Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part IX

Our long critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality now brings us at last to that most radical of Rosenberg’s claims -- the thesis that neither our thoughts nor anything else has any meaning whatsoever.  To the reader unfamiliar with recent philosophy of mind I should emphasize that the claim is not merely that our thoughts, actions, and lives have no ultimate point or purpose, which is hardly a novel idea.  It is far more bizarre than that.  Consider the following two sequences of shapes: “cat” and “^\*:”  We would ordinarily say that the first has meaning -- it refers to animals of the feline sort -- while the latter is a meaningless set of marks.  And we would ordinarily say that while the meaning of a word like “cat” is conventional, the meaning of our thoughts about cats -- from which the meaning of the word in question derives -- is intrinsic or “built in” to the thought rather than conventional or derived.  What Rosenberg is saying is that in reality, both our thoughts about cats and the sequence of shapes “cat” are as utterly meaningless as the sequence of shapes “^\*:”  Neither “cat” nor any of our thoughts is any more about cats or about anything else than the sequence “^\*:” is about anything.  Meaning, “aboutness,” or intentionality (to use the technical philosophical term) is an illusion.  In fact, Rosenberg claims, “the brain does everything without thinking about anything at all.”
 
This entails that the marks you are looking at now, as you read this post, and the marks on the printed pages of Rosenberg’s own book, are as completely devoid of meaning as “^\*:” is.  You might as well be looking at the splotches on an oil-stained rag.  That “there literally is no such thing as linguistic meaning” is something Rosenberg is more explicit about his 2009 article “The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality” (a precursor to Atheist’s Guide) than he is in the book itself.  He is also more explicit in the article than in the book that in his view “there literally are no beliefs and desires.”  In the book the emphasis is not on the claim that there are no beliefs, desires, or thoughts of any kind, but rather on the claim that even if in some sense there are thoughts, they have no meaning or “aboutness.”  

Nor does Atheist’s Guide make it clear that Rosenberg is defending a version of what academic philosophers call eliminative materialism; and neither does he address all the objections that have been raised against this position (which, it should be noted, is a minority view even among materialists).  It seems that Rosenberg judged that his assertions were, for a book aimed at a general audience, fantastic enough as it is and that it would be asking for trouble either explicitly to draw out all of their bizarre implications, or to address the technical philosophical questions they raise.   And of course, asking prospective book buyers to purchase a volume which is on the surface written in forbidding philosophical jargon, but which is in fact filled with what the author himself regards as nothing more than meaningless ink splotches, has its drawbacks as a marketing strategy.

In any event, why would anyone say such a bizarre thing as that meaning or “aboutness” does not exist?    Well, consider again the word “cat,” whether written or spoken.  The meaning, as I have said, is entirely conventional or derivative.  There is nothing in the physical properties of ink splotches, pixels, compression waves, or what have you, that gives or could give the marks or sounds they constitute the meaning of the word “cat,” or any meaning at all.  But the same could be said of neurons.  They too seem as obviously devoid of any intrinsic meaning as ink splotches and compression waves are.  Yet if we are to say that a thought is a kind of neural process, we have to say that when we think about Paris (for example) there is a network of neurons that is somehow about Paris.  But then, the materialist Rosenberg asks (as any dualist might):

The first clump of matter, the bit of wet stuff in my brain, the Paris neurons, is [purportedly] about the second chunk of matter, the much greater quantity of diverse kinds of stuff that make up Paris.  How can the first clump -- the Paris neurons in my brain -- be about, denote, refer to, name, represent, or otherwise point to the second clump -- the agglomeration of Paris…?  A more general version of this question is this: How can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be about some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe -- right next to it or 100 million light-years away? (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, pp. 173-74)

Rosenberg considers various answers that might be given to this question, including materialist answers, and finds them all wanting.  The neurons cannot be about Paris in the way a picture is, because unlike a picture they don’t resemble Paris at all.  But neither can they be about Paris in the way that a red octagonal “Stop” sign is about stopping even though it doesn’t resemble that action.  For a red octagon, or the word “Stop” for that matter, only mean what they do as a matter of convention, only because we interpret the shapes in question as representing the action of stopping.  And when you think about Paris, no one is assigning a conventional interpretation to such-and-such neurons in your brain so as to make them represent Paris.

To suggest that there is some further brain process that assigns such a meaning to the purported “Paris neurons” is, as Rosenberg points out, merely to commit a homunculus fallacy and explains nothing.  For if we say that one clump of neurons assigns meaning to another, we are saying that the one represents the other as having such-and-such a meaning.  That means that we now have to explain how the first possesses the meaning or representational content by virtue of which it does that, which entails that we have not solved the first problem at all but only added a second one to it.  We have “explained” the meaning of one clump of neurons by reference to meaning implicitly present in another clump, and thus merely initiated a vicious explanatory regress.

The only way to break the regress would be to postulate some bit of matter that just has its meaning intrinsically, without deriving it from anything else.  But there can be no such bit of matter, in Rosenberg’s view:

Physics has ruled out the existence of clumps of matter of the required sort.  There are just fermions and bosons and combinations of them.  None of that stuff is just, all by itself, about any other stuff.  There is nothing in the whole universe -- including, of course, all the neurons in your brain -- that just by its nature or composition can do this job of being about some other clump of matter. (p. 179)

Now I would say that there is a sense in which Rosenberg is absolutely right about that much.  For given what most modern philosophers and scientists will allow to count as “physical” or “material,” there can indeed be no such thing as a physical system which has any inherent meaning, “aboutness,” or intentionality.  The reason is that ever since the anti-Aristotelian or “mechanistic” revolution of the early moderns, most philosophers and scientists have stipulated -- and a stipulation is all that it has ever been -- that a physical explanation can make no reference to final causes, to one thing “pointing to” or being “directed toward” some end beyond itself.  As philosopher of science David Hull points out:

Historically, explanations were designated as mechanistic to indicate that they included no reference to final causes or vital forces.  In this weak sense, all present-day scientific explanations are mechanistic. (“Mechanistic explanation,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy)

And it is a short step from this mechanistic conception of matter to the conclusion that intentionality of the sort exhibited by our thoughts and words (which is but one instance of “directedness,” “pointing to,” or finality among others) cannot possibly be material.

Now there are several alternative conclusions one could draw from this.  One possibility (the right one, in my view) would be to conclude that the early moderns were wrong and that it is just a mistake to think that “directedness,” “aboutness,” or final causality is not an inherent feature of matter.  This is the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) position.  (That does not entail that human thought is entirely material -- for it has a conceptual structure which in the A-T view cannot in principle be accounted for in material terms -- but the intentionality manifest in the sub-conceptual imaginative and sensory powers of the lower animals would on the A-T view be material.)  A second possibility is to take the Cartesian dualist position that the mechanistic conception of matter is correct and that since intentionality cannot in that case be material, it must reside in an immaterial substance (or, for a property dualist, in immaterial properties).  A third possibility would be the panpsychist position that matter can possess intentionality insofar as all matter is associated with mental properties of some sort.  (This differs from the A-T view insofar as A-T would deny that thought or consciousness of any sort exists below the level of animals.  To be sure, plants and inorganic processes exhibit immanent final causality, but from the A-T point of view it is possible for something to possess inherent finality even if it is devoid of thought or consciousness.)  A fourth possibility would be to take the idealist view that there really is no such thing as matter in the first place, but only mind.

Rosenberg does not accept any of these positions.  (Indeed, he does not even consider them, much less explicitly argue against them.  In general Rosenberg seems to have little knowledge of anything written by philosophers too far outside the naturalist orthodoxy with which he is comfortable.)  But, as I have indicated, he also rejects any materialist account of meaning, “aboutness,” or intentionality.  (And rightly so.  I have criticized such accounts myself in several places, such as in chapter 7 of Philosophy of Mind, in The Last Superstition, and in many earlier posts.  I would argue that all materialist attempts to explain intentionality either fail completely or tend to be disguised versions of dualism or Aristotelianism.)  

Since Rosenberg is committed to scientism, which entails materialism, the only remaining option available to him is the eliminativist move of simply denying that meaning, “aboutness,” or intentionality is real.  To be sure (and as we have seen in an earlier post) Rosenberg has no good arguments for scientism in the first place.  But he is, I think, absolutely correct to hold that if one is going to be consistent in one’s scientism and materialism, then one is going to have to take a radical, eliminative materialist position on intentionality.  Indeed, I made the very same argument in The Last Superstition.  The difference is that whereas I presented eliminativism as a reductio ad absurdum of the naturalistic premises that lead to it, Rosenberg presents it as the sober truth which we ought to embrace, however “difficult to accept,” “counterintuitive,” “bizarre,” and indeed “unwelcome” he acknowledges it to be.  

The problem, though, is not just that denying meaning or “aboutness” is counterintuitive and that Rosenberg’s arguments for denying it are no good.  The problem is that the eliminativist position is incoherent.  It cannot possibly be right.  Now, a common but simplistic way of making this point is to accuse the eliminative materialist of expressing the belief that there are no beliefs, and thereby contradicting himself.  In a reply to critics of his “Disenchanted Naturalist” article, Rosenberg dismisses this objection as “puerile,” and he is right to insist that the eliminativist is not refuted so easily.  For it is not too hard for an eliminativist to avoid using “I believe that…” and similar locutions.  But that is not to the point.  The question is whether the eliminativist can in principle state his position in a way that entirely avoids any implicit commitment to the reality of intentionality.  And many prominent philosophers (Lynne Rudder Baker, Hilary Putnam, William Hasker, and others) have argued that this cannot be done.  Unfortunately, Rosenberg says nothing in response to these more serious critics.  He seems to think that dismissing the “puerile” version of the claim that eliminative materialism is incoherent suffices to dispatch all versions of that claim.  (Here Rosenberg seems guilty of what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.”)

As I have argued in several places (e.g. in chapter 6 of The Last Superstition and here, here, and here) the trouble is that whether or not the eliminativist can avoid using locutions like “I believe that…,”many of the key notions on which his position rests nevertheless crucially presuppose intentionality in one way or another.  For instance, the notion of “illusion” plays a central role in Rosenberg’s book.  It is his main weapon, deployed again and again to deal with all the obvious counterevidence to his bizarre claims.  Yet in what sense can there be illusions, mistakes, or falsehoods of any kind given Rosenberg’s eliminativism?  For “illusion,” “mistake,” “falsehood” and the like are all normative concepts; they presuppose a meaning (whether of a thought, a statement, a model, or whatever) that has failed to represent things correctly, or a purpose that something has failed to realize.  Yet we are repeatedly assured by Rosenberg that there are no purposes or meanings of any sort whatsoever.  So, how can there be illusions and falsehoods?  For that matter, how can there be truth or correctness, including the truth and correctness he would ascribe to science alone?  For these concepts too are normative, presupposing the realization of a purpose, the accuracy of a representation.  

Thus, “Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen” is true, while “Water is composed of silicon” is false; and the reason is because of the meanings we associate with these sentences.  Had the sentences in question had different meanings, the truth values would not necessarily have been the same.  By contrast, “Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa” is neither true nor false, because it has no meaning at all.  Yet if Rosenberg is right, “Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen” is as devoid of meaning as “Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa” is -- in which case it is also as devoid of a truth value as the latter is.  Moreover, if Rosenberg is right, every statement in Rosenberg’s book, and every statement in every book of science, is as devoid of meaning as “Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa” is, and thus just as devoid of any truth value.  But then, in what sense do either science or Rosenberg’s own book give us the truth about things?

