Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Davidson’s anomalous monism

Donald Davidson’s article “Mental Events” is widely considered a classic of twentieth-century philosophy of mind, and for good reason. It contains as clever an argument for materialism as anyone has ever given. And in the course of giving it, Davidson presents, albeit in a notoriously sketchy form, a profound and important argument against the possibility of a type-type mind-brain identity theory. To use such an argument as a key component in a case for materialism – now that’s the sort of ballsiness we pay philosophers the big money for!

Like all of Davidson’s work, the article has many nuances and cannot fully be understood apart from the context of his body of writings as a whole, which more or less consisted of a great many other articles (the most important of which have now been collected in The Essential Davidson). But the basic structure of the argument is fairly simple. It goes like this:

1. At least some mental events interact causally with physical events.

2. Events related by cause and effect fall under strict laws connecting events of the kinds to which the cause and effect belong.

3. There are no strict laws on the basis of which we can predict and explain mental phenomena.

4. If some mental event M causes a physical event P, there must be some description under which M and P are related by a strict law [From 2]

5. This law can only be a physical law, not one expressed in terms of mental concepts [From 3]

6. But if M falls under a physical law, then it has a physical description.

7. And if it has such a description, then it is a physical event.

8. So (at least some) mental events are physical events.

This summary is a bit loose, but let’s suppose that it can be tightened up so as to yield a valid argument. Should we accept the premises? Certainly they seem reasonable enough, at least given the assumptions operative in most contemporary philosophy of mind. There is no glaring falsehood here; the argument is a serious one, worthy of our consideration. So what happens when we probe more deeply?

Davidson calls step 1 the Principle of Causal Interaction, and it is the least controversial premise of the argument. There have, of course, been philosophers who have denied it, but most, whether their position is materialist or dualist, would not. And they are right not to do so – at least given a certain construal of “interaction.” Let’s concede this one for now and come back to it later.

Step 3 is Davidson’s famous Principle of the Anomalism of the Mental, and constitutes the argument’s most original contribution to the philosophy of mind. It is this principle that shows, in Davidson’s view, that no type-type identity theory is possible, because such a theory requires that we can at least in principle correlate mental event types and brain event types in a law-like way. As I have said, though, his argument for the principle is notoriously sketchy. How exactly is it supposed to go?

The answer, which requires adverting to broader themes in Davidson’s philosophy of mind and language, goes something like this: Consider a “radical interpretation” scenario like Quine’s famous “gavagai” example. You’re an anthropologist attempting to translate the language of a heretofore unknown tribe. The speakers tend to utter “gavagai” in the presence of rabbits. As Quine argues, it may turn out that, depending on what metaphysical assumptions you attribute to the speakers of this language, “gavagai” could be translated as “rabbit,” or “temporal stage of a rabbit,” or “undetached rabbit part”; and three complete manuals of translation might be prepared, each of which reflects one of these possible translations and adjusts the translations of other native utterances accordingly. Now, leave aside the various ontological and semantic theses Quine illustrated with this example (indeterminacy of translation, inscrutability of reference, etc.). What Davidson is interested in is the way in which we cannot even begin to make sense of the linguistic utterances of an alien speaker of this sort without attributing to him a vast network of beliefs, desires, intentions, and other mental states. We will conclude that he means “Lo, a rabbit!” only if we assume that he conceptualizes his experiences in terms of substances (say) rather than temporal stages. Furthermore, we will conclude that that’s what he means only if we assume too that he really believes that a rabbit is present and that he intends to express that belief via this particular utterance. We will make these further assumptions, in turn, only if we also assume that his mental states are at least for the most part rational and coherent, so that he would not (for example) infer from the fact that he is seeing a rabbit that a rabbit must not be present. Even that is not the end of the story, though. For further evidence – other things the speaker says in other contexts – may lead us to revise these various judgments, so that we revise also our understanding of what he meant when he said “gavagai.” And there may be several equally plausible interpretations, each associated with its own alternative attribution of beliefs, intentions, and the like.

