The Problem with Metaphysical Naturalism (According to Victor Reppert)

Victor Reppert and I have had a long series of exchanges (thirty five years) dating back to when we were both graduate students at Emory University. I do not think that we would come to agreement even if we were granted another thirty five years to debate, but I am determined at least to get clear on the grounds of some of our disagreements. As always, philosophical debate is impeded by the slipperiness of definitions. You think that you have ably refuted an opponent’s claim that X is Y, and he replies, “Ah, if I had meant by “X” and “Y” what you mean, your argument would succeed, but what I mean by “X” and “Y” is…” And so it goes, if not ad infinitum, at least ad nauseam. Could souls be natural entities? Well maybe if by “natural” you mean… Let me try then to draw a definitional line in the sand so that Victor and I can avoid frustration and not pull out the little hair each of us has left.
metaphysical naturalism (MN) is like the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”: “The causes of effects in the natural world stay in the natural world.” The “natural world” (which I also call “the physical universe”), in its broadest characterization, I understand to be space/time itself plus the matter and energy it contains and the fundamental laws that hold within this totality. MN as I understand it holds (1) that the total cause of any effect that occurs in the physical universe is also part of the physical universe (or perhaps just is the whole physical universe), and so the physical universe is causally closed. (2) The physical universe itself, in its most general, fundamental, or primordial features neither has nor needs a cause. (3) Putative non-physical entities, like Platonic forms, might exist, but they have no power to cause anything in the natural world.

I am a metaphysical naturalist (I am also willing to call myself a physicalist or a materialist). I think the simplest characterization of
If Victor is willing to accept my characterization of MN, perhaps we can spell out clearly some of the reasons he thinks that MN is unacceptable. Based on what he says in our most recent exchange, and in many earlier communications, I think that he objects that MN cannot account for four fundamental features of our mental lives:
It seems to me that a physical explanation, if we are sticking with standard definitions and are not expanding the notion of the physical to include things it doesn’t traditionally include, our concept of what it is for something to be a physical explanation, at least at the base level of analysis, is for it to lack four “mentalistic” characteristics. First, the explanation at the base level cannot include a purpose. Second it cannot include any intentionality. What a physical state is about cannot enter into the base-level explanation. Third, it cannot include any reference to normativity. No piece of matter, in the last analysis, goes where it goes because it ought to go there. Fourth, a naturalistic explanation of a material state cannot contain any reference to a first-person perspective.
He further adds that on the hypothesis of naturalism: “…the base level [of causation] is causally closed. This doesn’t mean that it’s deterministic, it means that nothing outside the physical system can affect where a particular atom goes, whether it’s an atom in a rock or an atom in a brain.”
I agree with everything Victor says in the two above quotes. I take it for granted that the brain’s activities, like any other physical effects, can be explained entirely in physical terms. In explaining neurons and their incredibly complex interactions, we will of course make no reference to purpose, intentionality, norms, or first-person experiences—no more than we would in explaining supernovae or the immune system. Yet, as Searle says, our conscious mental life is defined by its qualitative, intentional, and first-person aspects. As I have previously indicated, I see any attempt to deny, diminish, or dismiss the reality of consciousness as deeply pathological, bordering on derangement. Victor reminds me that eliminativists and behaviorists (who did deny, diminish, or dismiss the givens of consciousness) were trying to be consistent naturalists. There is something heroic (or maybe quixotic) about the attempt to buy consistency at the price of denying the undeniable—kind of like a theist who would attempt to circumvent the problem of evil by denying the existence of evil.
Besides, the mock-heroics of eliminativists and behaviorists were totally unnecessary. Can a naturalist consistently countenance explanations in terms of purposes, reasons, norms, etc.? I think so. Consider two alternative accounts of how Sam acquired a belief:
Why does Sam believe that Congressman Ryan’s budget proposals are ludicrous and cruel? Because he read Paul Krugman’s editorial making the argument that those proposals are ludicrous and cruel, and these arguments convinced Sam. Sam was swayed by Krugman’s deft use of logic and command of the economic facts in showing that the Ryan proposal would not alleviate the deficit, and would serve chiefly to further enrich the already fabulously wealthy while adding an extra burden of misery to those already miserable. Sam was particularly impressed by Krugman’s citation of reliable sources such as the Congressional Budget Office. Is this a legitimate explanation of why Sam believes that Congressman Ryan’s budget proposals are ludicrous and cruel? Absolutely. Let’s call this “explanation A.”
Now consider another, far more complex and unfamiliar explanation of why Sam believes that, etc. Actually, it will be an explanation-sketch, since it will be extremely incomplete: From time T1 to time T2 Sam’s brain was in a succession of active states, S1…Sn where that succession of brain states completely realized a succession of mental states, M1…Mn culminating in a mental state, Mn, which was Sam’s conscious conviction that Congressman Ryan’s budget proposals are etc. Each of those brain states S1…Sn will be complexly caused, being conditioned in part by other internal brain states and by the brain’s interaction, via the optic nerve, with light that has reflected from newsprint. That reflected light stimulates the production of nerve impulses in the eye which are carried by the optic nerve to the brain’s visual cortex, where it is complexly processed in intricate connection with other areas of the brain. Now, supposing that this explanation-sketch could be filled out to a reasonable degree of completeness (like events inside a tornado, brain events may be too complex to model completely) would this be a legitimate explanation of why Sam believes that Congressman Ryan’s budget proposals are, etc.? Absolutely. Let’s call this “explanation B.”
I think what really divides us is that Victor holds that explanation A is incompatible with explanation B and I do not. Which of us is right? Victor is right if explanations A and B are mutually exclusive causal explanations of why Sam has his belief. I am right if they are causal explanations but do not mutually exclude. Alternative causal explanations need not compete. Why is it raining hard? Because the atmosphere at cloud level was saturated and the temperature dropped sharply causing the moisture to precipitate rapidly. Another explanation is that a strong cold front collided with a warm, humid, and unstable air mass generating strong thunderstorms. These accounts invoke different causal mechanisms, but are not mutually exclusive, and, indeed, are complementary.
Another possibility is that explanation A and explanation B do not mutually exclude because, though they both are explanatory, one is a causal explanation and the other is not, so they do not make competing claims about what caused Sam’s belief. Not all explanations are causal explanations, not even in science. The classic Hempel/Oppenheim deductive-nomological (DN) model of scientific explanation is a non-causal account. On the DN model, a natural occurrence is explained by subsuming it under a broader nomological. The orbital period of a particular natural satellite is explained by showing that this motion is predicted by Kepler’s Third Law of planetary motion, and by the appropriate initial conditions (the satellite’s distance from the sun). In short, this regularity is explained by showing it to be an instance of a broader regularity; no mention is made of the cause of the planet’s orbital motion. So, might it not be that one of the explanations of Sam’s belief is causal, and the other is non-causal, and they do not make competing claims?
Explanation B is obviously causal. My view is that explanation A is causal too, though in an indirect manner and we have to be very very careful to specify just what is doing the causing. When we say that Sam was convinced by Krugman’s arguments it seems to me perverse to attribute some very (I think in-principally) mysterious kind of causal power to the sense or propositional content of Krugman’s arguments. Attributing causal powers to Fregean Sinn (meaning), if this is what Victor wants to assert, just seems to me a straightforward category mistake. It is like saying that the set of all integers broke the deadlock between NFL players and owners. No, to say that Sam was convinced by Krugman’s arguments means that Sam considered Krugman’s claims, examined the supporting reasons, weighed them in the light of prior knowledge and norms of good reasoning, and judged that these were persuasive. However, considering Krugman’s claims, examining the supporting arguments, evaluating them, and judging them to be persuasive are things that Sam does with his brain, and happenings in Sam’s brain, being physical events, can cause things.
But if Sam’s belief is to be rational, must it not be Krugman’s reasons that convinced him, and is this not, ineluctably, to make a causal claim about the efficacy of those reasons in bringing about Sam’s agreement? No. The reasons qua propositional content (which are abstract objects) did not make Sam believe. Reasons qua propositional content can have no more causal powers than the least prime greater than one billion. Reasons have no causal power but reasoning does. Reasoning is something we do with our brains; it is an activity, a brain activity, just as doing jumping jacks is an activity of our moving limbs. The reasoning process, being fully realized in brain processes can have, qua physically realized, causal efficacy as much as any other physical process. Recognizing that Krugman’s arguments are cogent causes the recognition that his conclusion is supported. Recognizing is a physical process that can cause other recognitions.
But when asked why we believe something, don’t we typically cite reasons, and speak of these reasons as being the cause of our beliefs: “Yes, it was the reliable facts and figures Krugman cited, such as the report of the Congressional Budget Office, that led me [or maybe “compelled me” if I was initially skeptical of his claim] to accept his conclusion.” Terms like “led” and “compelled” imply causes. Yes, we do normally speak this way, as do I. But if I were being philosophically punctilious, I should say that it was not the reasons themselves that compelled me but my becoming aware of those reasons that compelled me—and becoming aware of reasons is something that the brain does.
For these reasons, I see explanations A and B as complementary and not competitors. Indeed, the chain of reasoning that caused Sam to reach his conclusion would be realized in that succession of brain states, S1 to Sn mentioned in explanation B. Now I am sure that absolutely nothing I have said here will settle anything between Victor and me. For one thing, Victor says that physical processes underdetermine mental ones. How does he know this? Has anyone observed two brains in an identical physical state but with different mental states? All the evidence—ALL—seems to support the claim that physical processes are necessary and sufficient for the mental. Where are the counterexamples? Saying “God” or “the soul” would obviously beg the question against me since I see no evidence whatsoever for either of these putative entities.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    This is the same argument Victor and Clayton Littlejohn went round-and-round about a year or so ago. Victor's AfR doesn't take non-reductive materialism seriously.

