Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Morrissey on Scholastic Metaphysics


At Catholic World Report, Prof. Christopher Morrissey kindly reviews my book Scholastic Metaphysics.  From the review:

The great strength of Feser’s book is how well it exposes the shortcomings of the speculations of contemporary analytic philosophy about the fundamental structures of reality. The most recent efforts of such modern philosophical research, shows Feser, are remarkably inadequate for explaining many metaphysical puzzles raised by modern science. In order to properly understand the meaning of humanity’s latest and greatest discoveries, such as quantum field theory in modern physics, an adequate metaphysics is urgently required, now more than ever…

Feser has a notable flair for being both witty and engaging and for using entertaining and vivid examples. The book demands much from the reader’s intellectual abilities, but like reading St. Thomas Aquinas himself it is always rewarding and exhilarating. Page after page, insight after insight piles up—so many that if you have any philosophical curiosity at all, you simply cannot stop reading.

End quote.  By the way, if you are not familiar with Prof. Morrissey’s various web pages devoted to topics of interest to regular readers of this blog (such as this one, this one, this one, and this one), you should be.  I have found them a very useful resource over the years.   

238 comments:

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Anonymous said...

To tell the truth, I was hoping for an 80s rock reference in the post somewhere...

Alan Aversa said...

Yes, Prof. "MoreC" (☺) maintains an excellent website, filled with copious links. I really like his Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy of the Human Person quiz.

Daniel said...

Ahh how serendipitous! I'd recently bought a copy of that gentleman's Hesiod translation to read whilst on holiday next week. I'm glad that he is also an enthusiast of Voegelin, the greatest philosopher of History and (perhaps) Comparative Religion the modern world has yet seen.

bitvast said...

Nice review. You could say that modern science's radical escape from the fallacy of consequence (if A, then B - therefore if B, then A) is to deny, following Kant, that "true" or proper causes are knowable. As long as the "laws" satisfy appearances and deliver results (reliable predictions), it doesn't matter whether they're true or not; just "shut up and calculate".

Mogwai said...

Odd... One day I see Feser treating Morrissey to a free meal of meatloaf at Joyce's Supper Club.... The next day Morrissey is penning a review on how great Fesers new book is. Hmmmm

The Irish Thomist said...

@Ed

To me you are one of the better Thomistic Metaphysicians out there writing on the topic today and I look forward to finally getting a copy of this book. You did well with the philosophy of mind too which makes me enthusiastic about topics you might cover in the future.

Things I would love to see you write about (in book form) are the other great Scholastic and Neo-Scholastic thinkers from your Thomistic position ( something you do a little of in that book). Also your opinions on many schools of thought from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Joseph Ratzinger (Ben XVI), Karol Wojtyla (JP II) to Dietrich von Hildebrand.

I guess the Philosophy of Nature, Natural Moral Law vis-à-vis Personal Human Rights (and the history), Epistemology, Thomism and QM, and more 'urgent', The Philosophy of Science [including why it is justified by philosophy, is philosophical and came from it] would all be topics writers like yourself and other Thomists would most likely aim for at some stage in the future?

JohnV said...

Someone help me out?
Is there a post on here by Feser, or could someone explain to me the idea that there aren't independent laws of nature that all matter within the universe abides to....
that it's just the nature of the thing.

What I mean is...
It's not that a stone falls to the earth with a certain velocity because it's following an independent law.
But that it's just in the nature of a stone to fall to earth at a certain velocity.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Feser,

This is probably off-topic, but I'm not sure how else to ask. I was wondering how regeneration and healing pertain to an A-T worldview. Specifically, consider the following thought experiment. Suppose there were a person with a special body that could regenerate lost body parts to a 'normal' state. If it lost an arm, that arm would grow back quickly. Losing both legs, it would grow back. If it lose its lower body, it would regrow it as if nothing happened.

What if this hypothetical body were to lose his head, but then regrows it? Would the person 'die' when the head is destroyed, or would the person stay alive because his body is still working as intended?

Christian said...

Hey Dr. Feser,

I thought you might also like to know that some of the graduate philosophy students here at Fordham are thinking about doing a reading group on Scholastic Metaphysics. Needless to say, I was pumped!

Scott said...

"To tell the truth, I was hoping for an 80s rock reference in the post somewhere..."

Something like this, perhaps?

Paul Amrhein said...

@John V

You might want to check out Bas VanFraasen's *Laws and Symmetry*. He argues that laws (of nature) are unnecessary (inflationary).

Professor Feser recently praised Stephen Mumford's *Laws In Nature* which is in my queue, but as yet unread.

dover_beach said...

"I thought you might also like to know that some of the graduate philosophy students here at Fordham are thinking about doing a reading group on Scholastic Metaphysics. Needless to say, I was pumped!"

Christian, I'm very interested in the same. I was thinking of starting up a scholastic reading group here in NYC myself and beginning with Feser's great introduction. If they or yourself are interested you can contact me via my website; in addition, or alternatively, let me know about what is happening at Fordham. I'm going to mention this at the Thomistic Discussion Group on facebook as I know there are a few in or around NYC that may be similarly interested.

P.S. I received my copy last week at it's been a real treat so far. My only complaint, minor though it is, is that the title on the spine is printed bottom to top.

Scott said...

@JohnV:

"Someone help me out?"

It sounds like your understanding is just fine, but if you search this blog for the phrase "natural law" you'll find some helpful posts.

The basic idea is just what you said: a falling rock doesn't fall "because" it's following a "law"; the law just describes the way the rock tends to behave under certain conditions as a consequence of its essence or nature.

JohnV said...

Thanks for the help Paul and Scott.
This is so interesting. I've never heard this before.

Well, I had a teacher who was saying something to mock the idea that things had final causes. Saying that essentially "a bunch of dumb people in the past used to think that things behaved the way they did because it was in their nature.... and not because they were following the laws of physics" (not in these words of course).

But he sounded so confident. I don't really have a horse in this race (yet) but I asked him, "why is the idea so funny? Why is it so much more funny than things in nature following laws that are independent of them?".

He brushed off my question initially but I pushed him on it further.
"You're saying that this is so clearly false that things behave the way they do because it's within their nature.... and that it's so plainly obvious that they behave the way they do because they're moving here and there, behaving this way and that way because of some independent laws of nature. But you can't point to these independent laws like you're pointing to a string holding up a fishing hook. We're just supposed to accept that there is this invisible, nuanced matrix of laws that tell and force all of the objects in the universe how to act. You're creating an invisible, unchanging thing to account for the behavior of everything else. Don't you find that just as crazy if not more crazy than things following what is within own nature to do?"

I was a bit stunned at his reply.
It pretty much was saying that since inanimate matter isn't conscious it can't act according to any nature it may have. I'm looking around the class and wondering why no one is noticing how crappy of a reply this was. And that he didn't even notice how crappy it was.

I asked, "if you're saying that things in the universe can't 'act' according to their nature because they can't consciously deliberate an action... does that mean you're going to give these invisible laws of nature that don't change the trait of being conscious and being able to purposefully act in one way or another?"

A philosophy professor who is clearly an atheist giving the laws of nature such power.... amazing.

Even more amazing that the other students didn't see how he was painting himself into a corner.

JohnV said...

Oh yeah, there also seemed to be something so short sighted in his thought process that the only way for something to act 'according to its nature' was that thing to be conscious and to be volitional.

Mr. Green said...

JohnV: A philosophy professor who is clearly an atheist giving the laws of nature such power.... amazing.

Indeed; though not completely unexpected. (The unfortunate ignorance of Aristotelianism 101 isn’t unexpected either.) There is a reason why different philosophical and religious traditions from around the world converge on certain ideas: that the Ultimate Being is something infinite, eternal, all-powerful, and so on. Because of course that is where reason inescapably leads. If you want the universe to be “ultimate”, then you end up having to conjecture some sort of infinite, extra-temporal, all-causing “multiverse”, or whatever you want to call it — and frankly, the only reason certain folks are so dead-set on not simply calling it “God” is because of the Scholastic success in demonstrating that this Entity ends up necessarily being awfully like the Judeo-Christian concept of God. People don’t mind the unbounded power and all… it’s only when God turns out to be concerned with our moral rectitude (or lack thereof) that anyone suddenly gets his knickers all knotted.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: What if this hypothetical body were to lose his head, but then regrows it? Would the person 'die' when the head is destroyed, or would the person stay alive because his body is still working as intended?

As you’ve presented the scenario, the person would stay alive — that is, if his body really is working properly, then he is injured, but not dead. Of course, that could hardly happen with human biology, but there’s no metaphysical problem with such a situation being possible for some other kind of creature in some other kind of world.

I suppose it’s also possible instead that losing a head could cause some peculiar creature to die, and the body’s growing a new head would actually constitute the “birth” of a new person — not entirely unlike certain worms which can be cut in half and produce a new, second worm. But note that when the first scenario occurs in a story like Men in Black, we have no problem taking it for granted that the being who loses and regenerates his head remains the self-same person.

Anonymous said...

@Scott

I was thinking along the lines of Christopher Morrisey photoshopped as lead singer of The Smiths.

The Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

That could have been arranged only I can't post pictures in a comment.

Curio said...

While browsing the web for the best deal on Feser's latest, I came across this.

http://www.transactionpub.com/title/The-ABC-of-Scholastic-Philosophy-978-3-86838-521-2.html

WTF is this?

Tom said...

@Curio: It looks like a real book, as its page on Amazon can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/The-ABC-Of-Scholastic-Philosophy/dp/1164511904

Maybe the guy needed a standard image? I'm not sure what (if anything) this means legally.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Curio & Tom

I rather think it's a standard design of the publisher. Look at all the books on top:
http://www.editiones-scholasticae.de/

@JohnV & Irish

I just ended a debate with an Atheist who were so shocked of me bringing up Essentialism, as he compared it to me trying to convince him that the world really was flat.

Much time later, I got him to admit that his own positivsm left his own philosophy in mid-air though, without being able to justify pretty much anything.

Guess Essentialism didn't sound that bad any more! :)

And this guy just finished a master's degree in philosophy. I guess Norwegian philosophy need some serious shaking.

Santi said...

Prof. Feser,

I recently purchased your book on Metaphysics (and have read three of your other books), but have you read yet Michael Graziano's book offering an evolutionary explanation of consciousness? I've never stumbled upon you speaking to it, but I found the book stunning. Graziano teaches neuroscience at Princeton, and his theory of consciousness sounds plausible to me (and to Patricia Churchland). No woo, with a sound explanation for how and why evolution would have brought it into existence in the first place (as a schematic modeling device for managing computational information and communicating it across social settings). Locating mind in social interaction rather than metaphysics strikes me as something you would naturally be interested in reflecting upon at some point. Anyway, a heads up if you don't already know of it.

Scott said...

"WTF is this?"

It's legit; I own a copy of it (from a different publisher).

saptosyrup said...

kShould the inductive fallacy lead a scientist to accept final causes?

It seems like the problem with induction would lead any scientist to be forever frustrated with making bold claims about the laws of nature.

Their experiment in whatever discipline yields a limited amount of data points. But they reach from those data points to general realities of the universe. However, the inductive fallacy tempers to the point of making impossible ever having such confidence that ones data points can ever lend itself to general claims about the nature of reality.

It seems that this is only done away with if one assumes that final causality is real and that objects in the universe have a nature and that that nature is directed towards certain ends.

Daniel said...

@Thomists and other readers,

Random off-topic question: would you count Brian Leftow as an Analytical Thomist? A number of sources do and he certainly seems to fall into the Classical Theist camp.

Weir said...

How can it be said that some things don't have certain potentials?
In TLS Feser uses an example that a ball doesn't have the potency to bounce over the moon.

Or to use another example take an acorn. He said it has a limited potency and that its end is directed towards becoming a tree.

However, the atoms that make up that acorn are the same that make up an elephant. So, there is indeed the potential that an acorn could become an elephant.... or because of the size disparity that a bunch of acorns could become an elephant; by simply moving the atoms around.

Same goes for anything to have the potential to become anything.

Isn't it arbitrary for the A-T person to just limit the potency of a thing to that which is 'usually' noticed?
Since the same building blocks make up everything, then anything has the potency to become anything.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Weir

Well, all substances are made up of matter and form, so in a sense you're right, but perhaps not in the way you may think.

Matter is what makes a form actual. However, form is what limits the potentiality of a substance. Matter without form (prime matter) could turn into pretty much anything physical, so I'm not quite sure even you know what you're asking for.

Could matter actualize both a ball, an acorn and an elephant?
- Sure!

Could the substance of an elephant have the potentialities of the substance of a ball?
- No way!

But sayin' that an acorn or elephant is "just a bunch of atoms" arranged in a certain way, doesn't make any sense. There's also a qualitative level above this quantitative story.

Does that make it more clear?

Anonymous said...

@Santi,

I would be interested to know more about Michael Graziano's book - is it a form of functionalism (if a novel one at that)?

Having read Graziano and Feser, how do you think a Thomist might respond?

I'm not sure a positive endorsement from Churchland is an especially encouraging fact!

''Almost invariably I find that I hurl books on consciousness to the floor midway through. Not this one.'' (Churchland, taken from blurb)

The irony!

Daniel Joachim said...

@Anon

Surely, Churchland meant something like:
Every time gravity determines my motor neurons to turn this piece of ink and paper, with derived meaning all the way through, to its middle, the stimuli of its photons make the chemicals in my brain overflow, so I really have no other choice than to let my motor neurons fire, activating my arm to throw it downwards. Not that I ever could have chosen otherwise anyway...or really had an experience of reading.

I'll let some chemist sort out the details.

Anonymous said...

Another Anon here.

Looking at Graziano's writings, including some of his own commentaries on his book, I think it fits a pattern that's common with some typical materialist explanations of mind/consciousness, and the pattern involves a trick.

Very early in they say, "Alright! Time to give a theory of consciousness. Now, everyone knows that consciousness and the 'hard problem' and all that is about subjective experience and so on. But if we define it that way the problem seems totally intractable for materialism! Anyway, I think consciousness is actually (computation/brain state/some other already third-person mechanistic function or state). Now, I'm going to explain how consciousness (as I just, very quickly, defined it) probably works."

From there on the explanation or book gives more detail, some of it well written, some of it cool, some of it fascinating (and sometimes, some of it dull or pretentious). But all of it hinges on the initial redefinition of consciousness that no one should accept. And often this redefinition comes explicitly because "we can't solve it the way I want if consciousness is THAT".

By all appearances, Graziano makes the same move. Consciousness is data processing in the brain, self-consciousness is just a brain processing data about itself, and data processing is fundamentally not at all unlike what a computer does. Does this not seem to solve much of anything relating to consciousness? Well, your problem is probably that you have a magical definition of consciousness. You're probably appealing to your own experience, but who can trust that? Just forget all your experiences, remove every aspect of your definition that's in principle problematic for reductionist materialism, and voila. Now you have a solvable problem (for the reductionist, the materialist)!

So if you redefine a problem to be easy and leave out anything that's potentially problematic for your preferred tools and methods, it's an easy problem? Amazing.

The worst part of this sort of move is that the proponents justify it in part in the name of properly appreciating science, with the suggestion being that if anyone thinks science (or rational thinking) currently omits some important details. I don't only think this is wrong... I think the opposite is the case. By drawing what amounts to a line in the sand and saying "our philosophy/science can't possibly be wrong or incomplete, so the starting point has to be that it's right and to try and solve the problem from there", they're taking on the attitude of geocentrists going up against critics.

But at least geocentrists were able to work with epicycles from the get-go. Reductionist materialists can't even do that.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Random off-topic question: would you count Brian Leftow as an Analytical Thomist?"

I would.

@Weir:

"[T]he atoms that make up that acorn are the same that make up an elephant. So, there is indeed the potential that an acorn could become an elephant[.]"

The atoms may have that potency, but the acorn doesn't—and neither do its atoms while they're busy being the atoms of an acorn.

As Daniel Joachim has said, the acorn is something over and above its atoms—so much so that, according to Aristotelian Thomism, its atoms exist only "virtually" (in the sense that they have the potential to be extracted from the acorn even though it's the acorn that really exists).

"Isn't it arbitrary for the A-T person to just limit the potency of a thing to that which is 'usually' noticed?"

A-T doesn't limit potencies in that way at all. What potencies a substance has is an empirical question; if it turned out tomorrow that acorns could fly, that would be (very) surprising, but not contrary to A-T.

Weir said...

Daniel,

Yeah. That does make some sense.
The more I think of my Act/Potency skepticism the more it seems that it would make everything unintelligible.

I'm not certain if I completely agree with the AT notion of Act/Potency.
But what you are saying makes some sense to me.

The prime matter that composes all with Form and Matter could conceivably be anything. But the Form (substantial form?) is what determines the nature of a thing and therefore that Form/Nature limits the potentials inherent in that thing.

As I'm typing that out it seems super interesting to me.

I was coming from the bottom up. Building up from the bits and pieces that make reality. However, that seems kind of short sighted. Because I know in my day to day experience that I see Form. So while there's a 'bottom up' view.... there's a 'top down' view that makes those bits and pieces (prime matter??) intelligible.
And hence limiting the range of potency for a given form.


That's some interesting stuff.
I have never, never, never, never, never, never heard any of this stuff before in college.

Weir said...

Thanks Scott.
That kind of clears it up even a bit more for me.

""the acorn is something over and above its atoms—so much so that, according to Aristotelian Thomism, its atoms exist only "virtually"""

The more I think about this::
So, if it was dictated by the bottom up view then everything would be in flux all the time.

rocks changing into trees. cats changing into water.
Because all of that potential is there in the atoms that constitute that stuff.. but that's not what happens.

The potential of all of that stuff is confined. And it's confined by the form.

Ha! This is making sense.

Scott said...

@Weir:

Yep, I think you've got it.

If you want to follow up on this stuff, Ed's your man.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Weir

Glad to hear it.

I think most of the people here went through some revelation at some point, that bottom-up really doesn't make any sense. How come then, that things are unique, member of certain genus, with distinct properties and causal powers that can never be explained as an aggregation of fundamental homogeneous parts? How come that our mind somehow can read of the meaning of their "substance"?

"Modern" thought seems so rational as long as we can beg all the important questions, until we explore some more and discover that it's really completely irrational.

I concur Scott's recommendation. Top it all of with Scholastic Metaphysics afterwards, and you'll be well equipped to see straight through some of our modern nonsense.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Consciousness is data processing in the brain, self-consciousness is just a brain processing data about itself, and data processing is fundamentally not at all unlike what a computer does. Does this not seem to solve much of anything relating to consciousness? Well, your problem is probably that you have a magical definition of consciousness. You're probably appealing to your own experience, but who can trust that? Just forget all your experiences, remove every aspect of your definition that's in principle problematic for reductionist materialism, and voila. Now you have a solvable problem (for the reductionist, the materialist)!

If you begin by saying that consciousness is only accessible from the first-person standpoint, and that it can't be translated into the third-person standpoint, then all you're saying is that consciousness cannot be explained.

That's not because consciousness is metaphysically weird, but because you've denied that consciousness can be studied from the third-person point of view at all.


Anonymous said...

If you begin by saying that consciousness is only accessible from the first-person standpoint, and that it can't be translated into the third-person standpoint, then all you're saying is that consciousness cannot be explained.

But the bolded portion hasn't been said here. The only person who's insisting what consciousness absolutely has to be (because otherwise his metaphysics is threatened) is Graziano himself.

If you look at his Huffington Post article, it's pretty telling that the first thing Graziano does in presenting his view is A) Define anything other than (reductionist!) materialism as "magic" and B) ruling out introspection, and presumably personal experience, entirely from the outset.

That's not because consciousness is metaphysically weird, but because you've denied that consciousness can be studied from the third-person point of view at all.

Graziano isn't trying to study consciousness and, lo and behold, he's discovering it's entirely reducible to wholly mechanistic/material 'stuff' after all. He's saying from the outset what consciousness has to be and immediately defining it to be just that mechanistic state/process. So the only person really guilty of the sort of thing you're describing is, again, Graziano himself.

