Saturday, January 17, 2015

Feynman’s painter and eliminative materialism


In case you haven’t been following it, my recent critique of novelist Scott Bakker’s Scientia Salon essay on eliminative materialism has generated quite a lot of discussion, including a series of vigorous and good-natured responses from Bakker himself both in my combox and at his own blog.  Despite the points made in my previous post, Bakker still maintains -- utterly implausibly, in my view -- that the incoherence objection begs the question against the eliminativist.  To see the problem with this response, consider a further analogy.

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, physicist Richard Feynman tells the story of a painter he met who confidently insisted that he could get yellow paint by mixing together nothing but red paint and white paint.  Feynman naturally found this claim highly dubious.  As an expert in the physics of light, he knew this should not be possible.  Still, he was open to hearing the guy out and being proved wrong.  So he went and got some red paint and white paint and watched the painter mix them.  Yet just as Feynman expected, all that came out was pink.  Then the painter said that all he needed now was a little yellow paint to “sharpen it up a bit” and then it would be yellow!

Needless to say, the painter’s procedure was completely farcical.  Obviously, he had done absolutely nothing to show that yellow paint really could be derived from red paint and white paint alone.  It would be ridiculous for someone to say: “Well, I don’t know.  After all, he did get pretty far along the way with just red and white paint.  He only needed to add some yellow at the very end.  So that’s at least good reason to think that someday we might be able to get all the way to yellow paint with just red paint and white paint alone.  We need to just keep mixing red and white in different ways for a few more years and see what happens.” 

It would also obviously be ridiculous for someone to accuse Feynman of begging the question or of simply dogmatically asserting that red and white paint could never yield yellow paint.  For one thing, he had independent reason to think the painter was not going to succeed.  For another, he nevertheless was open to the possibility of being proved wrong and he even asked to see the evidence that he was wrong.  The painter simply failed to provide it.  If the painter persisted in insisting that yellow paint could be derived from red and white paint alone, the lapse in rationality would be his, not Feynman’s.  For the burden of proof was not on Feynman but on the painter, and he had failed to meet it.

I submit that the eliminative materialist who accuses the incoherence objection of dogmatically begging the question is committing exactly the same fallacy as the painter’s would-be defender.  In stating his position, the eliminativist makes use of notions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “illusion,” “theory,” “evidence,” “observation,” “entailment,” etc.  Everyone, including the eliminativist, agrees that at least as usually understood, these terms entail the existence of intentionality.  But of course, the eliminativist denies the existence of intentionality.  He claims that in using notions like the ones referred to, he is just speaking loosely and could say what he wants to say in a different, non-intentional way if he needs to.   So, he owes us an account of exactly how he can do this -- how he can provide an alternative way of describing his position without saying anything that entails the existence of intentionality. 

In particular, he needs to find some way of conveying the notions of truth and falsity without implicitly committing himself to the existence of intentionality.  For at the core of eliminativism are the claims that what Wilfrid Sellars called the “scientific image” of human nature is true, correct, accurate, etc. and that the commonsense or “manifest image” of human nature is false, incorrect, illusory, etc.  So, the eliminativist needs to find some way of reconstructing these claims without implicitly presupposing intentionality.  He needs to say what he wants to say using entirely non-intentional notions, otherwise he’ll be like Feynman’s painter, who ends up smuggling in yellow paint even though he had insisted that he needed to use only red and white paint.

Now, just as Feynman regarded the painter’s task of getting yellow paint from red and white paint alone as a hopeless one, the critic of eliminative materialism regards the task of formulating eliminativism without making use of intentional notions as a hopeless one.  Just as Feynman had independent reason to think it hopeless (i.e. what he knew about the physics of light) so too does the critic have independent reason to think the eliminativist’s task is hopeless (i.e. the intentional nature of crucial notions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “illusion,” “theory,” “evidence,” “observation,” “entailment,” etc. as usually understood).  Just as Feynman was nevertheless open to be proven wrong (since he asked the painter to show him how he got yellow paint from red and white paint alone), so too is the critic of eliminative materialism open to be proven wrong (since the critic asks the eliminativist to show how his position can be re-stated in entirely non-intentional terms).  And just as Feynman’s painter failed to show that he really could get yellow paint from red and white paint alone, so too has every eliminativist attempt to reconstruct eliminativism in entirely non-intentional terms proved a failure. 

So, just as Feynman was guilty neither of dogmatism nor of begging the question, neither is the critic of eliminative materialism guilty of these things.  Nor is it a serious response to suggest that the eliminative materialist is at least able to get rid of many, even if not all, intentional notions -- any more than it would be a serious response to Feynman to say that the painter was able to make at least much of his paint out of non-yellow paint.

So, if you persist in thinking eliminative materialism has a leg to stand on, then you should think that Feynman’s painter does too.  Perhaps we’ll see science fiction novels devoted to exploring in detail “what it might look like” for there to be a world in which we could get yellow paint from red and white paint!

295 comments:

1 – 200 of 295   Newer›   Newest»
ccmnxc said...

Gotta say I love that picture.

Crude said...

The EMs who like to argue for this view on the web seem to have something like the opposite of the Courtier's Reply going on. Basically, "Come on, what you're asking for is really tough. Just pretend I did it already, okay?"

Scott said...

As some of us said two threads ago, it doesn't appear that Scott Bakker is really an "eliminativist" (with regard to intentionality) anyway. In my own view, he conflates at least four different claims (eliminativism, reductionism, non-reductive naturalism, and the claim that some philosophers have understood/characterized "intentionality" incorrectly), and the only one of the four with which his statetd views are definitively inconsistent is eliminativism.

Still, his claim that the incoherence objection begs the question against eliminativism is a logically separate issue and deserves separate treatment even if his own claim isn't eliminativist at all.

And in case he still thinks he might actually be an eliminativist after all, I'll just mention that according to the posts to which he referred us in that earlier thread, his own "yellow paint" is "heuristics and neglect," neither part of which he even pretends to cash out in non-intentional terms.

Scott said...

Urff. By statetd I of course mean staedtded.

(Just kidding. Stated.)

Anonymous said...

Scott:

"And in case he still thinks he might actually be an eliminativist after all, I'll just mention that according to the posts to which he referred us in that earlier thread, his own "yellow paint" is "heuristics and neglect," neither part of which he even pretends to cash out in non-intentional terms."

I'm having this discussion with him right now in the comments on his post.

He's telling me that (1) he has given an account of intentional vocabulary in terms of "heuristic and neglect" while (2) also assuring me that these are totally not intentional.

When I asked him to explain how that could be the case, since it looks to me that he's just appealing to another level of intentional vocabulary rather than eliminating intentionality, the closest he would get is to deflect the question and tell me I didn't have a good answer for what an "explanation" was and so he had no obligation to spell it out.

I don't expect any progress to be made here. But it's important to see why, and that is most certainly not because his opponents are "begging the question".

Step2 said...

Okay, I'll play devil's advocate. Couldn't Bakker respond that Feynman’s demand for proof was similar to a verification requirement for meaning? He could say something along the lines, "I haven't worked out how this is possible yet, but I have faith that red and white paint can produce yellow. My faith in this outcome is outside your narrow range of true and false, evidence and observation."

Scott said...

"When I asked him to explain how that could be the case, since it looks to me that he's just appealing to another level of intentional vocabulary rather than eliminating intentionality, the closest he would get is to deflect the question and tell me I didn't have a good answer for what an 'explanation' was and so he had no obligation to spell it out."

Well, good heavens. What prevents him from offering an explanation that he regards as an explanation?

At any rate surely it should be obvious to him that the root question is something like Hey, how about if you tell us what you mean by the terms "heuristic" and "neglect" in a way that makes clear that there's no intentionality buried in your understanding of them?

(Incidentally, I've just had a peep over there myself and found this gem: "Nothing is ‘intentional’ in the traditional sense – everything is natural." So here again is confirmation of my observation that not only can't he distinguish between eliminativism and reductionism, but he can't even distinguish between either of those and possibly-nonreductive naturalism.)

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

I don't expect any progress to be made here. But it's important to see why, and that is most certainly not because his opponents are "begging the question".

There's been too much invested in his having -- to use his terminology -- rationalized things to his own satisfaction. Since his investment has been in rationalizing things to his own satisfaction, and not in truth beyond that, it seems unlikely that he'd be willing to set aside either years of prior effort or years of future earnings (never mind both).

Glenn said...

(s/b "...years of future earnings founded on those years of prior effort...")

Student said...

Very revealing reply from a Benjamin Cain on the linked thread:

"Scott, I was actually trying to defend eliminativism from Feser’s objections, since I don’t care for the smug Catholic type.".

Cain likes his smugness of a non-Catholic variety.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Cain is the mystagogue of science I quoted from in the other thread. I'm more amused is attempt to defend eliminativism from Catholics is this:

Contrary to Feser, I think it’s pretty clear that an eliminativist doesn’t have to worry about whether her pseudosymbols are “coherent,” since coherence is a noncausal relation between symbols, the existence of which the eliminativist denies. Does the eliminativist need to say even that eliminativism is true whereas intentional psychology is false? In other words, does the eliminativist need to step into the arena of illusions and do a little song and dance which she must consider to be an absurd and trivial byproduct of the mechanistic flow of natural reality?

Student said...

I am a novice with this field, but Jeremy, isn't Cain essentially taking all sting out of his comment when he tosses aside the need for coherence?
Like sawing off the branch he's sitting on?

Crude said...

Cain is the mystagogue of science I quoted from in the other thread. I'm more amused is attempt to defend eliminativism from Catholics is this:

You know, I used to be extremely sharp at spotting obvious fakes - people who put up extremely bad or ridiculous arguments with a faux serious face, purely to make the side they were mocking look bad. With Cain, I am completely unable to tell.

Glenn said...

Like sawing off the branch he's sitting on?

Do you mean like this?

(Maybe, like that Hartland man, the kid should have tried nailing himself to a cross instead. "There, that's the left foot; so far so good. And that's the right foot; making good progress here. Now the left hand; almost done! All that remains is to... hmm...")

Daniel said...

The Scarecrow was going to come out and lecture on how Intentionality is just the most stubborn example of the apparent teleology we see all around us in the world, how we cannot escape 'seeing intentionally', how in the end Intentionality is 'hardwired' into us by language et cetera et cetera ergo ergo the Fregean Existential Quantifier abolishes the need for Teleology. Unfortunately though the Bakker stuff was too low-brow even for him.

Irish Thomist said...

ccmnxc said...

Gotta say I love that picture.



Painting ones self into a corner... which is kind of what Edward was saying about sweeping everything under the rug of the mind.

Greg said...

Contrary to Feser, I think it’s pretty clear that an eliminativist doesn’t have to worry about whether her pseudosymbols are “coherent,” since coherence is a noncausal relation between symbols, the existence of which the eliminativist denies. Does the eliminativist need to say even that eliminativism is true whereas intentional psychology is false? In other words, does the eliminativist need to step into the arena of illusions and do a little song and dance which she must consider to be an absurd and trivial byproduct of the mechanistic flow of natural reality?

Can any of the eliminative materialists answer this for me?

If eliminative materialism is neither true nor coherent, then what is it? If you're not arguing for the truth of eliminativism, what are you arguing about?

Brandon said...

It's likely to be overlooked in the other thread, so I thought I'd put in a word for some of Terence Blake's discussion of Bakker's claims; he's been looking at them on and off for a while, and much of what he says on the subject is quite good. He takes a continental approach to it, and shows how Bakker's claims don't really fare much better in that light, and for many of the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

In the painter's world which is the real world you can make yellow paint out of extra red paint so the THIRD PARTY customer doesn't realize you painted his walls yellow with red paint.

Election voter turnouts are low because of negative ads. When Candidate A runs negative ads about Candidate B, the potential B voters do not vote at all. You can call it negative advertising but it really is an applied form of Eliminativism or Bakker's futuristic world.

My question is if there is only intentionality, can it be proven right down to physical particles?

Scott Bakker said...

Edward: "In stating his position, the eliminativist makes use of notions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “illusion,” “theory,” “evidence,” “observation,” “entailment,” etc. Everyone, including the eliminativist, agrees that at least as usually understood, these terms entail the existence of intentionality. But of course, the eliminativist denies the existence of intentionality. He claims that in using notions like the ones referred to, he is just speaking loosely and could say what he wants to say in a different, non-intentional way if he needs to. So, he owes us an account of exactly how he can do this -- how he can provide an alternative way of describing his position without saying anything that entails the existence of intentionality."

Once again, you're equivocating the explanandum, intentional idioms, with your explanans, intrinsic intentionality. I appreciate that you can't imagine how one could possibly explain intentional idioms short of more intentional idioms, but you have to acknowledge that this could be a limitation of your imagination (as I now realize it once was a limitation of my own).

(Here's a primer on my alternative way of looking at these issues: https: //rsbakker.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/cognition-obscura-reprise/ )

You cannot assert my account is incoherent because it presumes the truth of your account when the truth of your account is the very thing at issue. It effectively renders your account religious, INSOFAR AS THERE IS NO WAY FOR YOU TO BE WRONG.

If this is indeed what you believe, then what evidences such an extraordinary claim? What for that matter, could prove you wrong?

Here's my question: Do you agree your theoretical account of intentionality is not the explanandum?

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

This is long past ridiculous.

"I appreciate that you can't imagine how one could possibly explain intentional idioms short of more intentional idioms, but you have to acknowledge that this could be a limitation of your imagination[.]"

No, no one has to acknowledge that. First of all, and perhaps less importantly, it's a question of what can be conceived, not what can be "imagined." But more importantly, not only have you given no reason to think the "limitation" is on our side, but you've given some pretty damned positive reasons to think it's on yours.

We've* seen your "primer." You posted the link in the previous thread, and we've looked at it. We've told you what's wrong with it: the terms you yourself are using are still intentional through and through.

As I said in the other thread, you were bluffing with a busted flush, you were called, and we've seen your hand.

Now, if you want to read through the other thread and actually try to answer some of the questions and arguments that were addressed to you there, you might be able to find something new to talk about. But this latest post of yours is just more of the same old same old.

----

* By "we" I don't of course mean everyone reading this post; I mean everyone who has attempted to engage with your thought.

Brandon said...

You cannot assert my account is incoherent because it presumes the truth of your account when the truth of your account is the very thing at issue.

Since he doesn't assert this anywhere, and it has been repeatedly pointed out that he doesn't, there's no problem, then.

Anonymous said...

You cannot assert my account is incoherent because it presumes the truth of your account when the truth of your account is the very thing at issue. It effectively renders your account religious, INSOFAR AS THERE IS NO WAY FOR YOU TO BE WRONG.

He doesn't presume the truth of his account. He's been asking you to provide your account, sans intentional idioms. Your problem seems to be that you think that you can just say "I don't mean for those intentional idioms to be intentional at all! Instead they should be something else that's utterly non-intentional". Fine. Will you please give us that already, as we keep asking you to do?

Show us what you are really saying, or doing, when you're stating your theory.

Because, here's my suspicion: you really have no idea. Not a clue! You don't know how this would look, you don't know how to conceive it, you don't know how to describe it, and you don't know how to engage in any of the "this is what is REALLY going on in eliminative materialism" quasi-hypothetical successor-conceptualized blind, brute material processes you say are what's /actually/ taking place. And you treat this incredible lack as a problem for scientists in the far off future to solve.

