we think of consciousness, we think of some center in which all mental states inhere. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, consciousness has these characteristics: a first-person character, a qualitative character, a phenomenal structure, subjectivity, a self-perspectival organization, unity, intentionality, and dynamic flow. Error theories of consciousness, such as Blackmore’s, instead of showing how these aspects of consciousness can exist in a materialist world, instead suggest that we are mistaken in thinking that these elements what we thought of as consciousness really exist.
Defenders of materialism usually use three general types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I have presented above. They use Error replies if they think the item that the anti-materialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. And they also use Inadequacy objections to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it doesn’t get us any better explanations if we accept some mentalistic world-view like theism.

We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with moral realism, or they can use arguments like the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we can’t explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.
However it is important to notice something about materialist philosophies. They not only believe that the world is material, they also perforce believe that the truth about that material world can be discovered, and is being discovered, by people in the sciences, and that furthermore, that there are philosophical arguments that ought to persuade people to eschew mentalistic world-views in favor of materialistic ones. They do think that we can better discover the nature of the world by observation and experimentation than by reading tea leaves. Arguments from reason are arguments that appeal to necessary conditions of rational thought and inquiry. Thus they have what on the face of things is an advantage over other arguments, in that they have a built-in defense against error-theory responses. If there’s no truth, they can’t say that materialism is true. If there are no beliefs, then they cannot say we ought to believe that materialism is true. If there is no mental causation, then they cannot say that our beliefs ought to be based on supporting evidence. If there are no logical laws, then we cannot say that the argument from evil is a good argument. If our rational faculties as a whole are unreliable, then we cannot argue that religious beliefs are formed by irrational belief-producing mechanisms. Hence arguments from reason have what I call a transcendental impact—that is, appeal to things that, if denied, undermine the most fundamental convictions of philosophical materialists. There cannot be a scientific proof that scientists do not exist; that would undermine the scientific enterprise which constitutes the very foundation of materialism.


The argument from reason as a theistic argument

III. The Argument from Reason and Natural Theology
We might ask the following question: In what sense is the argument from reason a piece of natural theology. The job of natural theology is supposed to be to provide epistemic support for theism. However, the argument from reason, at best, argues that the ultimate causes of the universe are mental and not physical. This is, of course, consistent with various world-views that other than traditional theism, such as pantheism or idealism.
It's a good idea to look at what happened in the case of the argument from reasons’s best-known defender, C. S. Lewis, to see how the argument contributed to his coming to belief in God. Lewis had been what was then called a "realist", accepting the world of sense experiece and science as rock-bottom reality. Largely through conversations with Owen Barfield, he became convinced that this world-view was inconsistent with the claims we make on behalf of our own reasoning processes. In response to this, however, Lewis became not a theist but an absolute idealist. It was only later that Lewis rejected absolute idealism in favor of theism, and only after that that he became a Christian. He describes his discussions with Barfield as follows:
(He) convinced me that the positions we had hitherto held left no room for any satisfactory theory of knowledge. We had been, in the technical sense of the term, “realists”; that is, we accepted as rock-bottom reality the universe revealed to the senses. But at the same time, we continued to make for certain phenomena claims that went with a theistic or idealistic view. We maintained that abstract thought (if obedient to logical rules) gave indisputable truth, that our moral judgment was “valid” and our aesthetic experience was not just pleasing but “valuable.” The view was, I think, common at the time; it runs though Bridges’ Testament of Beauty and Lord Russell’s “Worship of a Free Man.” Barfield convinced me that it was inconsistent. If thought were merely a subjective event, these claims for it would have to be abandoned. If we kept (as rock-bottom reality) the universe of the sense, aided by instruments co-ordinated to form “science” then one would have to go further and accept a Behaviorist view of logic, ethics and aesthetics. But such a view was, and is, unbelievable to me. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1955), 208.

