Monday, August 5, 2013

Eliminativism without truth, Part I


Suppose you hold that a good scientific explanation should make no reference to teleology, final causality, purpose, directedness-toward-an-end, or the like as an inherent and irreducible feature of the natural order.  And suppose you hold that what is real is only what science tells us is real.  Then you are at least implicitly committed to denying that even human purposes or ends are real, and also to denying that the intentionality of thought and the semantic content of speech and writing are real.  Scientism, in short, entails a radical eliminativism.  Alex Rosenberg and I agree on that much -- he defends this thesis in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality and I defend it in The Last Superstition.  Where we differ is over the lesson to be drawn from this thesis.  Rosenberg holds that scientism is true, so that eliminativism must be true as well.  I maintain that eliminativism is incoherent, and constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of the scientism that leads to it.  I responded to Rosenberg at length in a series of posts on his book.

In his paper “Eliminativism without Tears,” Rosenberg attempts in a more systematic way than he has elsewhere to respond to the charge of incoherence.  Rosenberg kindly sent me this paper some time ago, and I note that it is now available online.
 
Anyone interested in these matters should definitely give it a read.  Elsewhere Rosenberg has dismissed the incoherence charge as “puerile,” but here he characterizes it as “powerful” and “serious.”  Evidently, what he regards as puerile is the suggestion that eliminativism can quickly be refuted simply by attributing to the eliminativist the pragmatically self-contradictory belief that there are no beliefs.  As I have always acknowledged, Rosenberg is correct in holding that eliminativism cannot be refuted that easily.  The eliminativist can without difficulty simply avoid using “I believe that…” and similar locutions.  The real question is whether he can entirely avoid making use of notions which at least implicitly presuppose the intentionality and semantic content that eliminativism denies.  Rosenberg cites Lynne Rudder Baker’s Saving Belief as the “best” presentation of this more sophisticated sort of objection.  (I develop this sort of objection in the last chapter of The Last Superstition, and also in some of the posts linked to above.)

In this new paper, Rosenberg not only takes the problem seriously, but calls attention himself to the way certain notions that those beholden to naturalism might think unproblematic are unavailable to a consistent eliminativist.  In his understanding both of the implications of naturalism and the gravity of the problems facing certain defenses of it, Rosenberg simply outclasses not only its pop science advocates (Dawkins, Krauss, Coyne, Stenger, et al.) but also many of its philosophical defenders (such as Dennett, and the more aggressive among Thomas Nagel’s critics). 

That is one reason to read him.  Another, though, is to see just how miserably even the most careful defender of eliminativism fails to defend it against the charge of incoherence.  For fail miserably he does. 

Some background notions

Before looking at his arguments, some stage-setting is in order.  Following John Searle, we need to distinguish between derived intentionality, intrinsic intentionality, and as-if intentionality.  A sentence like “Snow is white” has intentionality insofar as it is about, points to, or is directed at something -- in this case, the state of affairs of snow’s being white.  But its intentionality is entirely derivative.  Intrinsically, the pixels, ink marks, or sound waves that make up such a sentence have no intentionality or meaning at all.  They have it only insofar as it is imparted to them by language users. 

The thought that snow is white also has intentionality insofar as it is about, points to, or is directed at the very same state of affairs.  Its intentionality, however, is intrinsic rather than derived.  While you might use the spoken or written sentence “Snow is white” to convey the thought, no one is using the thought to convey the thought.  As some Scholastic logicians would put the point, while the sentence “Snow is white” is both a sign and also something else -- a set of ink marks or noises or whatever -- the thought that snow is white is a sign that is just a sign and nothing else.  There is no gap here between vehicle and content, as there is between the ink marks or sound waves that embody a sentence on the one hand and its meaning on the other.  A thought, unlike a sentence, just is its content.

As-if intentionality, finally, is not really intentionality at all, but merely a convenient fiction.  When we say “The ball wants to get to the bottom of the driveway,” we don’t really mean that the ball literally has a desire to get to that particular spot.  We simply find it useful to describe it as if it did. 

A second distinction that needs to be made is one that Scholastic writers draw between strictly intellectual activity on the one hand, and mental imagery and the like on the other (the standard Scholastic term for which is “phantasms”).  To grasp the concept of triangularity, for example, is not the same thing as having a mental image of a triangle.  The concept in question is universal, applying to every triangle without exception, while a mental image of a triangle is always in some respects particular (black rather than green or blue, isosceles rather than equilateral or scalene, and so forth).  The concept is also determinate or exact in a way no mental image can be.  A mental image of a triangle with black borders, like a drawing of a black triangle, could stand for triangles in general, but it could also stand for black triangles in particular, or for a dunce cap, or for a triangular UFO.  There is nothing in the image itself that determines one way or the other what it is about.  But to have the concept of triangularity just is to have something that is determinately about triangles in general, and not about merely some particular triangle, or a dunce cap, or a UFO.