And on top of all of this, despite not having a damn clue what you're even saying, how to say it, what you even mean... you see none of this lack, and the ability to even give your account itself sans intentional concepts that you can't cash out any other way, as a barrier to showing its coherency. In fact, you don't even see it as a barrier to accepting that it's true. Which is amazing, when accepting-as-truth is yet again something you're certain people don't do!

Now, will you please be providing the account we've all been asking for? Or if you can't, how about explaining why you can't, and why your inability to provide it has no impact not only on the incoherence charge of your idea, but on accepting it as true?

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

I know you probably won't reply to this post just as you haven't replied to any of my posts, but I'll ask you this just for fun.

"You cannot assert my account is incoherent because it presumes the truth of your account when the truth of your account is the very thing at issue."

Why don't you see whether you can give us a summary of just what positive "account" of intentionality you think Ed is offering?

And just to be fair, I'll answer your question even though it was addressed to Ed:

"Here's my question: Do you agree your theoretical account of intentionality is not the explanandum?"

In one sense, yes; what's at issue in this discussion is not how to explain Ed's or any other theoretical account of intentionality. (Indeed, as everybody keeps having to tell you over and over and over and over again, Ed isn't presuming any particular account of intentionality at all.) Then again, it's also not the mere use of "intentional idioms," as you seem to think; it's intentionality itself, which you claim to be able to explain away.

But in another sense, no. One of the things your own account needs to tell us is how there can even be, or seem to be, such things as "theoretical accounts" when there's no such thing as intentionality.

Anonymous said...

Force = MA if you are the one providing the force or get hit by the force, otherwise MA = MA or it's all being done by the machinery. You don't have to cash it out in force.

John West said...

I don't think they will get it until they make the effort to study some basic philosophy, and some basic logic. I know it's demeaning to start at the beginning of a subject, but without correct foundations people misunderstand more complicated philosophy.

Our time would be better spent recommending impartial introductions to logic and philosophy.

John West said...

I should add:

Even if Scott Bakker is just being brutally dishonest for marketing, there are others buying into this disreputable, psuedoscientific garbage.

Crude said...

John West,

I don't think they will get it until they make the effort to study some basic philosophy, and some basic logic. I know it's demeaning to start at the beginning of a subject, but without correct foundations people misunderstand more complicated philosophy.

Well, Bakker supposedly has a PhD in philosophy, so...

Anyway, I wonder if the problem here isn't deeper than incoherency. Or maybe it's that Bakker's got not just one, but two incoherency problems going on. Pardon me, I'm an amateur compared to the other regulars here.

I think it's straightforward and obvious that if someone says 'I can get rid of all intentionality with my model!', and the model includes intentional concepts that are not cashed out in some other way, then the model is self-contradictory, therefore incoherent.

Now, I'm wondering if Bakker thinks he can avoid the above problem in another way: by not even giving a model at all. Instead, he just vaguely gestures in the direction of Science and The Future and says "Science(tm) will show there's no intentionality. I have absolutely no idea how it's going to do this, what this would look like, or anything. But that's totally going to happen!"

And "I have no idea how this will happen" isn't a mere case of lacking some specifics, but of lacking even a model of how this will be done (because, again... he can't give a model, and doesn't know how one would look.)

In which case, what would we say? That his claim is incoherent because not even he knows what the hell he's talking about?

Greg said...

@ Scott Bakker

Once again, you're equivocating the explanandum, intentional idioms, with your explanans, intrinsic intentionality.

Hey, Scott, have you once responded to the point that none of this is about intrinsic intentionality? Or that, if you think it is, then you are a reductionist and not an eliminativist? This is starting to look dishonest; the evidence is increasingly inconsistent with the competing hypotheses.

Anonymous said...

Fashionable Nonsense.

John West said...

Crude,

In which case, what would we say? That his claim is incoherent because not even he knows what the hell he's talking about?

There's nothing to say. Mr. Bakker has proven himself a time sink. The only purpose of arguing with him is for the sake of others following and watching.

Now, I'm wondering if Bakker thinks he can avoid the above problem in another way: by not even giving a model at all. Instead, he just vaguely gestures in the direction of Science and The Future and says "Science(tm) will show there's no intentionality. I have absolutely no idea how it's going to do this, what this would look like, or anything. But that's totally going to happen!"

Worse, he assumes that scientific findings will agree with him. Why should anyone think this? Even if they did, why spare EM from this form of argument? It is a ridiculous politician's method of arguing by not arguing, but instead pandering.

Scott said...

@Crude:

"Well, Bakker supposedly has a PhD in philosophy, so..."

Not quite, but you'd think almost completing one would still have exposed him to some of the basics.

taylormweaver said...

@Crude

"Well, Bakker supposedly has a PhD in philosophy, so.."

So does Rosenberg, right?

Speaking of that, how receptive has Rosenberg been to critiques? Is this just a Bakker thing, or are EMs across the board doing the same?

Crude said...

John,

Worse, he assumes that scientific findings will agree with him. Why should anyone think this? Even if they did, why spare EM from this form of argument? It is a ridiculous politician's method of arguing by not arguing, but instead pandering.

I agree, and - though now I guess we're moving beyond the topic of Bakker's inability to bypass the incoherence charge - I've actually long thought this was evidence that the eliminative materialists are science-hostile.

Science has a history of suddenly upending or throwing out concepts that had served it well up until that point - even when dealing with the same general class of phenomena. Physics had to throw out a suite of concepts to properly deal with happenings at the micro-level. Uniformitarianism had to give way to catastrophism in part, despite uniformitarianism explaining a whole lot. And again I stress: these were revolutions that took place when trying to deal with problems that were already part of the particular scientific field in question.

But the eliminative materialist takes a dogmatic position that absolutely nothing about science can and will change. It won't need to fundamentally reconsider anything when dealing with what is essentially a whole new area (the lump under the rug, even). They say that this is because they have such faith in science, but it seems like the opposite. Would the quantum physics denialist be considered a devoted adherent of science in opposition to this science-destroying guys like Heisenberg?

And in those cases, you at least had people who already had some kind of model of the world to defend. In the EM case, they don't even have a model. They don't even know what the hell their view could possibly look like.

This is what it means to love and adhere to science? Seems more like eliminative materialists have replaced science with dogma.

Crude said...

Scott,

Not quite, but you'd think almost completing one would still have exposed him to some of the basics.

Ah, I missed that part. Thanks. And here I thought I had another good example of 'Having a PhD doesn't mean you should take a guy seriously'.

Don Jindra said...

"In stating his position, the eliminativist makes use of notions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “illusion,” “theory,” “evidence,” “observation,” “entailment,” etc. Everyone, including the eliminativist, agrees that at least as usually understood, these terms entail the existence of intentionality.

I find Bakker 's position to be based on hubris, not science or reasoning, yet I don't understand what is meant by the above objection. It seems trivial to me. How can truth involve intentionality? If there is any truth, surely it must exist prior to humanity, therefore prior to human intensionality. If truth is about the way our thoughts "are 'directed toward,' 'point to,' or are about something," then the 'truth' of, for example, act/potency is about how we think about or talk about matter rather than what matter really is. I don't think you mean this so I wish you'd elaborate so that even I can understand.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

How can truth involve intentionality? If there is any truth, surely it must exist prior to humanity, therefore prior to human intensionality.

A lot of conceptions of truth require knowers. There are correspondence theories. For Aquinas Truth is the adequation of things and intellect. (Scholastics, of course, would not require that these be human knowers.)

Or take Frege's conception of truth, which relies on language, sense, and reference.

If truth is about the way our thoughts "are 'directed toward,' 'point to,' or are about something," then the 'truth' of, for example, act/potency is about how we think about or talk about matter rather than what matter really is.

This doesn't follow. Truth is a transcendental. It's being as known. The fact that truth depends on knowers doesn't straightforwardly imply any sort of subjectivism.

Scott said...

@Crude:

"This is what it means to love and adhere to science?"

It reminds me quite a bit of the attempt to explain away the color red as nothing more than a certain range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. The idea, I guess, is to keep the scientific conclusion while throwing out everything you needed in order to arrive at it, up to and including the very preconditions of the process of scientific investigation itself. (Although in EM's and Bakker's case, it's not clear that there's any scientific conclusion to keep in the first place.)

@Greg:

"There are correspondence theories. For Aquinas Truth is the adequation of things and intellect."

And just for the record: not that you're equating them here, but I regard these as two different theories of truth. Truth as "correspondence" seems to lock us into representationalism and therefore imprisonment within an "iron ring of ideas"; truth as conformity* between mind and object does not.

----

* I prefer this term to "adequation" just because it makes clear that the form of the known object is actually in the intellect.

Greg said...

@ Scott

Quite right.

Scott said...

@Greg:

I'm glad you agree. Unfortunately Aquinas is sometimes held up as a proponent of the (or "a") correspondence theory even by reputable sources—though, to be fair, that one expressly regards "conformity" as a kind of correspondence and notes that Aquinas did sometimes use the term correspondentia.

Greg said...

I'm not familiar enough with the specifics of many theories of truth, but it might be possible to describe correspondence theories at a level of generality so as to include Aquinas.

Greg said...

For example, the first couple sentences of the SEP article:

Narrowly speaking, the correspondence theory of truth is the view that truth is correspondence to a fact—a view that was advocated by Russell and Moore early in the 20th century. But the label is usually applied much more broadly to any view explicitly embracing the idea that truth consists in a relation to reality, i.e., that truth is a relational property involving a characteristic relation (to be specified) to some portion of reality (to be specified).

It's probably not quite right to say that truth is "a relational property," but the broader view (broad as it is) is not terribly far off.

Scott said...

@Greg:

I agree with all of that, but even if "conformity" is grouped under "correspondence" the distinction still breaks out again within that grouping.

At any rate, the main point is the one you've made: that pretty much any theory of truth presumes a relation with a knower—including even just the loose popular equation of "truth" with "fact" (or "state of affairs that obtains"), as even this involves thinking of those facts (or states of affairs), i.e., being, as known.

Scott Bakker said...

Scott: "No, no one has to acknowledge that. First of all, and perhaps less importantly, it's a question of what can be conceived, not what can be "imagined." But more importantly, not only have you given no reason to think the "limitation" is on our side, but you've given some pretty damned positive reasons to think it's on yours."

So what criterion do you use to distinguish failures of imagination from failures of conception?

More importantly, what would it take to convince you are wrong?

(By way of preemption: I know exactly what would convince me I'm wrong: A scientific account of metacognition that vindicates the reliance of intentionalists on philosophical reflection.)

Greg said...

@ Scott Bakker

More importantly, what would it take to convince you are wrong?

Well, I can't say what sort of theory would convince me, because if I could then I would already accept it.

But I would like to repeat a few unanswered questions: What do you want me to do? As eliminativists point out, they don't have to believe their own theories. Churchland acknowledges that truth must be replaced with some non-intentional successor concept. But until such a time until a successor concept is provided, what do you want me to do? Assert that EM is true? If EM requires the replacement of the concept of truth, why would I do that? If I were convinced that I am now wrong, what would I be doing? EM entails that my believing EM means nothing, and it entails that EM is _______ (truth's successor concept) rather than true.

More generally, a necessary condition for any theory I accept will be: If the theory makes use of a term (i.e., truth, cognition, wrongness) in a non-standard sense (i.e. non-intentionally), then that non-standard sense must be specified in terms consistent with the theory. (Otherwise, I simply don't know what the theory is saying.)

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"So what criterion do you use to distinguish failures of imagination from failures of conception?"

The same criterion I use to distinguish imagination from conception in the first place. And I notice you still haven't bothered trying to answer my question(s), so how about giving that a whirl before you start asking me anything else?

Scott Bakker said...

EVERYBODY: Let's change tacks.

First, I don't think it's too much to ask for some charity here, especially since intentional philosophy hasn't been able to resolve a single issue in it's entire history. After 2000+ of dissension, I think ANY alternative is worth suspending our prejudices in the name of an honest hearing.

Second, kindly remember I've been down this path many times before. Since I don't think intentional idioms require intentional explanations, there's just no way you can convince me that I have to beg the very intentional explanations of intentional idioms I'm disputing to use intentional idioms. I appreciate that somehow, some way, you don't think you're begging the question, but kindly ask yourself how someone like me (and a growing number of very intelligent people) are simply not going to be moved.

How can I agree that I'm begging your explanation of intentional idioms when I think your explanation is wrong? I think my use of intentional idioms evinces MY explanation of intentional idioms! If people disagree with that explanation, then launch your counterarguments accordingly. I certainly don't think I've got everything sewn up! And I've bitten a great many bullets over the years.

In short, this tu quoque approach has to be an ingroup strategy, doesn't it? How do you think it's supposed to convince me or any other eliminativist of anything?

What prospective path of reasoning do you think I should be following? Am I supposed to suddenly just realize that the intentional explanation has been right all along? On what evidential ground? The idioms themselves?

Anonymous said...

A scientific account of metacognition that vindicates the reliance of intentionalists on philosophical reflection.

So, you'd be convinced of the truth of a philosophical, non-scientific claim only if there was scientific proof of it?

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"If people disagree with that explanation, then launch your counterarguments accordingly."

We have. Let's see your reply.

Scott Bakker said...

Scott: I apologize, but I can't find your questions? You mean on the other thread?

My wife is pissed at me as it is! ;)

Scott said...

"In short, this tu quoque approach has to be an ingroup strategy, doesn't it?"

No.

"How do you think it's supposed to convince me or any other eliminativist of anything?"

What does it mean to convince an eliminativist (with respect to intentionality) of something? It's that very of-ness that such eliminativists claim to be denying. Are you now acknowledging that you believe some things and not others? How do you account for that without invoking intentionality?

Before you answer (or fail to answer), bear in mind that every last ounce of whatever remaining street cred you have depends on it.

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"Scott: I apologize, but I can't find your questions? You mean on the other thread?"

It would certainly be nice if you'd answer those too, but I'm happy to start here.

"My wife is pissed at me as it is! ;)"

Well, don't worry; according to your own outlook, she isn't in any sort of intentional state. She's not pissed at you; that "at" can be cashed out in terms of something entirely non-intentional.

Crude said...

Scott,

What does it mean to convince an eliminativist (with respect to intentionality) of something? It's that very of-ness that such eliminativists claim to be denying. Are you now acknowledging that you believe some things and not others? How do you account for that without invoking intentionality?

Bakker's move with the 'in-group strategy' bit is a joke: basically his standard is 'you have to give an argument that eliminative materialism is false that eliminative materialists accept as correct - but you haven't done that! Therefore, you're only convincing people who reject eliminative materialism anyway!'

But what's actually going on with pointing out the incoherence issues of eliminative materialism is this: people who are undecided about these issues, or are reading up on them and looking for solutions, are encountering eliminative materialism, encountering the problems with it and the arguments against it, and are rejecting it for those reasons. Nothing 'in-group' about that.

Also, 'a growing number of people accept EM'? According to who? And even if this was in fact true - a growing number of people, from what I understand, also are coming to accept homeopathy, mormonism, Islam, 9/11 trutherism and more to be true. Does the fact that they're not moved by various arguments indicate that reason and logic is on their side?

