Monday, January 28, 2008

Naturalism without Physicalism?

Doctor Logic asked me what I thought the difference was between naturalism and physicalism. I think for anything to be "naturalistic" in any recognizable sense, it looks as if it has to have the characteristics of the physical that I mention: absence at the most basic level of purpose, intentionality, subjectivity, and normativity. It must be physical in at least these senses if it is naturalism is to have any meaning.

Sometimes people say that a physicalist will not allow abstract entities, but a naturalist can. But that's not going to do us any good in providing a naturalist response to the argument from reason. The AFR is about explaining how we come to have certain mental states. What do those abstract entities have to do with our coming to have mental states of a certain kind?

D. M. Armstrong once wrote; "I suppose that if the principles involved (in analysis at the physical level) were completely different from the current prinicples of physics, in particular if they involved appeal to mental entities, such as purposes, we might count the analysis as a falsification of naturalism."

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At 1/29/2008 12:43:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Chalmers calls his panpsychism a version of naturalism that is not physicalism. If qualia are part of the fundamental furniture of the universe, and there are laws that govern their behavior and how they interact with one another, there is no reason the concept of 'nature' couldn't be expanded to include qualia. Much like the furniture expands when new subatomic particles are discovered. That's his argument anyway.

I often look at naturalism as the denial that anything falls outside the nomic net cast by physics (and the nomic net of physics is not fixed, so we can't say naturalists are wedded to present physics).

At 1/29/2008 06:11:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


Perhaps your definition of naturalism is the kind of resolution of Hempel's Dilemma that naturalists have long sought.

At 1/29/2008 08:01:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

The trouble here is that physicalism surely can't be marrying itself to present physics either. In fact some have argued (Crane and Mellor come to mind) that physicalism is either vacuous or false. It's vacuous if physics is expandable, because whatever is real has to be captured by some science or other (theology is the science of God, for example). It's false if the "physics" in physicalism has to be present physics. So the same dilemma arises whether the term is "physicalism" or "naturalism."

Does Chalmers believe that the same laws that govern material particles when they do not appear in brains govern those particles once brains are evolved? This would render all of those qualia epiphenomenal. But if brand new laws emerge once brains show up, doesn't that cry out for explanation? All of a sudden, when brains evolve, we get a different behavior pattern for fundamental particles. Why?

At 1/29/2008 01:24:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

He spends a whole chapter dealing the the epiphenomenalism that seems to follow from his view. It is one of the most intellectually honest and self-searching chapters I've seen in philosophy. (I can't remember which chapter, but it's in 'The Conscious Mind').

I think you are right, and don't actually buy Chalmers' arguments against physicalism.

At 1/29/2008 01:28:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Chapter 4: Naturalistic dualism, section 'Is this epiphenomenalism?' is what I was thinking of. For some reason I remembered it being a whole chapter, but I was wrong.

At 2/03/2008 04:32:00 PM , Blogger cee stephens said...

Hello unknown people.

I'm doing a graduate thesis on american naturalism (dewey, quine, rorty, davidson.

I think there are good reasons to believe that Davidson's philosophy amounts to a naturalism without physicalism (or empiricism). Davidson defends an ontological monism (not a dualism, like that silly Chalmers fellow) - but his monism cannot properly qualify as a physicalist monism.

To say, with Davidson, that all events are physical events (whereas only some are mental events), would tell us more about the broad and general nature of descriptions employing the concepts of fundamental physics. The utility and bredth of physical descriptions don't necessarily have any ontological implications. Consequently, "physicalism" is a superfluous and unqualified dogma.

A naturalistic worldview would have to commit itself to the view that there is only one world of causally related events (rather than two or more ontological realms of being). What a naturalist need not say is that, in addition, "everything is physical" in some special way.

Also: It might help to get clear on the many diverse senses of "naturalism" in philosophy. The post-Quinean sense merely implies that there is no "first philosophy" - that philosophy and science have no fixed boundaries, and are therefore continuous with one another, and not divided by seperate methods and concepts.