Now while the example is an extreme one, Davidson’s view is that something like this set of circumstances confronts us, albeit to a much less radical extent, even in ordinary linguistic contexts. Our interpretation of anyone’s linguistic behavior always involves the attribution to him of one of several possible sets of beliefs, desires, intentions, and the like, and is always revisable in light of further evidence. But by the same token – and this is the key point – our attribution of mental states to him is also always subject to the same interpretive problems. Just as we might alter our judgments about what he means in light of our assumptions about what is going on in his mind, so too might we alter our judgments about what is going on in his mind in light of our assumptions about the meaning of his linguistic and other behavior. Mind, language, and behavior are so inextricably linked that none can be understood apart from the others, and our making sense of the whole in any particular case requires attributing to a subject at least minimal adherence to standards of rationality and coherence. Otherwise we simply could not meaningfully regard what is going on with him as language and thought at all.

Now in Davidson’s view, there is as he puts it “no echo” in physical science of any of this. In understanding a physical system qua physical, we do not and need not attribute to it beliefs, desires, or any other sort of intentionality, and we do not expect it to abide by norms of rationality. Such systems are governed instead (at least on the modern “mechanistic” conception of the natural world) by patterns of brute, purposeless efficient causation. This should already make us suspicious of the very idea of a one-to-one match-up between mental state types and physical state types. The notion seems to rest on a category mistake, a failure to understand that the network of rationally-cum-semantically interrelated mental states is no more susceptible of a smooth correlation with a particular network of causally interrelated physical states than the content of a book can be smoothly correlated with a certain kind of physical format (a modern printed book, say, as opposed to a scroll, wax tablet, or electronic book). As Wilfrid Sellars might put it, the “space of reasons” and the “space of causes” are simply incommensurable.

As Jaegwon Kim suggests in his introductory text Philosophy of Mind, Davidson might accordingly be understood as arguing that if there were a law-like correlation between mental events and physical events, this would entail that what is happening in a person’s mind could be determined in a way we already know on independent grounds to be in principle impossible. In particular, it would follow that we could at least in theory “read off” a person’s thoughts directly from an inspection of his brain, without making any reference to the various alternative ways those thoughts might cohere with other thoughts or with his linguistic and other behavior. Since this is (given what was said above) something we cannot in principle do, it follows that there is no such law-like correlation between the mental and the physical. All of this suggests the following argument in defense of Davidson’s step 3:

A. The meaningful attribution of mental states to someone is governed by norms of rationality which find “no echo” in physics.

B. But if there were strict laws connecting mental events with brain events, then the attribution of mental states could proceed without reference to such norms.

C. So there are no such laws.

(None of this is inconsistent with the fact that we can often draw reliable inferences about what someone is thinking from his speech and behavior, and even from what is going on in his brain. The claim is rather that it is impossible even in principle to have a complete and, more to the point, entirely determinate understanding of his thoughts based only on knowledge of his behavior and physiology. I have addressed this issue previously here.)

All of this seems to me to be essentially correct, and it is not a small point either. (As readers of Davidson know, he bases a number of interesting philosophical theses on his analysis of the interrelationship between mind and language, including a penetrating critique of conceptual relativism.) The “anomalous” half of anomalous monism is thus well-established. What about the “monism” half? Is the mental identical with the physical, despite there being no law-like correlation between them?

My answer, which will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, is No, it is not. And the reason Davidson’s argument fails to show otherwise is that his conception of causation is (in my estimation) radically deficient. As I have argued elsewhere (e.g. here), the correct way to understand mental-physical “interaction” is on the model of what Aristotelians call formal causation rather than efficient causation. And one reason for thinking so is that conceiving of it on the model of efficient causation makes it hard – for materialists no less than for dualists – to avoid epiphenomenalism (as I noted here). To return, as promised, to Davison’s premise 1, then: If it is interpreted to mean (as Davidson himself did not mean it) that the mental and physical “interact” as formal and material cause, respectively, then this premise is certainly true (though in that case it cannot then be appealed to in an argument for materialism, since the Aristotelian conception of causation is incompatible with materialism). If instead it means (as Davidson intended) that they “interact” in the order of efficient causes, then though such a premise might be appealed to in support of materialism, it is false.

For the same reason, step 2 – what Davidson calls the Principle of the Nomological Character of Causality – is also in my view false. For it reflects a mechanistic view of nature, on which the material world is utterly devoid of any inherent goal-directedness or final causality and is governed instead entirely by (a stripped down version of) efficient causality. And as I have argued elsewhere (and at greatest length in The Last Superstition) this conception of nature is ultimately incoherent. By the same token, step 7 is false as well from an Aristotelian point of view. The fact that an object or event can be described in the quantitative terms typical of modern physical theory simply does not entail that such a description exhausts what is true of it. Rather, such a description is necessarily selective, abstracting away those features of the world which are irrelevant to the narrow purposes of predicting and controlling natural phenomena, but which must nevertheless be incorporated into any complete, metaphysical account of its nature.