To hold a mirror up to your words: If you begin by saying that consciousness must be reducible and material, and that it's unacceptable for it to be anything else, then you're deciding what you'll discover before you even begin investigating. That's not because consciousness is metaphysically compatible with reductionist materialism, but because [the person in question] has radically, and unjustly, restricted the possibilities from square one.

Santi said...

Anonymous asked me to speculate on how a Thomist might respond to Graziano. First, I think it's important to understand exactly Graziano's thesis, which is this: sociality is linked to awareness. No social animal; no aware animal. Awareness is a schema (a simple map; a description) of a moment of attention that can be communicated to others. That moment of attention that can be communicated to others also loops back as communication to oneself. "I am a strange loop."

Put another way, attention is the bubbling up from the modular brain of something complex that awareness simplifies: "I'm seeing a tiger in the distance; I feel danger." That reporting of awareness going forward to others and backwards onto yourself in turn impacts what bubbles into awareness next. No mystery of how the mind and brain interact because mind is a schema of the brain. The schema is not a metaphysical thing, it's a social thing; a placeholder; a simplifier for a computational brain to keep track and store its own operations. The schema is reported forward to other brains, and reported back to one's own brain.

So the schema simplifies memory storage. The schema is what the brain records in memory as a moment of attention. It can even influence, because the brain can see it as a mental picture, the next thing to bubble up in the brain itself. (An image or memory of a tiger is as good as a tiger in stimulating certain parts of the brain.)

So if Graziano is in the ballpark of right, Thomism makes little sense. Graziano has replaced Thomas's sky hook with the crane of social communication. He makes sense of why the brain would arrange itself in this way (for efficient memory storage and efficient message delivery to other brains), and it seems to solve the metaphysical conundrum (how mind could influence a modular brain's next moment of attention).

Graziano has a fascinating YouTube in which he interacts with a ventriloquist dummy as illustration of his thesis. You might want to watch that and ask yourself where mind is located if our brains are in fact projecting schema for communication onto moments of attention.

Santi said...

Here's the YouTube I'm thinking of:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peHcu8LEgEE

Anonymous said...

The schema is not a metaphysical thing, it's a social thing; a placeholder; a simplifier for a computational brain to keep track and store its own operations. The schema is reported forward to other brains, and reported back to one's own brain.

It's still a "metaphysical thing", and you're also illustrating why explanations like these consistently fail: to reduce the mind to matter, you make use of mental language. The brain "computers". It "reports". It communicates, it explains... but it's the experience of receiving and communicating and understanding and the first person view that we're asking to explain.

Which Graziano doesn't even try to explain, because he ignores it purposefully from the start.

Graziano has replaced Thomas's sky hook with the crane of social communication.

Graziano's magic doesn't really work here. And, for our edification: can you explain, in your own words, the Thomist view?

it seems to solve the metaphysical conundrum (how mind could influence a modular brain's next moment of attention).

That's not the metaphysical conundrum. It's not even in the ballpark of an answer to the major questions of mind that are central here.

It is, really, exactly what I said it is: "Here are the difficult questions about the mind. Gosh, they seem totally intractable for a materialist explanation. But wait, what if we just ignore all that, forbid those questions from being asked because they lead to a conclusion I don't like, and change the question from "How to explain subjective experience?" to "How to explain mechanistic operation"? That's easy. See, I solved the problem."

No wonder Churchland likes it. It's the roughly the same non-answer they've been pitching for a while now.

Santi said...

So the above was prelude to answering Anonymous's question of how a Thomist might answer Graziano. From what I can tell, the Thomist answers Graziano by saying, "But awareness is not a mere representation of attention, but real, an essence!" To which Graziano might reply: "You're making a category mistake. Awareness is a representation of attention, not a literal entity in your head. You're mistaking a rope for a snake."

So who is right? The one who says there's a real snake in the head (a real mind in the head), or the one who says that when social brains communicate to one another and loop back on themselves, we're dealing with representations; with ropes, not snakes. For Graziano, the "hard problem" of a snake in the head (how could mere neurons firing make a reptile in the head or a real mind?) is a category mistake. We're just dealing with the representation of a snake for efficient internal and external communication, not a snake.

When we speak of mind, communicating about it from one brain to another (and when the brain is aware of its own attention, and speaks to itself about it schematically), we're in the realm of the social, not the metaphysical.

I don't know how Thomists adequately counter this. It really could be that Thomism has simply made a category mistake. I'll be curious to hear what Feser says (should he ever address Graziano).

Graziano's thesis is far more broadly explanatory of brain-mind evolution and interaction than Thomism. In other words, Graziano's theory accords with evolution; it makes sense of why awareness would evolve in a social species; and it makes sense of how mind could interact with brain (and derive from the brain). It makes a lot of sense.

Feser would have to dismantle these layers of sense--and replace them with a theory that makes better sense.

But Thomism provides no such theory. It lacks explanatory power surrounding: (1) the evolution of mind; and (2) the interaction of brain and mind. It gets all of its plausibility from keeping these in the realm of mystery. Graziano brings these into the realm of plausible natural and social explanation, and is thus quite a threat to Thomism.

Anonymous said...

From what I can tell, the Thomist answers Graziano by saying, "But awareness is not a mere representation of attention, but real, an essence!"

So what you mean is, you actually have no idea what Thomists have to say. Alright.

We're just dealing with the representation of a snake for efficient internal and external communication, not a snake.

It's a pity that a "representation" is just one more thing that requires a mind. And once again, this is something we've seen repeatedly from these sorts of explanations: namely, that they aren't explanations at all.

I don't know how Thomists adequately counter this.

No kidding.

Look, Santi. I have a suggestion: before you start talking about what Thomists need to counter or not, maybe what you should actually do is... read what Thomists have to say. Read up about metaphysics in general. Don't just show up here and think "I don't have to read any of their articles or their books or even know what they have to say, I can just link to some book and say it's devastating, maybe repeat some of that skyhook/crane stuff I read from Dennett, and I'll have them!" Because we're going to ask you questions, we're going to see what you even understand about the topic, we're going to make criticisms... and saying "But it's the social not the metaphysical!" isn't going to provide much of a reply.

Read about Thomism before criticizing it, Santi. Then you'll be well on your way to understanding why Churchland is a joke around here.

Jeremy Taylor said...


So who is right? The one who says there's a real snake in the head (a real mind in the head), or the one who says that when social brains communicate to one another and loop back on themselves, we're dealing with representations; with ropes, not snakes. For Graziano, the "hard problem" of a snake in the head (how could mere neurons firing make a reptile in the head or a real mind?) is a category mistake. We're just dealing with the representation of a snake for efficient internal and external communication, not a snake.


When we speak of mind, communicating about it from one brain to another (and when the brain is aware of its own attention, and speaks to itself about it schematically), we're in the realm of the social, not the metaphysical.


I hope Graziano isn't arguing this, because it appears to be nonsense. It appears to be trying to explain individual consciousness by referring to the social interactions of already conscious beings.

Santi said...

Anonymous,

I find your response amusing. I've read three of Feser's books (his atheism book, his intro to philosophy of mind, and his intro to Aquinas). I've also read Graziano. So I could thus lay the counter-trip on you: "You haven't read Graziano with sufficient understanding. If you really understood him, you wouldn't make such elementary errors regarding his thesis, etc."

So what you're doing is not arguing for, or clarifying, the thesis of mind you advocate (and why you think it's better than Graziano's), but blowing blue pipe smoke.

But let's zoom out for a moment. What's the real problem facing Feser and other Thomists in relation to Graziano? It's that they have no account for how mind can actually interact with the brain, and for the evolution of mind.

In other words, no theory of mind is ever going to be considered wholly adequate absent an accounting for both mind-brain interaction and evolution. Graziano's theory is a big step in both of these directions; Thomism cannot even take the first step here. One theory has predictive and explanatory power, the other has none.

Put another way, because Thomism precedes Darwin's theory of evolution in history, it can't give an evolutionary account of the origin of mind. It doesn't even anticipate it. This means that it's never going to be an adequate theory of mind in a scientific age.

Just as Ptolemaic astronomy is necessarily wanting after Galileo's telescope, Thomist philosophy of mind is necessarily wanting after Darwin.

Any theory of mind that will be considered adequate in a scientific age will have to account for mind historically, which means in terms of biological and social evolution.

Thus the best explanation of mind is not going to stop with Thomism; its going to stop with something that includes evolution. Any explanatory theory of mind that does not take account of evolution is not really explanatory at all.

Evolution is true; evolution happened; mind is a historical phenomenon. It was not in the world, and then it was--and the reason it was has something to do with evolution. Thomism suffers from the fact that it is an attempt to account for mind prior to Darwin, and on the basis of metaphysics alone.

Feser's task has always been to wall off philosophy of mind from neuroscience, but Graziano's theory suggests that he can only do this if he hasn't made a category mistake; if awareness is a "real snake" and not a "representational rope mistaken for a snake." If mind is a phenomenon born of social evolution (and it is), Feser and Thomists have some serious explaining to do if they want to wall this fact off from philosophy of mind. Why should we prefer a metaphysical explanation of mind if we can arrive at a social evolution explanation of mind?

By contrast, Graziano's theory is powerful because it makes sense of why evolution would make awareness in the first place. And Graziano's theory makes predictions and is testable.

Meanwhile, Thomism hides like Oz behind a curtain of metaphysics, and thus must always be under the suspicion that category mistakes are being made along the way of its reasoning.

Thomism cannot account for the phenomenon of mind historically; it cannot be tested or provide a basis for predictions. Anything it claims is outside the realm of empiricism. It benefits from scientific problems being intractable and in walling off philosophy of mind from neuroscience. This ought to raise red flags that it's wrong.

Daniel said...

I confess that I am ignorant of the correct meaning of 'woo' and skyhook' so will have to stick to more classical terminology.

'Put another way, because Thomism precedes Darwin's theory of evolution in history, it can't give an evolutionary account of the origin of mind. It doesn't even anticipate it. This means that it's never going to be an adequate theory of mind in a scientific age.'

'Evolution is true; evolution happened; mind is a historical phenomenon. It was not in the world, and then it was--and the reason it was has something to do with evolution. Thomism suffers from the fact that it is an attempt to account for mind prior to Darwin, and on the basis of metaphysics alone.'

If one is going to give a materialistic account of consciousness, which of course one is perfectly entitled to do, then appealing to evolutionary theory as a necessary beginning is methodologically confused. On said account, even more so if it styles itself reductionist, one must acknowledge the possibility that Consciousness could in principle occur apart from Evolution, say in an extraordinarily rare cosmic instance in which all the necessary molecular components are brought together in the right order a la Davidson's Swamp Man thought experiment. This need not present a problem for Reductionism, after all it does nothing to threaten the casual theories Functionalist models typically depend upon, but it does mean that cannot simply appeal to Evolution for our explanations.

The most an evolutionary theory taken in the wider context of its ontological assumptions can be expected to provide is a Genetic account of Consciousness, yet in order to do so we must first determine what Consciousness is. Otherwise we merely say: 'I do not know what it is I only know what it evolved from'. Of course Thomism, as with any philosophy of life, would be incomplete without such a Genetic account but happily individuals such as Stephen Boulter, John Haldane, David Oderberg (to name but a few) have endeavoured to do so.

‘In other words, no theory of mind is ever going to be considered wholly adequate absent an accounting for both mind-brain interaction and evolution’.

This strikes me as very odd since whilst we should all agree on the first part manifestly Feser and other Thomists, not to mention any other Dualist philosopher worth their stripes, do tackle these problems (true, Ed hasn’t written about it at length in any of his published works but a cursory blog search of the term ‘Interaction Problem’ should provide enough to give you an outline).

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

I concur with Daniel on methodological confusions.

If you really came away from reading three books, and think that Thomism ignores the interaction problem or arbitrary appeals to magical skyhooks (God bless Daniel Dennett), I'd suggest you'd read those books in your language the next time.

And there's also a difference between reading and "reading", but that goes without saying. God bless Mortimer Adler. I've encountered people who told me they "read" a book. Turned out - many of them only skimmed the introduction and outline. Not suggesting that's the case here though.

But right now, I can't see anything in your post that doesn't fall victim to "shell gaming" (now, that one should be introduced as a cultural meme).
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.no/2009/06/materialist-shell-game.html

If Graziano says what you all describe, it just reinforces the notion: Time to rethink nature!

How you non sequitur your way to changing the question of mind from being metaphysical to social, mistaking qualitative notions for quantitative, I find quite...fascinating.

Daniel said...

Apropos a txt conversation with a friend after that last post: why is that it that the Materialist philosophers most referenced in pop culture discourse almost invariably tend to be the crudest and most ignorant of their breed? I can't imagine any anonymous poster busting on here and shouting about how 'Davidsonian theories of description undercut Thomas' arguments for the immateriality of the soul' or how 'C.B. Martin has shown that if we affirm Dispositional Properties we can account for the intentionality of thought on a materialistic basis'. Not that I think these thesis are at all correct but at least they move on an incomparably higher level than that of the constant hum 'Evolution, Evolution, Dennett, Neuroscience, Evolution, Neuroscience, Evolution'.

Santi said...

Daniel,

You wrote this: "The most an evolutionary theory ... can be expected to provide is a Genetic account of Consciousness, yet in order to do so we must first determine what Consciousness is."

That's tidy, but you might be ambling a bit too fast, cowboy. This is why you should read Graziano's book. It will surprise you at the clever and down to Earth social reasons given for the evolution of consciousness. How did a brain's pinpointing of attention in each moment (which all eye-focusing animals do as they interact with their environments) evolve into our social species' wider and richer schema of awareness? It has to do with the simplification of attentional calculation for communication across brains (and back to one's own brain).

Graziano's thesis picks up where Hofstadter left off: you're a strange loop, but what makes you loop is a social process: a reverberation of communication with others, with yourself, and with a return trip of your schema back to your brain's modular unconscious. No ghost minds; no mind-brain problem to solve.

Awareness is a social process, not a thing. It's there when you are being social because it's a description of moments of attention turned into a rich context that can be reported out to others. "I see the tiger I think you see. Do you see the tiger I think I see?" It's a schematic for managing vast amounts of data efficiently between and within brains.

So unless, Daniel, you think attention itself requires a dualistic explanation (why a brain would ever focus its eyes on a single thing in the first place), whence the need for dualism in the explanation of awareness?

Awareness, on Graziano's theory, is a reporting out to others of the schematic context of a moment of attention, and this schematic also gets reported back to the very brain that sent out the message. What you're experiencing when you have an experience is a schematic report of your own brain's moment of attention. The schematic is efficient for memory storage; it stands in for a whole lot of calculated and ongoing data. And that's who "you" are (and can report out to others).

Look out across your room right now. You're not seeing electromagnetic waves; you're seeing your brain's report and translation of data into a schema you can report out to others. "I see a shelf of books."

So what's exciting and interesting with Graziano's theory is that he gets at the root problems: (1) what consciousness is (and is for); and (2) how the brain can generate mind (and how mind can impact the brain).

The simplicity of his social theory of consciousness, its accord with evolution, the predictions you can test with it, and its explanatory freshness seem in danger, like Darwin's theory of evolution when it first appeared in 1859, to sweep away whole leaf piles of metaphysical conundrums and confusions.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

I'm curious, and haven't read Graz, so I'll just ask two questions:
1) How can anything like social theory explain the emergence and evolution of consciousness or awareness, when social behavior pretty much need something like consciousness as a prerequisite? Cart before horse?

The simplicity of his social theory of consciousness, its accord with evolution, the predictions you can test with it, and its explanatory freshness seem in danger, like Darwin's theory of evolution when it first appeared in 1859, to sweep away whole leaf piles of metaphysical conundrums and confusions.

2) That's deja vu-ish. What "metaphysical conundrums" do you think Darwin's theory swept away? To paraphrase Chesterton: Is there no more a thing that evolves into a thing, because there's no such thing as a thing?

Santi said...

Daniel Joachim:

Nice shell gaming of your own, as well as setting up a straw man. Where did I say that "Thomism ignores the interaction problem or [makes] arbitrary appeals to magical skyhooks"?

I realize that Thomism doesn't "ignore" the interaction problem, and that its appeals to sky hooks are not "arbitrary." Thomism gives reasons for its dualism, and it addresses the interaction problem, but if it did these things satisfactorily, neuroscientists like Princeton's Michael Graziano, being fair minded and thoughtful people, would gravitate to Thomism.

But there's a difference between addressing an issue and arriving at a theory that actually makes progress on an issue.

Where can Thomism make progress on the conundrums posed by brain-mind interaction? Nowhere. It posits a theory of mind that is useless for prediction and that can be adjusted to anything.

Here's Feser (from his "Philosophy of Mind" book p. 225-26): "[T]he Thomistic hylomorphist takes the human soul to be something that operates independently of the body, and something which is capable in principle of surviving the death of the destruction of the body..." Now that's a shell game.

Here's Feser again (p. 226 of the same book, which I have on my lap): "[T]here is an obvious sense in which the doctrine [of mind surviving body] is a form of dualism..."

So notice what Feser is doing here. On the one hand, he posits that the "connection between soul and body is so close that a body just wouldn't be the body it is without the presence of the soul" (p. 226), and on the other, he posits that at death the soul decouples from the body.

Notice that both moves extract the Thomistic theory of mind-body interaction from neuroscience, hiding it beneath the shell of metaphysics. Feser's Thomism makes no predictions and cannot be subject to reality testing of any sort.

Thus if neuroscientists find correlates for consciousness from tip to tail in the neurons, Feser has an explanation (brain, body, and soul are so close as to be virtually indistinguishable). But when the body dies, mind (soul) goes elsewhere (in a process of extraction that Feser does not even attempt to elaborate on).

So Feser's hyper-confidence that Thomism must be right for metaphysical reasons cannot mask the fact that what Thomism proposes is beyond physics, beyond neuroscience, beyond empiricism, and thus beyond markers by which one can be sure progress on the problem of mind-brain interaction is being made.

Feser's Thomism has a stake in physics and neuroscience being frustrated in its quest for a theory of consciousness. Just as with the origin of species prior to Darwin, you can promote all sorts of wild theories before scientists work out what's really going on.

Just as Genesis is a pre-Darwinian explanation of species, so Feser's books may prove to be a pre-Grazianian explanation of brain-mind interaction.

If it was 1859, wouldn't you read Darwin's book? Maybe it's 1859 all over again.

Santo said...

Santi,

"and his theory of consciousness sounds plausible to me (and to Patricia Churchland)"

To you AND Patricia Churchland?

Well then it's sealed and good as gold.

I like how quickly Santi unraveled here.
He went from saying "Oh hey, Ed... heads up on a really interesting book!"

To...

"Ed's walling himself off from the findings of neuroscience and blah blah blah".

You okay, Santi?
You turning Glenn Close on us? Hey Feser, if you have any bunnies at your house HIDE THEM!!!

Santo said...

Santi said,

"Put another way, attention is the bubbling up from the modular brain of something complex that awareness simplifies: "I'm seeing a tiger in the distance; I feel danger." That reporting of awareness going forward to others and backwards onto yourself in turn impacts what bubbles into awareness next. "


I see. So this is the Bubbles from Blather and Bluster theory.
I can see why you were so impressed with it.

Santo said...

Santi said,

"From what I can tell, the Thomist answers Graziano by saying, "But awareness is not a mere representation of attention, but real, an essence!" To which Graziano might reply: "You're making a category mistake. Awareness is a representation of attention, not a literal entity in your head. You're mistaking a rope for a snake.""

That's what you can tell?
Wow.
You name drop Patricia Churchland's approval of a book and the conjure up (from comments in a combox, for heaven's sake) what the Thomistic reply would be and then you mock it.

Santi, you're an idiot.

Santo said...

I think Santi is Michael Graziano.
He comes here to name drop his own name thinking anyone will give a damn.

Doesn't get back patted for such a great recommendation.

Claims to have apparently read 3 of Feser's books but has little grasp on what they're about.
Needs the content of combox comments to conjure up a kludgy, supposed response from a Thomist which essentially mocks his assume flimsiness of the content of Thomistic thought.