Logic is also normative insofar as inferences aim at truth and insofar as the logical relationships between beliefs and statements derive from their meanings.  “Socrates is mortal” follows from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man” only because of the specific meanings we associate with these sets of symbols.  If we associated different meanings with them, the one would not necessarily follow from the others.  And if each was as meaningless as “Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa” is, then there would be no logical relationships between them at all -- no such thing as the one set of symbols being entailed by, or rationally justified by the others.  But then, if Rosenberg is right, every sentence, including all the sentences in his book and every sentence in every book of science, are as meaningless as “Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa” is.  And in that case there are no logical relations between any of the sentences in either his book or any science book, and thus no valid arguments (or indeed any arguments at all) to be found in them.  So in what sense do either science or the assertions made in Rosenberg’s book constitute rational defenses of the claims they put forward?

Notions like “theory,” “evidence,” “observation,” and the like are as suffused with intentionality as the notions of truth and logic are.  Hence if there is no such thing as intentionality, then there is also no such thing as a scientific theory, as evidence for a scientific theory, as an observation which might confirm or disconfirm a theory, etc.  Rosenberg’s scientism makes of all statements and all arguments -- scientific statements and arguments no less than moral or theological ones, and indeed every assertion of or argument for scientism itself -- a meaningless string of ink marks or noises, no more true or false, rational or irrational than bosons and fermions are.  No doubt Rosenberg would dismiss this sort of objection as “puerile” too.  But if he is to give us something more than mere abuse -- if he is to give us a rational defense of his position against the objection at hand -- then he owes us more than just a pledge to avoid using the words “I believe that…”  He owes us an explanation of exactly how notions like illusion, truth, falsity, logic, inference, evidence, observation, theory, and the like can be either reconstructed or replaced in a way that does not presuppose intentionality.  And that is something he does not give us.

In fact Rosenberg’s position is even more incoherent than what has already been said indicates, if that is possible.  A central theme of the last part of his book is that “history is bunk.”  For one thing, history as a discipline does not have the kind of predictive power physical science has, and given Rosenberg’s physics obsession that suffices, in his view, to show that it cannot be a genuine source of knowledge.  For another thing, historical inquiry typically presupposes that people’s thoughts are “about” things, that people have purposes and plans, that this “aboutness” and those purposes and plans are part of the explanation of why people do the things they do, and so forth.  And all of that is in Rosenberg’s view false, in part, of course, because he regards purpose and intentionality as illusions:  “Science,” he says, “must even deny the basic notion that we ever really think about the past and the future or even that our conscious thoughts ever give any meaning to the actions that express them” (p. 165).  But it is also because he thinks that the correct explanation of anything that appears to be purposive, in the human world no less than in the biological realm more generally, must be a Darwinian explanation.  In particular, human artifacts and institutions must be explained in terms of adaptation, in the Darwinian sense of “adaptation.”  In the case of the products of individual effort, this is a matter of blind variation and selection at the level of neurons.  In the case of large-scale social phenomena it is a matter of variation and selection at the level of customs, political institutions, and the like. “[A]lmost everything significant in human affairs and its history… is or was an adaption” and “only Darwinian processes can produce adaptations, whether biological or social” (p. 253).

Yet if we cannot so much as think about the future, how can we make predictions?  And if we cannot make predictions, how is physics any more predictive a science than history?  If we cannot so much as think about the past, how can we even come up with (much less be confident in the truth of) evolutionary explanations of social and biological phenomena?  If the products of individuals and social institutions are Darwinian adaptations, then what reason do we have to believe that science -- which is the product of individual and social effort -- is more true than the belief systems Rosenberg rejects (religion, morality, common sense, etc.), or indeed true at all?  For Darwinian processes select for fitness, not truth or falsity.  (Moreover, judging by the extremely tenacious hold even Rosenberg admits religion, morality, and common sense have had and still have on most people, these belief systems would seem to be superior to science vis-à-vis fitness!)  If history does not give us any real knowledge, then how can the history of science give us any real knowledge?  In particular, how can we know that science really is the success story that historians (and, indeed, Rosenberg) tell us it has been historically?  Indeed, how can we know that the scientific evidence really did show what we thought it did last year, last month, or last week, let alone decades or centuries ago?  And how can we know that religion has really been as bad historically as Rosenberg and other atheists say it has been?  Not only does Rosenberg not answer these (rather obvious) objections, he doesn’t even consider them.

Rosenberg also makes use of the trendy notion of “theory of mind” to help explain the origin of the “illusion” of intentionality.  But in so doing he merely yet again makes use of the very notions he is supposed to be eliminating in the course of explaining them away.  Hence he characterizes the “theory” of mind as “the ability to predict at least some of the purposeful-looking behavior of other animals” (p. 198, emphasis added), notes that parents, in applying this “theory,” “start treating [their] baby’s thoughts as being about stuff” (p. 202, emphasis added), and that this and further applications of this “theory” is the source of the “illusion” that thoughts have “aboutness.”  But of course, in the ordinary senses of the words, applying a “theory,” “predicting,” taking something to “look” a certain way, “treating” something as having a certain significance, and (as we have already noted) being subject to “illusion,” are all ways of representing things as being a certain way, whether correctly or incorrectly.  And representation presupposes “aboutness” or intentionality.  Hence one can hardly coherently appeal to these notions in the course of trying to show that intentionality is an illusion, unless one explains exactly how each one of them can both be cashed out in non-intentional terms and still do the work the eliminativist needs them to do.  And once again, this is precisely what Rosenberg does not do.

What Rosenberg does do is to offer some analogies in an attempt to make his position seem less implausible.  They all fail miserably.  For example, he suggests that alterations in the neural activity of a sea slug generate only new habits of behavior but nothing with the intentionality we take our thoughts to have.  But the nervous systems of rats, he says, differ from those of sea slugs only in degree, and ours in turn differ from those of rats only by further degrees.  Thus, Rosenberg concludes, there is no more reason to attribute “aboutness” or intentionality to us than there is reason to attribute it to rats or sea slugs.  But the problems with this argument are obvious.  For one thing, human beings, unlike rats and sea slugs, possess language, write books, engage in philosophical and scientific disputes, and carry out other activities that even Rosenberg would acknowledge seem to involve intentionality, and indeed are generally regarded as the paradigms of intentionality.  So it is no good for Rosenberg to insist against his critics that a comparison of human beings to sea slugs and rats shows that the former have no more intentionality than the latter do, unless he has already, independently shown that these apparently intentional human activities do not really involve intentionality after all.  Otherwise the critic can insist that these distinctively human activities show that the analogy is no good.  Yet the comparison with sea slugs and rats was itself supposed to show that human beings lack intentionality.  Hence the comparison simply begs the question.  Furthermore, whether neuroscience gives us the whole story about human thought and behavior is itself part of what is at issue between Rosenberg and his critics.  Hence to claim that the absence of relevant neurological differences between sea slugs, rats, and human beings shows that there is no difference at the level of intentionality is, once again, simply to beg the question.

Rosenberg attempts another analogy, between human beings and computers.  A computer, he says, can do things like give the correct answers to Jeopardy questions even though “its electronic circuits [aren’t] about anything, including about how to play Jeopardy” (p. 188).  So, if the computer can store “information” without its states being about anything, so can our brains.  Here too the problem with this argument should be obvious.  For one thing, it is false to say that the states of a computer aren’t about anything; they do have intentionality, even though it is only derived intentionality, like the intentionality of words.  And that is why what they do counts as storing “information” about the answers to Jeopardy questions and the like: Human beings designed them to do that, imparting this informational content to their internal states just as we impart meaning to words.  And we were able to do that because we have intentionality in an intrinsic or underived way.  Of course, Rosenberg will deny that that is what we have done, and will deny that there really is intentionality of either a derivative sort or an intrinsic sort.  But the point is that the computer analogy was itself supposed to help to show that there is no such thing as intentionality.  Hence for Rosenberg to deny intentionality as a way of salvaging the computer analogy would simply be to argue in a circle.  He would be appealing to the purported absence of intentionality in computers to bolster the claim that there is no intentionality of any sort, even in us -- and then appealing to the general non-existence of intentionality in order to show that computers in particular don’t have it.

(It should also be emphasized that Rosenberg is fooling himself if he thinks he can help himself to notions like “information,” “computation,” and the like so long as he avoids attributing “aboutness” to the states of a computer.  For notions like “computation,” “information,” “software,” “program,” “symbolic processing,” etc. themselves all presuppose intentionality, for reasons made clear by writers like John Searle and Karl Popper and which we surveyed in a recent post.  Computational notions are intentional through and through, not merely where questions about the specific content of a particular computational state are concerned.  This is not the first time Rosenberg has made this mistake, as we saw when examining his book Darwinian Reductionism.)

A final analogy Rosenberg appeals to is one that purportedly holds between thought and motion pictures.  Movies create the illusion of motion; in reality they are but a series of still photographs projected in rapid succession.  Similarly, Rosenberg says, the collection of neural circuits in our brains creates the illusion of “aboutness” or intentionality, whereas in reality “None of them is about anything; each is just an input/output circuit firing or not” (p. 191).  Once again there are several problems with the proposed analogy.  First of all, it is well understood how a sequence of still images can produce the illusion of motion.  But Rosenberg doesn’t explain the mechanism by which the firing of “input/output circuits” generates the “illusion” of intentionality.  He does say that it is because the outputs of the circuits are “appropriate” to their “specific circumstances” that we suppose them to be “about” those circumstances.  But in what respect are they “appropriate”?  It can’t be that they accurately represent those circumstances, since that would entail, not the illusion of intentionality, but the actual existence of intentionality.  

Nor would it do to say that the outputs of the circuits are caused by those circumstances.  For one thing, there are all sorts of causal factors that might enter into the generation of any instance of neural activity, some contemporaneous with one another, others tracing backward in time indefinitely.  What exactly makes the “specific circumstances” in question (whatever they are) stand out among the other causal factors so as to make the neural activity “appropriate” to them in particular?  (The problem the physicalist has in drawing a principled distinction between “causes” and mere “background conditions” in a way that avoids any reference to intentionality is one that Karl Popper and Hilary Putnam have emphasized, and which I discussed in detail in a recent article on Hayek and Popper.)  For another thing, the neural activity in a sea slug is also no doubt “appropriate” to its “specific circumstances,” yet apparently does not in Rosenberg’s view generate even the illusion of intentionality.  So why and how exactly does our neural activity generate this “illusion”?

A further problem with the analogy (one that Rosenberg himself acknowledges) is that in the case of motion pictures, we have real motion to compare the illusion of motion to.  There may not be real motion in the movie itself, but there is real motion elsewhere, and it is precisely by contrast with it that we can see that the motion the movie seems to present is illusory.  But where intentionality is concerned, Rosenberg says there is no such thing anywhere.  So it is hard to see exactly what Rosenberg is comparing the purportedly ersatz intentionality of our thoughts to when he judges it to be merely illusory.  In fact it is hard to see what it would be even to have the notion of intentionality (whether one considers it an illusion or not) without thereby exhibiting intentionality.  (“Having a notion” or “having a concept” are, after all, themselves intentional notions.)  Indeed, as we have already seen, the very notion of “illusion” itself seems to presuppose intentionality, so that whereas it is easy enough to understand what it means to say that some motion is illusory, it is difficult to see what it could mean to say that all intentionality is illusory.  To be sure, Rosenberg admits the analogy is “imperfect.”  But it is far worse than merely imperfect.  For in drawing the analogy, Rosenberg does absolutely nothing to address the problems of coherence that the critic raises for eliminativism, but instead only offers a further illustration of those problems!