Similarly, to have the thought that snow is white is not merely to have a visual or auditory mental image of the English sentence “Snow is white” (even if it is usually associated with such an image).  A German speaker can have the same thought (that snow is white) that an English speaker has, but without having any visual or auditory image of the English sentence “Snow is white” (imagining instead a token of the German sentence “Schnee ist weiss”).  And an English speaker could have an auditory or visual mental image of the sentence “Snow is white” without having the thought that snow is white.  He might be thinking, not about the color of a certain form of precipitation, but instead about the pallor of a certain English intellectual.  (The point is as familiar to readers of Gottlob Frege and Alonzo Church as it is to Scholastics, and I have developed and defended it at length in my ACPQ article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”)

Finally, we need to distinguish an Aristotelian conception of mind and human nature from either a materialist conception or a Cartesian one.  From an Aristotelian point of view, the other two conceptions involve a fallacious tendency to reify abstractions and/or to attribute to parts of a human being what can properly be attributed only to the whole.  The Aristotelian regards a human being as a single, irreducible substance that takes in nutrients, grows, reproduces itself, moves itself about, senses the world around it, has various appetites, thinks, and wills.  Aristotelians regard thinking and willing as incorporeal activities and the other activities as corporeal ones, but it is the one substance that carries out both, and even those Aristotelians who think that the intellect survives the death of the body (such as Thomists) do not think that the separated intellect constitutes a complete substance in its own right, but rather the human being in a radically diminished state.  To use an analogy I’ve made use of before, just as a sentence is a single entity with both physically definable properties (such as the chemistry of the ink in which it is written) and properties not so definable (such as its semantic content) so too is a human being a single thing despite its radically different aspects.  (The difference being that a sentence is a kind of artifact and a human being is not.)

From an Aristotelian point of view, the Cartesian conception of human nature grotesquely distorts it in several ways.  First, it abstracts from matter its mathematically definable features -- ignoring aspects that are not so definable, such as substantial form, immanent teleology, and secondary qualities-- and then reifies this abstraction, redefining “matter” as that kind of stuff which has these mathematically definable features, and only those features.  Second, the Cartesian abstracts from human nature its mental aspects and then reifies them, resulting in the notion of a “thinking substance.”  Third, whereas the Aristotelian sees what is distinctive about our minds as their intellectual capacities, such as their capacity for grasping universally shared concepts, the Cartesian tends to focus on conscious awareness, understood as something private, directly knowable only via introspection.    Fourth, the Cartesian then slaps together his desiccated notion of matter and his reification of introspected conscious thought and calls the resulting aggregate a “human being.”  For the Aristotelian, this is a little like squeezing every last drop of juice out a certain piece of fruit, peeling off the skin, drying it out and throwing away the pulp -- then putting the dried out skin next to a glass of the juice and saying “An orange is what you get when you put this dried skin next to the glass.” 

The materialist, meanwhile, lops off the one abstraction (the thinking substance), keeps the other (the mathematicized redefinition of matter), and insists that only what is reducible to the latter is real.  He is like the man who says “No, no, an orange is just the dried out skin by itself,” considers this a great advance in understanding (backed by Ockham’s razor, no less), and accuses those who disagree with him of holding that an orange is an unwieldy composite of dried skin and glass of juice.  The right view, of course, is that an orange is what you had before the juice and pulp were squeezed out, and for the Aristotelian what a human being is (and indeed what natural substances in general are) are what we had before Cartesians and materialists got hold of them.  (Contemporary property dualism is essentially a middle ground position between materialism and Cartesianism, accepting their desiccated view of matter, and tacking on to it the “juice” but without the “glass.”)

Now, Rosenberg’s position crucially depends on a failure to make distinctions like these.  To be sure, he is well aware of Searle’s distinction between intrinsic and derived intentionality, and he is well aware also that a consistent eliminativist has resolutely to deny that either kind is real.  All the same, at the end of the day his position founders on a failure to pay sufficient attention to the notion of as-if intentionality.  In particular, Rosenberg mistakenly supposes he has the conceptual machinery to state the eliminativist position in a way that avoids incoherence, because he fails to see that his key concepts are ambiguous between cases of real intentionality of some kind (whether intrinsic or derived) and cases of mere as-if intentionality.  It is only if they have the former (real intentionality of one of the two kinds) that his crucial notions can possibly do the job he needs them to do -- to ground a distinction between information and misinformation, reality and illusion, truth and error -- but it is only the latter (mere as-if intentionality) that is actually compatible with his eliminativism.

Rosenberg also essentially conflates having a thought with having a phantasm (such as a visual or auditory mental image of some sort, whether of a word, a sentence, or of the thing thought about).  And he implicitly supposes that to reject a materialist account of mind entails adopting something like a Cartesian account.  As we’ll see when we turn to his arguments in a further post, when such ambiguities, conflations, begged questions, and false alternatives are exposed, those arguments turn out to have no force.

43 comments:

Scott said...

One thing I think Rosenberg is right about is that "brain states don't have propositional content," but even there he draws the wrong conclusion. James F. Ross would have taken that as a point in favor of the immateriality of mind.

ingx24 said...

Ed,

Since Aristotelians take sensation and imagination to be material faculties, does this mean that the Aristotelian conception of matter includes essentially private and subjective aspects as well as qualitative ones? This is something I've been confused about for a while, and I've never really gotten a clear answer.