It is only fair to note, however, that the premises in question are ones a Cartesian dualist must have a harder time dismissing, given that the Cartesian, like the materialist, is committed to a mechanistic and exclusively quantitative conception of the material world. It is no surprise, then, that Davidson should think the anomalism of the mental cold comfort to the dualist. Even here, though, the Davidsonian cannot be too smug, given that Davidson’s position only underlines the threat that epiphenomenalism poses to materialism as much as to Cartesian forms of dualism.

In any event, the fact remains that Davidson’s position, like all forms of materialism, ultimately derives whatever strength it has from the false supposition that, realistically, “there is no alternative” to materialism (or physicalism, or naturalism) if one rejects modern forms of dualism – a supposition that rests on a studied ignorance among contemporary philosophers of the true nature of the conceptual revolution by which the moderns displaced Aristotelianism (for an account of which see TLS).

30 comments:

Crude said...

Thanks for this post. I was wondering what your take on anomalous monism was. It always struck me as (keep in mind I'm an amateur) coming very close to dualism, at least on the surface.

And I have to admit to the last point as well. I honestly expect to see a continued upswing in the popularity of panpsychism. I also expect that if it happens, panpsychism will (a la Strawson) simply be referred to as materialism.

Matt Beck said...

I mostly agree with you, Crude. As I've mentioned once before, I think panpsychism is simply the attempt by modern philosophy to find its way back to certain truths first promulgated by the hylemorphic tradition, but since it is cut of from that tradition both culturally and linguistically, it has to get there by an idependent route, i.e. pansychism. The important thing is that developments are moving us to the point whereat even mainstream philosophers will have to admit that there's more to "matter" than mere efficient causes. Once this is truly digested, then the materialist will have a real problem on their hands.

All in all, I think it's a very positive trend. I expect there to be much exciting work done over the next several decades, when the full brunt of Western technical precision and force of intellect, which showed itself so capable in the natural sciences, begins to untangle the mess it has made of philosophy, both enriching and being enriched by classical metaphysics.

Crude said...

Absolutely, Matt. I think the one key point to drive home again and again (and that Ed mentions now and then) is that there's no good reason to view nature/matter the way we moderns seem to reflexively view it. That is, dead, lifeless, purposeless 'stuff' that just happens to be knocking around. It isn't even suggested to us by science, since science is silent on such concerns.

Once a person gets past that hump (and it isn't easy), they're free to recognize just how much there really 'is' to the world to consider.

Tony said...

3. There are no strict laws on the basis of which we can predict and explain mental phenomena.

Well, that is interesting. In fact (if I understand quantum theory even a little bit), there are no strict laws on the basis of which we can predict even strictly physical phenomena on the quantum level. So, what does quantum uncertainty do to Davidson's approach? Does it prove via reductio that even the physical is not identical to the physical, implying...that materialism is also impossible?

Anonymous said...

Maybe people would take your Phil Mind arguments more seriously if you published them in peer reviewed journals instead of on your blog.

Crude said...

Indeed, Ed. What the heck are you thinking, writing books and articles? It's about time you went through the formal peer review process, just like Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Descartes, and the others did!

It's almost as unscrupulous as writing under pseudonyms or publishing works posthumously. Any philosopher engaging in those antics shouldn't be taken seriously, you know.

Tony said...

How Crude.

But funny.

Anonymous said...

You're right, that was out of line. I just run out of patience with the whole "nobody understands the strength of my position but I understand you all better than you understand yourselves" bit. Studied ignorance? True nature? Get over yourself. There's a lot of literature out there.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

Are you saying that contemporary "mainstream" philosophers of mind do in fact know, of, understand, and interact with the ideas of Aristotelians and Thomists? Presumably not, because the vast majority of them manifestly don't. The closest a very few of them have come is to characterize Aristotle as a kind of proto-"functionalist" -- a reading that is so off-base that it takes a mini-course in Aristotelian metaphysics to explain what is wrong with it. (I address that particular issue, by the way, in my forthcoming book on Aquinas, which you'll be happy to know was peer-reviewed.)