How can I agree that I'm begging your explanation of intentional idioms when I think your explanation is wrong? I think my use of intentional idioms evinces MY explanation of intentional idioms!

As people have kept asking - what is your explanation of intentional idioms then, that does not use yet more intentional idioms? When are you going to cash out those idioms in an entirely intentionality-lacking way? Do you even know how to do this?

What prospective path of reasoning do you think I should be following? Am I supposed to suddenly just realize that the intentional explanation has been right all along?

You're supposed to realize that you have no theory that is bereft of intentional use - you've not even showed how this is to be done, much less that it's possible - and accept that this is, you know, possibly a problem for your theory.

Crude said...

Whoops, mixed the scotts there. Pardon, Scott non-Bakker.

Brandon said...

Since I don't think intentional idioms require intentional explanations, there's just no way you can convince me that I have to beg the very intentional explanations of intentional idioms I'm disputing to use intentional idioms.

Since nobody has been trying to convince you of this, and virtually everyone has pointed that out explicitly, it's unclear why you think this is relevant.

In short, this tu quoque approach has to be an ingroup strategy, doesn't it?

First of all, as has already been pointed out to you, it not a tu quoque argument; indeed, it does not even have the right logical structure to be one. This is such an elementary logical point that it is embarrassing that it not only has to be made but still has to be made after all this time. This is not a matter of interpretation. The disjunctive structure of the argument makes it literally logically impossible to be a tu quoque argument. The basic argument was put by Ed previously:

1. Eliminativists state their position using expressions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “theory,” “illusion,” etc.

2. They can do so coherently only if either (a) they accept that intentionality is real, or (b) they provide some alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions.

3. But eliminativists reject the claim that intentionality is real, so option (a) is out.

4. And they have not provided any alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions, so they have not (successfully) taken option (b).

5. So eliminativists have not shown how their position is coherent.


This is not a tu quoque argument. It does not have a form similar to a tu quoque argument. There is no possible way to argue that this is a tu quoque argument. It has also explicitly been pointed out in comments that this cannot be a tu quoque argument.

In addition, of course, Ed has discussed some ways in which someone might attempt to take option (b) and given specific arguments why he thinks these particular approaches cannot be taken in the case of intentionality. None of these have been addressed; nor have any alternatives been given. Instead you've attempted to indulge yourself in wasting everyone's time by repeating yourself over and over again even when people have shown you that your claims about what the argument is are false even as a matter of basic logic.

Scott said...

@Crude:

"Whoops, mixed the scotts there. Pardon, Scott non-Bakker."

No problem. I think everybody can tell which Scott you were addressing in each part.

Scott said...

@Crude:

"Bakker's move with the 'in-group strategy' bit is a joke…"

In more ways than one. To your point I would add that "strategy" is every bit as intentional a term as "heuristic," and for pretty much the same reasons.

Timocrates said...

Isn't the fallacy not just incoherence but outright self-contradiction? He's trying to have his cake and eat it too and calling this reasonable and even science when he argues for his case while all the while using and employing intention to prove there is no intention. But his argument rests on the reality of intention!

Scott said...

Incidentally, I suspect part of what gives these sophomoric views some of their cachet is just that some people don't really believe their proponents really mean them. Brand Blanshard somewhere tells the story of a public debate he had with B.F. Skinner in which he directly asked Skinner whether he thought Shakespeare's physical body would have produced all of his plays even if there had been no one "in there," so to speak, and Shakespeare had been a philosophical zombie with no subjective experience. Blanshard reports that when Skinner answered in the affirmative, the audience gave something like an audible gasp.

@Timocrates:

I take coherence to be a stronger condition than mere non-contradiction, but in the context of the present discussion I think they're being used pretty much synonymously.

Timocrates said...

Okay here comes some Catholic smugness for Benjamin Cain. Mr. Cain wrote:


Contrary to Feser, I think it’s pretty clear that an eliminativist doesn’t have to worry about...


LOL!

Well that's just the point, Mr. Cain! An eliminative materialist "doesn't have to worry about" anything at all largely because he is supposed to be incapable of worrying about anything at all!

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Here it is:

http://www.anthonyflood.com/blanshardskinnerdebate.htm

Scott said...

@Timocrates:

And strictly speaking an eliminativist can't even ask what you mean by "about," since "mean" is an intentional term too.

@Daniel:

Oh, nice; you've linked to the debate itself! Thank you. I was recalling a reference to this debate in (I think) the Schilpp volume (which is within arm's reach of me, but I was too lazy to look it up).

Tony Flood has a lot of good Blanshard stuff on his site and I encourage everyone not already familiar with Blanshard to peruse it. I cut my philosophical teeth on Blanshard in the early 1980s and, despite some disagreements with him (some of which are major), he's still one of my very favorite philosophers. He's particularly good on the subjects at issue in this thread.

Scott said...

(Or is that the same debate? I can find only one reference to Shakespeare in it.)

Timocrates said...

@ Scott, re: coherence...

Yes I agree the terms are virtually synonymous. I just thought that perhaps emphasizing contradiction might throw light on what is more specifically the problem. The EM employs intentionality to disprove the reality of intentionality.

I think though we might want to push forward here from mental phenomena to natural phenomena as that might help even naturalists to see how expensive EM claims would be for rational scientific accounts (i.e. push it all the way so as to show that we would also have to dump cause and effect).

Crude said...

Timocrates,

I think though we might want to push forward here from mental phenomena to natural phenomena as that might help even naturalists to see how expensive EM claims would be for rational scientific accounts (i.e. push it all the way so as to show that we would also have to dump cause and effect).

The problem with that is... Bakker doesn't seem to get some pretty basic criticisms here. I'm not sure pushing further down the path to more nuanced topics will yield much in the way of results of someone who thinks the biggest problem is that we're not "embracing the gestalt" or whatever else sounds like budget Sam Harris.

Scott said...

I think I have to agree with Crude here. If Bakker & Co. don't see how doing away with intentionality undermines conscious experience and subjectivity and mind and meaning and so forth, they're that much more unlikely to see how it undermines physical causality.

Timocrates said...

@ Crude,

Maybe we should ask the EM to answer whether or not his argument(s) has/have some meaningful point; and if it does, then necessarily he's an intentionalist. However, if he denies his arguments have any point, then we should just let him say in public that he has no point and move on and leave it at that.

(Any point being, of course, intentional.)

Scott said...

@Timocrates:

We've been down that road with Bakker (or rather without him) two threads ago. The conversation has thus far been singularly unproductive.

Timocrates said...

@Scott

Ouch. So it sounds like we've all been labouring rather pointlessly! LOL. Be that as it may, perhaps it would still be more productive to talk about intentionality in nature and thus pull the rug out of debate about there being intentionality in thought? For if intentionality is necessary for physics then denying intentionality will also deny the possibility of a rationally coherent physics... Now determinism may be contrary to free will and the intellect but at least its very determinism is radically intentional. We could argue that if nature is just so laden with a necessary intentionality (determined being an intentional term of course [i.e determined to what?) why should intentionality in mind or thought be so surprising? Then we can attempt to reconcile the two... and that just sounds a heck of a lot like Aristotelianism to me.

Daniel said...

What does this man stand to lose in admitting that he's just a common/garden Reductionist Materialist?

Even the local troll population aren't exactly jumping to accept that latter label.

Daniel said...

Err that makes no sense because I forgot to c&p the clause. It should read:

What does this man stand to lose in admitting that he's just a common/garden Reductionist Materialist instead of an Eliminativist?

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Sorry didn't see your post there. I knew nothing of Blanshard, save perhaps as a name related to the Coherence theory of Truth, before you mentioned him elsewhere on this blog. Care to recommend any titles? I had the debate with Skinner ready because I have something on Behaviourism coming up and thus did the rounds of the net for Anti-Behaviourist stuff beginning of last week.

Random Aside: I’m surprised Chisholm isn’t mentioned more often round here when the history of Intentionality comes up.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"What does this man stand to lose in admitting that he's just a common/garden Reductionist Materialist instead of an Eliminativist?"

Arguably, a fair bit of the target demographic for his cognitive-science fiction. Drop the épater le bourgeois everything-you've-ever-believed-is-wrong bit and what's left?

"Care to recommend any titles?"

Hey, twist my arm. Most of his books are out of print but this is still available, and for my money it's probably his finest book. You can also find a lot of his essays and book reviews on Tony Flood's site.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"…as a name related to the Coherence theory of Truth…"

Incidentally, in The Nature of Thought he defended a coherence theory of truth, but as of The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard he'd decided that the relationship between (true) thought and its object was sui generis and not captured by either the coherence or the correspondence theory. I don't think he ever considered the Scholastic "conformity/adequation" theory in its own right.

Anonymous said...

Link was broken

Scott said...

Yikes, so it was. Thanks for the fix.

Benjamin Cain said...

For the record, Crude, Student, and Jeremy Taylor, I'm not an eliminativist and I enjoyed reading Feser's replies to Scott Bakker. I've written some articles for Scott Bakker's website, arguing against eliminativism and even using some of the same arguments as Feser's, which are standard in philosophical circles. Also, I argue against eliminativism in numerous articles on my blog.

In the comment section in RSB's notice of Feser's critique I was playing devil's advocate, but I was also trying to impress upon RSB that he should leave aside the issue of coherence and recognize some more of the radical implications of eliminativism. I think that someone who “believes” the world consists solely of impersonal mechanisms, as RSB says, should be an austere sort of Machiavellian pragmatist or engineer. That sort of science-centered enlightenment would amount to thinking purely of causes and effects and of having the power to bring about one effect or another, while having no personal attachment at all to either outcome. I've written about this in terms of Buddhism and transhumanism.

Now, Scott's argued against the emergentist interpretation of logic, so I'm not sure why he thinks an eliminativist needs to reclaim the notion of logical coherence. What the eliminativist is left with after she explains away normativity and intentionality isn’t anything like the commonsense epistemic notions, so why use the same label for both the reality (the neural processes) and the illusion (the myths of rationality’s goodness, logic’s emergence from biochemistry, etc)? Why not concede that the enlightened eliminativist would have us change topics, as Richard Rorty would put it (in a different but related context)?

Anyway, I agree with Scott about quite a lot, including many radical, potentially apocalyptic implications of philosophical naturalism, but we don't quite agree about how to think of meaning, purpose, and personhood.

I did detect some smugness in Feser's critique (e.g. he says “we cannot possibly be wrong about commonsense intentional psychology,” which reads like an article of faith), but I admit I have a stereotype in mind about fervent Catholics as being smug. Still, I haven't read enough of Feser to know whether he fits the mold and anyway that's irrelevant and not productive, so I apologize for that remark.

"Mystagogue of science"? A curious appellation. On my blog I actually argue against scientism, which I consider to be part of a substitute, modern religion.

Scott said...

(N.B.: When Benjamin Cain^ refers to "Scott," he means Bakker, not me. I'm sure most readers will know what's going on, but there's been a bit of minor confusion about it.)

John West said...

Benjamin Cain,

I did detect some smugness in Feser's critique (e.g. he says “we cannot possibly be wrong about commonsense intentional psychology,” which reads like an article of faith), but I admit I have a stereotype in mind about fervent Catholics as being smug. Still, I haven't read enough of Feser to know whether he fits the mold and anyway that's irrelevant and not productive, so I apologize for that remark.

Then why include it?

John West said...

edit: Why include it? Why poison the well? This is a faintly grubby tactic called "willing to wound, but not to strike."

Benjamin Cain said...

Greg, you ask a good question: “If eliminative materialism is neither true nor coherent, then what is it? If you're not arguing for the truth of eliminativism, what are you arguing about?”

As I understand it, the idea (which is no idea in commonsense terms) is that eliminativism isn’t an argument. It’s a report or an indication of what science is showing us about the nature of reality. The report carries natural meaning in the same way that the number of rings in a tree trunk tells us the tree’s age. So scientists are discovering that nature doesn’t include ghosts or goblins, and now we can add intentionality, purpose, consciousness, and personhood to the list of myths and illusions.

Assuming that eliminativism isn’t an argument (if by “argument” you’re assuming the folk notions of reason’s goodness, of logic’s emergence from nonrational, biochemical processes, and so on), the eliminativist doesn’t really have to say her brain states or digital writings are true (again, if by “true” you have in mind the traditional notions which science is debunking, by hypothesis).

I think of this in terms of the possibility of science-centered enlightenment. Suppose there’s such a thing as Buddhist enlightenment. What does the enlightened Buddhist think of egotists who are attached to their personal selves and who suffer as a result of that illusion? Do they think Buddhism is true whereas egoism is false? Not really, to the extent that truth is in some ways subjective. Rather, one perspective is replaced by another; indeed, it’s like being born again, I imagine.

What’s the status, then, of eliminativism as a set of books, speeches, and so forth? They’re like scribbles on the wall which, naively interpreted, mean that the world is about to end. And when the end arrives, that is, when science shows us that all of our treasured conceptions are delusions, we’ll recognize that those scribbles were meaningless, given the naïve, folk sense of a symbol’s function. In reality, the scribbles were byproducts of a technoscientific and soul-shattering process that modernity’s unleashed. They’re just indications of what’s happening, so criticizing them for failing to live up to folk standards of rationality is like criticizing the scientific theory of diseases for failing to take into account the demonic basis of ailments. What’s at issue here is whether a paradigm shift is in store for those who “understand” the implications of cognitive science and naturalism.

None of this means I’m an eliminativist, by the way. I just think Feser’s criticism misses the big picture of what’s at stake in this discussion (which is no discussion, from the enlightened, mechanistic view of things).

Timocrates said...

Hello Benjamin Cain,

I don't think Dr. Feser was being "smug" there; I believe he was referring to the nature of the self-evident. But that would have been more evident to those who follow his work and thought and are familiar with those concepts. I can perhaps see how it might otherwise or outside that context seem smug.

Scott said...

@Benjamin Cain:

Timocrates writes: I don't think Dr. Feser was being 'smug' there; I believe he was referring to the nature of the self-evident."

I agree and would like to add that there was nothing specifically "Catholic" about that apparent smugness anyway. The question at issue was philosophical, not theological.

Timocrates said...

Hello all,

Re: my suggestion above that we get off mental phenomena and go on to defending the reality of intention in natural phenomena. As evidence for the need to do this (against EM especially) I reproduce part of Benjamin Cain's post above:

"Greg, you ask a good question: “If eliminative materialism is neither true nor coherent, then what is it? If you're not arguing for the truth of eliminativism, what are you arguing about?”

As I understand it, the idea (which is no idea in commonsense terms) is that eliminativism isn’t an argument. It’s a report or an indication of what science is showing us about the nature of reality. The report carries natural meaning in the same way that the number of rings in a tree trunk tells us the tree’s age. So scientists are discovering that nature doesn’t include ghosts or goblins, and now we can add intentionality,"
etc.

Actually this kind of way of looking at and doing science assumes a thorough-going natural intentionality.

Consider the following (from a post of my on the last thread about this topic):

Enforced "bodily movement is a result of cause and effect relationships. But since every cause is necessarily directed towards its effect, then your being knocked to the ground still involves intentionality even if you didn’t desire the outcome or result or if it was against your will. Indeed, this holds true for the conscious intentionality of your opponent as well (will discuss this later).