    The problem seems to be that he doesn't believe that, for the non-reductive materialist, higher-level properties (or, in your example, higher-level explanations) can be the properties in virtue of which an event occurs.

    But, there are tons of mundane examples in which higher-level properties *are* the ones in virtue of which an event occurs. [I'm indebted to an unpublished paper by Ron McClamrock for the following examples.]

    Consider a teeter-totter with boxes on either end. In one box, a 1lb weight is held. One wants to know what can make the teeter-totter tip. One puts a smelly cheese-ball in the empty box and the box tips, next a cat, next a 5lb block of wood, etc. It is possible to describe the physical properties of each of the items that make the teeter-totter tip and describe the tipping in terms of those physical properties, but one would miss something important if she did not realize that it is in virtue of the items' weight (i.e. a higher-level property) that the event occurs.

    The event can be explained in terms of the lower-level physical properties, but it is *in virtue of* the higher-level property that the event occurs.

    If higher-level causation is possible in mundane examples, why think that it is not possible when speaking of the mind as a supervening entity on brains?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Wes,

    Thanks. I figured that Victor had somewhere been over all of this before, but I hope he will take the trouble to spell it out a bit for me. Eventually I am sure we will reach a point where I say "to-may-to" and he says "to-mah-to" and we will have to call the whole thing off. However, I really do want to get clear on just what the fundamental disagreements are. Maybe knowing that will tell us something about what philosophy can and cannot do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13081990693148277532 woodchuck64


    But if I were being philosophically punctilious, I should say that it was not the reasons themselves that compelled me but my becoming aware of those reasons that compelled me—and becoming aware of reasons is something that the brain does.

    Sort of like the way I say the stop-sign caused me to stop at the intersection. But actually my becoming aware of the stop-sign, combined with my desire to follow memorized rules of traffic flow, caused me to stop.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Woodchuck64,

    Bingo. My point exactly. Thanks. I will immediately and shamelessly steal your example!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Keith said…
    "Victor says that physical processes underdetermine mental ones. How does he know this? Has anyone observed two brains in an identical physical state but with different mental states? All the evidence—ALL—seems to support the claim that physical processes are necessary and sufficient for the mental."

    What is perplexing, on both dualist and materialist accounts, is the relationship between physical and mental events.

    Do we just have constant conjunction or empirical association to tie these together? or is there some more enlightening way of understanding and explaining the relationship between mind and matter?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Interesting post, Keith. If one can’t agree with others, it is at least a worthwhile investment of one’s time to try and understand why they think as they do.

    First a peripheral issue. You write: “(3)Putative non-physical entities, like Platonic forms, might exist, but they have no power to cause anything in the natural world.

    If Platonic forms have no power to cause anything in the natural world, how would you say can we possibly know about them?

    Now to the main point. You write: “I think what really divides us is that Victor holds that explanation A is incompatible with explanation B and I do not. Which of us is right?

    I am inclined to think that you are both right, the difference being that the two of you consider the issue from different perspectives. You discuss naturalism from the inside i.e. from the point of view of a naturalist, and Victor from the outside, i.e. from the point of view of a non-naturalist.

    Would you agree, Keith, that as long as the physical closure of the universe holds and also a 100% correlation between mental and physical states holds (i.e. a detailed translation table exists between physical and mental primitives), metaphysical naturalism is unfalsifiable from the point of view of a naturalist? After all, while these two hold, anything we experience (and thus any objective or subjective evidence including any intuition we may have), or any thought we may entertain, is 100% translatable into physical states which in turn are 100% explainable in naturalistic terms. Therefore there is nothing that can possibly fail to be explained.

    So I am not sure it is right to say that A and B are complementary explanations. Assuming that A is a correct explanation then, it seems to me, A is written in vague mental language, whereas B is written in detailed physical language. Given the 100% correlation between the mental and the physical one could take explanation B, translate it into detailed mental language, and then parse that language using higher level mental concepts to arrive at A. Indeed that exercise will help one demonstrate that A is indeed a correct explanation, for if the translation of B into mental language cannot be parsed into A it proves that A is not a correct explanation.

    What I am suggesting is that, seen from the point of view of a naturalist, metaphysical naturalism is necessarily a coherent worldview. Consciousness does appear to be kind of mysterious but only if one, besides naturalism, has also embraced physicalism. I don’t see why the naturalist should commit to physicalism. It is certainly entirely viable for the naturalist to accept the possibility that consciousness is something extra-physical as long as the perfect correlation between mental and physical states hold.

    [continues bellow]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continues from above]

    So what about all the conceptual problems that people suggest naturalism suffers from? Say, the problem of intentionality, or the problem of the deep mathematical nature of the universe, or the problem of how to interpret quantum phenomena. Now here is why all these problems are not problems of naturalism, but only of people who try to make sense of naturalism: On naturalism, reality is not in any way purposeful, and is thus in no way committed to serving us a pleasant life, including the intellectual satisfaction of understanding reality. If our brains have trouble making sense of a naturalistic reality that only proves a cognitive limitation of our brains, which limitation, incidentally, naturalism explains. The same goes for our experience of freedom, or about ethical values, etc. Naturalism explains exactly how come we have these feelings, indeed how come we feel we are something we are not. Here is the general case: Consider any thought which suggests that naturalism suffers from a problem, and naturalism will explain how that thought came about, as well as the feelings this thought produces in us. Thus naturalism explain all the facts of the case, and as it leaves no fact unexplained it does not suffer from any problem.

    Let us now consider the merits of naturalism from the outside, and ideally from the point of view of an agnostic who is not committed either to naturalism or to theism. From this point of view, there is much more to a thought than just the facts about the causal physical process that produced it and its corresponding mental dimension. Moreover, given the human condition, it seems as certain as anything that freedom and moral values do exist. In this context, here is how Thomas Nagel recently defended the existence of moral values: “A world in which everyone was maximally miserable would be worse than a world in which everyone was happy, and it would be wrong to try to move us toward the first world and away from the second. This is not true by definition, but it is obvious, just as it is obvious that elephants are larger than mice. If someone denied the truth of either of those propositions, we would have no reason to take him seriously…” So, even though naturalism appears to be problem-free from the inside, it strikes one who is not committed to it as a very problematic worldview indeed, one that perhaps does not merit to be taken seriously.

    But can’t the naturalist hope to solve such externally visible problems within naturalism’s model of reality? I think not. The very foundations of naturalism, namely the causal closure of the universe and the 100% correlation between physical and mental states, leave no space, allow no flexibility, for concepts such as freedom, or value, or even rationality to fit in, except in some subjective and incidental sense.

    Which reminds me of the recent debate between William Lane Craig and physicist Lawrence Krauss. In it Krauss explicitly argued that the universe need not conform to our notions of classical logic, and, what’s more, that we today know that the universe violates such notions. In this way, by one mighty move, Krauss called into question all of Craig’s carefully crafted arguments – for either they conform to “nature” (i.e. to naturalism’s conception of reality) or else they are false no matter their logical merits. Nature, as he often repeated, is the only arbiter. He even displayed his T-shirt which announced that 2+2=5. Now I think Krauss’ point cannot be called reasonable, but it is certainly consistent with naturalism: Nature is prior to logic; if nature and logic conflict, then logic must give way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    (reposting, for the original post failed to appear)

    [2nd part; continues from above]

    So what about all the conceptual problems that people suggest naturalism suffers from? Say, the problem of intentionality, or the problem of the deep mathematical nature of the universe, or the problem of how to interpret quantum phenomena. Now here is why all these problems are not problems of naturalism, but only of people who try to make sense of naturalism: On naturalism, reality is not in any way purposeful, and is thus in no way committed to serving us a pleasant life, including the intellectual satisfaction of understanding reality. If our brains have trouble making sense of a naturalistic reality that only proves a cognitive limitation of our brains, which limitation, incidentally, naturalism explains. The same goes for our experience of freedom, or about ethical values, etc. Naturalism explains exactly how come we have these feelings, indeed how come we feel we are something we are not. Here is the general case: Consider any thought which suggests that naturalism suffers from a problem, and naturalism will explain how that thought came about, as well as the feelings this thought produces in us. Thus naturalism explain all the facts of the case, and as it leaves no fact unexplained it does not suffer from any problem.

