Sunday, January 11, 2015

Post-intentional depression


A reader asks me to comment on novelist Scott Bakker’s recent Scientia Salon article “Back to Square One: toward a post-intentional future.”  “Intentional” is a reference to intentionality, the philosopher’s technical term for the meaningfulness or “aboutness” of our thoughts -- the way they are “directed toward,” “point to,” or are about something.  A “post-intentional” future is one in which we’ve given up trying to explain intentionality in scientific terms and instead abandon it altogether in favor of radically re-describing human nature exclusively in terms drawn from neuroscience, physics, chemistry, and the like.  In short, it is a future in which we embrace the eliminative materialist position associated with philosophers like Alex Rosenberg and Paul and Patricia Churchland.
 
Bakker acknowledges that since giving up on intentionality entails giving up the mind, indeed the self, the consequences of eliminativism seem dire:

You could say the scientific overthrow of our traditional theoretical understanding of ourselves amounts to a kind of doomsday, the extinction of the humanity we have historically taken ourselves to be.  Billions of “selves,” if not people, would die -- at least for the purposes of theoretical knowledge!

Here, as Bakker notes, he is echoing Jerry Fodor, who in Psychosemantics wrote:

[I]f commonsense intentional psychology really were to collapse, that would be, beyond comparison, the greatest intellectual catastrophe in the history of our species; if we’re that wrong about the mind, then that’s the wrongest we’ve ever been about anything.  The collapse of the supernatural, for example, didn’t compare; theism never came close to being as intimately involved in our thought and our practice -- especially our practice -- as belief/desire explanation is…  We’ll be in deep, deep trouble if we have to give it up.

I’m dubious, in fact, that we can give it up; that our intellects are so constituted that doing without it (I mean really doing without it; not just philosophical loose talk) is a biologically viable option.  But be of good cheer; everything is going to be all right. (p. xii)

Fodor’s certainly correct, both about the consequences of eliminativism, and about everything’s nevertheless being all right.  Or at least, everything’s going to be all right for commonsense intentional psychology; for scientism and materialism, not so much.  For we cannot possibly be wrong about commonsense intentional psychology.  We know that eliminativism must be false.  We needn’t worry about suffering post-intentional depression because there’s no such thing as our ever being post-intentional.  But scientism and materialism really do entail eliminativism or post-intentionalism.  Hence they must be false too. 

This is, of course, ground I’ve covered in great detail in several places.  There is, for example, the very thorough critique I’ve given of Rosenberg’s book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality and some of his other writings in a series of posts.  I there show that none of the arguments for eliminativism is any good, and that eliminativism cannot solve the incoherence problem -- the problem of finding a way to deny the existence of intentionality without implicitly presupposing the existence of intentionality.

Bakker tells us that, though he once found the objections to eliminativism compelling, he now takes the post-intentional “worst case scenario” to be a “live possibility” worthy of exploration.  It seems to me, though, that he doesn’t really say anything new by way of making eliminativism plausible, at least not in the present article.  Here I want to comment on three issues raised in his essay.  The first is the reason he gives for thinking that the incoherence problem facing eliminativism isn’t serious.  The second is the question of why, as Bakker puts it, we are “so convinced that we are the sole exception, the one domain that can be theoretically cognized absent the prostheses of science.”  The third is the question of why more people haven’t considered “what… a post-intentional future [would] look like,” a fact that “amazes” Bakker.

Still incoherent after all these years

Let’s take these in order.  In footnote 3 of his article, Bakker writes:

Using intentional concepts does not entail commitment to intentionalism, any more than using capital entails a commitment to capitalism.  Tu quoque arguments simply beg the question, assume the truth of the very intentional assumptions under question to argue the incoherence of questioning them.  If you define your explanation into the phenomena we’re attempting to explain, then alternative explanations will appear to beg your explanation to the extent the phenomena play some functional role in the process of explanation more generally.  Despite the obvious circularity of this tactic, it remains the weapon of choice for great number of intentional philosophers.

End quote.  There are a couple of urban legends about the incoherence objection that eliminativists like to peddle, and Bakker essentially repeats them here.  The first urban legend is the claim that to raise the incoherence objection is to accuse the eliminativist of an obvious self-contradiction, like saying “I believe that there are no beliefs.”  The eliminativist then responds that the objection is as puerile as accusing a heliocentrist of self-contradiction when he says “The sun rose today at 6:59 AM.”  Obviously the heliocentrist is just speaking loosely.  He isn’t really saying that the sun moves relative to the earth.  Similarly, when an eliminativist says at lunchtime “I believe I’ll have a ham sandwich,” he isn’t really committing himself to the existence of beliefs or the like. 

But the eliminativist is attacking a straw man.  Proponents of the incoherence objection are well aware that eliminativists can easily avoid saying obviously self-contradictory things like “I believe that there are no beliefs,” and can also go a long way in avoiding certain specific intentional terms like “believe,” “think,” etc.  That is simply not what is at issue.  What is at issue is whether an across-the-board eliminativism is coherent, whether the eliminativist can in principle avoid all intentional notions.  The proponent of the incoherence objection says that this is not possible, and that analogies with heliocentrism and the like therefore fail.

After all, the heliocentrist can easily state his position without making any explicit or implicit reference to the sun moving relative to the earth.  If he needs to, he can say what he wants to say with sentences like “The sun rose today at 6:59 AM” in a more cumbersome way that makes no reference to the sun rising.  Similarly (and to take Bakker’s own example) an anti-capitalist can easily describe a society in which capital does not exist (e.g. a hunter-gatherer society).  But it is, to say the least, by no means clear how the eliminativist can state his position in a way that does not entail that at least some intentional notions track reality.  For the eliminativist claims that commonsense intentional psychology is false and illusory; he claims that eliminativism is evidentially supported by or even entailed by science; he proposes alternative theories and models of human nature; and so forth.  Even if the eliminativist can drop reference to “beliefs” and “thoughts,” he still typically makes use of “truth,” “falsehood,” “theory,” “model,” “implication,” “entailment,” “cognitive,” “assertion,” “evidence,” “observation,” etc.  Every one of these notions is also intentional.  Every one of them therefore has to be abandoned by a consistent eliminativist.  (As Hilary Putnam pointed out decades ago, a consistent eliminativist has to give up “folk logic” as well as “folk psychology.”)

To compare the eliminativist to the heliocentrist who talks about the sunrise or the anti-capitalist who uses capital is, if left at that, mere hand waving.  For whether these analogies are good ones is precisely what is at issue.  If Bakker or any other eliminativist wants to give a serious reply to the incoherence objection, what he needs to do is to put his money where his mouth is and show us exactly how the eliminativist can do what the heliocentist or anti-capitalist can do.  He needs to show us exactly how the eliminativist position can be stated in a way that makes no appeal to “truth,” “falsehood,” “theory,” “entailment,” “observation,” or any other intentional notion.  The trouble is that no eliminativist has ever done so.  Even eliminativists usually don’t claim that anyone has done it.  They just issue promissory notes to the effect that someday it will be done.  But since whether it can be done is precisely what is at issue, this response just begs the question.  (Readers who haven’t yet done so are encouraged to read Rosenberg’s paper “Eliminativism without Tears” and my three-part reply to it, here, here, and here.  Rosenberg’s essay is the most serious and thorough attempt I know of to grapple with the incoherence problem.  As I show, it fails dismally.)

The second urban legend Bakker perpetuates is the claim that the incoherence objection itself somehow begs the question.  The way the Churchlands illustrate this purported foible of the incoherence objection is to compare the objector to someone who claims that modern biologists contradict themselves by denying the existence of élan vital.  The Churchlands imagine such a person saying something like: “If élan vital didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be alive and thus wouldn’t be around to deny its existence!  So you cannot coherently deny it.”  As the Churchlands rightly note, this objection begs the question, since whether élan vital is required for life is precisely what is at issue.  And the incoherence objection raised against the eliminativist is, the Churchlands claim, similarly question-begging.

But the parallel is completely bogus.  The reason the imagined élan vital objection fails is that the concept of being alive and the concept of élan vital are logically independent.  We can coherently describe something being alive without bringing élan vital into our description.  Hence it would require argumentation to show that élan vital is necessary for life; this cannot simply be assumed.  Things are very different in the case of the dispute about eliminativism.  Here, what is at issue is precisely whether the relevant concepts are logically independent.  In particular, what is at issue is whether the eliminativist can coherently speak of “truth,” “falsehood,” “evidence,” “observation,” “entailment,” etc. while at the same time denying that there is such a thing as intentionality.  If he can give us a way of doing so, then he will have shown that the analogy with the élan vital example is a good one.  But if the eliminativist does not do so, then he is the one begging the question.  But, as I have just noted, eliminativists in fact have not done so.  So, once again it is really the eliminativist, and not his critic, who is engaged in circular reasoning. 

Another way to see how hollow Bakker’s charge of circular reasoning is is to consider some parallel cases.  Take the verificationist claim that a statement is meaningful only if it is verifiable.  Notoriously, this principle seems to undermine itself, since no one has been able to explain how it can be verified.  Suppose a verificationist accused his critics of begging the question in raising this objection.  What could possibly be the basis for such an accusation?  If the verificationist had given us some account of how his own principle could be verified, and the critic simply ignored this account but still accused the principle of verifiability of being self-undermining, then the verificationist would have a basis for claiming that the objection begs the question.  But since the verificationist has not given us such an account, any claim that his critics beg the question against him would be groundless, and their objection stands.

Similarly, if eliminativists had given us some account of how they can coherently state their position without making use of any intentional notions whatsoever, and if their critics had nevertheless simply ignored this account and raised the incoherence objection anyway, then the charge that the critics beg the question would have some foundation.  But this is not in fact what has happened.  Eliminativists have not given an account of how they can state their position without using any intentional notions at all; typically they just wave away the problem by saying that it will be solved when neuroscience has made further advances.  But in the absence of such an account, the charge that those who raise the incoherence objection beg the question is groundless. (Again, Rosenberg has come closest to trying to answer the objection head on.  I have not ignored this attempt but rather answered it in detail, as the posts linked to above show.) 

Another parallel: “Analytical” or “logical” behaviorism holds that talk about mental states can be translated into talk about behavior or dispositions to behavior.  To say that “Bob believes that it is raining” is shorthand for saying something like “Bob will say that it is raining if he is asked, is disposed to go to the closet and grab an umbrella before leaving the house, etc.”  One well-known problem with this view is that no one has been able to show how talk about mental states can be entirely replaced by talk about behavior and dispositions to behavior.  In the example just given, it will be true that “Bob will say that it is raining if he is asked, is disposed to go to the closet and grab an umbrella before leaving the house, etc.” only if it is also true that Bob intends to tell us what he really thinks, desires to stay dry, etc.  That is to say, if we analyze the one mental state (the belief that it is raining) in terms of behavior, the behavior itself has to be analyzed in terms of further mental states (such as the intention to say what one is really thinking and the desire to stay dry), and thus the problem is only pushed back a stage.  And as it turns out, if we give a behavioral analysis of the intention and desire in question, the problem just recurs again.  So it looks like no successful thoroughgoing behaviorist analysis can be carried out.

Now suppose the analytical behaviorist responds: “But this objection just begs the question, since we analytical behaviorists say that such an analysis can be given!”  Obviously this would be a silly objection.  The critic of analytical behaviorism has given a reason to think the analysis cannot be carried out, while the analytical behaviorist has failed to show that it can be carried out.  So, until the analytical behaviorist succeeds in carrying out such an analysis, his charge that his critic begs the question will be groundless.

Similarly, critics of eliminativism have given reasons for concluding that the eliminativist needs to make use of notions which presuppose intentionality, so that no coherent statement of the eliminativist position can be carried out.  To rebut this charge, it will not do for the eliminativist merely to accuse his critic of begging the question.  The eliminativist has to provide the analysis his critic claims cannot be provided.  Merely insisting, dogmatically, that it can be provided and someday will be provided is not good enough to rebut the incoherence charge.  The eliminativist has actually to show us how to do it.  Until he does, he is in the same boat as the verificationist and the analytical behaviorist.  (Not a good boat to be in, since verificationism and analytical behaviorism are about as dead as philosophical theories get.)

The “lump under the rug” fallacy

Bakker wonders why we are “so convinced that we are the sole exception, the one domain that can be theoretically cognized absent the prostheses of science.”  After all, other aspects of the natural world have been radically re-conceived by science.  So why do we tend to suppose that human nature is not subject to such radical re-conception -- for instance, to the kind of re-conception proposed by eliminativism?  Bakker’s answer is that we take ourselves to have a privileged epistemic access to ourselves that we don’t have to the rest of the world.  He then suggests that we should not regard this epistemic access as privileged, but merely different. 

Now, elsewhere I have noted the fallaciousness of arguments to the effect that neuroscience has shown that our self-conception is radically mistaken.  For instance, in one of the posts on Rosenberg alluded to above, I respond to claims to the effect that “blindsight” phenomena and Libet’s free will experiments cast doubt on the reliability of introspection.  Here I want to focus on the presupposition of Bakker’s question, and on another kind of fallacious reasoning I’ve called attention to many times over the years.  The presupposition is that science really has falsified our commonsense understanding of the rest of the world, and the fallacy behind this presupposition is what I call the “lump under the rug” fallacy.

Suppose the wood floors of your house are filthy and that the dirt is pretty evenly spread throughout the house.  Suppose also that there is a rug in one of the hallways.  You thoroughly sweep out one of the bedrooms and form a nice little pile of dirt at the doorway.  It occurs to you that you could effectively “get rid” of this pile by sweeping it under the nearby rug in the hallway, so you do so.  The lump under the rug thereby formed is barely noticeable, so you are pleased.  You proceed to sweep the rest of the bedrooms, the bathroom, the kitchen, etc., and in each case you sweep the resulting piles under the same rug.  When you’re done, however, the lump under the rug has become quite large and something of an eyesore.  Someone asks you how you are going to get rid of it.  “Easy!” you answer.  “The same way I got rid of the dirt everywhere else!  After all, the ‘sweep it under the rug’ method has worked everywhere else in the house.  How could this little rug in the hallway be the one place where it wouldn’t work?  What are the odds of that?”

This answer, of course, is completely absurd.  Naturally, the same method will not work in this case, and it is precisely because it worked everywhere else that it cannot work in this case.  You can get rid of dirt outside the rug by sweeping it under the rug.  You cannot get of the dirt under the rug by sweeping it under the rug.  You will only make a fool of yourself if you try, especially if you confidently insist that the method must work here because it has worked so well elsewhere.

Now, the “Science has explained everything else, so how could the human mind be the one exception?” move is, of course, standard scientistic and materialist shtick.  But it is no less fallacious than our imagined “lump under the rug” argument. 

