Friday, July 9, 2010

When Frank jilted Mary

We had reason recently to allude to Frank Jackson’s famous “knowledge argument” against physicalism. You’ll recall that the argument goes like this: Physicalism claims that if you know all the physical facts that there are to know about people, then you know all the facts there are to know about them, period; for human beings are (says the physicalist) entirely physical. But now consider Mary, a master neuroscientist of the future. Mary has lived her entire life in a black and white room, and has never had any experiences of colors. Still, having studied all the relevant neuroscientific literature, she knows everything there is to know about the physics and physiology of color perception. Hence she knows, for example, everything there is to know about what goes on in someone’s brain when he sees a red object, everything there is to know about the surface reflectance properties of red objects, and so forth. Now imagine that she leaves her black and white room and sees a red object herself for the first time. Does she learn something new? Surely she does – she learns what it’s like to see red. But then, physicalism is false. For though Mary knew all the physical facts about human perceptual experience before she left the room, she didn’t know all the facts, since she learned something when she left the room. Hence there are facts about human nature, and in particular facts about conscious experience, that escape the physicalist story – namely facts about “qualia,” the subjective features of a conscious experience in virtue of which there is “something it is like” to have that experience.

Jackson first presented this argument is his 1982 paper “Epiphenomenal Qualia,” and repeated it in 1986 in “What Mary Didn’t Know.” (There were several precursors to the argument, such as Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?”, and similar but independently developed ideas, such as Howard Robinson’s deaf scientist example in his 1982 book Matter and Sense.) The argument has generated an enormous literature. Some of it is collected in the Ludlow, Nagasawa, and Stoljar edited volume There’s Something About Mary: Essays on Phenomenal Consciousness and Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument. You will find there also some later essays by Jackson in which he expresses second thoughts about the argument; for by the late 1990s he had recanted and embraced physicalism.

Why? For no good reason, in my view; nor in the view of Jackson’s fellow “knowledge argument” proponent Howard Robinson, whose (characteristically excellent) essay “Why Frank Should Not Have Jilted Mary” offers a penetrating critique of Jackson’s current views. (You can read part of Robinson’s article here, though the anthology in which it appeared – Edmond Wright’s The Case for Qualia – is well worth the purchase price.)

As Stoljar and Nagasawa note in their introduction to There’s Something About Mary, “the argument, [the later Jackson] said, contained no obvious fallacy, and yet its conclusion – that physicalism is false – must be mistaken” (p. 23). Again, why? We might distinguish two components of Jackson’s current position. First, there is Jackson’s justification for claiming that something or other must be wrong with the knowledge argument, even if it seems to be perfectly cogent; and second, there is his strategy for explaining away the apparent cogency of the argument by suggesting where a fallacy is most likely to be found in it. The second component involves appeal to a “representationalist” theory of consciousness, and interested readers will find in Robinson’s essay a useful discussion of the problems with Jackson’s application of this theory. (For my money the main problems are two: First, representationalism is, at the end of the day, merely a riff on functionalism, and thus cannot serve to rebut the knowledge argument any more than – by Jackson’s own lights pre-recantation – older versions of functionalism could. Second, the key notion of “representation” itself cannot be accounted for in physicalist terms, so that even a successful representationalist analysis of consciousness could not vindicate physicalism.)

But it is the first component of Jackson’s current position – and some remarks of Robinson’s that are relevant to it – that I want to focus on here. In his 2002 essay “Mind and Illusion” (available in the Ludlow, Nagasawa, and Stoljar volume), Jackson tells us that:

Much of the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind is concerned with the clash between certain strongly held intuitions and what science tells us about the mind and its relation to the world. What science tells us about the mind points strongly towards some version or other of physicalism. The intuitions, in one way or another, suggest that there is something seriously incomplete about any purely physical story about the mind.

For our purposes, we can be vague about the detail and think broadly of physicalism as the view that the mind is a purely physical part of a purely physical world. Exactly how to delineate the physical will not be crucial: anything of a kind that plays a central role in physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, and the like, along with the a priori associated functional and relational properties, count, as far as we are concerned.

Most contemporary philosophers, when given a choice between going with science and going with intuitions, go with science. Although I once dissented from the majority, I have capitulated and now see the interesting issue as being where the arguments from the intuitions against physicalism – the arguments that seem so compelling – go wrong. (p. 421)

This is a remarkable passage – remarkable for the breathtaking rhetorical sleight of hand it embodies. I do not mean to imply that Jackson is being insincere or intentionally manipulative of his readers; I am sure he is not. But – with all due respect to a philosopher whose work I have long admired, and still admire – that is only because he has evidently now “drunk the Kool-Aid” of physicalism so deeply that he is perhaps incapable of seeing how thoroughly tendentious and question-begging is his characterization of the philosophical situation.

Consider the way Jackson frames the issue here – as a debate between “science” and “intuition.” If that really were what the debate is about, how could any rational person fail to understand why Jackson has come to endorse physicalism? Indeed, how, in that case, could any rational person fail to join him in that endorsement? But in fact that is not what the debate is about; certainly Jackson has given us no reason to think it is. Jackson’s younger self certainly didn’t appeal to “intuition.” There is no such appeal in the formulation of the knowledge argument I presented above, and there is no such appeal in Jackson’s presentation in the two articles in which he first put forward the argument. Indeed, in “Epiphenomenal Qualia,” Jackson explicitly says that it is “unfair” to suggest that a qualia-based objection to physicalism must rest on an unargued intuition, explicitly distances himself from the “modal argument” against physicalism precisely because he takes it to rest on a disputable intuition, and explicitly favors the knowledge argument precisely because he there takes it to embody something more firm than an appeal to disputable intuitions!

Consider too that both sides can play the game Jackson is playing in the passage under consideration. The anti-physicalist could say:

We know from the very nature of “the physical” as that tends to be understood in contemporary philosophy that there can in principle be no physicalistic explanation of conscious experience. Arguments like the knowledge argument illustrate this point. And yet many contemporary philosophers have a strongly held intuition that a scientific view of the world requires a commitment to physicalism. Still, other contemporary philosophers, when given a choice between going with solid philosophical arguments and going with disputable intuitions, go with the solid philosophical arguments. Accordingly, they reject physicalism as a misinterpretation of science.

Is this as plausible as Jackson’s way of framing the issue? I maintain that it is far more plausible. And this brings us to the other problem with the passage from Jackson under consideration. Jackson casually assures us that “what science tells us about the mind points strongly towards some version or other of physicalism.” Physicalists say this all the time, of course. But it isn’t true, and Jackson certainly gives us no reason whatsoever to think that it is true. In fact, modern science points solidly away from physicalism, and the reason has precisely to do with the very issue Jackson thinks is “not crucial,” viz. “exactly how to delineate the physical.” For as I have noted in many places – most recently in a post on Chomsky – notions like “matter” and “the physical,” though they have (as Chomsky has rightly emphasized) at best a very elusive positive content in most modern thinking on the mind-body problem, nevertheless have also a very clear negative content. As I stated in the Chomsky post:

Whatever matter turns out to be, there are certain features that modern philosophers, and scientists in their philosophical moments, tend to refuse ever to attribute to it.

For at least some of them, this would seem to include sensory qualities like color, odor, taste, sound, and the like as common sense understands them. For the mechanistic revolution Chomsky alludes to was not merely, and indeed not even essentially, committed to the idea that material causation involves literal contact. It was also and more lastingly committed to some variant or other of a “primary/secondary” quality distinction on which there is nothing in the material world that “resembles” our “ideas” of the sensory qualities mentioned (as Locke would put it). If we want to redefine the “red” of a fire engine in terms of how its surface reflects photons at certain wavelengths, we can say that the fire engine is red. But if by “red” we mean the way red “looks” to us when we perceive it, then nothing like that exists in the fire engine, which is (if we think of color in these commonsense terms) intrinsically “colorless.” And so on for sounds, tastes, and all the rest. Color, odor, taste, sound, and the like – again, as common sense understands them (rather than as redefined for purposes of physics) – are reinterpreted by mechanism as projections of the mind, existing only in consciousness. This is the origin of the “qualia problem,” and the puzzle now becomes how to relate these “qualia” or “phenomenal properties” to the intrinsically colorless, odorless, tasteless particles that make up the brain just as much as they do external material objects.

Now if one insists on denying these sensory qualities to matter, then it seems clear that we do have a clear enough conception of “body” to generate a mind-body problem. More than that, we have a conception that clearly implies that the mind (in which alone these qualities exist) cannot be something material or bodily – that, at any rate, is the lesson drawn by early modern thinkers like Cudworth and Malebranche, and by contemporary writers like Richard Swinburne, who take the “mechanistic” conception of matter itself to entail dualism.

This lesson, I submit, is precisely what Jackson’s original knowledge argument illustrates. It shows in a new way what early modern philosophers like Descartes, Cudworth, Malebranche, and Locke, and contemporary thinkers like Nagel and Swinburne, already knew and pointed out many times over the centuries – that given the (mechanistic) understanding of “the physical” that all modern philosophers (whether they be Cartesians, idealists, or materialists) tend to take for granted, a “physicalistic” explanation of consciousness is in principle impossible. It is the moderns’ very conception of matter, rather than some “disputable intuition,” that opens the way to dualism. And insofar as modern science has committed itself to this conception of matter, it follows that modern science itself points to dualism and away from physicalism. I hasten to add, though, that this commitment is not really a “scientific” commitment at all, but a purely philosophical one.