Apparently some editor (or perhaps Rosenberg himself) could see that there is a serious difficulty here, at least rhetorically.  For at the end of the main chapter of Atheist’s Guide devoted to defending the eliminativist position on intentionality (chapter 8), I find that there are in the final, published version two paragraphs absent in the advance reading copy I was sent when I reviewed the book for First Things.  In this new material Rosenberg acknowledges that among his readers, there will be “philosophers [who] are muttering” that his position is “worse than self-contradictory” -- that it is “incoherent” insofar as it entails that “every sentence in [his own] book” is not “about anything.”  To this objection Rosenberg replies:

Look, if I am going to get scientism into your skull I have to use the only tools we’ve got for moving information from one head to another: noises, ink-marks, pixels.  Treat the illusion that goes with them like the optical illusions [discussed earlier in the book].  This book isn’t conveying statements.  It’s rearranging neural circuits, removing inaccurate disinformation and replacing it with accurate information.  Treat it as correcting maps instead of erasing sentences. (p. 193)

But it goes without saying that this is no response at all, but just yet another illustration of, rather than an answer to, the problem.  For “illusion,” “information,” “disinformation,” “accurate,” “inaccurate,” “correct,” and “map,” are, like “truth,” “falsity,” “inference,” “entailment,” “theory,” “evidence,” “observation,” etc., all notions that presuppose intentionality.  And if they can be reconstructed or replaced in a way that avoids any implicit commitment to intentionality while doing the work Rosenberg needs them to do, he needs to show us how this can be done, and he never does so.  All he does is to replace one bit of intentional language with another.  That does absolutely nothing to solve the problem; it just moves it around, like the pea in a shell game.  The trick is to break out of the circle of intentional notions entirely and consistently.  

I suppose it is only fair to note that in an email Rosenberg sent me after my First Things review appeared, he complained that in accusing him of incoherence I had unfairly portrayed him as having made a “callow undergrad mistake,” and that I should instead have “[tried] refuting teleosemantics and other nonrepresentationalist accounts of the propositional attitudes.”  There are several things to be said in response to this:

1. Rosenberg does not explain what “callow undergrad mistake” it is that I have falsely accused him of making.  I certainly have never made what he rightly calls the “puerile” charge that he claims to believe that there are no beliefs.  His incoherence isn’t quite that obvious.  Still, that his position is incoherent in a less direct way is something I have now documented at length -- not only in the current series of posts but in my earlier posts on his “Disenchanted Naturalist” article, as well as (more briefly) in my First Things review.  If I have somehow gotten him wrong, it should be easy enough to explain exactly how I have.

2. For several reasons, it is very odd for Rosenberg to complain that in my review I should have tried to refute “teleosemantics and other nonrepresentationalist accounts of the propositional attitudes.”  First of all, teleosemantics -- a naturalistic approach to intentionality associated with philosophers like Ruth Millikan, Fred Dretske, and others -- is generally regarded as a reductionist position, not an eliminativist position.  Nor is it an approach Rosenberg himself actually appeals to in his book in defense of his eliminativism.  Indeed, where Rosenberg does bother to mention Millikan, Dretske, et al. in the book -- in the section at the end giving recommendations for further reading -- he himself characterizes their approach as reductionist rather than eliminativist, and says that “it didn’t work”!  Now, perhaps Rosenberg thinks that there are insights from teleosemantics and related views which can be salvaged in defense of eliminativism.  But if so, he should have made this claim, and defended it, in the book itself, rather than (as he actually did) giving precisely the opposite impression.  (Is a book reviewer expected to do the author’s work for him on pain of being accused of unfairness?)  

3.  As it happens I have in several places explained why teleosemantic and other naturalistic approaches cannot help to salvage Rosenberg’s position (here, here, and here).  I have also criticized Dretske’s approach in an earlier post, Millikan’s approach in Philosophy of Mind and The Last Superstition, and other naturalistic approaches to intentionality in my article "Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind" and in other earlier posts.  

In her book Saving Belief, Lynne Rudder Baker aptly characterized eliminative materialism as a kind of “cognitive suicide.”  As anyone who has seen the science-fiction movie Scanners knows, the destruction of a brain is not a pretty thing.  (Extreme content warning on that YouTube clip.)  Good thing for Rosenberg, then, that the mind and brain aren’t identical!

132 comments:

Anonymous said...

According to Google "Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa" is Malay if you are translating it into English, but you spelled the words wrong because it can't translate it.

Interestingly, if you want a Latin translation then Google regards it as Irish! Those boozy Catholics, trying to say something coherent like 'Hydrogen and Oxygen make up water' and all they can slur is 'Trghfhhe bgghajdfsa adsa'.

goddinpotty said...

I don't think there are many people who hold to this kind of extreme eliminativism.

For you to go on about it at length is roughly analogous to the way new atheists latch on to the coarsest forms of religious fundamentalism and spend their energies bashing them. Maybe they are right, but they are picking the weakest form of what they oppose, rather than the strongest, and while that helps them win arguments it doesn't produce very enlightening dialog.

DNW said...

goddinpotty said...

I don't think there are many people who hold to this kind of extreme eliminativism.

For you to go on about it at length is roughly analogous to the way new atheists latch on to the coarsest forms of religious fundamentalism and spend their energies bashing them. Maybe they are right, but they are picking the weakest form of what they oppose, rather than the strongest, and while that helps them win arguments it doesn't produce very enlightening dialog."


I don't know why Feser should try to make other people's arguments for them, or avert his eyes when philosophical antagonists - if that is not too strong a term - walk up to the brink and proclaiming that they can fly, do take a leap.

This isn't a cocktail party and Rosenberg isn't a tipsy accountant.

It seems to me that allowing the most ardent and brazen to have their say, and doing them the honor of taking what they say as if they mean it when you are considering what it is they have actually said, is enlightening. Certainly clarifying and defining.

If you can sort the patently incoherent from the at least plausible, you have accomplished something.

Tursunov said...

gip,

It isn't analogous at all. Feser has actually argued elsewhere with some philosophical rigor that Rosenberg is correct in what he takes to be the inescapable implications of naturalism, whereas the vast majority of Gnu Atheists are content to simply "take it on faith" that the crude fundamentalism they gleefully attack represents the Christian tradition in its entirety, and those of the cult who manage to find time for gestures of argumentation invariably make them on oceans of historical and philosophical ignorance, laced with invective and dreary self-righteousness.

sniper said...

"it doesn't produce very enlightening dialog"

But it enlightens, goddinpotty. Just one holding such "extreme eliminatism" is worthy of mention. Your comment could very well be applied to the unchallenged chatter of the 60s--now hideously personified in the present WH administration.

Many thanks, Mr Feser.

goddinpotty said...

Well, Feser is of course free to spend his time however he wants, arguing with whoever or whatever he chooses to.

I'm just saying, arguing against an extreme position that not many people believe doesn't seem very worthwhile to me.

The argument alluded to above, that all naturalism shades inescapably into eliminativism, is at least interesting.

I think my analogy is pretty valid. A NON-elimintive materialist will work hard to distance their position from the more extreme and easily refuted position of someone like Rosenberg, and opponents like Feser will try hard to link these positions because that suits their rhetorical purpose. Similarly, Feser tries to distance himself from crude fundamentalist forms of religion, and his opponents try to prevent that distancing.

David T said...

GP,

Alex Rosenberg is a Phd from Johns Hopkins and a chaired professor in the Philosophy Department at Duke University. I'm not sure what he would think of your point that we should just ignore him because he's the atheist version of a crude fundamentalist crank. Doesn't it say something about the state of atheist thought that someone with his credentials is, in your view, the equivalent of an ignorant backwoods Bible thumper?

sniper said...

Indeed, he is free to do just that.

I understood your point after reading your first post--why reiterate it again in responding to me?

Feser isn't trying to distance himself from anything. He's simply analyzing an extreme philosophy that tries to distance itself from reality, as many atheist philosophies have a tendancy to do.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Hey, gip, I'd love to hear a systematic refutation of Rosenberg from you. Starting the timer.... Do you honestly think a leading philosopher of science at a major uni is equivalent to an adjunct at Bob Jones? Just because most naturalists like yourself might like to pout your lips and say Rosenberg... and the Churchlands .., and Melnyk... and Perry... And Mettrie.... etc. have metaphysical Tourette's syndrome, doesn't mean they dont speak more consistently about naturalism than you. But, oh me, I admit I've never liked lily-delivered accommodationism.

mike said...

"reductionist position, not an eliminativist position."

Dr Feser, thank you for your excellent blog. I'm just an amateur philosopher and I'd like to ask you: what is actually the difference between reductionism and eliminativism? If you can completely explain phenomena of a higher level of reality in terms the phenomena of a lower level isn't that tantomount to saying that the phenomena of the higher level do not REALLY exist? Isn't eliminatism just a reductionism that actually works?

mike said...

sorry for the typos.

Scott W. said...

Oh please. Had Dr. Feser given less than a full treatment, then we'd have to endure 6.023x10^23 comments about how Ed didn't really engage Rosenberg.

DNW said...

Feser re. Rosenberg:

"To this objection Rosenberg replies:

'Look, if I am going to get scientism into your skull I have to use the only tools we’ve got for moving information from one head to another: noises, ink-marks, pixels. Treat the illusion that goes with them like the optical illusions [discussed earlier in the book]. This book isn’t conveying statements. It’s rearranging neural circuits, removing inaccurate disinformation and replacing it with accurate information. Treat it as correcting maps instead of erasing sentences.' "


So what's his intention again? Oh yeah ... sorry, asking that's "puerile"


Would it be too puerile to ask if there really is a Rosenberg at all? Or is that just an illusion of some kind too?

Feser, giving the devil its due writes,

" For it is not too hard for an eliminativist to avoid using “I believe that…” and similar locutions. But that is not to the point. The question is whether the eliminativist can in principle state his position in a way that entirely avoids any implicit commitment to the reality of intentionality."


That, I think, being the good empiricists they are, they should rigorously attempt to live out.

But of course they may simply rejoin that discovering something is beyond their power to NOT do, doesn't rule out the fact that doing that something is not-valid.

In any event, what Rosenberg seems to be trying to do is to usher in a revolutionary paradigm: to refashion how the human-thing interprets itself - insofar as it continues to think of itself as a self - by launching off of interpretive norms, rather than assuming that they are "really" structurally valid and employing them according to their traditional uses.


If this is so to any degree, then in this, he reminds one ( or me) of Marx. Or what Marx's modern day defenders claim he was actually doing, when he entered into historical analysis "sideways" so to speak, without (or so he imagined) any metaphysical presuppositions; proceeding to the drawing of conclusions about the framework while inside, and while using the notions available inside, but never actually asserting that these pre-existing analytical tools were transcendentally "true".

So let's suppose Rosenberg effected this revolution in being. What would the post human product look like?

Max said...

“the brain does everything without thinking about anything at all.”

Including thinking? Right. You're really onto something there, Rosenberg.

mike said...

"This book isn’t conveying statements. It’s rearranging neural circuits, removing inaccurate disinformation and replacing it with accurate information."

This is really too stupid for words. What is "accurate" information against "innacurate" information if all you have is neural circuits?. And what is "information" anyway? Why would I want to rearrange my neural circuits if I feel comfortable with them? To make may circuits more "true"?

mike said...

Sorry for the typos again. I just can't help it when I'm writing English.

Walter Kovacs said...

Wittgenstein would have a field day with this.

goddinpotty said...

@David T and others -- Credentials don't impress me that much, but I take your point -- given that Rosenberg is a respected philosopher, from a purely professional standpoint Feser is not wasting his time engaging with his stupid ideas. But he may be wasting mine.

mike said...

@goddinpotty

Would you care to explain why exactly Rosenberg's ideas are stupid?

Edward Feser said...

GIP,

As others have already indicated, you are completely missing the point. Yes, eliminativism is a minority view even among materialists -- I explicitly said so in the post. But I have argued (in The Last Superstition) and Rosenberg argues (in his own book) that eliminativism in fact follows from a consistent materialism whether or not most materialists realize this or would welcome it. And I summarized Rosenberg's reasons for claiming this in the post.