The effect of being (e.g.) knocked-out in a fighting match is to drop to the ground. The physical blows (cause) naturally get the outcome of someone being knocked down to the ground (effect) even if the person attacking or administering the blows is unaware of this or does not even specifically desire or intend that result (perhaps he just wants to end the fight or be deemed the victor and your being knocked down/out is only secondary to this, say). "


Or again:

"Survival of the fittest, say, is a natural phenomenon that is directed toward (is a cause with the effect of) unhealthy or unsuitable living specimens being removed from a population (or even entire species) in certain environments. So if the climate is tending to become increasingly colder, then living things that need warmth to survive are liable to die off or even become extinct if they cannot or do not adapt or are not naturally constituted to survive in colder environs; and this, we say, happens by nature and so is a natural intention in (living, physical) things."

So if we've hit a dead-end with our interlocutors in regards to mental intentionality, then we might pick-up intentionality in unconscious physical or natural systems. They seem perfectly happy denying they have minds; they are unlikely to toss out scientific truths they hold dear, though.

Brandon said...

They seem perfectly happy denying they have minds; they are unlikely to toss out scientific truths they hold dear, though.

This may be a bit optimistic given that it's difficulty to get them to commit even to the existence of scientific inquiry.

John West said...

Timocrates,

So if we've hit a dead-end with our interlocutors in regards to mental intentionality, then we might pick-up intentionality in unconscious physical or natural systems. They seem perfectly happy denying they have minds; they are unlikely to toss out scientific truths they hold dear, though.

But they have tossed out scientific truth. They've tossed out truth.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Benjamin Cain,

I think the reason Bakker is not comfortable giving up on coherence is that he knows that to go down that way is nonsense, literally. In what sense can the eliminativist defend his position or his interpretation of the science, if he gives up entirely on folk psychology (which here seems to include even basic logic)? Why can't others claim the same? Would you give credence to the Scientologist who said that although it made no sense, his claims should be accepted if we give up all considerations of truth, logic, and coherence?

Of course, there is the fact that science certainly doesn't prove eliminativism, or even suggest it (heck, as a Fortean I don't accept science has even shown there are no ghosts or goblins). But really, the crux of the issue is that you are talking about literal nonsense. I think a little smugness is warranted as a reply. Indeed, I'm reminded of Roger Scruton's curt reply to postmodernists, “A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”

Benjamin Cain said...

Timocrates, I think you're saying that naturalism and scientific explanations require an Aristotelian, teleological reading. So technically you should be speaking of natural purpose, not intention, unless you’re saying God’s intention is at the bottom of every causal explanation. Anyway, you’re smuggling this in with your use of the loaded word “directs,” since most senses of that word do indeed imply a mind with intentions in the folk sense. I take it this is why science itself isn’t conducted in natural language; scientists speak in artificial, highly technical languages to avoid this sort of misunderstanding. After all, ask almost every scientist in the world whether scientific theories have need of the God hypothesis (or of panpsychism or final causes). The answer’s in the negative, if only because modern science is methodologically naturalistic and thus atheistic and reductive.

Anyway, I think we should be very careful to distinguish between what’s conventionally said about what science is showing and the process of what science itself is showing. Here in this forum we’re just speaking about it and we’re taking for granted intentional psychology (the popular self-image in which the mind has meaningful beliefs and desires, and so on). We do this, I’d say, because we’re not enlightened; our brains didn’t evolve to encompass the scientific revelations about the natural world’s alienness and indifference to our preferences.

On my blog I drive this home by speaking figuratively of natural processes as so much undead decay, like the decay of a zombie. I agree that causes force effects to happen, under the conditions specified by a ceteris paribus law. But there’s no direction there, because there’s no one home intending the final outcome (i.e. intending our star’s destruction of our planet, the universe’s heat death, etc). Natural creation is divine, but the creator is an undead monstrosity. As unsettling as that is, that’s closer to the philosophical upshot of science than is Aristotle’s psychological projection of purpose onto nature, I’d say.

David T said...

So scientists are discovering that nature doesn’t include ghosts or goblins, and now we can add intentionality, purpose, consciousness, and personhood to the list of myths and illusions.

But since the ordinary understanding of "myths" and "illusions" depends on intentionality and consciousness, the reporter must give an account of these terms that is void of any implication of intentionality or consciousness - otherwise it is self-refuting like a ghost or goblin reporting the non-existence of ghosts and goblins.

At least this is what I understand the objection of Feser, Scott, Brandon, et. al. to be and that has yet to be answered.

Scott said...

@David T:

"At least this is what I understand the objection of Feser, Scott, Brandon, et. al. to be and that has yet to be answered."

I won't presume to speak for the others, but you have correctly and succinctly summarized my own objection.

Benjamin Cain said...

Jeremy Taylor,

I appreciate what you’re saying. I’m familiar with this dismissiveness in the realism-antirealism debate. The antirealist says there’s no external world, so what are we supposed to do with that crazy statement other than ignore it?

But it’s not so straightforward. The eliminativist says the personal self is an illusion, and illusions themselves are real; they’re just not what we traditionally think they are. We are mechanisms, not spirits, bodies not ethereal minds. We misunderstand our communications if we think of them in magical terms of intentionality and final causes. That’s eliminativism. Now whether we can actually think in those eliminativist terms, that is, whether any of us could be enlightened in that respect without drastically altering our neural hardware is a psychological question. The question of whether science itself is showing that the personal self is as dubious as ghosts and goblins is obviously separate from that psychological or practical matter.

Is eliminativism nonsensical? For me, this is a matter of stretching your mind to contemplate an alternative paradigm (in Kuhn’s sense). If the world is fundamentally just what scientific, materialistic theories report it is, what we usually think we are is due to massive ignorance. From the mechanistic perspective, our utterances lack any sense or intentional relation to anything, but that doesn’t mean they’re nothing at all. Our language is part of our behaviour and it has causal power to add to various real natural processes. The trick is to see those processes for what they really are and to suspect that we’re bound to be disappointed by the naturalistic viewpoint: if everything is natural or as it is when it’s scientifically explained, our most popular beliefs are bound to be defense mechanisms to forestall the grim realization that we’re much too intelligent for our good.

Again, I’m talking here about the content of eliminativism. I’m not advocating it. On the contrary, on my blog I speculate that science and technology may vindicate the mythopoeic perspective, by re-enchanting the world, filling it with real, but artificial meaning and purpose. I just think we should face up to the possibility raised by eliminativism rather than dismissing it without appreciating exactly what it is we’re talking about.

Timocrates said...

@ John West,

"But they have tossed out scientific truth. They've tossed out truth. "

Well, if that's the case, then they will be a hopelessly marginal group. I don't think the Western world is ready to just abandon and forsake all science and civilization tout court.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Benjamin Cain,

I'm not sure you are describing eliminativism, rather than reductionism. Eliminativism doesn't the illusions are real in some sense, it says they don't exist at all. Eliminativism says there is no such thing as beliefs, truth, cognition, logic, and the like, not that these exist but are somehow reducible to mechanistic matter.

But you miss the main point. How can the eliminativist advance his position? How can he make claims about natural science? And why should anyone pay any attention to him if he does? How is the eliminativist any different to anyone else, like the scientologist or psychotic, who claims that his beliefs are true without them making any sense, literally?

This is not about realism vs antirealism. It is about nonsense vs what is not nonsense.

Scott said...

@Benjamin Cain:

"The eliminativist says the personal self is an illusion, and illusions themselves are real; they’re just not what we traditionally think they are."

So if the personal self is itself an illusion, who is it fooling?

Jeremy Taylor said...

You also, clearly, ignore boundaries between natural science and scientistic naturalism, which is a metaphysics whose claims are not necessarily supported by natural science, but that is a different issue, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

So scientists are discovering that nature doesn’t include ghosts or goblins, and now we can add intentionality, purpose, consciousness, and personhood to the list of myths and illusions.

And how, praytell, would they have known if consciousness, intentionality, purpose and personhood were there, according to science?

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that last post was for Benjamin Cain, of course.

Benjamin Cain said...

David T,

I agree, more or less, and this is the crux. Indeed, I’ve raised this point to Scott Bakker. What exactly is the difference between reality and illusion, given the mechanistic perspective? How can illusions be mistaken if truth itself is unreal? I actually have an article coming out soon on Scott Bakker’s blog or mine, called “Are Minds like Witches? The Catastrophe of Scientific Progress,” which addresses this very issue.

I think the enlightened eliminativist should think in pragmatic, rather Machiavellian or instrumental terms of differences between powers or abilities, not in terms of true or false or good or bad. Note that I say “enlightened” and not consistent or coherence-interested eliminativist, since those latter notions aren’t central to her mechanistic “picture.”

So what’s the difference between reality and illusion, for this enlightened or thoroughgoing eliminativist/mechanist? Illusions are simply less useful for matters of engineering. What’s utility, given the unreality of desires? Effectiveness at furthering one natural end rather than another. The point, you see, is that nature becomes utterly neutral and impersonal, from this perspective. At least, this is what I consider to be the most charitable reading of eliminativism.

Anonymous said...

I won't claim to be speaking for anyone else in the thread(s) but myself, but I'm a thorough-going naturalist who is friendly to science and has no religious views or motivations of note. My reaction to eliminativism even about the mental, let alone intentionality tout court, is one of intense skepticism.

My arguments for this are not Aristotelian (although that's a view I find compelling for a variety of reasons), but rather drawn from contemporary analytic philosophy.

I'm arguing from a position that is broadly Fregean in character, by which I mean that truth-apt expressions in natural language (e.g., "snow is white") are expressions of a determinate thought -- a proposition -- with a determinate logical form (e.g., "X is F"). For propositions to have content, that is, to be about whatever it is they talk about in the world, they must have truth conditions. They must refer to ("pick out") entities in the world. They must have a sense (or meaning, though this might be misleading) that gives them that reference and thereby makes them the sort of statement which can be true or false.

These are necessarily broad, but largely un-contentious views in semantics. Now, one might ask how this applies to science. Isn't science giving us reason to doubt that "philosophy" is doing anything interesting?

It might seem so. But then we're left with a puzzle: What is scientific knowledge? What is rational about science as method and as social activity?

Phrased differently, how do the hypotheses and theoretical claims of the sciences get to be about their object domains? How do the statements become true statements (as opposed to non-sense marks on a screen or paper, or a dog's barking)? How do they pick out their referents in the world? What is it gives us reason to accept those statements as true? How can scientific knowledge accumulate? The scientific realist will take a rather hard-line stance on this: theoretical statements are true just in case they correspond with a fact in the world; they have content because they refer to those facts; we have reason to accept those statements as true in virtue of observation; scientific knowledge can thereby accumulate as we accumulate these observations and the theory itself converges on how things really are.

These notions, of truth, of reference and meaning, of inference, of warranted belief, and so on, are basic logical and semantic notions that are in place before the realist even begins to articulate and conceptualize what the sciences do and what they discover. Stated slightly more formally, they are logically prior to (and very likely necessary for) scientific practice to occur in the first place.

I suspect that the reason this is difficult for so many to understand is that science has taken on a privileged role in our society, which gives it both a positive and negative valence depending on who you ask. A supporter will see science in an unquestioningly flattering light, whereas a detractor will see it in opposite terms. In either case the structural members and the tools used to assemble them fade into the background; from the construction site, it can seem that there is no such thing. But they never go away.

(cont....)

Anonymous said...

(2/2)

Now, what could be done is to take a nominalist approach to these ideas -- both the products of the sciences and with regard to universals -- and abandon the idea that there is a rationality to science, that scientific concepts have determinate content, and so on. On a nominalist view of this sort, it's all just a big coincidence, a function of the mind imposing order, whatever.

The problem is, once you bite that bullet, you've also given up your realism about the content of scientific knowledge. Ok, we've discovered properties X, Y, Z about cognition. Since there is not theory of truth in terms of how the statements fit the world, and there is no rationality that provides reason to accept it, and since the statements themselves are contingent statements about some observation, the dimension of universality is missing (this may not be quite the right word, but I'm watering all of this down for brevity).

So what I see is a bait-and-switch move. On the one hand, intentionality is denied tout court. On the other hand, scientific knowledge (method, concepts, all of it), which is presupposing the very notions that were denied, is held up as a replacement.

This is why successor concepts are required: if one holding that view can give an account of how the theory matters, how it talks about the world, how it in any way treats with reality in a manner distinct from what a poet or a painter does, in terms which do not suppose the very concepts that are denied existence, great.

But hopefully it's clear that this is not a trivial problem. Personally I believe it's intractable, but I'm willing to follow Ed in claiming that it need not be. It is not going to be solved by pointing at science or its findings, however -- science is already guilty of the sin being expunged.

Crude said...

In defense of the eliminative materialists...

There really are some people who are being fooled. Easily duped by some illusions, not to mention a heavy helping of self-deception, convinced of the truth of what all reason and experience indicates is not the case. But an inability to think outside of their paradigms (as they'd say) or deploy some very basic reasoning (as we'd say) has left them trapped, hopelessly deluded until such time that a bolt of realization will finally strike them, leading them to give up their hopelessly wrong ideas in favor of something closer to the truth.

The problem is, the proper term for these people happens to be "Eliminative materialists".

Jeremy Taylor said...

Benjamin Cain,

You are also clearly conflating valid points about the limits of folk psychology with more questionable ones. Yes, we may well be meat machines, with no free will or soul or even enduring self, and appealing to our common sense intuitions is not alone a refutation of this. But the issues specifically raised by eliminativism are quite distinct. They go a step further and seem to dispense even with beliefs, cognition, truth, and logic. To appeal to appeal to basic coherence is not a psychological defence mechanism in this case. It is a fundamental requirement to avoid literal nonsense. If the eliminativist is correct, he cannot defend his position, appeal to or conduct science, or show any more reason to believe him than a raving psychotic on a street corner can.

Crude said...

After all, ask almost every scientist in the world whether scientific theories have need of the God hypothesis (or of panpsychism or final causes). The answer’s in the negative, if only because modern science is methodologically naturalistic and thus atheistic and reductive.

Science is no such thing, and 'methodological naturalism' is some tremendously recent (in the scheme of things) concept, cooked up by a Christian philosopher who came up with some awkward way to sort out what the appropriate spheres were to look for explanations that included God.

Science is methodologically neutral in a metaphysical sense - it no more needs the 'naturalistic' assumption (even pragmatically) than it does the non-naturalistic. It describes things in ways that are entirely capable of being fit into a variety of views - naturalistic, non-naturalistic, reductionist and non-reductionist.

As to what scientists would say - most scientists probably have no idea what final causes are, much less panpsychism, and even wouldn't be aware of the classical understanding of God. Really, these guys have their hands full dealing with their own particular subfields and specialties.

This, I think, is the heart of the problem for many people. There's this narrative that gets tossed around about scientists eagerly diving into the world looking for God, and purpose, and consciousness and souls and all that stuff... and then time passes and, with tears in their eyes and a heavy heart, they realize that none of those things are there. But! They're stalwart sorts, embracing The Truth with passion, and come to accept that these things simply do not exist, because if they did, they should have been discovered by now (no doubt with the God-detecting devices they have at Bell Labs).