Goes from simply advising Feser on what to read to blasting him from what he thinks is Feser's unwillingness or fear to deal with SCIENCE!!!

Yeah, I think Santi is Graziano

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

Thank you. Now I know you only "read" the books, based on your quotes complete out of context, pretending a soul is just some metaphysics-of-the-gaps, ignoring its place in a much wider natural philosophy. Futher, pretending Feser just arbitrarily removes the soul from the body, as well as ignoring the distinctions being made later on between Cartesian and Thomistic dualism, whereby the latter one isn't such a dualism that you're attacking at all.

Nowhere. It posits a theory of mind that is useless for prediction and that can be adjusted to anything.

Who cares? This just shows that you're agenda is method and not truth. The rest of us are completely capable of attaining truth from the scientific method (for rigorous control and prediction), AND other ones.

Of course you can reasonably explore these ideas, but not if you've already decided to be completely ignorant of philosophy and rational inquiry outside of one specific method.

Further developed between your inability to distinguish causality from correlation. No one here denies that there's correlation between mind activity, neural firings and brain states. But (as few modern handwavers seem to understand) even if you had a complete outline of the neural processes from decision to activity, you still haven't said anything substantial about decision-making or inner perspective.

Just as Genesis is a pre-Darwinian explanation of species, so Feser's books may prove to be a pre-Grazianian explanation of brain-mind interaction.

If it was 1859, wouldn't you read Darwin's book? Maybe it's 1859 all over again.


I suggest you read some pre-Darwinian history, return to this quote, and be embarrased by your younger self. Augustine's "On Genesis" may be a place to start.

Existence may also turn out to be a green cheese. And life may turn out to be little chocolate sprinkles. I guess we'll just have to stay put, placing all of our bets for the future.
http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2014/07/is-the-success-of-science-evidence-of-metaphysical-naturalism.html

At least until you understand that shouting "Darwin" or "Science" won't help you, unless you understand and grapple with the real subjects at hand.

And yes: You still haven't explained what sort of "metaphysical conundrum" you think Darwin got rid of.

I might turn out to agree with the introduction of Scholastic Metaphyiscs that Scholasticism may be the only way to rescue science from this nonsense, with all its glorious scientific realism, causality, connection and inductions.

Shell gaming. And poor shell gaming, if I may add.

Scott said...

@Santi:

You appear to have noticed that Thomism isn't empirical science. Unfortunately you appear not to have noticed that it doesn't claim to be.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santo

Unlucky choice of nick. For a second, I wondered why Santi was quoting and talking to himself. Perhaps he viewed himself as the only "scientifically qualified" challenger in this forum :)

Scott said...

@Daniel Joachim:

"You still haven't explained what sort of 'metaphysical conundrum' you think Darwin got rid of."

I was hoping for a response on that point too. Hoping is of course not the same thing as expecting.

Santi said...

Daniel J,

With regard to your first question, in Graziano's theory, attention is the prerequisite, not awareness. Attention is first, awareness is second.

Awareness is the John the Baptist to the Christ of attention: it announces it to others. "Christ is here. This is what he is like. I'm his representative. I help you see him. I point to him. I'm not him. My role is to take you to him."

In short, awareness is a schema of a moment of attention that can be communicated.

All animals attend to things in their environments. Their eyes focus. Their brains focus. If, for you, that's already a metaphysical dualism (a ghost in the machine), let me know so I can understand your position.

But for Graziano, attention itself is not anything especially mysterious or difficult to explain. You can get a bee's attention, for instance.

But for you, as a human, your brain uses a schema for describing this non-mysterious attention to others. We call that awareness (as in environmental awareness). "I'm in this or that context, seeing x. How about you?" This is all shorthand for communicating between social animals their moments of attention to one another. You have to locate yourself in time and space to tell another social animal where you're at and what your reaction to your environment is. And in doing this for others, you do it for yourself. "You" are your brain's way of locating a moment of attention for communication to other brains. And this "you" is a schema--an image, a description--that can then influence your brain's next stage of attention. Brain-mind interaction thus becomes nothing mysterious; it's a communication network reverberating data and images back and forth among and within brains, setting things efficiently in memory, chunking data as schema.

Graziano argues that the very social process of communicating attention loops back on ourselves. For simplification, we take others to be aware (each person has a ghost in the head), and we take ourselves to be aware (a ghost in the head). But we're mistaking ropes for snakes. We're mistaking a schema grounded in attention and communicated to others as who we really are; as our essence; our soul. We think we have a ghost in the head. It's an artifact of communicating attention to other brains schematically. And we narrate our attentional moments, giving them the illusion of coherence through time.

In a social animal, you've evolved such vivid narrative awareness because you are constantly communicating your attentional states to others in your tribe. Information moves from brain to brain (and loops back onto your own brain). That's what we call awareness. It's a schema, a description of attention, not an entity in the brain that the neurons generate.

Thus, if Graziano is in the ballpark of being correct, you don't need a threshold of neurons to mysteriously generate consciousness, you need only attention and a brain capable of clumping data into schemas for efficient communication. When those schemas get communicated from brain to brain, suddenly you are over there and I am over here. "Hello out there! I'm over here! What are you attending to? Here's what I'm attending to. Here's the context of my attention. How about you?"

Combine attention with sociality and you start to evolve awareness.

Scott said...

@Santi:

"[I]n Graziano's theory, attention is the prerequisite, not awareness."

Ah. So first we're aware of something, and only then do we develop awareness. That is, we become aware as a consequence of focusing our awareness.

Interesting. I think there might be some sort of logical flaw in there somewhere, though.

Daniel Joachim said...

I may be mistanken, but didn't Santi propose to explain consciousness? Right now he's only given a theory on how some singular attention "evolves" to some plural awareness (that I don't see conflicting with Thomism, as long as he doesn't continues to propose this incoherent representationalist infinte-internal-regress-of-derived-meaning), blatantly question-begging how qualitative animal or human sentience, consciousness and attention can in principle appear in the first place.

I'm still waiting for the Churchland move: "Well, okay. You're not really conscious or attentive of anything in the first place, but listen to me as I read a book on neuroscience."

But I enjoyed your referral to John the Baptist, though. Well put, preacher! :)

Scott said...

@Daniel Joachim:

"I may be [mistaken], but didn't Santi propose to explain consciousness?"

That was my impression as well. To be fair, though, I didn't really expect him to.

Kantian Naturalist said...

I find it utterly baffling that anyone would think that the Churchlands deny the existence of consciousness. The fact of consciousness is central to their entire position. Perhaps people who think that the Churchlands deny the fact of consciousness have not actually read anything by them?

Some of you might be interested in "Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas" (PDF). Freeman is well-known neuroscientist and draws out some very interesting parallels between neuroscience and Thomistic philosophy of mind.

Scott said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

I think this is the link you meant to post.

Anonymous said...

I find it utterly baffling that anyone would think that the Churchlands deny the existence of consciousness. The fact of consciousness is central to their entire position. Perhaps people who think that the Churchlands deny the fact of consciousness have not actually read anything by them?

It's central to their position the same way it is to Graziano's: by starting from materialism, ruling out anything that isn't consistent with materialism, then insisting that consciousness must ultimately be entirely third-person mechanistic operations and states, all data and experience notwithstanding.

Churchlands have been covered here many a time, KN. They're jokes. Jokes that are well-respected in some deserts of academia, but jokes all the same.

Santi said...

With regard to the metaphysical conundrum Darwin solved, it was this: whence the diversity of complex creatures, if not from a divine watchmaker?

But why even pursue the question? We already have a satisfying theological and metaphysical explanation. Surely this is only a conundrum for the godless.

But then along came Darwin.

Prior to Darwin, the going thesis of species diversity was a metaphysical one: In the beginning, God specially created in seven days all things, great and small, and placed them into a hierarchy of being. That was about 6,000 years ago. He made the fish for the sea, the woman for the man, the slave for the master, etc.

Darwin had a more down to Earth explanation; a historically situated explanation; a scientific explanation: species evolved by natural selection. The existing hierarchies of humans, plants, and animals are the products of a long and contingent history, and things can change with time.

Darwin's explanation had broad explanatory powers that made it unnecessary to resort to metaphysics and fixed hierarchies to explain species diversity. You could still talk about animals and plants in the old way, ignoring science, but why would you do that? Science had a simpler explanation; one that you could make predictions based on; one that was in contact with reality.

Today, Feser and other Thomists have a metaphysical theory (dualism) for how mind and body interact, and they tightly wall this theory off from empiricism (in the same way that fundamentalists wall off Genesis from science). As with the fundamentalist, science simply cannot inform the discussion. Period.

The logic of metaphysics dictates it, I believe it, science cannot unsettle it.

So along comes Micheal Graziano. He unsettles the Thomistic project. He appears to be making real scientific progress on the brain-mind interaction problem. He is picking the lock on the problem without resort to metaphysics, positing a down to Earth mechanism for moving from attention to awareness: sociality. His theory is plausible, elegant, beautiful, makes predictions, simplifies data, and is testable. He could be the Darwin of the 21st century.

Any thoughtful Thomist would want to read Graziano. I suggested Graziano's book to Feser because, if he doesn't already know of it, I assume he'll now go and acquire it, giving it fair consideration. I assume he'll report at some point his views on the book. Of course he would do that. Why wouldn't he?

Kantian Naturalist said...

To hold a mirror up to your words: If you begin by saying that consciousness must be reducible and material, and that it's unacceptable for it to be anything else, then you're deciding what you'll discover before you even begin investigating. That's not because consciousness is metaphysically compatible with reductionist materialism, but because [the person in question] has radically, and unjustly, restricted the possibilities from square one.

Interesting response. I think that a great deal hinges on what an explanation is.

In science, explanations typically take the form of embedding claims about facts in networks of causal and nomological generalizations. To explain why X does p, we embed the claim, "X does p" within a network of generalizations about causes and about laws. For example, we explain sickle-cell anemia in terms of a mutation in the one of the alleles that codes for beta hemoglobin, and that in turn rests on a whole lot of general claims about gene transcription, gene expression, and biochemistry generally.

Explanations in this sense need not be "reductive," in the sense that one need not "reduce" what is happening at one level of description to another level of description in order to yield a good explanation. We can explain what led to the 2008 financial meltdown without looking at neuroscience, after all!

However, if one thinks of consciousness as sui generis -- as quite radically distinct from causal and nomological generalizations -- then one is basically saying that consciousness cannot be explained.

But holding that position is actually dependent on efforts like those of Graziano or philosophers like Dennet or Flanagan -- we won't have good reasons for thinking that it is highly unlikely that consciousness cannot be explained unless we examine what has gone wrong in efforts to explain it.

And who knows -- some effort might eventually succeed? The history of science is full of examples of problems that were insoluble for one generation and solved in the next, due to some conceptual, mathematical, or technological innovation.

Personally, I would bet against that happening in the case of the hard problem of consciousness, but that's just me.

Santi said...

Daniel J:

Perhaps you missed my question to you, so I'll pose it again:

All animals attend to things in their environments. Their eyes focus. Their brains focus. If, for you, that's already a metaphysical dualism (a ghost in the machine), let me know so I can understand your position.

(If anybody else has a position on this question, please jump in.)

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

There are so many historical and philosophical errors here, I'm finding a hard time to take it seriously. Mind you, young-earth creationism pretty much emerged as a movement well AFTER Darwin.

Speaking of watchmaker: You may be aware that Paleyian natural theology isn't very widespread in this forum, and that central metaphysical notions in Thomism hasn't been challenged, even though there's has been much clarity to gain from interacting with science? Much less the necessity of God as an actualizer of all change and constant provider of all existence. Your argument hasn't really developed since the pre-Socratics.

And your Utopian story sounds nice. I'd be the first one to come and live with you in the flowery tower of power. But hey - someone's gotta attend to reality down here.

Graziano would probably have sold more books with representatives that gave coherent descriptions, addressing what's supposed to be addressed (e.g. consciousness). Life only consist of so many hours.

Scott said...

@Santi:

"With regard to the metaphysical conundrum Darwin solved…"

Very nearly every statement in this post of yours is so wrong that I don't even know where to start.

Matt Sheean said...

Graziano has a few articles on the Huffington Post.

He bears all the marks typical of the denizen of the deep Platonic cave with respect to the state of philosophy of mind. That is, he refers to proposed non-material explanations as magic (in virtue of their incorporeality, I guess, they are just "magic"). He refers to his own project as "scientific" and "rational", where "rational" simply means "scientifically testable" anyways. The article linked to smacks of Dennett, fame in the brain and such, so I don't see how he resembles the Darwin of the mind-body problem.

It also doesn't seem quite right to say that Thomism is concerned with mind-brain interaction. I believe the claim that the interaction problem exists is seen to be a product of the mechanistic picture of nature, which the A-T philosopher does not subscribe to.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

All animals attend to things in their environments. Their eyes focus. Their brains focus. If, for you, that's already a metaphysical dualism (a ghost in the machine), let me know so I can understand your position.

Sigh, learn the difference between Cartesian and Thomistic dualism, order some side dish of the Aristotelian notion of soul, ranging from vegetative, to animal and rational. Top it off with some insights in Aristotelian Natural Philosophy, and we're good to go.

Or you know, just re-read the relevant chapters in Philosophy of Mind, and please explain to me how you even came up with characterizing it as a "ghost in a machine". It's right there in front of you, right?

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Scott -- yes, thank you!

@ Anonymous:

It's central to their position the same way it is to Graziano's: by starting from materialism, ruling out anything that isn't consistent with materialism, then insisting that consciousness must ultimately be entirely third-person mechanistic operations and states, all data and experience notwithstanding.

I think that's not entirely correct as a reading of the Churchlands.

They are committed to the possibility of explaining consciousness in a third-person stance, because the third-person stance is necessary for what it is to explain something.

However, there's nothing reductionistic or mechanistic about that commitment. One can be as anti-reductionist as you like about scientific theories -- as John Dupre and Nancy Cartwright are -- while still be committed to the formal features of explanation as involving the third-person stance.

The Churchlands are eliminativists about propositions as the very content of thought, and they have interesting arguments about that. But their view that brain-states could be introspectible as such would be nonsense if they denied the fact of consciousness per se.

Those arguments depend on two interesting and (I think) compelling assumptions: (i) that scientific realism is superior to instrumentalism (a claim that Thomists have no reason to reject, from what little I know) and (ii) that Sellars was right in criticizing and rejecting what he called "the Myth of the Given" (again, a claim that Thomists have no reason to reject).

A further point worth noting: to say that consciousness can only be explicated from within the standpoint of subjective, first-person experience is to say that it cannot be explained. It can be understood, it can be described, but not explained. (I have nothing but respect for phenomenology!)

It's still, I think, an open question whether or not phenomenology can be "naturalized", and what that would mean if it could be. Right now I'm reading Evan Thompson's Mind in Life. A Thomistic criticism/response to it would be interesting, but I'm in no position to ask it -- I know we're all over-committed as it is.

Kantian Naturalist said...

It also doesn't seem quite right to say that Thomism is concerned with mind-brain interaction. I believe the claim that the interaction problem exists is seen to be a product of the mechanistic picture of nature, which the A-T philosopher does not subscribe to.

That's right. The causal interaction problem, as conceived in Descartes and his successors, is about efficient causation between two kinds of "substance" that have radically different properties.

Aristotelian philosophy doesn't have that problem because mind and body are not two different things that must be related via efficient causation, but the form (hence formal and final cause) and matter (hence material cause) of the same thing -- the living being or life-form.

There's no "ghost in the machine" for Aristotelian philosophy -- that's an invention of Cartesianism!

Daniel Joachim said...

@KN

Sorry, didn't see your comment. Yes, you're right. I was in pun-mode, and should have been more careful to characterize Churchland as denying consciousness per se. Although I've developed an initial skepticism about a proposition as "yes, X exists, but X really just amounts to...", that would require some more elaboration from me.

We'll save it until that topic is at hand. Thank you for your interesting-sounding link. I've pocket'ed it, and will now return to finish my master thesis that's due for Monday! :)

Scott said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

"Aristotelian philosophy doesn't have that problem because mind and body are not two different things that must be related via efficient causation, but the form (hence formal and final cause) and matter (hence material cause) of the same thing -- the living being or life-form."

Precisely. As Mike Flynn has memorably put it, A-T no more has a "mind-body problem" than it has a "sphere-basketball problem."

George LeSauvage said...

I'm puzzled.

"Prior to Darwin, the going thesis of species diversity was a metaphysical one: In the beginning, God specially created in seven days all things, great and small, and placed them into a hierarchy of being. That was about 6,000 years ago. He made the fish for the sea, the woman for the man, the slave for the master, etc."

What has any of that to do with metaphysics?

Kantian Naturalist said...

"Prior to Darwin, the going thesis of species diversity was a metaphysical one: In the beginning, God specially created in seven days all things, great and small, and placed them into a hierarchy of being. That was about 6,000 years ago. He made the fish for the sea, the woman for the man, the slave for the master, etc."

Firstly: I'm no expert, but I doubt this is a fair characterization of pre-Darwinian biology.

Secondly: unless one adopts an excessively tendentious sense of "metaphysics," Darwin's theory is just as metaphysical as those that it replaced. Darwin's conceptual revolution was to think of species as populations of individual organisms, rather than as an essence that is instantiated by each individual organism. And it follows from this that the higher-order taxa (family, order, etc.) are merely convenient terms for keeping track of how closely related species are.

But anti-essentialism about species and anti-realism about higher-order taxa are surely metaphysical positions! More generally, every denial of a specific metaphysical position is another metaphysical position.

And if there's one thing we should have learned from the two great 20th-century attempts to overcome metaphysics -- logical positivism and phenomenology -- it's that even attempts to deny "metaphysics" altogether are almost always implicitly committed to some metaphysics or other.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Maybe I miss remember, but hasn't Dr. Feser argued that even the interaction problem is not as fatal to Cartesian dualism as sometimes made out?

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

I like your observation directly above. It's clear, interesting, and insightful--and absent the snark that some of the others in this thread are directing my way.

So I'll ask you a question. I'm trying to think clearly about whether attention of any sort displayed by an animal is evidence that we live in a dualistic cosmos, and whether the very existence of eyes attached to a brain, shifting their attention to one thing, then another, is the sort of consciousness that naturalism already has difficulty explaining.

Example: Imagine a trilobite scurrying along shallow seas, its big eyes landing here, then there, noticing a food source, moving toward it. Are we already beyond the realm of a strictly physical explanation? Could a strictly material cosmos make that happen, or do we, of necessity, conclude from this that telos and mind are present in the cosmos in those very eye movements?

Put simply, is it foolish to believe that a cosmos that has animals with eyes could also be a non-dual cosmos, a cosmos without a transcendent God?

I'm asking this (and if it sounds dumb, be patient), because I think that Graziano has moved from attention to awareness in a convincing manner (via the evolution of communication and sociality).

But others in this thread think I'm hopelessly confused because consciousness is already in the attention itself, not just in the subsequent awareness, and it is the attention that must be explained first. The attention is the starting point for the problem of consciousness, not the subsequent awareness.

But I'm thinking that the first step, attention, is an artifact of a brain with eyes, and that it's not hard to account for on naturalistic terms. There's just neurons and a sense organ (eyes), and nothing "plus." No big mystery in need of a deeper or dualistic explanation.

Consequently, I say it's awareness that is broadcast as a schema representing attention to other social animals, and this is the sort of consciousness that Graziano's theory makes progress on.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think Graziano is really ahead of the horse--or chasing it? Do you see any value in Graziano's model? If so, what is it?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Could a strictly material cosmos make that happen, or do we, of necessity, conclude from this that telos and mind are present in the cosmos in those very eye movements?

Surely, the question is whether or not this attention is conscious? It could be explained naturalistically easily, if it is just an automatic and non-conscious process (of course, there are arguments about whether mechanism makes metaphysical sense, though). So, for man at least, the fact that our attention is (to a degree) conscious means you are not explaining anything.