Lewis did not, however, embrace theism at this point. Instead, he opted for Absolute Idealism, a philosophy prevalent in Oxford in the 1920s, although it is not widely held today. He wrote of this again in Surprised by Joy:

It is astonishing (at this time of day) that I could regard this position as something quite distinct from Theism. I suspect there was some willful blindness. But there were in those days all sorts of blankets, insulators, and insurances which enabled one to get all the conveniences of Theism, without believing in God. The English Hegelians, writers like T. H. Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet (then mighty names), dealt in precisely such wares. The Absolute Mind—better still, the Absolute—was impersonal, or it knew itself (but not us?) and it was so absolute that it wasn’t really much more like a mind than anyone else….We could talk religiously about the Absolute; but there was no danger of Its doing anything about us…There was nothing to fear, better still, nothing to obey.

Nevertheless, further considerations drove Lewis out of idealism into theism. He wrote:

A tutor must make things clear. Now the Absolute cannot be made clear. Do you mean Nobody-knows-what, or do you mean a superhuman mind and therefore (we may as well admit) a Person? After all, did Hegel and Bradley and all the rest of them ever do more than add mystifications to the simple, workable, theistic idealism of Berkeley? I thought not. And didn't Berkeley's "God" do all the same work as the Absolute, with the added advantage that we had at least some notion of what we meant by Him? I thought He did. So I was driven back into something like Berkeleyanism; but Berkeleyanism with a few top dressings of my own. I distinguished this philosophical "God" very sharply (or so I said) from "the God of popular religion." There was, I explained, no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist projects his characters, and I could no more "meet" Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. I didn't call Him "God" either; I called Him "Spirit." One fights for one's remaining comforts.

So did the argument from reason that Lewis accepted make theism more likely in his mind? It certainly did. In his mind it gave him a reason to reject his previously-held naturalism. Now you might think of Absolute Idealism an atheistic world-view, but is does deny the existence of the theistic God as traditionally understood. However the playing field was now considerably narrowed.

Consider the following argument:
1. Either the fundamental causes of the universes are more like a mind than anything else, or they are not.
2. If they are not, then we cannot make sense of the existence of reason.
3. All things being equal, world-views that cannot make sense of the existence of reason are to be rejected in favor of world-views that can make sense of the existence of reason.
4. Therefore, we have a good reason to reject all worldviews reject the claim that the fundamental causes of the universe are more like a mind than anything else.

Now if you want to hold out the idea that a idealist world-view is nevertheless atheistic, then my argument merely serves to eliminate one of the atheistic options. But suppose someone originally thinks that the likelihoods are as follows:
Naturalism 50% likely to be true.
Idealism 25% likely to be true.
Theism 25% likely to be true.

And suppose that someone accepts a version of the argument from reason, and as a result naturalism drops 30 percentage points. Then those points have to be divided amongst theism and idealism. Therefore the epistemic status of theism is enhanced by the argument from reason, if the argument is successful in defeating naturalism.

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Against property dualism

What if you accept irreducibility arguments that defend the claim that mental states are ineliminable and irreducible to physical states. Many philosophers buy these arguments without denying an overall philosophical naturalism. What they accept, instead, is dualism of properties but a monism of substances. At least when I was in graduate school, it seemed to me as if the mainstream position amongst secular philosophers was a non-reductive materialism based on the supervenience of mental states on physical states. There were numerous opposing views about what kind of supervenience relationship had to obtain between mental and physical states.
William Hasker, in his response to me in Philosophia Christi, entitled “What about a Sensible Naturalism,” is talking about just this kind of naturalistic position. He describes a sensible naturalism as “a naturalism that makes a serious effort to accommodate, or at least makes sense of, our ordinary convictions about the mind and its operations—the things we think we all “know” about the mind, when we are not doing philosophy.”
The difficulty here is that the mental and the physical are defined in such a way as to exclude one another. So reductionist accounts of the mental have a tendency to be either fully or partly eliminativist. We have to back off from what we thought were out common-sense conceptions of what the mental is in order to accept a reduction to the physical. To accept reductionist accounts of the mental, for Hasker, is not to be a sensible naturalist.
There is, it seems to me, a paradoxical difficulty for naturalistic philosophies of mind. If you can reduce the mental to the physical, then the issue of mental causation, I think, becomes easier for the naturalist. If the naturalist is inclined in a reductionist/eliminativist direction, then the argument from propositional content becomes the main focus. However, many naturalist philosophers do not think reductionism is plausible. But if the naturalist buys a nonreductive materialism, which means that we accept a dualism of properties, then the argument from mental causation becomes the key argument.