The problem is, this is a child-like, science-free understanding of science itself.

The reality is that science was set up from the start to only be able to deal with certain kinds of questions about the world - nowhere near complete, necessarily, but considering how big and complicated the world is, they still had and have their hands full. A good number of the most important questions remain out of its reach, and we're left to philosophy, metaphysics, and possibly even (gasp) personal reflection or (Gasp!) even religion to make sense of what we can. There's a few ways to make sense of it, some of them hostile to science (naturalism, with its brute facts and tendency to reduce scientists and science both to illusions, ultimately), some of them less so. But science isn't forcing anyone to the eliminative materialist worldview, or even the naturalist worldview. Nor is any scientific discovery in and of itself.

Timocrates said...

Benjamin Cain,

If nature does or produces something or has some result or outcome not by accident or chance, what would you refer to this as? For example, you would not say (I hope) that a body in a gravity well was being pulled or drawn toward the centre of that well by some accident or chance of nature (for that is normal and to be expected). What would you call that which nature is just doing by nature, especially ordinarily, normally, for the most part, always?

The artificial, for instance, is at least partly understood by knowing that it wasn't nature's intension for such a thing to result or occur (e.g., that falling water be used to produce electricity, say - for no one would say that nature caused water to fall in order that electricity should be produced from it. That, we say, is artificial).

I mean Benjamin, when we divert things from their natural course, what are we diverting them from? What do we call what it would have done otherwise had we not intervened?

Matt Sheean said...

A wee comment...

It is not too long into these discussions that one sees a description of human beings as some sort of mechanism, moist robot, meat machine and the like. A machine, mechanism, or what have you is supposed to be a term that describes something uncontroversially devoid of personality or whatever property is supposed to be shown moribund. Here, as I understand it, we're supposed to see that it's machines all the way down.

What exactly is a machine, mechanism, etc without an account of what it does? Why should I cotton to an idea that asks me to leave out a pretty obvious day to day experience (e.g. that machines, mechanisms and so on are for something or other) for the sake of illustrating how science supposedly shows me that it is? Maybe more succinctly: I can't even agree on the nature of the thing meant to serve as the illustration for the proposition advanced.

Greg said...

@ Benjamin Cain

Thanks for responding.

As I understand it, the idea (which is no idea in commonsense terms) is that eliminativism isn’t an argument. It’s a report or an indication of what science is showing us about the nature of reality. The report carries natural meaning in the same way that the number of rings in a tree trunk tells us the tree’s age. So scientists are discovering that nature doesn’t include ghosts or goblins, and now we can add intentionality, purpose, consciousness, and personhood to the list of myths and illusions.
...
What’s the status, then, of eliminativism as a set of books, speeches, and so forth? They’re like scribbles on the wall which, naively interpreted, mean that the world is about to end. And when the end arrives, that is, when science shows us that all of our treasured conceptions are delusions, we’ll recognize that those scribbles were meaningless, given the naïve, folk sense of a symbol’s function. In reality, the scribbles were byproducts of a technoscientific and soul-shattering process that modernity’s unleashed. They’re just indications of what’s happening, so criticizing them for failing to live up to folk standards of rationality is like criticizing the scientific theory of diseases for failing to take into account the demonic basis of ailments. What’s at issue here is whether a paradigm shift is in store for those who “understand” the implications of cognitive science and naturalism.


I think you are right that this is the sort of position eliminativism has to take, though I have never seen an eliminativist state it. Indeed, Bakker and his followers treat this topic breezily; to them, the suggestion that there is something incoherent about eliminativism is not serious enough to be taken seriously, whereas the eliminativist you envision embraces the incoherence. Bakker is obviously attracted to this sort of futurist fantasy but still appropriates 'folk rationality' liberally.

Though I still don't see how this works. How can science "show us" something "about the nature of reality" absent any conception of truth? Maybe ultimately it just shows something given a 'folk' conception of truth (if we temporarily ignore the simultaneous undermining of that folk conception of truth), but if that's the case, then who cares? I don't see how eliminativism can be a harbinger of the apocalypse unless there is some 'truth-like' relation between what it argues or indicates and reality. (I grant that the truth-like relation might be a 'successor concept'.) If it undermines truth and coherence, then who cares about the implications of chicken scratch? Its 'implications' would be no more credible models for the world than the intentionality, purpose, consciousness, and personhood that it supposedly has displaced.

As I've said elsewhere, this seems to be why eliminativism relies so much on indirect appeals to illusions, paradigm shifts, and the displacement of folk theories. It has to make such appeals, because its positive claims are themselves incoherent to folk, and without folk, there's nothing left--the positive claims aren't claims, do not have implications, do not model reality, etc. (Of course, the same goes for the negative claims, but since they are negative it may be concealed.)

Continued...

Greg said...

@ Benjamin Cain

... Continued

I do take issue with the comparisons here. It's not the case that "criticizing them for failing to live up to folk standards of rationality is like criticizing the scientific theory of diseases for failing to take into account the demonic basis of ailments." Science does not undermine itself by abandoning demonic explanations. On the other hand, to abandon rationality and truth is to remove any traditional sense in which eliminativism models anything. Can they be replaced by some successor concepts? Perhaps; that hasn't yet been shown or really attempted. Can eliminativism shrug at those critiques? If it wants, but who cares if its scribblings are "indications of what's happening" - given the reliance of this characterization on folk understandings of reference and truth, which eliminativism by then will have shown to be fairy tales, the harbinger is no harbinger at all.

John West said...

Benjamin Cain,

Just a comment on a minor detail (others have replied at length to everything else.)

If the world is fundamentally just what scientific, materialistic theories report it is, what we usually think we are is due to massive ignorance.

What do you mean "scientific, materialistic theories"? Are these the same “scientific, materialistic theories” that forced even a stubborn naturalist like Quine to become a reluctant platonist?

People ought to have ontological commitment to all entities that are indispensable to our best physics theories. Mathematical entities are indispensable to our best physics theories. Hence, people ought to have ontological commitment to mathematical entities. But mathematical entities are not physical matter in the sense you mean it. Therefore, if we are to have ontological commitment to only “what scientific, materialistic theories report”, we ought to not have ontological commitment to the posits of our best physics theories.

Worse still, physics is the foundation of much of chemistry and thereby biology. What are "scientific, materialistic theories"?

Greg said...

The basic picture here is that eliminativism, if 'true', would undermine whatever 'folk' metrics (rationality, coherence, truth) for its being a 'good' theory. But in what Benjamin Cain envisions, though everyone 'realizes' that eliminativism's claims aren't (because they can't be) true, they basically hold the nice relationship to reality; understood in folk terms, ignoring the incoherence that many eliminative materialists themselves ignore, they more or less model reality. So eliminativism undermines itself, but in this story, it all works out in the end. We call the enlightened eliminative materialist a pragmatist and we have bypassed the need for truth.

So when an eliminativist appeals to science and illusion in an argument, he does not really want you to believe his theory. He wants you to commit to his theory. It shouldn't work, but in this just-so story, it does. All thanks to science.

Crude said...

John West,

What do you mean "scientific, materialistic theories"? Are these the same “scientific, materialistic theories” that forced even a stubborn naturalist like Quine to become a reluctant platonist?

You actually caught something extremely important here, and I missed it.

"Scientific, materialistic theories"? If "materialistic" is meant metaphysically - and I think it has to be for the statement to get off the ground... it's not a scientific theory. It's a metaphysical one.

There's this tendency for materialists to see, or at least treat, successes of science as successes of materialism. They are not. You'd think they'd notice the lack of metaphysical work, or even familiarity with deeper philosophy, that most scientists have and take note of it.

John West said...

Crude,

There's this tendency for materialists to see, or at least treat, successes of science as successes of materialism. They are not. You'd think they'd notice the lack of metaphysical work, or even familiarity with deeper philosophy, that most scientists have and take note of it.

Yes, it's very strange isn't it? And they don't even seem to notice they're doing it.

Timocrates said...

@ Benjamin Franklin,

Moreover Benjamin I feel I must deny your claim that I "smuggled in" something by saying that causes are directed toward their effects. They are. I did not say that natural causes consciously choose their effects because that is obvious.

By natural intention I understand a tendency in things towards the same ends or effects. Like the tendency for kittens to become cats and why we are not surprised when a kitten becomes a cat, but surely would be if it become a plant, say. Or the tendency for rain to fall downward (and not rise upward) when it is raining. The former does not surprise us but the latter would.

Timocrates said...

LOL! I meant "Benjamin Cain" not "Franklin" LOL! Bed time for me I think.

Mr. Green said...

Benjamin Cain: We misunderstand our communications if we think of them in magical terms of intentionality and final causes. That’s eliminativism.

Well, that sounds like something an eliminativist might say. But of course, final causes are not magic, and folks around here would prescribe him a dose of his own medicine. The eliminativist is assuming that if we dispute his position, it can only be because we don’t really understand it, being too fearful and too befuddled by magical goblins. He ought instead to pause to consider that maybe the reason is rather that we have well-grounded defensible reasons for rejecting his view in the first place, and that he is the one who needs to stretch his mind instead of dismissing his opponents so superficially.

Crude said...

Green,

But of course, final causes are not magic, and folks around here would prescribe him a dose of his own medicine. The eliminativist is assuming that if we dispute his position, it can only be because we don’t really understand it, being too fearful and too befuddled by magical goblins.

You know, I wonder about this. I'm not sure the accusations of befuddlement and fear are sincere, so much as they /sound good/. It's hard to forget that more than once, the urgency behind accepting this or that materialist view has been revealed as 'Because if you don't accept this view, then you've legitimized these other views, and if THOSE views are legitimized then those religions we dislike will profit, and that cannot be allowed to stand'.

That would also go a long way towards explaining why materialists generally, and eliminative materialists in particular, simply /don't care too much/ when someone points out incoherency, or poor reasoning, or this or that. Because coherency really doesn't matter, but not because their position allows them to intellectually cast it off. It's because coherency's import is a very distant second to the other benefits of the view. That is, at most, "a problem to be worked out later" or even "a problem to be admitted, but only once the threat is gone".

Scott Bakker said...

Scott: Is the question you're referring to the question of my alternative account? I've actually posts several links now, but if I remember, you poo-pooed them because I used intentional terms, and according to you using intentional terms ipso facto commits me to your understanding of intentionality rather than my own.

Why am I committed to your understanding of intentionality again? What evidences your understanding, anyway? Is the truth of intentional idioms somehow just there for the picking?

I really don't get it. Forgive me for suspecting the game you're playing is rigged, Scott. So long as you think intentional idioms somehow (magically?) automatically evidence intentionalism, then you lie beyond the pale of rational debate on this issue, my friend.

How do you argue against some one who thinks they need only speak to be proven true?

John West said...

How do you argue against some one who thinks they need only speak to be proven true?

I thought you would know already?

Anonymous said...

Why am I committed to your understanding of intentionality again?

You're not. As we keep telling you. All you need to do is give us your description, your model, your cashing-out of those intentional terms in a way which does not implicitly or explicitly rely on intentionality. If you use intentional terms to make sense of it all, even that's fine - just cash those out too.

This isn't some strange and unwarranted demand, since the very idea that intentionality (and thus the terms and idioms that use them) can all be entirely done away with is key to the EM position. In fact, it's worse than that... all that intentionality, it's all magic and illusion! If this isn't the case, then the eliminative materialist claim is wrong anyway.

Are you saying that the best model you can possibly offer us still makes use of intentional terms, and you have no idea how to cash those out in a way that avoids all (not some, but all) intentional structure?

Because if so, you do realize you'd be unwittingly giving evidence that intentionality is essential after all and is likely to be retained by any complete worldview we construct... right?

Bob said...

The obvious fact- as this has dragged on - is that intentional terms, of some sort, are necessary in order for humans to communicate.

Apart from that, the question seems to be something like - What is the true nature of reality apart from anyone's perception of it?

Where are the Solipsists when you need them?

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"Is the question you're referring to the question of my alternative account?"

No, that ship sailed a long time ago. I gave you a link to an earlier post of mine; there's only one question in it, and it's the sentence that ends with a question mark.

Can you summarize for us precisely what account of "intentionality" you take Ed to be defending? ←That right there is a question mark.

Anonymous said...

The obvious fact- as this has dragged on - is that intentional terms, of some sort, are necessary in order for humans to communicate.

This is denied by the eliminative materialist. In fact, communication probably needs a successor concept on their view. According to EM, the very idea that intentional terms are necessary to communicate (in fact, the very idea that we're 'speaking about' things at all) can't be right. And they claim that science shows this, despite science itself being utterly reliant on terms and concepts that the EM denies.

If the EM has no idea how to explain what they're advocating in a coherent manner, saying "Well it's really tough for them to do that, intentional terms are just so useful!" doesn't cut it.

Let me put it in terms the would-be EM proponents here can understand: they need to open their minds and embrace the gestalt of the fact that intentionality may not only be indispensable, but their views may be wrong. Materialism is not science anymore than neutral monism or dualism is, and no one is intellectually obligated to ignore their failings just because they're spooked by the prospect of materialism not just failing, but failing spectacularly in a way that makes it obvious that it needs to be replaced.

Until they can produce a coherent model, until they can illustrate they can do that total cashing out of intentionality, we're not obligated to regard their position as anything more than the worst kind of anti-scientific, magical thinking.

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"Forgive me for suspecting the game you're playing is rigged, Scott."

I'll do that gladly the very moment you repent.

Bob said...

@Anon 7:37

You have just illustrated my point perfectly.

Thanks!

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"Why am I committed to your understanding of intentionality again?"

What do you think my "understanding" of intentionality is again? I've already asked you to summarize what you think Ed's is (and you haven't done it); if you ever get around to it, maybe you can summarize mine at the same time. That should be interesting, because I'm pretty danged sure I haven't expressed one (beyond, of course, the bare fact that intentionality really exists).

Anonymous said...

I too would like to see Scott Bakker's response to Scott's question.

Anonymous said...

We've been living in the yellow (intentional) world for centuries but scientists have been smuggling in the red paint even though most still recognize it as yellow. The argument you make as to why it is still yellow seems trivial to EM's. Even though not logically provable yet, the precedent is there.

Arthur said...

Even though not logically provable yet, the precedent is there.

What 'precedent' is that? Are you making the 'Folk science was radically wrong' argument I mentioned in the previous post, by any chance? (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/post-intentional-depression.html)

Anonymous said...

The argument you make as to why it is still yellow seems trivial to EM's. Even though not logically provable yet, the precedent is there.

Actually, the scientists have been smuggling the yellow intentional paint into their world so regularly, and telling themselves it's only temporary.

And the problem isn't "logically provable" but "logically coherent".

Nor is this picture being advocated by scientists for the most part. Most of them haven't even heard of EM, and of the ones who do and advocate it, have no good arguments. EM is an anti-science position.

Timocrates said...

But communicate 1) what 2) to whom?

In regards to "2", communication is directed at an audience. That's what separates it from introspection, say, or contemplation.

As for "1", every thought and word is gong to be a thought or word about something and hence a problem for the EM. Eliminate this and you eliminate meaning.

