Friday, December 28, 2007

Some Lecture notes of Davidson's Mental Events


Thursday, December 27, 2007

The inadequacy objection

A. The Inadequacy Objection
This objection is also extremely popular. It claims that appealing to God or any or any other supernatural entity provides only a pseudo-explanation for the phenomena in question. So, if something cannot be explained naturalistically, it is better to simply say we do not have an explanation than to appeal to something beyond our outside of nature.
So for example, if we were to explain the existence of reason in terms of the theistic God, that would not be to explain the existence of reason at all. The only way reason could be genuinely explained would be if reason could be explained interms of something that is without reason, something like, say, a blind evolutionary process. As Keith Parsons put it:
Creationist “explanations” do not explain. When we appeal to the inscrutable acts and incomprehensible powers of an occult being to account for mysterious phenomena, we only deepen the mystery. Like Nagel…I regard such “explanation’ as mere markers for our ignorance, placeholders for expalantion we hope someday to get.
However, what we are calling “supernatural” explanations are primarily intentional, teleological, or person explanations that cannot in principle be reduced to impersonal mechanistic explanations. And it is just false to say that in the absence of a further mechanistic explanation, all we have is a “placeholder.” Consider my cheering and pumping my fist when Steve Nash hits Amare Stoudemire with a alley-oop pass that results in a slam dunk for Amare against the San Antonio Spurs. The explanation that makes sense of that action on my part is that I am a fan of the Phoenix Suns who especially likes to see them beat the San Antonio Spurs. Having given that explanation, which is intentional in nature, I have not indicated whether or not there is some further explanation available in terms of neurophysiology. No doubt neurophysiology is part of the account (no dualist wants to deny that), but whatever may be involved in that further account, or even if there is no further account and the intentional explanation is all we’re ever going to have, nevertheless we do have an explanation and not just a placeholder. Indeed, a detailed analysis of my brain states would be far less explanatory in terms of what anyone wants to know about my state of mind after seeing that slam dunk than the simple intentional explanation that I gave above.
If, as I believe, God is a rational, personal being, surey that makes it more likely that rational creatures shold arise in a world God creates, because persons by nature are interested in communicating with other persons. So the prohbability that rational beings should emerge looks to me pretty good; the emergence of rational beings in a naturalistic universe seems very unlikely if not impossible.
While we do not know any strict laws concerning God’s conduct, we certainly think we know various things regarded God’s character which make some divine acts more likely than others. If God were to resurrect someone from the dead who lived in the 21st Century, it would more likely be Mother Teresa than Adolf Hitler.
The inadequacy objection gratuitously assumes that matter is what is clearly understandable, and that “mind” is something mysterious, the very existence of which has to be explained in terms of unmysterious matter. This seems just false. According to Galen Strawson:
This is the assumption that we have a pretty good understanding of the nature of matter—of matter and space—of the phsyical in general. It is only relative to this assumption that the existence of consciousness in the material world seems mystifying. For what exactly is puzzling about consciousness, once we put the assumption aside? Suppose you have an experience of redness, or pain, and consider it to be just as such. There doesn’t seem to be any room for amything that could be called a failure to understand what it is.
On the toher hand, matter is described by modern physics in the most mystifying terms imaginable. The philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen writes: “Do concepts of the soul…baffle you? They pale beside the unimaginable otherniess of closed space-times, event horizons, EPR correlations, and bootstrap models.”
Parsons says “When I am told that consciosuenss and reasoning are due to the inscrutable and miraculous operations of occult powers wielded by an undetectable entity that exists nowhere in the physical universe, I am not enlightened.” I will not comment on whether or not this description of mind/body dualism backed up by theism is an apt one, although I consider it to be actually misleading. Nonetheless, I would simply pointo ut that to be enlightened is to discover the truth, and if thsie is the truth, then it is enlightening, even though it may be epistemically frustrating to someone like Parsons. Second, the “obscurantism” I am advocateing may be necessary to preserve science itself, while (if I am right) a mechanistic account of mind undermines the scientific enterprise. Parsons’ own theory makes Einstein’s theory of relativity and Darwin’s theory of evolution the result of blind physical causes. In the last analysis, whose theory is more obscurantist?
Therefore I maintain that the inadequacy objection gratuitously assumes that the only real explanations are mechanistic explanations, and that this is evidently false. It is supposed to be part of God’s nature to be rational. If we explain one thing in terms of something else, and that something else in terms of something else again, the chain of explanation will have to terminate somewhere. The theist explains the existence of ratioanlity in the universe by appealing to the inherent rationality of God. It cannot be the case that the materialist can actually argue that one ought never to explain anything in terms of something having such and such a nature. One cannot go on giving reductive explanations forever. If, as I have argued, we have good reason to suppose that reason cannot be built up out of nonintentional and nonteleological building blocks, then in order to preserve reason and the logical foundations of science, we have good reason to accept a nonmaterialist understanding of the universe. If my argument in this essay is correct, then explainig reason in terms of unreason explains reason away, and undercuts the very reason on which the explanation is supposed to be based.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: ,