Anonymous said...

Suppose you hold that a good scientific explanation should make no reference to teleology, final causality, purpose, directedness-toward-an-end, or the like as an inherent and irreducible feature of the natural order. And suppose you hold that what is real is only what science tells us is real. Then you are at least implicitly committed to denying that even human purposes or ends are real, and also to denying that the intentionality of thought and the semantic content of speech and writing are real.

Uh, no. There is still purpose, intentionality etc, as REDUCIBLE features of the natural order. This is of course both how science treats purposiveness and how the world actually is. I am not sure why this is so hard for some people to wrap their heads around.

Anonymous said...

Here come the vague and unsuccessful appeals to roombas and computers.

Also, Popper completely shut down any attempt at purely quantitative/causal explanations of intentionality. Just give it up already.

(See, I can use rhetoric too)

Crude said...

More materialist-smacking. This will be fun to read, and it's already off to an excellent start. Looking forward to more.

rank sophist said...

Interesting to see Rosenberg back to work after that beating you gave him. I look forward to your response to his essay.

ingx24,

Since Aristotelians take sensation and imagination to be material faculties, does this mean that the Aristotelian conception of matter includes essentially private and subjective aspects as well as qualitative ones?

I don't see how any of this is related. It does not follow from the materiality of sensation and imagination that matter contains private and subjective states. Remember: the only things that properly exist are substances; matter exists only insofar as it is contained within a substance. Substances (that is, animal substances) have subjective and private states, just as substances have qualities. Matter-as-such (i.e. prime matter) has no qualities or traits whatsoever--and it certainly does not have subjective experiences.

In any case, animal substances certainly do have subjective experiences, in particular through what Aquinas calls the "common sense" or apperception.

Anon at 9:28 PM,

There is still purpose, intentionality etc, as REDUCIBLE features of the natural order.

From a reductionist perspective, there is a very simple flaw in this idea. If intentionality is reducible, then there is a level at which it does not exist in any respect. However, if there is a level at which it does not exist in any respect, then it cannot emerge. To say otherwise is to suggest that intentionality comes from nothing, which is a contradiction. As a result, we have two options: A) that intentionality is real and appears at every level of reality or B) that intentionality does not exist at any level of reality. The claims that reductionism is true, that emergence exists and that intentionality is reducible are contradictory when stated together.

Crude said...

but it is only the latter (mere as-if intentionality) that is actually compatible with his eliminativism.

I actually wonder about this in principle. I understand the gist - you're just using an example when you say X is trying to Y - but the very act of describing as-if intentionality would require intrinsic or derived intentionality (and ultimately intrinsic).

I wonder if this is going to work into Ed's arguments in this series.

Anonymous said...

If intentionality is reducible, then there is a level at which it does not exist in any respect. However, if there is a level at which it does not exist in any respect, then it cannot emerge. To say otherwise is to suggest that intentionality comes from nothing, which is a contradiction.

I can't even begin to unpack the many leaps of illogic in the above. Suffice it to say, the argument has nothing specific in it about intentionality, so if it was valid (a big if there), it would imply that nothing could emerge and any property at all must exist at all levels of description.

CSC said...

Suffice it to say, the argument has nothing specific in it about intentionality, so if it was valid (a big if there), it would imply that nothing could emerge and any property at all must exist at all levels of description.

RS said if it does not exist "in any respect". Digestion is just matter in motion, ultimately - it's a particular kind of matter in motion, but in the act of reducing it, nothing fundamentally about what it is at the higher levels is lacking at the lower levels, if one is a materialist.

The problem with applying this to intentionality is obvious.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

Anon,

I can't even begin to unpack the many leaps of illogic in the above. Suffice it to say, the argument has nothing specific in it about intentionality, so if it was valid (a big if there), it would imply that nothing could emerge and any property at all must exist at all levels of description.

Yes, many leaps of illogic has been made, but not by RS (rank sophist). It is interesting that you cut out the first sentence in the paragraph you are citing, thus changing the point. (That sentence, is this: From a reductionist perspective, there is a very simple flaw in this idea.) The point made by RS was that to speak of intentionality (or anything) being reducible would mean that it didn’t really exist, from a reductionist perspective. For a reductionist, everything that is real must exist at any level, lest you get into contradictions (like stuff popping out of existence from nothing). RS did not say that nothing could emerge. It could, for example, be created. But that is not compatible with naturalism or reductionism.

George LeSauvage said...

1. I think it is a minor flaw that the example given for as-if intentionality uses an ambiguous use of "intention", as the example (“The ball wants to get to the bottom of the driveway,”) includes "wants", which is one use of "intention" (purpose). Wouldn't it be better to use an example where this is absent, and "intention" mean more clearly "meaning" (as distinct from symbol, sign, or reference).

2. I've never been clear about phantasms. When I first met the term, I read it as meaning more or less "sense data". But I can see that is wrong. A phantasm would seem to be of a coffee cup, not a white cylinder, etc. I've never gotten wholly clear about this, though.