And a mistaken one too, from the point of view of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers like myself. This brings me to some important remarks from Robinson’s essay. Robinson says:

The dialectical situation in which the knowledge argument is usually taken to be located is the following: it is accepted that physicalism gives an adequate account of non-conscious reality, which constitutes almost 100 percent of the universe, but struggles to accommodate certain features of mental life, namely the “what it’s like” or qualia of certain conscious states. These latter constitute “the hard problem” for physicalism. The fact that they also constitute such a tiny part of the world is presented as a reason for thinking that they cannot plausibly be held to refute a unified physicalist account.

I think that this constitutes a radical misunderstanding of the dialectical situation. What the argument really brings out is that only experience of the appropriate kind can reveal the qualitative, as opposed to purely formal and structural, features of the world. The kind of thing that Mary did not know, generalized from color vision to all the other sensible qualities, is essential to any contentful conception of the world, and physicalism without it would lack any empirical content. (p. 240)

There are two themes here that I want briefly to develop. The first is the entirely illusory character of the widespread assumption that “everything else has been given a physicalistic explanation,” so that the mind cannot plausibly be regarded as immune to such explanation. In fact, the reason it seems that “everything else has been given a physicalistic explanation” is precisely the reason that the mind cannot be “explained” in the same way. For “everything else” has been “explained” in a physicalistic manner precisely by carving off the aspects of mind-independent reality that do not fit the physicalistic model and relocating them in the mind, treating them as mere projections. Again, color, odor, sound, taste, heat, cold, and the like, as common sense understands them, were “explained” only by denying that these qualities really exist in the external physical world at all in the first place. Instead, color, odor, sound, and the rest were for purposes of physics redefined in physicalistically “respectable” terms – color in terms of surface reflectance, sound in terms of compression waves, and so on. Color, sound, etc. as common sense understands them were then reinterpreted as existing only in our conscious experience of the material world, rather than in the material world itself. In short, they are not truly “explained” at all, but just swept under the rug of the mind. (As I have argued before, the problem intentionality poses for physicalism has a similar origin.)

The early moderns generally recognized that this entails a kind of dualism – that it is simply incoherent to suppose that one can get rid of the sensory qualities so reinterpreted by further relocation and redefinition, any more than one can get rid of literal dirt that one has swept under a rug by further application of the “sweep it under the rug” strategy. Contemporary writers like Thomas Nagel see this too – see that it is precisely the physicalist’s own understanding of what “reductive explanation” involves that precludes in principle a “reductive explanation” of conscious experience itself. But contemporary physicalists, forgetful of the history of their discipline, cluelessly draw precisely the opposite conclusion: “Come on, we’ve gotten rid of all the other dirt in the room by sweeping it under the rug; so why wouldn’t we be able to deal with the dirt under the rug in the same way?”

The second theme from Robinson I want to call attention to is his suggestion that “only experience of the appropriate kind can reveal the qualitative, as opposed to purely formal and structural, features of the world.” What he is getting at is this. When the natural world is denuded of the qualitative features common sense takes it to have – color, odor, taste, sound, and the like, as we experience them in everyday life – what we are left with is an entirely abstract structure, the sort of thing physics expresses in the language of mathematics. But it is simply incoherent to regard the mind-independent world as nothing but an abstract structure; there must be something which has the structure. Moreover, to deny the existence of the qualitative features themselves – as some eliminative materialists have suggested doing as a way of “solving,” by brute force, the problem qualia pose for physicalism – would in effect be to cut off the scientific redefinition of nature from any empirical support at all. We would be denying, in the name of science, the very existence of the conscious experience from which scientific inquiry proceeds (a paradox that was not lost on the ancient Greek atomist Democritus, as I noted in an earlier post).

Bertrand Russell, E. A. Burtt, and other early twentieth-century thinkers were well aware of these problems. Russell’s solution was to suggest that the sensory qualities which the moderns had redefined as mere projections of the mind have to be put back into the natural world after all. Accordingly, something like what philosophers now call “qualia” were, for Russell, the intrinsic features of the external physical world – that which “fleshes out” or makes concrete the otherwise abstract structure described by physics. Contemporary philosophers like Michael Lockwood, David Chalmers, and Galen Strawson have followed Russell’s lead, and Robinson’s position seems to bear a family resemblance to theirs. The trouble is that, given the “mental” character modern philosophers tend to attribute to the sensory qualities, this Russellian approach seems to lead to a kind of idealism or panpsychism, on which the natural world is mental through and through (though Russell and Lockwood, at least, try to resist this consequence). This is, I think, a less mad view than physicalism is, but it is mad all the same.

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, the mistake was opting for a mechanistic-cum-quantitative conception of nature in the first place, and philosophers of mind have been on the wrong track ever since Descartes, Hobbes, and Co. The value of the knowledge argument is that it shows, as Robinson puts it, that “classical physicalism is broken-backed from the start” (p. 243). But Cartesian dualism, property dualism, idealism, panpsychism, etc. are at best only less bad than physicalism. The correct remedy is a full-blown return to Aristotelian-Thomistic hylemorphism, on which alone the quantitative picture of the world presented to us by modern science can properly be understood – as an important part of the correct story about the natural world, but never the whole story.

94 comments:

Crude said...

I always feel bad for Frank Jackson. The only time I ever hear his name is conjoined with that argument. "Frank Jackson's Mary's Room Thought Experiment!" And if they even bother to mention that he no longer accepts his argument, they don't explain why. (This is the first time I've seen the explanation. My guess is, because it's actually kind of an unimpressive denunciation.)

It's the philosopher version of Robin Williams being referred to in every interview and TV appearance as "Mork, from Mork & Mindy"."

Just Thinking said...

I always thought this Mary story to be vapid in a Rube Goldberg way. I mean, why not speak of color-blind Mary, or Mary the dog in relation to what qualia is about. Certainly, Nagel’s bat is a better vehicle to get at qualia.

Ed, the sheer length of this post serves, I think, as an example of what happens when logic starts from faulty premises. Not your logic, per se, but that assumed in the whole mind/body discussion in academia. (I also have a strong hunch that the recent Prague conference is the catalyst for the enthusiastic but somewhat abrupt A-T conclusion, but that matters little to my point below.)

There are the noumena – things as they are in themselves – and phenomena – how they appear to us. What is the difference? Is it just the limited thinking mind? Whatever the stuff of the noumena may be – matter, spirit, both, or something else – is not crucial to the phenomena, because as embodied beings, we are ourselves noumena.

Again, what is the difference? What accounts for the two. It is simply experience itself. Experience is an event, and the world is an eventful thing indeed. The logical fallacy I mentioned above centers on focusing on either the body (noumenal stuff), or the mind (phenomenal appiritions) as utterly distinct entities, which they are not.

The body of an experiential subject, which is structured in a species dependent manner, allows for its experience of its environment and to act upon it. Such experience is subjective, but because for a given species all bodies are formed similarly, the inherent subjectivity is not a cause for mutual incomprehensibility and utter isolation one from another. Of course, there is greater subjective estrangement the farther apart any two subject’s species are. This influences our sense that our human thoughts are utterly different from what goes on in a cell, or even an atom. be

Qualia are simply the feelings that arise for an experiencing subject. No experience, no qualia. Qualia poses no mind-body duality problem at all, it is simply what experience is like.

I hope this makes some sense, and that it illuminates my deep concerns that subjective experience cannot ever be left out of philosophic or theological discussion, since it is the ontologically primary category.

(On a side note, since Mary never had experiential need to exercise color distinctions, her body is likely no longer capable of doing so.)

Just Thinking said...
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Just Thinking said...
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Just Thinking said...
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Anonymous said...

JT, are you a Kantian of some sort? Your language ("noumena," "phenomena," "experience is an event," bodies in the phenomenal world are "structured" (according to the a priori concepts of the understanding), etc.) suggests that you are. However, as far as I and many others are concerned, Kant's transcendental philosophy is a complete train-wreck, so I'm wondering, if you are a Kantian, to what extent your criticisms of the contemporary mind/body debate are dependent on the integrity of Kant's philosophy as laid out in the COPR.

A fascination with subjectivity is good within limits and even necessary, since all truth must be subjectively chosen, but when it goes wild as it did in, say, 18-19th century German idealism, it becomes muddle-headed and contemptible.

Just Thinking said...

Anon

Thanks for the nice post and interest. I am not a professional philosopher, and nobody plays one on TV! I tend not to understand the entire scheme of any one thinker - like Kant - so it is typical for me to latch on to the interesting hi-lights of their thinking. If I can get the general gist and synthesize it with interesting discoveries of others Berkeley's idealism, James/Whitehead's pan-experience, Rorty's distrust of them all, etc.

I wish I understood eastern thought better, as I think it has much to say about what reality is, or at least how we should conceive ourselves in it.

I like the honesty of Augustine and the profound sense of Kierkegaard's self-responsibility.

My thinking is uncommitted and evolving, but some notions noted above seem to stick. I love it when I come across a notion that resonates or ties together some of my closely held notions, such as when from the perennial philosophy, I read that what is subjective is private, but objectivity is public.