Evolution might explain how man the physical being came to his current state. It may have an impact on his thought processes, but it hard to see how social interaction can explain the entire make up of consciousness.

Mr. Green said...

Jeremy Taylor: Maybe I miss remember, but hasn't Dr. Feser argued that even the interaction problem is not as fatal to Cartesian dualism as sometimes made out?

Yes. Frankly, the general way the problem of interaction usually goes is to assume that a mental substance is a non-material (i.e. invisible) substance that follows the laws of physics, and then wonder why that doesn’t work.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Santi: I don't mind talking about this here, but let's keep this in mind: this is Feser's sandbox, and I thin it would be inconsiderate to have a running dialogue on his blog on issues that aren't of concern to Feser or other regulars here.

I don't have a blog of my own, but I contribute regularly to The Skeptical Zone (http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/). There are about ten or so of us who come in and out of various conversations, and most of us have a decent background in philosophy. You can come over there and talk about Graziano's theory of consciousness. I'd love to speculate about how tribolites see the world!

Of course this invitation also goes for the rest of you as well.

Santi said...

Jeremy T,

My thought is that if attention is explainable on naturalistic terms, then Graziano's theory of awareness as a schema for communicating attention to other brains is a form of making progress on the problem of consciousness itself, giving it a down to Earth explanation within the evolution of communication and sociality.

"I'm over here, you're over there." That's a schema for locating attention and communicating that information efficiently across brains as clumps of data. "My eyes see this, and it looks like your eyes see that." If attention is not a problem for naturalism, it seems that awareness as a schema for communicating attention is not a problem for naturalism.

What's left to explain if awareness is a schema of attention?

This is why I'm likening Graziano to Darwin. He has hit upon something right under our noses: we've been mistaking ropes (schemas) for snakes (souls). It's an elegant, de-cluttering theory with a simple evolutionary-social mechanism for generating an experience of awareness (attention translated into a schema for communication: "I'm here, and I see this. And now I feel this. And now I see the connection between this and that. And now I see that you are looking at that tiger over there").

Consciousness is the shifting of attention communicated to other brains by schemas of awareness.

And naturally the brain loops the schema back on itself. That's what we call self awareness. "You've got a self, I've got a self. What are you thinking? Here's what I'm thinking." The schemas communicate attention, clumping the data of attention into manageable processing bites. Your "self-body" functions as a data clump you can point to and say, "I notice this. I'm going to do that."

Attention has always been a part of a brain with eyes, going all the way back to the trilobites.

Absent the schemas, it's the Buddhist "thoughts without a thinker"; attentional moments following one another; one damn thing after the other bubbling up into attention from a modular brain interacting with an environment (the trilobite in shallow seas).

So absent the schemas, no self. With the schemas, a clumped self. The clumped self is positioned in an environment, and imagines other clumped selves ("I'm over here, you're over there"). It's all an artifact of communication; of brains exchanging data efficiently with brains.

From here, it's not at all difficult to then understand how a mind can interact and influence a brain. The brain treats the mind's schemas as grist for the mill. If I say to myself (here's the schema): "I have this feeling I want to go to Montana," and that becomes a data clump, my modular brain can respond to it (exactly as it might respond to another data clump coming from another brain). The brain might respond with recollection of the smell of pine trees and still lakes (which is another schema in memory).

The brain, in other words, translates what bubbles up in it as schemas, and the schemas get processed into memory, which then potentially trigger the modular brain to other operations and memories. What goes around, comes around.

So I think of the old Zen haiku:

The old pond.
The frog.
Reverberations.

The old pond's surface is the attentional eye; the frog is the awareness schema--the pond's John the Baptist--announcing attention to others with its croaking. The frog's sound schema is followed by a dive beneath the pond's surface (as memory), and it makes reverberations in the brain itself, perhaps provoking new shifts in the attentional pond.

So what is the sound of one hand clapping?

My answer: one hand, attention only. Two hands, a representation of attention in sound. One attentional being, attention only. Two attentional beings, schemas of awareness communicated between them. No sociality, no awareness. No sociality, no self.

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist,

Fair enough, I'll check out the alternative. But I guess I'm surprised that you don't think Feser and the regulars here wouldn't be interested in Graziano. I tend to look for the smartest opponents of my theories about the world, so I can get help in catching my blind spots. I'm not trying to abuse his sandbox. I genuinely think Graziano provides a very powerful counter-narrative to Thomism, and therefore wonder what Thomists think of him. Are you suggesting that Thomists prefer confirmation bias and tend to practice epistemic closure? Do you suppose I suggested a book on this thread that no regular is likely to ever bother to get a copy of? Is simply knowing that Patricia Churchland recommends it a death blow for consideration? That doesn't sound like the behavior characteristic of a healthy and growing intellectual movement. I find that sad if true. Hmm.

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

In all fairness to the good people of this blog (and with no snark, really and truly), a fella or lady who comes around here and starts saying things like "ghost in the machine" is not going to be taken too seriously. To suppose that the "ghost" is something about which the thomist is concerned is to reveal that one is not well acquainted with Thomism, at least not enough to suppose that they know what narrative it is and what might challenge it.

Jeremy Taylor said...


My thought is that if attention is explainable on naturalistic terms, then Graziano's theory of awareness as a schema for communicating attention to other brains is a form of making progress on the problem of consciousness itself, giving it a down to Earth explanation within the evolution of communication and sociality.


Well, down to earth here seems like slanted language, because it seems to imply naturalistic. Anyway, this would seem to explain away consciousness. That is, at no stage is there any explanation of first person awareness. the I.

Also, to channel a Platonic (or even Buddhist) insight, what exactly is it that has this attention? And if my awareness is somehow created by this attention, does it make sense to suggest I can be aware of that attention? Isn't that like using what is contained to explain its container? Is not the I ultimately ineffable precisely because all our thoughts, and perceptions, and what we are aware of is ultimately what we are conscious of and not the I itself.

I think the reason you are not getting much of a response is that Graziano's ideas are not that different to explanations (or explaining away) of consciousness that have propped up many times here and elsewhere. I would suggest, also (though I may be wrong), that many here simply don't think very much of such explanations of consciousness that try to ground it in third person stance without seeming to plausibly deal with its first person aspects.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Also, one other reason for a lack of response might be that Thomists, or at least Dr. Feser, tend to focus on the indeterminacy of the physical, intentionality, and related criticisms of naturalistic accounts of the mind, and not so much on the problem of explaining first person awareness, qualia, and the like naturalistically.

Anonymous said...

Of course this invitation also goes for the rest of you as well.

Before anyone takes this offer up, some words of warning.

TSZ is a cesspit largely inhabited by people from a forum known elsewhere as "The Swamp". We're talking about people who don't just hate theists and non-materialists, but (on the Swamp) call them names, deface their RL pictures, insult their families and friends, and more. KN is a nice sort, but the others there, far less so. Even the ones who are nice are largely nice to your face. Then they go to the swamp and refer to you as an inbred shithead, try to scour up your RL data, and more.

To put it in perspective: I believe Alan Fox is a respected regular there.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

Are you suggesting that Thomists prefer confirmation bias and tend to practice epistemic closure? Do you suppose I suggested a book on this thread that no regular is likely to ever bother to get a copy of? Is simply knowing that Patricia Churchland recommends it a death blow for consideration? That doesn't sound like the behavior characteristic of a healthy and growing intellectual movement. I find that sad if true. Hmm.

Oh, for the love of Zeus. In all respect: This is an empirical proof of serious lack of intellectual integrity on display, Santi.

The reason you haven't been taken seriously, Santi, is not some purportedly epistemic closure, but you being debunked for serious flaws in knowledge of Philosophy and History several times already, along with failing to give, as JT says, a reason to believe you have represented anything that deals with first person-accounts in the first place, other than irrelevant handwaving towards Darwin.

Suddenly playing the victim's role with accusations of cognitive dissonance, is just dishonest.

Change your ghostly tone (which earned you your snark in the first place), introduce some humility and willingness to learn, and you'll be having a mighty fine time in these forums.

Santi said...

Anonymous said: "Even the ones who are nice are largely nice to your face. Then they go to the swamp and refer to you as an inbred shithead,..." That sounds like the dynamics of the workplace. : )

As to Daniel, you're very good at setting up straw men to avoid a direct confrontation with things. I didn't wonder about my views not being considered (that's fine), I wondered about whether Graziano's book would be considered. That's a different matter. It's problematic to me if a book with serious buzz surrounding a naturalistic explanation of consciousness is blown off by intellectual dualists as most likely just "more of the same" and therefore not something to be especially curious about.

Will you be reading it? If not, why not?

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

Sigh. For there to be a straw man, you have to present a man. Try again.

I wouldn't mind reading Graziano, if only his representatives weren't busy making false, bold statements about Pre-Darwinian history, making fictitious claims about metaphysics, talking about ghosts and machines, still ignoring the real subject at hand, and waving to Graziano being the "new Darwin" (whatever that's supposed to mean) when being called out.

If I have given any straw men of you here, I would graciously ask others to call me out. Otherwise, you're just wasting time. As of now, they've only pointed to the same things as me.

I started about asking two sincere questions, which you still haven't given a satisfactory explanation for:

1) How can anything like social theory explain the emergence and evolution of consciousness or awareness [or even attention], when social behavior pretty much need something like consciousness as a prerequisite? Cart before horse?

Notice that your talk about brain loops aren't really relevant here.

2) What "metaphysical conundrums" do you think Darwin's theory swept away, besides your irrelevant and flawed rambling about Genesis?

Now, what's wrong with a little humility?

Santi said...

Matt and Daniel J,

I've read Feser's books. I get the gist of Thomism. It's not that complicated. So using the phrase "ghost in the machine" is not me being ignorant about Thomism, it's me using shorthand for dualism in general. Whether you're a Thomist and spread your dualism throughout the body, or locate it in the brain, or specifically in Descarte's pineal gland, it's dualism.

Here's Feser (from his "Philosophy of Mind" book p. 225-26): "[T]he Thomistic hylomorphist takes the human soul to be something that operates independently of the body, and something which is capable in principle of surviving the death of the destruction of the body..."

Here's Feser again (p. 226 of the same book): "[T]here is an obvious sense in which the doctrine [of mind surviving body] is a form of dualism..."

Feser one more time: "[The] connection between soul and body is so close that a body just wouldn't be the body it is without the presence of the soul" (p. 226).

So I'll try again: is attention already a problem for naturalism, or is it awareness (the schemas social animals place on attention during communication: "I see this, you see that")?

All animals attend to things in their environments. Their eyes focus. Their brains focus. Is that, for you, already the sort of animal experience that naturalism cannot give an adequate account of? When the first animal eye opened, is that already the metaphysical threshold that naturalism cannot adequately explain?

The eye, therefore Aquinas?

Daniel Joachim said...

"I've read Feser's books. I get the gist of Thomism. It's not that complicated. So using the phrase "ghost in the machine" is not me being ignorant about Thomism, it's me using shorthand for dualism in general. Whether you're a Thomist and spread your dualism throughout the body, or locate it in the brain, or specifically in Descarte's pineal gland, it's dualism."

Only if you have a primitive understanding of matter and causality restrained to material or effective causality.

Here's Feser (from his "Philosophy of Mind" book p. 225-26): "[T]he Thomistic hylomorphist takes the human soul to be something that operates independently of the body, and something which is capable in principle of surviving the death of the destruction of the body..."

The rational soul. Human intellect, that is. A necessarily immaterial process, but still operating according to formal causation. See e.g. arguments of James Ross.

Here's Feser again (p. 226 of the same book): "[T]here is an obvious sense in which the doctrine [of mind surviving body] is a form of dualism..."

But not one where we have any reason to hold mind alien to matter. You can't just cherry-pick separate ideas from the holism of Aristotelian natural philosophy.

Feser one more time: "[The] connection between soul and body is so close that a body just wouldn't be the body it is without the presence of the soul" (p. 226).

Soul here seems just to be shorthand for "rational soul", that is - a human soul. Without the rational soul, we're just animals, without the intellect, but with sensation and imagination. You know - with animal souls. Soul being the form and first principle of life.

So I'll try again: is attention already a problem for naturalism, or is it awareness (the schemas social animals place on attention during communication: "I see this, you see that")?

All animals attend to things in their environments. Their eyes focus. Their brains focus. Is that, for you, already the sort of animal experience that naturalism cannot give an adequate account of? When the first animal eye opened, is that already the metaphysical threshold that naturalism cannot adequately explain?

The eye, therefore Aquinas?


Eye? No.

Personally, I think emergence of life is already a problem with naturalism. As well as sentience, personhood, the ability of first-person self-consciousness, intentionality and formal thinking. At least, they're not problems you could ever solve with natural science alone, but I think a consistent naturalist at least have to appeal to ideas like panpsychism, eliminativism or even platonism. I have little belief in supervenience.

That's why I would like to hear an effort to cross the qualitative gap of first-person experience, instead of just leaping to starting off with the possibility of attention as a given.

Anonymous said...

One issue with awareness is that it brings up intentionality, which is a very hotly debated aspect of phil of mind. Awareness involves having your mind directed at something.

There are a bunch of blog posts regarding intentionality, just use the search bar.

Santi said...

Daniel,

As to your first question, I asked myself the same question as I read Graziano's book, which is why I'm asking you: is the bare visual attention of a trilobite a form of consciousness? If you say yes, then Graziano is already behind the horse. He's not really accounting for the "ur moment" of consciousness in need of explanation. If, however, you say no, it's explicit awareness of "self and others" that is consciousness, then Graziano is making progress with his idea of awareness as a schema of attention communicated from brain to brain.

I'm on the fence on the question of whether attention is consciousness. I'm curious to see if a dualist like yourself can provide any insight on this question for me. I'm not trying to intellectually corner you.

And my other question is this: if a brain with eyes and a whole body sense can focus its attention on an outside object, why can't the same bit of modular machinery close its eyes and attend to a mental image, sound, or inner sensation (pain, pleasure)? And once these pieces of the puzzle are in place (eyes, closed eye memory, an ability to attend to feelings of desire and aversion), it seems that the next piece is a schema for communicating attentional moments to others: "I see this, you see that; I feel this, you feel that." The "I" is both introduced and created in communication; it is a schema of communication; a way to chunk data.

It thus doesn't seem to me that a naturalistic account of consciousness has implausible leaps from eye attention to inner attention to attentional moments communicated schematically to other brains and to oneself.

Santi said...

Daniel,

You wrote that "sentience, personhood, the ability of first-person self-consciousness, intentionality and formal thinking. [...] [are] not problems you could ever solve with natural science alone,..."

But this is precisely what Graziano's theory appears to solve in an elegant manner. Once the eye attends with focus to the environment, and the brain can retain memory of environmental images behind the closed eye, it's not hard to see how the evolution of sociality gets you the rest of the way to consciousness. The communication of attention to other brains as schemas of "chunked data" is the "I." We take it to be a living snake, but it's just a rope.

This is why Buddhism is so intriguing in this context. Buddhism too seems to be coming at the self as "avidya" (ignorance). What you take to be an essential self is actually shifting moments of attention narrated to yourself and others. The attention is happening to you ("thoughts without a thinker"; "no flower in the flower"). The self is an artifact of language schemas taken for essences, which Graziano is noticing on the neuroscience side, and working out experimentally.

And once you're saying that what we take to be essences are artifacts of schematic communication, of course this ought to get the serious attention of any Thomist, for it suggests that Thomism is under the spell of a category mistake.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

As you may have read in your books (or not), trying to explain essences as artifacts isn't exactly breaking news to Thomism. Nominalism/conceptualism vs. Thomist realism. Sort of medieval.

How do you even propose focusing attention is possible, if there's no one that's doing the "attending" in the first place, directing something like a mind towards something that's not a mind? Intentionality. The facts of eyes and brains are pretty uninteresting. It's the act and experience of "seeing" that remains the hard problem. The quale.

Santi said...

Anonymous:

Thanks for the suggestion about exploring intentionality.

Did the first trilobite, with its giant eyes, demonstrate that its brain carried an intention when it moved toward its food source?

Who or what did the intending?

It reminds me of a Buddhist abbot's question: "You should understand that when the ten thousand things have been extinguished, there is still something that is not extinguished. What is it?" (from "The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans")

Kantian Naturalist said...

TSZ is a cesspit largely inhabited by people from a forum known elsewhere as "The Swamp". We're talking about people who don't just hate theists and non-materialists, but (on the Swamp) call them names, deface their RL pictures, insult their families and friends, and more. KN is a nice sort, but the others there, far less so. Even the ones who are nice are largely nice to your face. Then they go to the swamp and refer to you as an inbred shithead, try to scour up your RL data, and more.

There are some people who comment at both TSZ and After The Bar Closes, but there's not much overlap these days. And there isn't, in point of fact, anyone who displays the hypocrisy mentioned above.

If someone claims that such hypocrisy was been displayed in the past, I won't dispute the allegation. But there certainly hasn't been any in the past several months, to the very best of my recollection.

In any event, you may judge for yourselves if what I say is true -- or decide not to.

Anonymous said...

"Did the first trilobite, with its giant eyes, demonstrate that its brain carried an intention when it moved toward its food source?

Who or what did the intending?"

First of all, tell me the phil of mind definition of intentionality, so we know we are all on the same page.

And the point of telling you to search the blog and read old blog posts is so that you can see that this issue has been explored. I don't think anyone in the combox has the time or will to discuss intentionality from the ground up and then present arguments when all of this is already available on the blog.

I don't mean to be condescending. But some homework is required. Also, does Graziano mention intentionality or "aboutness" in his book at all? Like I've said, intentionality is very applicable to talk of awareness. If he doesn't, then it is possible he didn't do his homework either.

Santi said...

Daniel,

You write: "The facts of eyes and brains are pretty uninteresting. It's the act and experience of 'seeing' that remains the hard problem. The quale."

But the eye focusing and interacting with an environment is the ballgame. It's as if you said, "Molecules of H2O poured over my skin are uninteresting. It's the experience of water (the quale of it) that is interesting." But the one is the other in exactly the same way that eyes and attention go together: you can't have one without the other; you can't have sense experiences without sense organs. (Unless you posit, as Feser does, that souls survive bodies.)

In any event, the experience of seeing is precisely what it means to be an animal with eyes--whether a tilobite or person. This means the brain causes the eyes to shift attention from one thing to another. No eye supported by a brain, no focus, no object of attention. Focused attention is precisely what seeing is.

So if the experience of attention itself (the attention beneath the attention) is what is in need of explaining, what more can you do than point at the moon?

The material apparatus of brain-eye attention is wholly accounted for scientifically, but you're saying the subjective experience of attention is in need of yet another level of explanation.

But that's setting the bar too high for naturalism. It's like asking for an account of water that is beyond saying, "It consists of H20 and it is experienced by human brains as a colorless liquid." If someone says, "No, you haven't explained water at all," then what do you propose as an adequate explanation?

(I think at this point a Zen master would just pour a bucket of cold water over the head.)

But attention starts with sense organs. How you move from attention (which has a biological basis in evolved sense organs and brains) to full blown self awareness is Graziano's concern, and his solution is grounded in the evolution of social communication between brains: "awareness is a schema of attention."

What would be a deeper explanation, in your view? Doesn't dualism just put an Oz curtain over the subjective experience of material and social phenomena? Why would H2O be experienced as water, eyes as focused attention, and communication among brains as self awareness ("I'm here, you're there")?

Water, therefore God? Attention, therefore God? Self awareness, therefore God?

Shouldn't we do a Laplace here and eliminate the God hypothesis? "I have no need of that hypothesis, sire." And how about Occam's razor? At what point does the material explanation suffice?

Anonymous said...

"But that's setting the bar too high for naturalism. It's like asking for an account of water that is beyond saying, "It consists of H20 and it is experienced by human brains as a colorless liquid." If someone says, "No, you haven't explained water at all," then what do you propose as an adequate explanation?"

We aren't necessarily asking for an account of the physical water, but rather this part "experienced by human brains as a colorless liquid." An account for the experience.