3. I'm also unclear on EXACTLY what is meant be "determinate" in this context.

Can I get help here?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

In a causal chain/network, what physical properties determine if an object is represented by something else, and what physical properties determine if an object is representing something else?

Ismael said...

Uh, no. There is still purpose, intentionality etc, as REDUCIBLE features of the natural order. This is of course both how science treats purposiveness and how the world actually is. I am not sure why this is so hard for some people to wrap their heads around.


Uh.... NO.

Yes, reductive scientism, tries to 'reduce' intentionality and purpose and meaning to 'physical events', BUT only with the conclusion that meaning, intentionality, purpose and 'the self' itself are mere 'illusions'.

Some might argue that they are 'emergent properties', but NO true meaning and purpose and intrinsic intentionality can 'emerge'. They can only “emerge” as 'as if' intentionality, purpose, etc...

The point is that “emergent properties” have foundations in non-emergent properties. They are clearly mirrored in them.
For example self-replicating DNA is ‘emergent’ but can easily be traced and reduced to chemical reactions. Self replication is just a chemical reaction after all.
A self organizing monolayer (like a alkylthiol on a gold surface) can easily be reduced to several electrostatic forces. Self-organization is just another electrostatic interaction between many molecules.

Even the functioning of the eye or other very complex organs or systems ALSO can be mirrored in simple physical events.

With INTRINSIC ‘intentionality’, ‘meaning’, etc.. there is NO reduction. Intentionality is NOT just an electrochemical phenomena, nor it is mirrored in them. Mind not because these are ‘overly complex’, but because they are indeed fundamentally simple! (so it’s not like the ‘irreducible complexity of the eye’ I.D. supporters use… here’s there is a “fundamental simplicity”, rather).

If they could ‘emerge’ they could be at best ‘as if’, not ‘intrinsic’.

The problem (for reductionists) is that if we recognize meaning and intentionality, etc... in the first place it is NOT something 'as if'. ‘As if’ minds, would never really recognize such concepts in the first place.

We are not like a 'Siri App' that APPEARS to understand and just gives a response based on an algorithm, but in reality it is not even aware of doing so.

We are intrinsically aware and intrinsically have intentionality, understand meanings, etc… and that CANNOT be explained away.

Unless you think you are a Siri App… but if you think that you are not ‘as if’, if you were you would not think at all, only process inputs and give outputs.


The ‘eliminative reductionist’ is either lying or deluding himself… since he states a priori, with intentionality no less, that certain things are just illusions, but without being able to offer a shred of evidence for it (unless they invoke some sort of circular reasoning).

Ismael said...

(part deux)


This is of course both how science treats purposiveness and how the world actually is.

As a scientist I disagree. When dealing with inanimate objects as electrons, OK, true enough.

The ‘purpose’ of the electron to go from a high potential to a lower one is reducible. Yet no one argues the electron has purpose anyway, Only ‘as if’ purpose as Feser described.
It’s not I believe that the electrons are thinking something when they occupy a density of states according to the Fermi-Dirac statistics. Nor do I see any purpose in there.

Unless *I* do something to make the electrons move in a certain way… but then the purpose is mine, not the electrons.

The TRICK is that when I INTENTIONALLY set up an experiment, I do so in a way I can ignore any ‘intentionality’ of the system I study. There is none, except for my own.



Yet, as scientists, when it comes to ‘intentional beings’, we only examine the ‘dry skin of the orange’… not its juice. We just (intentionally) ‘ignore the juice’. It’s not there for us. We only look at ions passing through the neuron’s membrane and the potentials that are produced.
Neat… BUT hardly a ‘complete picture’.


When coming to the human mind things are different. You say “how the world actually is”… but here you are judging intentional beings by standards of simple inanimate objects. I am sorry but that’s circular reasoning . You ASSUME a priori that there is no intentionality and that becomes your conclusion as well.


HONEST neuroscientists are NOT as confident as you are in this reductive approach, or if they are they will admit we cannot really prove it yet.
Most neuroscientists either accept that there is something science cannot explain or, if they must abide by materialism (I guess most do), they take an ‘overly optimist’ approach, where they argue that ‘eventually’ they will explain everything, even if the more the explain the bigger the mystery seems to become and the bigger the gap between materialism and neuroscience seems to become as well.


EVEN IF there was really a way to reduce the mind and intentionality to physical properties alone (and that’s one huge IF, as big as a galaxy cluster at least!) we are not even nearly there to make such claims.

Reductionism is a claim with no empirical evidence that pretends to be a ‘scientific explanation’, while it is NOT.

---

I am not sure why this is so hard for some people to wrap their heads around.

Because some people are not willing to delude themselves with such an incoherent view of the world, I’d reckon.


I think reductive eliminativism is a sort of egotism.

Like ‘I am a scientist, so I must be able to understand everything through science’…

It’s like physicist claiming they are ‘close’ to a ‘theory of everything’. It’s 150 years that physicists make such claims (they did just before QM and Relativity were discovered as well!).

Today many physicists continue to make such claims, when evidence points out that we are not even close.