Here’s why.  Keep in mind that Descartes, Newton, and the other founders of modern science essentially stipulated that nothing that would not fit their exclusively quantitative or “mathematicized” conception of matter would be allowed to count as part of a “scientific” explanation.  Now to common sense, the world is filled with irreducibly qualitative features -- colors, sounds, odors, tastes, heat and cold -- and with purposes and meanings.  None of this can be analyzed in quantitative terms.  To be sure, you can re-define color in terms of a surface’s reflection of light of certain wavelengths, sound in terms of compression waves, heat and cold in terms of molecular motion, etc.  But that doesn’t capture what common sense means by color, sound, heat, cold, etc. -- the way red looks, the way an explosion sounds, the way heat feels, etc.  So, Descartes and Co. decided to treat these irreducibly qualitative features as projections of the mind.  The redness we see in a “Stop” sign, as common sense understands redness, does not actually exist in the sign itself but only as the quale of our conscious visual experience of the sign; the heat we attribute to the bathwater, as common sense understands heat, does not exist in the water itself but only in the “raw feel” that the high mean molecular kinetic energy of the water causes us to experience; meanings and purposes do not exist in external material objects but only in our minds, and we project these onto the world; and so forth.  Objectively there are only colorless, odorless, soundless, tasteless, meaningless particles in fields of force.

In short, the scientific method “explains everything else” in the world in something like the way the “sweep it under the rug” method gets rid of dirt -- by taking the irreducibly qualitative and teleological features of the world, which don’t fit the quantitative methods of science, and sweeping them under the rug of the mind.  And just as the literal “sweep it under the rug” method generates under the rug a bigger and bigger pile of dirt which cannot in principle be gotten rid of using the “sweep it under the rug” method, so too does modern science’s method of treating irreducibly qualitative, semantic, and teleological features as mere projections of the mind generate in the mind a bigger and bigger “pile” of features which cannot be explained using the same method.

This is the reason the qualia problem, the problem of intentionality, and other philosophical problems touching on human nature are so intractable.  Indeed, it is one reason many post-Cartesian philosophers have thought dualism unavoidable.  If you define “material” in such a way that irreducibly qualitative, semantic, and teleological features are excluded from matter, but also say that these features exist in the mind, then you have thereby made of the mind something immaterial.  Thus, Cartesian dualism was not some desperate rearguard action against the advance of modern science; on the contrary, it was the inevitable consequence of modern science (or, more precisely, the inevitable consequence of regarding modern science as giving us an exhaustive account of matter). 

So, like the floor sweeper who is stuck with a “dualism” of dirt-free floors and a lump of dirt under the rug, those who suppose that the scientific picture of matter is an exhaustive picture are stuck with a dualism of, on the one hand, a material world entirely free of irreducibly qualitative, semantic, or teleological features, and on the other hand a mental realm defined by its possession of irreducibly qualitative, semantic, and teleological features.  The only way to avoid this dualism would be to deny that the latter realm is real -- that is to say, to take an eliminativist position.  But as I have said, there is no coherent way to take such a position.  The eliminativist who insists that intentionality is an illusion -- where illusion is, of course, an intentional notion (and where no eliminativist has been able to come up with a non-intentional substitute for it) -- is like the yutz sweeping the dirt that is under the rug back under the rug while insisting that he is thereby getting rid of the dirt under the rug.

That the modern understanding of what a scientific explanation consists in itself generates the mind-body problem and thus can hardly solve the mind-body problem has been a theme of Thomas Nagel’s work from at least the time his famous article “What is it like to be a bat?” was first published to his recent book Mind and Cosmos.  As we saw in my series of posts responding to the critics of Nagel’s book, those critics mostly completely missed this fundamental point, cluelessly obsessing instead over merely secondary issues about evolution.

Like Nagel, I reject Cartesianism, and like Nagel, I think a reconsideration of Aristotelianism is the right approach to the metaphysical problems raised by modern science -- though where Nagel merely flirts with Aristotelianism, I would go the whole hog.  I would say that although science gives us a correct description of reality, it gives us nothing close to a complete description of reality, not even of material reality.  It merely abstracts those features of concrete material reality that are susceptible of investigation via its methods, especially those features susceptible of quantitative analysis.  Those features of reality that are not susceptible of such investigation are going to be known by us, if at all, only via metaphysical investigation -- specifically, I would argue, via Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.

Be all that as it may, in the present context it cuts absolutely no ice merely to appeal to “what science has shown” about the other, non-human aspects of reality, as a way of trying to establish the plausibility of a radically eliminativist re-conception of human nature.  For the issues are metaphysical, and science only ever “shows” anything of a metaphysical nature when it has already been embedded in a larger metaphysical framework -- in the case of eliminativism, in a naturalistic metaphysical framework.  But to appeal to such a framework is, from the point of view of Aristotelians and other non-naturalists, merely to beg the question.

Hands-free onanism

Bakker asks: “What would a post-intentional future look like?  What could it look like?,” and he says that it “regularly amazes” him that this question hasn’t been explored in greater depth.  But it really should not amaze him.  After all, nobody bothers exploring in depth what a world in which round squares existed would be like.  One reason for this is that there could, even in principle, be no such thing as a world where round squares existed, since the very notion is incoherent.  We can’t explore the idea in depth because we can’t explore it at all

Of course, nobody takes the idea of a round square seriously, whereas some people take eliminativism seriously.  But the problem is similar.  You can’t explore the idea of a post-intentional world in depth until you’ve first shown that the idea even makes sense at all.  That is to say, you first have to solve the incoherence problem.  And as I’ve said, nobody has done that.  Of course, we can write stories in which people say things like “There is no such thing as intentionality” and in which people treat each other as if they didn’t possess mental states.  But that is no more impressive than the fact that we can write stories in which people say things like “Round squares exist” and in which they attribute both straight and curved lines to the same geometrical figures.  The former no more involves imagining a “post-intentional future” than the latter involves imagining a world with round squares.  In both cases, all we’re really imagining is a world where people say odd things.  But that’s no different, really, from the actual world, where all sorts of people say odd things (insane people, members of strange religious sects, eliminativists, etc.).

So, though its critics might be tempted to write off the project of imagining a post-intentional future as just so much “mental masturbation,” it really doesn’t even rise to that level.  After all, there’s no such thing as paralytic onanism -- onanism of the literal sort, that is -- since paralysis rules out the anatomical preconditions of onanism.  Similarly, onanism of the mental sort would require, as a precondition, the mental -- exactly what the eliminativist rules out.  The closest he’ll ever get to imagining a post-intentional future is not through active fantasy, but rather a dreamless sleep.

401 comments:

1 – 200 of 401   Newer›   Newest»
Greg said...

A post-intentional future couldn't look like anything.

Paul Kelly said...

When I introspect, I certainly admit to a phenomenal world. But I honestly can't tell whether I "grasp" universals, aboutness, or any of that. What's my problem? Can anything more helpful than "look harder" be said to me?

Scott said...

@Paul Kelly:

"When I introspect, I certainly admit to a phenomenal world. But I honestly can't tell whether I 'grasp' universals, aboutness, or any of that. What's my problem? Can anything more helpful than 'look harder' be said to me?"

Sure. You don't need to grasp "aboutness" separately; if your thought is about an object, that's sufficient for it to have "aboutness."

Matt Sheean said...

I read Bakker's article a few weeks ago, and that line about capitalism in the footnote really brought on a bout of forehead slapping, "... any more than using capital entails a commitment to capitalism."

It seems pretty obvious to me that using capital would entail the existence of capitalism.

Ismael said...

Hi! Just one minor correction Dr. Feser.

You say:
" Obviously the heliocentrist is just speaking loosely. He isn’t really saying that the sun moves relative to the earth. "

But that IS what an Heliocentrist says... that the sun moves RELATIVELY around the Earth (since once can take any position as the centre of a coordinate system), but NOT absolutely, i.e. that the sun does not absolutely move around the Earth and the Earth is not the absolute centre of the Solar System or Universe.

I know it's just minor nit-picking, but I think it's an important distinction.

Tomas said...

W/ Greg. "A post-intentional future couldn't look like anything."

I've flirted with reading Bakker's novels because so many have spoken about their "philosophical depth" but the more I real about him the more I want to roll my eyes.

How does he want to think about a world where in he has denied the very reality of "thinking about"? How does he purport to fantasize as he does in his fantasy works? Perhaps more than a strict philosopher, as a story-teller he is a walking contradiction to his own ideas.

Scott Bakker said...

Awesome piece, Edward. But a point of clarification: How is it that using intentional idioms commits me to 'tracking intentional realities' as the philosophical tradition defines them? The use of intentional idioms, you agree, does not suffice warrant intentionalism: after all, it is entirely possible that philosophical metacognition is radically blinkered the way I claim, that the reason we're so collectively stumped by things like 'meaning' and 'truth' and so on is because we simply don't know what we're talking about.

Then you write, "What is at issue is whether an across-the-board eliminativism is coherent, whether the eliminativist can in principle avoid all intentional notions." But what exactly is your argument here? That even though intentional idioms do not presuppose intentionalism in isolation, but do when considered as a whole because...? Am I missing something?

I agree that abduction is the big problem of traditional eliminativisms like Rosenberg's: without any way to explain what's going on otherwise, what his eliminativism gains in parsimony is easily countered, it seems, in terms of what it loses in terms of explanatory comprehensiveness. An eliminativist needs a well developed theory of meaning to short-circuit this abductive tack. But before tackling this, I would really like to get the incoherence issue cleared up, because I can't seem to find your argument. To me it seems like you're posing incoherence, merely to shift to your abductive case.

Anonymous said...

That even though intentional idioms do not presuppose intentionalism in isolation, but do when considered as a whole because...?

I'm sure Ed will answer for himself, but to me, it seems Ed is saying that the eliminative materialist has no model to speak of, or at least no model that avoids all use of the intentional. The heliocentrist has a model. How seriously would (or should) we take a heliocentrist who kept affirming helioncentrism, but every model they produced was non-heliocentric?

An aside: appeals to the success of science seem wrongheaded here. Science as a whole has had a lot of success (though with the lump under the rug caveat Ed mentioned), but it's also led more than once to some fundamental revisions despite having a model that was time-tested and practically useful. To say "science will eventually explain X" isn't what the EM advocate needs: they need to say "science will eventually explain X, and it will do it in this way". The classical physicist would be right that science would eventually find an explanation for the irregularities at the micro-level, but the claim that the explanation would fit with classical physics would be wrong.

Scott said...

Ed's point is that it isn't sufficient for the eliminativists' case that we be able to rephrase this or that individual statement without reference to intentionality; it's necessary to show that all statements can be thus rephrased, and that's not possible without getting rid of all statements about e.g. cognition and truth.

…including "model." It's not just that eliminativists don't have a model; it's that even if they did, that model itself would be intentional.

Anonymous said...

To flesh out what I said...

It's agreed that "I believe there are no beliefs" is incoherent. The response is just that the EM can state what they believe in another way, which avoids reference to beliefs. But if their 'other way' still uses intentional concepts, then the problem is arising again.

DNW said...

"Bakker asks: “What would a post-intentional future look like? What could it look like?,” and he says that it “regularly amazes” him that this question hasn’t been explored in greater depth. But it really should not amaze him. After all, nobody bothers exploring in depth what a world in which round squares existed would be like. One reason for this is that there could, even in principle, be no such thing as a world where round squares existed, since the very notion is incoherent. We can’t explore the idea in depth because we can’t explore it at all. "


One amusing way to explore it would be to grant for the sake of argument that the organisms propounding such views are correct; at least insofar as themselves and see how it plays out. And after all, in a radically nominalist world there is no reason to take any subsequent objections to, or squeals by the "offended party", as if they refer to violations of some inter-subjectively applicable class standard.

What would it even mean to "hurt" such a ... "thing"?

Of course a believing Catholic would have trouble implementing such a program, and would probably even consider it - i.e., treating them as a kind of externally programmed natural phenomenon the core traits of which are a mindless appropriation of the surroundings, and the elimination of waste - to be sinful to do so. Even in the cases of say, the Churchlands, or others.

Once you are committed to thinking of and more importantly treating Alex Rosenberg as a person with an interior life and meaningful volitions, it is probably a pretty hard habit to break, even on principle.

More interestingly, it is probably known to most of those visiting here and having some background in intellectual history and law, that it is taken as an historical fact that the doctrines of intentionality only, or largely, entered into and informed European notions of legal culpability [actually I am referring specifically to English law codes] under the influence of Church law.

The old solution was to hold a man strictly responsible for an injury to another no matter what his aim was. And even inanimate objects were assigned culpability. (The bane)

The new solution, once we any eliminate moral agency founded within a locus of intentional possibilities, will of necessity be either archaically strict or totalitarian.

I think we know in which direction most social progressives which to go.

Though why, once their meaningful status as persons evaporates, anyone should care what they "want", is another matter.

Anonymous said...

Instead of wondering why there's no talk about what a post-intentional future will look like, I have another question: why is there so little talk about what a world where intentionality cannot be eliminated, yet also cannot be squared with materialism, will look like?

Now that's ripe for thinking.

John West said...

Instead of wondering why there's no talk about what a post-intentional future will look like, I have another question: why is there so little talk about what a world where intentionality cannot be eliminated, yet also cannot be squared with materialism, will look like?

I thought that's the one most people think we're living in.

Anonymous said...

I thought that's the one most people think we're living in.

It seems more that we're living in a world where everyone thinks in and uses intentional terms, but quite a lot of people are convinced that this is all temporary and the whole thing will be wholly materially explicable any day now.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott Bakker

Nice to see you. I always like it when the author Ed speaks of comes over to discuss the matter.

Irish Thomist said...

"An eliminativist needs a well developed theory of meaning to short-circuit this abductive tack. But before tackling this, I would really like to get the incoherence issue cleared up, because I can't seem to find your argument. To me it seems like you're posing incoherence, merely to shift to your abductive case."

Could you eliminate references to oneself and ones intentionality here? That would be interesting.

John West said...

Anonymous,

It seems more that we're living in a world where everyone thinks in and uses intentional terms, but quite a lot of people are convinced that this is all temporary and the whole thing will be wholly materially explicable any day now.

This dogmatic materialism does seem more accurate. You're right.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott Bakker

Can we remain a 'person' with 'rights' if EM is true?

Organic matter shall apply 'deep thought' to this to see what the answer turns out to be.

Greg said...

@ Scott Bakker

But what exactly is your argument here? That even though intentional idioms do not presuppose intentionalism in isolation, but do when considered as a whole because...? Am I missing something?

Well, one can avoid intentional idioms by rewriting them in terms that do not presuppose intentionality or conceding that they are literally false. The problem with eliminating intentionality across the board is that this cannot be done for many intentional terms (truth, model, etc.) deployed in expounding eliminative materialism as a theory; they apparently cannot be rewritten in terms that don't presuppose intentionality, and if those statements are admitted to be false, then eliminative materialism is false.

Ed's argument appears to be that there is a prima facie claim that, even if one can avoid commitment to statements like "I believe there are no beliefs", one cannot avoid commitment to intentionality in these other cases. Of course, if a proponent of EM were to show how this is to be done, that would be different.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article and reply to Scott. Maybe what the fantasy author has done is taken an extreme position, but it doesn't need to be proven because it is actually happening in the world now. We may call it science but it is no different than what the fantasy author, philosopher, political scientist or financial person traffics in when they buy and sell toxic assets that cause stock market crashes. Science is not special because it is just another system of language shared across people from the same cultures so the outsider who doesn't speak it may not understand the food he is buying, the candidate he votes for, the investments he puts his life savings into etc. or dehumanization of the "customer". The apocalyptic scenario is under way right now.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

Of course, if a proponent of EM were to show how this is to be done, that would be different.