Anonymous said...

"Water, therefore God? Attention, therefore God? Self awareness, therefore God?"

Also, quit it with these strawmen. We aren't implying arguments as obviously flawed as these. If you want to see the actual arguments, search the blog.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

But the one is the other in exactly the same way that eyes and attention go together: you can't have one without the other; you can't have sense experiences without sense organs

How can this bit be this confusing to you? Even though you couldn't have the experience of water without water, nothing follows as to whether the experience of water just equals the water itself.

The problem is that you can't seem to translate subjective first-person to objective third-person, without doing some serious question-begging.

Do you really think that the necessity of eyes for the act of seeing will somehow turn out to be a modern discovery that's shocking to Thomists, suddenly causing everyone to re-evaluate their philosophy?

But that's setting the bar too high for naturalism. It's like asking for an account of water that is beyond saying, "It consists of H20 and it is experienced by human brains as a colorless liquid." If someone says, "No, you haven't explained water at all," then what do you propose as an adequate explanation?

No, no, no! It's asking for an account of the firsthand conscious experience of feeling water pour down your neck, which should be blatantly obvious to all readers here. Mistaking one for the other begs all the important questions. Saying that water is H2O doesn't explain anything interesting about the subject at hand. Logic just seems to break down repeatedly here?

But you may start to see what's causing my skepticism towards whether Naturalism can remain a rational worldview at all, at least without invoking some borderline philosophical notions like supervenience or Platonism. And at least while retaining a modern mechanist philosophy, that suddenly makes mind an utter alien to the world.

And I think you, once again, get your history wrong. Laplace didn't eliminate the need for God, he just didn't see the need to invoke God's as a primitive scientific hypothesis, as neither did St. Thomas. Very few great theists thinkers have done this at all since Thales 600 BC, in contrast to the regular caricatures of the fictional Atheist history.

...I feel a sudden urge to take a walk through your library, to look for something more sophisticated than Hitchens that can provide a starting point for substantial communication.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2 here.

Water, therefore God? Attention, therefore God? Self awareness, therefore God?

This is something Graziano did as well, and I think it just illustrates how the guy is in over his head. No one here directly ties God up with the question of consciousnesss.

How about, "Materialism is inadequate, therefore something other than materialism"? And materialism is inadequate.

The material apparatus of brain-eye attention is wholly accounted for scientifically, but you're saying the subjective experience of attention is in need of yet another level of explanation.

But that's setting the bar too high for naturalism.


It's only setting the bar too high insofar as materialism is inadequate for the task at hand. The "non-subjective" aspects of attention are not the hard problem. Defining "experience" is non-subjective (which for these purposes is defining it as something other than "experience") is not the hard problem. No one has been sitting around baffled at how naturalism could possibly give an account, at least in principle, of what is defined as an entirely third-person mechanistic process.

If a razor is going to slice any explanation off here, it's going to be materialism that gets the blade. It's inadequate to account for subjective experience. It's inadequate to account for intentionality. It's inadequate to account for other things as well.

The fact that materialism/naturalism is inadequate is not somehow 'unfair'. It's just the way it is. Suggesting that the only way the game can be 'fair' is if your preferred metaphysics (Santi at first hardly seemed to realize/acknowledge that he actually had a metaphysics to defend, or was making metaphysical claims) is ridiculous.

Kantian Naturalist said...

I read an essay by Graziano ("How Consciousness Works") and I agree with those here who say that Graziano is confused.

The problem he is interested in solving is this: under what conditions would a cognitive system -- the purpose of which is to model, map, or track its environment -- construct a model of itself in relation the environment that it is modeling? What are the purposes of self-modeling, and how can those purposes be explained in evolutionary terms?

That's a perfectly good question, and figuring out the details as to how this auto-modeling happens, and what cognitive deficits it leads to, is actually quite fascinating.

However, it's also quite easy to see why someone would feel that there's a bait-and-switch going on here. One can easily imagine a self-modeling cognitive system -- one that both models the environment and models itself in relation to its environment -- without any awareness at all.

Put slightly otherwise: one might think that Graziano hasn't explained consciousness because the kind of cognitive system he describes could still be a zombie (in the metaphysical sense).

So Graziano isn't explaining consciousness in the sense of first-person, subjective awareness -- what phenomenology is all about -- but explaining something else. He's explaining the capacity of a certain class of cognitive system to construct a representation of itself and embed its self-representation in its representation of its environments -- and then he just calls that "consciousness".

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

If you've read Feser's books then you at least know what responses he's given to the question you are asking here. He also has some blog posts, as others have mentioned, that deal with this issue. Why not identify where exactly you believe Graziano goes beyond, say, Hofstadter or Dennet or Rosenberg to addressing Feser's criticisms of materialism.

If you all ready have done this, then perhaps it is difficult for Daniel and others to tell because of your, how shall I put it, pretentious and idiosyncratic manner of writing (what has been called "ghostly" already, I believe).

Matt Sheean said...

eesh, my writing was a bit confusing in that last post. What I meant to say about Dennett et al was not about their criticisms of Feser (I'm not sure they have offered any), but rather, insofar as Feser has already addressed them, how do you think Graziano goes beyond that? Where does Graziano present something that they have not already in some form or another?

Also, I'll agree with KN above that the schemes for testing just what this activity of attention, thinking about the self and so on looks like in the brain is pretty cool, and I don't think anyone here will disagree with that. What we're interested in driving home is all the use of the language of formal and final causation by folks who don't pretend it's there. To make the "ghost in the machine" problem more clear, the Thomist takes issue with both the "ghost" and the "machine".

Kantian Naturalist said...

One need not be a Thomist to understand that the "explanatory gap" between subjective awareness and natural processes cannot be bridged if one is committed to a Cartesian conception of either mind (as pure interiority) or nature (as mere mechanism).

For one thing, the place of intentionality in nature requires a rehabilitation of teleology. I suppose it's often assumed that teleology is incompatible with Darwinism. This is true in some ways and false in others.

However, Graziano is not trying to give a naturalistic explanation of intentionality -- he's trying to explain the attribution of consciousness to oneself and to others in terms of brain function.

The interesting point, and highly debatable one, is that the same neurological processes which underpin the attribution of consciousness to others are also at work in attributing consciousness to oneself.

But what exactly is going on here? Suppose someone has major right-side damage to the superior temporal sulcus, which he claims to be important in underpinning consciousness attribution. Would her consciousness be impaired? Or would her attribution of consciousness be impaired? Would she be aware but lack awareness of her awareness?

And most importantly of all, to what extent can these questions be resolved empirically?

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

You wrote clearly on Graziano. Good job. The schemas of awareness we place on others turn back on ourselves.

"What schemas around, comes around."

As Graziano puts it, "Awareness is a sketch of attention."

But you think he hasn't solved the zombie problem, yet I ask you: what conceivable way could science ever solve the zombie problem?

In other words, what constitutes an adequate evolutionary explanation of schematic awareness? Do we have the same explanatory standard for H2O to water, or eyes to attention?

It may be exactly this simple: eyes and attention go together, and when attention and social animals come together, the result is the evolution of schematic awareness. Asking, "But how can this be?" is like asking how H2O can be experienced as water or eyesight as attention to an object.

Take your own question, for example. You ask the following: "Suppose someone has major right-side damage to the superior temporal sulcus, which he claims to be important in underpinning consciousness attribution. Would her consciousness be impaired? Or would her attribution of consciousness be impaired?"

This is like the zombie question in reverse. In one you can't prove someone's there, and in the other you can't prove someone's not there.

But the furthest science can go is with a predictive and testable theory of how awareness came to be in history. Graziano's theory is that once you've got eyes (and other senses) for the animal's attentional focus, and you combine this with sociality, awareness will evolve as a schema for communicating attention forward and back onto itself. That's a down-to-earth evolutionary explanation for how consciousness moves from trilobite attention to social primates.

It doesn't need dualism, it just needs to get the eyeballs rolling.

Anonymous said...

@Santi

"But you think he hasn't solved the zombie problem, yet I ask you: what conceivable way could science ever solve the zombie problem?"

"But the furthest science can go is with a predictive and testable theory of how awareness came to be in history. Graziano's theory is that once you've got eyes (and other senses) for the animal's attentional focus, and you combine this with sociality, awareness will evolve as a schema for communicating attention forward and back onto itself. That's a down-to-earth evolutionary explanation for how consciousness moves from trilobite attention to social primates."

In other words, we all agree that natural science cannot explain what consciousness is and how it works. It's just that we "dualists" are looking for other ways to get at least a hint of an answer and you are asking us to give up and buy a book about something else instead.

Unfortunately for its publisher, it looks like you are not doing the marketing that well and we are more likely to buy some other book...

"It doesn't need dualism, it just needs to get the eyeballs rolling."

Well, "dualism" sure does look better than just giving up and pretending that we are forbidden to ask the question we are interested in...

That same scientific method recommends that if we take a hypothesis (like materialism) and run into a fact that cannot be explained by it, we should abandon that hypothesis and look for another instead of pretending that those facts do not exist.

One more thing: you have said that the hypothesis you support is "predictive" or "testable". So, since you are talking about it so much, what new things does it predict and have they actually been tested..? You know, it is not that hard to make predictions that are testable - and are later found to be wrong.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Graziano's theory is that once you've got eyes (and other senses) for the animal's attentional focus, and you combine this with sociality, awareness will evolve as a schema for communicating attention forward and back onto itself. That's a down-to-earth evolutionary explanation for how consciousness moves from trilobite attention to social primates.

That seems highly plausible to me, but I don't see how that mounts any significant challenge to neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind. Neo-Cartesian, maybe -- neo-Aristotelian, maybe not.

Three recent examples of what I mean by 'neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind': Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind by Evan Thompson, Rational Animals: The Teleological Roots of Intentionality by Mark Okrent, and Embodied Minds in Action by Robert Hanna and Michelle Maiese. (I am not at all sure that all of them would be completely happy with my calling their views "neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind," but I think it's a defensible designation.)

Anonymous said...

Anon 2 here.

Graziano's theory is that once you've got eyes (and other senses) for the animal's attentional focus, and you combine this with sociality, awareness will evolve as a schema for communicating attention forward and back onto itself. That's a down-to-earth evolutionary explanation for how consciousness moves from trilobite attention to social primates.

No, it's not any kind of explanation for consciousness. It's a third person abstraction that ignores a variety of issues, from intentionality to consciousness itself, to give a kinda-sorta entirely third person abstraction. It's interesting, and in other contexts it may be helpful... but it's not even a beginning to an answer to the sort of questions about that mind that are being asked.

Whenever people point out that this explanation leaves out, you know, all the interesting and actually controversial (yet undeniable, insofar as we have this as a datum, a first-person awareness) aspects of mind, your reply seems to be that that's unfair because science can never hope to explain that, nor can materialism. Well, so much the worse for materialism then. We don't owe materialism a guarantee that we'll accept its answers, if its answers fall short.

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

"Graziano's theory is that once you've got eyes (and other senses) for the animal's attentional focus"

Can you speak of eyes (and other senses) without reference to a final cause, e.g. the "attentional focus" of the larger organism?

This is going to be a Thomist sort of question for you, I think (among the others criticisms that have already been put forward). If the eye (and other senses) are only explained by recourse to lower level efficient causal relations after all, then the eye (and other senses) do not actually explain attentional focus, let alone consciousness.

Santi said...

Anonymous:

You asked, "what new things does it [Graziano's theory] predict and have they actually been tested..?

Example: if Graziano idea is in the right direction, the brain's areas for judging awareness in others should be the same as areas activated in self awareness--and they apparently are.

And if Graziano is right, the awareness and attentional parts of the brain should closely track one another, and they do. (See p. 26 of his book for parallels.)

As for dualism, it's a faith based system, so there's nothing it can make progress on. It makes claims, but absent evidence.

And dualism can be tinkered with to fit any set of circumstances because it is not tempered by empiricism.

For example, if 22nd century neuroscientists find neural correlates for every single mental state, the dualist will still say, "It's logically possible that this is all just correlation, not causation; that the soul is like roundness to a basketball, so of course they correlate perfectly. You just don't understand how profoundly important Aristotle's notion of form is to causation."

But this is all for what? To save what? Why doesn't Occam's razor slice this last bit of explanation off? You wouldn't add a soul hypothesis to water: "H2O correlates perfectly with water in this glass, but the soul of water is there as well. When the water evaporates from the glass, the soul of that water goes to heaven."

Imagine going to a doctor with this mentality. "You've got an allergy, and this medicine will cure it." "But," you say to the doctor, "how do the molecules in the medicine interact with the molecules in my nose to cause me to experience the qualia of sneezing relief? There must be something more going on!" Doctor: "Just take your medicine." You: "You mean you can't test me for a more complete diagnosis of my sneezing experience?" "No." "So, at bottom, you have no real explanation for what's going on with me, do you?"

Jeremy Taylor said...

I'm confused. Do you think that anyone will be impressed by your serving up empiricism and scientism as obvious truth, or your obvious ignorance of dualism, Cartesian or Aristotelian.

And I'm still waiting for you to show how Graziano's claims actually explain consciousness and not just explain it away by reference to third person features that don't plausibly account for the first person.

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

Thanks for the book recommendations. I'll get at least one of them tonight from Amazon (so long as they don't all entail sticker shock).

As to your comment, I must say that this took me aback. You said, "[The basic outline of Graziano's theory] seems highly plausible to me, but I don't see how that mounts any significant challenge to neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind."

That strikes me as a super low bar for the "neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind." You mean Graziano could adequately give a satisfying material, social, and evolutionary explanation for why humans experience awareness, and you would still overlay onto that explanation a soul? Hmm. Why would you do that?

Santi said...

Matt:

You asked, "Can you speak of eyes (and other senses) without reference to a final cause, e.g. the 'attentional focus' of the larger organism?"

That's a great question. I don't know. This is a question that can be raised with regard to the cell itself. A cell has this "what's in, what's out" question that it's always asking, policing its boundary, seeking food, etc. With your question, thou almost persuadest me to become a Thomist.

So life, even single-cellular life, seems to have all this intentionality, communication, and "aboutness" going on. But why for the purpose of eating one another?

Never forget that Darwin was on to something as well.

Does anybody in this thread know about "biosemiotics?" It's trendy among some environmentalists. It's a kind of Thomism for eco-hippies, and I think most biologists basically ignore it. I'm assuming it's mostly woo, but open to book suggestions on it.

Full confession: I have always liked Aristotle's four causes. I can see why scientists would shave off formal and final causes from things, but there are contexts where Aristotle might deserve revival.

I'm not against Feser's project; his is an interesting voice. I think he's wrong on many key points, but it's nice to hear an articulate voice for the old time medieval religion. He's helped me appreciate Aristotle more. He is very articulate on Aristotle in his anti-atheist book.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

As for dualism, it's a faith based system, so there's nothing it can make progress on. It makes claims, but absent evidence.

Yes, or you know - hylomorphic dualism being based on rational arguments alone, but don't let my facts get in the way of the mental rationalization techniques you learnt at Ditchkins Summer Camp.

For example, if 22nd century neuroscientists find neural correlates for every single mental state, the dualist will still say...

What a really, really stupid sentence. Pure rationalization at work. No, because even with a perfect correlation, you would never in principle be able to answer the question you sought to, without performing the entire introduction manual in question-begging and logical fallacies.

Imagine going to a doctor with this mentality. "You've got an allergy, and this medicine will cure it." "But," you say to the doctor, "how do the molecules in the medicine interact with the molecules in my nose to cause me to experience the qualia of sneezing relief? There must be something more going on!" Doctor: "Just take your medicine." You: "You mean you can't test me for a more complete diagnosis of my sneezing experience?" "No." "So, at bottom, you have no real explanation for what's going on with me, do you?"

Category mistake. Take a course, will you?

I'm not against Feser's project; his is an interesting voice. I think he's wrong on many key points

To be honest, I don't think you're qualified to disagree with anyone at this point, with overwhelming evidence in your utter silliness on display throughout this combox. You still haven't come any closer in cashing in the promises you've opened with, but have only managed to deal out insults and display a sheer contempt for facts and critical thinking and even science along the way.

As JT says. No one is impressed by your self-defeating scientism or by you being able to skim through four pages of Philosophy of Mind. Your scientism is an anti-intellectual philosophy, and it's easy to prove (search the blog), once you manage to escape the magical fairy land of methodological confusions. But there's still not too late. You can still return to the land of reason. You could have a future ahead of you, young padawan.

Your main argument this far can be summarized in:
"It's got to be explained like this, because my method restrains me from explaining it in any other way, even though my "explanation" has no explanatory force, and doesn't address what it's supposed to."

There seems to be some serious Dunning-Krüger at work here. You reading a book would perhaps impress some of the cheerleaders at your school, but you're not among amateurs any more.

I'm sorry if this is harsh, but your tone and claims show a real disrespect towards rational discourse.

grodrigues said...

@Santi:

"As for dualism, it's a faith based system, so there's nothing it can make progress on. It makes claims, but absent evidence."

If dualism is "faith-based" so is naturalism -- there are exactly zero (zero as in zilch, puto, nada) scientific papers corroborating it.

"And dualism can be tinkered with to fit any set of circumstances because it is not tempered by empiricism."

Neither is "naturalism" "tempered by empiricism". At all; the first naturalists were the Greek atomists and yet the beast still lumbers around, refusing to die a silent death.

The Irish Thomist said...

Got my copy and now reading it - lets just say I was very very approving of the examination [refutation] of the prevailing scientism - a topic I really wanted to see Prof. Feser write about at length.

The Irish Thomist said...

N.B. Not to say he hasn't somewhere already done that.

Santi said...

Daniel J:

Um, can you give me an example of the progress that can be made in, say, biology or physics, by being a hylomorphic dualist?

And here's where the rubber meets the road: in neurobiology?

You imagine that metaphysics is akin to mathematics. It isn't. One false move along the way, and you'll end up (unbeknownst to yourself) out in la la land, completely out of contact with the way things actually are.

That's why humanity needs empiricism, to keep the imagination from flying off into wishful and superstitious thinking, untethered to the Earth.

Using metaphysics, you could conclude, for example, that demonology in psychology is still a sensible response to mental illness (a position of Feser's, by the way).

The reality is that you just can't get that far on a priori couch musings. I wish we all could, because who doesn't like couches? But we can't. If we could, Francis Bacon would never have had to come along.

And might I remind you that Francis Bacon started the scientific revolution in response to his frustration with medieval theology? No progress was being made in human thought. He proposed an epistemic method for making it: community empiricism.

His vision: in The New Atlantis. (A much better read than Aquinas, by the way.)

So Feser seems fresh to you because he's a luxury; he can be enjoyed on a plane flight at 30,000 feet without consequence. He could be right or wrong, but what are the consequences of one's response to him? It impacts the world in no material way whatsoever. You might be more likely to vote Republican. That's about it.

But only if hell exists, and you go there for not believing this or that, is there any serious consequence to one's conclusions about religious metaphysics.

Thomism wasn't fresh 400 years ago (an age of wars of religion, hell belief, angel belief, slavery, oppression of women and gays, witch burning, torture, and demonology). Mock the list, but that's what the world was like. You wouldn't have enjoyed living in ages prior to the scientific and democratic revolutions.

So the Dark Age could also be called, "The Age of Metaphysics." Everybody self-consciously had one. Their premises were right up front, and they reasoned straight from them to, um, well, witch burning and gay murdering.

So grounding life in a dubious metaphysics not in contact with empiricism provides little resistance to woo.

That's why I don't like your term, "scientism." It's a signal that you want to untether your mental balloon from empiricism when its convenient for you to do so.

But nowadays, people have to break through a double barrier to woo: they have to dismiss science (a heavy lift), positing this or that conspiracy theory around it to defame it (scientists reach their conclusions because they're atheists, or are in it for the money, etc.), then they have to work out the woo system.

More work for metaphysics and superstition since Bacon.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I will start by buying Dr. Feser's "Aquinas", then.