Since you seem to agree that eliminativism is absurd, but you also seem to endorse materialism, what you've got is an argument against your position. And to answer that argument, it is no good just to say "Oh, this view is silly, don't waste my time with it." You have to show, contrary to what Rosenberg has argued (and what I have argued) that eliminativism does not in fact follow from materialism. That is to say, you have to show how a materialist can affirm intentionality without (a) implicitly embracing eliminativism after all or (b) implicitly embracing Aristotelianism, Cartesianism, or some other view incompatible with materialism.

Until you make an attempt to do that... well, someone's time is being wasted, but it isn't yours.

Edward Feser said...

Mike,

The difference is that reductionist positions typically claim not to deny the existence of what is being reduced, whereas eliminativist positions do deny it. Hence those who embrace teleosemnatic theories of meaning, or causal theories of meaning, don't say that intentionality or "aboutness" is not real; they say that it is real, but that it is really just teleological function, or really just the bearing of causal relations of such-and-such a sort. Eliminativism, by contrast, just says it isn't real in the first place.

To be sure, I think that reductionist theories tend to end up being either implicitly eliminativist, or implicitly dualist, or implicitly anti-reductionist (e.g. Aristotelian). They are inherently unstable or ambiguous and when their implications are worked out consistently they tend to collapse into one of these other sorts of theory. But what I am describing is what reductionist theories intend to do, whether or not they succeed in doing it.

Edward Feser said...

It is worth emphasizing, BTW, for those whose paradigm of Serious Secular Thought is someone like Jerry Coyne, that whatever else you might say about him, Rosenberg understands what is at stake in debates over intentionality and other issues that to the uninitiated might seem arcane. Coyne, by contrast, demonstrably does not. (Search the blog here for my post on "Coyne on intentionality," wherein I note how he demonstrates that he is absolutely clueless about this particular philosophical issue, as he is about others.)

Dennett is one New Atheist who is better on this than someone like Coyne, precisely because he is a philosopher. And as it happens Dennett takes a position which, as I argue in TLS, differs from Rosenberg's more rhetorically than substantively. When prominent naturalistic philosophers take such extreme positions on the issue -- and the philosophers among them are the ones best placed to understand what the issues are all about -- a serious naturalist should see that this is a serious problem that he'd be ill-advised glibly to dismiss.

goddinpotty said...

Well, I already said that was the more interesting argument to have.

My answer to both you and Rosenberg is best summarized by an example I gave on an earlier post, where I described the ribosome/nucleic acid/protein system (and in later comments on that thread). This is a purely mechanistic system that nonetheless displays "aboutness". That one good, concrete example is enough to blow away reams of logic-chopping, at least for me. YMMV.

I see that Rosenberg's main gig is doing philosophy of biology, so no doubt he would have an answer to this, but I would have to read his technical work to know what that would be.

Another answer is that I am a pragmatist (in both everyday and philosophical senses). So I am less concerned whether some high-level concept (like aboutness or mind) is "real" as to whether those concepts are useful (or in some cases necessary) for understanding the world and going about one's business in it. So, even if it was theoretically possible for some godlike creature to understand a human brain at the level of physics, to the point where it could simulate it and answer questions about what it was thinking -- I don't care. I'm not godlike; the only way I can understand minds is at the mental level. Thus intentionality is a necessary concept for me, for all practical purposes, no matter whether it is somehow baked into the fundamental metaphysics of the cosmos or whether it emerges from purely mechanical processes. So that's where I differ from Rosenberg(*) -- I do not think that reduction to physics makes any other level of description any less real or valid.

(*) I am starting to realize that I am arguing with a version of Rosenberg that may have been dumbed-down twice -- once by himself in this popularization that you are reviewing, and a second time by your possibly selective presentation of his ideas. I'm going to have to read some of his real work before badmouthing him further.

mike said...

@Edward Feser

"They are inherently unstable or ambiguous"

And why not just say "incoherent"?

mike said...

@goddinpotty

"an example I gave on an earlier post, where I described the ribosome/nucleic acid/protein system"

"there is a physical interpreter machine (the ribosome) that makes use of a dictionary (the complement of tRNA molecules)."

There is this little homunculus (called ribosome) who "understands" the DNA code. Just like the little Chinese in the "chinese room".

Tony said...

I particularly liked DNW's words (in crafting Rosenberg's hypothetical response): . "It’s rearranging neural circuits, removing inaccurate disinformation and replacing it with accurate information. Treat it as correcting maps instead of erasing sentences.' "

Of course, since there is no such thing as information, either, you would have to fix up the phrasing to say "removing INACCURATE disinformation with ACCURATE disinformation.

Yes, of course it is disinformation since it leaves the "person" (though there is no such thing as a person), thinking (though there is no such thing as thinking) thoughts as if thoughts could be about something, but at least it is thoughts that are now ACCURATE, (though there is no such thing as "true" or "false").

goddinpotty said...

I guess you don't even understand the basics of the Chinese Room argument if you are referring to "the little Chinese". The whole point of it is that the internal homunculus is NOT Chinese.

At any rate, it's an entirely bogus argument, and I'm not sure what relevance you think it has here. There's nothing magical, homuncular, or infinitely-regressive about a ribosome -- that's the point. I'm not sure what your point is -- if the ribosome corresponds to the homunculus in Searle, what corresponds to the room?

mike said...

@goddinpotty

"you are referring to "the little Chinese".

I was just parodying your argument about ribosome "translating" something into something. It's like the little man inside the chinese room who performs some physical exercises without having any idea what meaning the are supposed to convey. It's you who are presupposing this ribosome-homunculus who is supposed to "understand" something. Ribosome no more "translates" anything into anything than the man closed in the chinese room "answers" questions.

goddinpotty said...

I didn't say anything about "understanding". It's a toy model of intentionality or aboutness. A codon of DNA is capable of designating an entirely different molecular structure (an amino acid). The ribosome is the mechanism that accomplishes this aboutness.

A human brain is of course immeasurably more complex, but it too uses mechanisms that connect symbols with meanings.

mike said...

"designate"

Let me check up my Oxford English Dictionary:

designate: To point out, indicate; to particularize, specify.

Who, apart from a human being can point out, indicate, particularize, specify?

A codon of DNA? You mean this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_codon_table

This table can point out, indicate, particularize and specify? Or maybe it's just You, looking at this table can do all these things?

mike said...

"A codon of DNA is capable of designating an entirely different molecular structure (an amino acid). "

In the same way way as the constellation of stars (planets) "designates" a zodiac sign.

Intentionality is in the eye of the beholder.

goddinpotty said...

This table can point out, indicate, particularize and specify? Or maybe it's just You, looking at this table can do all these things?


No. The table is a human-generated representation of what the molecular system is doing.

In the same way way as the constellation of stars (planets) "designates" a zodiac sign.

No.

DNA and ribosomes were designating amino acids long before humans were around to watch.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Just popping in during lunch break, must say the MOST amusing words I've read are gip's "but he may be wasting mine." I'm grateful for the chuckle, but, GLORIOSKY, WHAT A PRETENTIOUS BLOWHARD! Gip, if you think this post, series, or even entire blog is such a waste of time, WHY ARE YOU HERE? Wow. Just... wow. I'm the guy in the OP's graphic heheh.

(The above message was not approved by gip and the surgeon general says it may waste your time.)

Syllabus said...

"metaphysical Tourette's Syndrome"

Oh Codg, you comedic goldmine. I must steal that one.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Hey, everybody, check it out! I'm replying a bunch intrinsically meaningless ASCII! This "mike" fellow (well played, ASCII gods, well played) has bowled me over with his logic. I was naively ready to engage him rationally, but then the magic ASCII dust drifting off of this "mike" droid reminded me the words couldn't possibly contain or signify any meaning, since it's all just ME reading into things, arbitrarily imposing 'meaning' that's just in my beholding little eye. After all, if physical bits like nucleotides and codons can't designate anything in the world apart from what we confabulate about the genetic "code" (titter titter), then other equally physical bits like ASCII transmissions can't designate anything either. We're not talking past each since we're not even really communicating! Far out!

Such a relief, but I wish I'd known years ago, so much wasted ASCII in all those emails and comments. Relax, folks, we've got "mike"'s word on it that the scientifically informed, logically coherent (and therefore, naturalistic) account of intentionality is one in which human signifying is an utterly unique metaphysical power and fundamentally unlike and underived from anything in the rest of the physical universe. Take that, Descartes!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

(I'm in a silly mood, so I ran with some of your comments, mike, even if you meant them rhetorically. Nothing personal. (Stop reading this, gip, it might be wasting your time.))

Zach said...

godinputty was the only reasonable person in this thread until I showed up. I am dumber for having read this thread. That is not a joke.

Syllabus said...

Good God man, it's like Marvin the Paranoid Android meets Mork. What are you on, and where can I get me some?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Eliminativism is to the mind what E-Prime is to language, and both gimmicks are for roughly the same of bore.

As for me, I knew eliminativism was hooey as soon as I learned about it: it's just too hard to pronounce and spell to be true.

"Eliminativism -- The Very Idea!" ®

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

And then there's Zach....

JA said...

I can't but help acknowledge the irony of gip, the resident materialist and empiricist, anthropomorphizing RNA by attributing intentionality to it. Not only is this a fundamental misunderstanding that confuses intentionality with teleology, but it results in the kind of deification of natural processes that atheists like gip often accuse Christians of doing.

Who knew that he was a closet pagan?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Question: does Rosenberg ever speak of information in the theoretical, mathematical sense or only in the everyday, intensional sense?

I ask because there's great potential for confusion and equivocation if we're unclear about which sense we're using. I hope I'm not wildly misinformed in what I'm about to say, so here goes:

The strict, theoretical sense of information (Shannon, Neumann, etc.) deals with relative entropy in a system. Call this info-T. As info-T theorists stress again and again, info-T has nothing to do with content, meaning, truth, etc. By contrast, in ordinary usage information is a semantic or intensional concept. Call it info-S.

I think this distinction might, possibly, give Rosenberg something like a hint of a leg to stand on, perhaps. If he's discussing info-T, and I'm sorry if I've missed any discussion of this in this or prior posts by Dr Feser, then it's not strictly incoherent to bracket truth and meaning from his account. All the same, how he came to know that about infonT, or how he expects us to understand that, reinforces the point that Rosenberg requires info-S even in his rejection of it.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Now, all my previous joshing aside, I'm largely on gip's "side" here about the natural intentionality of, in his illustration, DNA. Despite gip's unfortunately quite snippy dismissal of Aristotelianism, I think he's unwittingly defending a profoundly Aristotelian principle, namely that "things (what I like to call "physids") are ordered in intelligible proportions/ratios". In other words, "stuff makes sense." Nucleotides are indeed ordered toward protein synthesis and thus are 'recognized' as physiological 'designators'. I ribbed mike earlier because I think it's a serious error to claim intentionality is a strictly "human affair".