I think we both know that would end up being linguistic gymnastics and they still couldn't avoid the regress of intentionality and 'truth claims'.

Actually here's the thing, what point does any theory have if it has no truth claim? Seems to me it makes no difference whether you tell someone or believe it or whatever. The theory becomes a redundancy of it's own devising.

Anonymous said...

The nuclear processes that take place in the cores of stars don't have intentionality. The neurological processes that take place in your brain don't have intentionality either, unless your brain is qualitatively different from a star. Are human brains qualitatively different from other forms of matter such that brains have intentionality and other forms of matter do not? If so, what is the nature of this difference?

I suppose one could argue that minds possess intentionality even though brains do not, and therefore that minds exist independently of brains. Of course then one would have to explain why minds never survive the destruction of the brains in which they are embodied.

Clearly, if one accepts that human beings are not qualitatively different than animals and animals are not qualitatively different than inanimate objects then 'personhood' and 'rights' and all that goes away and life becomes poor, solitary, nasty brutish and short.

One thing worth keeping in mind (I know I'm using Intentional Language, but only in its folk sense) about intentionality is that no person can observe another person's qualia or intentional stances or phenomenology or any of that stuff. All any one person can observe of another person is a physical object performing physical activities. The fact that one observes intentional things in ones self does not justify the belief that they exist in any other body. Similarly, because one can not observe them in any other body one can not be required to explain them for any other body. It can be useful to treat others as persons in some situations. It can be useful to treat them as things in some other situations.

I think that is really what's at issue. Are human beings persons or things? Given that all the other things in the universe are merely things and given that as far as one can actually observe, other people are merely things, I think the burden of proof is on those who claim that people are other than mere things.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

If you can't prove it is real, you also can't prove it is happening right now.

He really does need to prove his position.

EM is a soft target (because it is so extreme but certainly one that needs addressing. Maybe some of it's proponents might rethink their position on the matter.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

"Final Causality"

That is all.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

It can be useful to treat others as persons in some situations. It can be useful to treat them as things in some other situations.

I think that is really what's at issue. Are human beings persons or things? Given that all the other things in the universe are merely things and given that as far as one can actually observe, other people are merely things, I think the burden of proof is on those who claim that people are other than mere things.


That is rather disturbing if I am honest.

I will leave others to express their views on it!

Daniel said...

@Anonymous,

The nuclear processes that take place in the cores of stars don't have intentionality.

Good news for you! According to Thomists as well as the New Essentialist Movement a good number of the members of which are perfectly secular all these objects do indeed posses a form of Intentionality, 'Physical' or Dispositional' Intentionality as they say.

Persons are indeed 'things' but only because 'thing' is a synonym for Entity/Object/Being. No Post-Kantian nonsense here.

Gene Callahan said...

"... any more than using capital entails a commitment to capitalism."

It seems pretty obvious to me that using capital would entail the existence of capitalism.

Matt, you have gone twice wrong here:

1) Bakker did not say "existence of," he said "commitment to." The two phrases mean very different things.

2) And in any case, your own statement is incorrect: there was lots of capital in, say, the USSR. But it was not a capitalist society.

Gadfly said...

Great waggish last comment, Ed. That said, per my own blogging on this issue, and my own second essay at SciSal, I'll continue to say "mu" to the whole "free will versus determinism" and related ideas on this subject.

http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2013/12/mu-to-free-will-vs-determinism-part-2.html

Scott said...

"Given that all the other things in the universe are merely things and given that as far as one can actually observe, other people are merely things, I think the burden of proof is on those who claim that people are other than mere things."

Fine; that's not a difficult burden to meet. We met it the moment you started talking about claims and burdens of proof.

Come to think of it, we met it the moment you started talking, period.

Matt Sheean said...

Gene,

Yea, it was not the zinger I thought it was, but I'll try to repair it.

By saying "existence of" I meant to draw attention to the badness of the analogy. Let's say I'm a Marxist living in a capitalist society, and someone asks me why I'm so opposed to this capitalism thing. Let's say I then give a little smirk and declare that as a Marxist, I don't believe in capitalism and by that mean that I don't believe that there is any such thing as it. Suppose as well that I own a small business.

DNW said...

"It can be useful to treat others as persons in some situations. It can be useful to treat them as things in some other situations."

"Useful" to what?

Edward Feser said...

Hello Scott,

Thanks for your reply. Using intentional expressions does not commit you to the reality of what the expressions refer to IF you can find a way of saying what you want to say without using the intentional expressions. That was the point illustrated by the analogy with talk of sunrises. Talk about sunrises doesn’t commit us to geocentrism because, if we want to, we can always say what we want to say without any reference to the sun rising. It’s just more cumbersome to do so, which is why we still talk about sunrises; it’s a convenient fiction. But we can always put the literal, non-fictional truth in place of this fiction when we need to do so.

The trouble with eliminativism is that no one has been able to do the same thing for eliminativism. Eliminativists often say “We’re not committed to the reality of intentional notions any more than talk of sunrises commits us to geocentrism. It’s just a convenient fiction.” What they don’t do is actually provide the literal, non-fictional way of saying what they want to say. The most they do is to avoid certain more obvious intentional notions (such as “belief”) but they never entirely get rid of all intentional notions. When they try they invariably either (a) smuggle intentional notions back in, or (b) fail actually to state the eliminativist thesis at all.

As an example of (a), consider Paul Churchland’s response to Putnam’s point that notions like “truth” need to be abandoned by a consistent eliminativist no less than “belief” does. (Putnam talks about an exchange with Churchland about this issue in Representation and Reality.) Churchland acknowledged that he needs a “successor concept” to replace the notion of truth, and that he didn’t know what it would be. The trouble, though, is not merely that Churchland couldn’t tell us what the eliminativist would put in place of the notion of truth -- though that is bad enough -- but that the notion of a “successor concept” is itself a further intentional notion!

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

As an example of (b), consider Rosenberg’s attempt in “Eliminativism without Tears” to state the eliminativist thesis without using any intentional notions at all. (I analyze this paper in detail in the posts linked to above.) Key to his attempt is his analysis of “information” as causal covariance, an analysis which, as Rosenberg acknowledges, does not correspond to “information” in the ordinary, intentional sense. So far so good, except that Rosenberg fails to provide any way to reconstruct a notion of misinformation on this account. And he crucially needs to do that in order to re-state the eliminativist claim that non-eliminativist views are false, illusory, etc. (He needs such a re-statement because “falsehood,” “illusion,” etc. are intentional notions, and thus need to be replaced.) All he can get is a bare difference in causal chains. He can say that there are such-and-such causal chains in the brains of eliminativists, and causal chains of a different sort in non-eliminativists. But that’s not enough. What he needs is to find an eliminativist way to say that the causal chains in the non-eliminativist’s brain are not merely different, but somehow aberrant, or defective, or “miss the mark” or what have you. But those are normative descriptions. They all entail a failure of some process to reach what it is “pointed at” or “directed toward” -- and these are intentional notions which eliminativists reject. So Rosenberg cannot and does not appeal to them. But he never tells us what he’d put in their place. Hence he fails to provide us with a literal, non-intentional replacement for the eliminativist thesis that folk psychology is “illusory,” “false,” etc.

Again, the point is that it’s not good enough for the eliminativist to say “But I don’t mean that literally.” He has to tell us then exactly what he does mean literally, and in a way that says what he wants to say without smuggling the intentional notions back in. Only that would constitute an answer to the incoherence charge. But it hasn’t been done.

John West said...

So intentionality is indispensable; to get off the ground, eliminativists need to prove it dispensable. Any serious projects attempting to do so, or just handwaving?

Anonymous said...

All modes of human religion and science are point-of-view based systems of presumed knowledge that prescribe and limit what is known and define what is knowable.

All modes of human religion and science are attempts to tribalize and, thus to localize and control what is allowable as knowledge, such that it characterizes and protects a collective political, social, and cultural mode of mind.

All modes of human religion and science are systematic patterns of mind that are impulsed to acquire or assimilate particular subjects, or conceptually and perceptually identified pattern-fields of apprehension, in order - by objectifying, naming categorizing, symbolically representing, and systematically interiorizing and enclosing them - to appropriate, expolit, control, replace, and ultimately, eviscerate and annihilate them.

All modes of human religion and science seek to dominate both the Divine and conditional subjects, via substitution ideas, either by means of sacred conceptual and/or perceptual language such as Deity myths and otherwise religious modes of philosophical language, or by means of secular conceptual and/or perceptual language , such as materiality myths and otherwise scientific modes of philosophical language.

All modes of human religion and science are artifacts of the human ego-effort to protect and extend the local interests of human collectives, by means of idea-invocation, whereby Reality Itself which is an Indivisible Unity and merely Acausally present AS the context of all apparently rising conditions, is identified as an opponent, objectified as an other, invoked as an ally, indulged and exploited as a captive, and, at last, desecrated and destroyed as a convicted criminal and victim, via and as a scapegoat "game" which is now being universally dramatized all over the planet.

Michael Murden said...

Scott

I've never spoken to you. I say that not to be churlish but to point out that materialists and idealists often talk past one another because we're not always clear when we're being metaphorical and when we're being literal. What really happened when you 'read my comment' is some photons from your monitor entered your eyes, stimulated your retina to emit action potentials that entered your brain, causing a cascade of neurological activity that eventually resulted in some neuromotor activity involving your hands and a keyboard. For the sake of brevity let's call this, as well as actual talking, writing, listening etc language related behavior. The fact that you perceive another thing perform a language related behavior does not in and of its self prove that that other thing is a person or has qualia or intentional stances. You have perceived your own body performing language related behaviors. You have perceived through introspection that your body is animated by a person or a soul or a spirit that has intentionality. You have perceived through introspection that your language related behavior is made possible by your person or soul or spirit. Therefore you infer that other entities that perform language related behaviors have a person or soul or spirit. That inference is only as good as your introspective self-perception of your own person or soul or spirit. So we come back to the question Scott Bakker asked in the Scientia Salon essay. How good is your introspection?

Even if I grant your introspective access to your own person or soul or spirit you don't have introspective access to the person or soul or spirit of any other entity. All you have regarding other entities is the same sensory access you have to any other physical object. That sensory access allows entities to predict and manipulate the actions of other entities. Nobody denies the utility of this folk psychology within the problem ecology of human social interaction. Whether sensory perception of other humans or introspective perception of one's self is useful for determining if human beings are different in kind from insects or rocks or wisps of gas in interstellar space remains to be seen.

In his remarks Professor Feser stated "Those features of reality that are not susceptible of such investigation are going to be known by us, if at all, only via metaphysical investigation -- specifically, I would argue, via Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics." Aristotle died in 322 BC. St. Thomas died in 1274 AD. If they are still on the cutting edge of philosophy progress has been slow. Perhaps metaphysics is not like physics, and one should not expect it to progress at all. Human brains are the most complicated objects any human brain has ever tried to understand, but science is good at understanding complicated objects. Given that neuroscience is just getting started I'd say the question of whether the "qualitative, semantic and teleological features" to which Professor Feser refers are "irreducible" or reducible to merely neurological activity remains to be answered. Maybe the ghost in the neurological machine exists.

Anonymous said...

> Aristotle died in 322 BC. St. Thomas died in 1274 AD.

Just wait'll you hear when materialism was thought up...

Brandon said...

If the whole argument is going to be based on the claim that intentionality is by nature unperceivable, this needs to be established, not merely stated as if it were obvious; it is not, in fact, obvious, and is actively denied by quite a few positions. The notion that any appeal to intentionality depends entirely on introspection is little more than rhetorical sleight of hand, an attempt to rig the argument without actually putting reasons on the table.

Brandon said...

What really happened when you 'read my comment' is some photons from your monitor entered your eyes, stimulated your retina to emit action potentials that entered your brain, causing a cascade of neurological activity that eventually resulted in some neuromotor activity involving your hands and a keyboard.

In other words, what happened is that some things happened that can only possibly be known by deliberately designed experiments whose achievement of their ends could be recognized in experience and used as part of causal reasoning to create theories which could be confirmed about the world.

Michael Murden said...

Oh yeah, Scott. I'm the anonymous who compared brains to stars.

Michael Murden said...

Hello, Brandon. Have you ever perceived another person's intentionality? Did you perceive it through your physical senses or through some other modality? If so what was that other modality? I granted Scott's ability to perceive his own intentional states, although merely for the sake of argument. I denied his ability to perceive the intentional states of others. Are you claiming to be able to do so? Are you psychic? Can you read minds?

Regarding the 'read my comment' comment if the light were reflected from a sheet of papyrus in Egypt 3000 years ago the argument would be the same. The question of what happened is separate from the question how one determined what happened. The speed of light in a vacuum is independent of the means used to measure it. A scientist conducting neurolinguistics experiments is just an object interacting with other objects. You can't directly perceive his intentions. You can only infer them from his actions, unless you are psychic. And if you have some other method besides introspection for perceiving your own intentionality what is that other method?

Brandon said...

Hi, Michael,

Have you ever perceived photons, action potentials, neurophysiological cascades, the speed of light in a vacuum? Did you perceive them through your physical senses or some other modality? If so what was that other modality? And why are you repeatedly talking as if Scott said anything about introspective awareness being required?

You seem not to have read my comment very carefully; I didn't say anything about my own views, but pointed out (1) that your assumption is not in fact obvious and (2) that it is quite often actively denied. To take just one example out of a great many, Edith Stein's The Problem of Empathy is a book-long argument that it has to be denied. Thus you cannot reasonably go around pretending that you can get away with just stating it as if it were obvious.

You also seem to have missed the point of my second comment, which is that your claim about 'what really happened' does not in fact address the issue, which is that all these things you are claiming 'really happened' -- that usually means you are claiming that you know they happened, but since you are eliminating intentional language you must mean something else that you failed to state -- need to be reached in an eliminativist way. Most people get to them in an intentionalist way: they take them to be reached by scientific inquiry (both 'scientific' and 'inquiry' are terms appealing to intentionality) using experiments about various things ('experiment' being a term appealing to intentionality) that are deliberately designed ('deliberately' and 'designed' being terms appealing to intentionality) to achieve certain ends of inquiry (which is an appeal to intentionality) so that hypotheses and theories about the world (both 'hypothesis' and 'theory' being terms appealing to intentionality) which can be confirmed or disconfirmed (confirmation and disconfirmation are both forms of reasoning about how theories relate to what they are about, and therefore are appeals to intentionality) by reasoning about the possible causes of experimental effects ('reasoning about' being a phrase appealing to intentionality).

In short, your position commits you to the claim that what everyone calls science, including its complex of intentionality terms -- experiment, theory, hypothesis, confirmation, disconfirmation, prediction, correctness, model, etc. -- is not anything that really exists. So merely talking about neurons, photons, the speed of light in a vacuum, gets you nowhere, since these terms usually are regarded as meaningful and worth using only because everyone else subscribes to intentionalism with respect to scientific inquiry, which the eliminativist is committed to rejecting.