There are, of course, contemporary philosophers who do try to apply Aristotelian insights to philosophy of mind -- Leftow, Oderberg, Moreland, Haldane, Ross, Stump, et al. -- but unfortunately they have had little success in adding to what the "mainstream" of the field considers within the spectrum of options worth considering. (I have done my own tiny little part to try to move the discussion in my own book Philosophy of Mind -- also peer-reviewed, you'll be relieved to learn.)

In fact, within the history of analytic philosophy, very few well-known figures have even attempted to try seriously to grapple with the challenge the Aristotelian metaphysical tradition poses to the modern assumptions they tend to take for granted. One honorable exception was Wilfrid Sellars, who -- unlike most of his peers -- actually took seriously what Mortimer Adler was trying to do in defending the Aristotelian tradition, or at least seriously enough to reply to him in a serious way.

When I get a chance I'll blog on that -- if that's OK with you. I expect you'll acknowledge that one of the advantages of this medium is that it allows one to explore in a less formal way ideas that one hasn't time or opportunity to work into formal journal articles and the like, especially given that one is already busy writing and publishing other journal articles, books, etc. Can't do everything at once, sorry.

Edward Feser said...

Crude and Matt,

Actually, as I'll be discussing in a post I've been working on for a while, the idea that there is something deeply wrong with the mechanistic picture of the world that displaced Aristotelianism was "in the air" in intellectual circles in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and by no means only among people sympathetic to Aristotelianism and Thomism. And then, strangely, this trend disappeared and intellectuals fell back into their dogmatic slumbers (apart from which slumbers the crass atheism of today would not be possible). The reason, I think, had something to do with the influence European positivist types who fled to America started to have on American philosophy at around the same time, swamping this rising suspicion of scientism and giving the latter a second wind. Anyway, I'll get to finsihing and posting this sooner rather than later.

Edward Feser said...

Tony,

I think a Davidsonian could say that quantum effects wash out at the macro level, at least to enough of an extent that we can have strict (or "strict enough") laws at the macro level. But yes, the "strict laws" stuff would (as Davidson realized) have to be qualified in a more complete treatment.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

One more thing. I don't mind being told to "get over myself." No doubt I, like all of us, need to hear that now and again. So, thanks for the gentle kick in the ass.

But the points I was making have nothing to do with some idiosyncratic ideas of my own, but rather with a major philosophical tradition which -- sorry, it's true -- way too many contemporary academic philosophers not only don't understand, but don't know that they don't understand it. If they never read a word of mine but did read Klima, Haldane, Oderberg, Davies, Ross, Braine, Martin, et al. -- and in particular, all the many peer-reviewed articles and books these thinkers have written -- then I wouldn't be saying what I'm saying.

Tony said...

For the same reason, step 2 – what Davidson calls the Principle of the Nomological Character of Causality – is also in my view false

For my money this is the most critical mistake D makes - at least on my simplistic exposure. It assumes that the only type of causality is efficient causality, AND that all efficient causality is of exactly one mode only. No room for contingency or incomplete or imperfect causality.

But yes, the "strict laws" stuff would (as Davidson realized) have to be qualified in a more complete treatment.

Don't the necessary qualifications lead implicitly to an understanding that even within efficient causality, not all events are under a strict "A implies exactly B and nothing but B always and everywhere"?

I always thought that a "wash-out" of quantum effects at for the macro level was a cop-out, at least for a strict argument. Because the wash-out effect implies that what we normally see is essentially an average, and what is essentially an average can never be the basis of a strict "A implies B" argument. It would reduce all of the supposed physical laws that DO hold at the macro level to being merely mathematical laws of probability, rather than actual physical laws. And I would be worried if my theory about physical laws expressing causality were in essence merely mathematical laws of probability, because even (some) moderns understand math as abstracted from the actual substances and material natures and actual causality. (In grad school I roomed with a couple of chemists who were certain that math could not be called a science precisely for this reason.)

But that is all by-the-way - don't even bother to answer.

J said...

Anomalous, OR, in other words, philosophasters are generally not qualified to speak on brain science and neurology (as even Wm James realized a century ago), so they'll call the mysterious workings of mind anomalous, without thereby committing to Cartesian ghost-dualism, OR the rather uglier implications of Uncle Meat physicalism.

Premise 3 could be criticized as well. Much of say atmospheric physics cannot be predicted either; that doesn't mean there are mysteries involved, merely too much info., science is in state of infancy, etc. Cogsci might not have located the precise area of your memory of your date, last friday, with Esmeralda, but they can point out, quite precisely, where certain types of thinking occur. Aphasia studies, even the old lobotomy studies also provide counterexamples to Premise 3. And doctors can certainly predict what happens if the blood supply to your brain was cut off. You'll die within a few minutes. Of course the metaphysician may respond, but.... what is Death??