As someone starting philosophy this semester at a university whose philosophy department is likely replete with Humeans and various other sorts of atheists, does anyone here have any further reading recommendations?

Anonymous 3

grodrigues said...

@Santi:

"Um, can you give me an example of the progress that can be made in, say, biology or physics, by being a hylomorphic dualist?"

Exactly the same as being a naturalist or a materialist.

This is beyond pathethic.

Dean said...

Santi,

I'm not sure if you're being serious or not. I mean, you mentioned Patricia Churchland as endorsing this book you're so desperate that Feser reads.

So, I'm just going to assume that you are being serious.

That said:

You're completely lost here. I read your posts and think "Shouldn't this guy be arguing in the UncommonDescent" comments?
Because that's the depth to what you offer. It's also inline with the manner in which you offer it.

But then I think I'm being rude to the UncommonDescent folk.
Because then you ask something tantamount to "what advances in empirical sciences has Thomism brought about".

So many posts of you claiming that you understand what A-T is about.... and then you offer that?

Wow.
You're embarrassing.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Santi:

As to your comment, I must say that this took me aback. You said, "[The basic outline of Graziano's theory] seems highly plausible to me, but I don't see how that mounts any significant challenge to neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind."

That strikes me as a super low bar for the "neo-Aristotelian philosophy of mind." You mean Graziano could adequately give a satisfying material, social, and evolutionary explanation for why humans experience awareness, and you would still overlay onto that explanation a soul? Hmm. Why would you do that?


First, a general remark: my interpretative lenses for Aristotle are shaped by American pragmatism (esp. Dewey, to some extent Peirce), phenomenology (esp. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty), and ordinary-language philosophy (esp. Wittgenstein and Ryle). So I have a different take on neo-Aristotelianism than others here who approach Aristotle through neo-Scholasticism.

That said, I think there's clearly something right about the form/matter distinction as a general theory of what life is. We can think of this in terms of the difference between structure and stuff: the molecular components of something, vs. how those components are organized (e.g. metabolism).

If "form" is understand as structure or organization, and we follow Aristotle in thinking of psyche or soul as the form of a living thing insofar as it is a living thing, then I see no problems with saying that the soul is the kind of organization that a living thing has.

I suppose I'm saying that what Aristotle meant by "psyche" or "soul" is roughly what we today mean by "metabolism" (without getting into the thorny issues about what "means" means).

Now, what kind of claim is this -- that the soul is the organization of a living thing? I do not see it as an explanation of any sort. Explanations situate a claim about a fact in a network of causal and nomological generalizations, and those generalizations are subject to empirical (and often computational) verification.

Rather, I see the claim, "the soul or mind is the structure or organization of a living being" as a descriptive claim. (Better: a phenomenological claim.) It is not the explanans (the explanation) but the explanandum (the phenomenon in need of explanation). And we need a good description of the explanandum in order to know what questions to ask in figuring out the correct explanation!

Suppose there were a well-confirmed, empirically verified biological explanation for how consciousness and subjectivity are realized in the brain-body-environment system. Such an explanation would not even be in competition with Aristotle's account of the soul, since that account is not even an explanation to begin with. It is a description, and perhaps a good one. (Or perhaps not. Point is, the criteria for judging good and bad descriptions are still going to be different from the criteria for judging good and bad explanations.)

Dean said...

Anyone remember the poster "J" who frequented Feser's blog a couple of years ago?

Something in the brash certainty of Santi in his claims of understanding (and having read many books on the topic) Thomism yet posts that always betray that supposed understanding makes me remember J when I read Santi.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Santi

I don’t know what you mean by “metaphysics.” Can you define it for me? Is it something empiricism can do without?

Daniel Joachim said...

@Santi

Well, that's what I get for tryin' to ask some substantial questions. He'll use so much time and smoke-blowing to avoid the questions, while leaping back to badly misrepresenting history and philosophy.

No wonder much state of modern "philosophy" is like it is, when people think that these are "arguments" to keep a refuted positivism going towards an ugly death.

I'll just return to study demons and burn witches with my slaves now (which is what's obviously supposed to be a totally, historically correct picture of late medieval times). This a'int worth it. :)

If one is this ignorant of actual research, how can one be trusted with anything?

Did someone say rationalization?

Kantian Naturalist said...

It is my understanding that a principle contention of Feser's books is that science cannot do without metaphysics.

If that's right, it does seem a bit odd to me that someone who has read Feser's work would feel entitled to assert without argument that science does not depend on metaphysics.

However, the questions, "does science depend on metaphysics?" and "is Scholastic metaphysics the right metaphysics for explicating the basis of science?" can received quite different answers.

I mean, even Dennett thinks that "There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination" -- and Dennett includes metaphysics in philosophy (he's not an anti-metaphysical philosopher). Yet Dennett is not a Scholastic realist (and depending which essays one reads of his, can come across as being more or less dismissive of the whole realism vs. anti-realism debate).

Churchland, of course, is a scientific realist -- though I don't think he's taken van Fraassen's challenge to scientific realism as seriously as he ought. (One of the things that seemingly makes "structural realism" attractive is that it takes van Fraassen's constructive empiricism very seriously.)

My point is, there are lots of different reasons for thinking that metaphysics is necessary for science, and there are also lots of different ways of specifying which metaphysics is the metaphysics that science requires.

Whether there are other good reasons for accepting or rejecting a metaphysical view besides its inferential relations with science is a further question worth dealing with. I'm somewhat on the fence on this issue myself.

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

Your response to my question to you--"Why add anything to Graziano?"--matches my intuition. I was thinking something very similar: Aristotle's "form" as "soul" or "mind" doesn't really explain anything. It's a description; a way of clumping data; a schema.

Interestingly, Graziano's position is that this is what awareness is, a clumping of the data of attention into a larger descriptive form, a schema.

Hmm.

This morning before reading your post, I took a walk and asked myself a simple question: how would Aristotle have looked out at the world on a walk?

He didn't know, after all, that the mind had an organ (the brain). He thought the brain cooled the body. So in his philosophy, he dispersed mind throughout the body (hence his formal "cause").

He then attached an essential purpose to that formal clump, and gave it an end (a final cause).

So I asked, what would Aristotle have noticed? And I confess it's trippy to walk around imagining your mind as the whole form of your body.

And in doing this, I surmised that of course he'd notice the form or soul (or mind) of the tree, of his own body, of any clumped schema he overlaid upon a "thing." He would notice he could go smaller or larger in his clumping of forms. His hand, for example, could be its own clumped entity with a purpose (to grasp).

Or he could pan out with his imagination and conceive the form (soul, mind) of the world, or the form of the cosmos as a soulful thing.

He could do a lot of wild "soul searching," and find souls everywhere with purposes. He would see them in every form, with their essences being expressed in their actions (the horse running, the cat hunting). And this whole play of mind and imagination would have gotten going in him BECAUSE HE DIDN'T KNOW THE BRAIN IS THE ORGAN OF THE MIND.

His metaphor of mind as the body would have run away with him.

In other words, all this soul talk achieves no added level of explanation, but is a description of forms, of schemas in the world. It's a rough clumping of data that is being called "soul" or "mind," and is being mistaken with essences.

It's obvious why scientists hate this. It's not the right level of explanation. It's not an explanation at all.

"Form" as "soul" or "mind" is like vitalism (adding a "plus" to living matter against physical matter).

Sorry, I'm guessing that's probably a dirty word with Thomists, but I'm finding it difficult to see a substantial difference between the plus of "elan vital" in vitalism and the plus of form as "soul" or "mind" in Thomism. What does it do? Nothing. What is its essence? A generalization ("the penis is made for vaginas, therefore no gay sex").

I'm sorry, but that's not really "in" or a part of the penis; it's not the form or soul of the penis. It's a conceptual add-on to the hard-on.

So this is what Buddhists call avidya (mistaking impermanent things for permanent; mistaking how you name and define things for the actual nature of things, which is considerably less stable).

Anonymous said...

Someone here is an arrogant, pretentious and embarrassingly ill-informed c0ck.

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

I think I have a good analogy. If you see a huge flock of birds making patterns in the sky, this can be described mathematically, and their movements obey an algorithm. There are natural mechanisms that wholly explain the phenomenon scientifically.

But in the distance, Aristotle is on a walk. He see the birds as subsets in a form--a mind, a soul--that is manifesting itself before him. The formation has a coherent essence and purpose, however brief. He knows he's looking at a flock of birds, but he also sees their collective soul being expressed (again, however transient).

But what has Aristotle added to explanation? Nothing. And is the soul he sees on display really there? I don't think so.

Is that me being unspiritual? What does an Aristotelian like yourself want me to do with this experience? What's it's supposed to be telling me?

Daniel said...

'...And is the soul he sees on display really there? I don't think so...'

Most Materialists would admit there to be a difference between living and non-living beings. If Soul here is being used as equivalent to life or Mind then the materialist is not going to deny them only claim that they are based on organ functions. The famous ‘Shell Game’ criticism of Feser only applies to Materialists who take the classic mechanistic route of locating all seemingly teological and qualific aspects of Nature in the Mind and then denying the existence of the latter because it proves impossible to explain away with the same methods.

You do know that though Feser and co claim that though one can only explain the intentionality of thought (as well as Causality and other points) with reference to immanent teleology, what modern philosophers call Dispositional Properties, once that's taken on board what Aristotle has to say about the animals’ minds is not that far removed from what a Functionalist would say were they to modify their Mechanistic stance to account for the former.

It amuses me that no one has yet to actually begin giving a Materialist account of the Mind to go with all the science claims…

‘"Form" as "soul" or "mind" is like vitalism (adding a "plus" to living matter against physical matter).’

Without qualifications such as ‘Intellectual’ Soul is to be understood as the life principle of an organism. The Materialist might claim that this life principle is merely physical structure of the organism. Though they would claim that this conclusion cannot be reached mechanistically for the reasons mentioned above Feser and friends would otherwise have little cause to differ from the Materialist’s statement.

‘BECAUSE HE DIDN'T KNOW THE BRAIN IS THE ORGAN OF THE MIND.’

As you know he thought the heart was the centre of the human nervous functions. This makes little different as the question he treats is whether and to what extent the Mind is the Actuality/Function of a bodily organ. Both Thomas and Augustine did know this about the brain though – in fact in Summa Contra Gentiles Thomas discusses the ‘common sensorium’, the nerve and motor centre which is seated in just that organ. On the subject of Memory he mentions, and appears to assert as true until proven otherwise, that primitive memory functions are based in the centre of the frontal lobe ‘as is the opinion of the Arab physicians.’ He also (in On Truth) discusses the parallel between behavioural development and brain development in infants. Of course you this says nothing about the truth or falsity of his metaphysical only that neurology would not have surprised him.

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Santi:

But what has Aristotle added to explanation? Nothing. And is the soul he sees on display really there? I don't think so.

Is that me being unspiritual? What does an Aristotelian like yourself want me to do with this experience? What's it's supposed to be telling me?


As a neo-Aristotelian about life and mind, I read Aristotle as pointing out that living things are organized in a very different way than how non-living things are organized. The difference in the kind of form (morphe) is nothing over and above the difference in the kind of organization or structure that makes living things different from non-living things.

That's entirely consistent with giving a rich mathematical description of those differences in structure, and in particular the mathematics of dynamical systems theory (which Aristotle did not have).

In fact, we can go even better and say that a living thing is an autocatalytic set of molecules enclosed in a semi-permeable membrane. A being with that kind of organization will necessarily be teleological. (I see no reason to think that non-living things are teleologically structured; I expect some push-back from the neo-Scholastics here on that point.)

That much is not "vitalism". It would be vitalistic to assert that the implementation of an autocatalytic set within a semi-permeable membrane requires a kind of weird material substrate that isn't found in crystals -- some sort of magic molecule. But that's not my view, and it's not a view that neo-Aristotelianism must (or should) take on.

I think the problem we're having here isn't that you're unspiritual or that I am spiritual. (I'm not). Rather, I think the problem is that you are reading into my neo-Aristotelianism any kind of spiritual discourse at all. That's not my intent -- far from it!

Instead, my intent is to show that what Aristotle meant by "soul" is something perfectly non-spiritual (in a Christian sense of 'spiritual', whatever that means).

As for the claim that "the brain is the organ of the mind," I think

(a) this is a conceptual claim, not something that we can read off from neuroscience;
(b) the claim is basically Cartesianism dressed up in neuroscientific drag;
(c) we have pretty good conceptual arguments based on phenomenology for thinking that the mind isn't anything like what Descartes thought it was;
(d) and we have pretty good evidence from neuroscience (as well as from other sciences) that it is not true.

What is true is that brains play a crucial role in causally instantiating mental properties, or if you prefer, that having a properly functioning brain is necessary but not sufficient for instantiating mental properties. The brain also needs to be in a well-functioning body that is embedded in an environment. Or, if you prefer, it is the whole brain-body-environment system that instantiates mental properties -- not the brain alone.

One crucial point about the difference between neo-Aristotelianism and neo-Scholasticism concerns the nature of the intellect. Scholastics held that the intellectual portion of the soul survived the death of the body.

As far as I know, Aristotle himself was conflicted about this. One book I'm currently reading puts the point this way:

"Aristotle did hesitate over whether intellectual thought requires a body. Later, medieval Christian Aristotelians held that whereas sensation requires a body, intellectual cognition does not".

My view is that intellectual cognition requires a body just as much as sensation does -- only the body of intellectual cognition is culture and esp. language.

On that ground, I do not think there is anything of the human person that persists past the death of the body apart from what others remember of us, and our cultural productions (e.g. books, theories, art, etc.).

Kantian Naturalist said...

Putting the same thought slightly differently, there are two different kinds of intentionality: the somatic intentionality of the living body and the discursive intentionality of the participants in a linguistic community. How to explain the historical emergence of the latter is a tricky question. I'm looking forward to reading Tomasello's recent A Natural History of Human Thinking for some tentative answers to that question grounded in his decades of empirical research with captive great apes and (non-captive) infants and children.

Given your interest in Buddhist metaphysics, the book I would recommend most (if you have not already read it) is The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch. I've read a lot of books over the years, and not many have had such a profound influence on me.

Anonymous said...

Instead, my intent is to show that what Aristotle meant by "soul" is something perfectly non-spiritual (in a Christian sense of 'spiritual', whatever that means).

Aristotle's soul is totally non-spiritual. At least insofar as Christians means spiritual. And I have no idea what they mean.

Heh.

Anonymous said...

My view is that intellectual cognition requires a body just as much as sensation does -- only the body of intellectual cognition is culture and esp. language.

Please feel free to explain the material and bodily machinations of intellection. I look forward to seeing either the intellect explained away in the process, or the material.

Naturalism is defunct. It has outlived its usefulness, which was easy to do since naturalism as a metaphysical view was never very useful intellectually.

grodrigues said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

"That's entirely consistent with giving a rich mathematical description of those differences in structure, and in particular the mathematics of dynamical systems theory (which Aristotle did not have)."

You forgot to add that the latter is as relevant to Aristotle's purposes as the linear geometry of Banach spaces or Lefschetz pencils on symplectic manifolds or realizability topoi or projective determinacy -- the examples are random and just to show off some fancy buzzwords that Aristotle also did not know.

"In fact, we can go even better and say that a living thing is an autocatalytic set of molecules enclosed in a semi-permeable membrane. A being with that kind of organization will necessarily be teleological."

Huh uh.

"I see no reason to think that non-living things are teleologically structured; I expect some push-back from the neo-Scholastics here on that point."

Do you? And why would you, given the principle of finality?

"Instead, my intent is to show that what Aristotle meant by "soul" is something perfectly non-spiritual (in a Christian sense of 'spiritual', whatever that means)."

Whatever Aristotle meant is a whatever that Christians might mean for all you know. Not.

"My view is that intellectual cognition requires a body just as much as sensation does -- only the body of intellectual cognition is culture and esp. language."

The "body of intellectual cognition" is culture? Culture and language are dependent on a community, so if there was no community of language speakers (say, there is only one human being), there is no intellectual cognition. But this cannot be right. Or is it?

"On that ground, I do not think there is anything of the human person that persists past the death of the body apart from what others remember of us, and our cultural productions (e.g. books, theories, art, etc.)."

How do you go from the "grounds" pointed above to "there is[n't] anything of the human person that persists past the death of the body" is a mistery. It is a matter of contention what were the definitive views of Aristotle on the immortality of the soul; slightly less mysterious is the plain fact that the Scholastics had *arguments* (those pernicious little buggers) for the subsistence of the soul.

Kantian Naturalist said...

Aristotle's soul is totally non-spiritual. At least insofar as Christians means spiritual. And I have no idea what they mean.

Heh.


OK, I'll admit, I deserve that -- I walked right into that one. Since I'm not a Christian (nor was I raised as one), I never really know what someone means by "spiritual". I was only trying to avoid reading too much into Aristotle.

Please feel free to explain the material and bodily machinations of intellection. I look forward to seeing either the intellect explained away in the process, or the material.

I think of the "form" of the intellect as the social practices of reason-giving -- as Brandom puts it, being able to play the game of giving and asking for reasons. That is, of course, irreducibly normative. It's no more reducible to material "stuff" than is the case for life itself.

In other words, there's a structure/stuff distinction at work in both kinds of intentionality that I posit -- somatic intentionality and discursive intentionality.

Hard as this might to believe, I'm not a naturalist. Nor am I a classical theist. I'm interested in opening up philosophical imagination in new directions, and I don't care much for labels.

Matt Sheean said...

KN

"only the body of intellectual cognition is culture and esp. language."

I see this come up now and then. I would like to see it defended. There seems to be some equivocation here, when you say that sensation requires a body what is meant there is that in order for sensation to happen there must be a body so capable. Culture and language, though, seem to be manifestations of intellectual activity, rather than the necessary condition for their occurrence (however well they might historically account for our intellectual development). I suppose language might be a sign of intellection in the same way that a grimace is a sign of pain, but to connect the grimace to the pain or the word to the idea is a prerequisite to culture, language, etc. This connection is made by a subject, not by the language or the grimace itself.

I don't take what I've just said to be some sort of knock down response to what you're saying. I'm just stirring the pot for now.

Kantian Naturalist said...

The "body of intellectual cognition" is culture? Culture and language are dependent on a community, so if there was no community of language speakers (say, there is only one human being), there is no intellectual cognition. But this cannot be right. Or is it?

I'll bite that bullet -- I think it is right. More precisely put: suppose there were a human being who had never been enculturated or acquired a language. My hypothesis is that he or she would not be a "rational animal."


slightly less mysterious is the plain fact that the Scholastics had *arguments* (those pernicious little buggers) for the subsistence of the soul.

Granted, of course -- though arguments that are only as sound as their premises are true. I can't comment further, since I've never examined those arguments and don't intend to. There are many things that fascinate me and that I want to learn; whether or not the soul is immortal isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

Hard as this might to believe, I'm not a naturalist. Nor am I a classical theist. I'm interested in opening up philosophical imagination in new directions, and I don't care much for labels.

Any particular reason, then, that your name is two labels?

Kantian Naturalist said...

Any particular reason, then, that your name is two labels?

I chose the label at a time when I was committed to figuring out if a Kantian approach to rationality (and morality) was consistent with naturalism (however broadly construed). That's the label I was posting under at Uncommon Descent and TSZ. I could change it now that I no longer think naturalism works, but then no one would know that I'm the same contributor. So I feel stuck with it! I should have chosen a different pseudonym!



Kantian Naturalist said...

I see this come up now and then. I would like to see it defended. There seems to be some equivocation here, when you say that sensation requires a body what is meant there is that in order for sensation to happen there must be a body so capable. Culture and language, though, seem to be manifestations of intellectual activity, rather than the necessary condition for their occurrence (however well they might historically account for our intellectual development). I suppose language might be a sign of intellection in the same way that a grimace is a sign of pain, but to connect the grimace to the pain or the word to the idea is a prerequisite to culture, language, etc. This connection is made by a subject, not by the language or the grimace itself.