Thus despite your attempt to smear my pro-science view with the term 'psychic', you are the one actually appealing to clairvoyance: things happen in the world, which you can't actually claim to know anything about (because 'knowledge' is an intentional term) and this causes things to happen, which you treat as happening in your brain, that you don't actually know anything about, and your reason for holding this is not scientific (since 'scientific' is an intentional term) but just because things are happening that you don't know anything about and cannot give any reasons for. Unless, of course, you have an eliminativist account of what's really going on in the specific scientific experimentation that establishes all of these scientific concepts you are using, one that does not involve any of the intentionality that permeates how everyone else understands it? We'd all like to hear it; it is the sort of thing that would actually start meeting Ed's challenge.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Michael,

Which Scott were you replying to? I'm having a hard time keeping up with who is replying to whom.

Timotheos said...

@ Micheal

"[We] materialists and idealists often talk past one another..."

I'm not sure why you're calling Scott an idealist; while there is certainly an "old-school" sense in which he is one, which he makes clear to state is the sense that he identifies himself as an idealist, it is certainly not the normal sense of the word that one finds in the usual understanding of the materialist vs idealist divide. And I think it would be very unfair to insinuate that Scott holds to a Vicitorian-style Idealism boogeyman, just because he's not a materialist.

Now you might just be referring to any non-materialist view as "idealism" for convience, but this runs into the strange problem that this "idealism" would have to be somehow common to Plato, Aquinas, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Berkely, Locke, Kant, Hegel, and Lebinez, which I think makes any use of the term "idealism" here both specious and highly misleading.

"Aristotle died in 322 BC. St. Thomas died in 1274 AD."

Euclid probably died somewhere around 250 BC; please show me how I can't still use his Elements to prove the Pythagorean Theorem or how his geometry is not still correct, even if additional discoveries have been made.

In other words, truth doesn't have an expiration date, even if more truths can be discovered and built-on.

"Maybe the ghost in the neurological machine exists."

Don't you dare start getting me Ryled. =P

Timotheos said...

@ Jeremy Taylor

The Scott Ed was referring to in his last comment was Scott Bakker. Every reference to Scott since then, Micheal's included, has been to Scott simpliciter.

@ All

As a general rule to avoid further confusion in this forum, could everyone please start referring to Scott Bakker with either his full name or as simply Bakker, and refer to the other Scott as simply Scott

Irish Thomist said...

@Edward

Only that would constitute an answer to the incoherence charge.

Would it though? It would just push everything back into epistemology - then we would be right back with the same problem i.e. the entire project is intentionally trying to remove intentional statements. So how do we then know what 'truth' even is?

Scott Bakker said...

Anonymous: "I'm sure Ed will answer for himself, but to me, it seems Ed is saying that the eliminative materialist has no model to speak of, or at least no model that avoids all use of the intentional. The heliocentrist has a model. How seriously would (or should) we take a heliocentrist who kept affirming helioncentrism, but every model they produced was non-heliocentric?"

But I don't understand. The indispensibility of intentional idioms isn't the issue here. The question is one of how to best understand those idioms. Whenever I use an intentional term, I am using an intentional term. The question of whether intentional terms involve/require some kind of intrinsic intentionality is the very issue at stake. How does asserting that I'm presupposing one of the thousands of intentionalist interpretations out there do anything more than beg this question?

Anonymous said...

How does asserting that I'm presupposing one of the thousands of intentionalist interpretations out there do anything more than beg this question?

It's pretty easy to understand, so I'm not sure where the source of confusion is. It's not an assertion that presupposes anything: it is a fact, recognized even by EM proponents, that they are asserting a reality that lacks intentional concepts, yet they are making use of those concepts to communicate their idea. And they're not making use of these terms as casual shorthand in a conversation, while a technical and intentionality-free description of their project is available elsewhere - that description doesn't exist. (And then a description would itself be a successor concept that has to be removed, I imagine.)

By the way - is there such a thing as "begging the question" in the EM world?

Brandon said...

How does asserting that I'm presupposing one of the thousands of intentionalist interpretations out there do anything more than beg this question?

I'm not clear, in addition to Anonymous@7:32's point, what this has to do with the failure to have any kind of model that would allow one to do in the eliminativist case what the heliocentrist can do in his.

In addition, this doesn't seem to be a correct use of 'begging the question'; it's not presupposing a conclusion to point out that you yourself are presupposing the conclusion and don't seem to have any rational way of not presupposing it.

Scott Bakker said...

Edward: No, thank you! I think this is the most important topic of our day, and not only that, I out and out hate the consequences of my own view!

You say, "Using intentional expressions does not commit you to the reality of what the expressions refer to IF you can find a way of saying what you want to say without using the intentional expressions."

But again, I just don't see how this doesn't clearly beg the question. Intentional idioms and their problem-solving role is the very question we are trying to answer. You hew to explanations involving intrinsic intentionality. I say there is no such thing, that this is why intentionalism remains mired in the same millennial controversies, and offer an naturalistic interpretation instead, one I think the science will eventually bear out. Given that the use of intentional terms is our shared explanandum, what sense does it make to insist that the my use of intentional terms proves your explanation correct? I am genuinely mystified.

Are you saying every use of intentional terms evidences some theory of intrinsic intentionality? If so, this is an extraordinary claim. How so? What is the evidence? Where does it come from?

Again, I appreciate the abductive side of your argument--since I actually arrived at my eliminativism via a prior theory of naturalized meaning. But you have to show me why anyone should presume that the mere use of intentional terms ipso facto evidences one of the thousands of theories of intrinsic intentionality populating philosophy any more than it evidences, say, my own theory.

Brandon said...

Are you saying every use of intentional terms evidences some theory of intrinsic intentionality?

Why are you suddenly switching, in this comment and the previous, from talking about intentionality to talking about one particular kind of intentionality, namely, intrinsic intentionality?

Greg said...

@ Scott Bakker

Intentional idioms and their problem-solving role is the very question we are trying to answer.

Sure. EM deploys intentional terms. These terms appear to do a lot of work in EM. There are standard senses of these terms that presuppose intentionality. EM will have to reject these senses and use other ones. Ed's claim is that no EM proponent has given an alternative to the standard intentionality-presupposing senses.

He is not assuming that intentional terms must presuppose intentionality. He is pointing out that a coherent EM must show how they can avoid doing so; otherwise EM appears to capitalize, as Ed said, on issuing promissory notes.

DNW said...

Timotheos said... " "Maybe the ghost in the neurological machine exists."

Don't you dare start getting me Ryled. =P

January 13, 2015 at 1:08 AM"



A particularly apt retort, given his preceding inference process remarks:

" You have perceived your own body performing language related behaviors. You have perceived through introspection that your body is animated by a person or a soul or a spirit that has intentionality. You have perceived through introspection that your language related behavior is made possible by your person or soul or spirit. Therefore you infer that other entities that perform language related behaviors have a person or soul or spirit. That inference is only as good as your introspective self-perception of your own person or soul or spirit.

DNW said...



" Blogger John West said...

So intentionality is indispensable; to get off the ground, eliminativists need to prove it dispensable. Any serious projects attempting to do so, or just handwaving?

January 12, 2015 at 7:02 PM"

Skinner boxes ...


Scott said...

@Scott Bakker:

"I just don't see how this doesn't clearly beg the question."

I have to echo the question of Anonymus@7:32. Are you really entitled, on an eliminativist view, to talk about "begging the question"? How might you give an account of that logical fallacy with no reference to intentionality? I don't think it's possible, but the point is that even eliminativists acknowledge that it hasn't been done.

At any rate I agree with Greg that Ed isn't begging the question. It's up to the eliminativist to show that all "intentionalistic" language can be done away with in favor of language that doesn't presuppose intentionality, and that's going to be pretty tricky when it comes time to talk about things like cognition and truth.

I don't think this can be done consistently; anyone who tries is likely to wind up like Michael Murden above, who seems to be in all seriousness trying to communicate to me that I can't know that he's trying to communicate anything to me.

"I say there is no such thing [as intrinsic intentionality], that this is why intentionalism remains mired in the same millennial controversies, and offer an naturalistic interpretation instead[.]"

Brandon has already pointed out that you're changing from "intentionality" to "intrinsic intentionality" here.

You also contrast "intentionalism" with "naturalistic interpretation" as though you already somehow know that intentionality isn't "natural." Is there not a begged question lurking in that assumption?

And not to keep beating a dead horse, but it would also be interesting to hear you explain "interpretation" without any reference to intentionality.

Brandon said...

I think it might be worth adding to my previous comment about the switch from intentionality to intrinsic intentionality that this is not brought up to be a pest but because it is a significant issue -- it's a major difference between eliminativism and reductionism, for instance, since many reductionists hold that there are some kinds of intentionality, but that these are reducible to the non-intentional. And on this subject the gap between even the eliminativist and the reductionist is quite large.

E.Seigner said...

Scott: Brandon has already pointed out that you're changing from "intentionality" to "intrinsic intentionality" here.

I just understood what Bakker is saying here. He is saying that intentional notions are just a "theory of intrinsic intentionality", while he holds to some other theory with regard to intentional notions.

Apparently Bakker's own theory is that intentionality is not really intentionality. Therefore, when charged to devise a vocabulary without intentional notions he feels the charge is question-begging.

This situation is similar when discussing with those who are eliminativists about "mind". Sure they use the word "mind" as if mind existed but, so their story goes, mind is really just synapses in the brain or even flatly synonymous to brain, so there's no fallacy nor further need for explanations.

Anonymous said...

He is saying that intentional notions are just a "theory of intrinsic intentionality", while he holds to some other theory with regard to intentional notions.

If he holds to some other theory, then it's fair for us to ask for that theory to be consistently communicated. (And if he's an eliminative materialist, how can he really be maintaining that "he", "holds to", "some other theory"?)

If the eliminative materialist is incapable of even coherently and consistently laying out what their view is, then incoherency seems pretty straightforward. It's incoherent to even say there is a true theory of eliminative materialism. What is the successor concept?

Or can I just say that it will one day become clear that a square can be a circle, we just need some successor concepts, I know not what?

Anonymous said...

You hew to explanations involving intrinsic intentionality. I say there is no such thing, that this is why intentionalism remains mired in the same millennial controversies, and offer an naturalistic interpretation instead, one I think the science will eventually bear out.

But no naturalistic interpretation has been offered. You are, to use your terminology, hewing to something you can't even explain, or even conceive. Indeed, on your view, you don't have a view, and neither does anyone else: no one has ever hewed to anything in their lives, because hewing and selves and even ideas are impossible. There's not even successor concepts, because successor concepts themselves aren't possible. There's nothing you've offered that science will bear out, and there's not even science. (One more successor concept needed, once we figure out the successor concept for successor concepts...)

Don't you find it odd that you say you're placing your faith in science, when on your view everything people would normally point at as evidence science is trustworthy simply cannot exist (there are no theories, there are no models, there are no predictions, there is no truth)? It makes more sense to say you're absolutely rejecting science once and for all. Science simply cannot exist. Yet another successor concept (whatever that is) needed.

Stephen Krogh said...

@ Michael,

I'm not sure the burden of proof lies upon someone claiming that she has intentional states. You might be correct that she would have to work towards proving her belief to a skeptic—I take that to be the point you were making, so it is ultimately the relevant point here—but it seems that her own belief is justified, i.e., she needn't offer any proof to accept the belief herself. After all, even if intentionality and her subjective experience of her own are ultimately illusory, the fact remains that they are powerful illusions, ones through which just about every other experience she has ever enjoyed has passed, and thus, even if she were wrong in her belief, it seems that she has prima facie justification in believing in her internal mental states nonetheless.

Regarding distinguishing the brain from the mind, I think we could at once make the distinction without too much difficulty in explaining why minds die with brains. Statues, for instance, are distinct from the media instantiating them—the media have to be sculpted, after all—but destroying the media necessarily entails the statue's destruction. Minds and brains could hold a similar relationship, I suppose.

Finally, I think we might be able to say that we do experience the intentionality of others. Mirror neurons essentially seem to mirror the intentionality of other intentional beings, thereby producing the intention of others within the mind of the person whose neurons are doing the mirroring. If this is so, then we could say that we have experienced intentional stances other than our own, at least insofar as we can experience someone in a room by seeing her reflection in a mirror. Of course, the topic of mirror neurons is not without its skeptics—Patricia Churchland thinks the concept is incoherent—so whether this is actually the case is something that couldn't be settled here, but it seems at least to be a viable option for consideration.

Arthur said...

I'm a little confused by all this. What, precisely, do eliminative materialists think they've discovered in science that shows that intentionality doesn't exist?

Anonymous said...

What, precisely, do eliminative materialists think they've discovered in science that shows that intentionality doesn't exist?

They failed to discover something that's been intentionally (!) excluded from science to begin with. This, they believe, is great evidence that the thing they've excluded doesn't exist.

Or so they'd believe if they believed in things like evidence, science, discovery...

Arthur said...

'They failed to discover something that's been intentionally (!) excluded from science to begin with. This, they believe, is great evidence that the thing they've excluded doesn't exist.'

That's what I thought, but surely there must be more to it than that... mustn't there? Presumably an eliminative materialist wouldn't themselves put it the way you have.

I'm also interested in the history of this. When exactly, was intentionality removed from science, and why?

Scott said...

@Arthur:

This may help (if you haven't read it already).

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott Bakker
"The indispensibility of intentional idioms isn't the issue here."

As I mentioned above you have many other problems besides the application of words. The very fact it is a mind projecting those words means it isn't even in principle possible to remove the end directedness of your actions.

Arthur said...

Thanks, Scott. Off the top of my head, I don't find the arguments there remotely convincing, but I'm sure most people here don't!

I may have time to analyze them in more detail later.

Anonymous said...

EM seems like one of those attempts to write something for a PhD because all the good ideas were taken.

Irish Thomist

Anonymous said...

As I mentioned above you have many other problems besides the application of words.

Even the word issue is a problem. I think it has to be admitted that the very idea of an 'eliminative materialist theory' is incoherent - the concept points towards the non-existence of theories, not to mention eliminative materialists.

They can't say that science's success, or scientific facts, or facts at all are causing them to conclude the truth of eliminative materialism - they reject truth, and facts, and science, and even success. They don't have their successor concepts.

Maybe we're doing what Bakker suggested when we talk like this: we're exploring what happens with an eliminative materialist future. Can we say that, assuming an eliminative materialist future, the eliminative materialism will have to give up on eliminative materialism, even materialism as a whole? Or is someone going to dare say that's incoherent?

John West said...

Well, I do think it's a problem for eliminativists, if they cannot formulate their own hypothesis without referencing the intentionality they deny. Let me see if I have this right by trying to formulate a strategy.

Say the eliminitavist claims the reason intentionality is difficult to extricate from eliminitavism is that language is conservative. English requires intentionality to function because English speakers have largely built the language on top of other intentional claims and to dispense with one bit of intentionality requires dispensing with a whole lot more of it. The eliminivatist needs to show for some sufficient amount of English language (enough to show it's possible for the rest)—including the theory of eliminativism itself—that people can make the same claims without intentionality. Call it The Humans Without Intentions Project.