This, in turn, is why I'm puzzled by gip's position, and believe it to be fatally inconsistent. On the one hand, he wants to defend a naturalist account of real intentionality, and thus save materialism from itself (viz. prevent its Dorian-Grayesque slide into eliminativism. On the other hand, he is a pragmatist and scorns the folksy realism of Aristotelian teleology. But therein lies the rub. For if Aristotle is wrong that physids are really and naturally ordered towards their effects and analogical correlates, then naturalistic intentionality is a fiction, as well: pragmatically speaking, it is simply we that generate and impose intentional order on the world. At that point, however, he, and any "paranoid materialist" like him, has no basis for citing codons nor anything at all as a robust case of real intentionality.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

One other issue which I think is getting muddled, is the relation between natural teleology and intentionality. Aristotelians do not maintain that a physid which is ordered toward certain effects and analogously modalized physids (i.e. atoms to compounds, compounds to tissues, etc.), is therefore 'about' those things. Intentionality is an act of the intellect, but it is based on a natural, formal relation between the terms intended. Intentionality is an irreducibly triadic phenomenon, in which a formal ratio is applied to a semiotic dyad. No dyad of itself is "intentional" in the sense Feser is defending here, since we are the ones that subsume the dyad under a formal triad. Again, though, this I'd not pragmatic conventionalism. We'd have to get into St Thomas' De Veritate to see why, but suffice to say that, according to Aquinas, truth is in the world in two analogical modes, not in a univocal way only either in objects or in the mind. It is this analogical bond between the formal order of physids (esse formale) and the intelligible character of human semiotic intentionality (esse intentionale). In any event, lest I keep rambling, the reason gip's naturalistic account of intentionality fails is because he severs the bind between the modes of truth and thinks, ironically enough for a pragmatist, that intentionality can be "read right off" of nature, apart from the immaterial power of the human intellect to fasten intentionality, triadically, on what are otherwise merely teleological dyads. In a word, gip is caught in a world of mere semiotic dyads, but he wants the triadic power (the human intellect) to be reduced to the same character as any other physid. Unfortunately, though, unless the mind is truly different in ontological character from the world of physical dyadicity, all representing and intending will just be a shell game comprised of indistinguishably meaningless pairs of dyads, united by sheer linguistic fiat.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful of you to have shown up, Zach. Perhaps next time you will post something that actually has some substance and illuminates your far-out reasoning skills. For we here at this blog are in dire need of enlightenment. What a waste.

Eduardo said...

Well I suppose Zach can save himself by not reading any more threads .... and not posting too.

Anonymous said...

@Codgitator

Can you please elaborate on your understanding of intentionality from an A-T point of view? I found your short account very interesting but I'm having a little difficulty understanding it completely.

Can you explain to me (preferably in layman's terms) how an Aristotelian or Thomist would address intentionality within his/her metaphysic?

This is actually a question that I've been trying to get my head around (I'm still trying to break away from my Cartesian assumptions) and would really appreciate any insight you might be able to provide.

Much appreciated.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Readers here might enjoy this debate between Dawkins and Cdl. Pell. http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/a_clash_of_the_titans

Syllabus said...

I'd take issue with the appellation "titan" being applied to Prof. Dawkins, myself. "Increasingly annoying Stymphalian bird" seems more appropriate.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Hi, Anon (April 11 8:24AM):

You asked for it!

Care for a sip from the firehose?

If you want the short and sweet version, read the essays by Casey, Deely, and Ross. If you want my own elaborations on the topics, read the links I'm providing below.

Here's a piece I wrote about triadicity and semiotics:
http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/11/from-there-to-here.html

Here's a kind of follow-up piece to it:
http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2011/01/semiosis-of-semiosis.html

Here's a longish piece about esse intentionale, esse naturale, etc.:
http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/07/zen-and-art-of-hylomorphism.html

Here's a less ambitious but perhaps therefore more coherent piece on the same themes:
http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/04/consider-this-analogy.html

This essay by Gerard Casey is essential reading on the topic:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/7980390/Immateriality-and-Intentionality

This lecture by John Deely is not only essential reading about intentionality and semiotics, but also a laxative for stubborn Cartesianism: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:BBU97KVvVdEJ:www.e-aquinas.net/pdf/deely.pdf+john+deely+postmodern+res+cogitans&hl=en&sig=AHIEtbTKflt58iGaEGrU7SJUARFgHqEUsg&pli=1

(WARNING: Deely is so immersed in Scholastic thought that his English has become agonizingly Latinate and byzantine. Courage!)

Of course, James Ross' magisterial essay on the immateriality of thought is essential reading too. This is kind of an omnibus post about Ross' essay which accrued at my previous blog:
http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/ross-gets-some-play.html

and this quasi-addendum:
http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/more-on-ross-feser-etc.html

And lastly, here are some reviews you might find edifying and informative about these matters:

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2007/09/brain-mind-and-computers-by-stanley.html

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2008/05/review-of-reimerss-soul-of-person.html

PLUS

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/07/notes-soul-of-person-by-adrian-reimers.html

http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2008/06/review-of-derek-melsers-act-of-thinking.html

I've also got quite a lot written at my blog about hylomorphism, agency, neuribilism, neuroscience, free will, etc. Just poke around the search bar.

Best,

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Syllabus:

I know, right?

He is to atheism what the Church Lady is to religion. "Could it beeee.... hmmmm..... SCIENCE!?"

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

"God of the gaps, how conveeeenient."

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I know that, logically, the Anti-Church Lady, author of The God Delusion, should say "RELIGION" but "science" is so much more assonant with "Satan".

COINCIDENCE!?!

Syllabus said...

I THINK NOT!!!

It is so much more alliterative isn't it. Once dementia starts to set in, I have a feeling that his comedy value is going to go waaaaay up. It'll make the South Park rap look like Adam Sandler in comparison.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ed, look, enough with all this reason and writing. The only way you're going to convince the naturalistically enlightened among, is if you beat Rosenberg in a hiking or skiing challenge. A battle of neurons, to be sure! Come out from behind your cowardly carapice of rational analysis and moral fortitude. The slopes, they are awaitin'!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Damn it it all, my neurons left out the word "us" after "among".

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Fortunately, I meant nothing by it. rimshot

Anonymous said...

@Codgitator

Thanks a bunch for all the resources! I already started playing with the fire hydrant and so far it's a lot of fun!

I really enjoyed your article "from here to there" and on "hylomophism and Zen". I will be reading the rest during the week.

The article immateriality of thought is one I had already skimmed through in the past so seeing you cite it kind of signifies that I was looking in the right places.

Unfortunately the link to the lecture by Deeley isn't working for me. Do you have another one? Or you can simply give me the title and I'll look it up in my university's online library (so cool to have virtually every journal at your disposal for free for being a student).

I really appreciate your help.

Anonymous said...

"I certainly have never made what he rightly calls the “puerile” charge that he claims to believe that there are no beliefs. "

The "puerile" charge seems perfectly valid to me and the fact that he can state his beliefs without using the words "I believe" merely demonstrates that the English language is rich enough to allow people to be weaselly in stating incoherent positions like eliminative materialism. I think your post was worth writing if only to show he doesn't have a leg to stand on, but to me it just seems like an elaboration of the basic point--his position is self-refuting.

Donald

Aquinas3000 said...

I have to admit I really loled at gip's comment that Feser is wasting his time. One thinks of Feser strapping gip to a chair and forcing him to read the thread and waste his time. Gip, you make points that are worth dealing with but seriously you must not have been thinking when you made such a foolish statement!

goddinpotty said...

@Codgitator: This, in turn, is why I'm puzzled by gip's position, and believe it to be fatally inconsistent. On the one hand, he wants to defend a naturalist account of real intentionality.... On the other hand, he is a pragmatist and scorns the folksy realism of Aristotelian teleology [not sure what you are referring to]. ..if Aristotle is wrong that physids are really and naturally ordered towards their effects and analogical correlates, then naturalistic intentionality is a fiction, as well:

I truly can't follow your argument. I suspect that the root of your confusion may be in the words "real" and "fiction".

It is possible to see intentionality as a "fiction" that we apply to various systems, which are "real"ly just physics. This sounds like it might be Rosenberg's position; it isn't mine. Under a pragmatist view no level of description is inherently more real than any other.

The Feserian position seems to be that intentionality or teleology is just as "real" as physics, but irreducible to it, so it must have its root in some nonmaterial agent (God, I guess, or an inexplicble non-physical consciousness). But naturalists have no problem thinking about intentionality etc as emergent phenomena that are implemented in physics but obey their own rules at their own level of description.

goddinpotty said...

@Codgitator: The reason gip's naturalistic account of intentionality fails is because he severs the bind between the modes of truth and thinks, ironically enough for a pragmatist, that intentionality can be "read right off" of nature, apart from the immaterial power of the human intellect to fasten intentionality, triadically, on what are otherwise merely teleological dyads. In a word, gip is caught in a world of mere semiotic dyads, but he wants the triadic power (the human intellect) to be reduced to the same character as any other physid.

First off, where do you get this "physid" jargon? I assume you aren't referring to members of the Physidae family, but that's the only dictionary defintion available.

Second, your dyad/triad stuff is barely comprehensible, but if it means what I think it means, then my ribsome example is a triad: the RNA is the designator, the protein is the designated, and the ribosome is the interpreter.

Westcountryman said...

It appears, by 'pragmatism', goddinpotty is referring to his self-proclaimed right to be inconsistent, incoherent, or to not think things through or work them out properly, and of course to not back up properly his claims.

It is, otherwise, hard to work out the 'real' (if you will forgive the play on words) meaning of his position.

He may call this 'pragmatism', a sensible person would consider it, like almost all claims of 'pragmatism', rank sophism.

Edward Feser said...

GIP,

You're making my point for me. The way you are describing ribosomes etc. is either a rather blatant instance of the homunculus fallacy, or, if the talk of "designator," "interpreter," etc. is only meant to indicate in a very loose way an irreducible (or "emergent," as you say) "directedness," then you are in that case taking an essentially Aristotelian position (or, alternatively, perhaps a panpsychist position, depending on how you'd spell it out).

It seems you fail to see this because you are confusing an Aristotelian position with something like a William Paley-style "design argument." Why, I don't know, since I've explained the difference maybe 1,234 times now in various places.

John said...

Prof Feser says: "Why, I don't know, since I've explained the difference maybe 1,234 times now in various places."

Actually, I counted 1,235.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

gip:

It's amusing that a presumable fan of Joyce and Finnegans Wake would sniff at my "physid" neologism. And if you call a ribosome a literal interpreter and literal cognizer, you've jumped the shark indeed.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

gip:

Is there a difference between clues at a crime scene and eyewitnesses at a crime scene?

Your ribosome illustration leaves you with exactly the dyadic shell game I mentioned. It's you that complete the triad. It's not about three objects vs. two, but about the semiotic status of object-signs, relations, and signs-as-signs-of-relations.

Pardon me for making this reply shorter than it could be, I know you get off on wasting your time by reading thousands of words you consider irrelevant and incomprehensible.

Verbose Stoic said...

goddinpotty,

"Under a pragmatist view no level of description is inherently more real than any other. "

Under which pragmatist view, specifically? It's probably not an exaggeration to say that the most famous pragmatists are William James and John Dewey, so can you show me exactly where they argued that? Or if you don't mean their views, exactly what do you mean by a "pragmatist view"? Surely not the one Bertrnd Russell -- and others -- criticize for saying that if it provides benefits for you then it's true, which leads unerringly to a process that does nothing more than justify wishful thinking?

While you're at it, can you define "level of description" so that we know what you're comparing here?

Roy IV said...

Some day the Gipper will get tired of all the intellectual effort required to interact with the ideas on this blog. Then, for the last time, he'll tell you you're wasting his time and set sail for friendlier waters. Enjoy him while you've got him.

goddinpotty said...

@Codgitator:
It's amusing that a presumable fan of Joyce and Finnegans Wake would sniff at my "physid" neologism.
I'm not sniffing at it; I just don't know what it is supposed to mean. Any physical object?
And if you call a ribosome a literal interpreter and literal cognizer, you've jumped the shark indeed.
One should be careful with "literal" just like "real" and "fiction". But in any case, while I would say that a ribosome is an interpreter; I never said it was a "cognizer". That was the point -- you can have intentionality without cognition.

Maybe another example from biology is in order: the honeybee waggle dance is also clearly a representation that is "about" something; in this case it is generated and interpreted by an organism with a nervous system. The bees that interpret this representation are in my view clearly interpreters, but it would be a stretch to call them cognizers.

goddinpotty said...