It seems to me the EM is just committed to classic Scepticism and the practice of the suspension of judgement - he can't say anything without contradicting himself.

Greg said...

Bakker seems to conceive the problem in this way: People go about using intentional terms or idioms like "believe", and the eliminativist is explaining why they use those terms or idioms. He denies that there is really an intentional explanation of the use of those terms or idioms. (Or, when Bakker dons his reductivist hat, he denies that there is ultimately an intrinsic explanation of the use of those terms or idioms.)

But that doesn't really tell us anything about theoretical commitment in philosophy. When philosophers use a term like "truth", it's not the case that we are explaining their use by appeal to intentionality; the philosophers are using a term in a sense that presupposes intentionality.

What eliminativism needs to do is specify the senses of those terms that are crucial to its exposition (i.e. truth, cognition) in a way that does not presuppose intentionality. It has nothing to do with giving either an intentional or non-intentional interpretation of intentional terms in ordinary language. Giving a non-intentional interpretation of the use of the term 'truth' in ordinary language misses the point, since philosophers use 'truth' as a term of art that in every case presupposes intentionality; if the eliminativist does not specify an alternate sense that does not presuppose intentionality, then he is speaking nonsense.

Brandon said...

Only obliquely related, but I notice that John Searle had a brief post on intentionality at the OUP blog yesterday arguing for the importance of intentionality for perception.

Even though not logically provable yet, the precedent is there.

Even setting aside what Anonymous@9:14 says, all of which is right, this gives away the store entirely; precedent is reasoning by analogy. So the sole support is some vague sense of analogy; and when the analogy itself is under fire -- as it is here and in the previous post -- all there is to fall back on is this vague, subjective sense that it's like things that have been done before. But even a preliminary survey of the history of science shows that it spans the whole gamut of different kinds of explanation, and that even the most naturalistic scientists are usually reductionists, not eliminativists, and every major account of scientific inquiry itself depicts it entirely in robustly intentional terms -- investigation, confirmation, theory, model, experiment, prediction, all are thoroughly intentional terms, and they are always taken in a thoroughly intentional way. Since no alternative eliminativist account of science is available, what is really happening is that a vague, subjective, and very selective analogy is being allowed to trump all the evidence of what actual scientific practice is, and what makes it work; the vague analogy is arbitrarily being called 'scientific' while the actual work of science ends up vanishing. As Anonymous@9:14 says, EM is anti-science; this isn't hyperbole. EM is the ultimate pseudoscience, a vague and weak analogy pretending to be the standard against which all science is to be measured, and given permission to dismiss any evidence it doesn't like as illusion.

Anonymous said...

Brandon, Agree. EM appears as a philosophical position that comes with theory of mind. There is no controversy that meteorologists can reduce complex weather systems into data that is analyzed and digested by supercomputers, no controversy involved with that type of REDUCTION, but no meteorologist states that hurricanes don't really exist because it would be a trivial position. When applied to beliefs, it is controversial.

When you read scientific papers you rarely see the word truth, but truth is implicit in scientific pursuit. It is implicit in our being.

Daniel said...

You know I am disappointed. We're supposed to have a large number of Analytical philosophers on this blog but thus far I have seen no-one diving for the obligatory quote from the Tractatus. What ought EM proponents do?

Matt Sheean said...

@Daniel,

I think someone made a comment in the last thread, more related to buddhism, jokingly, that the EM proponent should take a vow of silence.

Matt Sheean said...

jokingly in order to make a serious point, that is

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott Bakker

I concur with the others. Scott has asked an important question I think needs answered in order to at least justify your continuation in the debate.

I want to know what you are talking about when you call something 'intentional' and what you think Edward is saying when he calls something 'intentional'.

I also want to know is intentionality subjective relative to the person or is intentionality something specific and objective?

Can you also list the '100's' of different schools of thought on the matter that I think you may have mentioned before (unless that was in relation to consciousness or whatever)?

Peace and I mean it. ;)

Timocrates said...

I noticed Dr. Feser's discussion partner, Scott Bakker, released a new blog post entitled "Interminable Intentionalism" (https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/interminable-intentionalism-edward-feser-and-the-defence-of-dead-ends/). I wonder if he realized that half the point in intentionalism is that a term is so-called because it has an end? That's the whole reason we can understand and employ them - they are not actually interminable. Hence terms have a definite meaning.

Term = Terminus = End. (Those familiar with French might also be aware of the meaning fin as a root usually has; i.e. an end or terminus).

Irish Thomist said...

@Timocrates

Well said.

Skeptics however are still skeptical in order to come to know cautiously what might in fact be true or false for the most part. So EM is beneath such an approach for many I am sure because EM would be something worth of skepticism! (I don't want to detail my full opinion on skepticism as that would take a long nuanced description).

DNW said...

Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"Why am I committed to your understanding of intentionality again?"

What do you think my "understanding" of intentionality is again? I've already asked you to summarize what you think Ed's is (and you haven't done it); if you ever get around to it, maybe you can summarize mine at the same time. That should be interesting, because I'm pretty danged sure I haven't expressed one (beyond, of course, the bare fact that intentionality really exists).
January 19, 2015 at 8:10 AM



So, we still don't have a definition for the specific concept of intentionality we are denying?

Well, Bakker has implied that he was aligned at one time with a phenomenological standpoint.

He has further referred to the concept of "intentional cognition", and said that "The subject/object dichotomy, if I’m right, will be seen as a relic of the days when cognition remained an unknown unknown. "

So, perhaps he can at least provide us with an account of intentional acts on that basis, and then seek to rebut it.

He might for example try to give a behavioristic account that eliminates the need for, and somehow describes the illusion of the existence of any such thing as an intentional object.

Perhaps he eliminates the supposed object pole of a "cognition" entirely: no schematic eye peering forth and intending a schematic tree (or anything else) in order for there to be an act of awareness or consciousness. Since presumably there is no consciousness ... even if you redefine it as memory of what your autopilot has bumped you into as you barged blindly around the phenomenal margins of a reality we are not evolved to, and cannot in principle, even through abstraction and deduction, grasp.

Or maybe has some more mysteriously and comprehensively monistic framework in mind.

Perhaps he might even present an argument that does away with consciousness (even as memory), altogether.

In any event, if he could come up with a particular proposition that he is interested to deny, then a great deal of this back and forth might be eliminated.

Scott said...

@Irisdh Thomist:

"I want to know what you are talking about when you call something 'intentional' and what you think Edward is saying when he calls something 'intentional'."

I agree with this, but my main reason for asking the question is that if Scott Bakker is going to continue insisting in the face of all opposition that Ed is presuming the correctness of his (Ed's) own account of intentionality, then I think he owes it to us to explain just what he thinks that account is.

As far as I and a number of others can tell, Ed isn't presuming that any specific account of intentionality is correct or even that intentionality really exists. Bakker seems to think otherwise, so if he expects his repeated accusation of question-begging to be taken seriously, it's incumbent on him to tell us just what he thinks Ed is presuming.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott Bakker

Just a friendly question. If on further reflection you decided that EM was not a true reflection of reality would you in turn reject it and take on a more plausible alternative that explains things as they are?

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

I will say I am coming at this slightly different from Edward and some others here. I don't accept many of the most basic assertions and assumptions EM advocates are making not even for the sake of argument (or certain philosophers from ye olde past). Most especially the 'problem' surrounding 'different forms' of intentionality or theories thereof.

Something directed towards a certain end or set of ends or concept or thing and so on by the mind via the will is intentional. The movement of the mind to desire or act, the movement from potency to actualizing it and will it is an intentional act. Much of this back and forth is a red herring.

Either put your cards on the table or hold them to your chest - but if the EM proponent chooses the latter we shouldn't waste our time chasing their tail for them!

Irish Thomist said...

@Edward

A Blog post about Brentano might be of some value?

DNW said...

Bakker says: " The subject/object dichotomy, if I’m right, will be seen as a relic of the days ..."


The more I consider it, the more I am convinced that that is the core point that informs Bakker's thrust.

Fits in with being (it appears) a former phenomenologist.

If that statement is unfair or represents too loose or extravagant a reading of some of Bakker's asides, then I happily retract it.

Irish Thomist said...

Maybe these might give some extra input - as Edward has covered this before in different ways.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=John+Searle

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=intentional

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Brentano

Also does anyone know of a good book like this?

http://www.brill.com/ancient-and-medieval-theories-intentionality

Anonymous said...

"Bakker says: " The subject/object dichotomy, if I’m right, will be seen as a relic of the days ..."

The more I consider it, the more I am convinced that that is the core point that informs Bakker's thrust.

Fits in with being (it appears) a former phenomenologist."


This has started to occur to me in my exchanges with him. I'm analytically-trained and know comparatively little about Husserl-Heidegger and onwards.

But a couple of things keep sticking out repeatedly. The concern with the subject-object distinction is one. The other was when he, out of the blue, brought up this charge of how I was "so certain" I was correct in my disagreement with him. A third is his insistence that "the self" is not what "we" take it to be.

That cluster of claims, when taken together, is pre-Kantian. It's the view of one who hasn't moved on from Descartes's dichotomy of knowing subject and extended world, one who thinks that "certainty" is the benchmark of knowledge and the central concern of epistemology, who thinks that the "ego" is a supernatural ghost working outside the mechanistic world of causes and effects.

For a variety of reasons, none of these positions are in favor today in the analytic tradition. On the Continental side I do not know enough to say, but I do recall that Heidegger got himself into a bit of a bind by positing his Dasein as opposed to the world it inhabits, and thereby falling back into a Cartesian privileging of the ego.

If that's what is going on here, then we truly are talking past one another, and Bakker's attack is being leveled at a truly enormous strawman, since nobody would actually defend any of the claims he's attacking.

DNW said...

Irish Thomist said...

Maybe these might give some extra input - as Edward has covered this before in different ways.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=John+Searle

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=intentional

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Brentano

Also does anyone know of a good book like this?

http://www.brill.com/ancient-and-medieval-theories-intentionality
January 19, 2015 at 12:58 PM


Re the last. Nothing that concentrates on it.

Re Brentano and following; this is one of the texts we used in the classroom ... way back when.

http://www.amazon.com/Phenomenology-Philosophy-Edmund-Husserl-Interpretation/dp/0385084803

Irish Thomist said...

@DNW

Thanks.

Of course the problem is you could write a book about every single minute concept in Scholastic Metaphysics but that would be a lot of books as yet unwritten.

Greg said...

I posted this on Bakker's recent post:

“Feser’s insistence that any use of intentional idioms presupposes some prior commitment to intrinsic intentionality is pretty clearly begging the question.”

Scotty boy, can you please just quote Feser insisting this?


Awaiting moderation, even though comments submitted after mine have gone through.

Greg said...

I should add that I don't claim Bakker has deliberately skipped over my post. It may just be a case of metacognitive neglect of those questions to which one lacks answers.

Matt Sheean said...

C S Peirce's opinion of the Hegelians seems appropriate description to EM,

"... Never was there seen such an example of a long chain of reasoning, - shall i say with a flaw in every link? - no, with every link a handful of sand, squeezed into shape in a dream. Or say, it is a pasteboard model of a philosophy that in reality does not exist."

John West said...

@Matt Sheean

"... Never was there seen such an example of a long chain of reasoning, - shall i say with a flaw in every link? - no, with every link a handful of sand, squeezed into shape in a dream. Or say, it is a pasteboard model of a philosophy that in reality does not exist."

You concede too much.

Matt Sheean said...

"long chain of reasoning" was quite a concession, yes.

Benjamin Cain said...

Crude,

I agree that science itself, the method of testing a hypothesis with public, repeated experiments, doesn’t presuppose atheism or any metaphysical system. The present institution of science is methodologically naturalistic, though, whether for political, capitalistic, or philosophical reasons. And I said that scientific theories, not science itself, have no need of the God hypothesis or of teleology. You may argue that theism and teleology are hidden implications of naturalism, natural selection, quantum physics, or the concept of causality, but you’d have a steep hill to climb to show that that’s so. The published papers in science journals don’t refer to God or to final causes. Those concepts are not part of scientific theories as the scientists themselves understand them, and most scientists are in fact atheists, especially the leading ones.

Still, I agree with your last paragraph about scientism. Science was indeed set up to address only some legitimate questions. On my blog, Rants Within the Undead God, I’ve written several articles against scientism, so we’re on the same page there.

Benjamin Cain said...

Timocrates,

I think you’re saying that the only kind of necessity is one that entails final causes or intended (mentally represented) purposes. I’m inclined to agree with Lee Smolin’s conception of nomic relations as evolving rather than being eternal, contrary to Platonism. We should see even our best scientific theories as models that simplify, generalizing beyond our experience and thus being tentative. David Hume was right that there’s no strictly empirical justification for speaking of necessary connections in nature. There are indeed patterns in the world, but for all we know our universe is only one in a megaverse of infinite varying universes. What untold dimensions are there even in our universe (e.g. dark matter and energy)?

The fundamental difference here is between anthropocentrism and cosmicism (Lovecraft’s interpretation of the upshot of science). As naturalistic as he is, Aristotle is too anthropocentric for me. I’m opposed to projecting comfortable categories onto the world that science has shown is far more indifferent to us than most people have imagined and would have preferred.

Anyway, to come back to your question, I do think there’s more than chance in natural phenomena. Nature evolves complex forms by various forces, initial conditions, and processes. A theistic explanation of those creative patterns would be comforting, but I’m opposed to that explanation on aesthetic and ethical grounds, to say the least. Minds are emergent phenomena, not fundamental realities. At the fundamental level (quantum mechanics), chance does rule, as does a perfectly alien logic. I just don’t go in for personifications of nature. However, I suspect our destiny, if you like, is indeed to inject mentality into the alien world via our technologies. So the universe isn’t yet filled with intentions, unless a prior alien species has already modified much of it according to their taste.

Benjamin Cain said...

Greg,

You’re missing the distinction between intentional meaning and information. All effects carry information about their causes; they thus indicate the situation in which they originated, carrying what Grice called natural meaning. The eliminativist is free to say that science indicates the nature of the world and thus indirectly where certain processes are heading. For example, science can indicate that folk psychology is doomed to be regarded one day as a superstition.

Yes, if the average person spoke in a natural language about how science carries that information, she’d likely be assuming the concepts of truth, intentionality, and normativity. But the eliminativist is again free to say that if she engages in such talk, that’s because her brain didn’t evolve for the kind of enlightenment that science provides. To put it in Christian terms, we’re fallen creatures so we can barely comprehend the nature of ultimate reality; we have an exceedingly hard time doing the right thing, but we can know indirectly what we should do. Likewise, we can know that we’re prone to certain illusions even though we can’t free ourselves from them for long.

Does the eliminativist need successor concepts? Again, this is part of the coherence objection that I think misses the big picture. After all, the eliminativist can say she does indeed lapse into talk that presupposes intentionality. Nevertheless, the possibility remains that cognitive science is showing that intentionality is due to a misperception; specifically, we’re ignorant of our brain’s actual operations, which are fiendishly complicated, and so we mistake the lack of substance found by introspection for a supernatural substance capable of magic. For example, we think we can invent symbols that actually relate to distant galaxies or to fictional creatures. As long as there’s the possibility of such a paradigm shift or enlightenment, I just think the eliminativist’s lapses are beside the point.