I don't take what I've just said to be some sort of knock down response to what you're saying. I'm just stirring the pot for now.


Nothing wrong with stirring the pot!

First, on the analogy: I would say that the grimace is a culturally mediated expression of the pain -- someone learns how to grimace when in pain (rather than shouting or crying). When you see someone grimace, it is their pain that you see, in its culturally mediated expression.

Second, on the general relation between language and propositional thought: I think that one acquires the ability to think propositionally (and so inferentially) in the course of acquiring a language. I don't think that there are propositionally structured thoughts just lying there, awaiting the advent of language.

Third, the language-thought connection can be put in stronger or weaker versions.

The strongest version says that you can only have thoughts for which you already have language. I don't think that's true; in fact it's pretty obviously false!

The weakest version says that the ability to have propositionally structured thoughts and the ability to speak a language are inter-dependent. The whole process of being initiated into the space of reasons (being able to play the game of giving and asking for reasons) is a slow process that usually begins around 18 months (I think) and isn't really in place till one is able to understand conditionals (maybe five or six years?). (You can tell I don't have children and don't spend much time with children; I'm sure I'm off in my estimates!) That process is basically a positive feedback-loop, with a lot of correction from competent language users.

Matt Sheean said...

"I would say that the grimace is a culturally mediated expression of the pain -- someone learns how to grimace when in pain (rather than shouting or crying)."

I don't think that's what I am talking about, though. Just imagine any involuntary shudder or shout in response to pain. The point is that the pain is expressed in the shudder (by way of illustration) just as the intellect is expressed in language and culture, but I see no reason to believe that they are interdependent. That is, how is what you are doing not simply describing the discursive activity of the intellect and then talking about it as if it were the whole package.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I wish Santi would stop slandering Buddhism. Buddhism is an fascinating and insightful, it has very little to do with boilerplate naturalism and empiricism.

Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

I purchased at Amazon "The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience." I also got the Harvard Press book you recommended earlier in this thread.

I find your Aristotelian ideas, and your disinterest in mixing them with religious woo, interesting. I'll be curious in learning more about neo-Aristotelianism (which seems to be a sister language of Feserism, but with less caffeine and kool-aid drinking).

And since Buddhism has come up, this book is probably something you would like:

"Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind" (Columbia University Press).

I read it earlier in the summer. Dan Arnold basically situates the naturalist-dualist debate in Dharmakirti and Nagarjuna. Great reflections on the issues of interest to you from the Eastern side.

And one more Buddha book recommendation: "The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized" (Owen Flanagan, MIT Press).

Paul Amrhein said...

@Jeremy

I was once censored from someone's blog (his blog his right) for pointing out that while, yes, Buddhists believe in the doctrine of anatta (no-soul) they also affirm both karma and reincarnation. I then gave the example of the traditional manner of choosing the next Dali Lama. That did it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Surely, for the Aristotelian the form of the intellect is the ability to receive forms? Culture and language, to some degree, rely on us being able to reason, to grasp forms. I don't think they can explain it.

Kantian Naturalist,

I know how you feel about labels. I tend to call myself a Platonist, but people tend to misunderstand what I mean by that. You could put your old username in brackets for a while and phase it out.

Scott said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

"[S]uppose there were a human being who had never been enculturated or acquired a language. My hypothesis is that he or she would not be a 'rational animal.'"

…whereas an Aristotelian would say that s/he would be a rational animal (and indeed could be nothing else if s/he is a "human being" at all), that rationality would therefore still be a property that flows from his/her essence, but that in all probability s/he would manifest that property only to a very, very low degree.

Generally speaking, since humans are social/political animals, much of our potency would remain unactualized for any of us who existed in splendid isolation, including but not at all limited to our intellectual powers. But as Jeremy Taylor intimates, that wouldn't mean that we simply lacked those powers altogether, only that there are conditions necessary for their exercise. (I also agree with Jeremy that human culture and language presuppose, and therefore can't explain, the intellect's ability to receive forms.)

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Buddhism is quite hard for Westerners to understand because it is radically apophatic - quite a different perspective from the Western one. This causes great misunderstandings and is one reason why Western Buddhism is largely a farce.

There are some great Western Buddhist writers, though. Marco Pallis must rank as one of the greatest, and I very much recommend his A Buddhist Spectrum .

William Stoddard's new An Illustrated Outline of Buddhism: The Essentials of Buddhist Spirituality seems like a good introduction for a Westerner.

As I said, Buddhism's extreme apophatic perspective makes it hard for Westerners to properly understand it (and I cannot claim any deep knowledge). This perspective is designed to prevent over attachment to anything except Nirvana, the Supreme Reality.

What an unbiased glance at Buddhism will quickly show is that it is a religion and it is spiritual.

The doctrine of No-Self or anatma, for example,e is not, in the end, contrary to the belief in Self or Atma. As William Stoddart puts it,

"It simply tells us that creatures, to the extent that they are subject to the "three poisons" (illusion, lust, pride), are devoid of Atma."

The Buddha actually made many positive references to Atma.

This is not that different to Christ's words to St. Catherine of Sienna, "Thou art she who is not; I am He who is."

What the Buddhist doctrine of No-Self is trying to make sure is that the spiritual pilgrim does not cling too much to false selves.

Daniel Joachim said...

@KN

I appreciate you being frank about your honest doubts, and respect your desire to not have a label. If you wouldn't mind me asking: What turned you from both Kant and naturalism in the end?

Also. What would refrain you from embracing notions like Pure Act? Some epistemological skepticism?

It occured to me that it would be interesting to hear the Dalai Lama comment on this Western interpretation of Buddhism. Could seem like a desire to be viewed as open-minded and spiritual, while still retaining the "intellectualism" of non-religion.

I've always had a hard time to even square the possible perspective of the writings of e.g. Harris with what I learnt from religious studies in Uni. Not to mention Hinduism.

Santi said...

Jeremy Taylor:

Thanks for the Buddha book recommendations. I put them on my Amazon wish list.

Concerning Buddhism, I agree that it is a dualism. The contemporary Western attempt to turn it into a more "science friendly" form of monism may or may not succeed.

Buddhism's ludicrous doctrine of reincarnation is traditionally what keeps the Buddhist from suicide. (Nobody gets off the wheel of samsara that easily.)

So reincarnation has its pragmatic place.

But if you drop the dualism and reincarnation bits (as Western seculars are prone to do), the nihilism comes to the fore, and it becomes hard to know how to resist the case for suicide.

How will a naturalized Buddhism solve this dilemma? I don't know. Why not put out the fire straight off?

I disagree with you that Buddhism is friendly to the notion of the Atman's existence. Buddhism's distinguishing characteristic is its Anatman doctrine (no self doctrine). Meditation in Hinduism brings you to the one; meditation in Buddhism brings you to the zero. In the end, it's about math. (Curiously, 1s and zeros are the ground of information. Even the cosmos can't seem to make up its mind on the no self doctrine.)

So is it empty all the way down, or does God (the one) ground the seemingly ceaseless change? Who knows? It's not an empirical question. Metaphysical agnosticism is in order.

My name for God is: "The Metazeroone." (As when Daniel Dennett says, "Anything you can do, I can do meta.")

Santi said...

Somebody above asked me my definition of metaphysics, which is: "What do you think you know (in the ultimate sense, such as with regard to things like free will and God's existence)," and (in terms of epistemology) "Why do you think you know it?"

With regards to my metaphysical stance, I think the wisest position is metaphysical agnosticism regarding matters not available to empiricism.

In other words, I have to default to science and leave the metaphysical questions open to whatever hints empiricism can point to regarding them. For example, I think split-brain patients pretty much finish off the metaphysical idea of Descarte's that the mind is "simple" (not divisible into parts). The brain's modularity appears capable of isolating a number of selves in one skull.

So I think Bayes' Rule is a good methodological rule of thumb for a metaphysical agnostic: be alert to new data; apportion your beliefs to the evidence; entertain competing theories all along the way.

What more can you do? Metaphysics is not mathematics.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

I myself know little about Buddhism, but I know that you are making a mockery of Buddhism by applying ad hoc modern Western, especially naturalistic, notions to it.

It cannot be reiterated that its radical apophatic perspective makes it hard for Westerners to understand. However, if Buddhism is opposed to the Self, Atma, at the most fundamental level, why, in Vinaya Piṭaka , does the Buddha tell a group of people searching for a young woman representing anatma, "“What think ye? Were it not better that ye sought the Self?” [attanam gaveseyyatha] (Vinaya Pitaka, i, 23)

Or why, in the Samyutta Nikaya, does he say “Make the Self your refuge” (Samyutta Nikaya, iii, 143).

And, elsewhere, he says, “Be such as have the Self as your refuge” (Digha Nikaya, ii, 101).

I have no time for your infantile and inane Gnu rhetoric against religion, being a Platonist and something of a Fortean, especially as Buddhism seems closer to Non-Dualism in the Vedantin sense than Dualism. But Buddhism is obviously not nihilistic, as it is a religion and spiritual path. Even the most apophatic Buddhist writers, like Nagarjuna, clearly were advocating a positive spiritual path. The zero or nothingness of Nirvana represents, paradoxically, its fullness. It is no-thing, but it is the supreme, divine reality.

If it were actually nothing, why would it be described, in various contexts, as an awakening, law, enlightenment, Self, and made clear that it is absolute, infinite, and perfect. Nirvana in Buddhism is simply the supreme, divine reality, although in most schools this reality's qualities as a supreme state are emphasised most centrally.

Even Platonic and Semitic thinkers and mystics have talked of God as Nothingness

Gottfried said...

Santi reminds me of another recent guest of this blog. The same inability to distinguish between assertions and arguments, the same unwillingness to engage with the questions of his interlocutors, the same tendency to toss about words and concepts he doesn't understand. The same mindless appeals to empiricism, the same pompous tone.

Come to think of it, how odd that Mr. Santi should appear at about the same time that Mr. Fox vanished...

Bones said...

"With regards to my metaphysical stance, I think the wisest position is metaphysical agnosticism regarding matters not available to empiricism."

How would you justify this position empirically?

"So I think Bayes' Rule is a good methodological rule of thumb for a metaphysical agnostic: be alert to new data; apportion your beliefs to the evidence; entertain competing theories all along the way."

Just how deep should metaphysical agnosticism run? Are you agnostic about Bayes' rule as well? If not, why not? Why stop there?

Daniel said...

@Jeremy,

I would like to agree with what you say about Buddhism (certainly Western 'Naturalistic' take on it is stupid) but I admit I find myself increasingly doubtful as to whether Guénon's initial dismissal of it as an ideological confusion was not in fact correct.

Take Nagarjuna for instance. He employs a whole range of sophistically sub-Humean attacks against logic, substance and casual metaphysics. Even if he does so in the name of safe-guarding the transcendence of a higher reality his actions are misleading and downright irresponsible. Many other Buddhist thinkers indulged in similar sophistically attacks on various items of Hindu Natural Theology.

This is not to say that Buddhists haven’t made a number of profound and interesting statements (Dogen for instance). It’s just that as a creed it seems to grow more insightful the further it gets from its foundations so to speak. One maybe perfectly justified in eschewing dialectical philosophising to focus on higher mystical experience but to make a philosophy out of that eschewal is nonsense.

'But if you drop the dualism and reincarnation bits (as Western seculars are prone to do), the nihilism comes to the fore, and it becomes hard to know how to resist the case for suicide.'

Karl Jung thought the same.

I've always thought highly of Apophatic theology, at least as an attempt to convey what cannot adequately be conveyed in earthly language, though I think it definitely has limits. For instance if we say God is above Logic and Being rather than Ground of Logic and Being we essentially relativize Logic and thus the meaning of all philosophical statements about God and likely everything else as well.

That doesn't mean statements like God being above Being are without value as long as we qualify what we mean – to put it in modern parlance though God stands above both concrete and abstract objects, so if we were going to take the crude text-book (yes, I know it’s probably incorrect – just humour me on this) interpretation of Plato as claiming the realm of particulars as the world of Becoming and the Realm of Forms the real of Being we can well say that the Form of the Good is 'Beyond-Being'.

The Irish Thomist said...

Anonymous said...
Hard as this might to believe, I'm not a naturalist. Nor am I a classical theist. I'm interested in opening up philosophical imagination in new directions, and I don't care much for labels.

Any particular reason, then, that your name is two labels?


Hadn't read the debate you were having but to an outside observer that was a checkmate for Anonymous!

Kantian Naturalist said...

I think I have an argument as to why culture and language are necessary for the intellect, but I'd like to know what you mean by "the form of the intellect is the ability to receive forms". What is meant by "receive"? Presumably the sensitive portion of the soul is not receiving forms? Or is it? Does the intellect of a cat receive the forms of the birds it stalks?

I know pretty well how I would describe the differences between animal and human minds, but since I don't know the Scholastic story, I don't know how others here would like to describe that difference.

Santi said...

Bones, Jeremy Taylor, Daniel:

Not just Jung, but many scholars of Buddhism have noted the dilemma facing a non-dual and non-reincarnation Buddhism in relation to suicide.

As for the Buddha's metaphysics, he was famously non-committal. Buddha was a metaphysical agnostic. One could put off suffering without knowing how the thorn had found its way into the foot. The Pali Canon gives about ten or so unanswerable questions, among them whether or not the Atman exists.

Working with the negative--"not this, not that"--is more a Hindu thing. Buddhism is more about noting the shifting and mutually interdependent nature of insubstantial beings ("No flower in the flower"). Emptiness is what Buddhism tries to get you to deal with, the insubstantial and transitory nature of the self and all other things. It tries to get you to a place of acceptance about that, so you'll stop your clinging and suffering.

As to Bayes' Rule, why would I direct skepticism toward it? Give me a good reason to do so.

And what would it look like to reject Bayes' Rule?

Here's the opposite of Bayes' Rule (call it Counter-Bayes): "Close yourself off to new information; believe things confidently or not at all (no grayscaling your level of confidence from 1-100); entertain no alternative theories (make your existing theory fit every contingency)."

Why would I do that?

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Daniel:

I appreciate you being frank about your honest doubts, and respect your desire to not have a label. If you wouldn't mind me asking: What turned you from both Kant and naturalism in the end?

Also. What would refrain you from embracing notions like Pure Act? Some epistemological skepticism?


What turned me away from naturalism and from Kant is, roughly, the same thing: cognitive pluralism.

The pluralism of conceptual frameworks was a big problem for all the post-Kantians, because it became clear that Kant was just wrong in holding that there is one universal and necessary conceptual framework for all rational beings. Conceptual frameworks change over time, and the most we can hope for is that they are getting better rather than worse at representing or modeling some specific domain.

Conversely, from the side of naturalism, it became pretty clear to me that naturalism is a kind of ontological monism -- i.e. a single, all-embracing, comprehensive metaphysical view. I don't think that there is any such view that is available to us finite and limited animals.

Rather, I think that we have piecemeal cognitive capacities that are generally reliable at modeling over specific domains, but that there's no single cognitive capacity that models all domains or that functions as second-order model that unifies the first-order cognitive models.

In other words, I don't think that there's any such thing as a single comprehensive metaphysical system. And since naturalism is an attempt at such a system, thinking about cognitive modeling in this way requires that I abandon naturalism.


Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist:

Does this mean you take yourself to be a metaphysical agnostic?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Jeremy

Here's a little blurb from my blog.

Reincarnation interpretation. Your present personality is not the real you. None of your past personalities were the real you. They have all changed. You have remained. Who are you?

Santi said...

Paul:

I like your reincarnation question. That's great.

Of course, you can then make it a shorter sequence of births, ripenings, and deaths. You went through the birth, ripening, and death of your toddler-hood, then your childhood, then your adolescence, then your young adulthood, etc.

Are you the teen you were then?

And you can go even shorter in the sequences of births, ripenings, and deaths (the seasons, the day, the minute).

The world is burning.

You also experience in each cycle of breath a ripening and a falling away. Each moment is a new beginning, a new ripening of something, and a new ending for something else.

Everything is empty in this way, changing, mutually interdependent.

The question then is not just who you are in this flux, but where you are.

Where are you?

Matt Sheean said...

"Does the intellect of a cat receive the forms of the birds it stalks?"

I'll let Jeremy respond to this since it is directed at him, but it brought something to mind that might be interesting here.

I was reading a bit about William Blake yesterday, and he apparently disparaged allegory in a letter as being merely the "daughter of memory". Allegory is that it did not raise one to the full heights of the intellect, but merely recalled the "phantasms" whose pale structure was given some sense of solidity by language and culture. It seems to me that there is an use of language that appeals simply to the sensitive soul, the "kitsch" that so exercises Roger Scruton, and the use of language that embodies the activity of the intellect. Language could not determine the difference between the two, though (whether or not it can describe it). Something else would have to differentiate the two, and that, I think, would be the formal character of the intellective and sensitive. This would be something that language could point to, but could not provide the ground for.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Santi

I’m fond of a Hindu saint called Ramana Maharshi. He would always deflect questions of reincarnation. “Work on finding the Self now.” was his attitude. I’m glad you see this interpretation of reincarnation as applying to our past selves within this lifetime. That’s definitely part of what I had in mind.

I’m still mulling your response to my request for your definition of metaphysics.

Kantian Naturalist said...

There's a vast literature on what should and should not be attributed to the minds of non-linguistic animals, but here's one version that I find particularly compelling. It comes from the philosopher Jay Rosenberg (no relation, that I know of, to Alex Rosenberg) and his book The Thinking Self.

Rosenberg considers the case of a cat stalking a quail. Insofar as the cat lacks "apperceptive consciousness", she is not aware of herself as a cat, or even aware of her own awareness - an so she also lacks discursive representations of the contents of her awareness. So the cat is not even "aware of the quail as an object (independently existing, spatio-temporally continuous, and categorically determinate." Yet, at the same time, the cat is aware of something. But what, if not aware of an object?

As Rosenberg sees it, the quail "surely has some internal counterpart, in the cat’s perceptual state, and it remains true that this internal counterpart ‘stands in for’ the quail itself in that complex organic state" – an attribution that is justified on the basis of its explanatory power.

Rosenberg notes that the cat's embodied awareness has "the structure of a perceptual field partitioned into figure and ground" which he then describes in an analogical extension of the Aristotelian distinction of form and matter.

Hence the cat's non-discursive representational awareness of the quail has the general form of "it is so much (form) of such-and-such kind of stuff (matter)" and the specific form of "an aviform quantum of mottled brown".

Importantly, Rosenberg treats the inner states of the cat as performing roles that are functionally analogous to the conceptual roles of judgment, such as serving as premises and conclusions in inference.

But insofar as there is a matter-form structure to the cat's consciousness of the quail it stalks, it seems to me that the cat is "receptive to forms" in a way analogous to our discursive intellect.

That is, the cat is not merely "sensitive," if that means only reacting to stimuli, but also "intellectual," though non-linguistic and non-rational.





Kantian Naturalist said...

Does this mean you take yourself to be a metaphysical agnostic?

I prefer "pluralist".

I see different kinds of social/cognitive practices as different 'ways of world-making', and I don't think there is any single right way of finding the world intelligible. Nor do I think there is any single right story to be told about why we are the kinds of beings that have a plurality of sense-making practices. So there's "meta-pluralism", or second-order pluralism, as well as first-order pluralism.





Santi said...

Kantian Naturalist,

Okay then, I've been talking to Richard Rorty! I'm a big fan of his as well. Contingency, irony, solidarity, brother!

Santi said...

Paul A:

I'm a Ramana Maharshi fan as well. It would be amusing to have one of those Steve Allen fantasy dinners with Maharshi, Rorty, Aquinas, Dogen, Feser, Dennett, and Nagarjuna. Hmm. Food fight!

Matt Sheean said...

"I see different kinds of social/cognitive practices as different 'ways of world-making'"

Each man acts as if he had an intelligence all his own.

Are these social/cognitive practices such that we can abstract from them a universal character whereby they might be identified?

Kantian Naturalist said...

Are these social/cognitive practices such that we can abstract from them a universal character whereby they might be identified?