To borrow an example of the procedure from an unrelated earlier article, a mereological nihilist might argue human language references non-living objects only because it's anthropocentric and objects are useful conversational shorthands. But every reference to any non-living “object x” can be replaced by “atoms arranged x-wise”. Therefore, the mereological nihilist can formulate his other arguments without reference to objects, and is justified asking non-nihilists for further arguments that there are non-living objects.

To avoid various problems, eliminativists have to find similar ways of replacing every “sentence type” using intentional language (ie. sentences using “about”, etc.). I cannot, in fact, think of any examples. I don't think replacing a sufficient amounts of intentionality in human language (and therefore eliminativism or any of the scientific theories it rests on) is possible. But would this strategy at least begin to answer the challenge faced by eliminativists?

John West said...

eliminitavist ... eliminitavism ... eliminivatism

That's a bit embarrassing. That's what I get for typing it on a tablet.

Arthur said...

Tackling one of the arguments in that article at random...

'Folk physics, folk biology, folk epidemiology and the like all proved to be radically mistaken. Since folk theories generally turn out to be mistaken, it seems quite improbable that folk psychology will turn out true.'

Surely, say, folk physics wasn't 'radically' mistaken at all. We used to believe that objects exist and move around... and we still do, even if our understanding of their motion has changed. Likewise with folk astronomy. We used to believe that the Sun exists... and we still do, even if our conception of what the Sun is has changed. Even with an analogy of the EM's own choosing, EM ends up looking analogous to believing that the Sun simply doesn't exist. (Try to ignore all that sunglight, folks!)

The argument also seems to overlook relevant differences between astronomy and psychology; we have immediate access to our own minds that we don't have to planets, physical theories, and the like. Honestly, it worries me that someone would overlook this. 'What's so special about psychology, as opposed to astronomy or physics?' The question is easy to answer if you actually think about it for a moment.

Arthur said...

One thing I'm wondering about is why intentionality is supposed to be such a 'problem' to be 'solved' in the first place. Why the sense of urgency to take it out of the picture?

I'm trying to give EM a fair go here, but it seems thoroughly arbitrary to me. You might as well tell me that bananas should be eliminated by reason or something.

Roberto said...

Intentionality is not just 'aboutness' (ugh) but includes objects - 'I insulted John' and 'I believe that John is in London'. Both are intentional but the first sentence is not 'about' anything.

Brandon said...

Surely, say, folk physics wasn't 'radically' mistaken at all. We used to believe that objects exist and move around... and we still do, even if our understanding of their motion has changed.

Yes, this is certainly an issue with that kind of argument -- it becomes much less plausible once one realizes that the 'failings' are mostly just approximation and the practical limitations of ordinary experience, and if one focuses on the most general principles rather than the specific conclusions (which are often partly guesswork and estimation, anyway). The problem with the argument becomes even more serious when one realizes that standard scientific practice relies on folk physics -- if a scientist uses a measuring device, the measuring device will have an exact mathematical account, but in practice the scientist will almost always treat the actual sensing of the measuring device (or its record) in folk physics terms, and there are standard features of even exact accounts of measurement (in optics, for instance) that are just mathematical idealizations of the folk physics idea of how things work. We don't magically get rid of folk physics by having scientific physics -- the whole point of these 'folk' classifications is that they indicate cognitive tendencies we all have, even scientists in the middle of doing science -- even if we do correct it or filter it to be more appropriate to what we happen to be doing at the moment.

John West said...

One thing I'm wondering about is why intentionality is supposed to be such a 'problem' to be 'solved' in the first place. Why the sense of urgency to take it out of the picture?

It's a good idea to avoid psychoanalyzing opponents in this debate. They could equally suggest our minds are befogged by an emotional attachment to ... well, being people.

DNW said...

This topic is ripe for jokes.

" What was the eliminative materialist intending to accomplish ? "

Etc.

Arthur said...

'It's a good idea to avoid psychoanalyzing opponents in this debate.'

Good point, but I was more after the supposed rational justifications for the principles anyway. Why (in the rational rather than psychoanalytical sense) is intentionality supposed to be a 'problem' as opposed to just a thing that exists?

Daniel Joachim said...

Intentionality is not just 'aboutness' (ugh) but includes objects - 'I insulted John' and 'I believe that John is in London'. Both are intentional but the first sentence is not 'about' anything.

Tell that to the designator for that one specific John you're referring to! :)

Daniel Joachim said...

@Arthur

Draw a simple analogy to the universe. In some specific worldviews, it simply doesn't add up how something like that can start to exist and even exist here and now. It's bare existence calls out for explanation. "It just exists" wouldn't satisfy thorough Philosophers.

And that's going to be a tough one if you're already committed to a worldview that seems to make any attempt at an explanation impossible. :)

Matt Sheean said...

Putting "folk" in front of physics, psychology, etc has always given me pause. Anytime someone uses it, it seems to me they just as well might cut out the middle term and say "wrong physics" or "wrong psychology".

It's cool that Bakker has come around to comment, though!

If I may comment on his comments, he does seem to make some effort to talk about scientific and philosophical questions in a radically different way. For instance, in the article he, and another commenter here in fact, refer to "problem ecologies." He also accuses the good doctor of "asserting that I'm presupposing one of the thousands of intentionalist interpretations out there."

There's something else going on here, that I think is evinced by the need to frame Dr Feser's response as having something to do with "the thousands of intentionalist interpretations out there." This starts to sound to me like scientism a la Foucault, where you have different discourses in response to this problem or that, of which "intentionalism" is one. All us "intentionalists" are just sorta trapped in our particular discursive rut. I'm a bit skeptical that there's a meeting place between these two ways of talking about the issue. We only give arguments for the reality of intentionality, after all, because we are "intentionalists".

I hope that made sense.

John West said...

But it's like arguing with a solipsist who insists that because she believes we don't exist, everything we say begs the question.

Tony said...

Right, John. The response to Bakker (and all those like him) is "but you are still talking. If you want to hypothesize a post-intentional arena, you have to not talk, because ALL human talking is intentional. Likewise, you have to stop shopping, stop cooking, stop picking clothes to wear, etc. You can't model non-intentionality in OTHERS by (intentionally) picking out specific ways of describing that. A post-intentional author would have to "get his point across" to a reader by basically just sitting there doing nothing at all. Tell me how that's going to work out.

There is no reason to credit any non-intentional scientific account or story until we see the scientist or author manage it without language - including mathematical language. And without charades. And without DOING something specific toward the accounting or story. Basically, the successful proof will consist of the scientist imploding in upon himself, without his having "done" it.

Timocrates said...

O to think without thinking!

Timocrates said...

Just ask your disputants, Dr. Feser, if they can think of any time they have ever thought without ever having actually been thinking about something. You can't think a thought without thinking about something, even if it is just thinking about thought or thinking. Intentionality as modernly understood is too narrow, I think. To think we must be thinking about something; so anything meaningful will necessarily entail intentionality - with the thought "aimed" at something, so to speak.

To think the cat is, at least, to think about a particular cat as opposed to (or distinct from) cats in general, say (and many other things besides to be sure).

Callan S. said...

These 'but you're using intentional terms!' responces get very tiresome.

Over the top example - if we were all robots and what seems to us an intention is merely some electricity buzzing back and forth from sensors to processor to actuators, then in such a case 'intention' is just a bunch of electricity buzzing back and forth.

See, if that were the case then a robot saying 'ah, but you are using intentional terms, thus confirming intention being exactly what we think it is (despite there being 100 schools on what intentionalism is that can't agree with each other)!' would look a statement to be full of holes! Indeed that bracket would be explained - there would be 100 schools who can't agree, because all the robots are all treating intentionalism as exactly as they subjectively percieve it, rather than as a bunch of electricity buzzing around. All the false positives lead to 100 bickering schools.

Now if you think you just know intentionality and it can't be like that, okay that's what you think - but when your interlocutor is humouring that it could be something else, then that's just sticking your fingers in your ears and not listening.

If you can't be bothered speculating on such scenarios where the intentional is actually something else entirely, like buzzing electricity, fair enough if you don't want to. But how much of a philosopher does that make you?

But this 'by using intentional terms you are confirming intentionality' is just a big failure to keep up with the idea. Any 'performative contradiction' responce is just a big failure to keep up with the idea.

Yeah, you can't take intentionality to be anything but what you percieve it as - that's what makes the idea big if what you see as the intentional is actually another beast entirely. THAT is the area of speculation - if you don't want to speculate, that's fine.

But so far it's people just not getting the speculative idea at all, but claiming the have solved the problem already. It's just poor thinking - if it's so easy to solve the problem, doesn't that make you wonder if it was too easy - and maybe speculate a reason it's too easy is that maybe you are aren't grasping the actual problem involved to begin with?

Or is it good thinking to apparently easily solve something and treat it as that was definatley all that was involved?

Brandon said...

'by using intentional terms you are confirming intentionality'

No one is saying this; indeed, recognizing this is essential to understanding the actual point at issue.

Matt Sheean said...

The response is not, "but you're using intentional terms", though. This is the sort of tendentious comeback that I'm trying to pick at in Bakker's comments, attributing to the "intentionalists" a set of terms that have a character that is normative to some intentionalist discourse.

What is being said, all that needs to be said, is that the "anti-intentionalist" is talking about something.

Step2 said...

@Tony
A post-intentional author would have to "get his point across" to a reader by basically just sitting there doing nothing at all.

Not to detract from your valid complaint, but isn’t that a Buddhist practice/technique, a sort of trancelike way of exploring the silence and the ultimate inadequacy of language to describe being? I’m wondering if Nirvana is the “mystical payoff” the eliminativists are looking for.

John West said...

How nice of you to imply you agree that intentionality is part of basic, human experience, Mr. S.

But since when has eliminativism ever been treated as this mere speculation being "humour[ed]"?

Brandon said...

If you can't be bothered speculating on such scenarios where the intentional is actually something else entirely, like buzzing electricity, fair enough if you don't want to. But how much of a philosopher does that make you?

I'm not sure why you think philosophy consists of science fiction scenarios rather than argument and analysis.

Step2 said...

@Callan S.
In which case intentionality is still a beast instead of nothing.

Georgy Mancz said...

...and I for some reason thought that philosophy is supposed to be about reality.
Oh, the magnificence of what-if-scenario speculation where one doesn't need to bother with things like evidence, reasoning and whatnot!
These silly scholastics (and so many others), failing to grasp the profundity and beauty of incoherence! The wisdom to be gained there! Such folly.
Refusing to learn from square circles is the root of all evil.

Matt Sheean said...

well, Brandon, you could try!

For instance, what if intentionality is just an idea that our robot overlords have subliminally suggested to us to keep us from noticing that we're just their batteries... or something.

More seriously, with the matter of intentionality, as with the question of free will, it seems to be kind of a thing for folks who don't believe in either to imagine that they've been released from some illusion. They are, in some way, operating on a higher plane of thought, they've "seen behind the curtain", become unplugged from the matrix, etc etc

Daniel said...

Over the top example - if we were all robots and what seems to us an intention is merely some electricity buzzing back and forth from sensors to processor to actuators, then in such a case 'intention' is just a bunch of electricity buzzing back and forth.

This does not follow since there is no reason why another materialist should not just claim that all it shows is that electricity 'buzzing back and forth' accounts for intentionality, as opposed to there being no intentionality in the first place.

Step2 said...

@Matt
Still love that movie. If you've got some time there was a philosophical commentary of the trilogy which you can watch here.

Tony said...

Step2, I did kind of have a Buddhist picture in my imagination. Good catch.

Student: "Master, what should I do today?"

Master: ....

Student: "Should I go ask someone else?"

Master: ....

Student (shakes Master): "On, wait, Master is stone cold dead, and nobody even noticed! His silences didn't mean anything after all!

Matt Sheean said...

@Step2

Indeed, every time I see a new Wachowski release on the horizon, I pine for the days when the Matrix was all I knew them by.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Scott (Bakker),

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.

Now, exactly how does this argument beg the question? Which of the premises presupposes that intentionality (of any sort) is real? In fact the argument not only does not presuppose this, but it leaves open, for the sake of argument, the possibility that the eliminativist may find some consistently non-intentional way to state his position. It merely points out that eliminativists have not actually succeeded in providing one. The only way to rebut this argument, as I have said, is actually to provide such an account.

Of course, I also think that the eliminativist in fact cannot in principle provide such an account. But that judgment is not itself a premise in the argument, and someone could in principle accept the argument (i.e. steps 1 - 5) even if he disagreed with me that the eliminativist cannot in principle make his position coherent. So, again, there is no begging of the question.

I also fail to see how it is relevant that philosophers who affirm intentionality disagree over how to flesh out an account of human nature that affirms intentionality. (And the number of such accounts is nowhere remotely close to “thousands -- or even “hundreds” or indeed even “dozens” -- but let that pass.) What does that have to do with the question of whether eliminativism is coherent? All the eliminativist has to do is provide a way of stating his position without explicitly or implicitly using any intentional notions. Whether failed attempts to do so (like Churchland’s and Rosenberg’s) end up surreptitiously appealing to this specific form of intentional psychology or instead to that specific form is hardly to the point. What is to the point is that they end up surreptitiously appealing to some form or other of intentionality. The trick is to avoid appealing to any of them, and no one has pulled the trick off.

Callan S. said...

Brandon,

I'm reading Faser saying 'Using intentional expressions does not commit you to the reality of what the expressions refer to IF you can find a way of saying what you want to say without using the intentional expressions.'

If you're not reading that as 'if you use intentional terms you are commited to the reality of what the expressions refer to', then I guess were talking past each other.

I'm not sure why you think philosophy consists of science fiction scenarios rather than argument and analysis.

I suppose I think science is in the game of argument and analysis, because of the number of mobile phones, medical treatments, computers and other technical devices the practice of science has brought to manufacture. I don't see philosophy doing this. However, maybe you see philosophy as actually making something rather than just being in a big speculation game (even despite how often philosophers disagreee with each other, while scientists have very high levels of agreement amongst them).

This will sound impudent, but if cognitive science has some breakthoughs on the intentionality that naturalise it to mere physics process, then that'll show what your philosophy was producing was not relevant. And this is your chance to assure your future relevance.

But if you think philosophy is a practice of never questioning whether that philosophy is going in a false direction (ie, its treated as always relevant) - well, I guess that's what Bakker is running into.


Matt Sheean,

What is being said, all that needs to be said, is that the "anti-intentionalist" is talking about something.

I'm guessing you're saying this contradicts what Bakker is suggesting. I might be wrong, but I assume that's what you're saying.

And it's that the anti-intentionalist is talking about something.

But I don't know how you think it does - is it because the words are intentional? Then I'm on target. Or are you about to emphasize aboutness in that and say that's a different area than intentionality?

More seriously, with the matter of intentionality, as with the question of free will, it seems to be kind of a thing for folks who don't believe in either to imagine that they've been released from some illusion. They are, in some way, operating on a higher plane of thought, they've "seen behind the curtain", become unplugged from the matrix, etc etc

Where as other philosophers don't think they are seeing behind any curtain?