J said...

Furthermore, the real issue starts via law of excluded middle:

mental events are brain events, OR, mental events are NOT brain events.

The jargon and distinctions (some, most, etc) follow from that. Those who hold to some form of non-physicalist dualism--whether cartesian, thomistic, etc.-- are the ones who have burden of proving their thesis (and really, how does one divy up invisible entities, whether platonic/aristo. Forms, noumena, cogito, etc??) .

Mere ad ignorantium does not suffice as proof (ie the usual theologian's response: how can matter attain/reveal consciousness/intentionality/
aboutness?? etc . Not at all sufficient to disprove the physicalists (no contradiction involved in saying "matter thinks"--or at least a few chunks, in forms of human brains do--however ugly or "monistic" it may be. )

Anonymous said...

What about your thoughts and beliefs, J?
Actual content there or easily reducible to known physical laws?

With your worldview, your argument is incoherent.

Eric said...

"Anomalous, OR, in other words, philosophasters are generally not qualified to speak on brain science and neurology"

J (Perezoso?), are you suggesting that philosophy of mind is just the lazy man's way of doing 'brain science' -- which is to say that it's a non-subject -- or would you be willing to concede that philosophy of mind is a proper subject of study that is not reducible to neuroscience?

J said...

Anny: wrong again. Dualism is incoherent--like what happens when someone's hungry for a dualist?/ God decides to allow one of His subject's souls to feel a sensation of hunger in his soul-ghost??).

For that matter, go back to Hobbes vs. Descartes if you want to rehash the old mind-body problem (Hobbes quite correctly noted, in brief, that thinking implies a thinker, and a thinker implies a person who thinks, i.e. corporeality, just as running means one who runs, and a human runner. When we speak about, like, anything, we imply existence: existents are observable--that holds even with numbers, mathematical/logical entities (care to disprove that?/). I believe many theologians often retreat to thomistic/aristo. dogma because the a priori/transcendence is assumed: even Descartes abandoned the scholastics and argued for his view (yet the "Cogito" is itself not a necessary argument), without resorting to aristotelian forms/causes. THere are other Hobbes bon mots contra-Descartes which theists have managed to keep away from varsity town for years.

Perezoso?? Hmm, heard of him, but not I, though I suspect this is the usual Ad J-Edgar: when someone not approved by sunday schoolers starts to win arguments, it's time to defame/associate/ad hom.

Frederic Kolman said...

Edward-- This philosophical framework is all very interesting in talking about whether a reality exists "out there" and so on. When you talk of the brain, you inevitably veer into territory that includes perception, perceptual modes, and mental processing, which I believe Davidson indirectly accounts for when he speaks of the "interaction between" the mental events and physical events. That's precisely the essence of the point, in my view. So, a person's mind has developed over the course of time, to varying degrees of sophistication. It naturally has attitudes, intentions, and beliefs in it when it speaks an utterance, either more or less than the others. If you didn't have a person, you wouldn't have a given perception--percept--of a material object. No one would be there to report it. I'm not judging the denying of one view or another. But, if you put a man in an empty room and ask him to describe a mountain that is, in fact, not there in the room, what the hell are you doing? Trying to tell me that perhaps that mountain is present in a dualism? Or an idealism? No way. Where the mountain palpably is present, is where the individual will perceive it and describe it to you. Thus in regard to Davidson, I think he is correct in what he is arguing--as do you.

Anonymous said...

Yep, J is Perezoso. Like it wasn't blindingly obvious.

Crude said...

J, I could equally ask "What's hunger for a materialist? Matter bounces against matter and feelings of hunger magically emerge? Or hunger is 'nothing but' matter knocking against matter?" If you're going to try and ask dualists or idealists a difficult question, ones related to qualia are among the last thing you want to pick. It's a hard question that helps to illustrate the poverty and difficulty of mechanistic materialist worldviews.

As for 'who has the burden of proof', the physicalist and materialist make positive claims as well which must be defended. The difficulty is more than being monistic - idealists, panpsychists, neutral monists and other non-materialists can manage that as well, after all - but in staying true to mechanistic materialism. (Or at least, like Strawson, redefining materialism yet again.)