I guess the egos of some scientists are expanding with the universe.

dimwoo said...

Dr Feser, I find these elucidations of yours to be supremely clear, rigorous and illuminating. For me they are the richest and most nourishing intellectual food on the internet.
Not that I am tremendously well-read, but there you go - I am immensely grateful for your offerings.

mashsha'i said...

"Aristotelians regard thinking and willing as incorporeal activities and the other activities as corporeal ones, but it is the one substance that carries out both, [...]."

it'd be helpful if you clarify this, Dr. Feser, as i'm doubtful that it's correct. by "the one substance" i take it you mean the composite. if so, then we have a problem; for incorporeal activities only have the soul, not the body, nor the composite, as their subject. otherwise, the soul's separation from the body is jeopardized.

rank sophist said...

George,

I've never been clear about phantasms. When I first met the term, I read it as meaning more or less "sense data". But I can see that is wrong. A phantasm would seem to be of a coffee cup, not a white cylinder, etc. I've never gotten wholly clear about this, though.

Sense data is the raw material taken in by each of the senses. A phantasm is a mental representation that has been constructed by apperception out of that raw material. Raw data and phantasms both necessarily retain the form of the perceived object as intentional content, but we do not understand this content until the active intellect has abstracted it. Even after we abstract forms, though, it is impossible to think without turning to phantasms.

I'm also unclear on EXACTLY what is meant be "determinate" in this context.

Something is determinate if it is a specific thing or a representation of a specific thing. Determinacy is when something is (or is about) this and not that, as the law of identity requires. Without intentionality, no representation can be determinate, as Wittgenstein argued. Anyone who denies intentionality denies the determinacy of his own thinking and/or writing about intentionality, which means that his thinking and writing are not about anything in particular and that they therefore have no meaning.

Anon at 6:38 PM,

In a causal chain/network, what physical properties determine if an object is represented by something else, and what physical properties determine if an object is representing something else?

As Prof. Feser has argued, representation cannot exist within a physical system as materialists understand that term. To represent is to be about, and aboutness requires the placement of a certain form in multiple locations. Materialism has no forms, and so it cannot have aboutness, and so it cannot have representation. No purely physical property, in the materialist sense, is capable of representing anything.

Debilis said...

I thought it was worth mention that Dr. William Lane Craig, in his teaching class posted this week, references your critique of Rosenberg.

Specifically, he uses the "metal detector" analogy from that series (which I loved as well).

Craig's talk is here.

ingx24 said...

rank sophist,

Okay, let me rephrase my question a bit. What do Aristotelians mean when they say that sensation and imagination are "material"? Are they using a definition of "material" that does not discount the irreducibly private/subjective? My understanding of this subject is very confused and it would be very helpful to have a clear answer to this question.

Edward Feser said...

ingx24,

Yes, the "subjective/objective" divide is not how Aristotelians divide up the world. That's a contingent, Cartesian, epistemology-driven way of starting out one's metaphysics. It's often taken for granted these days, but for the Aristotelian it's just one modern philosophical prejudice among others that ought to be chucked out.

"Matter" for Aristotelians is first and foremost the underlying subject of change. It is also associated with quantity, but it is not to be reduced to its quantitative features, nor is there any reason to think that matter is "really" "nothing but" whatever the simplest material things exhibit. That is to say, there is no reason to think that features that higher sorts of material things possess -- such as life in the case of plants, and sensation in the case of animals -- must either be reducible to what the simplest sorts of material things possess, or, if not, must be immaterial. There are just irreducibly different kinds of material things. The human intellect is immaterial, not merely because it is irreducible to simpler kinds of material processes -- lots of material processes are irreducible to simpler kinds of material processes, that's no big whoop -- but rather because thought has features (such as universality and determinacy of content) that nothing material can have in principle, given such features of matter as its particularity. The ancient problem of universals is the right way to approach the mind-matter difference, not the modern Cartesian obsession with privacy, subjectivity, etc.

ingx24 said...

Ah, okay, that's what I thought. Thanks Ed.

Anonymous said...

Materialism has no forms, and so it cannot have aboutness, and so it cannot have representation. No purely physical property, in the materialist sense, is capable of representing anything.

If you define materialism as some kind of undifferentiated blob of goo, then yes, it can't do much. Unfortunately that is not what anybody means by materialism.

Anonymous said...

I doubt rank is calling materialism a prime matter-esque blob.

George LeSauvage said...

rank sophist:

Thanks. On determinate, I'm OK.

Not so much with phantasms. I have 2 problems.

1. I have trouble with "A phantasm is a mental representation that has been constructed by apperception out of that raw material." I had thought the phantasm was that out of which we construct, by abstraction, not something constructed. When walking my basset, we see a rabbit. We both have phantasms of the rabbit, right? Well, they may differ in detail, given different body types, and I don't smell anything. But that would seem to show that the phantasm is something pre-intellectual; otherwise she wouldn't have it.

2. "it is impossible to think without turning to phantasms." Surely this isn't ALWAYS true. What of math or logic. I might, of course, have the squiggles meaning "2" or "p" before me, but not always, and surely not essentially. (For one thing, someone else might be doing the same problem, but using "x" or "a".) I can see that I must get my ideas, even of numbers, originally from abstraction from phantasms. But having gotten them, do I still keep needing to go back? Or am I misreading you?