    Let us now consider the merits of naturalism from the outside, and ideally from the point of view of an agnostic who is not committed either to naturalism or to theism. From this point of view, there is much more to a thought than just the facts about the causal physical process that produced it and its corresponding mental dimension. Moreover, given the human condition, it seems as certain as anything that freedom and moral values do exist. In this context, here is how Thomas Nagel recently defended the existence of moral values: “A world in which everyone was maximally miserable would be worse than a world in which everyone was happy, and it would be wrong to try to move us toward the first world and away from the second. This is not true by definition, but it is obvious, just as it is obvious that elephants are larger than mice. If someone denied the truth of either of those propositions, we would have no reason to take him seriously…” So, even though naturalism appears to be problem-free from the inside, it strikes one who is not committed to it as a very problematic worldview indeed, one that perhaps does not merit to be taken seriously.

    [continues bellow]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [3rd part; continues from above]

    But can’t the naturalist hope to solve such externally visible problems within naturalism’s model of reality? I think not. The very foundations of naturalism, namely the causal closure of the universe and the 100% correlation between physical and mental states, leave no space, allow no flexibility, for concepts such as freedom, or value, or even rationality to fit in, except in some subjective and incidental sense.

    Which reminds me of the recent debate between William Lane Craig and physicist Lawrence Krauss. In it Krauss explicitly argued that the universe need not conform to our notions of classical logic, and, what’s more, that we today know that the universe violates such notions. In this way, by one mighty move, Krauss called into question all of Craig’s carefully crafted arguments – for either they conform to “nature” (i.e. to naturalism’s conception of reality) or else they are false no matter their logical merits. Nature, as he often repeated, is the only arbiter. He even displayed his T-shirt which announced that 2+2=5. Now I think Krauss’ point cannot be called reasonable, but it is certainly consistent with naturalism: Nature is prior to logic; if nature and logic conflict then logic must give way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13081990693148277532 woodchuck64

    Keith, cool, if you like that metaphor than I've squarely got your point. Looking forward to Victor's response.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13081990693148277532 woodchuck64

    Dianelos Georgoudis,

    Moreover, given the human condition, it seems as certain as anything that freedom and moral values do exist.

    What does "freedom", "moral values" and even "human condition" really mean, though? Freedom seems to be the desire to be free to be myself, but I don't really feel like I need to create myself to be truly free. Moral values feel universally right and wrong because that's what social corrective attitudes would have to feel like. The human condition seems to be primarily a result of a brain composed of an evolutionarily-recent thin layer of symbolic processing and Baysian-like reasoning on top of billions of years older emotional reactive stimulus response mechanisms. That all seems somewhat consistent with naturalism, but then I'm not sure we're agreed on the definitions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09708981993708509662 Robert Oerter

    Nicely put, Keith.

    I think the computer analogy is helpful (at least for geeky types like me). Think of a computer program that takes an integer as input and prints out all the integers from 1 up to the input value. If one were to ask, "Why did the computer stop at (input value)?", you could explain it in terms of the computer program: "There is a counter that gets incremented in a loop and an IF statement that stops the loop when the counter is greater than the target value."

    OR, you could explain it in terms of the architecture of the computer and the physical states of various memory locations and the connections between them. A much more complicated explanation, for sure, but one that could be written out explicitly.

    BOTH would be perfectly good causal explanations – just at different levels.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Three things…
    1. Predictions about what Victor would say
    I don't think Victor would see A and B as incompatible. He would just say that B isn't gonna happen because mental states are not simply realizations of brain states.

    Also, the transitions between mental states are not merely a succession of events, but the content is important. Three people that touch each other in series to trigger reading sentences A,B, and C (where C happens to follow from A and B) is different from one person thinking A, B, and realizing that C follows from A and B. Causal sequence is necessary but not sufficient for inference-making.

    Something like that, I believe, would be Victor's response. A and B would be compatible if B could be true, but it can't be true.

    2. Platonistic naturalism?
    On your positive view, I am wary of this analogy betwen representational contents (propositions in this case) and abstract objects. The content of the activity in my visual system is that there is a hungry feral lion out there, and the fact that it has this content helps explain why I ran the other way rather than toward it.

    I don't think there exist abstract immaterial propositions that we can somehow become aware of. I don't quite get why you think this is needed, or naturalistic.

    This is related to your inclusion of number 3 in your depiction of MN. Platonism seems to not be consistent with metaphysical naturalism. It violates supervenience, for instance. If you are a Platonist, you are not a naturalist.

    3. Mental states supervene on brain states?
    You asked:
    "Has anyone observed two brains in an identical physical state but with different mental states?"

    What about Twin Earth type scenarios?

    For instance, I am in brain state X thinking about my dog Rex. My doppleganger one town over is in identical brain state X thinking about his dog Rex. That is, we are thinking about different things, but in the same brain state.

    Do an MRI in the two towns, researchers compare notes from trials when we are thinking about our pets, and they find we are in identical global brain states. Not a falsification of physicalism, but of local supervenience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06847717704454032165 Eric Thomson

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Wes the difference is that there is no question about whether weight reduces to underlying physical properties.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Eric/BDK,

    I was addressing the concern that higher-level properties cannot be causally relevant, not concerns about supervenience; that's a different discussion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Fair enough Wes. I was focusing on your claim about Vic being anti nonreductive materialism. Because mass reduces (at least in individual cases) it seemed a bad example.

    But more to your point, I'm not sure he buys the Kim causal exclusion arguments. My hunch is he's fine with weights and rocks and temperatures causing things. But they all reduce too, they are noncontroversially reducible in individual cases.

    I assume he is fine with such things, but is suspicious about claims about irreducibility because it can be used by materialists to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

    Not sure, though, he has tended to cite but not give much in terms of evaluation of Kim's arguments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Thanks for the many thoughtful comments.

    Dianelos;

    Hold your horses! My next post will be "The Problem with Metaphysical Naturalism (According to Dianelos Georgoudis)." It may take a week or two to get this posted.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Hmmm. I'm not sure what to say about your conception of reduction. The non-reductive materialist agrees that the property "being over 1 lb" is token identical with a certain set of physical properties *at least in individual cases*. They just don't think the type is reducible.

    I think, by your description of reduction, the non-reductive materialist can say that mental properties "reduce" *at least in individual cases* as well (i.e. they believe that mental states are token, but not type, identical to physical states). "Being over 1 lb" is a multiply realizable, non-reductive property (i.e. non-reductive as a type) that is the "property in virtue of which" the teeter-totter tips. So, "desiring water," though it is token identical with some physical state, is the "property in virtue of which" I bend down to drink water from the hose (even though there is also a physical description).

    This seems to directly address Victor's concerns.

    [I should probably note that my AOS is bioethics, not philosophy of mind. After reading your CV, I know that this conversation could get over my head very quickly (you've studied with the best, for sure). It just seems to me that you're not representing NRM in the way I understand it, at least.]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    As I think about this more, Wes, I have to admit that Victor has never been very clear about nonreductive physicalism, and I've often thought he didn't give it the attention it deserves.

    However, in his defense he rightly claims his arguments should work against both reductive and nonreductive versions of physicalism so he doesn't need to get caught up in the details. This is because if mental doesn't supervene on physical, then physicalism (reductive/nonreductive) is false. I think he is right because the antecedent is false, but regardless…

    So I think you are wrong that he is against higher-level properties being causes. His argument is that reducibility is false is entailed by the falsity of supervenience, which also kills nonreductive materialism.

    Evidence for my claim that he doesn't mind higher level causes. He wrote:
    "So the only way this kind of causal relation could possibly exist, would be if we could analyze the mental in physical terms as a kind of macro-state of the physical. Just as the word "planet" is absent from physical vocabulary, but a whole bunch of particle-states add up to there being a planet, perhaps "S's belief that P" can be added up from a set of physical states. But that seems to me to be just impossible. Add up the physical all you like, and you aren't going to get "S's belief that P." The physical leaves the mental indeterminate."

    Physical facts don't leave facts about planets or rocks or weights indeterminate. Supervenience holds.

    Quote is from here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Wes good eye. I was indeed focusing on the possibility of token reduction, which wasn't exactly fair to your claims about weight, as you were talking about type.

    I made that move in the context of Victor's work because while nonreductive materialists do think that tokens are reducible, Victor doesn't even buy that.

    I was trying to avoid the discussion of whether weight is type-reducible, because it would quickly become a very complicated conversation, and because it seems orthogonal to Victor's reasons for being against reduction (as evidenced by the fact that he thinks even token reduction is not possible, so in a sense that is another way he can bypass attacking the type identity theory/nonreductive materialism fights).