The problem of interaction

A. The Problem of Interaction
One of the most popular arguments for materialism is the argument that dualism saddles the dualist with the problem of interaction: the problem of seeing how something nonphysical can interact with something physical. William Lycan, for example, provides four arguments against mind-body dualism.
First, Lycan argues that Cartesian minds do not fit in with our otherwise physical and scientific picture of the world. However, I have been arguing that a truly scientific understanding of the world has to include scientists who engage in mathematical and scientific reasoning, and that we need something non-physical to explain the existence of scientists. Absent an effective reply to my arguments on this score, I can maintain that my dualism, not his materialism, is the truly science-supporting world-view. Further, it is not the case that we know nothing about such a soul. We know that it is the sort of thing whose essence it is to act for reasons, possibly because it was created to do so.
Second, Lycan argues that human beings evolved over aeons through a purely physical process of natural selection and random mutation. However, it is the thrust of my argument that our minds couldn’t be the product of “blind watchmaker” evolution, and it begs the question against my argument to insist that it does, absent a good explanation of how reason is possible in a physicalistic universe. Hence to insist that our minds are the product of “blind watchmaker” evolution in the face of an argument that suggests otherwise is to beg the question.
Third, according to Lycan, if minds are nonspatial, how could they interact with physical objects in space? However, I did not argue that minds are non-spatial, I am just arguing that the basic explanation of their activity is rational rather than non-rational. Second, if nothing non-spatial can interact with anything spatial, then we would have an argument that a creator God is impossible. Have atheists been missing out on a good argument here? Nevertheless, where is the analysis of cause that shows that an effect in space can only have a cause in space? It certainly seems logically possible for something that is not in space to interact with something that is. The claim that it is impossible is often simply made as a bald assertion, without supporting argumentation.
Fourth, Lycan argues that a soul interacting with the body would be a violation of conservation laws. However, I don’t see a problem here either, because the conservation laws tell us only what will happen within a closed physical system all things being equal, and cannot tell us what will happen in something outside the physical system interferes. So once again, the argument assumes the truth of physicalism, and so begs the question.
Jaegwon Kim has asked what connects a soul with a body, so as to enable causal connections between them. Now, my argument, as I have indicated earlier, does not actually contend that the soul must be non-spatial. What I have been arguing is that some thing must exist whose can act independently of the nexus of non-rational causation so as to be determined by reasons and not physical causes. It could be in space or not in space.
If the soul is not spatial, then the body might have some identifying characteristic, unique to itself throughout its career, that the soul can identify. Or perhaps God creates and sustains the causal interaction between the soul and the body.
Another option is a Thomistic form of dualism, according to which the person is a single thing that is a combination of form (the soul) and matter (the body). On a Aristotelian-Thomistic view, there are, in the final analysis, no purely material objects, and everything is a combination of matter and form.
There is also Hasker’s emergent dualism, which involves the matter having potentialities to produce a soul distinct from itself. If the soul is somehow produced by the body, then the soul should be able to identify the body that produced it. Of course, these sorts of potentialities in matter would be hard to accept within a naturalistic framework, though if theism is accepted, the antecedent probability is lessened.
I do not want to underestimate the difficulties that Kim is posing here. However, I have argued that there must be something inherently rational which is responsible for the rationality we find in the world. It seems that that can be cashed out in a variety of ways, all of which have the advantage of not requiring is to somehow identify our reason with a set of mechanistically defined, inherently non-rational states.

