Consciousness

Searle argues for biological naturalism against dualism and materialism – he claims that dualism/materialism both lead to incoherent conclusions. I agree with this, for the most part. Cartesian dualism, or substance dualism, seems to be largely a dead end (except for Swinburne) – and, as I’ve noted before, dualism of this stripe is pretty much a product of Descartes systematic abstraction and reification of the mind and secondary qualities.

Now, I have no problem with consciousness being a biological kind of thing – it is certainly silly to think of consciousness as a kind of mysterious non-material product of an equally mysterious mind, and then this leads to the interaction problems. So perhaps, instead of naturalising consciousness, as Searle does, there’s a mediatory way. Suppose we think of consciousness as physical and biological but simply not reducible to the physical and biological.

For me personally, it’s intentionality that is the biggest circle that a naturalist has to square, and I don’t think it can be done. It seems to me to be pretty much wishful thinking to suppose that a purely physical system can be ‘about’ something, or have any kind of intentionality. Hart makes an interesting point:

‘Thoughts can be directed towards things, but (if the modern picture of nature is true) things cannot be directed towards thoughts, and so the specific content of the minds intentions must be determined by consciousness alone. One could never derive the specific meaning of a given physical event from the event itself, not even a brain event, because in itself it means nothing at all; even the most minute investigation constituents and instances could never yield the particular significance that the mind represents it as having.’ (‘Being, Consciousness, Bliss’, p. 195-196)

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