    Don't worry about who has what background. It's all about the arguments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    You may well be correct, BDK. I really don't have the time to scour Vic's posts.

    Here are links to the comment pages in which he and Littlejohn discussed this issue specifically (it likely vindicates one of us):

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/04/argument-from-reason-and-theism.html

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/04/physicalism-mental-causation-and-afr.html

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/05/menuges-dennett-denied.html

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/05/argument-from-reason-its-scope-and.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BDK,

    1) You may be right about Victor's reply here. On my view, propositional content is important but non-causal. If my chain of mental states is "If A, then B," "A," "Therefore B." The propositional content of "If A, then B," and "A" does not cause me to think "Therefore B" because propositional content cannot cause anything. What does the causing are the brain states that realize the thoughts "If A, then B," and "A." What makes the content important is that this content makes my thoughts an instantiation of the rule of valid reasoning Modus Ponens. It is conformity with the rule, not some occult kind of causation, that makes my thought rational.

    2) I am not committed to the existence of Platonic objects. However, if they do exist, I do not see why a physical brain cannot apprehend them.

    3) This seems to be a problem with reference, not with mental contents. It seems obvious to me that you and I could have the same perceptual and mental content about different objects. I see the new cobalt blue Honda Fit (now you know my taste in cars) and think "Man, would I love to have that!" I tell you about it, you dash over to the showroom for a look and think "Man, would I love to have that!" In the meantime, the dealership has removed the one I saw and replaced it with an identical one. However we individuate thoughts, it does not necessarily seem to involve their referents.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Keith:

    1. Why have you singled out the content of mental states as special compared to, say, photosynthesis? Are you a nonnaturalist about propositional contents?

    2. I would cut 3 from your list of things a metaphysical naturalist would accept. It doesn't make sense. This is independent of how we come to know them (a real problem, of course). I'm focusing on the ontology.

    3. You are thinking about your dog, I am thinking about my dog. Those aren't different thoughts? I'm not saying content is identical to reference, but reference is part of the story.

    When you talk about what someone is thinking about, such as his mom, the Red Sox, whatever, this usually involves mention of the referents. It is very hard to describe content of thought without describing their referents. We typically aren't thinking about our brain, after all, but things out in the world. When we study how brains represent the world, we don't just narrowly look at brains, but their informational contact with the world.

    Sure, maybe our conscious experiences would be the same, but that doesn't imply that we are thinking about the same things. Your dog and my dog aren't identical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Take home points from Victor's arguments:
    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/04/argument-from-reason-and-theism.html

    Supervenience fails, therefore physicalism is false. Also, nonreductive physicalism seems a cop-out, a refusal to explain the relation between mental and neuronal facts, the materialist trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/04/physicalism-mental-causation-and-afr.html

    Just positing the supervenience relation as a brute fact is nonexplanatory, an ad hoc attempt to salvage materialism. Plus, it is clearly unlike cases of weight for which we can clearly explain the relations between micro- and macro-levels. So while in the former cases, the supervenience relation would be expected, predicted, and intelligible, for the mind it is a brute claim without an intelligible route between the two sets of facts.

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/05/menuges-dennett-denied.html

    Some joker named Blue Devil Knight argues that nonreductive physicalism isn't being given a fair shake by Victor and crew (using digestion in venus fly traps, paramecia, and mammals as an example of a process that is biological but not obviously (type) reducible).

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2010/05/argument-from-reason-its-scope-and.html

    Nothing really new.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “ My next post will be "The Problem with Metaphysical Naturalism (According to Dianelos Georgoudis)."

    Thanks. I am really curious to see how you will respond. Please note that my contention is that MN has no problems, and that as long as two basic scientific premises hold (and which appear to hold very well indeed) MN cannot possibly have any problems – from the point of view of the naturalist. But that MN suffers from serious problems when evaluated from the point of view of an agnostic, especially an agnostic who is comparing MN with philosophical theism in order to find out which ontology is more reasonable or is more probably true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    PARSONS
    If my chain of mental states is "If A, then B," "A," "Therefore B."

    CARR
    It can't do,as there are an infinite number of truths that can follow from A.

    If my cat weighs less than 1 ton,it weighs less than 2 tons, less than 3 tons etc.

    How does the propositional content of A stop all these infinite number of thoughts entering my mind, on the worldview of somebody who is convinced that the propositional content of something causes other thoughts to appear, if those other thoughts follow logically?

    According to Victor's worldview, we should all have an infinite number of thoughts in our mind, as the propositional content of one thing causes other thoughts to appear.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Steven: we aren't compelled to make inferences, why would Victor have to agree to that. He could say we don't always make inferences, and also calculations of relevance come into play to trim the tree of inference (I don't consider every restaurant, but only those I can afford).

    You are basically bringing up a relative of the frame problem in AI, which is tricky but doesn't seem to be a problem for Victor or other content-sensitive views.

    If I were you guys I wouldn't so blithely endorse epiphenomenalism about content.

    That said, most of Victor's work is destructive, not much of a positive theory there, so it is very hard to say what he thinks. This is a problem for most dualist writings: they tend to spend most of their words attacking neuroscience, and then a desultory and speculative discussion of a positive story follows, one that is never really fleshed out or connected with the data.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Steven: we aren't compelled to make inferences, why would Victor have to agree to that?

    CARR
    So if the propositional content does not cause our minds to produce inferences , what does this propositional content cause? Earthquakes? Tumours in mice?

    I am bringing up the frame problem, as it is a huge problem for people who think that propositions cause inferences.

    People like Victor.

    How do they turn off these inferences that they insist are caused by propositions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06847717704454032165 Eric Thomson

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    For one, the frame "problem" isn't just posed for people who think content is important, but for any theory of cognition.

    Two, it is overblown, it came up in a naive approach in AI. Doesn't consider goals, motivation, relevance, background knowledge are taken into account to make relevant inferences.

    If I don't have concept 'even' I can't infer 'There's an even number of X's in front of me' from 'There are two X's in front of me.'

    If my goal is to enjoy time with my family, I can think 'I love my daughter' without a runaway inference train starting. Victor never said that inference is compulsory. He does think content is important when we do make inferences, though (so content is necessary part of making inference, not a sufficient cause that necessarily triggers all possible inferences: that is just a straw man).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    'For one, the frame "problem" isn't just posed for people who think content is important, but for any theory of cognition.'

    But it is far worse for people who claim the contents of propositions cause other propositions to appear in our thoughts.

    'Victor never said that inference is compulsory. '

    Well, of course he has never filled in the details. The fact that his theories are incomplete, ill-thought out and not articulated clearly is no reason to say I should not point out the flaws in them.

    He cannot say what stops this runaway inference train starting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Semantic content should only help. It provides an additional constraint to trim the inference tree (when thinking about places to go swimming, prune the tree of semantically semantically irrelevant things like calculus, daffodils, etc).

    What makes the task tougher for Victor isn't that content matters (that makes it easier) but that he is an antinaturalist. For one, that makes him less likely to advert to Bayes' nets or other standard algorithmic solutions to the frame problem.

    Victor doesn't have to think content is sufficient, but only necessary for inference. There are many plausible ways to trim the tree (that I mentioned already but somehow got ignored): e.g., take into account goals, motivational states, background knowledge, etc. Even the more algorithmic avenues are available, though that is one region where the antinaturalism might come into play and make things harder for him.

    On the other hand, this solution actually leads to another problem for Victor. The problem of unconscious inference. The above solutions to the frame problem don't happen consciously. We typically aren't aware that we are doing them. How the dualist accounts for such unconscious mental processes is a very interesting problem. Especially for Victor: he sometimes writes as if consciousness is necessary for inference, so if the tree pruning is a form of inference, then he has some serious issues to resolve.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    FWIW,I think the frame problem is largely an artifact of an anachronistic approach to cognition. Using a more neurally-inspired approach, rather than symbol-crunching approach, the frame problem is not particularly troublesome. Not sure this avenue is available to Victor, largely because he hasn't really given a positive story about mind, and how it is related to neuroscience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BDK,

    Am I a non-naturalist about propositional contents? Not at all. I think meanings are social constructs. “Cat” means what it does because we all agree that this is what c-a-t stands for. Not sure I understand your reference to photosynthesis. My point is precisely that human thinking is just as much a biological process as photosynthesis. Better, thinking is something we do with our neurological hardware just as singing is something done with the larynx, tongue, diaphragm, etc. Why are propositional contents special? I think we must be misunderstanding one another, because I would have absolutely nothing to say in answer but commonplace remarks: Well, gee, what if you woke up tomorrow morning and all of your regular acquaintances were speaking only Serbo-Croatian? That would be a problem, right? Sorry, this is NOT a feeble attempt at sarcasm, I’m just trying to say that on my view meanings have all the importance we pre-philosophically think they do; I just do not attribute a bizarre, occult causal power to them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BDK,

    As for the question about mental contents and reference: The twin earth scenario imagines an identical person with identical brain states thinking about an identical dog. In this case is it not prima facie plausible to say that the mental states are the same too? Besides, even if a twin-earth scenario shows that it is in principle possible to have different thoughts with identical brain-states, what I am looking for is real-world evidence. Lots of things are in-principle possible but really impossible. If someone says, as Victor does, that brain states underdetermine mental states, I say that I will be convinced if they show me a case where we can empirically determine (a) that two persons have identical brain states, and (b) they are thinking distinctly different thoughts. Maybe one is thinking “God, but that Dick Armey is a dumbass” and the other is thinking “What should I wear to the royal wedding?” Until and unless such evidence is provided, I see no reason to hold that the physical underdetermines the mental.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    On propositional contents: I take it that language-using, or being human, is not necessary for propositional thought, so the conventionalism you are expressing about meanings seems misplaced. Sure, the external signs are arbitrary, but that's a different issue.