I see great possibilities for existential thomism and personalism.

As I stand here and now, I think my (accidentally repeated) post has really succinctlt stated where I am - a part of nature - a subject - able to experience itself and other parts in unique ways owing to my form of existence. I think all subjects are, as Darwin said, different only in degree, not kind.

Just Thinking said...

An example of how I think is to note that for the values of giving/receiving/relational of personalism to be fully realized, they must first be extended to encompass all subjects to harmonize with Darwin's theory. BTW, if anyone knows of such work, I would appreciated.

James Drake said...

Thank you for the long post on Frank and Mary, which I will have to read later.

I wanted to mention, though, how metaphysics affects the answer to a braintwister in probability I heard of by following up on one posed by John Derbyshire.

A man has two children, and one of them is a boy. What's the probability the other child is also a boy? In our world, the world of time, the answer is paradoxically 1/3.

But consider a possible world without time. Then the probability is the more intuitive 1/2.

So the metaphysics of time affects probabilities in surprising ways.

If anyone is interested I'll post the argument.

Just Thinking said...

I'm in.

David T. said...

But contemporary physicalists, forgetful of the history of their discipline, cluelessly draw precisely the opposite conclusion: “Come on, we’ve gotten rid of all the other dirt in the room by sweeping it under the rug; so why wouldn’t we be able to deal with the dirt under the rug in the same way?”

I think the situation may be even worse than this. If I understand the analogy correctly (relocating sensory qualities into the mind = sweeping dirt under a rug), then sensory qualities = dirt and mind = rug. Since the modern physicalist attempts to explain away the mind as much as anything else, this is equivalent to not only trying to sweep dirt under the rug, but trying to sweep the rug under the rug. To paraphrase Chief Brody: We're going to need a bigger rug!

Bobcat said...

Anonymous,

Why do you think Kant's transcendental idealism is a complete train-wreck? That obviously takes us off-topic, so if Professor Feser would rather the thread not go that way, he can delete this post. Otherwise, I'd be interested in knowing. (BTW, I'm a Kant scholar, so don't worry about having to introduce me to the key concept of the CPR; I just wonder if you take a two-worlds interpretation and then claim that Kant has no reason to believe in noumena, or that the transcendental aesthetic is faulty, or that the transcendental deduction is faulty, or what.)

Ilíon said...

Exactly, David T.

Aaron Boyden said...

My understanding of how Jackson came to be convinced that his knowledge argument didn't work is that after long effort, Lewis managed to convince him that the notion of non-physical, non-functional phenomenal knowledge was much, much stranger than he'd originally thought, so strange that he no longer considered it possible to believe in such a thing. Which seems reasonable enough to me, although I have not myself ever found qualia worrisome. The only reason someone would think they are not functionally analyzable is because they are in the grip of some theory which can be independently shown to be problematic.

Crude said...

For our purposes, we can be vague about the detail and think broadly of physicalism as the view that the mind is a purely physical part of a purely physical world. Exactly how to delineate the physical will not be crucial: anything of a kind that plays a central role in physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, and the like, along with the a priori associated functional and relational properties, count, as far as we are concerned.

Ed already pointed out how Chomsky's reply works into this, but I think the emphasized portions are pretty striking. Apparently Jackson is saying that physicalism is true - and that having a detailed account of what is (and therefore, isn't) physical isn't all that important. That really comes across as another way of saying what Chomsky said, which I'd paraphrase as "Anything we need to make sense of and model the world is physical". Sure, why reject physicalism at that point? It's practically a blank check. Just call Chalmers and Robinson physicalists at that point.

I get the feeling that 'physical' has become a popular label, like 'natural'. Where what the label is on is far less important than getting the label on something, period. Like a celebrity endorsement.

Edward Feser said...

Aaron,

Yes, there was also the worry about epiphenomenalism, which Robinson addresses in his article. I meant to say something about it but it got lost in the shuffle of what was already becoming a very long post; perhaps I'll add an afterthought. As Robinson points out, though, the issue isn't really relevant to the knowledge argument per se, which does not entail epiphenomenalism.

BTW, brave of you to show your face around here given your gratuitously nasty, intellectually dishonest, and philosophically completely worthless "review" of TLS at your own blog and at Amazon. Same old mixture of sweeping question-begging assertions coupled with the "no space here to give any arguments" shtick, I see. Coupled with the de rigueur accusations of "bigotry." I'm embarrassed to admit that I expected something at least a little more serious and substantive from you. Silly me.

Edward Feser said...

Bobcat and Anon,

Go for it. It's close enough to the topic and I'm sure you'll have something interesting to say.

Ilíon said...

"Same old mixture of sweeping question-begging assertions coupled with the "no space here to give any arguments" shtick, I see. Coupled with the de rigueur accusations of "bigotry.""

Yeah, I was thinking I smelt musty straw.

a bee said...

Ilion, the echolyte.

Ilíon said...

A bee? A gnat? It be a gnat (and fairly ignernt, too)? It can be so hard to tell, sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Echolyte! ROFLOL!

Aaron Boyden said...

Let's see, "gratuitously nasty, intellectually dishonest, and philosophically completely worthless." Sounds like a description of your book. As for my review, it was I suppose philosophically completely worthless (as I said, I plan to attend to specific arguments in future blog posts), but it was hardly intellectually dishonest and any nastiness was far from gratuitous. Do you not remember what you wrote in your book?

Anonymous said...

The venerable goose-gander axiom!

Ilíon said...

Or the even more venerable Anonymouse sock-puppet gambit?

Anonymous said...

Ilminion said

Or the even more venerable Anonymouse sock-puppet gambit?

July 10, 2010 7:55 AM


Not only do I not know who he/she is, but I hardly understand what he says.

Edward Feser said...

Exactly the sort of reply I expected. "Tu quoque, Ed!" Etc. Yawn.

Well, my book is not gratuitously nasty. There, as elsewhere, I direct my polemics only against those who have "asked for it" by indulging in polemics themselves and by exhibiting grave intellectual dishonesty, as the four "New Atheists" I attack have indisputably done. And as I have made clear both in the book and elsewhere, I do not regard all atheists or naturalists with the same contempt in which I hold Dawkins and Co.

If you are not willing to acknowledge that the New Atheists' own polemics are over-the-top and deserving of a harsh response, and if you do not also acknowledge that their "arguments" are ill-informed and philosophically shallow, then you are evidently too intellectually dishonest yourself and/or too ignorant of the relevant philosophical issues to be worth discussing this topic with.

And on the subject of your intellectual dishonesty, when in your Amazon review you assert (for example) that I simply "dismiss" Dennett's and Millikan's position without argument, you are either (a) lying, (b) didn't actually read the relevant pages, or (most charitably) (c) were so overwhelmed with hostily and emotion when you got to quickly skimming those pages (you obviously didn't read them at all carefully) that you didn't see the arguments that were staring you in the face. Same with your preposterous "summary" of my reasons for affirming the reality of final causality. Same with the absurd remarks you make on your blog -- asserting that I "argue against the scientific worldview" (again, either a lie, or an egregious and inexcusable misreading, or an unargued, question-begging assertion of your own tendentious view of what a "scientific" view of the world requires); asserting, absolutely bizarrely, that in the book I "use 'incoherent" to mean 'unsatisfying' and 'rational' to mean 'satisfying'"; etc.

And even now, we still get the patented Aaron Boyden "I'll provide the actual reasons for my outrageous, bizarre, and question-begging assertions in a future blog post" move. Uh huh. We're all waiting on pins and needles for that...

Ilíon said...

"And on the subject of your intellectual dishonesty, when in your Amazon review you assert (for example) that I simply "dismiss" Dennett's and Millikan's position without argument, you are either (a) lying, (b) didn't actually read the relevant pages, or (most charitably) (c) were so overwhelmed with hostily and emotion when you got to quickly skimming those pages (you obviously didn't read them at all carefully) that you didn't see the arguments that were staring you in the face."

But, (b) is a sub-set of (a), and it is only by charity that it is possible to keep (c) separate from (a).

Edward Feser said...

Ilion, bee, and Anon,

Now, now, fellows. Let's shake hands and make up. Or at least take it outside, please, or out of the combox anyway.

Ilíon said...

"... And as I have made clear both in the book and elsewhere, I do not regard all atheists or naturalists with the same contempt in which I hold Dawkins and Co."

ALL aheists (whether the common pretend atheist, or the very rare actual atheist) are liars. It's just that some are more, and others less, personally nasty and vicious and conteptable about it.

If a particular 'atheist' can keep his intellectual dishonesty on a fairly tight leash, then by all means we should extend the utmost civility toward him. If a particular 'atheist' simply cannot keep himslef from behaving and "arguing" as the New Atheists do, then it is our *duty* to be "uncivil" toward him.

Just Thinking said...

I liked it more when we were all mentioning Kant or somone like that. Let's talk qualia.

a bee said...

That Ilminion one from anonymous had me ROFLMAO. It would lose something if it was not so damn obvious.

Anonymous said...

"ALL aheists (whether the common pretend atheist, or the very rare actual atheist) are liars."