@Feser:
The way you are describing ribosomes etc. is either a rather blatant instance of the homunculus fallacy

I can't even imagine why you would think that. It is the opposite of homuncular thinking. Do I posit a little intelligent manling hiding in the ribosome and making it work? No.

or, if the talk of "designator," "interpreter," etc. is only meant to indicate in a very loose way an irreducible (or "emergent," as you say) "directedness," then you are in that case taking an essentially Aristotelian position

First, irreducible ~= emergent. Second, maybe my position is "essentially Aristotelian" -- you would be more qualified than me to say that. But it seems to me there are many differences, eg I don't buy into the Aristotelian concept of "essential forms", at least as it has been presented here.

(or, alternatively, perhaps a panpsychist position, depending on how you'd spell it out).

See the remarks on homunculi above. I can't imagine why you would even think that.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

gipmeister, el giparino, le gipolateur, sir gipalot, gipalicious, gippus maximus, gip and a haircut..., his most gipfulness, ye olde gizard of oz:

Well, that was fun.

Physid is my term of art for natural entities. Phusis is the Greek term for nature, and id is a suffix that means "a state of", "pertaining to", etc. By physids I mean "things in distinct states of nature" or "that which is a unique case of nature-in-general" (kind of like fluids and solids). I could use corpora, but that has enough difference of meaning in the Scholastic patrimony that it should retain its strict usage. "Thing" is an overused and quite perilous term (Kant, Heidegger, etc.). For semiotic reasons I'm not fond of "physical object" either. So physid is just my attempt to clarify my language in an authentically Aristotelian way. Physid is an intentionally pungent reminder of the heritage behind "phusis", and is therefore an equally sever but implicit rejection of the (Democritean, Ockhamist, Hobbesian), heritage behind "matter".

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Now, you say you "can't even imagine" why Feser would derive certain implications from your position (which is ironic, considering how you scold us non-naturalists for making too much out of a failure of imagination), but here's a clue: it's because of the words you've written.

Imagine: Last night a branch in the breeze was tapping on my window. Since my brain knows Morse code, and since the pane of glass was such an able interpreter, my brain was able to heed the branch's advice about buying some dark chocolate, whereupon my neuromuscular system interpreted the brain's branch-begotten, window-borne good news for processing by my teeth. Yum.

Imagine: A few years ago I had a similar experience, in which motes of dust floating in the kitchen blinked in the midday sunlight in such a way that, given my knowledge of Morse code, and given those motes' superb interpretive ability, I was able to heed the Sun's reminder to get another beer from the fridge.

As for life in Waggle Rock, of course bees are cognizers. Not self-conscious but undeniably cognizant, otherwise they couldn't respond to each other and their environment. Again, you're just making Feser's point for him and mine for me, since the "pragmatic" (?) distinction you assert exists between bee semiosis and human thought is that the former is causal (dyadic, behaviorist) whereas the latter is... wait for it... intentional (triadic, propositional)!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

(In passing, I'd really like to know what you make of Dennett's philosophy of mind. For a naturalist, you seem awfully insular and tut-tuttish as far as the movement's docents go.)

Now, when bees are observed, not simply to respond to the waggle dance W, but instead to waggle an entirely novel and meta-level waggle W* in reflection *upon* and with commentary *about* W, then we can talk about intentionality. Otherwise you are indeed mounting at least a panpsychist flavor of argument. For if in principle we humans 'do' or 'have' intentionality in just the same way that bees do/have it, then it follows atoms responding to nearby molecular signals/patterns also do/have it. (Cue another outraged "I can't even imagine why". Sigh.) If, on the other hand, human intentionality essentially (!) differs from molecular and bee semiosis/behavior, you have failed to provide a basis for that distinction, apart from a lot of handwaving about pragmatism.

Anonymous said...

@Codgitator

So the difference between human intentionality and what we observe in bees for example is that the latter is merely stimulus + response, whereas the former includes reason, language and understanding through the human ability of self-reflection?

So to illustrate this via a causal structure... In the case of bees the cause is the environment and the effect is the behavior whereas in the case of human there is an added causal intermediary which is the mind/human understanding itself (through langage), which in turn provides us with our triadic paradigm? With that causal intermediary (intentionality, language etc) being itself an illreducible structure/system working under its own 'laws'and dynamics?

Am I getting this right?

goddinpotty said...

Now, you say you "can't even imagine" why Feser would derive certain implications from your position ... but here's a clue: it's because of the words you've written.

Let's put it this way: Feser may believe that my words imply a homunculus, but I can't imagine a chain of rasoning that would let him arrive at that conclusion, so maybe he would be willing to fill in the blanks.

I also can't see the relevance of your examples. Yes, people may at times infer meaning from physical systems where none is present. What does that have to do with a physical system where meaning clearly *is* present?

You can class bees as cognizers if you want; that would seem to be supporting my point. It is not hard to imagine that in a decade or so neuroscience will have advanced to the point where we could have a complete physical description of the mechanisms that underlie the bee's cognition. So a ribosome demonstrates how intentionality can be grounded in mechanism; a bee demonstrates (in theory, eventually) how cognition can be grounded in mechanism.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Oh and before I forget (my window pane was trying to distract me with a salty joke), you failed to rebut Feser on your homuncular fallacy because you retorted from the wrong level of analysis. He did not say you posit a homunculus in the ribosome, but rather in the cell. Your ribosome is homuncular enough for the charge to stick. You can make it un-stick by doing away with your loose talk about interpretation. That would, however, divest you of the intentionality you'd like to think naturalism gives you. Ribosomes don't read, they react. A codon cannot strictly mean anything, since there is no intrinsic criterion available in purely biochemical terms which delimit where the codon's "intentio" ends. For, in coding the synthesis of a protein, the codon also eo ipso codes for a tissue, and thus for an organ, and thus for an organ system, and thus for an organism, and tis for action potentials, and thus for (ideally, in Darwinian terms) copulation, and thus for an entire lineage of biological intentionality as you use (and thus corrupt) the term.

Moreover, the real salt in the wound is that this naturalistically fatal "intentional indeterminacy"★ is nothing less than the fruit of the "pragmatic" solubility of analysis you love to go on about. As you said, "Under a pragmatic view, no level of description is inherently more real than any other." Exactly. EXACTLY. And yet you claim codons are really, and truly, and singularly, and unmistakably ABOUT synthesizing a certain protein p(c). Uh-huh, okay.

★ (Yeah, I just coined that phrase, but it goes back to the points from Popper which Doc Feser discussed in the OP, and has discussed elsewhere, so don't flip out at another of my neologisms.)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I don't know if this will make sense, but: I've taken to life and language in Taiwan so well that numerous Taiwanese have joked that I must have been Chinese in my past life. They could just see it in me, despite my insistence that I'm just a scruffy American, and that I don't believe in reincarnation, besides.

Well, my impression is that you were, so to speak, an Aristotelian in your past life. I can just see it in you, despite your, etc. I wish you could come to see how your attachment to "mechanism" deprives you of so much if what you love about knowledge abd nature.

F'rinstance, given your denial of formal unity, you have no rational basis for speaking of bees, ribosomes, or anything else. There's just mechanistic stuff, and talk of bees and ribosomes is literally just configurations of ('our') stuff that is causally impinged upon by other ('bee') stuff to produce other ('linguistic') configurations of stuff in the 'air'. At least Democritus and Rosenberg grasp this clearly and admit this. You prefer not to be as forthright, or perhaps not as logical, probably for aesthetic and cultural reasons.

goddinpotty said...

In passing, I'd really like to know what you make of Dennett's philosophy of mind.

Generally I agree with him, but it's been a long time since I've read his stuff. I think I cited his and Hofstadter's reply to Searle here awhile back.

For a naturalist, you seem awfully insular and tut-tuttish as far as the movement's docents go.

Once again I have absolutely no idea what you are trying to say.

goddinpotty said...

Well, my impression is that you were, so to speak, an Aristotelian in your past life.

That may be, but I'm trying to live this life, here and now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Codgitator,

Do you mind answering my last question? I've been reading through your blog and the articles you posted yesterday and I'm trying to get my head around all this.

Is my understanding of intentionality on the right track as explicated a few posts above?

Thanks!

Rusty Mason said...

This crazy idea that words and thoughts are arbitrary and without meaning has been taught in our schools for some time now. See David Mulroy's The War on Grammar, or Richard Mitchell's The Gift of Fire, Less Than Words Can Say, The Graves of Academe, and The Leaning Tower of Babel. Free, here:

http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/index.html

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I'm not sure which question you mean. The link to Deely's piece? Odd linkrot. Title:

John Deely, "The Semiotic Animal: A postmodern definition of human being superseding the modern definition ‘res cogitans’"

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Yes, but, come now, Rusty, surely you must realizehow much longer it takes professional philosophers (and certain potted commenters) to catch up with the implications of their doctrines than it does politicians and policymakers.

Anonymous said...

@Codgitator

Here's the question(s) I was referring to from a previous post.



So the difference between human intentionality and what we observe in bees for example is that the latter is merely stimulus + response, whereas the former includes reason, language and understanding through the human ability of self-reflection?

So to illustrate this via a causal structure... In the case of bees the cause is the environment and the effect is the behavior whereas in the case of human there is an added causal intermediary which is the mind/human understanding itself (through langage), which in turn provides us with our triadic paradigm? With that causal intermediary (intentionality, language etc) being itself an illreducible structure/system working under its own 'laws'and dynamics?

Am I getting this right?

goddinpotty said...

@Verbose Stoic Under which pragmatist view, specifically? It's probably not an exaggeration to say that the most famous pragmatists are William James and John Dewey, so can you show me exactly where they argued that?

My pragmatism is informed by James, Dewey, Rorty, and Latour (in increasing order). Since I'm an amateur at this game I can't claim to have studied any of them to the point where I can reflect their views 100%, but then, I wouldn't really want to. I've cobbled together my own version of pragmatism, which is a very pragmatic thing to do.

But here's a quote from Rorty that is somewhat apt: ...those who wish to reduce objectivity to solidarity -- call them "pragmatists" ... view truth as in William James' phrase, what it is good for *us* to believe...From a pragmatist point of view, to say that what is rational for us now to believe may not be *true*, is simply to say that somebody may come up with a a better idea. It is to say that there is always room for improved belief, since new evidence, or new hypotheses, or a whoe new vocabulary, may come along. (from Solidarity or Objectivity?),

Eric said...

It looks like this will be interesting when it comes out in October.

Tony said...

From a pragmatist point of view, to say that what is rational for us now to believe may not be *true*, is simply to say that somebody may come up with a a better idea. It is to say that there is always room for improved belief, since new evidence, or new hypotheses, or a whoe new vocabulary, may come along

Good grief. Please tell me you can tell the difference between, for example, (1) someone first saying pi is about 3.1, then later on saying pis is about 3.14, and then in 20 years saying pi is about 3.14159; and

(2) someone first saying "Bill is guilty of murder" because that's what the evidence points to best, and then later changing your story and saying "Bill is not guilty of murder" because that sells your book better and right now selling your book is more important to you than what the evidence points to, so that's the defining characteristic of "better" at this point.

Any worthwhile notion that our knowledge can be presented better later on requires some standard of "better". If that standard isn't "more akin to the truth", then nothing stops (or should stop) the Moe's of the world from just punching your lights out in an argument and taking your wallet because that's HIS "better."

Mr. Green said...

DNW: If this is so to any degree, then in this, he reminds one ( or me) of Marx.

"Last night I found an idea inside my brain. How it got in there, I'll never know!"

goddinpotty said...

@Tony -- I don't think I want to start a lengthy defense of pragmatism here at the end of a long comment thread. But I suggest before you start blustering in outrage at Rorty, you should at least read the complete essay rather than an excerpted sentence. Pragmatism has been around for awhile, and I doubt you are the first one to make your particular objection.

And if your concern is with "the Moes of the world" you might find this essay by Latour interesting.