    At any rate, your view that propositions exist, and we become aware of them, sounds a lot like Platonism or Frege's third realm. Your number 3 can be taken as an expression of realism about abstract objects. If that's not your view then I've misinterpreted.

    The twin case I described they are thinking about two different dogs (your dog in city one, and my dog in city 2). That was the whole point (and in Putnam's case, of course, different natural kinds).

    Whether we would ever see this in practice seems evasive. It is not a stretch (at all) to imagine it happening. I purposely avoided Putnam's formulation in many details because it is so unbelievable.

    At any rate the question is how you would handle it if it happened, not whether you think it is realistic.

    I'd read Dretske, that's what I'd suggest to everyone reading this thread. His 'Explaining Behavior' is pretty easy read and it seems people here really don't know much of the basic literature. Sorry to be a jerk just my impression, what I'm reading seems only semi-coherent and thought out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Damn, BDK.

    I'm still getting email notifications on every new comment. Of course, you are right about the misunderstandings of propositional content and the point of Putnam's Twin Earth examples; you say, "sorry to be a jerk," but you amended the first draft of your comment to be even more insulting (adding the semi-coherent bit). Ouch. That's harsh.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Wes I was going to add 'except Wes' to that, but thought that would come off snarky. I didn't mean to apply it to you at all, your questions were spot on, you called me out on an equivocation that I needed to redress, and helped me clarify how I think Victor thinks about nonreductive materialism.

    My frustration is that I have seen much better stuff from Parsons, his ideas aren't as well groomed as I'm used to. I typically lurk, but this evoked a bit of a startle response and urge to press against the weakness to see if it's just apparent. I worry it is more than that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BDK,

    One thing I like about blog exchanges is that it gives one the opportunity to try out some half-baked ideas to see how far they go. If someone knows more about it, you learn from them. That is the point of a lot of philosophical discussion, right? However, in doing so, I seem to have gotten on your nerves. If so, my sincere apologies. I found your remarks on the twin earth examples and your questions about propositional content a bit compressed and cryptic, and pressed the point hoping for clarification. Instead of clarification I get condescension. I'm not offended, for the simple reason that I do not give a shit what you or any other philosopher thinks of me. However, having learned much from your postings here and elsewhere, I honestly expected better of you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Part of talking about a half-baked idea is throwing pointed criticisms at it, like it seems incoherent for reasons xyz. It's the ideas I'm attacking, not anyone here. I had assumed it was something more polished and well thought out, rather than a prospectus that needs to be treated with a bit more nurturing attitude, so perhaps I came on a bit strong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BDK,

    I hear you guys in the Raliegh/Durham area were dodging tornadoes all yesterday afternoon. That could make one a mite edgy, so I'll attribute the apparent spleen to that.

    Hope all is OK, BTW, and that you suffered no damage.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Yes, we got lucky the worst of it was over in Raleigh.

    the word verification word is 'crywords' which is freaking hilarious.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BDK,

    I think we have been talking past one another, and looking back over my remarks, I can see that I have not been clear, so let me try to be more explicit:

    Precisely what the Twin Earth scenarios seem designed to show is that two different individuals can have qualitatively identical psychological states, yet if those states are intentional states, they can have different referents, i.e., they can be about entirely different things. Taking Putnam’s example, suppose that I have an identical twin on another planet, one that is phenomenologically identical to earth. For instance, what I call “water” has the exact same empirical properties as the substance my twin calls “water” on his planet. However, water on Earth is H2O and water on Twin Earth is XYZ. Therefore, when I refer to water, I refer to something different than when Twin Parsons refers to water, and, to the extent that reference determines meaning, what I mean by “water” will be something different than what Twin Parsons means by “water.” The upshot, said Putnam, is that “meanings just ain’t in the head.”

    I did not mean to challenge any of this. I do not question that my twin is thinking about something different when thinking about his dog. I meant to focus on the qualitative, conscious states which, the twin earth examples assume, are the same between me and my twin. Why? Because Victor claims that the physical underdetermines the mental, and by “mental” I understood him to mean the sort of qualitative, conscious state that I and my twin are presumed to share. What evidence would I take that the physical underdetermines one’s qualitative, conscious state? I would be convinced if we could empirically determine that two brains were in identical states but find that the qualitative states of consciousness were not the same. For instance, one is perceiving blue and the other red, or one is thinking “Sarah Palin has a room-temperature I.Q.” and the other is thinking “Gas prices just topped $4.”

    If this is still woefully ignorant and wrongheaded, please do point me in the right direction.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    No I think that is reasonable. Most people, including me, have strong internalist intuitions about conscious contents but not propositional contents.

    Because it is propositional contents that are the medium of inferences, that's why I brought it up (and they count as mental states just as much as conscious experiences, presumably). But you are right though, that's why I added the proviso in one of my posts that even if they have the same experiences (conscious contents), they aren't having the same thoughts (propositional contents).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Wow Wes you were totally right re: victor's view of nonreductive materialism. I argued at the post above for why I find it a very strange view to hold. To try to apply causal exclusion just to nonreducible things seems to miss the point in a big way. But as exegesis you nailed it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    I think here my notion of nonreducibility has to do with whether the question of whether the question of whether the property or there or not is closed once the physical facts are added up. In the case of the teeter-totter, event though the property is multiply realizable, it can be reached by a sort of adding-up of the physical states. Lots of things can weigh a pound, but weight is a property about which the question isn't open once the base-level states are added up. In the case of intentional states, I think there is underdetermination, in that the physical seems to be logically compatible with various mental states, or none at all. Non-normative states underdetermine normative content, intentional content, first-person status, and purpose. On a naturalistic view, these things are the product of function, and function seems to always be indeterminate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    I wonder what happened to my comment. I thought that only happened on my site. But, the idea is that even where you have no type reduction, in cases like the pound on the teeter totter, you can add up the physical states and close the question of whether the property is instantiated. In the case of intentional states, it looks like there is no entailment between the physical, added up, and the mental.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    I think it easiest to say you deny token reduction Victor for things like mental states, but not see-saws.

    I just posted a long set of four comments at your blog that somehow got eaten this morning after I had already deleted it from my computer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    [This comment turned out to be longer than I intended. To help, I make two points: (i) it seems more parsimonious to say that mental states are, at least, token identical to brain states than it is to say they are not, given certain real-life examples, and (ii) Kim's causal exclusion argument really doesn't seem to work. I've labeled the two parts below.]

    I'm not sure I follow your objection, Victor, so I'm not sure that what follows will address your worry or not, so forgive me if I've missed your point altogether.

    (i) It is more parsimonious to hold that mental states are, at least, token identical to brain states

    I think about the origins of mental states in children. I don't think you deny that mental states appear only when certain brain states are possible given neurological development. Now, this is exactly what one would expect if mental states are, at least, token identical to brain states, but it is somewhat surprising if mental states are not, at least, token identical to brain states. There is no reason mental states couldn't appear before the brain states or a while after them if mental states are not, at least, token identical to brain states?

    Or, think of the different versions van Inwagen's Remote Control Argument. When Alfred's remote-controlled airplane is damaged by a bird, Alfred is unaffected, but his control over his plane is affected. If mental states are not, at least, token identical to brain states, one would think that taking a drug, for instance, would affect my control over my body, but not my mental states.

    When I take a physical drug it goes and makes physical changes to my brain, AND changes my mental states, however. This is exactly what one would expect if my mental states are, at least, token identical to my brain states, but surprising if my mental states are not, at least, token identical to my brain states (as van Inwagen puts it, if the two are not, at least, token identical, then one would predict the mental states would be unaffected by the change in brain states–after all, at least for most substance dualists, mental states can survive the complete destruction of the brain).