The computer objection

A. The Argument from Computers
Sometimes it is thought to be easy to refute any argument from reason just by appealing to the existence of computers. Computers, according to the objection, reason, they also are undeniably physical system, but they are also rational. So whatever incompatibility there might be between mechanism and reason must be illusory. However, in the case of computers, the compatibility is the result of mental states in the background that deliberately create this compatibility. Thus, the chess computer Deep Blue was able to defeat the world champion Garry Kasparov in their 1997 chess match. However, Deep Blue’s ability to defeat Kasparov was not the exclusive result of physical causation, unless the people on the programming team (such as Grandmaster Joel Benjamin) are entirely physical results of physical causation. To assume that, however, is to beg the question against the advocate of the Argument from Reason. As Hasker points out:
Computers function as they do because they have been constructed by human beings endowed with rational insight. A computer, in other words, is merely an extension of the rationality of its designers and users, it is no more an independent source of rational insight than a television set is an independent source of news and entertainment.
The argument from reason says that reason cannot emerge from a closed, mechanistic system. The computer is, narrowly speaking, a mechanistic system, and it does “follow” rational rules. But not only was the computer made by humans, the framework of meaning that makes the computer’s actions intelligible is supplied by humans. As a set of physical events, the actions of a computer are just as subject as anything else to the indeterminacy of the physical. If a computer plays the move Rf6, and we see it on the screen, it is our perception and understanding that gives that move a definite meaning. In fact, the move has no meaning to the computer itself, it only means something to persons playing and watching the game. Suppose we lived in a world without chess, and two computers were to magically materialize in the middle of the Gobi desert and go through all the physical states that the computers went through the last time Fritz played Shredder. If that were true they would not be playing a chess game at all, since there would be no humans around to impose the context that made those physical processes a chess game and not something else. Hence I think that we can safely regard the computer objection as a red herring.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 24, 2007

Menuge's argument for the claim that our intentionality is designed

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's argument from intentional determinacy

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.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lakatos and the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

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.

Though I wonder if the argument could go something like this.

R (thesis that our faculties are reliable) is a control belief of science. If we deny it, then confidence in science, which the naturalist must accept, goes by the boards.

Prob/R is low or inscrutable given naturalism.
Prob/R is considerably higher given theism.
Therefore, R provides probabalistic support for theism as opposed to naturalism.


Do naturalists exist?

Not if eliminativism is true.

1. Naturalists are persons who believe that there is nothing other than nature.
2. If eliminativism is true, there are no persons who believe anything.
3. Therefore, there are no persons who believe that only nature exists.
4. Therefore, if eliminativism is true, there are no naturalists.

Labels: ,

Troy Nunley's defense of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

James Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought

This is a nice anti-materialist paper.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Darek Barefoot's argument from Mental Causation

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.
The two corollaries of naturalism are:
1) To the extent that changes in natural systems have causes, those causes are potentially available to the senses either directly or by scientific instruments.
2) Every belief accompanies a natural (physical) state, and the properties of a belief are wholly dependent upon and determined by the natural state that it accompanies.
The two corollaries of reason are:
1) Reason includes, although it is not limited to, the acceptance of a belief due to the accurate, conscious perception that true premises logically entail it.
2) A belief may be considered to be held rationally only to the extent that what are consciously perceived by the holder to be the reasons for his accepting the belief are in fact the reasons for his doing so.
It should be noted that the corollaries of reason need not be true of all beliefs. We might believe some things non-inferentially because we perceive the objects in question. Thus, perhaps my belief that my glasses are one the table doesn’t require me to draw any inferences in order to be justified. If I have a hunch that Smith won’t betray my secret if I tell it to him, this may not have to be due to some traceable reasoning process. However, if we deny that there is rational inference of the kind that I have been talking about in this essay, which conforms to the two cited corollaries of reason, then the heart of science is ripped out. If physics is a true source of knowledge about the physical, then some people have to be able to draw precise mathematical inferences.
What lies at the heart of naturalism is the idea that the methods of science, of observation and measurement, can be applied to every type of reality. In the last analysis, everything is at least potentially available to the senses and can be analyzed in scientific terms. If there are features of reality that we can only reach through introspection, which in principle someone could not figure out looking at it from the outside, then something has escaped the nets of naturalistic analysis.
If a broadly materialist world-view is true, then only physical states can have any causal efficacy. If could provide necessary and sufficient conditions for propositional s states by specifying physical states, then we would be able to bring propositional contents into the web of causal interaction in a naturalistic world. However, the trouble is we cannot do that. The following is an adaptation of an argument Barefoot provides against the reconcilability of the corollaries of reason with the corollaries of naturalism.
1) Only the physical properties of representations can generate functional states in computational systems.
2) Propositional contents cannot be identified with the physical properties and their representations.
3) Therefore, propositional contents cannot generate functional states in computational systems.
4) Propositional contents generate some beliefs in some minds.
5) Therefore, some beliefs in minds cannot be identified with, or wholly dependent upon, functional states in computational systems.
I conclude, therefore that the problem of mental causation is still a serious difficulty for materialism, and failure to solve it calls into question the very scientific enterprise which alone provides the foundations for naturalism. We still haven’t got a good naturalistic answer to the question “Even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with belief as a psychological event.”