Finally, science is great. I love it, and look forward to seeing more research carried out. But science is drastically limited in scope - and philosophy asks (to many of us) interesting questions, many of which aren't going to be settled by science. That shouldn't result in distress or indignation - science is still very useful.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

There are biochemical processes, hormones, I believe, involved with hunger sensation shared by most mammals. The specifics of the motivation--from empty stomach, to a decision to go to El Pollo Loco-- are a bit complex, but there's no need to posit some un-observable soul floating above the neural pathways. Also consider urinating, however crass that may seem. When it's time to piss, you got to, more or less. The decision is hardly "free".

Thus a physicalist account of mind while perhaps not "necessary", certainly seems more likely--plausible--than any attempt at dualistic interaction (occasionalism, is what they formerly called it). For that matter, thinking is affected by external factors: one reason for DUI laws--or testing say conductors and pilots for drugs.

Yes, the theists and believers usually say, how obvious/boring to the bio-dependency thing via DUI, urinating, hunger, lust and so forth but that really is quite a powerful argument for viewing mental acts as dependent on the brain's neurology, hormones, impulse, instincts.

Im not a dogmatic physicalist and sort of agree with Davidson, though I think at least premise 3 might be criticized by modern cogsci people...yet I fail to see how dualism could be proven except by some bizarre Amazing Randi sort of anomaly being demonstrated.

Crude said...

J,

Who here is denying that there are biochemical processes involved in sensation? Those of an aristotilean or thomist perspective certainly wouldn't - in fact, while I'm still trying to grasp the A-T perspective, it's clear to me that they believe corporeality is necessary for such sensation. I doubt other dualists would deny as much either - they'd likely consider corporeality to be necessary but not sufficient. And non-physicalist monists (panpsychists, idealists, etc) would have no problem admitting similar - but they would question how we view the underlying "stuff".

You seem to be mistaking 'physicalist accounts' for 'any account which views the "physical" as necessarily part of the explanation'. But if you're going to take that tact, Aristotileans and Thomists are physicalists. So too would be various dualists (emergent dualists, property dualists, etc.) since few dispense with the physical altogether. And those that do typically do it by having a different understanding of what the "physical" is - itself a powerful argument since quantum physics upended the table that materialism was previously set on.

As for how your idea of dualism can be 'proven', even an Amazing Randi kind of anomaly wouldn't do the job. Mechanistic materialism can't be 'proven' either (doubly so since just how to define the physical / material is itself a tricky question.), so long as we're talking about science - it's a limited enterprise. Various perspectives (Aristotilean-Thomism, various dualisms, idealism, panpsychism, etc) come with arguments about why theirs is the best way to view the world. They may forever be inconclusive, but it's still worth discussing, I say.

J said...

Well, yes, and while I don't pretend to be pro-filosophe, I made the same point re Aristotle as a sort of empirical realist (though not St. Thomass) here, and on other sites where neo-scholasticism has reappeared. So the degree of dualism, if any, in Aristotle not obvious; Dawkins even claimed Ari. as an empiricist--Ari. did biological taxonomy of a sort and primitive physics along with the metaphysics.

For that matter, Aristotle leads to many roads, doesn't he (including empiricism, really, and Hegel). One might agree to a certain Aristotelian order and continuity--in nature, knowledge, and human society, so forth--without thereby agreeing to the teachings of the catholic church, or some final ultimate end (and modern science--evolution, and say entropy, sort of a problem for the teleological aspects of Ari) . Obviously Aristotle does not provide much regarding recent developments in cognitive science.

Anyway, in political terms, heritage mongering tends to be a conservative trait. If conservative X determines Aristotle and St Thomas-- or dualism of some sort-- to be, somehow, in the best interest of advancing his monarchical or tory politics, then, uh, Ari. and St. Thom will be preferred over say Founding fathers, constitution, empiricists, Rawls, marxists etc. Some of us still value the Constitution.

Crude said...

J,

I'll not comment on how Dawkins classifies Aristotle (or tackles any other philosophical question). But Aristotle's "dualism" does strike me as obvious, and that his conception of nature differs dramatically with modern materialist/physicalist accounts does so as well. If one were to say 'Well, formal and final causes are real but that's no big deal', I think calling that an understatement would be... well, an understatement.