    Similarly, if I am hit in the back of the head with a physical baseball bat, I lose consciousness (i.e. my mental states are affected). But if my consciousness can survive the complete destruction of my brain, it is surprising that it is affected by a physical baseball bat pounding on my physical brain. One would predict that if mental states are not, at least, token identical to brain states, the person hit with the bat would think, "Mother f-er, that hurt. What happened? Why is my body falling to the floor? Why have my eyes closed? When will I regain control of my body?" In other words, their mental states should not be affected. If, however, mental states are, at least, token identical to brain states, this is exactly what one would expect–i.e. a disruption of my brain states disrupts my mental states.

    The same would be true of brain trauma cases. Physical strokes affect physical brains. If mental states are, at least, token identical to brain states, this makes perfect sense. That physical strokes affect mental states that are not, at least, token identical to brain states is surprising, though.

    When the brain is changed, the mental is changed, which is exactly what one would expect if mental states are, at least, token identical to brain states, but is surprising if mental states are not, at least, token identical to brain states.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    (ii) Mental causation and causal exclusion

    Now, to Kim's causal exclusion, I don't see how the teeter-totter case is not analogous to mental states.

    Let me give another example (also from the unpublished paper I mentioned in my first comment): You might remember a child's toy ball-sorter (you can see a picture of it on page 9 of the following paper using it to make a completely different point: http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/Fodor%20%20and%20Piatelli-Palermini%20march%2012.pdf). All the balls gather at one end. The child shakes the toy and the balls sort themselves out because all but the largest balls can fit through the holes on the first plane, all but the second largest balls fit through the holes in the second plane, etc. (it really helps to look at the picture for this one).

    Now, typically, all the balls of one size are the same color, but it is obviously not in virtue of the color that the balls are sorted. It is not the materials of which the balls are made that cause the sorting. It is the size. But, of course, size is multiply realizable. Now, is there also a lower-level causal story to explain the sorting? Sure. But, we miss something if we don't realize it is in virtue of the higher-level property that the event occurs.

    So, back to mental properties. Is there a physical explanation for every conscious act? Sure. But, this does not crowd out higher-level explanations like Kim implies anymore than the fact that there are lower-level causal explanations for the teeter-totter and the ball-sorter events crowds out higher-level causal explanations of those events.

    I guess I really don't see the mental causation problem you see.

    [Sorry, again, this turned so long. As I mentioned to BDK above, you'll have to forgive me if I'm not following the complexities of your argument. I'm an ethics guy who's hasn't done all of the reading that all of you have, surely, done. It's very possible that I'm not addressing the real worries you're expressing.]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Wes: You mention Van Inwagen, who calls himself a materialist, but strikes me as an unorthodox one. It is not clear what his criteria are for something to me material. The operating definition of materiality that I am working with requires that the material be mechanistically explicable. The fundamental explanation of something, if it is material, is mechanistic, and leaves out the normative, the teleological, the first-person-subjective, and the intentional from the basic level of analysis. I see no problem the "soul" being in space and time (and at least in some sense being part of the brain), so long as its activities can be governed by the laws of logic, as opposed to the laws of physics. It seems to me that the Remote Control argument would, if successful, only establish that the mind occupies space, but I am inclined to agree that it does.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Wes you might consider cross-posting these comments over at Victor's blog if you haven't: more likely to get a vigorous response.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    I see no problem the "soul" being in space and time (and at least in some sense being part of the brain), so long as its activities can be governed by the laws of logic, as opposed to the laws of physics. It seems to me that the Remote Control argument would, if successful, only establish that the mind occupies space, but I am inclined to agree that it does.

    And, you call van Inwagen "unorthodox"! :)

    I'm not really sure what to make of your view. I take it that the soul/mind in your view must be immaterial, otherwise it must be "mechanistically explicable" and leave out the normative, the teleological, the first-person-subjective, and the intentional. But, I really can't understand how something can "be[] in space and time" and be "at least in some sense… part of the brain" without being material.

    Furthermore, if you believe in the causal closure of the material (as you seem to when you discuss the inefficacy of higher-level properties to cause and as you seem to demand in your description of the material), how does the mental cause anything if it is immaterial?

    Your answer was very surprising to me; I've really never heard anything like it before. Are there others who hold this view that the mind can be in space and time and part of the brain but still be immaterial?

    This is a very foreign idea to me.

    ***

    BDK: I prefer discussing these things with philosophers; Victor's blog seems to attract a lot of non-specialists who type a lot, but have very little background. I don't really have the time or patience a lot of you regular bloggers do with those types. I respond to you, Keith, and Victor and kind of pretend the rest of the crew here doesn't exist. ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    There is definitely a rough-and-tumble atmosphere over there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    I guess I have to distinguish material-1 (spatio-temporally locatable), with material-2 (mechanistically explicable). On my view the "soul" is material-1 but not material-2.

    I don't know if Bill Hasker specifically addresses this issue, but I think that is his position in The Emergent Self, where he advocates what he calls emergent dualism.

    Of course, there are Thomist options also, which are neither Cartesian nor materialist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    I ignore a lot of things that happen on my blog, also.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    If you ever get around to it, I'd love to see your view fleshed out a little more (maybe a post devoted to it). Obviously, a request from a quasi-anonymous blogger need not be too seriously, but if you're ever looking to fill some space on your blog, that would be a great one, in my opinion.

    At this point, your distinctions seem ad hoc, to me, but I suspect that is probably more due to my lack of understanding than a fallacy on your part (I take it that you've spent a lot more time thinking through this view than I have, having just seen it yesterday).

    Hylomorphic souls don't really fit the bill of your materialism-1, and I'm not really sure that would help in terms of intentionality, etc. (plus, I worry that hylomorphism relies heavily on smoke and mirrors, but, again, this is a view with which I'm only vaguely familiar).

    In one of your exchanges with Clayton Littlejohn, you write, "Just positing the supervenience relation as a brute fact is nonexplanatory, an ad hoc attempt to salvage materialism." Here, and in your latest post, you worry about higher-level causation.

    You can probably understand, however, that some of us naturalists think positing non-mechanistically explicable, but spatio-temporally locatable "material" (that, I suppose, is not made of matter) seems an even greater ad hoc attempt to salvage non-naturalism.

    I take it that your material-1 cannot actually be made of matter. It can't be composed of atoms, because atoms are part of your material-2 substances.

    Now, you've worried that the non-reductive materialist has problems with mental causation (though, curiously, you accept many mundane examples of higher-level causation), but I really cannot see that your view is any better positioned to give this kind of account.

    You need spatio-temporally locatable "material" not made of matter to somehow affect material-2, which you say is mechanistically explicable. But if material-1 can affect material-2, how can material-2 be mechanistically explicable? By what mechanism can non-material matter affect mechanistically explicable matter?

    Additionally, you say that material-1 minds/souls can be part of brains, but I take it that it will not show up in CT scans, but brain activity certainly does show up on MRI's, so were is the mind's activity there? Should be we expect to see all the brain activity generate from one non-material location within the brain?

    Plus, I'm not sure this helps explain any of cases I describe above. If I take a scalpel to someone's brain, I change her minds. Depending on where in the brain I do my cutting, I change one's mind differently. Is my scalpel cutting/damaging a spatio-temporally located mind that is not made of matter? How does my scalpel do this?

    Again, you can probably chalk many of my worries up to lack of familiarity with your view (rather than a failure of your view), but, from your brief description, I worry that your view is much more problematic than the non-reductive materialist view.

    Would love to see it spelled out in more detail when you have time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    If you ever get around to it, I'd love to see your view fleshed out a little more (maybe a post devoted to it). Obviously, a request from a quasi-anonymous blogger need not be taken too seriously, but if you're ever looking to fill some space on your blog, that would be a great one, in my opinion.

    At this point, your distinctions seem ad hoc to me, but I suspect that is probably more due to my lack of understanding than a fallacy on your part (I take it that you've spent a lot more time thinking through this view than I have, having just seen it yesterday).

    Hylomorphic souls don't really fit the bill of your materialism-1, and I'm not really sure that would help in terms of intentionality, etc. (plus, I worry that hylomorphism relies heavily on smoke and mirrors, but, again, this is a view with which I'm only vaguely familiar).

    In one of your exchanges with Clayton Littlejohn, you write, "Just positing the supervenience relation as a brute fact is nonexplanatory, an ad hoc attempt to salvage materialism." Here, and in your latest post, you worry about higher-level causation.

    You can probably understand, however, that some of us naturalists think positing non-mechanistically explicable, but spatio-temporally locatable "material" (that, I suppose, is not made of matter) seems an even greater ad hoc attempt to salvage non-naturalism.

    I take it that your material-1 cannot actually be made of matter. It can't be composed of atoms, because atoms are part of your material-2 substances.

    Now, you've worried that the non-reductive materialist has problems with mental causation (though, curiously, you accept many mundane examples of higher-level causation), but I really cannot see that your view is any better positioned to give this kind of account.