Labels: ,

Hasker's argument from mental causation

B. The Argument from Mental Causation
The third argument, and a very significant one, is the argument from mental causation. Recall for a moment Lewis’s discussion of how rationally inferred beliefs must be caused:
But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. \It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief's occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?
There seems to be only one possible answer. We must say that just as one way in which a mental event causes a subsequent mental event is by Association (when I think of parsnips I think of my first school), so another way in which it can cause it, is simply by being a ground for it. For then being a cause and being a proof would coincide.But this, as it stands, is clearly untrue. We know by experience that a thought does not necessarily cause all, or even any, of the thoughts which logically stand to it as Consequents to Ground. We should be in a pretty pickle
if we could never think 'This is glass' without drawing all the inferences which could be drawn. It is impossible to draw them all; quite often we draw none. We must therefore amend our suggested law. One thought can cause another not by being, but by being seen to be, a ground for it.
So besides the existence of facts to think about, and our capacity to perceive a self-evident rule that permits the inference (which we will get to when we talk about logical laws), we also must be able to arrange these facts to prove a conclusion, and it must be possible for new beliefs to be brought into existence by this kind of a process of reasoning. To those who, like Anscombe, are inclined to think that reasons-explanations are always non-causal in nature, I would like to ask how we are to understand words like “convince” or “persuade”? Presumably rational convincing and persuading is the goal of
argumentative discourse, but if reasons are in no sense causal in nature, this is impossible.
Suppose we were to answer Lewis’s questions “Even if grounds do exist, what have the got to do with the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event” by saying "Nothing. Beliefs (if they exist at all given naturalism--of course this is denied by eliminativists) are strictly epiphenomenal. It seems to us that we hold beliefs for good reasons, but if we examine how these beliefs are produced and sustained, we find that reasons have nothing to do with it. We think they do, but this is just one more example of the 'user illusion.'” If we were to say that, it seems to me that the possibility of science as an operation would have to be called into question. As Jerry Fodor once put it:
"If it isn't literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying. ..if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it's the end of the world.
Further, we have to look at just what is involved when we talk about causal transactions. Only some properties of an object are casually relevant to the production of the effect. For example, if I take the baseball that Luis Gonzalez hit to win the 2001 World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the New York Yankees, and throw it at the window, it would break the window only in virtue of the force it applied to the window. It does not break the window in virtue of its having been the ball Gonzo hit against Mariano Rivera. When Lewis says “One thought can cause another not by being, but by being seen to be, a ground for it, obviously not only must one mental even cause another mental event, but it must do so in virtue of its propositional content, and in fact, in virtue of the kind of logical relationships between the relevant propositions.
There are a couple of arguments that have been developed to show that given the causal closure of the physical, rational inference is impossible. In William Hasker’s third chapter of The Emergent Self, entitled “Why the Physical Isn’t Closed,” Hasker uses a counterfactual argument to show that the kinds of counterfactuals involved in mental causation will turn out false if the physical is closed. Let’s just take what it is to be persuaded by the evidence for some claim. Let us say that Marcia believes that O. J. Simpson is guilty of murder on the basis of the blood evidence, along with other considerations. What this would have to mean is that if there were no evidence in favor of O. J.’s guilt, she wouldn’t think him guilty. If it turns out she was hardwired or sufficiently prejudiced to think of African-American former football stars as guilty of murder regardless of the state of the evidence, this would make your claim to believe on the basis of evidence false. So for someone to claim to believe that O. J. is guilty (or innocent) on the basis of evidence, the following conditionals must be true.
a) If strong evidence supporting O. J.’s guilt exists, then Marcia would believe that O. J. is guilty
b) If strong evidence supporting
If physicalism is true, then sufficient physical causes for one’s forming the belief that O. J. is guilty must exist if you are to believe that O. J. is guilty. Thus, if the physical conditions exist for you to form the belief that O. J. is guilty, then you will form that belief, and if they don’t you won’t. Yet, those physical conditions contain nothing about blood evidence or any other kind of evidence. After all, could be a similar world in which the evidence-thoughts do not occur, but the belief is formed anyway. As Hasker explains:
Following John Pollock, we assume that a counterfactual conditional is true if and only if the consequent is true in all those worlds minimally changed from the actual world in which the antecendent is true. Would a world minimally changed from the actual world in which she doesn’t see that her belief is supported by good reasons, be one in which she would not accept the belief? No doubt there are a number of different ways in which the world could be changed just enough to satisfy the antecedent of the conditional; in some of these she accepts the belief while in others she doesn’t. And there is no basis for saying that those in which she doesn’t accept it are less changed from the actual world in which she does, or vice versa.
I am assuming here, on the basis of my discussion of intentionality earlier, that mental states are not type-reducible to physical states. However, let us suppose that the mental state supervenes on the physical state. It is true, that, according to strong supervenience, the mental state must exist if the physical state does. Still, we can imagine the truths of supervenience being different from what they are, and if those truths of supervenience are different, the belief is formed in the absence of evidence. Further, if the universe is fundamentally physical, that means that the physical facts are the most fundamental facts in existence, more fundamental, surely, than the truths of supervenience.
Hasker considers the possibility that the truths of supervenience are metaphysically necessary truths. If the laws governing objects in the world are metaphysically necessary truths, then we can take a world of objects similar to this world, except with regard to the psychophysical connections that obtain in this world. Such a world would be a zombie-world, in which the basic properties of matter would be zombie-protons, zombie neutrons, zombie-electrons, zombie-quarks or zombie-strings. In such a world, again, the appropriate beliefs could be formed in the absence of the relevant evidence. The mental states are irrelevant to physical events, which have physical causes and only physical causes, according to materialism, and whatever mental states might exist, exist in virtue of the physical states.
On top of this, I should revert to what I said earlier, that the claim that given the physical, the mental necessarily supervenes seems to me just plain ungrounded. Given the physical, why does there have to be just these mental states? Why do there have to be intentional states at all. Appeal to supervenience in this context is just a mask for a lack of understanding, it seems to me.