Anonymous said...

Eric: It looks like this will be interesting when it comes out in October.

Wow. If Nagel received the massive heap of scorn he did from his ivory tower peers simply for momentarily praising Meyer's Signature in the Cell, imagine the flak he's gonna get this time around.

Glenn said...

Conclusion to Latour's essay,

The task of today can be summed up in this odd sentence: can we learn to like scientists as much as politicians so that we can benefit _at last_ from the two inventions made by the Greeks, demonstration and democracy? (essayist's emphasis)

In other words,

a) We've yet to benefit from the two inventions made by the Greeks, that of demonstration, and that of democracy.

b) Nonetheless, it is possible that we might do so yet.

c) We can do so if we'd but learn to like scientists as much as politicians are liked. Thus,

d) Either the esteem of scientists must be lowered, or that of politicians must be raised, or some mixture of the two, in order that, at long last, after thousands of years, we might benefit from the two aforementioned Greek inventions.


Another excerpted sentence from Rorty,

[The pragmatist] thinks that his views are better than the realists', but he does not think his views correspond to the nature of things.

Rorty, however, is only second on the totem pole defined above. This thus gives rise to several questions, amongst which are...

GIP, have you taken la tour to the top of the pole? And now know that your views are better than the realists'? And now know that your views do not correspond to the nature of things? Or is your cobbled version of 'pragmatism' such that you don't think your views are better than the realists', and your merely not sure whether your views correspond to the nature of things?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Yeah, that is a wowzer of a title from Nagel. Guarantee that he will get the Flew treatment: "Sad what old age does to a thinker. Etc."

Gene Callahan said...

"This differs from the A-T view insofar as A-T would deny that thought or consciousness of any sort exists below the level of animals."

Why would you want to tie A-T to this particular empirical hypothesis? That seems as mistaken as tying it to geocentrism!

Westcountryman said...

Rorty almost defines the standard for sophistry (perhaps beaten bested, though, by Derrida and his ilk). Personally, I think reading anything he read would be a waste of someone's time, at best.

Maybe if you had read (at least twice) everything Plato, Aristotle, the Platonists, the Church Fathers, all the great Christian writers, all the traditional religious writers of the great world religions, all traditional conservative and distributist writers, all the classics ancient, medieval, and modern, all useful commentaries on all these figures, all interesting and useful historical works, and the Wombles of Wimbledon, then you can be forgiven for considering reading Rorty. Otherwise there is no excuse, unless you really have to get his views to refute a particular sophistry (which in this case doesn't apply because the inconsistency and stupidity of gip's 'pragmatism' is obvious).

Richard said...

I probably won't be able to quote Nagel to any of my atheist aquaintances anymore, since they will just say that he was probably a religious nut all along. Sigh... For a man who flatly stated that he desired an utterly godless universe, he seems to have come a long way.

Dredshi said...

Question for the philosophically astute around here:

Have philosophers of science even agreed on what "science"/"the scientific method" even is? I mean, if they haven't, then the entire cultural attitude of "we should only take as knowledge the verdicts of a system that follows a narrowly defined scientific method" would seem to be completely without foundation.

goddinpotty said...

@Westcountryman -- Rorty is generally considered one of the most important philosophers of the latter 20th century. This doesn't mean he's right of course, but it suggests maybe he's not to be dismissed summarily and without any justification. IOW, your last comment was entirely content-free, and this is supposed to be a discussion of ideas. If you don't like Rorty's, feel free to say why.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say to the people ganging GIP that relaxed analysis of his arguments' flaws would be more profitable for all involved. A blunt, borderline-aggressive response just incites the same in return, and it results in a boring, fruitless conversation. This applies even if he fired the first shots. He's clearly not an idiot, even though he has a limited understanding of philosophy; so politely correcting his conceptual errors will help him in the future. I'd want as much if I was in his position.

I can understand that Mr. Feser would be annoyed by an obvious amateur (no shame in that; I'm in the same boat) claiming to have found crippling holes in his argument(s), but, for the rest of us, who presumably are here just because we enjoy discussion, it'd be for the best not to chase off a potentially interesting debating partner. If he was just a troll, it would be a different matter.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Anon April 13 1156pm:

I for one don't want to see gip go. I've criticized him directly and at some length, to be sure, but the point of my occasional goofy asides is to break the tension now and then. I'm pretty sure gip is not the kind of guy who would whine about being ganged up on. He can roll with the punches because I suspect he likes to. My only genuine worries about him as a serious interlocutor are his expressed disinterest/unwillingness to read the sources Feser and many of us are drawing upon, and the strangeness of a confessed amateur telling us we're wasting his time, making no sense at all, hiding behind ancient authorities, etc.

Westcountryman said...

Gip

Other seems to believe you should be treated with in a tolerant way. I have no real objection, though I have my doubts much is ever achieved in internet discussions like these.

Suffice it to say that those who think highly of Rorty are modern 'philosophers' or those who are influenced by them. One very wise man once noted two important truths about modern 'philosophy'; firstly, that if Kant (or any other modern 'philosopher') is a philosopher then Plotinus (or any of the true, ancient and medieval philosophers) is not; and, secondly, that modern 'philosophy' consisting of a search to the answer of questions badly put.

As for content, I made an important point. The reading of Rorty, or just about any other modern 'philosopher' is an utter waste of time, at least until you have read all those other writings I named several times. Even then I'd suggest reading them only if you have a special purpose, or are especially trying to refute something very specific they have said.

I consider it important for those of a traditionally minded bent to utterly break with modern thought, and instead draw from our owns almost inexhaustible resources; whether the Greeks, the Fathers, or later traditional Christian. thinkers. The influence of Kant, or whoever, on the mind of a traditional Christian rarely seems to bode well to me.

This all may only be background to what you really wish to discuss, but I think there is nothing wrong with stating it nonetheless.

goddinpotty said...

@Westcountyman -- if Rorty isn't a philosopher, what is he? His ideas may be wrong or even despicable, but are they really so far from the truth that he must be banished from the agora? Is Plotinus so weak that he can't bear to be in the same room with him?

I note that David Stove is cited over on the right of this blog, I assume approvingly. Have you read his entertainingly scathing anti-philosophy essay What is Wrong With Our Thoughts? Plotinus is one of his examples of thought going horribly and irretreivably wrong. I doubt he would have been any more approving of Rorty.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Rorty is the codon, Latour the ribosome, gip the protein.

Anonymous said...

@Westcountryman

You said that if Kant is a philosopher then Plotinus is not (or quote someone saying it). Can you elaborate a bit on that? It really triggered my curiosity.

Anonymous said...

@Dredshi who said:


"Have philosophers of science even agreed on what "science"/"the scientific method" even is? I mean, if they haven't, then the entire cultural attitude of "we should only take as knowledge the verdicts of a system that follows a narrowly defined scientific method" would seem to be completely without foundation"

No they haven't. Good philosophers of science (i.e. people not afflicted with the idiocy of positivism) are well aware how difficult (even impossible) scientific demarcation is. In fact some philosophers of science like Feyerabend claim that there is no such thing as 'science' if science is to represent some method that stand ALONE and ABOVE other forms of inquiry. I would recommend his book Against Method for a nice antidote to the nonsensical claims of scientism. Another book worth looking into, which shows the historical relativity of science is Kuhn's seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

So yea, the whole scientism mantra is in fact without fundations. Just wishful thinking on the side of the naturalist... Who ironicall does not even realize how ridiculous his claims are most of the time. He simply slaps the word 'science' on some materialistic assumption and expects us to take him seriously.

Westcountryman said...

GIP and Anonymous,

Philosophy in the ancient sense is the pursuit of Wisdom, as Josef Pieper liked to point out. Modern 'philosophy' as a whole has never been interested in Wisdom, but in sophistry.

True Ancient and Medieval philosophy, like Islamic and Eastern philosophy, was a spiritually, symbolic, and Intellectually based way of life. There is a slight difference between philosophy and mysticism, in the sense philosophy tends to refer to the more discursive part of the spiritual journey, but the two, with theology as well, are ultimately united with mysticism or metaphysics being the crowning achievement and path for true philosophy.

Modern 'philosophy' on the other hand has not only dispensed with Intellectus and symbolism, but has replaced philosophy as a spiritually based, active and positive pursuit, a way of life, with pseudo-philosophy that consists of seeking answers to questions badly put. It became a towering, systemising, rationalist entreprise, starting from the wrong foundations and proceeding with the wrong mindset and methodology. Inevitably this rationalist edifice, the critical philosophy so to speak, that rises to its height in the ironically named Kant, could not support itself, cracking to unleash various irrationalism, such as existentialism.

I think Frithjof Schuon, one of the greatest metaphysicians of the last century, expresses well the basic question one must consider when evaluating a modern thinker, when he discusses Kierkegaard and Existentialism;

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/Public/articles/Letter_on_Existentialism-by_Frithjof_Schuon.aspx


The Western mentality has given rise to four metaphysical perspectives which are either perfect or at least satisfactory as the case may be, namely: Platonism, including Neo-Platonism; Aristotelianism; Scholasticism; Palamism.

A question: Why was Kierkegaard neither Platonist, nor Aristotelian, nor Scholastic, nor Palamite? Is it because he was a Vedantist or a Mahayanist? Certainly not. Consequence: His doctrine is null and void. The proof of this is that he rejects “organized” Christianity, hence the traditional theology which upholds it, and he does so in favour of a subjectivism which is not intellectual (for in that case he would have acknowledged objective metaphysics whose mode of expression perforce is rational and abstract) but voluntaristic and sentimental; whence comes his subjectivistic or individualistic moralism, his insistence on thinking “existentially”, his nullity from the point of view of the real and efficacious spirituality which saves.


Here he expresses not just the schools of thought that count as true philosophy, but the spiritual and intellectual mindset that is part of them.

David Stove, I'm not overly familiar with, but I know he is one of the better modern 'philosophy', just as Rorty is one of the worse. But, I believe, he remains trapped within the mindset of modern 'philosophy' To again quote Schuon's letter;

Certainly truths are to be found in all the philosophers, and above all half-truths, but these truths are flanked with errors and inconsistencies, and there is moreover no need for them; hence it is pointless to dwell on them. Partial truths are only to be accepted in the domain of traditional orthodoxy, because they are only acceptable in the context of the total Truth, which alone guarantees their exactitude and their efficacy. To think while denying the total Truth, which is both objective and subjective, is completely inconsistent; it is not really thinking.

C,S Lewis was a better philosopher, and much more worth reading, than Rorty, Stove, or the whole of modern 'philosophy'.

Brian said...

Apropos:

"The first step on the path to realism is to realise that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however much one tries to think differently, one will never succeed; the third is to note that those who claim that they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If they ask themselves why, their conversion is almost complete."

-Etienne Gilson

Westcountryman said...

Being symbolic and Intellectual, traditional philosophy expressed itself not just in discursive thought, but with symbols and myth; Homer, the great Norse myths,Shakespeare, Grimms' Fairy Tales and much folklore, an Icon, a Cathedral, and, of course, the inexhaustible depths of Scripture and the Sacraments all represent a philosophy, or at least a Wisdom, that is no less true and profound for being utterly incomprehensible to modern 'philosophy'.

jhall said...

I have an off-topic question maybe someone can help me with.

I've recently read Feser's article:

http://libertylawsite.org/liberty-forum/natural-law-natural-rights-and-private-property

The question is, can ownership be said to be a human convention?

I understand the way in which private property is an extension of the natural law, and that ownership can be considered necessary for us to exercise our potentials and realize certain ends. My intuition is that it cannot be merely conventional, but I'm not so sure.

Thanks

goddinpotty said...

@Westcountyman -- ok, i get it, you don't like modernism, modern philosophy, or the modern world. That's your privelege, but what is the point of simply harrumphing and name-calling without making any kind of argument? Socrates at least was not above actually attempting to refute the original sophists, rather than simply labelling them.