Perhaps, but I suspect that any such abstract schematization would be too generic and vague to be helpful.

Matt Sheean said...

"Perhaps, but I suspect that any such abstract schematization would be too generic and vague to be helpful."

So... there isn't really a thing called a social/cognitive practice, except for within a particular "way of world-making" that you subscribe to that takes social/cognitive practices to be primordial, but without being able to provide anything other than a vague and generic conception of social/cognitive practice that is, ultimately, unhelpful?

Kantian Naturalist said...

So... there isn't really a thing called a social/cognitive practice, except for within a particular "way of world-making" that you subscribe to that takes social/cognitive practices to be primordial, but without being able to provide anything other than a vague and generic conception of social/cognitive practice that is, ultimately, unhelpful?

I do think that we can and do construct a general theory of a social practice by looking and seeing what similarities they have. There might not be universals, but there could be -- it's just that it's not a priori that there are. The concept of a social practice gets fleshed out by doing anthropology and sociology. I'm borrowing from generations of empirical social science here!

For non-a priori concepts, conceptual content evolves in response to empirical information (observation, measurement). And "social practice" is certainly not a priori. So I'm not sure it has an isolatable core of meaning that could be designated the 'essence'. Conceptual content is probably not essentialist, at least for empirical concepts.

Matt Sheean said...

is that the case for non-a priori concepts in general? Or are there exceptions that we might run into one day?

I don't want to be coy, though. How are you avoiding a covert realism about universals here? There are similarities that social practices have. Ok, how can a thing have similarities without those similarities themselves having a universal character (e.g. that social practice always involves more than one individual). How can you differentiate between a priori and a posteriori without committing yourself to a distinction that is universal?

Kantian Naturalist said...

@ Matt Sheean

How are you avoiding a covert realism about universals here? There are similarities that social practices have. Ok, how can a thing have similarities without those similarities themselves having a universal character (e.g. that social practice always involves more than one individual).

Interesting line of criticism.

I'm not terribly interested in avoiding realism about universals. I used to be.

I used to think that nominalism just had to be true, because real universals were intolerably weird. I now realize that this amounts to imposing an a priori restriction from ontology onto explanation, and that's unacceptably dogmatic.

Rather, I now think that we should derive our ontology from what we're implicitly committed to in our best explanations, and that's going to have to include an explanation of how we explain. And if that means that we need to be committed to real universals -- as the whole tradition from Aristotle through Scholasticism to Peirce has insisted -- then so much the worse for one's nominalistic scruples (if one has such scruples).

In other words, you might be right that I'm committed to a real universal of social practices. Certainly I'd say this: if it were to turn out that we can't do sociology without being committed to a real universal of social practice, then I'd gladly accept it.

How can you differentiate between a priori and a posteriori without committing yourself to a distinction that is universal?

I do accept the a priori/a posteriori distinction, as a distinction between kinds of justification -- but I'm not sure I understand the question being asked here.

Matt Sheean said...

regarding a priori/posteriori I was simply asking the same question I was of social practice.

I think that the distinction between the two kinds of justification is much more clearly of a universal character than the properties by which "social practice" might be identified. Moreover, the a priori/posteriori distinction is itself a priori.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Santi

Reading Professor Feser’s SM made me realize I needed to know a good deal more about metaphysics in general before I could defend or even understand scholastic metaphysics. Toward that end I put several books in my queue; Aristotle’s *Maetphysics*, Stephen Mumford’s *Metaphysics: a very short introduction*, and three books mentioned in the latter. One of these, very early on, mentions a few of the metaphysical presuppositions of science. “As an example, physics presupposes the following three things: (1) that there exists a physical reality independent of our mental states; (2) that the interactions of the stuff constituting this reality conform to certain general laws; and (3) that we are capable of grasping physical laws and obtaining evidence that favors or disfavors specific proposed laws. These are certainly no the only philosophical presuppositions of physics […]” from *Contemporary Metaphysics* by Michael Jubien page 1

I’m awfully tired at the moment, but I want to look through my Popper books, as he lists other examples. Popper thought of metaphysical (he also called them “philosophical” ) theories in contrast to scientific theories. The salient feature of the former is irrefutability or untestability. But he was not wont to throw metaphysics into the dustbin, if for no other reason than he believed that metaphysical theories could become testable with time.

Your definition is brief, but I think I get its principle. Its an extensive definition. You’re saying, “here are a couple examples of the subject matter of metaphysics - the existence of; freewill, God.” My last question had to do with the dependence of science upon metaphysics. I don’t know if you deny this dependence altogether, or simply think it, at least methodologically, unimportant. “Let the philosophers deal with all that.”

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,


Not just Jung, but many scholars of Buddhism have noted the dilemma facing a non-dual and non-reincarnation Buddhism in relation to suicide.

As you seem to be using non-dual to mean not something like the philosophy of Shankara but naturalism and non-spiritual, this is largely irrelevant, as Buddhism is not naturalistic or non-spiritual. It is like talking of a naturalistic and non-spiritual Christianity.

The Buddha may have shied away from systematic metaphysics, but it is clear he held to a metaphysics, as he was preaching a spiritual path. Nirvana may be emptiness, but it also all that I mentioned, as well as being perfect bliss.

The radically apophatic and non-systematic nature of the Palin canon makes it confusing, especially to a Westerner. But it is simply not the case that either the Pali or Mahayana canon just preach against all Self. I have already given quotes to the contrary.

"The Perfect Buddhas who have passed, The Perfect Buddhas yet to come, The Perfect Buddha who is now , And hath for many banished woe— All dwelt and shall dwell: 'tis their way. So he to whom the self is dear(attakâma), Who longeth for the great Self (mahattam)— he Should homage unto Dhamma pay, Remembering the Buddha-word"(A.ii.21, IV, III, 22).

It follows from the very nature of Buddhism as a positive spiritual path that in the end it does not repudiate metaphysics or some kind of Self.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Jeremy

Speaking of Jung, it occurred to me to mention that he thought of atheism as "an epidemic." He furthermore regarded a patient's recovery of his religious outlook as a sign of cure.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,

Well, I should again stress my ignorance of Buddhist thought. I am somewhat sympathetic to your viewpoint. I do find Buddhism often overly apophatic and even opaque, but they may be because I'm a Westerner and not attuned to its intellectual ambience.

I believe Schuon and the other Perennialists argued against Guenon on Buddhism based on their belief it was a deeply spiritual, beautiful faith that had produced a myriad of Saints, sages, and mystics and had held sway over such a large portion of mankind for such a long period (considered with those other features this would seem to make it providential to the Perennialist). I'm not exactly a Perennialist, but my Platonic universalism is not dissimilar, and I'm inclined to agree with Schuon et al about Buddhism.

When it comes to Buddhist philosophy, I must plead a lot of ignorance, again. I have read no Buddhist philosopher in any depth. I long ago decided that I would have to be proficient in my own traditions - those of Platonism and Aristotelian and the Christian traditions (although I have recently left the Anglican Church and not quite sure where to go; I have considered Buddhism, as I did before I joined the Church of England - it is mostly these issues which have impressed upon me, though, it is quite an alien tradition to a Westerner) - before trying to learn others.

Still, I think I can offer some mitigation for the condemnation of Buddhist philosophy. For a start, we must question what philosophy is and what is the aim of traditional Buddhist philosophy. I would argue that traditional Buddhist philosophy is in many ways a distinct discipline to modern, Western philosophy. Modern, Western philosophy is systematic and aims at verbal and discursive exhaustiveness, whereas Buddhist philosophy or thought is aimed more at, one, supporting revelation (and there is a role for such polemics in all religious traditions) and, two, intellection or spiritual vision, including through symbolism.

In a sense, Buddhist philosophy shares this perspective with almost all pre-modern philosophy. The Schoolmen perhaps come closest to modern philosophy in pre-modern thought. Schuon himself somewhere writes that if Descartes and Kant are philosophers then Plato and Plotinus are not, and vice versa. Buddhism, perhaps, is a rather strong example of this distinction in what philosophy, or metaphysical thought, can produce.

I'm split myself. I do like to see discursive refutations of atheism and related points of view. I'm too modern and insecure not to wish to make sure my beliefs are not discursively sound. However, I can the spiritual dangers in such a vision of philosophy.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Jeremy

If metaphysics has to do with “being qua being” then Buddhist metaphysics would circle around the three “marks of existence”; anicca (impermanence), dukha (suffering) and anatta (no-soul). The three marks apply to everything that exists. Nothing is permanent. Everything suffers. There is no soul or ego that abides unchanged.
I recently made a friend who practices Nichiren Buddhism ( the people who hand you the little card with “Nam myoho renghe kyo” on it). It was very different from any kind of Buddhism I was familiar with. Of course, that familiarity had come only through books. In any case they had regular talks. And I could see these talks circling about these three main ideas. Nevertheless this sect is not into doctrine. (There’s been a split between the laity and the priesthood.) It’s akin to magic in the sense that the liturgy is supposed to have its effect regardless of the understanding of the practitioner. Do these things, and certain results will follow. For this sect fulfilling one’s desires is a religious duty, again contra my understanding of Buddhism. Their explanation is that the Buddha gave these scriptures *The Lotus Sutra* last, as they were the most advanced. Asceticism is frowned upon. On the other hand they are anything but licentious. But I ramble.

Santi said...

Jeremy and Paul,

If you would like to read two books that attempt to get the religious lunacy out of Buddhism (reincarnation, hell realms taken literally, Pure Land Buddhism, etc.), here are two books attempting to naturalize Buddhism. I think Buddhism naturalized will be one of the great religions of the 22nd century. It goes really well with ecology, science, and big bouncy yoga balls:

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized (Owen Flanagan, MIT Press)

Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science (David Barash, Oxford)

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Go away.

Daniel said...

@Jeremy,

Out of interest are you familiar with Eric Voegelin or Karl Jaspers works on what would be crudely termed ‘Comparative Religion’ but what they would refer to as the human orientation towards Transcendence?

Vis-à-vis Perennialism I tend to view the varying religions as expressions of a culture or person's turning towards and growing awareness of the Divine Ground of Being. I am somewhat against the idea of their being a strict Reason/Revelation binary as opposed to a continuum of mystical experience. This is of course not to rule out the possibility of Revelation. I think the major point where I would be at odds with the Perennialists is that I certainly think some civilisations and creeds have articulated more of the truth than others (thankfully, as civilisations are not sealed isolated units, thus people are unable to read outside of them and not be so limited).

When I first took up the study of philosophy I resolved that I would study the great philosophical, mystical and literary works of the varying civilisations. Though I'm still barely beginning (can’t wait to get my teeth into Indian Philosophy) it certainly would beneficial if mainstream philosophy students were to do the same. For all modern Western culture's talk of 'Multiculturalism' it isn't really interested in the thought of other civilisations, at least not a fundamental ontological level (unless of course it be 'Neuro-Buddhism')

I certainly agree that direct intuitive experience of the One is superior to discursive knowledge though I think the perhaps natural tendency to thus depreciate rational knowledge is very dangerous. For one thing we have a reasoned framework be able to distinguish between that which transcends dialectical reason and that which falls below it. The modern Christian Natural/Supernatural Theology distinction has caused people to look at philosophical knowledge of God in the wrong light, as merely a preamble or justification for what comes after. To be able to carry out a theistic proof, to understand it and why it could not be otherwise, is to bear witness to eternal truth and in some fashion experience the Divine as present rather than absent. Both Aristotle and Plato held that for the soul or nous to contemplate God was for it in some fashion to become like the Deity. Some proofs too have their origin in mystical experience: one has only to think of the awe-inspiring theophantic intuition Parmenides and Anselm shared.

I hate the tendency some individuals have to do down thought and wisdom in favour of some nebulous 'experience' taken in a watered down Existentialist sense. As Pierre Hadot once remarked 'contemplative knowledge is also experience'.)

With regards to Buddhism Toshihiko Izutsu might be of interest to you. He wrote some very interesting studies of Daoism, Sufism and Islamic philosophy examining the similarities involved.

Kantian Naturalist said...

I think that the distinction between the two kinds of justification is much more clearly of a universal character than the properties by which "social practice" might be identified. Moreover, the a priori/posteriori distinction is itself a priori.

I disagree, because I see the distinction as itself relative to a conceptual framework. For example, measurements are specified to an inertial frame is a priori in Einsteinin mechanics but not in Newtownian mechanics. (See Friedman's Einstein, Kant, and the A Priori (PDF).)

The distinction between a priori and a posteriori would be absolute only if there were an absolute conceptual framework, and I don't think there are any good reasons to think that there is one.

Moreover, the link between a conceptual framework and a social practice is quite tight -- we can think of the explication of a conceptual framework as saying what one must be able to do in order to engage in the social practice in question.

The plurality of social practices is reflected in the plurality of conceptual frameworks, because the conceptual frameworks are explications of the conceptual content implicit in social practices.

On that line of thought, the a priori/a posteriori distinction is not itself already presupposed before any social practices enter the scene, but is relative to any social practice. The a priori statements explicate what norms one must conform to if one is to engage in that practice at all, and the a posteriori statements explicate what assertions one can be entitled to by conforming to those norms.

Santi said...

Paul,

You offered this quote: "As an example, physics presupposes the following three things: (1) that there exists a physical reality independent of our mental states; (2) that the interactions of the stuff constituting this reality conform to certain general laws; and (3) that we are capable of grasping physical laws and obtaining evidence that favors or disfavors specific proposed laws."

This sort of minimal metaphysics is fine for me. I'm not against metaphysics, and I don't make any naive assumption that we don't carry about metaphysical assumptions.

In my view, one just has to be cautious. Example: bacterial life on Mars. If I grayscale my belief about this, I give it a four (I think it's unlikely). I'm keeping an open mind though, and science will tell us with certainty sometime over the next fifty years.

But most metaphysical questions are open to question, but without any resolution. Example: do we have free will? Almost certainly not in the contra-causal form. I suppose it's possible if the world turns out to be dual. If I grayscale it, I give free will about a 1 for me. I think it's unlikely. But unlike with the Mars question, I'll probably never have more data on which to make a better determination. Maybe somebody will come up with a new and clever argument that persuades me, but the reality is that metaphysical questions (of the sort we care most about, God's existence, etc.) are not obvious.

Therefore, I think metaphysical agnosticism is reasonable for the same reason that Mars life agnosticism is reasonable. You shouldn't get out ahead of the data and reasons (for and against). You should grayscale things, and do the best you can.

Famously, Bertrand Russell would say at the Pearly Gates to God (as to why he didn't believe in Her): "Not enough evidence."

I think people come under the spell of metaphysical arguments, believe them strongly, and then rationalize their belief. They do this out of anxiety. They really, really want something to be true. I keep trying in my own life to stay as close to the truth as I can (however painful).

For example, I would love for immortality to be true, but I'll probably not survive the death of the body. No amount of metaphysical rigor is going to change the looming suspicion that I might be wrong to believe this with any confidence (because these questions are of their very nature neither scientific nor mathematical).

It's sad. We're in a very foggy existential situation. People pretend to see further into the fog than they really can.

grodrigues said...

"I think people come under the spell of metaphysical arguments, believe them strongly, and then rationalize their belief. They do this out of anxiety. They really, really want something to be true. I keep trying in my own life to stay as close to the truth as I can (however painful)."

Translation: I have absolutely no grounds to dismiss metaphysical arguments, but I dislike their conclusions strongly, so I rationalize my belief. I do this out of anxiety. And just plain incapability to even grasp the arguments (I really really do not want anyone to know the awful truth). I really, really want them to be false. I keep trying in my life to bury my head in the sand as much a possible (however painful) and then project this failure on others.

That was easy.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Santi

I’m not so eager to do away with the “nonsense.” Jung’s view of the purpose of a symbol was as a vessel of meaning or libido. As the meaning of a symbol comes more fully to consciousness, the symbol becomes less and less necessary.

It is one thing to *allow* the power of a symbol to run its course. It is quite another to *block* access to it. The former is, in his view, inevitable, the latter harmful.

I don’t believe he thought that symbols could ever be done away with altogether. For example, he praised the Pope for elevating Mary to the status of Immaculate Conception. This reminds me of an interview with Father Hesburgh (spelling?). He pointed to the sculpture of the Lady on the spire of one of the university’s buildings saying “If we elevate her thusly, why shouldn’t we admit Her (Woman) to the university?” [I’m paraphrasing]

On the immortality of the soul, you might want to check out Raymond Smullyan’s *Who Knows?*. He finds the fact that death cannot be an experience very suggestive, as a good reason to believe in the immortality of the soul. No promises, but I’ll try to find some quotes.

Here’s one.

“I believe that Goethe somewhere said that the reason for his believing in an afterlife was that he simply could not conceive of himself as not existing, and he could hardly believe something that he could not even imagine! And so Goethe on a conscious level reacted exactly as Freud says that all of us react on an unconscious level. I have known others who have reacted similarly on a purely conscious level—I am one such person. I believe that my inability to conceive of myself as nonexisting is a far more potent factor in my belief in an afterlife than my desiring to have one!

Smullyan, Raymond M. (2003-02-01). Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness (p. 15). Indiana University Press. Kindle Edition.

Anonymous said...

Funny how people who "try to live their lives as close to the truth as they can" never, ever seem capable of a detached agnosticism or pleading ignorance.

Just like how people who intensely dislike "metaphysics" tend to be utterly emotionally invested in naturalism or materialism, which are metaphysical views like any other.

Santi projects, because Santi is scared.

Matt Sheean said...

"The distinction between a priori and a posteriori would be absolute only if there were an absolute conceptual framework, and I don't think there are any good reasons to think that there is one. "

That doesn't strike me as being a response to what I said. The distinction between the two as such holds no matter what. We might, as Aquinas thought Anselm was, be mistaken about the soundness of an a priori judgement, but not whether or not it is an a priori judgement if we are to be correct about our assessment of it. More to the point, this distinction must hold across the gamut of conceptual frameworks, if it is to be intelligible at all (for example, the distinction is the same in Newton and Einstein, they differ on whether or not a particular judgement is one or the other).

Matt Sheean said...

wow, I got a little comma-happy in that last sentence.

It should read:

More to the point, this distinction must hold across the gamut of conceptual frameworks if it is to be intelligible at all

Kantian Naturalist said...

I agree with Santi to the following extent: when it comes to assertions about objective reality, the epistemological significance of the assertion varies with the possibility of empirical verification. The less empirical verification makes any sense in resolving a question, the less interesting the question. Of course, as technology changes and our understanding of the universe changes, problems that were not interesting can become interesting, if we figure out how to arrive at an empirically verifiable solution.

My main objection to a priori metaphysics is that a priori arguments really can't get you very far. At some point everything comes down to the "intuitions" of the metaphysician, and whatever she takes to be "obvious" or "common sense" or "self-evident". But intuitions are not evidence!



Matt Sheean said...

"The less empirical verification makes any sense in resolving a question, the less interesting the question."

That's an interesting assertion there, dude. So, is this something we could study empirically? Could we, say, get a sample group and see whether or not more folks in that group had their interest piqued by questions that are resolvable via empirical verification? Like, you know, because most people find maths and stuff like that boring, right?

geez man, you broke my snark dam with that silliness.

grodrigues said...

@Kantian Naturalist:

"The less empirical verification makes any sense in resolving a question, the less interesting the question."

Your opinion about what is interesting or not is duly noted, but otherwise irrelevant as to whether the question can be resolved or not.

"At some point everything comes down to the "intuitions" of the metaphysician, and whatever she takes to be "obvious" or "common sense" or "self-evident". But intuitions are not evidence!"

This is not an argument, but an intuition. Since according to you intuitions are not evidence, this in particular is not evidence of anything, much less that metaphysical questions cannot be resolved.

More to the point, Metaphysicians in general *argue* for their position. And while it is true, that all demonstrative knowledge must come to self-evident principles which do not admit of demonstration, not only not all "self-evident" principles have the same status, but the fact that there is no demonstrative proof of them, in the traditional sense, precludes the giving of dialectical justifications, say retorsion arguments, aporias, etc.

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