Labels: , ,

Mystery and Materialism

3. Mystery and Materialism
In his book God and the Reach of Reason, Erik Wielenberg attempts to respond to
Lewis’s argument from reason, using a parallel with some Christian responses to the argument from evil. In response to the argument from evil, Christian philosophers have sometimes attempted to produce theodicies which explain God’s reason for permitting various of the world’s evils. Other Christians, however, have argued that our inability to explain this, that, or the other instance of evil in suffering is not the end of the world for theists. We are, after all, human beings with limited understanding, and it would be surprising if God were to exist and we could understand God’s ways well enough to know why some particular instance of suffering was permitted. In the same way, the fact that no analysis of intentional states in physical terms need not be fatal for materialism, because it could be that our brains are simply not well-suited to understand the connections between the mental and the physical. If we can’t figure out how the mental could possibly be, in the last analysis physical, that need not be because the mental is really non-physical, it could be simply that we have trouble solving philosophical problems. The response he gives to the argument from reason is very much akin to the “mysterian” view in the philosophy of consciousness put forward by Colin McGinn.
However, several responses can be given here. In responding to the argument from evil in the terms delineated above, it does seem to me that the theist in engaging in a damage control project rather than a project that actually refutes the argument from evil. If an atheistic world-view can come up with an explanation for the suffering in the world that makes more sense than theism can possibly offer, then it seems to me that the argument from evil still counts in favor of atheism. Some theists are prepared to admit that the existence of suffering counts against theism, but just think that there is better reason to be a theist nonetheless. Of course, it would be another matter if the atheists’ explanation for suffering could be shown to be fundamentally inadequate. If that were the case, the the force of the atheistic argument could be blunted completely. On my view we have to consider the fact that on a broadly materialist world-view, the existence of qualia such as pain, as well as the existence of a moral standard by which to judge something to be evil, are both problematic, so I am not fully convinced that the argument from evil really points to an explanatory advantage for atheism. However, it may be that it does, in which case the explanatory disadvantage for theism need not be fatal.
Every time I have presented the argument from reason, I have put it forward as a factor that should count in favor of theism, but not necessarily decisively. In evaluating particular arguments, it is important not to get “tunnel vision” and think that the argument now being considered is the only consideration for or against theism. So I can easily imagine someone saying “Yes, reason is tough for atheists to explain, but theists have worse problems, so I am not going to go there.” In fact, I introduced the comparison between the argument from reason and the argument from evil in my book’s penultimate paragraph. I wrote:
However, I do contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for natuarlism, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. But while theists have expended considerable effort in confronting the problem of evil, the problem of reason has not as yet been acknowledged as a serious problem for naturalism.
Now, once again, the force of the argument from reason could be blunted if it could be shown that whatever the weaknesses of the various materialistic accounts of reason, a non-naturalistic account of reason would have to be by its very nature inadequate. However, theism does offer a way whereby we can say that we need not be saddled with the problem of how reason might arise in a universe that lacked it to begin with, or how rational states can supervene on lower-level states that lack rationality entirely. If we ask “Why does reason exist at all?” the theist can answer “It is on the ground floor of reality. Its existence is more fundamental to the ultimate causes of the universe than the existence of matter itself.
Others have argued that whatever theistic explanations are always inadequate explanations, and that we are better off saying “I don’t know” than attributing anything to God. That is the force of what I call the Inadequacy Objection, and it is an argument that I will take up later in this essay.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Can a Wittgensteinian be a naturalist?

