A Problem Emerges: or, why Nonreductive Materialism and Emergentism Face the Same Set of Insourmountable Problems

Jaegwon Kim, in his superb essay The nonreductivists troubles with mental causation (from the volume Supervenience and Mind), argues that nonreductive materialism (NRM) and emergentism (E) have the same cash value. He identifies four key theses that NRM is committed to: (1) all concrete particulars are physical (2) mental properties are not reducible to physical properties (3) all mental properties are physically realized and (4) mental properties are real properties of objects and events. Kim finds that E is committed to the same four theses: E accepts a materialist ontology (1), accepts that emergent properties are not reducible to their ‘basal conditions’ (2), accepts that higher-level or emergent properties need a physical base; this physical base is itself sufficient for the emergence of these properties (3) and finally, E accepts realism about the mental (4). These agreements are sufficient to show that NRM and E are, more or less, the same thing. Thus, any problems had by one are had by the other. Should NRM face an insurmountable difficulty, E will as well, and should E face its own insurmountable difficulty, then NRM also will. Continue reading

Heidegger and Searle Make for Strange Bedfellows: or, What Analytic and Continental Philosophy Combined Might Tell Us About A.I.

Mark Okrent notes an interesting phenomenon: though Heidegger effectively never explicitly interacted with anything close to what we today would recognize as the philosophy of mind or the cognitive sciences or artificial intelligence, it is nearly obligatory to reference Heidegger when one writes on the topic of artificial intelligence. This is largely due to Hubert Dreyfus’s reading of Heidegger. John Searle, by contrast, has interacted extensively with the cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind. Heidegger and Searle together, however, are an unlikely pair, but I think that implicit in Heidegger is what is explicit in Searle, especially in his (in)famous Chinese Room Argument.

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Anomalous Monism as Transcendental Freedom?

The Kantian doctrine of freedom turns on the idea that the acting agent is neither fully part of nature nor fully outside of nature. Nature, on this doctrine, is a totally causal system governed by strict laws of necessity. The acting agent is self-governed (according to Kant) by reason and bound by the moral law, and it would make no sense for the agent to be bound by the moral law if he wasn’t free to obey the moral law. Freedom here is a condition for the possibility of duty – the agent must be free from the causal/necessitarian order of nature, in other words. Whether or not Kant’s doctrine as a whole can withstand scrutiny is a matter of debate, but surely his fundamental insight is worth reflecting on: the possibility of free agency requires that the free agent not be subject to strict causal laws. Jaegwon Kim, in Psychophisical Laws, notes that Donald Davidson’s theory of anomalous monism was developed out of roughly Kantian concerns – Davidson accepts a picture of the physical world that is fully and causally determined, but wants to retain a place for mental autonomy and the possibility of free agency. Continue reading

Sellars and the Origin of the Theory of Folk Psychology

In Saving Belief, Lynne Rudder-Baker takes to task one of the two central doctrines within reductionist/eliminativist (RE) philosophies of mind: the doctrine of folk-psychology as an empirical theory. This doctrine, put simply, states that what traditional philosophers take to be the very ‘stuff’ of the mind – propositional attitudes, for example – is a kind of empirical theory and framework used in every-day, common-sense interaction and prediction of behaviour. Paul Churchland defines it thus: Continue reading

Notes on Naturalizing the Mind

Naturalizing intentionality is easy. We could go Searle’s route, and argue for a causal, but not ontological, reduction of intentionality and intentional states, as well as their emergence from brain processes. Intentionality here would be inseparable from consciousness, and would be a way of representing the world so we can act on it. Keeping with Searle, an arrangement of particles by an agent would be an example of derived intentionality, the same kind of intentionality that language has. Continue reading

Moving Some Furniture Around in Mary’s Room

As far as important papers in the philosophy of mind go, Frank Jackson’s Epiphenomenal Qualia and What Mary Didn’t Know are pretty high up on the list of must-reads. They’ve spawned a mass of literature devoted to picking apart just what Mary did or didn’t know made all the more intriguing because Jackson himself later distanced himself from the argument. Every possible response to the argument has been (seemingly) given, and there’s ample reason to regard anyone writing on it the same as someone writing on substance dualism – interesting, no doubt, but somewhat well-worn.  Continue reading

Consciousness? Sounds Phenomenal.

Consciousness is phenomenal consciousness. By this, I mean that consciousness is characterized primarily by what Searle calls its ‘first person ontology’. Consciousness is fundamentally a ‘what it is like’ kind of thing. Flanagan notes that consciousness may have depths we can’t access, features we can’t grasp, and a good deal more that lies beyond our cognitive capabilities – this is all true. However, if consciousness exists, it is phenomenal, and while this surely isn’t the entire story, it’s certainly the most important part – I’m clearly marking myself out here as part of the tribe who see consciousness’s fundamental nature as qualitative. Continue reading