As an oblique ad homenim, it seems to insult all philosophers equally, really.

Callan S. said...

John West,

How nice of you to imply you agree that intentionality is part of basic, human experience, Mr. S.

But since when has eliminativism ever been treated as this mere speculation being "humour[ed]"?


What are you saying - that if you were to humour the idea, the eliminativist would keep treating their position as absolutely true and sort of bludgeon their position through - as you humour their position and so leave yourself a bit vulnerable to someone who just treats their counter position as right and imposes it that way into conversation?

If so, I agree that is a fair concern in proper discourse. If you are disinclined to humour the position because you fear this inequal situation would come up - okay, fair enough! But maybe you'd look forward to a better debate being set up, where both sides humour their position rather than just think its true? Hopefully a discussion like this one here might lead to such a debate in future.


Georgy Mancz,

...and I for some reason thought that philosophy is supposed to be about reality.

Why would you? How many mobile phones has philosophy invented? How many medical treatments has philosophy invented?

Do you have a philosophical mantra of questioning everything? If not and some things are beyond questioning and this is one, okay.

But if your mantra is to question everything, why wouldn't you question your notions of intentionality being false in some way?

If it'd be boring for you, fair enough, I get that. But otherwise you're the one with the mantra of questioning everything.



Daniel,

This does not follow since there is no reason why another materialist should not just claim that all it shows is that electricity 'buzzing back and forth' accounts for intentionality, as opposed to there being no intentionality in the first place.

That would be rather like someone saying all the buzzing sleight of hand a magician does accounts for magic, as opposed to there being no magic in the first place.

In a way I think that'd be fair enough if to begin with you fancied your magic was actually mundane physics at its heart.

So for people who thought intentionality was just a matter of physics at it's core, then your point stands, I'll grant.

But for those who thought intentionalsim was all more than just sleight of hand, it's a contentious issue.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callan,

Do you have an argument? I can't really see much in your two posts that addresses the central issue: that eliminativists have been entirely unable to even intimate how they could remove all intentional language from their presentations of eliminativism. If you don't have an answer to this, then you are just kicking up dust.

Also, one could just as easily ask what technology has history been responsible for as one can ask it of philosophy? Indeed, as philosophy has a basic role in underpinning much of thought, which history does not, then it is even more silly to ask what philosophy has built.

Matt Sheean said...

Callan,

"But I don't know how you think it does - is it because the words are intentional? Then I'm on target. Or are you about to emphasize aboutness in that and say that's a different area than intentionality?"

Yea, I'm just saying what everyone else here is saying. You can't speak or think without your speech or thought pointing at, being about, intending something. Indeed, as pointed out in the OP in response to Rosenberg, intentionality is inextricable from your denial of the truth of the "intentionalist" view.

Now, you suggest, in response to Brandon, that cognitive science might allow us to reduce it to some fundamental, non-intentional physical process. Good luck explaining what that means without bringing in intentionality - that is, good luck explaining the very idea of a physical process that produces "intentional behavior" without supposing some intentionality, some directedness or aboutness, in the process itself.

A challenge has been raised. Can you "provide some alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing [intentional terms]." You have to do this without defining your way to victory, e.g. calling belief in intentionality "intentionalism" and then just imagining, like you would a unicorn, some inchoate non-intentional theory that could replace it.

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Callan S. said...

Matt Sheean,

Now, you suggest, in response to Brandon, that cognitive science might allow us to reduce it to some fundamental, non-intentional physical process. Good luck explaining what that means without bringing in intentionality - that is, good luck explaining the very idea of a physical process that produces "intentional behavior" without supposing some intentionality, some directedness or aboutness, in the process itself.

While this suggests only one option to you, it suggests two possible options to me.

Yours first : 1. If you can only refer to everything in intentional terms, then intentionality is a thing.

Option 2. It simply shows the hardware limits of our mind.

For example, say I could only refer to anything by calling it something arbitrary. Let's say I refer to everything as a 'rabbit'. I have lots of tonal shifts or such in saying it or emphasize part of it, but otherwise I call everything a rabbit. I genuinely think everything is one, though I distinguish between rabbits in their rabbity differences.

Is everything a rabbit in such a case?

What if everyone on earth is like me - does that mean everything is a rabbit?

Okay, what if everyone on earth is like me and describes things in intentional terms. Does that mean intentionality is there?

Or is it there about as much as the rabbits?

In such a case is intentionality as commonly concieved all that convincing, or just an indicator of our mental hardware limits?

If you could only see in black and white, that doesn't mean there is no colour in the world (though it'd be something beyond your imagining). Just because you can only see in intentional terms doesn't mean that's actually the state of the world.

Anyway, it doesn't matter if I'm rabbiting on - that doesn't make everything simply have to have involved rabbits!

With #1, I just have my doubts - it seems that way, therefore it must be true? But magic shows have already spoiled me by tricking me then I realised I can be tricked in how I think things are. Plus various other illusions in the world.

How do you prove intentionality is there - it seems an assumption at the moment. Tons of people say it's there? Is argumentum ad populum good enough?

Perhaps Bakker has been letting you get away with a demand for him to prove his position, while yours is simply treated as the fact to begin with? He doesn't like his conclusion, after all. Apart from ad populum or insisting everything is intentionally/rabbity, what is there to vouch for #1?

Matt Sheean said...

Callan,

Do you think rabbits exist? If so, why?

Anonymous said...

But where does the philosophy and culture of materialism come from?

Basically it is just an extension of the creator-God idea and all the half-baked ideas associated with it. Ideas which are essentially childish, even infantile. By contrast atheism is essentially an adolescent philosophy.

Westerners people, including those that presume to be religious, systematically eliminate death and suffering from their view. Western philosophy and religion is the always wanting to forestall the day philosophy that does not embrace death and does not even taken it into account. The real religious life is not based on the rejection of death. It is based on taking death fully into account and on making the fact of death the framework and the fundamental basis of ones understanding of life and its purpose.

A philosophy and religion based on the rejection of death becomes materialism, religious utopianism, worldliness. Philosophy and religion based on the full acceptance of death, the understanding of this life, associated as it is with death, ending, suffering and limitation, is an entirely different kind of philosophy and religion.
It is the basis for the real profundity of religion, the profundity of self-surrender and self-transcendence. It is the basis for true renunciation but not dried up asceticism.

The Western disposition, the gross, body-based, materialistic disposition is thus made into a culture, a society and politics. Westernized culture and all of its religion is just the ordinary thing that human beings everywhere must deal with.

The normal Westerner described above, the gross body-based ego from whatever cultural background, is a barbarian. A barbarian committed to all kinds of lies, including "religious" lies.

Irish Thomist said...

@Arthur

You had some very good points there. I hope people take the time to back up the thread and have a look.

Irish Thomist said...

@DNW

"What was the eliminative materialist intending to accomplish ?"

:D

Atoms don't care so why even debate EM? I can't see how it doesn't end up in the most extreme kind of determinism.

Irish Thomist said...

@Callan S.

"Over the top example - if we were all robots and what seems to us an intention is merely some electricity buzzing back and forth from sensors to processor to actuators, then in such a case 'intention' is just a bunch of electricity buzzing back and forth."

So you are unconsciously saying that then?

By the way, robots are programmed and yes the programmers have intention behind their actions. For that matter the builders assembled the robots with intentionality. Just saying.

Irish Thomist said...

@Callan S.

Also I must highlight for everyone else the burden of proof you have lumped on your shoulders.

What '100 schools' of intentionality do you speak of? Also this seems an assumption from your own position that we have no need to embrace.

Irish Thomist said...

@The EM proponents here

Okay so you say 'oh using intentional statements is fine. We don't really mean them 'literally'. It's just short hand for something else.'

Well provide the something else then. It is you that are on shaky ground every time you speak or type. How is it that you are being unintentional exactly? You presuppose unintentionality without ever offering an example all the while feeling perfectly free to continue with normal discourse. In fact I am less concerned with the linguistics than the larger problems EM faces. Believe me linguistics would be the easy part to work out but I too question whether even that is possible.

I also am not coming at it exactly as the OP. I don't think we have to concede anything. We cannot question beg in so far as intentionality is concerned - you've simply shifted the burden of proof and I'm not buying into that. Intentionality is the certainty you've failed to argue against so you shift the burden of proof by claims it is we who beg the question.

Daniel said...

@Callan S.

So for people who thought intentionality was just a matter of physics at its core, then your point stands, I'll grant.

Then I'm not sure how your position really differs from that of a Reductive, or even as you add 'at its core', Non-Reductive, Materialism. Both of these would take the given that Intentionality is real and can be explained on Materialist terms; the Eliminativst claims that Intentionality cannot be explained on Materialist terms and thus should be denied.

Rupert said...

Keep in mind that Descartes, Newton, and the other founders of modern science essentially stipulated that nothing that would not fit their exclusively quantitative or “mathematicized” conception of matter would be allowed to count as part of a “scientific” explanation.

I wonder where exactly they stipulated this, is there for example some quotation from one of these thinkers that explicitly makes such a stipulation?

I don't really have any rigorous definition in mind of what should be allowed to count as a scientific explanation, except that obviously the sort of mathematical modelling techniques that physicists use have proved themselves to be very effective at predicting a wide range of observations. I wouldn't make the assumption that something that might be produced in the future that I'd be inclined to call a scientific explanation of conscious experience necessarily has to be the same kind of thing. I think it's a little bit harder than that to show that no scientific explanation of conscious experience is possible because there are no clear-cut criteria for what should be called a scientific explanation.

I guess I am also not that clear on why it is incoherent to suppose that conscious experiences might be physical processes. The argument here seems to be something like "well, colours have an irreducibly qualitative aspect to them which could never be captured by a purely physical explanation". I guess I am not sure why I should believe this. I don't quite see how it is incoherent to suppose that my colour experiences might be physical processes. Perhaps I am in some way missing what "irreducibly qualitative" means.

John said...

To Rupert:
I'm also confused about what that means. I get Feser's general thesis, I think: when scientists analyzed heat, they said, "Well, the feeling of warmth only exists in your mind. What's really going on is the motion of
molecules. The warmth is your subjective experience."
When they dealt with color, they said, "What you see as 'red' only exists in your mind. What you're really observing is certain wavelengths of light. The redness only exists in your mind."
But then when it comes time to explain the mind, consciousness, and subjectivity, it seems dubious to say the same thing will work again: you can't explain the mind or subjectivity by saying that the mind only exists in your mind and subjectivity is only your subjective experience.
That's the lump under the rug problem.
So I *think* that may be what Feser means by "irreducible qualitativeness": you can't explain what it means to have subjective experiences by saying, "It's your subjective experience."
But that seems to me the same as the problem of consciousness in general and I thought Feser had implied that these are distinct problems. And I don't really get how A-T helps with these problems. (This was my problem with Feser's Philosophy of the Mind. I agreed with him the whole book when he was knocking down other positions, but when it came time to articulate his own, he went over it too quickly, so I didn't see how his ideas helped anything.

Rupert said...

Well, I guess maybe the idea is that if you posit that each conscious experience is a physical process then there's some aspect of it that you're failing to explain.

But what about David Chalmers' idea that we could posit conscious experience as some kind of separate category and give a theory describing how it is correlated with those physical processes that can be described as information-processing? Is it impossible that we could hope to produce something like that which would be recognisable as a scientific theory?

I don't know all that much about what Feser's account of these matters is, I've only read "The Last Superstition" and "Scholastic Metaphysics" and he doesn't seem to go into the philosophy of mind there in too much detail.

Arthur said...

'...eliminativists like the Churchlands warn that we should be deeply suspicious about the reliability of introspective “evidence” about the inner workings of the mind.'

Taking another random stab at the article, I also take issue with this idea. I'm well-prepared to agree that some introspection is unreliable, but to say that all of it is seems to be self-defeating.

Presumably the reason someone would be suspicious of introspection is because certain, relevant science experiments were carried out, but how are we supposed to know they really happened if introspection is so unreliable? Presumably the scientist involved would protest that they 'remember' being there, they 'saw' the experiment carried out, they 'understand' its relevance to the thesis in question. If introspection is so unreliable, however, what value do their reports really have?

If we're too stupid to reliably discover whether or not we're genuinely conscious, how much less can we be expected to tell what happened yesterday, or what happened in the history of science, or whether EM is rational?

I suppose an EM-ist would want to qualify their scepticism about introspection somehow, but it remains to be seen how that would be done.

Chris said...

Anon,

I think I might agree with you that secular Western people avoid suffering and death. But how does the religion and traditional philosophy of the West do the same?

Greg said...

@ Callan S.

I'm reading Faser saying 'Using intentional expressions does not commit you to the reality of what the expressions refer to IF you can find a way of saying what you want to say without using the intentional expressions.'

If you're not reading that as 'if you use intentional terms you are commited to the reality of what the expressions refer to', then I guess were talking past each other.


You may want to reread that sentence again. One either uses intentional terms with some standard sense or some non-standard sense. If one denies the reality of intentionality, then clearly one is appealing to some non-standard sense. But if that's the case, then you have to be able to rephrase yourself. Otherwise you are - literally - babbling senselessly.

So (since it apparently needs repeating) Feser concedes (for the sake of argument) that it might be possible to use intentional terms without commitment to the reality of intentionality. But no eliminative materialist has been able to show that. The eliminative materialist could stipulate that he uses the terms in a way that does not presuppose intentionality, but since most human beings (including all eliminative materialists, apparently) do not know of any such alternative meanings, it becomes unclear what the eliminative materialist is saying in doing so.

Rupert said...

I think I might agree with you that secular Western people avoid suffering and death.

Avoiding death sounds like an impressive achievement.

Greg said...

@ Callan S.

How do you prove intentionality is there - it seems an assumption at the moment. Tons of people say it's there? Is argumentum ad populum good enough?

Perhaps Bakker has been letting you get away with a demand for him to prove his position, while yours is simply treated as the fact to begin with? He doesn't like his conclusion, after all. Apart from ad populum or insisting everything is intentionally/rabbity, what is there to vouch for #1?


I think Bakker probably realizes that the denial of intentionality is a fringe position even among philosophers of mind committed to strict naturalism. So yes, the appeal to the authority is legitimate here; prima facie there is intentionality, and those denying it have non-trivial case to make, even if they are right and everyone else in the world is just obtuse.

Your post is, of course, totally bizarre. The fact that it is difficult to have a conversation without using an intentional term does not mean that "everything is intentional." It's tough to have a conversation without using a noun too. (I think people are just pointing out the intentional terms to poke fun, because the extent to which the eliminative materialists here take them for granted is amusing. The really concerning ones for EM are 'truth', 'cognition', etc.)

Brandon said...

Callan,

If you're not reading that as 'if you use intentional terms you are commited to the reality of what the expressions refer to', then I guess were talking past each other.

As someone notes above, this doesn't actually follow from the claim by Ed that you quote. And indeed, Ed's entire argument explicitly concedes that the mere use of intentional terms doesn't commit one to intentionality, if one can consistently establish an alternative. That's the whole point of comparing the matter to heliocentrism, for instance, since the case shows the most obvious way in which one could actually establish an alternative instead of merely assuming that one must exist somehow. So it doesn't seem you've understood any of the arguments very well.