Edward Feser presents the case against the non-reductivist view on mental causation as follows:
…Property dualism seems if anything to have a worse problem with epiphenomenalism than does Cartesian dualism. Recall that the Cartesian dualist who opts for epiphenomenalism seems to be committed to the absurd consequence that we cannot so much as talk about out mental states, because if epiphenomenalism is true, those mental states have no effect at all on our bodies, including our larynxes, tongues and lips. But as Daniel Dennett has pointed out, the property dualist seems committed to something even more absurd: the conclusion that we cannot even think about our mental states, or at least about our qualia! For if your beliefs—including your belief that you have qualia—are physical states of your brain, and qualia can have no effects on anything physical, then whether you have qualia has nothing to do with whether you believe that you have them. The experience of pain you have in your back has absolutely no connection to your belief that you have an experience of pain in your back; for, being incapable of having any causal influence on the physical world, it cannot be what caused you to have beliefs about it.

I had originally presented this on DI, so I am linking back to that, since it is already getting comments over there.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Armchair science and the naturalistic fallacy

Suppose someone were persuaded by the philosophical argument that you can’t get an ought from an is. It seems to me that one could respond to this argument by saying that to say that is really armchair science. “Look, we are learning all these things about the brain. We are learning what kinds of behaviors helped our ancestors to survive in the past. We have learned this, that, and the other from chimp studies and other aspects of primate science. How can you say that you can’t get an ought from an is?”
It seem to me to be obvious that that is an inadequate reply, a gross missing of the point. There seems to be a confusion of categories here. So why when I argue that there is a problem getting a cognitive ought from a physical is, I am accused of armchair science?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mentalistic and Materialistic world-views

I. World-Views
“In the beginning was the word.” Although this statement, in its context, is laden with Christological implications, we can also use this statement to illustrate a central feature of various world-views, including Christian theism. The central idea is that fundamental to reality is that which is intelligible and rational. The metaphysical systems of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, Hindu pantheism and Confucian philosophy as well, share this essential conception, as do the metaphysics of Spinoza and Absolute Idealism. The intelligible is fundamental to reality, the unintelligible or non-rational is, perhaps, a by-product of the created order, or perhaps our own ignorance and lack of understanding causes an illusion. These world-views might be described as mentalistic world-views. The mental is fundamental to reality, the non-mental is perhaps a creation, or perhaps a product of ignorance. Reality in mentalistic world-views has a top-down character to it. The higher, mental levels create the lower levels, or the lower levels emanate from the higher levels, or perhaps the lower levels are an illusion generated by the higher levels.
As science has progressed for the last few centuries, a move away from this kind of mentalistic world-view has emerged. According to naturalistic or materialistic world-views, it would be appropriate to say that in the beginning the word was not. Reason and intelligence are the byproduct of centuries of evolution. As the higher primates evolved, they developed large brains which provided them with true knowledge of the world around us, and this was an effective survival tool for them.
A good deal of debate within Western philosophy between world-views has taken place between mentalistic and materialistic world-views. Christian theism has been the most popular, though by no means the only mentalistic world-view. Amongst broadly materialistic world-views, the options are considerable as well. Some proponents of materialistic views are eliminativist with respect to certain features of the mental lives that we common-sensically suppose ourselves to have. Other people in the materialistic camp maintain that retention of many aspects of our mental lives can be done through a reductive analysis of mind to the material. Others believe that a materialistic world-view can be maintained by claiming that although the mind cannot be reduced to the material, it supervenes on the physical level.
Nevertheless I am convinced that a materialist view of the world must possess three essential features. First, for a world-view to be materialistic, there must be a mechanistic base level. Now by mechanistic I don’t mean necessarily deterministic. There can, on my view, be brute chance at the basic level of reality. However, the level of what I will call “basic physics” is free of purpose, free of meaning on intentionality, free of normativity, and free of subjectivity. If one is operating within a materialistic framework, then one cannot attribute purpose to what happens and the basic level. Purpose-talk may be appropriate for macro-systems, but it is a purpose that is ultimately the product of a purposeless basic physics. Second, what something means cannot be an element of reality as it appears at the most basic level. Third, there is nothing normative about basic physics. It can never be said that some particle of matter is doing what it is doing because it ought to be doing that. And finally, basic physics is lacking in subjectivity. The basic elements of the universe have no “points of view,” and no subjective experience. Consciousness, if it exists, must be a “macro” feature of basic elements massed together.
Second, the level of basic physics must be causally closed. Even if it is deterministic, there cannot be something that is not physical that plays a role in producing a physical event. If you knew everything about the physical level (the laws and the facts) before an event occurred, you could add nothing to your ability to predict where the particles will be in the future by knowing anything about anything outside of basic physics.