Oh well, guess I am done unless you manage to actually say something.

Westcountryman said...

Actually I did make an argument, or rather a contrast. I didn't respond to the particular Rorty essay you wish me too. but I don't have to. You brought your pragmatist viewpoint up, it is not the subject of Dr.Feser's post You brought up Rorty. I then brought up my criticisms, which were aimed at a broader point than just one of Rorty's essays. Take it or leave it, but it is certainly not fair to say that there is no content or supported position in what I've been talking about, nor is it fair to simply categorise what I have written as saying I don't like modernism and modern 'philosophy' while completely ignoring the substantive comparison I drew up.

It is rather you, therefore, gip, who is not putting up an argument or any content against my point. I understand it may not interest you, just as refuting specific essays of Rorty does not interest me, but then say it, do not make petulant, dismissive, and quite frankly underhanded (in the sense it is just a falsehood to suggest I'm not saying anything or giving an substantive content or argument) comments.

Tony said...

GIP, I could not possibly find the essay by Latour worth finishing, since he starts it with a devastatingly stupid notion that principles are "inhuman." Half-way through was all I could take, and he would fall under Stove's condemnation just as fully as Plotinus or Hegel.

Stove, however engagingly written, is out to lunch in suggesting that the filioque dispute is like to the cited passages of Plotinus or Hegel. He is quite wrong. The reason (he admits this later) he finds the filioque dispute impenetrable is that he knows nothing about what the terms of the dispute are about.

I have no problems with pragmatism that I don't also have with all the other modern philosophies: other than being just plain wrong, they start in the wrong places and proceed in the wrong ways - other than those defects, they are fine.

machinephilosophy said...

Brian,

"The first step on the path to realism is to realise that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however much one tries to think differently, one will never succeed; the third is to note that those who claim that they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If they ask themselves why, their conversion is almost complete."

The best quote by him I've seen so far. Leave it to Gilson to get it down to an algorithm, and I think it applies to certain other views as well. A profound and inspiring philosopher.

Anonymous said...

@Westcountryman

Thank for your response to my questin regarding Plotinus and Kant. I certainly share the sentiment with you in regards to modern and post modern philosophy (or sophistry if you like). A lot of it is in fact towering sytematizations and suffocating 'caves', identified thousands of years ago by Plato himself.

I do however depart with you when it comes to Soren. I think much of his critique (especially his anti-rationalist stance as well as his critique of the church itself and the state it was in at the time) was both valid and important. His introversion to subjectivism is not as problematic I believe, if one were to use it as a supplement to Classical Theism for example. Soren was very much concerned with the individual in the world and his contribution to philosophy was in that regard.

At any rate, as I said, for the most part, I share you opinion regarding the distructive chimera of modernism. To me, the likes of hume, nietszche, shopenhauer, spinoza and the like were much more central to the destruction of the intellectual life. Now as far as post-modernists are concerned, apart from the usual "let's all speak and say whatever nonsense comes to mind 'cause everything is relative" crap, I don't really see much value in their work at all, as a means to illuminate the philosophical mind's quest within the world.

Westcountryman said...

I'm no expert on Kierkegaard, however, from what I know, I largely agree with Schuon. He appears to have reacted to the rationalism of the Critical Philosophy, not by reverting to the Intellectual foundations of traditional philosophy, but rather by taking refuge in that which is below reason. He is then a bridge to all the modern irrationalism.

I believe he even goes as far as to attempt to establish a strict division between thinking and acting or being, utterly sundering the traditional unity of these 'faculties'.

Kierkegaard seems not so much concerned with the individual as with individualism. His individual is one abstracted from revelation and Intellection, left only to the mercy of an subjectivist and individualistic faith.As Schuon puts it in that letter No doubt I will be told that this thinker, if he did not make his criticism in the name of intellection, at least did so in the name of faith; but he was just as ignorant as to what constitutes true faith, since in the name of his faith he attacks theology, which is precisely an indispensable objectification and a conditio sine qua non of the faith of the heart. Kierkegaard’s faith is individualistic, not sanctifying. By this he means that faith was not for Kierkegaard what it was in traditional philosophy, a pre-rational cognition of truth written in our hearts, of which theology is an objectification, but simply an individualistic and subjective leap into the dark. This means that Kierkegaard's doctrine is positively destructive when it comes to true spirituality.

goddinpotty said...

@Tony could not possibly find the essay by Latour worth finishing, since he starts it with a devastatingly stupid notion that principles are "inhuman."

Not quite sure how you are getting that out of Latour; he opens by describing that position as it comes from others, but he does not support it:

The common tenet is that we need something “inhuman” —for Weinberg, the natural laws no human has constructed; for Socrates, geometry whose demonstrations escape human whim— if we want to be able to fight against “inhumanity”. To sum up even more succintly: only inhumanity will quash inhumanity.

Note the scare quotes. To oversimplify Latour greatly, he is concerned with showing that principles are indeed very human.

Gene Callahan said...

@gip: "if Rorty isn't a philosopher, what is he?"

That's easy: he is a sophist. Westcountrydude already told you that, in fact.

Glenn said...

To oversimplify Latour greatly, he is concerned with showing that principles are indeed very human.

Yes--provided the principles are kept safe from the rubric of Reason.


What these two quotes [one from Steven Weinberg and one from Socrates] have in common, accross the huge gap of centuries, is the strong linkage they establish between the respect for impersonal natural laws on the one hand, and the fight against irrationality, immorality and political disorder on the other. In both quotes, the fate of Reason and the fate of Politics are associated in one single destiny. To attack Reason is to render morality and social peace impossible. Right is what protects us against Might. Reason against civil warfare. The common tenet is that we need something "inhuman"--for Weinberg, the natural laws no human has constructed; for Socrates, geometry whose demonstrations escape human whim--if we want to be able to fight against "inhumanity". To sum up even more succintly: only inhumanity will quash inhumanity. Only a Science that is not manmade will protect a Body Politic which is in constant risk of being mob-made. Yes, Reason is our rampart, our Great Wall of China, our Maginot line against the dangerous unruly mob.

This line of reasoning which I will call "inhumanity against inhumanity" has been attacked of course, even since it began, first by the Sophists, against whom Plato launches his all-out attack, all the way to this motley gang of people branded by the accusation of "post-modernism" (an accusation, by the way, as vague as the curse of being a "sophist"). Postmoderns of the past and of the present have tried to break the connection between the discovery of natural laws of the cosmos and the problems of making the Body Politic safe for its citizens.

Glenn said...

It is not overly difficult to understand how a reader might come away from Latour with the impression that he actually has no problem with the inhumanity of Reason, provided some way can be found to render Reason an obedient subject under the reign of the reins.

Glenn said...

That was poorly stated. Better to put it this way,

It is not overly difficult to understand how a reader might come away from Latour with the impression that he actually has no problem with the Reason, provided what's left after its inhumanity has been nullifed can be rendered an obedient subject under the reign of the reins.

goddinpotty said...

Rorty was not above identifying himself with the classical sophists that Socrates and Plato were fond of dumping on. There are some obvious similarities. But Socrates at least did not consider himself above debating with them -- that is, he engaged with them on the level of ideas, rather than (well, in addition to actually) simply slapping a derogatory label on them and then smirking in self-satisfaction. So if Rorty is not a philosopher, you guys are even less so.

Eduardo said...

So this has been a huge non-philosopher on non-philosopher action ????

Westcountryman said...

Socrates and Plato were not above mocking, satire, and derision, particularly when it came to the sophist.

The very idea that Rorty would identify with the sophists should be enough to blacken his name.

Plato engaged the sophists, at times, in his dialogues, but he did not, a la contemporary academic philosophy, spend his time writing papers to refute them. He got on with his spiritual and philosophical path, and in with guiding others along it as well.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I am pretty ignorant when it comes to philosophy, but I have got a question (I apologize in advance if what I am asking is trivial or not a real issue).

In the "What is a Soul" thread, it is brought up that intelligence is something that is irreducible. Though recently, they have been able to find the correlates for intelligence. The link for which is below (it also has a short video explaining what they found):

http://news.illinois.edu/news/12/0410braininjury_AronBarbey.html

I think Ray also brought up this point before in the other thread. So, does this mean that human intelligence is reducible, or is there something that I am missing or not understanding when it comes to this.

machinephilosophy said...

Notice that there is never any mention of the correlates in the brain for such correlations themselves.

Just as liberalism is the view that you're a bigot and I'm not, so reductionism is the view that your views are reducible to brain activity while my reduction itself is not.

Your views are mere brain activity, while my brain gospel is a set of magic universal meta-brain insights that everyone else must cow-tow to like imaginary cognition-ruling-and-obligating friends.

Michele Arpaia said...

Last Monday there was a debate between Cardinal George Pell and Richard Dawkins.
I thought you guys may be interested.

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3469101.htm

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

To the Anon who's interested in semiotics, etc., I've been having gads of fun with my newborn and family, so please email me if you want to converse. This thread is Squaresville. jk fidescogtiactio AT gmail DOT com

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

@machinephilosophy:

Shut up, Krang, and get back in yer meatbox! My neurons can't be refuted, cuz Science, like, works, batches!

A. R. Diaz said...

Prof. Feser,

This is quite off topic, have you thought about replying to Peter S. Dillard's paper against Ross' argument for the immaterial aspects of thought? Dillard's paper seems to me a really but really weak case against Ross. Would still like to know what you think of it.

Edward Feser said...

A. R. Diaz,

As it happens, the paper I presented (excerpts from) in D.C. this weekend is in large part a response to Dillard. I'll announce when it appears in print.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

In the wake of this discussion, I thought this link was ironically apt. Remember how gip called Rosenberg's views a caricature, even though Feser explicitly declined going for the obvious "the idea of EM is that there are no ideas"? Well, it turns out the ovarian Churchland agree *that* would be a caricature, but then denies EM has anything to do with metaphysics. I'm dying to read a Churchland's review of Rosenberg OR VICE VERSA.

http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=4828

"‘It’s a position most people know only in caricature, and so they take the straw man version and attack that,’ she argues. The view gets dismissed as something silly like the belief that there are no beliefs, or the denial of the existence of consciousness, but Churchland claims that really nothing is eliminated — the view is about explanation, about conceptual re-organization, not metaphysics. So why call it ‘eliminative materialism’?"

mike said...

@ Codgitator

Thanks for your comments. You've helped me to clarify my thinking. What I missed was the distinction between original and derivative intentionality (and dr. Feser wrote about it some posts back, my bad). Obviously, if you cannot point to an originator of a "code" that is supposed to convey "information", then (if you are a materialist) you cannot without falling into homunculus fallacy (or some other fallacy) claim that the word "information" means what it means. You have to radically redefine this whole concept.
By the way, I would be curious what dr. Feser thinks about Stephen C. Meyer's argument that the DNA code is so obviously an information that it has to point to some mind behind it. I think that this whole ID argument is based on a misconception of taking a metapher (DNA is a code) and reading it too literally. But, on the other hand, if you are an aristotelian-thomist then everything in the material world is some kind of information, right?

I myself after reading dr. Feser's Philosophy of Mind (those parts which I could understand) am inclined to think that some kind of occasionalism is the most rational idea. After all, the way that Christian aristotelianism resolves the so called "interaction problem" is to me no resolution at all. Souls can still exist independently of the body (unless you are a 7th Day Adventist). If they can exist on their own after death, they are something different of the body before death, too. Yes, materialism is false, but how can christian aristotelianism escape the problems that Cartesianism have? Maybe non-christian (without soul's life after body's death) hylemorphism could do the trick. However for me, as a Christian this is unacceptable. At this point I find even Leibniz's monadology more acceptable than AT.