This is an outrageous statement in need of some serious qualification. Long before I ever knew what Thomism was all about and how intellectually rich the Christian tradition actually was, I was an atheist (during my undergraduate years), and I can say sincerely that my main reason for being one was due to the so-called problem of evil. Admittedly, I did have a pre-rational bias towards atheism, but in any case I honestly thought that there was a genuine logical contradiction between the presence of gratuitous evil in the world and the existence of God as traditionally defined. My commitment to atheism was due to having an impressionable young mind combined with a lack of exposure to the relevant texts and philosophical arguments of classical theism, not due to intellectual dishonesty.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that such a statement completely lacks tact: No atheist would ever change his mind if you begin the conversation by calling him a liar.

Anonymous said...

Ed,

I loved your book and I enjoy your blog. You don't need my advice, but still I have to ask... Why are you arguing with someone so obviously agenda-driven, emotional, and otherwise small? Especially given what his "reviews" reek of. (That ain't honesty or even intelligence being smelled there.)

Wear Aaron Boyden's latest absurdity as a badge of honor, maybe devote a blog post to "Look how absurdly and childishly people who disagree with my book act", and move on. But don't pretend the smallwit is worth an actual exchange. He had the opportunity to prove he was and he failed. Even a "philosopher" and a professor isn't worth the time once they make that move, unless they happen to be more well known than the below-average atheist blogger.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous,

Good question. The answer is that Aaron and I were in grad school together for a few years back in the 90s, and so for that personal reason alone I have cut him some slack when he's said some silly things in the comboxes both here and over at WWWtW, and tried to engage him substantively. But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. I think you are right that he is not worth any further attention.

Just Thinking said...

Peace, love, hugs, etc.

What's so unusual about Mary ('s qualia)? Let's talk. Do PoM folk say it is a single feeling, or a plenitude of sense perceptions ala Hume?

Ilíon said...

E.Feser: "... And as I have made clear both in the book and elsewhere, I do not regard all atheists or naturalists with the same contempt in which I hold Dawkins and Co."

Ilíon: "ALL aheists (whether the common pretend atheist, or the very rare actual atheist) are liars. It's just that some are more, and others less, personally nasty and vicious and conteptable about it."

Anonymouse: "This is an outrageous statement in need of some serious qualification.[and so, emotively, on]"

To quote someone, "Yawn," though, perhaps capital letters would more effectively get the point across.

Anonymouse:

1) why would you imagine that your emoting moves me?

2) why would you imagine that I'm going give my time to someone who I am presently convinced has no desire to understand, much less acknowledge, the truth?

3) why would you imagine that I'm going give my time to an "anonymous?"


Anonymouse: "Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that such a statement completely lacks tact: ..."

4) why would you imagine that I give a damn about tact?

4a) why would you imagine that I imagine it is my job in life to stroke the fragile egos and/or self-esteem of anyone, much less of intellectually dishonest persons?

5) do you not understand that there are a multitude of way to assert that another is a liar? I choose to say it openly, as a man speaks; I leave the feminized "suggestions" to the academics. So, sue me.


Anonymouse: "No atheist would ever change his mind if you begin the conversation by calling him a liar."

6) why would you imagine that any God-denier is going to repent, or not, of his dishonesty with respect to that particular question for anything other than his own free decision to stop lying about the nature of reality?

6a) can you not read? Or do you just like making accusations that anyone can see are ... hmmm, to be tactful, misplaced ... if only they make the effort to grasp the context?

Ilíon: "If a particular 'atheist' can keep his intellectual dishonesty on a fairly tight leash, then by all means we should extend the utmost civility toward him. If a particular 'atheist' simply cannot keep himslef from behaving and "arguing" as the New Atheists do, then it is our *duty* to be "uncivil" toward him."

Bobcat said...

Ilion,

Why do you take it to be the case that all atheists are liars? Is your point something like this: (1) it is obvious that God exists; (2) the only way not to believe that God exists is if you deceive yourself; consequently, (3) all atheists are liars?

If so, could you elaborate a bit on (1)? Is the God in question a 3-O God, or is it something like "at least a very powerful, very good, very knowledgeable being"? Is the obviousness of God's existence something that anyone can see just so long as they are exposed to the right argument, is it something everyone is inclined to believe via a sensus divinitatis, or is it a particular kind of religious experience that everyone has that convinces them of this? (My guess is that you think it's obvious in the same way as the wrongness of rape or murder is obvious, but I'd be much more interested in your own take on things than in the imaginary takes I have on you.)

If I have you wrong, then what do you mean when you say that all atheists are liars?

David said...

Ilíon: why would you imagine that I'm going give my time to an "anonymous?"

Uh... because we can see you doing it? By the way, I'm always astounded at how many people on the Internet think being anonymous or not means anything. Anyone can type in a name.

why would you imagine that I give a damn about tact?

I believe Mr. Anonymous was giving you the benefit of the doubt, the default assumption that you were a decent person and not a jerk. He stands corrected.

I choose to say it openly, as a man speaks; I leave the feminized "suggestions" to the academics. So, sue me.

Um. Yeah. Well, see, now you blew your cover: a Real Man™ would never encourage wimpy litigiousness when he could simply challenge his opponent to a duel at high noon. Now me and the other Real Men™ are going to go out into the woods and butt heads and discuss qualia while you go sit in the corner with your quiche and think about what you've done.

Anonymous said...

You failed to address the ilion the echolyte and ilminion character assessments, in case you are interested.

Interstellar Bill said...

Only muddy thinking could adopt the atheist label merely by contemplating the horror of suffering. I'd tell him the same thing I'd've told the pampered Prince Siddhartha: 'Get a grip, it has to be horrible.'

Being the positive and negative poles of felt valuation, pleasure and pain are foundational aspects of consciousness, which can be biologically defined as a unitary agent-self experiencing an object in a here-and-now format. Pain is foundational because it provides the ultimate reality check, without which a conscious organism cannot long survive.

BTW, by this biological definition any organism with a brain (rather than ganglia) is conscious, so the 'problem of suffering' isn't just about people's misery.

Any atheist or Buddhist who finds suffering to be evil in itself is thus totally missing the Big Picture: no Pain, no human consciousness.

Also, epiphenomenalists commit the even worse error of consciousness being a passive passenger. The huge metabolic and genetic cost of brains is not paid out to buy something not absolutely crucial to survival. The huge success of perceiving animals (fish and higher, and a few invertebrates) makes epiphenomalism an exclusive club for ignorami.

David said...

Anyway, about qualia: qualities may exist in physical objects, but I am still trying to figure out how that is connected to the qualities we perceive subjectively. I'm not suggesting that there is no connection, but it's not a direct connection, because qualities are mediated by matter that doesn't have those qualities. (Even if we say that visible light is what is coloured rather than the thing reflecting the light, that's still not ultimately what we see; it's translated into some electrical signal in our brains.) So our minds must be "calibrated" a certain way (presumably by God, which is simply to say that we have a certain kind of mind (human minds, as opposed to bat-minds, if indeed bats do experience sonar in a qualitative way)).

The question is, why should we suppose that the objects themselves have the qualities we perceive? They certainly could; but since we don't perceive them directly, they might not. That doesn't mean it's all arbitrary or subjective; there is still a direct causality based on each object's physical make-up. But is there a reason to suppose so rather than supposing that there is no form of redness in the apple, only the form of being-chemically-structured-to-reflect-700nm-photons?

(I guess this is the flip side of the usual argument that qualia are not functionally relevant, so why not abandon them? But in the mind-vs-brain case, I actually experience the qualities (regardless of whether they "do" anything else). However, the apple doesn't "feel" red, or know it's red or anything. Its alleged redness doesn't play a part in its matter or form otherwise; nor directly in our perception of it. So why should we suppose it directly has redness? Why should we want to suppose that?)


Just Thinking said...

Ed sed Accordingly, something like what philosophers now call “qualia” were, for Russell, the intrinsic features of the external physical world – that which “fleshes out” or makes concrete the otherwise abstract structure described by physics. Contemporary philosophers like Michael Lockwood, David Chalmers, and Galen Strawson have followed Russell’s lead, and Robinson’s position seems to bear a family resemblance to theirs.

I honestly have no clue as to what "qualia are the intrinsic features of the external physical world – that which “fleshes out” or makes concrete the otherwise abstract structure described by physics" means, let alone how it could influence anyone to subscribe.

Compare with my previous assessment Experience is an event. The logical fallacy centers on focusing on either the body (noumenal stuff), or the mind (phenomenal appiritions) as utterly distinct entities, which they are not.

The body of an experiential subject, which is structured in a species dependent manner, allows for its experience of its environment and to act upon it. Such experience is subjective, but because for a given species all bodies are formed similarly, the inherent subjectivity is not a cause for mutual incomprehensibility and utter isolation one from another. Of course, there is greater subjective estrangement the farther apart any two subject’s species are. This influences our sense that our human thoughts are utterly different from what goes on in a cell, or even an atom. be

Qualia are simply the feelings that arise for an experiencing subject. No experience, no qualia. Qualia poses no mind-body duality problem at all, it is simply what experience is like.


Where is this line of thinking wrong?

David said...

Interstellar Bill: no Pain, no human consciousness.

The argument from evil is flawed, but there's more to refuting it than pointing out that pain has a certain role to play. Obviously, it's not true that consciousness requires me to experience pain at every single moment that I'm conscious; the question is, why doesn't God get rid of all the moments that contain [non-trivial amounts of] pain? Even if it would mean cheating from a biological point of view, well, God isn't restricted by the laws of biology.