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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A second DI post on truncated thought

I must admit that Lewis's "it is obvious" response made the issue seem like more of a slam dunk than I would think of it as being. This chapter was written before he encountered Anscombe, when he had underestimated the complexity of the argument, but Lewis just revised one chapter of the book in response to Anscombe, not all of it.

Of course thought is solidly based in the body, but can a complete description of the state of one's body thereby account for what one's thought is about? If we had all the physical facts, would any mental facts follow logically? It isn't just religious people who say that physicalists have problems accounting for the mind. For example's here's naturalist Ned Block:

We gain some perspective on the explanatory gap if we contrast the issue of the physical/functional basis of consciousness with the issue of the physical/functional basis of thought. In the case of thought, we do have some theoretical proposals about what thought is, or at least what human thought is, in scientific terms. Cognitive scientists have had some success in explaining some features of our thought processes in terms of the notions of representation and computation. There are many disagreements among cognitive scientists: especially notable is the disagreement between connectionists and classical "language of thought" theorists. However, the fact is that in the case of thought, we actually have more than one substantive research program and their proponents are busy fighting it out, comparing which research program handles which phenomena best. But in the case of consciousness, we have nothing--zilch--worthy of being called a research program, nor are there any substantive proposals about how to go about starting one. Researchers are stumped. There have been many tantalizing discoveries recently about neuropsychological syndromes in which consciousness seems to be in some way missing or defective, but no one has yet come up with a theoretical perspective that uses these data to narrow the explanatory gap, even a little bit.

Ned Block, ‘Consciousness’, in A Companion to Philosophy of Mind, (ed.) Samuel Guttenplan, (Blackwell, 1994), p. 211.

Or try that infamous Christian apologist Richard Dawkins

Neither Steven Pinker nor I can explain human subjective consciousness... In How the Mind Works Steven elegantly sets out the problem of subjective consciousness, and asks where it comes from and what’s the explanation. Then he’s honest enough to say, ‘Beats the heck out of me.’ That is an honest thing to say, and I echo it. We don’t know. We don’t understand it.

Richard Dawkins, quoted by Varghese, The Wonder of the World, p. 56.

Or how about that raving religious lunatic Susan Blackmore:

How can objective things like brain cells produce subjective experiences like the feeling that ‘I’ am striding through the grass? This gap is what David Chalmers calls ‘the hard problem.’ ...It is a modern version of the ancient mind/body problem – but it seems to get worse, not better, the more we learn about the brain... The objective world out there, and the subjective experiences in here, seem to be totally different kinds of things. Asking how one produces the other seems to be nonsense. The intractability of this problem suggests to me that we are making a fundamental mistake in the way we think about consciousness – perhaps right at the very beginning.

Susan Blackmore, ‘What is consciousness?’, Big Questions in Science, in Harriet Swain (ed.), Big Questions in Science, (Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 29-40.

Now I am not saying these people are anywhere near arguing that the mind is supernatural. Far from it. But what I am suggesting is that the "facts" do not prove the the mind is physical, and that there should be no mystery about it, and that of course we all know that it is true. Rather, the conviction that the mind must be physical is one that is "read in" to the scientific data based on prior convictions about what must be true about nature.

Of course, Lewis and others such as myself have detailed arguments for why the mental states are not natural phenomena. To say that the facts prove that it is a natural phenomena is to provide a proof surrogate, not a proof.

What I was trying to do was show how Lewis perceived scientific thought: the right tool for many types of inquiry but nevertheless a "truncated" way to come up with a complete philosophy. Russell thought otherwise. He said "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." (I wonder what scientific discovery he based that off of? Unless he wasn't pretending to know it). Link

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