Again, what’s a misperception without truth? Answer: relative powerlessness, according to an instrumental, engineering, quasi-Buddhist (personally detached) perspective. So my point is that the eliminativist doesn’t need even successor concepts, because concepts are defined mainly in folk psychological terms which she thinks an enlightened individual would dispense with.

As to whether science really does indicate all of that or whether we have sufficient evidence to justify taking seriously the possibility I raised about that radical shift in perspective, that clearly depends on the interpretation of cognitive science.

Benjamin Cain said...

John West,

I raised the same concerns to Scott Bakker in my dialogues with him, regarding whether materialists should be committed to the old clockwork, deistic worldview. Most mathematicians are likely Platonists. Mind you, SB has a mechanistic account of mathematics and logic, but it’s complicated and I don’t recall even the gist of it.

But this is all beside the point since the cosmicist interpretation of science goes through in any case. Whatever matter is, it’s not personal. Granted, it’s not substantial in the early modern, billiard-ball conception, but it’s not likely to support the commonsense idea that we have immortal, immaterial or transcendent essences. I actually do think we have the potential to transcend nature, but only by applying technology to reshape the wilderness, enchanting the thoroughly godless, disenchanted world we find when we look at it with objectivity. But that’s neither here nor there.

dover_beach said...

This and previous threads bring to my mind the phrase, Run rabbit, run!

Benjamin Cain said...

Mr. Green,

You say final causes aren’t magic. I agree that if we’re talking about a creature’s representations of the future, we can understand the motivation provided by the representation so that we’re not left entirely blind as we would be in the case of magic. But final causes in nature would be magical (miraculous) to the extent that they entail theism, since in that case the person with the desires and beliefs would be prior to the world we understand. When you’re forced to posit a miracle (such as the miracle of Creation from nothing by an uncreated person), you’re positing magic. Aristotle was a theist, although he thought philosophy is more important than theology.

Benjamin Cain said...

Jeremy Taylor,

Regarding the difference between eliminativism and reductionism, I think Scott Bakker’s version of the former discounts intentionality and normativity as such, but he considers them illusions which can be explained away by a mechanistic view of the brain. They’re explained away in our best metatheory of what we are, but they’re not removed from how we appear to ourselves to be through introspection--which is the nature of many illusions. We’re just wired to be misled in that fashion. (Being misled needn’t mean we’re lacking a truth; it can mean we’re relatively powerless compared to the potency we’d have were we to understand all the ins and outs of the brain.)

Benjamin Cain said...

Scott,

You ask “So if the personal self is itself an illusion, who is it fooling?”

I’m sure Scott Bakker would answer: the brain, that’s what’s being fooled (by itself).

Crude said...

Benjamin,

The present institution of science is methodologically naturalistic, though, whether for political, capitalistic, or philosophical reasons.

What in the world could that mean? There's no "institution of science". There are scientists, there are universities and organizations - and maybe you could argue that some, even most, of those organizations are inclined towards naturalism. (You'd have a harder time of that than you think.) But that makes "science" no more naturalistic than it makes it white and male.

And I said that scientific theories, not science itself, have no need of the God hypothesis or of teleology.

It's a distinction without a difference here. What's more: scientific theories and science alike also have no need of the No-God hypothesis, or of ateleology. Atheism and naturalism is as useless and out of bounds to science as theism and non-naturalism.

You may argue that theism and teleology are hidden implications of naturalism, natural selection, quantum physics, or the concept of causality, but you’d have a steep hill to climb to show that that’s so.

Hidden implications of naturalism? No, but magic is a very explicit part of naturalism - it needs brute causes, which are as magical as anything can be.

As for that steep hill to climb... far less steep than the hill is for the person who insists that there is no God or teleology present whatsoever in the world. Science is of no help to them there. When you turn to the most prominent atheists among scientists and ask them why they don't believe in God, they don't pull out experiments or even scientific theories about God's existence or teleology typically - they refer to utterly banal, non-scientific arguments. The ones that do try to enlist scientific testing in their reasoning end up looking like jokes, ie, Stenger.

Those concepts are not part of scientific theories as the scientists themselves understand them, and most scientists are in fact atheists, especially the leading ones.

Most scientists are also white and male. Is science - 'the institution of science' - a white male thing?

See, there's two problems with this sort of reasoning. First, science != scientists. Scientists may, maybe even overwhelmingly, prefer chocolate to vanilla. But that alone doesn't even begin to show that chocolate has been scientifically shown to be better than vanilla. If you want to make that claim, it's time to bring out the science.

Second, if you really believe in this fallacious argument from authority, then this poll would gut your position on the spot. That ha a majority of scientists believing either in God, or 'a universal spirit or higher power' in the US. Yes, I know - you'll pull the NAS poll. But if polls of scientists' belief are evidence, it looks like you'll have to concede that God's existence is actually quite a good scientific position.

The idea of interpreting scientists' beliefs that way is nonsense, of course. But that's the yardstick you're using.

But final causes in nature would be magical (miraculous) to the extent that they entail theism,

Theism != magic. Now brute facts, things that exist or happen and simply have no explanation whatsoever - that's magic.

Crude said...

And to add to the illusion talk.

I think it's been demonstrated pretty ably that the eliminative materialists don't have a leg to stand on intellectually. The reply seems to be that the eliminative materialists may not have a theory, they may not even have an argument (certainly nothing that's even coherent)... but they have this kind of vague, hard to grasp sense, a perspective that they feel is, if not true, then something truthy-without-being-true. And that's the vantage point from which they're coming at the whole question. Their claims lack coherence, but that's okay, because what really matters isn't that they're making claims or offering evidence or doing much of anything... they're just going with some kind of flow that they can feel is correct, as hobbled as they are.

But I think there's a pretty straightforward problem with even this unfortunate position.

If someone is going to take the position that our minds have been systematically fooling us since time immemorial, that they are fundamentally unreliable in way after way, and that every thought and theory and belief we ever had, we didn't and couldn't have had according to our model... then we have started to second guess ourselves in so radical a way that our models are going out the window too. The EM has to at once accept not just the life possibility, but the apparently reality that things they have vastly more, and more intimate, experience with is wrong... but at the same time they have to argue that, nevertheless, the systematic illusions that have been absolutely overwhelming their experiences the entirety of their life are not just right, but almost certainly right, about fundamental aspects of existence and experience that are beyond science itself.

In that sense, the eliminative materialist has a problem similar to a person trying to mount an argument that they themselves are insane and their reasoning can't be trusted far and away most of the time: the better they advance their case, the more they undercut it. That doesn't mean they can't make a partial case - but the very foundations they're launching their case from would only give them reasons to doubt their own case.

It would be all poetic here to argue that, therefore, the eliminative materialism should doubt eliminative materialism in rough proportion to their conviction they think it's true, but I think something else follows, and it's far more disturbing for most people: the eliminative materialist should be in the grips of severe skepticism. Skepticism of science, skepticism of themselves, skepticism of their theories, and skepticism of their ability to reason. Strong and unyielding convictions are not available to them about much of anything.

And I'd lay money on the claim that whatever eliminative materialists may say about the distaste they supposedly have for their position, what I just outlined above would be far more distasteful.

Scott said...

@Benjamin Cain:

"[T]he possibility remains that cognitive science is showing that intentionality is due to a misperception; specifically, we’re ignorant of our brain’s actual operations, which are fiendishly complicated, and so we mistake the lack of substance found by introspection for a supernatural substance capable of magic."

This makes no sense on several levels, the most important of which is that "misperception" is itself an intentiontal concept. "Misperception" makes sense only as compared to the (logical) possibility of correct perception and is intentional through and through.

It's also not obvious why you take the real existence of intentionality to be "supernatural."

Scott said...

Oops. "Intentiontal" should be "intentional."

Jeremy Taylor said...

Benjamin Cain,

Well, no offence to him, but Bakker seems confused about basic aspects of the discussion, not to mention disjunctive propositions. But I just don't see how something cannot exist at all and yet be an illusion. That would seem to entail reductionism.

If I see an hallucination you may well suggest it is actually an illusion and formed by my mind. That I can understand. But for you to say it is an illusion and doesn't exist at all, doesn't make sense to me.

So, when Bakker talks of intentionality being in reality the mechanical, this seems like reductionism to me.

When it comes to magic, I suppose it depends on your definition. Traditionally, magic was seen as making use of psychic or subtle elements (cf. Plotinus on correspondences). I don't think there is anything miraculous in this, unless you are using miraculous to mean just non-naturalist. It was thought that magic could in a sense be understand. The same largely goes for final causes. Aristotelians have made comprehensive explanations of them. They do not just say, "well, it must be final causes that do it" and leave it all a mystery.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- when I said entail I meant that it would seem to imply one really meant reductionism, to make sense.

Brandon said...

I’m sure Scott Bakker would answer: the brain, that’s what’s being fooled (by itself).

No doubt, although this treating of the brain in terms usually reserved for personal agents rather than in terms of electrochemistry or of structural and functional relations to other organs like a sensible person, just gets into another layer of confusions involved in this whole mess.

Benjamin Cain said...

Crude,

If you’re saying that scientific institutions don’t presuppose naturalism (as opposed to supernaturalism), I’m going to be charitable and assume you’re being disingenuous or facetious. You say magic includes the idea that there are brute causes. That’s not magic. Magic is the primitive idea that people can control the world by incantations, especially by prayers to supernatural agents. Show me a current scientific work that appeals to magic in that way. Obviously, it doesn’t exist. Any scientist who argued for magic would promptly lose her career—and for good reason. There’s no good empirical evidence for the validity of prayer. In any case, superstitious belief systems are unfalsifiable which makes them unscientific, according to Popper’s well-known criterion.

If brute causes aren’t magical, what are they? They’re confessions of our ignorance about what lies beyond that initial event (the big bang singularity, etc). That evinces the humility built into modern science which is utterly lacking in theists.

Being white and male are indeed only accidentally related to being a scientist (although the former is likely more accidental than the latter, given cultural and cognitive differences between men and women). But atheism is quite central to the current scientific worldview, which is to say only that God isn’t central to it. You’d look in vain in any reputable scientific journal to find any theoretical reference to God. God plays no role whatsoever in the scientific picture of the world. That’s because God is obviously a theological concept and science departed from theology centuries ago, just as it departed from philosophy.

Again, I agree that scientific theories can have philosophical and even religious assumptions or implications, but the work of science itself is nontheistic. Scientists posit causal relations, not miracles, reduced and analyzed mechanisms not merely intuitive phenomena like how minds appear to introspection.

You say scientists have just as little need of atheism as they do of theism. That’s utterly wrong. What would happen if scientists started talking explicitly about God? Do you think that would further their famous ability to reach consensus? Would it make their theories more objective? Obviously not, since the assumption that there’s a God is quintessentially untestable. Scientists are pragmatic so they’re not about to get lost in fruitless theological debates. They tried that through the Dark Age. That led more often to bloodshed (Crusades, pogroms, wars between Protestants and Catholics, etc). Then they saw the halfway house of deism as being more useful to their goal of understanding how the world actually works. Now, they conduct their research as if there were no God, because theism is irrelevant to how science works. Scientists create artificial settings (laboratories) to let the empirical facts speak more or less for themselves. God is by definition nowhere among such facts (although he once was, when outer space was identified with his abode). Again, by definition, God carries out miracles and is beyond our comprehension. To posit such a being is to utterly defeat the point of scientific inquiry, which is to understand what’s going on.

Anyway, this is off-topic so I’ll leave it there. I assume you disagree with every word I’ve said, but that’s the nature of the beast.

John West said...

Benjamin Cain,

But this is all beside the point since the cosmicist interpretation of science goes through in any case.

So you baldly assert.

Whatever matter is, it’s not personal. Granted, it’s not substantial in the early modern, billiard-ball conception, but it’s not likely to support the commonsense idea that we have immortal, immaterial or transcendent essences.

Given the indispensability argument goes through, this is a good argument against cosmicism.

I actually do think we have the potential to transcend nature, but only by applying technology to reshape the wilderness, enchanting the thoroughly godless, disenchanted world we find when we look at it with objectivity. But that’s neither here nor there.

Technology also requires physics; so no, it's not either here or there.

I raised the same concerns to Scott Bakker in my dialogues with him, regarding whether materialists should be committed to the old clockwork, deistic worldview.

There seems to have been a misunderstanding. My point was that our "scientific [...] theories" are not "materialistic"[1]. It is a dishonest joke to have ontological commitment to some of the entities of our best scientific theories, but consider fictional the mathematical entities they require to work. And mathematical entities are immaterial entities.



[1]The quotes in this sentence are from the paragraph I to which originally replied.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Benjamin Cain,

Your response to Cain ignores the subject matter of natural science. Science is concerned, for the most part, with what is quantifiably testable and measurable. Scientists do not refer to God because he is not directly a part of their subject matter. You imply, erroneously, that this has broader meaning, that scientists are broader naturalism or atheism.

Greg said...

@ Benjamin Cain

You’re missing the distinction between intentional meaning and information. All effects carry information about their causes; they thus indicate the situation in which they originated, carrying what Grice called natural meaning. The eliminativist is free to say that science indicates the nature of the world and thus indirectly where certain processes are heading. For example, science can indicate that folk psychology is doomed to be regarded one day as a superstition.

Problems remain.

First, the claim that "effects...indicate the situation in which they originated" still relies on the notions of indication and truth. These are theoretical commitments; they aren't simply things we say about effects. Information has something to say about reality only if indication can be cashed out in this way.

Moreover, what you are trying to say is that, in science, the world causes scientific findings, and thereby science (an effect) indicates "that folk psychology is doomed to be regarded one day as a superstition." But the world 'causes' scientific findings only in the sense that scientists (who have always and do now operate under assumptions of folk rationality, even when conducting experiments that are meant to undermine folk rationality) study the world and draw conclusions. Since the findings of science depend on the folk rationalistic activities of scientists, then their indication that folk psychology is doomed is undermined.

Yes, if the average person spoke in a natural language about how science carries that information, she’d likely be assuming the concepts of truth, intentionality, and normativity. But the eliminativist is again free to say that if she engages in such talk, that’s because her brain didn’t evolve for the kind of enlightenment that science provides. To put it in Christian terms, we’re fallen creatures so we can barely comprehend the nature of ultimate reality; we have an exceedingly hard time doing the right thing, but we can know indirectly what we should do. Likewise, we can know that we’re prone to certain illusions even though we can’t free ourselves from them for long.

I think Crude's points about illusion here are pretty apt. I would only add that this doesn't really solve the problem. The problem is not about what the eliminativist is allowed to say; it is about the relationship that, even as the eliminativist, with her gracious humility, states her incapacity for truth, the eliminativist still asserts holds between EM qua theory and reality. For her to deny that there is truth or that EM is a theory is just to call into question what we are deluded about; there is no theory of EM that has a nice relationship to reality.

I don't know. As far as I can tell, to commit to EM (I don't say 'believe'), one has to blithely disregard many of the respects in which EM pulls the rug out from under you. One has to chide others about their delusions at the same time that one claims that no conception of truth is possible.

Does the eliminativist need successor concepts? Again, this is part of the coherence objection that I think misses the big picture.