The huge metabolic and genetic cost of brains is not paid out to buy something not absolutely crucial to survival.

But epiphenomenalists don't claim that brains are not hugely useful and successful. They claim that phenomena are just along for the ride, caused by all the real work the [rest of?] the brain is doing, but not doing anything themselves. The problem is that the epiphenomena is what we're interested in (what we perceive, what we deduce, etc.), and if our brains are doing their real work without them, then we can't legitimately conclude anything about the real world.

David said...

Just Thinking: Qualia poses no mind-body duality problem at all, it is simply what experience is like.
Where is this line of thinking wrong?

The problem is that if you define physics the wrong way, then "what experience is like" is a different thing from "what matter is like". So either qualia have to be a second kind of thing, distinct from any physical state or object; or else the "modern" conception of nature has to be replaced with something better.

[P.S. The word-verification is "quale". I think it's trying to tell me something...]

Edward Feser said...

JT,

The Russellian idea is this: When we consistently follow out the modern tendency to remove the sensory qualities from the external world and redefine them as existing "only in the mind", what we're left with from physical science is a completely abstract structure. We have a description of an external world defined in terms of certain relations, but no idea of what the the intrinsic nature is of the entities that bear these relations to one another.

So, we need now to give some account of what these entities might be like intrinsically. But, the Russellian continues, the only intrinsic properties we know -- given, again, this modern set of assumptions (which the Russellian doesn't challenge) -- are the redefined sensory qualities themselves now considered as entirely mental, viz. as qualia. That is, the only intrinsic properties we know are those which characterize our own minds. The Russellian then suggests that given the evidence for the identification of mental states with brain states, it follows that what we know in knowing qualia are the intrinsic qualities of at least one physical object, i.e. the brain.

The final move is to model the intrinsic qualities of other physical objects on these ones. Hence while it is conceded that material objects other than the brain do not have qualities exactly like our qualia, they have qualities that are at least analogous to them. And so to material systems less complex than the brain are attributed something like "proto-qualia" etc. You can see how this might be taken to led in an idealist or panpsychist direction.

It could also be interpreted as a kind of "dual-aspect" theory, though. Considered in terms of the causal relations physics attributes to it, an entity or event counts as physical; considered in terms of its phenomenal character, it counts as mental. But it's the same one thing. Russell and Chalmers in different ways take the view in this sort of direction.

Does that help?

Edward Feser said...

[P.S. The word-verification is "quale". I think it's trying to tell me something...]

That is awesome.

Just Thinking said...

Thanks Ed, I need to absorb what you've said before further comment/?s

I am not a panpsychist, but I think our bodies ground us in nature and constrain us as to how we experience it all. And based on how our sensory organs are comparatively set up and limited, each species (human, dog, ape, snake, whale, bug, bird, and somehow plants) act in nature and have different qualia - different subjectively felt experiences.

Interstellar Bill said...

David says
why doesn't God get rid of all the moments that contain [non-trivial amounts of] pain?

1. This is trivialization of God's creation, to think that He would monkey with the most fundamental aspect of consciousness, just for the sake of David's aversion to discomfort.

2. Our capacity for extreme suffering has a metabolic and genetic cost over and above that of a capacity limited to some discomfort level that David would put up with. Obviously, species to which David would rather belong couldn't compete with those capable of horrifying suffering. They probably didn't try all that hard to escape a forest fire.

Ilíon said...

The careful reader of this thread will easily see why I despise "even-handedness" ... because it almost never is.

Interstellar Bill said...

David also said that epiphenomenalists also believe that

'...phenomena are just along for the ride, caused by all the real work the [rest of?] the brain is doing, but not doing anything themselves.'

Again, this simply ignores the argument about the supreme usefulness of consciousness. The silly phrase 'real work' is almost as bad as the physicalists' incessant 'nothing but', an empty formula.

Consciousness is the 'real work' of the brain, not the unconscous brain states that are its servants. The stimulus-response format of unconscious, automatic reflexes is suitable only for worms and insects. Large mobile creatures with eyes and appendages absolutely have to be conscious to perform any coherent behavior whatsoever, however reflexive. Vision and touch cannot be automatic and unconscious because of the incessant eye-jittering and limb-repositioning that throw off any unconscious reflex. Only consciousness, in the body-and-world format, enables the animal nervous system to behave coherently and appropriately in a complex environment.

Ilíon said...

Bobcat: "If I have you wrong, then what do you mean when you say that all atheists are liars?"

First, concerning lying and intellectual dishonesty --

To decline to reason properly just is to engage in intellectual dishonesty; to be more precise, it's to engage in intellectual hypocrisy.

Definitionally, all hypocrisy is lying, for hypocrisy is but a specialized sort of lying. "Regular" hypocrisy (that is, sans qualifier) is the assertion of a double standard with respect to morals. Intellectual dishonesty is the assertion of a double standard with respect to reason; which is to say, intellectual dishonesty is but another term for intellectual hypocrisy. Regular lying is episodic (even in the case of a Bill Clinton), it is lying about some particular fact or other; whereas, intellectual dishonesty is systemic, it is lying about the very nature of truth and reason.

Intellectual dishonesty is far worse, far more serious, than "mere" lying -- from a Christian/Biblical point of view, if it's not quite "the unpardonable sin," then it's right next to the line, if not straddling it.

So, since intellectual dishonesty *is* lying, then someone engaging in intellectual dishonesty *is* a liar. Worse, in fact. So, if it helps, then consider my statement that "ALL atheists (whether the common pretend atheist, or the very rare actual atheist) are liars" to have been my pinch of incense to the idol of civility, that false god which so many worship when it suits them -- because I really mean that all 'atheists' are *worse* than liars.


Also, as a slight tangent, to call someone a 'fool' is not to call him "stupid," it is to accuse him of being intellectually dishonest; it is to accuse him of behaving as though he cannot reason properly. That's why, when it's seriously meant (in contrast to the odd use as an endearment), it's generally said with such vehement anger.


And, of course, the mere failure to reason properly does not necessarily constitute intellectual dishonesty. That's why I said that to decline to reason properly just is to engage in intellectual dishonesty.


Bobcat: "Why do you take it to be the case that all atheists are liars? ..."

Because all God-denial stems from, and is supported by, intellectual dishonesty. [I'll get to this claim in a bit] Therefore, all God-deniers -- whether the common pretend atheists or the very rare actual atheists ... or the so-called agnostics -- are, definitionally, intellectually dishonest, and are, definitionally, liars.


Bobcat: "Is your point something like this: (1) it is obvious that God exists; (2) the only way not to believe that God exists is if you deceive yourself; consequently, (3) all atheists are liars?"

If, when you ask, "(1) it is obvious that God exists;" you mean to ask whether I am saying that to state "God is" is to prove the claim, then, no, of course not.

But, if by the word "obvious" you mean something like: "Propositions established by sound-and-valid reasoning are obviously true" and "Assuming that one is *capable* of understanding the reasoning, then to deny (or, possibly, to decline to affirm) a proposition established by sound-and-valid reasoning is obviously to engage in intellectual dishonesty," and "If it can be established by sound-and-valid reasoning that the proposition 'God is' is true, then obviously, God exists, and to deny this truth is to engage in intellectual dishonesty," then yes, that is what I mean.

Ilíon said...

So, can it be established by sound-and-valid reasoning that the proposition 'God is' is true?

Yes, it can, and it's not particularly difficult. And it can be done without making any appeals to A-T assumptions or arguments, but rather with a minimal set of assumptions which nearly everyone claiming to be rational claims to accept (and most of which can be denied only by taking refuge in open irrationality).

The particular argument I mean is sketched here.


But, but, but ... what if an 'atheist' has never been exposed to this argument, how can he then be a liar?

Everyone *knows* this argument, for it is written in our psyches -- some of us choose to refuse to think about this knowledge and to follow the logic to an affirmation of God's reality. As Paul asserts in Romans concerning the denial that God is: "men are without excuse." Men are without excuse because to deny that God is is also to deny that one's own self is. Men are without excuse because to deny that God is is the epitome of anti-reason.


Now, one may ask, do I expect many so-called atheists to rationally consider the argument to which I've linked and then to give over their God-denial? Not on your life do I expect that -- as I said at the start, "ALL atheists (whether the common pretend atheist, or the very rare actual atheist) are liars." A very tiny minority may admit to the truth of the argument, but most will just attempt to hurl invective.


Bobcat: "... could you elaborate a bit on (1)? Is the God in question a 3-O God, or is it something like "at least a very powerful, very good, very knowledgeable being"? ..."

The argument to which I've linked is not intended to establish all Biblical, or all Christian, claims about God's nature or attributes; though, many of those claims can be established by further arguments which build on this one.

The purpose of this argument is to establish:
1) There is a Creator-God;
2) The Creator-God is a person (not a "force" or "principle" or some other such vacuity);
3) The Creator-God created us;
4) We can know that the above propositions are true because their denial leads to absurdity;
5) Therefore, logically, we do not have the option, nor the right, to assert either atheism or agnosticism.

Call it "mere theism," if you will (despite that I strongly dislike the term "theism").

Aaron Boyden said...