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.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Materialism and the Problem of Truth

II. The Argument from Truth
A second argument I provided was the argument from truth. Let us reflect for a moment on truth as an epistemic summum bonum or supreme good. It seems to me that the scientific enterprise, at least as classically understood, is based on a desire first and foremost to know the truth, and only secondly to manipulate and control the world. We are told, for example, that no matter how comforting it is to have religious beliefs, if those beliefs are not based on good evidence that they are true, then they ought to be abandoned.
But this raises some questions about what this property of truth is, that we should abandon beliefs that we may find comforting for the sake of truth. Here it seems that many “deflationary” accounts of truth are going to fail to capture why we care about truth so much. In William Hasker’s generally friendly response to me in Philosophia Christi he asks
And now consider truth: why should the naturalist find it problematic? That snow is white is true just in case snow is white; what would motivate (let alone force) a naturalist to reject this?
Here Hasker is adverting to a Tarskian disquotational theory of truth; truth is a matter of taking quotation marks of sentences. But truth has to have more to it than this if it is to carry the weight of being the supreme epistemic value. Timothy Erdel takes Quine to task for, at one point, saying that he rejected religion and politics in favor of the pursuit of truth, but then he defines truth in this disquotational way. As he says:
If truth is no more than Quine generally claims when he is describing or explaining truth (as opposed to when he is appealing to it as the grounding motive more his life’s work), namely, the removing of quotation marks from the names of sentences, then one senses some fairly significant equivocation in his use of the term, “truth.”
Presumably one does not cast aside all claims from religion and politics to pursue philosophy as a vocation solely to facilitate the removing of quotes from names of sentences…
So to make the sort of thing we ought epistemically to pursue, even at personal cost, truth must be something more than mere disquotation. But what can it be? I think that only the correspondence theory is the only one that adequately underwrites the intuition that many of us share that truth is the supreme epistemic good.
There is a problem with truth as correspondence, however, from a broadly materialist point of view. If truth is a relationship between someone’s belief that something is so and the reality that it is so, then what that means “there is at least one reptile” would not have been a truth during the Jurassic period, unless there was someone in existence during the Jurassic period who had confidence that his or her thought corresponded to the truth “there is at least one reptile.” And unless there is something like a God, we do not know of anything alive during that time that had confidence in the representation, “There is at least one reptile alive now.”
Because of this, the advocate of a broadly materialist world view may be inclined to accept the idea what can be true false are not states of the person but propositions. These propositions could exist timelessly, but not exist in anyone’s mind. If that were the case then the proposition “There is at least one reptile alive during the Jurassic period” would be a truth that would exist at that time, because it would be true at all times.
This account of propositions is hard to square with some versions of naturalism, according to which everything that exists at some place and time in particular. However, if we waive this requirement, there are still difficulties. The argument from reason based on mental causation maintains that naturalism cannot explain how one thought can cause another thought in virtue of its content. On this view, how would it be possible for our thought to be related to the truth that our thoughts are about, if our thoughts are completely products of the spatio-temporal-physical world, but the truth of our thought does not exist in any particular place or time. The physical, is supposed to be causally closed according to broadly materialist world-views, and as such nothing outside the physical, whether eternal propositions, or nonphysical souls, can affect what goes on in the physical world. Because of this, I regard this move to non-spatial propositions as the acceptance of a poisoned pawn, the taking of which will make the next argument, the argument from mental causation, impossible to answer.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Intentionality and supervenience

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.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

Eliminative materialism

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.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Van Fraassen on Materialism

Labels: ,

Debating an Anscombe Defender

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.