    You need spatio-temporally locatable "material" not made of matter to somehow affect material-2, which you say is mechanistically explicable. But if material-1 can affect material-2, how can material-2 be mechanistically explicable? By what mechanism can non-material matter affect mechanistically explicable matter?

    Additionally, you say that material-1 minds/souls can be part of brains, but I take it that it will not show up in CT scans, but brain activity certainly does show up on MRI's, so where is the mind's activity there? Should be we expect to see all the brain activity generate from one non-material location within the brain?

    Plus, I'm not sure this helps explain any of cases I describe above. If I take a scalpel to someone's brain, I change her mind. Depending on where in the brain I do my cutting, I change one's mind differently. Is my scalpel cutting/damaging a spatio-temporally located mind that is not made of matter? How does my scalpel do this?

    Again, you can probably chalk many of my worries up to lack of familiarity with your view (rather than a failure of your view), but, from your brief description, I worry that your view is much more problematic than the non-reductive materialist view.

    Would love to see it spelled out in more detail when you have time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    If you ever get around to it, I'd love to see your view fleshed out a little more (maybe a post devoted to it). Obviously, a request from a quasi-anonymous blogger need not be taken too seriously, but if you're ever looking to fill some space on your blog, that would be a great one, in my opinion.

    At this point, your distinctions seem ad hoc to me, but I suspect that is probably more due to my lack of understanding than a fallacy on your part (I take it that you've spent a lot more time thinking through this view than I have, having just seen it yesterday).

    Hylomorphic souls don't really fit the bill of your materialism-1, and I'm not really sure that would help in terms of intentionality, etc. (plus, I worry that hylomorphism relies heavily on smoke and mirrors, but, again, this is a view with which I'm only vaguely familiar).

    In one of your exchanges with Clayton Littlejohn, you write, "Just positing the supervenience relation as a brute fact is nonexplanatory, an ad hoc attempt to salvage materialism." Here, and in your latest post, you worry about higher-level causation.

    You can probably understand, however, that some of us naturalists think positing non-mechanistically explicable, but spatio-temporally locatable "material" (that, I suppose, is not made of matter) seems an even greater ad hoc attempt to salvage non-naturalism.

    I take it that your material-1 cannot actually be made of matter. It can't be composed of atoms, because atoms are part of your material-2 substances.

    Now, you've worried that the non-reductive materialist has problems with mental causation (though, curiously, you accept many mundane examples of higher-level causation), but I really cannot see that your view is any better positioned to give this kind of account.

    You need spatio-temporally locatable "material" not made of matter to somehow affect material-2, which you say is mechanistically explicable. But if material-1 can affect material-2, how can material-2 be mechanistically explicable? By what mechanism can non-material matter affect mechanistically explicable matter?

    Additionally, you say that material-1 minds/souls can be part of brains, but I take it that it will not show up in CT scans, but brain activity certainly does show up on MRI's, so where is the mind's activity there? Should be we expect to see all the brain activity generate from one non-material location within the brain?

    Plus, I'm not sure this helps explain any of cases I describe above. If I take a scalpel to someone's brain, I change her mind. Depending on where in the brain I do my cutting, I change one's mind differently. Is my scalpel cutting/damaging a spatio-temporally located mind that is not made of matter? How does my scalpel do this?

    Again, you can probably chalk many of my worries up to lack of familiarity with your view (rather than a failure of your view), but, from your brief description, I worry that your view is much more problematic than the non-reductive materialist view.

    Would love to see it spelled out in more detail when you have time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    If you ever get around to it, I'd love to see your view fleshed out a little more (maybe a post devoted to it). Obviously, a request from a quasi-anonymous blogger need not be taken too seriously, but if you're ever looking to fill some space on your blog, that would be a great one, in my opinion.

    At this point, your distinctions seem ad hoc to me, but I suspect that is probably more due to my lack of understanding than a fallacy on your part (I take it that you've spent a lot more time thinking through this view than I have, having just seen it yesterday).

    Hylomorphic souls don't really fit the bill of your materialism-1, and I'm not really sure that would help in terms of intentionality, etc. (plus, I worry that hylomorphism relies heavily on smoke and mirrors, but, again, this is a view with which I'm only vaguely familiar).

    In one of your exchanges with Clayton Littlejohn, you write, "Just positing the supervenience relation as a brute fact is nonexplanatory, an ad hoc attempt to salvage materialism." Here, and in your latest post, you worry about higher-level causation.

    You can probably understand, however, that some of us naturalists think positing non-mechanistically explicable, but spatio-temporally locatable "material" (that, I suppose, is not made of matter) seems an even greater ad hoc attempt to salvage non-naturalism.

    I take it that your material-1 cannot actually be made of matter. It can't be composed of atoms, because atoms are part of your material-2 substances.

    [continued below]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    If you ever get around to it, I'd love to see your view fleshed out a little more (maybe a post devoted to it). Obviously, a request from a quasi-anonymous blogger need not be taken too seriously, but if you're ever looking to fill some space on your blog, that would be a great one, in my opinion.

    At this point, your distinctions seem ad hoc to me, but I suspect that is probably more due to my lack of understanding than a fallacy on your part (I take it that you've spent a lot more time thinking through this view than I have, having just seen it yesterday).

    Hylomorphic souls don't really fit the bill of your materialism-1, and I'm not really sure that would help in terms of intentionality, etc. (plus, I worry that hylomorphism relies heavily on smoke and mirrors, but, again, this is a view with which I'm only vaguely familiar).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    In one of your exchanges with Clayton Littlejohn, you write, "Just positing the supervenience relation as a brute fact is nonexplanatory, an ad hoc attempt to salvage materialism." Here, and in your latest post, you worry about higher-level causation.

    You can probably understand, however, that some of us naturalists think positing non-mechanistically explicable, but spatio-temporally locatable "material" (that, I suppose, is not made of matter) seems an even greater ad hoc attempt to salvage non-naturalism.

    I take it that your material-1 cannot actually be made of matter. It can't be composed of atoms, because atoms are part of your material-2 substances.

    Now, you've worried that the non-reductive materialist has problems with mental causation (though, curiously, you accept many mundane examples of higher-level causation), but I really cannot see that your view is any better positioned to give this kind of account.

    You need spatio-temporally locatable "material" not made of matter to somehow affect material-2, which you say is mechanistically explicable. But if material-1 can affect material-2, how can material-2 be mechanistically explicable? By what mechanism can non-material matter affect mechanistically explicable matter?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Additionally, you say that material-1 minds/souls can be part of brains, but I take it that it will not show up in CT scans, but brain activity certainly does show up on MRI's, so where is the mind's activity there? Should be we expect to see all the brain activity generate from one non-material location within the brain?

    Plus, I'm not sure this helps explain any of cases I describe above. If I take a scalpel to someone's brain, I change her mind. Depending on where in the brain I do my cutting, I change one's mind differently. Is my scalpel cutting/damaging a spatio-temporally located mind that is not made of matter? How does my scalpel do this?

    Again, you can probably chalk many of my worries up to lack of familiarity with your view (rather than a failure of your view), but, from your brief description, I worry that your view is much more problematic than the non-reductive materialist view.

    Would love to see it spelled out in more detail when you have time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Really don't know what is going on with my comments. They appear, disappear, return. Really sorry, everyone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    blogger is weird with comments sometimes…especially long comments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Of course, I am claiming that the material-2 world is not causally closed, so that how material-1 items can affect it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    And, there is going to be a background theological explanation to make this work.

    The problem is that I don't really think the non-mental can determine the mental. Take all the non-mental information, and it seems logically consistent with different mental stories, or with zombiehood. Since I believe there are determinate mental states (there is something specific that I mean when I am writing these words), and since my meaning isn't entailed by the non-mental, then the mental character of the content of my thoughts has to be sui generis.

    If the laws of physics provide sufficient explanations for where the atoms go, then it seems to me that if the brain is made up of only ordinary atoms, then we can never reach conclusions because certain logical and mathematical relations obtain, and we are aware of those relations. Something not in space and time has to be causing brain events.

    The detailed work on this kind of position is found in William Hasker's The Emergent Self, chapter 7. He writes "The theory's advantages over Cartesian dualism result from the close natural connection between mind and brain, contrasted wtih the disparity between mind and matter postulated by Cartesianism. In view of this close connection, it is natural to conclude that the emergent consciousness is itself a spatial entity." p. 192.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Shoot, the activity of the material-1 mind might show up on CT scans, if we learned to interpret them correctly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    (3rd intent to post)

    Woodchuck64,

    You write: “ Are you referring to Chalmers' dualism thought experiment?

    No, I was referring to Nick Bostrom’s claim that we may live in a computer simulation (see: here ) Chalmers has discussed this hypothesis and estimates that the probability that we do live in a computer simulation is about 0.2

    My argument does not hinge on the value of the probability q that we live in a computer simulation. It simply points out that whatever evidence we may find by the scientific study of our brains will not discriminate against the computer simulation hypothesis. Therefore, if materialism’s thesis that consciousness is a *material process* is true (in which case q>0) then there can’t be any evidence for the claim that consciousness is a *brain process* (because exactly the same evidence would obtain if consciousness is not a brain process, which, given that q>0, is a possibility).