And here I thought it was I who was being exceptionally patient with you, Ed, never very seriously attacking your claims that all of the details of this Thomistic philosophy of yours and how it was far more sophisticated than the naturalists thought it was because you kept insisting the details were in your books. Of course, having now read one of your books, I can no longer believe that story. And if you and your friends say I'm "intellectually dishonest," or even more directly that I'm a liar, I suppose that does offend me more than that you say I'm a filthy pervert. But given that you say both, I can't imagine what would lead you to expect me to be polite in return. Especially as both accusations are false, the first for straightforward factual reasons, the second for admittedly tricky reasons concerning the flaws in your moral theory, but reasons which are not so tricky that I can excuse you on the basis of ignorance. You should be able to see the errors, and certainly shouldn't be making accusations on the basis of a theory as flimsy as what you have.

Edward Feser said...

Aaron,

And if you and your friends say I'm "intellectually dishonest," or even more directly that I'm a liar,

I did not say that you are a liar. I said that your being a liar was one of several possible explanations of your misrepresentations of my views. And I don't think it's the most likely explanation -- more likely is that you are too overcome with emotion carefully or fair-mindedly to read what's in front of you.

I suppose that does offend me more than that you say I'm a filthy pervert.

When did I ever say such a thing? What the hell are you talking about?

But given that you say both, I can't imagine what would lead you to expect me to be polite in return.

Project much? I have been unfailingly polite to you in every exchange we've had up until the point where, out of the blue, you called me a "bigot," "right-wing nut" etc. on your blog and on Amazon.com, and egregiously misrepresented my views to boot. Only then did I say anything the least bit harsh in response. And now you're mad that I hurt your feelings! Is that Twilight Zone music I'm hearing?

Goodbye and good luck, fella.

Aaron Boyden said...

AB> I suppose that does offend me more than that you say I'm a filthy pervert.

EF> When did I ever say such a thing? What the hell are you talking about?

Once again you make me wonder if you read your own book. I suppose you didn't use those exact words (though you were hardly more polite), but I was trying to be brief.

Anonymous said...

I will hazard a guess: Aaron engages in homosexual activity, and the problem here are Ed's views on such behavior, stated in TLS.

If this is true, I don't know why it's being danced around. If it's something else, I have no idea.

md said...

>> From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, the mistake was opting for a mechanistic-cum quantitative conception of nature in the first place, and philosophers of mind have been on the wrong track ever since Descartes, Hobbes, and Co.

I get that and consider myself a hylemorphic dualist myself now (previously a Cartesian dualist) but does anyone know what Margaret D. Wilson (in "Descartes") meant when she said that Descartes was the "only major 16th century figure who did not believe thought inhered in matter"? She did not elaborate and I find this baffling. True, Aristotelian forms are soul-like entities, but surely she meant more than merely that Descartes rejected the Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysics, and I don't suppose he was unique in this rejection either.

Anonymous said...

...And if the "homosexuality" guess is truly the case, then this conversation really is over. If Ed's moral theory finds homosexual acts immoral, it will be judged to be wrong, wrong, wrong. Indeed, his entire philosophy and metaphysics will have to be rendered beyond hope of salvaging on that basis alone, if it leads to that sort of condemnation. All the arguments must be condemned in the strongest possible ways, their flaws so deep and so obvious that refutation is not only unnecessary, but would itself be a moral hazard. As that would imply that it is *possible* homosexual acts are wrong, and that their moral neutrality or good is a thing that requires argument. That cannot be allowed to stand.

Ed's book(s) will, upon that moment, be only fit for mockery, condemnation and insult. It will be asserted he makes no arguments, and if he does make arguments they are wildly and obviously flawed, and that there is nothing to discuss about or learn from what he says.

Call it a hunch.

Martin said...

Just purchased Philosophy of Mind and Aquinas (it looks like they've sold out of Aquinas at US Amazon). Up to my third reading of The Last Superstition. These blog posts too are a goldmine; and how many thousands of dollars saved from buying a degree in a dying mechanical philosophy? Well I'm telling everyone about Ed Feser, hope it helps with John Henry's school fees, his Dad has helped with mine!

Ilíon said...

Aaron Boyden to E.Feser: "And if you and your friends say I'm "intellectually dishonest," or even more directly that I'm a liar, ..."

E.Feser to Aaron: "I did not say that you are a liar. I said that your being a liar was one of several possible explanations of your misrepresentations of my views. And I don't think it's the most likely explanation -- more likely is that you are too overcome with emotion carefully or fair-mindedly to read what's in front of you."

Sheesh, Aaron! Learn to read; it was I who pointed out to Mr Feser, and to the general reader, that to fail to "carefully or fair-mindedly to read what's in front of you" because you are "too overcome with emotion" frequently folds into intellectual dishonesty. And while it's flattering that you and Bea and David and the Anonymouse want to lump my in with Mr Feser's friends (or something less savory, in their cases), the sad truth is, he tolerates me.

Mr Feser resists thinking of you as intellectually dishonest, despite that, in his opinion, you continuously misrepresent him. And, perhaps that's noble of him. Though, getting into the territory of Bulverism to avoid the other conclusion hardly seems noble, or sane.

Whatever. I don't aspire to that sort of nobility. And *I* have no difficulty at all in considering you to be intellectually dishonest ... based entirely on your behavior as I have seen it on his blog over the past few weeks.

Ilíon said...

Concerning the Anonymouse's speculations on homosexuality-as-basis for My Boyden's mode of "refutation" of Mr Feser, non-exhaustively --
1) such speculations smack of Bulverism, even when the speculated is known and not merely speculated;
1a) yet, it cannot be denied that human being *do* "argue" in such manner, regardless of the particular psychological basis;
2) ALL human beings enslaved to a sin they will not admit is sin will "argue" in this manner, and more so as they insist that the rest of us must accept the sin as just and normal;
2a) thus, Bulveristic speculations about a specific sin don't appear to accomplish much.

3) Regardless of the above, I had an odd experience on Facebook recently which so mirrors the Anonymouse's speculations, all because I called "bullshit" on a college friend's apropos-of-nothing comment on my “Wall” to the effect that if I wanted to see Christian “hate” I ought to accompany him to a “Pride” parade.

Just Thinking said...

Ed, again, thanks. Your explanation was very helpful in fleshing out the blog statement I could not understand.

When we consistently follow out the modern tendency to remove the sensory qualities from the external world and redefine them as existing "only in the mind", what we're left with from physical science is a completely abstract structure.

Got that, and IMO reject it as a fallacy – the natural events are intrinsic to the noumena, but our body-based perceptions of the noumena - the phenomena – are imprecise. Nature errs in varying degrees when looking at itself.

…the Russellian continues, the only intrinsic properties we know … are the redefined sensory qualities themselves now considered as entirely mental, viz. as qualia. … given the evidence for the identification of mental states with brain states, it follows that what we know in knowing qualia are the intrinsic qualities of at least one physical object, i.e. the brain.

This is true for conscious experiences. Sitting on a park bench on a busy holiday weekend taking in all the sensory delights afforded by my environment. In this conscious experience full of intentionality, here-then-there focusing on various noumena around me, I feel my brain (grand central station of my nervous system) as it synthesizes the info my entire body gives it. Qualia of conscious experience means I feel my brain’s phenomenal representation that the noumena impress upon it.

However, there are also many non-conscious events taking place at the park, each of which have their own subjective qualia. The cells in the intestine of a worm, the neuronal event of a sleeping baby, the active chlorophyll molecules in a living leaf, even the rusting of an iron post are subjective experients that in varying manners feel their micro-environment…

The final move is to model the intrinsic qualities of other physical objects on these ones. Hence while it is conceded that material objects other than the brain do not have qualities exactly like our qualia, they have qualities that are at least analogous to them… You can see how this might be taken to led in an idealist or panpsychist direction.

Right. As I said in a previous comment, panpsychism implies universal consciousness, or at least universal mentality. Better to say panexperientialism, in which case even an electron experiences its surroundings in a fashion. You and I can infer some of what another mammal is consciously feeling because it has a similar nervous system. Much harder to get a sense of an electron’s subjective experience.

It could also be interpreted as a kind of "dual-aspect" theory, though. Considered in terms of the causal relations physics attributes to it, an entity or event counts as physical; considered in terms of its phenomenal character, it counts as mental. But it's the same one thing. Russell and Chalmers in different ways take the view in this sort of direction.

Russell could be alluding to his former math colleague’s notion of the dipolar, objective/subjective nature of reality: in any event, the actuality (objectivity, physicality) of the interacting noumena inhere, and the possibilities of outcomes from this interaction give rise to the subjective experience (mental, qualia).

Any comments?

Just Thinking said...

My mention of dipolarity conjures up thoughts of time. Is objectivity endurance and subjectivity perdurant?

Edward Feser said...

Aaron,

You needn't elaborate. Really. We get the point. For you, the personal, it seems, is the philosophical.

Readers might be interested to know that Aaron has now put up Part I of what he considers a more philosophically substantial reply to TLS over at his blog. So far it consists of taking a few brief autobiographical sentences from the book and subjecting them to rigorous philosophical scrutiny.

This just gets weirder and weirder...

Edward Feser said...

Martin,

Thank you!

Edward Feser said...