As for the Catholic Church - who brought that up? One doesn't need to be Catholic to accept Aristotle's views (or, for that matter, much of *Aquinas'* views). Nor do I see evolution or modern science as much of a threat to teleology (Indeed, Ed makes a good point in TLS about how evolution itself can be seen as highlighting an A-T argument) - I think that goes beyond the scope of what's been discussed here anyway. And of course I think Aristotle helps quite a lot when it comes to questions of the mind - it's a framework which helps in the understanding of the data, among other things.

As for politics, hey - if we're going to get into political motivations for why people hold to the philosophies they do, everyone is suspect. Indeed, Ed discusses that in some detail in TLS (What can I say, I loved the book) - but it's not a discussion that will be fruitful here. Psychoanalysis cuts in all directions, after all.

J said...

As I have mentioned previously, the dogmatists, by returning to, like 300 bc, avoid all sorts of problems, like induction, knowledge, if not experimental science. And that's another reason I mentioned Hobbes, who was well-schooled in the aristotelian tradition. After CENTURIES of aristotelian causes, substance, essences, etc. Galilleo (who Hobbes had met, as did Descartes I believe) arrives and challenges all those causes and essences, merely by observation. So sensation/perception has something to do with it, as does testability, and verification of some form. Cause cannot be posited a priori, certainly not at this stage.

Hume clarifies the matter further. One can't just wave's one hands, allude to Aristotelian causes and think the "modernists" have been undone. and I personally don't think Kant really overcomes Hume's point on the problems of induction and causality (though I don't think Hume's as skeptical as many think: he wasn't denying knowledge, but calling into question the supposed necessity of natural laws).

Moreover, I don't think Rational theology has the force or "necessity" some think it does. Order, stability, even a sort of design, OK. Judeo-Christianity and some G*d given teleology, nyet.

Crude said...

J,

Aristotle, as you already noted, did not concern himself purely with philosophy and metaphysics - he also engaged in some observation and theorizing about the natural world which said philosophies do not rest on. Galileo didn't "challenge all those causes and essences, merely by observation" - he challenged a theretofore popular cosmology built on Aristotle and Ptolemy's observations. Aristotle's philosophy is easily divorced from his other teachings, similar to how Newton's scientific theories are separable from his theology.

As for the modernists, who said 'undone'? Ed has been highlighting the problems with putting too much faith in modern materialist philosophy (A point which you yourself may as well be taken to be making, honestly) and discussing alternatives, along with one he favors. Even I, with my growing sympathy for A-T reasoning, said that I think panpsychism is the rising trend, and past posts on here have referred to a variety of non-materialist perspectives. What's being 'undone' is the idea that naturalism or materialism is obviously true, or that there are no good reasons to be skeptical of such. Again - this actually doesn't seem to be different from what you yourself are saying.

As for the force of rational theology, that's fine - obviously we disagree. But even Aquinas wouldn't argue that natural law or Aristotilean philosophy gets one to Judeo-Christianity all by itself.

Tony said...

J, do you have a coherent meaning to the term "dogmatists" as you use it? Do you just mean any realist? Or any dualist? Or anyone who proposes a theory that contradicts materialism? Or what?

Bret said...

“Anomalous monism” and its neighbor, token-token identity, (among other theories/arguments of the ilk) are contrivances to allow thoroughgoing materialists to escape the burden of explaining the particulars of how mere matter either is or exclusively causes non-physical, mental events.

With the focus on the “process” of consciousness and after the pixie dust of their explanation settles, they would like to think they have, yet again, successfully whacked the non-materialist mole back in its hole.

But instead of the “active” process of consciousness, let’s change the turf and seek their purely materialistic explanation for data storage in the mind. Take someone who knows many facts about Sinatra: he was from Hoboken, he was Italian, he was an only child, his fourth wife was Barbara Marx, etc. Most of the time this guy is not conscious (e.g., he is asleep or entirely consciously occupied with other matters) of these facts warehoused in his mind. Yet when an occasion arises, he can effortlessly, consciously “go get them” and write them down, say them, think them, etc.

Concerning all such “dormant data,” in one’s mind, like these particular four Sinatra facts, anomalous monists and their fellow travelers would no doubt take the position that it is somehow entirely material and is physically embedded in the brain. Fine, but we are entitled to a fuller explanation. They must tell us how, in principal, an ideal science could explain (1) how, where, and why the fact (or proposition) “Sinatra was from Hoboken,” exists/endures in the brain when not consciously “in use,” and (2) just how such mere physical stuff either is identical to the INFORMATION, “Sinatra was from Hoboken,” or is translatable to that information.