Mr Feser: In your response, you say "It is also associated with quantity, but it is not to be reduced to its quantitative features."

My understanding is that it is matter which enables this pen to be different from that pen, that is, it is matter which individuates substances. Is this correct? If so, quantity is a concept which is "higher" than matter; it is something about matter. Therefore matter cannot be reduced to quantity, as quantity presumes matter. Is this correct, or have I slipped up?

rank sophist said...

Anon at 1:18 PM,

I doubt rank is calling materialism a prime matter-esque blob.

That would be correct. Matter as understood by materialists is different from matter as understood by Aristotelians. I did mention prime matter above, but it was in a completely unrelated context.

George,

I had thought the phantasm was that out of which we construct, by abstraction, not something constructed. When walking my basset, we see a rabbit. We both have phantasms of the rabbit, right? Well, they may differ in detail, given different body types, and I don't smell anything. But that would seem to show that the phantasm is something pre-intellectual; otherwise she wouldn't have it.

I honestly don't know what Aquinas's position on apperception in animals is, so I can't comment. All I can say is that a phantasm is what our minds construct out of otherwise disparate sense information. Consider: there is nothing fundamentally related about sight and smell, for example. The "common sense" or apperceptive faculty is necessary for phantasms to come into existence, since it unifies the senses.

Raw sense information is certainly pre-intellectual, and you share this with your dog. But raw sense information is not a phantasm.

I can see that I must get my ideas, even of numbers, originally from abstraction from phantasms. But having gotten them, do I still keep needing to go back?

This is the position that Aquinas lays out very concretely in ST I q84 a7. He doesn't mention math in particular, but I think it's implicated as well.

Tony said...

George, you are quite right to push a bit about "always still going back to" the phantasms even for immaterial thought. Nevertheless, what Rank said is perfectly correct.

When you think about the theorem "The sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to the sum of 2 right angles", the "triangle" that is the subject of your purely intellectual thought is not determinate to being scalene, or equilateral, the theorem isn't ABOUT just one type of triangle so the thought is not about just one type of triangle. Still, when your intellect is busy with the thought "triangle", your imagination is at the same time busy with some phantasm that - for you - helps you consider the notion. That phantasm may be the sound of the word, or the look of the letters, or a floating 3-sided figure. If the sound, it will be a sound in some specific language even though the theorem is true in any and all languages. If the floating 3-sided figure, you will imagine that figure as some specific triangle, either a scalene or not, either colored or clear, either large or small, etc. These objects in the imagination are not the proper object of the intellect in carrying through the proof, or the proof would end up proving it of "scalene triangles" or something like that. But the intellect is (in this life, at least) incapable of performing the operation of thinking "triangle" without at the same time relying on the imagination to represent as a phantasm something that refers to triangle. That phantasm is necessary to the intellect even though it is not itself inherently part of the concept the intellect is grasping.

So, yes, both you and the dog have phantasms of the rabbit. The dog wouldn't be able to learn to "lead" the rabbit without a phantasm in his imagination.

As to the phantasm being "needed" and "essential", for angels it is not essential at all, and for man when (after death) he is a separated soul it would seem that God can enable the soul to transcend the requirement of using the imagination. That is presumably a miraculous intervention overcoming a natural deficiency.

One might suppose that in this life, the high-mystical experience of saints in union with God does not require or use the imagination, but at the same time (a) this is clearly the effect of grace, and (b) the very fact (imagination-less operation of mind) is is also why the experience cannot be described adequately to others - there is no common referent by which to convey.

Tony said...

Ah, Rank and I cross-posted. Sorry.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Honestly, you did a better job of explaining it than I did. I'm glad you posted.

George LeSauvage said...

Thank you both.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about your answers to this thought experiment. Let's say we have the capability of perfectly copying physical objects. We make a copy of a human being. Would this copy be alive/conscious/posessed of authentic intentionality? Feel free to argue with the premise of the thought experiment.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question. From a A-T standpoint, would the human be a substance or an artifact? That's what I'm not sure of since I'm not an expert. If the human was a substance, then (as I understand it) it would possess the form of a rational animal, and presumably intrinsic intentionality/life/soul as well.

George LeSauvage said...

I hope I'll be forgiven for reopening this. I'm still concerned about this:

"All I can say is that a phantasm is what our minds construct out of otherwise disparate sense information. Consider: there is nothing fundamentally related about sight and smell, for example. The "common sense" or apperceptive faculty is necessary for phantasms to come into existence, since it unifies the senses." (rank sophist)

This seems to me to sound kind of Kantian (and if so, there goes the neighborhood.). I went back to the Summa, and found these:

Q 76 A2: "Now in one intellect, from different phantasms of the same species, only one intelligible species is abstracted; as appears in one man, in whom there may be different phantasms of a stone; yet from all of them only one intelligible species of a stone is abstracted; by which the intellect of that one man, by one operation, understands the nature of a stone, notwithstanding the diversity of phantasms."