At 2/03/2008 04:35:00 PM , Blogger cee stephens said...

Also, I've read some of Time Crane's work. I agree with his conclusion that physicalism is either false or vacuous. I don't find myself agreeing with some of arguments he uses to arrive at that conclusion though.

At 2/03/2008 10:37:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Sorry to have neglected this thread for so long.

I think there's a very elegant (if unorthodox) way to define naturalism.

As has been pointed out here, if qualia or purpose or some other stuff of thought are lawful and fundamental, they might as well be subsumed by some sort of super-physics, and therefore be regarded as physical.

For me, the real distinction between the naturalist and the supernaturalist is in the kind of explanation one is willing to accept.

Try to imagine models that look like they're explanatory, but which aren't explanatory at all. There are several ways to cook up such false explanations. Restating the question as if it is the answer is one way. Referring to a model you don't yet have is another. Creating the illusion of a model that is forever fine-tuned but never predicts anything is yet another.

There's a common thread here.

In my kind of naturalism, every proper explanation is predictive. If my thoughts are predictable according to laws, none of us are going to reject those laws of thinking, for they would be as solid as any common or scientific fact.

So, to the extent that naturalism is a doctrine (an ism), I think it rests upon predictability. If certain features of the universe are fundamentally unpredictable, then such features are fundamentally inexplicable. They are non-natural, supernatural. The naturalist, being committed to prediction, does not require that the cosmos be entirely predictable, or entirely explicable. The naturalist merely commits himself to a definition of a proper explanation. And for anyone committed to this doctrine, a "supernatural explanation" is an oxymoron.

Now, I think Victor's answer (regarding the properly basic nature of purpose) is a pretty good answer, but to a different question! I think it is a good definition of dualism, and yet dualism is not necessarily supernatural.

Victor, does deterministic (predictable) purpose still fall under your definition? At your definition's face value, it certainly would seem to do so.

However, I think I have yet to meet a theist who believes that the stuff of thought is predictable. Rather, the theists I have interacted with have generally held that mind is not a mechanism, physical or otherwise. If it were a mechanism, it would be predictable, and that's incompatible with their model of universal justice. Yet this position can never be informed by a predictive model because it denies such a thing exists. That means that theists have held a dualistic view based on the (not quite vanished) unpredictability of physical mind rather than a predictive model of the non-physical (as in non-matter/energy-in-spacetime).

Frankly, a physical mind should not have been expected to duplicate so many of the features that could just as well have been performed by the non-physical mind. Go back 500 years, and suppose you believed the body was some sort of radio for a non-physical soul. In that case, we would have no need of a central nervous system, physical memory, a brain capable of computation and recognition, and so on. With each discovery of mental functions performed by physical mechanisms, we should rightly have reduced our confidence in non-physicality to the point that it is presently an absurdity. We cannot in good faith fine-tune non-physicality, and argue that it is that most peculiar of non-physicalism that looks experimentally exactly like physicalism. At least, that is, unless we buy some predictive power with that fine-tuning (which we haven't, and never can when we deny mechanism). Clearly, such a non-predictive non-physicalism would be one of the naturalist's forbidden non-explanations.

However, while the perceived lack of a predictive (natural) mechanism for purpose may inspire the common dualist, not all dualists are common dualists!

Therefore, I conclude that the properly basic nature of purpose/intentionality is not the hallmark of supernaturalism, but rather the hallmark of dualism. Or, put another way, if purpose reduces to some more fundamental physics, then dualism is finished, despite the existence of other supernatural (fundamentally inexplicable) occurrences.

I'll just add that I feel quite confident in committing myself to my kind of naturalism (my criteria for explanation), whether or not dualism turns out to be correct. If minds are fundamentally unpredictable, then they will remain forever unexplained. If dualism ever gains any credit in my esteem it will be because it finally predicted something.

[Sorry for the funky wording. I have lately found Jane Austen quite diverting.]

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