JT,

The extent to which Russell may have been influenced by Whitehead here is an interesting question. But Russell does try to avoid any panexperientialist implication by opting for a notion of "unsensed sense data," divorcing sensory qualities from a conscious subject. Michael Lockwood would later follow this path too so as to avoid anything that smacked of idealism. But I think the move does not work. One of my earliest published articles was part of an exchange with Lockweed about this in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. (The article is called "Can Phenomenal Qualities Exist Unperceived?" and Lockwood's reply is "Unsensed Phenomenal Qualities: A Defence.")

Just Thinking said...

It sounds to this novice as if you argued that there could be no unperceived sense qualities. But wouldn't a dog smell more in a car inspection at the border, or a sighted person get more color data?

I know there is more to this than I am commenting on. Can you flrdh the concept out just a bit?

Just Thinking said...

flrdh is swedish for flesh

Eric said...

"Readers might be interested to know that Aaron has now put up Part I of what he considers a more philosophically substantial reply to TLS over at his blog. So far it consists of taking a few brief autobiographical sentences from the book and subjecting them to rigorous philosophical scrutiny.
This just gets weirder and weirder..."

This may simply display ignorance on my part, but I found this remark of Boyden's to be especially weird:

"The naturalistic world view rejects ultimate authority. That's what it is to be a naturalist."

Again, I might be wrong, but it doesn't seem to me as if many naturalists are aware of this definition of naturalism. Take Alex Rosenberg:

"It is of course obvious that introspection strongly suggests that the brain does store information propositionally, and that therefore it has beliefs and desire with “aboutness” or intentionality. A thoroughgoing naturalism must deny this, I allege. If beliefs are anything they are brain states—physical configurations of matter. But one configuration of matter cannot, in virtue just of its structure, composition, location, or causal relation, be “about” another configuration of matter in the way original intentionality requires (because it cant pass the referential opacity test). So, there are no beliefs."

Now if naturalism is the denial of ultimate authority, why must 'a thoroughgoing naturalism' entail that beliefs are "brain states," as Rosenberg -- surely a respected philosopher -- avers?

Or take the SEP's article on naturalism by David Papineau. If you read Professor Feser's account of naturalism and Professor Boyden's account of naturalism, it's hard to see how anyone could conclude, given what Papineau says in the SEP, that Professor Feser has naturalism wrong and Professor Boyden has it right. And last time I checked, Papineau (and Rosenberg) are pretty distinguished philosophers. Do they misunderstand and misrepresent naturalism too?

Here's what seems to me to be another problem with Boyden's conception of naturalism: Suppose there were a host of equally powerful, immortal gods who disagreed about and fought about everything. No one of them, or even the lot of them (since the disagree about everything) could be identified with ultimate authority, so it seems to be the case that Boyden's conception of naturalism would comprise many of the strange New Age types who frequent the poorly named 'metaphysics' section of the bookstore. But does anyone think that this is what a naturalist is? Am I confused here, or is Boyden's understanding of naturalism a bit off?

Ilíon said...

Eric: "This may simply display ignorance on my part, but I found this remark of Boyden's to be especially weird:
"
The naturalistic world view rejects ultimate authority. That's what it is to be a naturalist."
Again, I might be wrong, but it doesn't seem to me as if many naturalists are aware of this definition of naturalism.
"

Actually, Eric, in that regard, Mr Boyden is correct. Rejection of "ultimate authority" is not a "definition" of naturalism, it's a logical consequence of the axioms of naturalism.

And -- this is an important point that almost no one seems to get -- it doesn't matter in the least what this or that self-identifying naturalist (ot anti-naturalist, for that matter) tries ad hoc to tack-on to or to exclude from naturalism. What naturalism *is* follows from its premises.

Also, the rejection of "ultimate authority" necessarily entails the rejection of *all* authority -- so, all that is left for the naturalist is force and compulsion.


Eric: "Now if naturalism is the denial of ultimate authority, why must 'a thoroughgoing naturalism' entail that beliefs are "brain states," as Rosenberg -- surely a respected philosopher -- avers?"

Because that's what logically follows from the premises of naturalism. It's a false and foolish thing to assert -- and no self-identifying naturalist *actually* believes it, in any event -- but it *is* a proposition which inescapably follows from the premises of naturalism.


Eric: "Here's what seems to me to be another problem with Boyden's conception of naturalism: Suppose there were a host of equally powerful, immortal gods who disagreed about and fought about everything. No one of them, or even the lot of them (since the disagree about everything) could be identified with ultimate authority, so it seems to be the case that Boyden's conception of naturalism would comprise many of the strange New Age types who frequent the poorly named 'metaphysics' section of the bookstore. But does anyone think that this is what a naturalist is? Am I confused here, or is Boyden's understanding of naturalism a bit off?"

You're starting to catch on -- but, the problem you're seeing here isn't in "Boyden's conception of naturalism" and it isn't in naturalism's rejection of "ultimate authority." This particular problem arises from naturalism's necessary denial that God is, coupled with the imperative that it must account for the reality that there are minds in the world.

Naturalism cannot deny the reality of the old pagan pantheons without simultaneously denying the reality of human minds on the same grounds. The pantheist’s explanation for the gods is identical to the naturalist’s explanation for human beings: “They just happened; Cosmos out of Chaos.

md said...

>> These blog posts too are a goldmine; and how many thousands of dollars saved from buying a degree in a dying mechanical philosophy? Well I'm telling everyone about Ed Feser, hope it helps with John Henry's school fees, his Dad has helped with mine!

+1

Feser is doing a great service on this blog. He should create subscription based model where his paid subscribers get some added info or benefits of some type (or contribute to or provide service toward something he cares about). This is what John Gruber does at daringfireball.net. And if he does that I claim dibs on the subscriber #1!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Ilminion, who's yo' daddy. You are perversely in some sick need of domination.

Lots of websites that might help if you turn off your security filter...

Eric said...

Ilion, the point is that while naturalism might entail a rejection of 'ultimate authority' (depending, of course, on how this phrase is understood -- e.g. many naturalists today strike me as thoroughgoing modernists who think there is a capital 'T' Truth, and who believe that science is what leads us to it; I understand that Boyden rejects this view of science, and thus this conception of naturalism, but there's no denying that many distinguished philosophers are naturalists in a sense approximating this), it seems odd to me to identify it, as I think Boyden does, with a rejection of ultimate authority.

For example, naturalism also entails atheism, but you can't identify naturalism with atheism. (I take Boyden's 'rejection of ultimate authority' to include atheism, but not to be reducible to atheism.)

In other words, naturalism, as I understand the term, and as it seems to me philosophers like Professors Feser, Rosenberg and Papineau understand the term, makes positive ontological claims about reality, and not merely negative ontological claims and epistemic ones (such as the rejection of ultimate authority).

Think of it this way: Christian theists believe that there is an ultimate authority, but it's certainly not accurate to say "accepting an ultimate authority is what it is to be a Christian theist." After all, one may accept conscience, science, a pantheon of gods, etc. as an ultimate authority, and thus accept an ultimate authority without being in any sense a Christian theist. That is, Christian theism may entail an acceptance of ultimate authority, but is not itself reducible to the acceptance of ultimate authority. (Again, this all depends on how we're using our terms: if you think that the phrase 'ultimate authority' cannot but refer to the god of Christianity, then you'll disagree with me, but it seems to me sensible to say that so and so treats science, or conscience, etc. as an ultimate authority.)

Just Thinking said...

I found this http://www.imprint.co.uk/jcs_5_4.html

From what little I can glean, what you guys were calling qualia has zero in common with my concept of it.

I think you see it as a thing, whereas I see it as the texture.tone/feeling of an experience. In common sense language, I know no other way to envision qualia.

a bee said...

echolyte, Ed asked you to shut up a while back and talk about his blog topic. Do be a good little boy and comply...your other sh*t just sounds childish. Go to Dr. Boyden's page and comment.

Ilíon said...

As I said, the careful reader can see.

Ilíon said...

... and the thoughtful reader can grasp why I don't give a damn about 'tact.'

Daniel Smith said...

Here's a question for you guys:
Could a person with no senses (a brain in a vat) experience anything?

It would seem that, even with no senses to experience the outside world, this being would still be able to imagine something.

If so, what would these imaginations be? Would they be a kind of 'quasi-qualia'?

Anonymous said...

Minion, are you on drugs?

David said...

Daniel Smith: ‬Could a person with no senses (a brain in a vat) experience anything?

Sure... what we normally think of as our sense organs are really just front-ends to the brain. As you say, such a person could still imagine things, in fact we all do just that whenever we dream: we experience qualia that aren't coming from any outside object. Of course, they are still presumably coming from the brain, so perhaps we should push it farther and ask about a disembodied soul.

The Cartesian dualist would say yes, and I don't see how the qualia thus perceived could be any different from any other qualia. In A-T terms, since the soul is the form of the body, if it's not informing a body then it can't work right... but we'll suppose that God is doing whatever is necessary to feed it qualitative experiences. I should think the answer would also be yes, since I don't see what else the body could be contributing. (But if the answer were no, then I still wouldn't think there would be any quasi-qualia, it's surely all or nothing.)

funnyatheists said...

Professor Boyden seems to really take naturalism seriously, trickery and all, while being serious himself and trying to be ultimately responsible for his own views in his reviews. Doesn't he know that a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system makes nonsense of the very idea of responsibility? He sounds a bit like your average pseudo-naturalist doesn't he :p?