Q 85, Art 1: "Now in one intellect, from different phantasms of the same species, only one intelligible species is abstracted; as appears in one man, in whom there may be different phantasms of a stone; yet from all of them only one intelligible species of a stone is abstracted; by which the intellect of that one man, by one operation, understands the nature of a stone, notwithstanding the diversity of phantasms."

From this, it would seem that phantasms are not constructed, but just are in the senses. (The former would entail that Thomas is a kind of phenomenalist, the latter, a kind of realist; or so I read it.)

I think he means that we may have several phantasms of the same stone (common sense, presumably, enabling us to recognize them as of the same substance.) Further, that this doesn't just mean different phantasms for different senses, but several are possible for each sense (different views of the same tree.)

But I'm not too confident in my interpretation. I'm an old f*rt, trying to get back into this, and finding it difficult.

On a different note, I suspect that St Thomas, if confronted with modernity, would like the hyperlink best of all. Even more than readily available herring.

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"I suspect that St Thomas, if confronted with modernity, would like the hyperlink best of all. Even more than readily available herring."

Perhaps he'd like best of all the fact that they're not mutually exclusive, as this link demonstrates.

Tony said...

George, the phantasms can be the memory of (one or more) earlier actual sensation of a stone, or a constructed fiction in the imagination (from disparate elements of many other remembered prior sensations). But the operation, I think, that makes them the phantasm ready for the abstraction operation of the intellect is the RE-presentation of the images / sensations in a collected manner: The apperception under which the weight of the stone is connected with the roughness of the stone, with the smell of stone, and with the visual image of stone, into one conglomerate phantasm before the intellect. The construction of the conglomerate of all of these separate sensations is not a fundamentally immaterial operation, it is still wholly and totally individuated and resting solely on sense experiences in their sensory one-at-a-time factness. So I think that while the construction does not occur in any of the 5 senses, (the faculty of sight cannot be about smell) it is not an operation of the immaterial intellect, but rather of an INTERIOR physical faculty of sense, the "common" sense.

Daniel Smith said...

CSC: Digestion is just matter in motion, ultimately - it's a particular kind of matter in motion, but in the act of reducing it, nothing fundamentally about what it is at the higher levels is lacking at the lower levels, if one is a materialist.

I disagree with this. I don't think even digestion (or any other "as if" intentionality in nature) qualifies as something that can be reduced effectively.

The flaw in reductionism is that the farther down you go, the more alike things become.

How does the reductionist explain the fact that the electrons that constitute the digestive system act "as if" they want to work toward the goal of food digestion? How does, (as Ismael said), the tendency of the electron "to go from a high potential to a lower one" explain digestion?

Then again, how does the reductionist explain even THAT tendency? Is there something in quantum states and wave functions that explains why every electron acts "as if" it wants to go from a high potential to a lower one?

The discernible source of purpose gets more illusive the farther down we go.

This is the essence of Aquinas' Fifth Way - everywhere we look, things that can't think or desire act as if they do. Thus the mind of God.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I'd been thinking about how to describe the process to George, but you once again said it better than I could have. Full agreement.

George LeSauvage said...

Tony, first I see I stupidly re-pasted the 1st citation. The 2nd should have been:

Q 85, Art 1, ad 3:
"Reply to Objection 3. Colors, as being in individual corporeal matter, have the same mode of existence as the power of sight: therefore they can impress their own image on the eye. But phantasms, since they are images of individuals, and exist in corporeal organs, have not the same mode of existence as the human intellect, and therefore have not the power of themselves to make an impression on the passive intellect. This is done by the power of the active intellect which by turning towards the phantasm produces in the passive intellect a certain likeness which represents, as to its specific conditions only, the thing reflected in the phantasm. It is thus that the intelligible species is said to be abstracted from the phantasm; not that the identical form which previously was in the phantasm is subsequently in the passive intellect, as a body transferred from one place to another. "

The point I am puzzled by is this. Your description of "phantasm" seems to be our complete image of the thing perceived. (" The apperception under which the weight of the stone is connected with the roughness of the stone, with the smell of stone, and with the visual image of stone, into one conglomerate phantasm before the intellect.")

Now, I get the idea that common sense is what puts all this together. But does "phantasm" refer to that compound image in the common sense, or to the actual images as they are in the senses? That is, are phantasms that out of which the common sense creates our unified idea of an object, or are they those perceptions out of which the unified idea is compounded?

I can't help reading it as meaning the latter, as they are described as "in the senses" rather than, say "coming/derived from the senses".

" But phantasms, since they are images of individuals, and exist in corporeal organs..." would seem to entail that they are in the eye, ear, etc, and as such, are what we directly perceive, rather than compounds of some kind.

Again, the diversity of phantasms of a stone could mean either (a) phantasms of many stones, or (b) several phantasms of the same stone in the several senses, or (c) several of the same stone, from different perspectives. Or a combination of these.