I suppose I think science is in the game of argument and analysis, because of the number of mobile phones, medical treatments, computers and other technical devices the practice of science has brought to manufacture.

Obviously scientists do argument and analysis. But your entire argument here seems to involve a logical fallacy; from the fact that scientists use argument and analysis, it doesn't follow that no one else does. And, indeed, even your disagreement point tells against your claim: what do philosophers in practice disagree over? Certainly not science fiction stories; you don't have actual disagreements about scenarios, just propose different ones. What they disagree over are arguments and analyses. But the fact that you think of philosophy in such crude caricature shows that you should perhaps not go around telling other people what they need to be doing to be philosophers.

This will sound impudent, but if cognitive science has some breakthoughs on the intentionality that naturalise it to mere physics process, then that'll show what your philosophy was producing was not relevant.

It doesn't sound impudent at all; people say such things all the time. On this point it is not true, though. If cognitive science has some breakthroughs on intentionality that naturalize it to physics, that's reductionism, not eliminativism. (Indeed, precisely one of the obvious problems with your 'robot scenario' -- and a sign that it needed better argument and analysis -- was its inability to distinguish reductionism and eliminativism, which you seem to be muddling together here, as well.) If cognitive science reduces intentionality to a physics process, this establishes that intentionality exists as something that can be scientifically studied and analyzed (as whatever physics process cognitive science reduces it to). That would show that all eliminativists about intentionality are wrong, including Bakker. Reductionism is not eliminativism. And while very few people here I imagine are reductionist, we are all closer to the reductionist position than Bakker is, since reductionists agree with us on the primary point actually under dispute here.

Georgy Mancz said...

@ Callan S.

Right, and did your attempt at philosophising (that thing you're engaging in just now) produce a mobile phone, and if not, is your entire statement bereft of a connection to reality (rendering it irrelevant) because of the lack of such an effect?.. Or am I "failing to keep up with your idea"?

Tell me you're not actually advancing a "science works" argument against philosophy in general (just to make it clear to you: yes, it does, but from that nothing follows as to the status of philosophy per se), please.

On a more serious note, you have to qualify "question everything"."Questioning everything" presupposes at least my ability to question - inquire about reasons, and this means presupposing intelligibility of reality, my access to it. Denying the reality of intentionality seems to conflict with that.
It would seem that you don't even deny that intentionality is evident.
You want us here to entertain the possibility that it's something other than what is evident.
Obviously, though, this other thing needs to be presented in such a way that will make it rather than intentionality evident to us (something, again, that is not at all clear is even possible without smuggling in the thing the reality of which is being denied).

Speaking of questioning, I do question your use of the word "mantra" and your expertise in what constitutes philosophy, given that you seem to think philosophy is wild speculation with no connection to reality. If you insist on your definition of the term, then no, what Dr. Feser and regulars do here emphatically is not "philosophy" and, for what it's worth, that's not what proponents of EM say they are doing, either.

John West said...

Callan S.,

What are you saying - that if you were to humour the idea, the eliminativist would keep treating their position as absolutely true and sort of bludgeon their position through - as you humour their position and so leave yourself a bit vulnerable to someone who just treats their counter position as right and imposes it that way into conversation?

If so, I agree that is a fair concern in proper discourse. If you are disinclined to humour the position because you fear this inequal situation would come up - okay, fair enough! But maybe you'd look forward to a better debate being set up, where both sides humour their position rather than just think its true? Hopefully a discussion like this one here might lead to such a debate in future.


What is this self-indulgent garbage, Callan? Maybe you can get away with these misrepresentations and left-handed insults in the world of cognitive knuckle dragging—not here.

Do you have an argument against the incoherence objection, or not? If you do, present it. If not, quit wasting my time with dogmatic bluster.

Scott Bakker said...

Edward: You write,

"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."


The argument actually illustrates what I've been saying quite nicely. Again, I accept the force of the abductive argument against eliminativism. It needs a theory of meaning to counter intentionalist arguments to the best explanation - but no to be coherent. But note the way that (2) clearly assumes the truth of intentionalism: to whit, that the use of intentional terms commits the user to one of the many unarbitrable accounts of intrinsic intentionality offered by philosophers over the ages. I do happen to have an alternate interpretation, but even if I didn't, how does disagreeing with your interpretation make my disagreement incoherent?

You're basically saying that you cannot be wrong about intentionality so long as people use intentional terms, because every such use presupposes your interpretation of intentional terms! Such a claim effectively removes you from the possibility of rational debate on the nature of intentionality. You do see this?

For that matter, what warrants your interpretation in the first place? What evidence do you have?

Brandon said...

But note the way that (2) clearly assumes the truth of intentionalism

This is simply false as a straightforward logical point. (2) states:

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.

Some basic logical points here.

(A) The claim in (2) is explicitly restricted; it refers back to those kinds of things identified in (1): “truth,” “falsehood,” “theory,” “illusion,” etc.

(B) The claim in (2) is disjunctive. It states that either use of these is a smuggling-in of intentionality or eliminativists must be appealing to "some alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions". There is no way to get the categorical claim you attribute to it out of a logical disjunction.

(C) The claim in (2) does not imply anything about whether "the use of intentional terms commits the user to one of the many unarbitrable accounts of intrinsic intentionality offered by philosophers over the ages", even under option (a), which is not the only branch available. This is quite clear because the claim in (2) doesn't say anything about the one specific form of intentionality that is called 'intrinsic intentionality'.

So the interpretive claim quoted above doesn't even work as a matter of basic logical analysis.

Greg said...

the use of intentional terms commits the user to one of the many unarbitrable accounts of intrinsic intentionality offered by philosophers over the ages.

You're basically saying that you cannot be wrong about intentionality so long as people use intentional terms, because every such use presupposes your interpretation of intentional terms!

I would object to the emphasized portions of the above. It seems (and you may correct me if I am wrong) that you are claiming that:

(a) Professor Feser endorses one of several analyses of intentionality; and
(b) Professor Feser is here arguing that, if you use intentional terms, then you are committed not just to some analysis of intentionality, but to his.

Besides what Brandon has pointed out, i.e. that Professor Feser is willing to concede that you might attempt to give your own analysis of intentionality, the argument he gave is clearly not an argument for his philosophy of intention, but for an argument against eliminativism. His argument has nothing to do with "his" interpretation of intentional statements.

It is simply the case that the only senses of many intentional terms that anyone is aware of are intentionality-presupposing ones. You are free to propose different senses. But until you do, you are either presupposing intentionality or using terms the senses of which no one understands, in which case you evidently don't have a theory.

Greg said...

I'll add that the next step in Professor Feser's argument is to address attempts to meet that challenge. In so doing he shows that the EM attempts to offer new ways of understanding, e.g., truth do not actually avoid other terms that face the same dilemma. Moreover there are reasons to believe that it is not possible in principle to analyze such terms that avoid intentionality.

Anonymous said...

You're basically saying that you cannot be wrong about intentionality so long as people use intentional terms, because every such use presupposes your interpretation of intentional terms! Such a claim effectively removes you from the possibility of rational debate on the nature of intentionality. You do see this?

As everyone keeps saying, this is false. Go ahead and give your own interpretation of those terms. You will need to give the very thing Ed is asking for, and which EM is incoherent without.

Gottfried said...

Pffft, logic. Someday Science will prove logic is wrong, and you people will still be burying your medieval heads in the sand.

Brandon said...

It might be worth noting as well that the eliminativists here keep doing what Bakker criticizes Ed for: they keep assuming that any naturalistic position on intentionality will be the particular account they accept. But, as Daniel and I and others have noted, the dominant naturalistic position on intentionality is reductionist, not eliminativist, which holds both of the following:

(1) Intentionalism is true.
(2) Naturalism is true.

That is, reductionists hold that intentionality really exists and that there is reason to think that it admits of a perfectly naturalistic explanation in terms of physical processes, evolution, or what have you. Thus the bare fact of appealing to naturalism does not establish eliminativism; almost all naturalistic positions on the subject are reductionist, and reductionists about intentionality are intentionalists.

I suspect that confusion on this point arises in part from the fact that Bakker keeps switching back and forth between intentionality in general (to which a reductionist is committed) and intrinsic intentionality in particular (which a reductionist in principle might, like an eliminativist, reject).

Brandon said...

Sorry, that should be, 'and holds both the following', not 'which holds both the following; the latter is potentially confusing.

Vasco Gama said...

I guess that the incoherence that Edward is addressing concerns the argument for EM (as there is no way of arguing nonintentionally about that or anything else), and Scott Bakker argues that EM in itself (not the argument) is not incoherent.

But maybe I didn’t understand what Bakker says.

Scott said...

Brandon writes: "That is, reductionists hold that intentionality really exists and that there is reason to think that it admits of a perfectly naturalistic explanation in terms of physical processes, evolution, or what have you."

Moreover, one can be a naturalist on the subject of intentionality (just as on any other subject) without being a reductionist. (That is, Brandon is quite right to say that reductionists are naturalists, but the converse doesn't hold.) It's perfectly possible to hold a naturalistic view of mind (e.g. that the mental supervenes on the physical) without being a reductionist.

It would be helpful if some of the folks trying to argue for what they take to be eliminative materialism would keep these three viewpoints clearly distinguished. Scott Bakker in particular seems to be running all three of them together.

Anonymous said...

Scott, Could you make the argument that the mental like the elan vital does not really exist but is just a characteristic of arrangement and function? Or can we also say that supervenience itself is another weasel word (placeholder)like elan vital?

Irish Thomist said...

@Bakker

but no[t] to be coherent. But note the way that (2) clearly assumes the truth of intentionalism: to whit, that the use of intentional terms commits the user to one of the many unarbitrable accounts of intrinsic intentionality offered by philosophers over the ages.
Well I think we've pretty much exhausted the obvious that you can't remove intentional claims. If we then removed them we would be self refuting now wouldn't we?
The burden of proof is ON YOU but yet you keep shifting it to those who disagree. Sure you can argue against Feser's attack on EM but that doesn't excuse you from arguing positively for your position in the process.

I do happen to have an alternate interpretation, but even if I didn't, how does disagreeing with your interpretation make my disagreement incoherent?
1) what? I'm sure Edward Feser has argued his point rather than hand waved because you disagree.
2)So what if you have an alternative interpretation. Is it correct is what is at stake.

You're basically saying that you cannot be wrong about intentionality so long as people use intentional terms,
Is it because they use intentional terms or because of why they have to use them?

...because every such use presupposes your interpretation of intentional terms! Such a claim effectively removes you from the possibility of rational debate on the nature of intentionality. You do see this?
I think you have removed yourself from rational debate and do not see it yourself. You can't explain how to remove intentionality yet claim that it can be done; without evidence, yet you expect us to see where you are coming from. The very fact that you are debating means you are losing the argument.

For that matter, what warrants your interpretation in the first place? What evidence do you have?
That is exactly your problem. Things are so obviously ordered towards natural ends including the mind in a very special way that to argue for it would be like arguing that at least one consciousness exists (y/our own).

Anonymous said...

Here's another way to understand the problem:

Proponents of EM must find a (to repeat Feser) non-intentional way of construing such expressions as "truth," "falsehood," "theory," "illusion," etc. However, it seems implausible that such a non-intentional way of construing these sorts of expressions could ever be found. Hence, EM as a philosophical position should be judged similarly implausible.

In other words, the effect of the "incoherence problem" is to render EM implausible until either this problem is solved or an independent source of evidence for EM is found.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

As I keep trying to point out, even if they can remove intentionality from language they have just pushed everything back under a 'new carpet' so to speak. That is an epistemological carpet of course.
Intentionality hasn't gone anywhere just the rationality of language by the process of trying to shove it into EM pipe dreams.

Arthur said...

Aren't the EM-ists here supposed to describe a science experiment that shows the rationality of EM? That's how it's supposed to work, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

@Irish Thomist,

Perhaps your insight could be more profitably rephrased in terms of a reductio ad absurdum for why we should be very skeptical about the prospects of EM proponents ever overcoming the "incoherence problem." In particular, and more to your point, it's hard to see how rational discourse could even survive such a non-intentional interpretation of terms as important as "truth," "falsehood," "theory," etc.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anonymous

I see what you mean.

So first they must remove intentionality from language.

Then from the removal from language.

Then from the removal from the removal from language...

That's one direction. Although I am not sure that does justice.

First remove intentionality from language.

Then the intentionality of the rephrased linguistics that you have arranged (a stage I think is impossible even to get to).

The remove intentionality from your mind.

Then the real world.

Then your argument is not longer a truth statement.

Therefore to succeeded is to fail.

Greg said...

@ Anon

Or can we also say that supervenience itself is another weasel word (placeholder)like elan vital?

I'm not Scott, but this could not simply be asserted. The term 'supervenience' is not thrown around carelessly. Nor, for that matter, is 'intentionality'.

I suppose, though, that some of the EM proponents here might just say, "Philosophical disagreement? Eliminate it!"

Daniel said...

Elan vital...

Vitalism...


I wonder have any of these people ever read Bersgon? I wouldn't endorse Bergsonianism but really it is head and shoulders above what some of these fellows peddle and can at least be expressed coherently.

Daniel said...

Edit: or his more well known cousin 'Bergson' for that matter.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that every single time this debate with Bakker's little theory comes up, it moves according to a precise script that can be anticipated down to the last move:

1. A serious problem is pointed out in Bakker's version of eliminativism.

2. Bakker shows up in the comments and picks option (a) (b) and/or (c) from his canned list of replies:

(a) "You're making a tu quoque argument/begging the question!"

(b) "I just don't understand your argument!"

(c) Equivocate on basic terms like "intentionality", "semantics" (and related notions like "truth", "meaning", "reference")

3. Commenters futilely engage with Bakker while he uses progressively more words to reiterate (a) (b) and (c)

Although one is loathe to resort to accusations of ill motive or questions regarding a person's intelligence, one is nevertheless left with the suspicion that Bakker is either not engaging honestly (while bloviating endlessly, on his blog full of devoted readers, about how "those philosophers" just cannot understand his brilliant argument and it's really quite tragic), or else he's not nearly as intelligent, thoughtful, and thorough-going as he takes great pains to present himself.

It is difficult to conclude otherwise given someone who refuses to understand the most basic problem that arises when one is talking about a theory with content, and taking great pains to convince others of the truth of this theory, while denying that such things exist at all. If one is charitable, the rhetorical slipperiness -- mentioned in this thread already -- is itself enough to suggest that Bakker is not nearly as clear on the subject matter as he would let on; the charitable view is that he's doing it on purpose "for effect" is still not all that charitable. In any event, the best case is that he's playing a game; the other choice is that he's a puffed up thinker of undergraduate-caliber who has managed to give a shimmer (just a shimmer) of respectability to the undergraduate's combination of basic mistakes and boundless arrogance.

I'm not sure why so many are treating him as worth serious engagement.

Dug said...

I'm not sure why so many are treating him as worth serious engagement.