Aaron Boyden said...

I am curious as to why people don't comment at my blog. I realize Ed deletes comments when it provides him an opportunity to be childish, but why would you assume I would do that? I don't do a lot of intellectually suspect things Ed does.

Edward Feser said...

Aaron,

If I was really so deletion-happy, do you think your last few comments would have survived? As every regular reader of this blog knows, I almost never delete comments, even when I really ought to and when people are getting way off-topic, getting into silly pissing matches with each other, etc. (The comments deleted at the beginning of this particular thread were from Just Thinking. And the reason I deleted them, as he can confirm, is that he had accidentally posted the same long comment several times.)

But of course, you know all that. Probably in a bad mood and just trying to get a rise out of me. I understand. So, I hope my replying has made you feel better.

As to why no one comments at your blog, beats me. Maybe 'cause no one reads it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps try harder? I am sure you will receive responses if you deserve them?

Ilíon said...

Mr Feser,
Perhaps what is meant is that rather than responding in kind, you simply delete so-called comments which, if you were to respond in kind would "provide [you] an opportunity to be childish."

For instance, there is some ghoulish troll haunts my little blog; I don't even read his so-called posts, I just delete them as soon as I become aware of them. Sure, they "provides {me] an opportunity to be childish," but I just delete them, unread.

Perhaps Mr Boyden is *commending* you.

Ilíon said...

Aaron Boyden: "I am curious as to why people don't comment at my blog. I realize Ed deletes comments when it provides him an opportunity to be childish, but why would you assume I would do that? I don't do a lot of intellectually suspect things Ed does."

Speaking only for myself, based on what I've seen here and in your comment on my blog, I'm just chomping at the bit to spend my time reading and commenting on your blog. Sadly, the interwebs between yours and mine seem always to be down.

Just Thinking said...

Is qualia a noun or an adverb?

Is qualia different than Hume;s sense perceptions.

Is qualia better seen as sense awareness>

Edward Feser said...

JT,

"Qualia" is a noun, and is plural for "quale." A quale is typically understood to be a kind of quality or characteristic rather than an object or substance, and what it is a quality or characteristic of is a conscious experience. So e.g. when you have a conscious experience (whether veridical or hallucinatory) of a red rose, the "reddishness" of the visual part of the experience would be one quale, and the olfactory part of the experience, the way the rose smells, would be another.

Now, that qualia are supposed to be qualities or characteristics rather than objects or substances is part of what makes it odd to say that they are what "flesh out" the abstract structure described by physical science. They have to be the qualities or characteristics of something, and presumably of something mind-like and conscious. Hence some Russellians take the view that whatever the fundamental elements of physical reality turn out to be, they will count as conscious subjects of a sort, or "proto-subjects," nowhere remotely as complex as the conscious subjects we're aware of -- namely us -- but in some way analogous to us, and with their own rudimentary "proto-qualia."

Weird stuff.

Just Thinking said...

Very clear now on what they take to mean by quale, thanks. Even a no-nothing like me can see that just because I experience conscious qualia when being intentional about some entities in the world – like the rose – there is no need to put the qualia on/in the rose; just let it stay as a characteristic of conscious experience. Even if it is on/in a proto-conscious rose, how does that lead to my having the same qualia in my separate subjective consciousness?

What are they gaining by putting it on/in the stuff?

Just Thinking said...

Ed,

I carefully reread your post and have answered my own question about why Russel would want to move qualia. It seems premature, since we aren’t so clear on what the physical stuff is nor on the nature of consciousness. Being a bit less dogmatic as to what defines physicalism might put off making any changes just now. But I am not a physicalist, anyway.

Previous to this blog, I was somehow thinking there were more things under the qualia umbrella, like how a particular good/bad imagination or succesful proof feels, but I guess these are emotional bodily feelings initiated by mental activities. However, these emotions bear a resemblance to qualia. We surely have emotions that arise with certain color shades, sound notes, smells, and touch qualia.

Let’s focus on 4 quale (smell and touch are united): sight, smell, hearing, touch. Each of these senses represents a means of apprehending a unique characteristic of the form of a thing.

Sight reports the surface boundary’s characteristic light wavelength reflectivity, and touch is similar to sight in telling about the texture of a thing’s boundary, but also to gage the degree of solidity of the thing. Sound reports how the thing is vibrating in a shared air or water medium, and olfactory sense receptors report the texture/shape of the molecules the thing gives off. As an A-T guy, I know you like all these formal characteristics!

Our conscious qualia of the flower’s redness, softness, growling (dog near the rose), and sweet rosyness are crude reports of the form of the flower and dog before us. They are representations our bodies make in the nervous system.

There is the thing with its real form (kinda platonic), and the qualia impressions (feelings akin to emotions) that this form causes in us. We may or may not choose to remain consciously intent on any or all of the qualia, but our emotional response may remain at a subconscious level – when the growl gets louder.

I think looking at the noumena from a physics or chemistry stance works great for the 99.9%, but given our self-understanding at this stage in science, we gotta go biological in modeling our understanding of ourselves. I think consciousness is a form of emotion, and science is getting a lot done in that field of study.

I am some form of a naturalist, I guess. Is any of this significant to what PoM says?

Just Thinking said...

when the growl gets louder, our intentionality shifts from rose to teeth and our warm but cautiously tense emotional state shifts to fear.

mucheng said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
monk68 said...

I am unable to understand why it is that only the quantitative features of reality (number, extension, the emperio-metric) are so often taken to be "real"; whereas the qualitative is relegated to the perceiving mind alone? The scientist does not simply encounter the mass-energy of a rose, he encounters a rose: with its size/extension, smell, coloration, texture, etc. He may think about the rose's "mass-energy" as a scientific concept, but he DERIVED that cognition from an ontological encounter with a real rose.

He simply makes a utilitarian decision to ignore, or abstract away, all the qualities of the rose in order to focus upon the quantitative because the quantitative is uniquely ordered to mathematical modeling. The models are "beings of reason" - constructs, serving a methodological purpose no doubt, and understandably so.

But by what philosophical principle does his initial choice to abstract away all but the quantitative translate into the stance that the quantitative is the real. The fact that he simply made a choice to abstract away the qualitative for empirical, methodological, purposes does not in any way establish that the quantitative aspect of reality is more real or "ontic" than the qualitative - does it?

Why is the cognitive experience of the shape and size (quantitative features) of the rose more "real" than the "redness", texture, or smell of the rose? What philosophical justification can be given such that the former be generally perceived as an "external existen" and the later as merely internal and cognitive? How did Kant escape the prison of the "phenomena" long enough to establish a meaningful distinction between the "phenomena" and the "noumena"? I would like to find that special vantage point.

-Ray

David said...

Prof. Feser: Hence some Russellians take the view that whatever the fundamental elements of physical reality turn out to be, they will count as conscious subjects of a sort, or "proto-subjects," nowhere remotely as complex as the conscious subjects we're aware of -- namely us -- but in some way analogous to us, and with their own rudimentary "proto-qualia."

Of course, some things really are weird. It just struck me that the notion that objects must all be conscious to have qualia perhaps seems so odd because of over-anthropomorphism. (Consider someone who naturally objects to the claim that vegetables have souls: obviously they don't have souls the way humans do, but, Aristotelianly speaking, they certainly have forms.)

So suppose that there is a more "vegetative" (even mineralite) type of less-than-consciousness that applies to inanimate objects. This "qualcep", the whatever it is that grounds or holds qualities in an object, would not be consciousness; but in rational beings it would correspond to consciousness, or rather, human consciousness would be our beefed-up version of "qualcep" just as "intellect" is our beefed-up version of form. Now, that is still all rather vague and hand-wavy, but I think it could reasonably be fleshed out. Whether there's truth in it is something else again....

Monk68: I am unable to understand why it is that only the quantitative features of reality (number, extension, the emperio-metric) are so often taken to be "real"; whereas the qualitative is relegated to the perceiving mind alone?

Part of it is materialist bias: some people assume only physics is real, so anything beyond the reach of science must be abstracted away. But science itself has a legitimately restricted scope, i.e. what is measurable (not merely mathematically modellable, although the physical world does seem to be unavoidably mathematical... which carries its own implications). Our minds register both quantity and quality, but when the scientist goes out looking in the external physical world, he finds only quantities. Now we can say that the objects themselves really do have qualities, but the problem is that our perception works purely by means of quantity — that is (except maybe for miraculous flashes of divine inspiration) our senses work physically, scientifically, by registering mathematically measurable things, like photons of a certain energy, or vibrating acoustic waves.

Since we have no way to detect "qualities" directly by science, it is not unreasonable to propose that qualities do not exist in physical objects. After all, a physical object ought to be classifiable by physics! It's not just that qualities aren't directly measurable; it's that they have no detectable effect at all. So Occam's razor suggests we don't posit unnecessary stuff. Now, that is not to say that the qualia we experience are not rooted in reality: they are directly correlated to outside physical facts. They just aren't related to qualitative facts. The Russellian idea is to have qualities inhere in physical things in some way parallel to the way they are held in a conscious mind, but I don't see how that helps the issue of why there should be any external qualia in the first place. (Though perhaps we do need something like that to explain how an object might possess qualities since they seem to be different from a mere [intellectual] form.)