Well, the notion of a successor concept was proposed by Churchland. So major eliminativists do seem to think that eliminativism needs successor concepts.

We can distinguish, perhaps, Churchland's eliminativism from yours (neo-Buddhist eliminativism). And we can distinguish both of those from Bakker's (reductionism).

Greg said...

Nevertheless, the possibility remains that cognitive science is showing that intentionality is due to a misperception; specifically, we’re ignorant of our brain’s actual operations, which are fiendishly complicated, and so we mistake the lack of substance found by introspection for a supernatural substance capable of magic. For example, we think we can invent symbols that actually relate to distant galaxies or to fictional creatures.

The above objection to a science - which both historically and currently has been performed by people deluded by folk rationality - that undermines folk rationality still applies. To that I would add that I can't imagine what possibility of cognitive science it is to which you are referring. The brain is complicated, and as we've known for a long time, it does things that we don't understand. But how would finding out about many of its operations show that, for example, thought is not intentional?

What part of cognitive science would show that symbols cannot relate to distant galaxies? The point you are making here is not transparent, but it seems as though (i.e. because you start with "For example...") you take those purported instances of intentionality to be on the face of it, ridiculous, so that their not being found in cognitive science is a reductio of the thesis that there is intentionality... but surely you could not be arguing in that way.

Like Scott, I don't know what you mean by 'a supernatural substance capable of magic'.

Benjamin Cain said...

Scott,

I addressed whether misperception is necessarily intentional in my response to Greg. It has an intentional reading but it can also be understood purely in terms of information. A fly thinks it's going to a food source whereas it's flying into a Venus flytrap. We can interpret that by positing erroneous or misleading mental representations, but we can also say that the fly proved itself relatively powerless to sustain itself. Its brain lacked the tools to enable itself to survive in that circumstance. You see, we can take the intentionality and normativity out of systems explanations.

If you don't think this is possible, look at Buddhism. Enlightened Buddhists detach from their egos and interpret events purely in causal terms, having no selfish preferences about outcomes. That's close to how the enlightened eliminativist would see things.

Jeremy Taylor said...

-That should have been your response to Crude.

I do actually agree about magic, though. Brute facts is not the meaning of at least one traditional use of the term magic. Not that this has any relevance to the main discussion here.

Matt Sheean said...

Benjamin Cain,

The repair of automobiles is atheistic by this way of construing things, and it is no puzzle why it is. Auto repair is concerned with the maintenance of a corporeal thing, it's workings, it's "nature" and so on. It is not a surprise that the various sciences needn't make any reference to God, since each science is concerned with the particular being that it studies, and not being as such.

Crude said...

Benjamin,

If you’re saying that scientific institutions don’t presuppose naturalism (as opposed to supernaturalism), I’m going to be charitable and assume you’re being disingenuous or facetious.

Again with this talk of "scientific institutions". What are these institutions, how do they "presuppose naturalism", and how does it matter insofar as we're evaluating either the truth of naturalism/non-naturalism?

Don't assume I'm being disingenuous or facetious. Take me as calling you out and asking for evidence. By all means - hit me with everything you've got. Let's see what happens.

I've already thrown out a stat showing a majority of scientists polled in the US believe in God, or something pretty damn God-like. If you want to expand this fight to 'scientific institutions', I'll throw down this statement from the NAS. It looks like the evidence so far favors my view over yours. But maybe you've got something to give me.

Keep in mind - I reject the argument from authority. Even if 99% of all scientists were shown to be atheists and naturalists, all that would matter to me is their arguments and reasons. But even on the institutional and polling front, it looks like your case is weak.

You say magic includes the idea that there are brute causes. That’s not magic. Magic is the primitive idea that people can control the world by incantations, especially by prayers to supernatural agents.

According to who? You?

Even your own definition of magic leaves teleology untouched. But the idea of brute facts, things that inexplicably happen not because of this or that cause, but simply without explanation? That's as magic as anything can be. The sudden and/or inexplicable existence of universes and laws, chains of causality that can vanish or alter inexplicably? Hell, going by the first google definition of supernatural, brute facts seem downright supernatural.

Any scientist who argued for magic would promptly lose her career—and for good reason.

Considering you equate God or God's actions with magic, and plenty of scientists demonstrably do believe in God... apparently you're wrong. For good reason as well.

Now, they may not cite 'magic' in their work. By the by? If they cited 'brute fact' in their work, they'd lose their careers as well. Rightly so. Which, I guess, is a strike against naturalism in science.

But atheism is quite central to the current scientific worldview, which is to say only that God isn’t central to it. You’d look in vain in any reputable scientific journal to find any theoretical reference to God.

That's a pretty bizarre definition of atheism. You'd likewise look in vain to find any reputable scientific journal hinging theories or experiments on the non-existence of God.

You're making a pretty common mistake here: you're treating the only options for science as either 'affirming God's existence' or, lacking that, denying God's existence. But there's an obvious third option: utter silence on God's existence. Or, for that matter, for the reality or unreality of teleology.

It'd be pretty easy to prove me wrong here: show me the experiments where God's existence is tested. The closest you'll get are prayer studies, which have some rather obvious fatal flaws with the controls - and prayer is inessential to God or final causes.

Crude said...

Again, I agree that scientific theories can have philosophical and even religious assumptions or implications, but the work of science itself is nontheistic.

It's likewise non-atheistic. It is blessedly silent on God's existence, or teleology's existence, one way or the other. You may as well say that fraternity gang-rape is an atheistic practice - it makes about as much sense.

You say scientists have just as little need of atheism as they do of theism. That’s utterly wrong. What would happen if scientists started talking explicitly about God? Do you think that would further their famous ability to reach consensus? Would it make their theories more objective? Obviously not, since the assumption that there’s a God is quintessentially untestable.

What if they started talking explicitly about atheism? You'd get the same results with consensus (whatever that matters), it wouldn't make their theories more objective, and the assumption that there is no God is likewise quintessentially untestable.

Are you noticing the pattern here yet?

They tried that through the Dark Age.

Ugh, not that anti-historical canard.

That led more often to bloodshed (Crusades, pogroms, wars between Protestants and Catholics, etc).

Considering religious wars accounted for around 7% of all wars, vastly outnumbered by secular wars... well, that's a tough line to take.

Anyway, this is off-topic so I’ll leave it there. I assume you disagree with every word I’ve said, but that’s the nature of the beast.

Oh, disagreement isn't a big deal. More interesting is that I've been able to rally evidence to disprove your claims across the board, and you haven't had much evidence to speak of other than colorful, and often wrong, claims. But I welcome the opportunity to educate and correct.

Matt Sheean said...

"the fly proved itself relatively powerless to sustain itself."

Could you rephrase this in a way that doesn't involve any normativity or intentionality? As it stands, it still looks pretty normative and intentional.

Additionally, "causes", I'd think, still smack of the normative and intentional. What we'd need is some description that reduced causes away, too, and, of course, wasn't really about the events anyway!

Crude said...

Matt Shaean,

The repair of automobiles is atheistic by this way of construing things, and it is no puzzle why it is.

So's gang-rape. Really, if we're going to refer to any practice that doesn't explicitly reference God as 'an atheistic practice', let's go whole hog.

Greg said...

Scientific institutions generally don't profess atheism. To say they assume atheism because they methodologically ignore the possibility of miracles is like saying they assume a-personalism, because when conducting a chemistry experiment, the chemist doesn't anticipate that anyone will knock over his vials.

Matt Sheean said...

Crude,

agreed. What's funny is, I'm pretty sure we could actually come up with a way of construing theology as atheistic, if we just described it as the evaluation of the coherence of a certain set of propositions (or something like that).

Brandon said...

We can interpret that by positing erroneous or misleading mental representations, but we can also say that the fly proved itself relatively powerless to sustain itself.

We can also say that the fly proved itself relatively powerful to kill itself. The usual reason we would focus on sustaining is that we take self-sustaining and self-destroying to be normatively asymmetric.

Anonymous said...

Importantly, science presumes principles like the CP and PSR. It is a very strange scientist that admits brute facts.

Crude said...

Jeremy Taylor,

I do actually agree about magic, though. Brute facts is not the meaning of at least one traditional use of the term magic.

Maybe, but there's more than one use, and I think the problems intensify with talk of "supernatural". Regardless, if you used "brute fact" to explain something in science, you'd be shown the door as quickly as you'd be if you explained it with "miracle". A key difference is that, at the very least, miracles have explanations. Brute facts don't even have that.

Callan S. said...

Scott,

What do you think my "understanding" of intentionality is again? I've already asked you to summarize what you think Ed's is (and you haven't done it); if you ever get around to it, maybe you can summarize mine at the same time. That should be interesting, because I'm pretty danged sure I haven't expressed one (beyond, of course, the bare fact that intentionality really exists).

This is why Bakker goes into 'begging the question'.

You don't know how intentionality really exists, you just know it does.

And you use the fact you haven't explained it as if that absence of explanation promotes your position??

What other area of human activity enjoys this method of validation? If someone had a great money making scheme, you'd ask how it works. If they said they didn't know but they do know it really works, you would be skeptical. You certainly wouldn't be handing over your money. YOU would say it begs the question.

Greg said...

@ Crude

Regardless, if you used "brute fact" to explain something in science, you'd be shown the door as quickly as you'd be if you explained it with "miracle".

Well, you're forgetting that brute facts are the most parsimonious explanations of all.

Jeremy Taylor said...

If you don't think this is possible, look at Buddhism. Enlightened Buddhists detach from their egos and interpret events purely in causal terms, having no selfish preferences about outcomes. That's close to how the enlightened eliminativist would see things.

Buddhists are undertaking a spiritual praxis with the purpose of breaking down attachment to limiting concepts and discursive reasoning. They aren't trying to get rid of intentionality or advocating for the acceptance of incoherence. I don't think Buddhism is a good analogy for eliminativism.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callan writes,

And you use the fact you haven't explained it as if that absence of explanation promotes your position?

I'm not sure how you got this from the discussion you are referring to.

Like Bakker you seem to have a problem with disjunctive propositions. It is not the mere use of intentional terms that is the problem, it is the fact that Bakker has given no intimation of how he can cash out these terms in a non-intentional manner.

Crude said...

They aren't trying to get rid of intentionality or advocating for the acceptance of incoherence. I don't think Buddhism is a good analogy for eliminativism.

Not to mention, who are these enlightened buddhists and how are we measuring their detachment from their egos and their lack of selfishness.

Please tell me we're treating their personal reports of their internal states as evidence.

Greg said...

@ Callan S.

This is why Bakker goes into 'begging the question'.

You don't know how intentionality really exists, you just know it does.

And you use the fact you haven't explained it as if that absence of explanation promotes your position??


This isn't begging the question.

It is commonly accepted that there is intentionality. Eliminativism denies this. Different theories of intentionality aim to explain the intentionality that people agree there is. Many terms (truth, cognition, neglect) are understood by almost all philosophers in terms of intentionality; that is, the technical senses of those terms of which people are aware implicate intentionality.

Of course, eliminativism denies this. But this means that eliminativism must propose alternate senses to those terms. If it uses those terms without any senses, then it is using terms that don't mean anything and do not convey anything.

Feser and Scott do have their own theories of intentionality. But the challenge to eliminativism has nothing to do with their particular theories of intentionality, but rather with whether the standard intentional senses of the philosophical terms of art 'truth', 'cognition', etc. can be replaced with non-standard non-intentional senses. If it does not find alternate senses, then it is using these terms without senses, i.e. speaking nonsense and not actually conveying what its proponents aim to convey. (Insofar as it does convey anything, it is relying on others' tacit assumptions of the intentional sense).

Bakker tries to construe this as begging the question, because rather than senses, he talks about "interpretations." But these are philosophical terms of art. We aren't looking at a community's linguistic practices and trying to explain why people use words like 'truth' and 'cognition'; we are specifying senses of these terms to do theoretical work for us. So it's not a matter of "You have an interpretation, I have an interpretation, we're pretty much on equal footing, and if you deny my interpretation, you are begging the question." For those terms to do work for eliminativism, they rely on non-standard senses. If those senses are not specified, then it follows that no one (including eliminativists) actually knows what eliminativism claims (and the illusion that eliminativists have a position in this debate owes to their parasitism of the intentional senses of terms like 'truth' and 'cognition').

John West said...

From the previous thread on this topic:

I don’t know why you keep saying that the incoherence objection begs the question. It does not beg the question. Here’s one way to summarize the objection:

1. Eliminativists state their position using expressions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “theory,” “illusion,” etc.

2. They can do so coherently only if either (a) they accept that intentionality is real, or (b) they provide some alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions.

3. But eliminativists reject the claim that intentionality is real, so option (a) is out.

4. And they have not provided any alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions, so they have not (successfully) taken option (b).

5. So eliminativists have not shown how their position is coherent.


I find it's useful to re-mention; to resituate comments about it in context, as it were.

John West said...

(It is quoted from one of Dr. Feser's comments.)

Crude said...

Is anyone else noticing this weird, consistent anti-scientific, anti-evidence attitude from the atheists on this subject?

They make a claim with no argument or evidence whatsoever, and treat it as true. You ask for evidence, and supply counter-evidence, counter-argument, and... they just blow past it altogether. There's talk about 'being enlightened' or 'embracing the gestalt', there's reference to people who are supposedly quite smart who apparently believe this or that... but the whole evidence and argument thing is either ignored altogether, or actively explained away as not necessary, or even appropriate, to believe what they do.

Damn bizarre. Funny, but bizarre.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude,

I wonder if Benjamin would accept the testimony of the Hesychasts, who claim similar feats. That would be ironic.

Greg said...

@ Crude

Hey, I made a tongue-in-cheek remark about the eliminativist's "gracious humility" before noticing that Benjamin said this:

If brute causes aren’t magical, what are they? They’re confessions of our ignorance about what lies beyond that initial event (the big bang singularity, etc). That evinces the humility built into modern science which is utterly lacking in theists.

Anonymous said...

Scientists admit brute facts? Clearly, he is not a scientist.

Crude said...

Greg,

If brute causes aren’t magical, what are they? They’re confessions of our ignorance about what lies beyond that initial event (the big bang singularity, etc). That evinces the humility built into modern science which is utterly lacking in theists.

Ben has this unfortunate habit of putting blinders on when the evidence or argument doesn't turn out the way he hopes. Turning brute facts and brute causes into 'confessions of ignorance' goes beyond merely getting something wrong - that's getting into coping mechanism territory. Like No True Scotsman games, but more emotional.

I suppose we could at least add, "Because if brute facts were affirmation of actual events/things that took place or exist without cause or explanation, hoo boy. Yeah, okay, that's magic or close-enough too it. Good thing naturalists don't affirm THAT stuff, right?'

Crude said...

John,

No, not being riled. Mostly noting out loud the pattern.

John West said...

Crude,

No, not being riled. Mostly noting out loud the pattern.

Yeah, I realized misread. That's why I deleted the posts to which you refer.

I agree. Though, I also think Mr. Cain's focus on theism/atheism is misplaced here. The point is that science presumes various principles that seem to entail at least not-his-atheism.

I'm moved to laughter by the thought of a scientist walking into a convention and telling his fellows there are facts they cannot even in principle know.

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