The bottom line is this: I do not see how one can identify phantasms with sense data (which I admit I'd rather not do.) But the accounts you and RS are giving seem to me to imply that they are compounded of sense data, rather than being themselves what exist in the senses themselves. Which to me, sounds like a kind of phenomenalism. Our minds constructing images from the Kantian buzz of empty percepts.

It was a key point in my switching to Aristotle that he seemed to avoid this empiricist trap. But as I read it, you are saying I managed to run on Charybdis, seeking to avoid Scylla.

Tony said...

George, I think that "phantasm" refers broadly to any sensory-type object in the imagination, whether of just one single sense-type (just visual image) or a compound of many sense-types (image, sound, smell, etc).

I think that the key here is to remember that the imagination is a physical faculty, residing in physical organs, which uses and involves the use of "images" (taking that term broadly to include sensations of sounds, smells,etc.) but does not employ them in the same manner as the actual sense by which those sensory images are first experienced. The eye and brain together are the physical seat of the faculty of sight, whereby a person first experiences a color. The imagination is also seated in physical organs, presumably the brain, and also operates by way of re-"presenting" individual sensory objects, the difference being of course that in the imagination the sensory objects are re-presented not as coming from without, but as being constructed from memory of past sensed objects. The operation of construction is merely piecing together of individual sensory data, there is nothing intellectual happening (yet). The accidental forms (colors, sounds, etc) in the imagination are identical in mode (entirely individual) to those in the sense faculties, only their source is different.

The mind uses the imagination, but the mind is not identical to the imagination doing these constructive operations. The mental faculties of the active intellect and passive intellect operate on these phantasms of the imagination by abstracting the intelligible species from them. Thus the SPECIES resides in the passive intellect, which is a "likeness" to the thing sensed that is different in mode to the mode in which the likeness rests in the sense or in the imagination, it rests under the mode of a universal, not a particularized object.

At least, that's my understanding of Aristotle and St. Thomas on the subject. Possibly they use phantasm in a slightly different sense.

George LeSauvage said...

Tony, I'm still unclear. You refer to "the imagination doing these constructive operations. The mental faculties of the active intellect and passive intellect operate on these phantasms of the imagination".

To my mind, that means that a phantasm is something constructed in our imagination. (I understand that this doesn't mean that imagination = mind = soul. And also that this would be something other than recognizing the form.) Thus, "image" = "phantasm"? Or so it would seem.

But if this be true, then how can the phantasms be in our senses? They would, it seems, be in our common sense or imagination, on this account.

And again, isn't this a type of phenominalism? If not, why not?

Tony said...

I suspect that there is a slight equivocation going on with "phantasm". I think that the standard sense of it is the sensory-type impression in the common sense or imagination, but that in an extended sense it also may refer to the impression as it resides in the sense faculty itself when that faculty is sensing the thing perceived. Either way, the "phantasms" always refer strictly to impressions received under the individuated mode of a physical organ. I am not sure, for the citations you gave of St. Thomas, that it even matters whether the phantasms reside in the sense faculty or in the imagination. In both cases that means a physical organ, which is his point.

But phantasms, since they are images of individuals, and exist in corporeal organs, have not the same mode of existence as the human intellect, and therefore have not the power of themselves to make an impression on the passive intellect.

applies just as well to phantasms in the imagination as in the sense faculty.

Now in one intellect, from different phantasms of the same species, only one intelligible species is abstracted; as appears in one man, in whom there may be different phantasms of a stone; yet from all of them only one intelligible species of a stone is abstracted; by which the intellect of that one man, by one operation, understands the nature of a stone, notwithstanding the diversity of phantasms

may refer to different events of having the sense impressions - one last week, one yesterday, one right now, even though perhaps all of the same sort of sense impression - as much as input from different senses on the same object. The issue is that the sense impressions or phantasms can differ in NUMBER but not in SPECIES, so that that which individuates species - i.e. matter - is the substrate for receiving apprehensions under the mode that pertains to difference in number, but not under the mode of apprehension of difference in kind.

rank sophist said...

George,

I think the confusion is over multiple definitions of "phantasm". After further reading, I was reminded that a phantasm can be constructed (i.e. a combination of several discrete perceptions) or non-constructed (i.e. a discrete perception). The key to phantasms is that they are memories of perceptions, rather than perceptions proper. A perception proper is the moment when a sensible species of the perceived object appears in the sense organ; a phantasm is a memory of this sensible species. Intelligible species are abstracted from constructed phantasms, i.e. complete rather than partial representations.

The reason that this does not lead to phenomenalism is that Aquinas is a kind of externalist. There is a necessary connection between the perceived object and our perception, and, from the start, the sensible species contains the form (as an intelligible species) of the thing perceived.

George LeSauvage said...

I confess I am now confused. I'll just have to dig out my copy of the commentary on de Anima.

Any links to suggest?

Thanks

machinephilosophy said...

How can any universal self-inclusive theory be true, if according to its own assertion truth is merely the product of the comprehensively explaining or determining factors that the theory itself specifies?

In other words, what's the criteria for saying the theory is "true" instead of merely saying that the theory is "determined by the specified factors"?

The truth value of such reductionist theories seems to get a special arbitrary exemption from those specified factors to which all else is reduced.