    Please let me know if you find anything amiss in this argument.

    If the mind simulator underlying reality is doing anything important at all, I think the probability is high that we should be able to discover a failure in our physical models of mind at some point.

    If given my clarifications above you still think so I’d like to know why.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    I'll definitely try to look at Hasker's book when I get the time. At this point, though, I still have a lot of worries about this theory; it seems a lot goes on answered and, at times, it seems the theory is constructed to fit the problems instead of naturally answering them. Maybe the "background theological explanations" make the theory less ad hoc, and I'm just not getting the full picture.

    A few worries:

    (i) it is your definition that material-2 is mechanistically explicable, but if it is mechanistically explicable, how are you getting casual explanations of material-2 from material-1 that is non-mechanistically explicable? Plus, it seems like you endorsed Kim's causal closure against non-reductive materialism, but now have dropped it for your theory.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    (ii) I still can't seem to make sense out of material-1. It is spatio-temporally locatable, but isn't made of matter? I have no idea what that can possibly mean. I take it that you probably think the following is possible: A nuclear bomb lands a short distance away from Christiana, a devout Christian. Every molecule of her body is disintegrated. Her mind, though, spatio-temporally located but not made of matter, is unaffected; it continues on as if nothing ever happened.

    (iii) If you buy that story, I don't see how material-1 can affect material-2 in any way, so I don't see how you get mental causation. By what process does material-1 bump/push/rub/poke/shake or just affect material-2. How is it possible for something that cannot be materially affected to affect something material? What force/charge/energy does it possess that can get the atoms in my body to move? I think, "Pick up the cup," and this mind that cannot be materially affected does something to the atoms in my body to get me to pick up the cup. But, by what process does this occur? Or, at least, what is one way this process *could* occur?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    (iv) What about all the cases I mention above? If my mental states are token identical to my brain states, it makes perfect sense that when I'm hit in the head with a baseball bat, I'm rendered unconscious. If my mental states are not even token identical to my brain states (and can even survive the complete destruction of my brain states, as you presumably hold), then it is very surprising that I lose consciousness from a blow to the head (this would be the non-mental determining the mental, no?).

    If I do a drug, it affects my consciousness. If I take a physical drug, it does physical stuff to my brain; my consciousness, though, not just my body, is affected. This makes perfect sense if my mental states are token identical to my brain states, but is surprising if my mental states are not even token identical to my brain states (and can even survive the complete destruction of my brain states, as you presumably hold).

    A stroke affects the physical parts of a person's brain, yet their consciousness is altered by this physical event (so much so that they are hardly the same person). If one's mental states are not even token identical to one's brain states (and can even survive the complete destruction of one's brain states, as you presumably hold), then it is very surprising that a stroke affects my consciousness. This is exactly what one would expect if one's mental states are, at least, token identical to one's brain states.

    [I could, of course, multiply examples, and BDK could multiply them 100-fold, I'm sure.]

    I will try to look into Hasker's argument, but the theory, at this stage, seems much less plausible than token physicalism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    It could be that physical states, without some kind of divine intervention, are necessary but not sufficient conditions for mental states. A driver without a car can't drive, a car without a driver won't move.

    The problems for materialism, it seems to me, involve the concept of matter as lacking certain mental characteristics. It isn't just that the mental isn't in the physical description, it is the fact that the very idea of matter, at least as understood by traditional materialists, requires the absence of these characteristics in order for it to be matter.

    Modern science got off the ground by making a primary-secondary quality distinction. The warm feel of a hot object is left out of the physical description of the object, which is defined in terms of the kinetic energy of the molecules. The reason this is acceptable is that the warm feel of the hot object is siphoned off to the mind.

    The most obvious examples of the compatibility of mechanism and purpose are electronic computers, but here the same primary-secondary distinction can be drawn; what makes the computer a "mental" function is a secondary quality of it, dependent on the minds of users and programmers. But with our minds, the mental character of the mind can't be a secondary quality of the mind. The chain of mind-dependency has to stop somewhere.

    What is needed, I think, is something that can be governed by the laws of logic. And if the laws of physics fully and completely govern something, then how can our minds follow the laws of logic. Sometimes this idea is explicated by analogy to the Kantian distinction between actions performed in accordance with duty, and actions done from duty. How can the awareness of something that is not local in space and time have anything to do with an event that is part of a closed system of events within space and time? The causal closure of the physical seems to be a central principle of physicalism, but Hasker's chapter on the AFR is entitled "Why the Physical Isn't Closed." To really have a mind, something outside the system of physical laws has to be relevant to what goes on, even though it is so intimately connected to physical states that changes in physical states will, of course, alter the brain.

    It could turn out that there is really no pure matter, strictly speaking, and that various things in the world are more or less mental depending on what they are. I think C. S. Lewis said "Berkeley's arguments are unanswerable."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Oops, now my post is gone. I take it it will be back soon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    I'm glad your comment reappeared.

    When you say, "It could be that physical states …" that's where it starts sounding ad hoc to me (which was your worry about physicalism, right?).

    Also, if you join Hasker in thinking that "the physical isn't closed," I'm not sure it's fair to use Kim's argument from causal closure against non-reductive materialism.

    Lastly, you add another "could turn out" and come up with idealism. Do you really want to go there to (possibly) salvage a mind-body theory? It seems that that move is kind of radical.

    I get the impression that the positive response to many of the problems raised in your AfR isn't very well worked out. You've obviously put a lot of time into defending the idea that physicalism can't account for certain mental states, but I feel that when asked to give your own account and face the difficulties of that account, things get a bit dicey.

    Again, I'm not claiming expertise in this, I'm just relating an impression [I really don't want to come off as a typical harsh blogger; I'm enjoying the dialog (I'm an isolated community college prof fresh out of grad school who has no other serious philosophers to chat with)].

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    I hold that the physical isn't closed. I also hold that causal closure is essential to materialism. I don't see the conflict here at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    It's been very difficult to pin your position down. You speak of material-2 stuff that is "mechanistically explicable," which I take to be synonymous with causally closed (maybe I'm mistaken, but I can't make sense of it any other way). You contrast that with material-1 stuff that is spatio-temporally locatable, but not made of matter. I assumed you held that there was something made of matter and mechanistically explicable, but, then, you suggest that maybe idealism is right and that you don't think the physical is closed (which leads me to think you don't think there is any material-2 that is mechanistically explicable).

    That's where I'm seeing inconsistency, but it very well could be that I'm missing something.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    No. If the physical is not closed, then you can have objects whose activities process mechanistically unless something happens to them that is caused from outside the physical system. So, if accept the arguments against Paul Ryan's budget, then those considerations can result in my doing something (vote Democratic, for instance) which I would not do if I didn't consider and accept those reasons.

    By the way, I have a second, specialized blog on the AFR, which I haven't been using a whole lot lately, but during its heyday it attracted people who were interested in working seriously on the the AFR, as opposed to some of the amateurs I get on my main blog. I opened up a post in response to this post by Parsons, which has so far gotten no commentators. Since this thread is so long that posts are getting eaten, maybe you can try posting over there.
    http://dangerousidea2.blogspot.com/2011/04/reply-to-parsons-on-mental-causation.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    Victor,

    Unfortunately, I've just reached the end of my Spring break, so I'll have to end my side of the conversation at this point.

    Hopefully, I'll have more opportunity for this kind of thing this summer. Thanks for your patience and willingness to chat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13450913302331411646 Rino

    Keith: "If my chain of mental states is "If A, then B," "A," "Therefore B." The propositional content of "If A, then B," and "A" does not cause me to think "Therefore B" because propositional content cannot cause anything. What does the causing are the brain states that realize the thoughts "If A, then B," and "A."

    Assume that you are correct here, that propositional content lacks causal power. Isn't there a related problem, however? It seems that it is the logical relation from mental state 'If A then B' and 'A' to mental state 'B' that must be the causal relation, rather than the causal relation from the subvening brain state A and brain state B to brain state C. Imagine a mad scientist replaces brain state B with brain state X, and wires it up so that brain state A combined with brain state X cause brain state C. Assume that brain state X subvenes an unrelated mental state such as 'cows are animals'. Thus, we have 'If A then B' and 'Cows are animals', therefore 'B'. The causal relation holds between brain states, but the logical relation fails.

    If the conclusion 'Therefore, B' follows due to arational brain states, then the conclusion only seems serendipitously rational. Imagine a case where a landslide occurs, causing a rock to strike the criminals car rather than the philanthropists car. That seems quite rational for the landslide to have struck the criminals car. But, that isn't really rational, is it?

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