Because he has an audience, and he's not immediately devolving into obvious poo-slinging. But some of the skit (I just don't understand!) is getting repetitive, since it's clearly insincere and more for theatre than anything. The stakes are pretty high, and "It turns out I reasoned incorrectly, and the conservative Catholic Thomist has a pretty damning criticism of the materialists who style themselves as champions of progressive secularism" isn't exactly Salon material.

taylormweaver said...

In case no one noticed, Bakker did reference Ed on his blog and there is lively discussion going on in the comments (well, not as lively as the discussion here).

https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/the-meaning-wars/

taylormweaver said...

Also, (not) interestingly, as soon as some commenters discovered (because it somehow isn't obvious) Ed was a Thomist they decided he wasn't worth engaging. One actually explicitly asked that Bakker NOT engage Ed.

You know, because Thomists are so stupid and obviously wrong...

mhumpher said...

Does Bakker even understand the problem? He seems to think Ed is claiming if he uses intentional terms, he is necessarily an intentionalist. But this is exactly what the geocentrist example is meant to show is not he case. But it is not the case, because he can express his geocentric expressions in non-geocentric ways. Bakker's problem is that he cannot communicate his intentionalist expressions in a non-intentionalist way. If he is right about eliminativism, he should be able to do that. Why does he not understand that?

Anonymous said...

@mhumpher

The reasonable choice at this point is that Bakker is either trolling or else he is not much of a thinker. There's no other good explanation.

Scott said...

@Anon and Greg:

"I'm not Scott, but this could not simply be asserted."

I am Scott, and I agree. Of course some versions of supervenience are reductionistic (and are intended to be), but not all of them are, and I certainly wouldn't accept without argument that any of them were just relying on "weasel words."

I do not, in fact, think that the mental merely "supervenes" on the physical even in a non-reductive way, but someone who claims otherwise is at least asserting an intelligible position and one that (unlike eliminative materialism) isn't just obviously wrong.

As for the first question:

"Could you make the argument that the mental like the elan vital does not really exist but is just a characteristic of arrangement and function?"

Well, I couldn't, and for two reasons.

(1) A "characteristic of arrangement and function" surely exists, and identifying the mental with it would therefore not show that the mental didn't exist. In other words, such an argument would be reductionist rather than eliminative, even though the original claim ("The mental doesn't exist") is eliminative.

(2) More importantly, I don't see how a mere "arrangement and function" of constituents that were not themselves in any way already "mental" could account for (e.g.) intentionality and intellect and I can't conceive what a successful argument to the contrary would look like. Certainly as far as intellect specifically is concerned, Ed and James Ross have argued powerfully that it must be immaterial, and I think they're right.

Greg said...

@ taylormweaver

Some of the posters over there picked up on how arguing against intentionality is like arguing against religion. I noticed that yesterday when I was reading some of the appeals to "thousands" of different theories about intentionality, which reminded me of something Bill Vallicella recently blogged about.

It's amusing how the tune shifts when they hear Feser is a Thomist, as though this critique of eliminativism has anything to do with Thomism.

Matt Sheean said...

@Scott

You latest comment, I think, expresses something about what I find irritating about the "intentionalist" moniker. The reductionist view, as you and others have been saying, differs from the eliminativist view in that it is an account of intentionality whereas eliminativism is a denial of it.

It's something like an edgy astrophysicist talking about the "gravity-ists" in a discussion about the orbits of the Martian moons. Call it whatever the hell you like, we want to talk about this phenomenon, namely the way these two smaller bodies hang around this larger one in this particular way.

John West said...

Anonymous,

The reasonable choice at this point is that Bakker is either trolling or else he is not much of a thinker. There's no other good explanation.

To be fair, I usually see this type of repetitive breakdown from people that simply haven't studied the relevant material. It may be that he is neither troll, nor dimwit, but unstudied.

Anonymous said...

Scott, As far as (1) I could agree that the arrangement of smaller functions can account for a greater or higher function which we characterize as mental.

As far as (2) all mammals have feelings and basic sentient function, but primates have a more advanced frontal cortex that interacts with the lower functions and feelings of the brain. The fact that these higher functions are separated but account for language and conceptualization may be the root of the supervenience idea that mind is a separate substance when it is only a partially physical separated function. I also see some reference above to what is the binding problem of consciousness.

Scott said...

@mhumpher:

"Does Bakker even understand the problem?"

From what he's said here and on his blog, it appears not. On the latter, his main concern seems to be to get advice from his readers about how to respond to a tu quoque argument.*

In fact Ed's argument is no such thing. As you say, Ed's argument is simply that in order for eliminative materialism (about intentionality) to be coherent, its supporters must either (a) stop using "intentional" terms or (b) show that all such terms (including e.g. "truth," "cognition," "interpretation," and "argument") can be reinterpreted without any presumption of intentionality.

Bakker keeps responding as though Ed has said only (a). He's been repeatedly invited to take a stab at (b), but he seems to be too busy asking for reassurance from his support group to bother about getting the point.

As John West says just above, I think he's just out of his depth, which is also why he keeps being so unclear about which position he's actually defending (eliminativism, reductionism, or naturalism).

----

* From his blog: "I'm especially interested in the kinds of tactics/analogies I could use to forestall the typical tu quoque reactions eliminativism espouses." (And surely he doesn't mean that eliminativism espouses such reactions. He's probably thinking of elicits.)

Jeremy Taylor said...

Reading the comments on Bakker's blog is a wonderful demonstration of Brandon's point that many of these naturalists don't seem to understand the difference between reductionism and eliminativism, including Bakker himself.

I did enjoy this comment:

This means she’s [the Eliminative Materialist] not interested in the question of whether eliminativism and scientific “theories” are true, coherent, logical (free of fallacies), or reasonable (offering reasons by way of recommending that others should share her “beliefs”). None of that should matter to someone who “thinks” that the world consists solely of patterns of causes and effects.

This is a veritable mysticism of science.

Brandon said...

That comment (quoted by Jeremy Taylor) and others reminds me of something I was going to say a while back about the paradoxes of eliminative materialism we are getting here.

(1) The EMists position themselves as cutting-edge pro-science. But, paradoxically, actual scientific practices, and anything that gives us reason to scientific theories as reasons for anything (much less EM itself), vanishes completely. Almost everyone, including scientists doing science, interpret scientific practice in terms of intentionality. In the 1990s there was a vehement series of quarrels in philosophy of science that often get described as the Science Wars, between scientific realists and postmodernists. The latter got labeled as an anti-science view. But the postmodernists were doing with science exactly what the EMists think should be done with it: they eliminated all the intentionality-laden terms scientists like to use for what they are doing (truth, consistency, prediction), or else deflated them in various ways, and just talked about patterns of cause and effect. Even some of the justifications for doing this are exactly the same.

(2) The EMists position themselves as pricking any idea that human beings are special. But because they tend to present themselves as seeing through the human illusion, they repeatedly fall into the trap of talking as if they had an immediate God's-eye view of what the universe must be independently of any human perspective. This was part of what I was pointing out with my comments to Michael Murden, whose account kept appealing to what was 'really happening' in terms that are usually only regarded as having any value for describing what is 'really happening' on the bases of reasoning explicitly involving intentionality. (Certainly prediction and confirmation are both always understood to be reasoning appealing to intentionality.) This wouldn't be a problem if they could give a non-intentionality account of how the science works, but they have no model for doing so. Without such a model, they could only know their position is right by a sort of clairvoyance. They see themselves as giving an account of 'what really happens', but cut out any obvious way by which they could actually know 'what really happens'.

(3) This leads to the weird situation that they tend to justify their position on grounds that on their own view they apparently can't treat as justifying anything. And this is where the 'tu quoque' issue that these EMists, at least, seem obsessed with, arises -- of course, people are not, in fact, engaging in tu quoque but either (a) pointing out that EMists haven't given something that they need to give or (b) raising worries about epistemic self-defeat that need to be addressed. Either of these, of course, can only be handled by giving an eliminativist account of the grounds for thinking that eliminativism is true -- which they keep trying not to have to give.

(4) And we see in the comment noted by Jeremy Taylor that at least some of them explicitly formulate their position in terms that eliminates any possibility of taking their position to be true, coherent, or reasonable; and yet they still keep trying to claim that everyone else is engaging in logical fallacies, is saying something false, or does not have reasons for their view.

VicP said...

Scott, I agree that Ed, James Ross and most of you are pansychists, but Bakker is correct, if that all of those intentional words i.e. "truth" etc. are merely placeholders that brains create and communicate. As Thomist's you assign mind and God as separate realms which is all, well and good when society was stratified but that material approach to mind and material that you vilify, well maybe the material itself is divine?

Scott said...

@VicP:

"Scott, I agree that Ed, James Ross and most of you are pan[p]sychists…"

Wait, what?

Anonymous said...

@VicP:

"but Bakker is correct, if that all of those intentional words i.e. "truth" etc. are merely placeholders that brains create and communicate"

If this is true, then

(1) No theories, including this one, have any content at all. They are not "about" anything, least of all the way reality, states of affairs, or what have you, actually is. If this is the case, then Bakker (and those who agree with him) are spewing a garble of meaningless marks on a screen. Is this how you define success?

(2) There is no reason to spend all this time arguing about it. Not only are you not going to convince anyone, there is no such thing as "anyone" or "convincing". And the arguing is just tightly-bound clouds of atoms affecting other configurations of atoms.

Except that can't be the case either because that's also a formulation that requires intentional tools such as "truth", "reference", and "inference".

I know Bakker doesn't understand this, and I have no doubt he will remain confused or else say it "begs the question" should he read it, but this is the problem facing anyone committed* to this view -- committed* rather than committed, as there is no such thing as commitment as we understand it in English, and in fact it is debatable that you can give any account of commitment* at all.

Does the magnitude of the incoherence objection start to make more sense now?

Callan S. said...

Georgy Mancz,

Right, and did your attempt at philosophising (that thing you're engaging in just now) produce a mobile phone, and if not, is your entire statement bereft of a connection to reality (rendering it irrelevant) because of the lack of such an effect?..

Fair call, Georgy. In a way I am trying to produce something, like a phone is a something - I think culture is being affected by science mediated technology, more and more over time and that cultural change needs public discussion and critique by various individuals who stand apart from the technology and its cultural effects somewhat rather than instantly normalise it.

I obviously haven't produced that in posting here, but I like to think I've taken some steps toward it.

But if I didn't have a product in mind, yes, it'd be bereft of connection to reality.

Tell me you're not actually advancing a "science works" argument against philosophy in general (just to make it clear to you: yes, it does, but from that nothing follows as to the status of philosophy per se), please.

I really appreciate that bracket, or I wouldn't get what you're saying (and just to be clear I'm not being sarcastic or anything (since some people would be in saying that, thus this note)). I appreciate it.

I guess in a sort of nihilistic way, nothing follows as to the status of philosophy, I'd have to agree.

But if science keeps changing culture and philosophy doesn't change or atleast ameliorate the change science makes, then out of concern for how emotionally dead science has gripped culture, I'd say science is working and philosophy isn't.

But in a nihilistic way I grant nothing would follow there in regards to the status of philosophy.

"Questioning everything" presupposes at least my ability to question

Possibly it has two readings and I was just taking my own reading as the only one possible in writing that.

In my own reading, no, it doesn't presuppose ones ability to question. In fact it forces the conclusion that maybe you're just incapable and adrift (perhaps for years - perhaps forever), unable to ask the right question at all.

I'll pay that if you are commited to a version of "Question everything" that presupposes the ability to question, then I can see how your following statements rest upon that presupposition and that you are adhering to the mantra you said you'd adhere to. Which is sadening to realise now, but I pay it.

You want us here to entertain the possibility that it's something other than what is evident.
Obviously, though, this other thing needs to be presented in such a way that will make it rather than intentionality evident to us (something, again, that is not at all clear is even possible without smuggling in the thing the reality of which is being denied).


Well to me if I look out the window and see some dust being blown along the road, it's not an intentional phenomena.

You could say my description of it contains intentional terms and I'd pay that. But would you
say the subject itself contains something intentional?

Callan S. said...

Georgy Mancz,

(this is the second part of my reply)

If you insist on your definition of the term, then no, what Dr. Feser and regulars do here emphatically is not "philosophy" and, for what it's worth, that's not what proponents of EM say they are doing, either.

I would say that yes, maybe most of the EM side might expect you to speculate while the EM side doesn't treat their own thing as speculation and instead true and that's not very equal - but I just tried to sympathise with that concern with John West and he bit me over it and accused me of bad faith in discussion. And that's genuine sympathy (I get some people fake sympathy to simply try to poison the other sides position - which is a horrible thing to do, IMO). Hopefully you wont bite me if I acknowledge what I think is your concern about the EM side not treating their ideas as speculation.

But if you're saying Dr. Feser and regulars never speculate and instead go from determining true knowledge to determining more true knowledge to determining more true knowledge, never speculating/never airing an idea that might turn out wrong, I find that hard to believe. I don't think anyone in the world is every consistantly right like that? Even all the mobile phone inventing scientists speculated plenty of times - plenty of trashed schematics/speculations along the way.

Are you instead saying that Dr. Feser and regulars do not deal solely in speculation - you'd say a great deal of it is hard fact and only a fraction is speculation? That'd be a fair - I'm trying to see if I read you wrong, because I just can't believe anyone in the world consistantly determines new correct knowledge consistantly and consecutively with no speculation in between.

John West said...

Callan S. writes:

but I just tried to sympathise with that concern with John West

I urge anyone who believes this to go reread the original comment to me.

"Poisoning" the conversation indeed.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Callan,

Do you work for Samsung or Apple?

Also, I thought Yanks called them cell phones?

Callan S. said...

Anonymous (January 14, 2015 at 4:03 PM),

I like your two points! I know you're going for an reductio_ad_absurdum, but it's ironic in its effective grasp.

(1) No theories, including this one, have any content at all. They are not "about" anything, least of all the way reality, states of affairs, or what have you, actually is. If this is the case, then Bakker (and those who agree with him) are spewing a garble of meaningless marks on a screen. Is this how you define success?

If it eliminates processing that wasn't beneficial in regards to darwinistic trials, then that is the relevance it has (and the word 'relevance' here presupposes a desire to continue living and/or for future generations to continue living. That is not to say such a desire is definately in all subjects)

(2) There is no reason to spend all this time arguing about it. Not only are you not going to convince anyone, there is no such thing as "anyone" or "convincing". And the arguing is just tightly-bound clouds of atoms affecting other configurations of atoms.

Depends on whether life cycles and extinction events are affected by the 'convincing'.

Which for the former they are almost always involved. Sometimes, to some vague, tiny extent, the latter can be involved.

The thing is, it might be atoms - but the cluster of atoms that is a life form but has no pattern within that that leads to it maintaining the pattern a life form needs to be a life form, will soon cease to be a life form. While the life form that has a pattern that aids it remaining as life will continue that patterning.

Presumably 'convincing' has helped maintain clusters of atoms to remain in life form patterns. Otherwise 'convincing' would have died off a long time ago.

Regardless, 'truth' doesn't have to be involved. All that has to be involved is some sort of word in scare quotes that by chance happens to keep life form patterns from losing their pattern. 'truth' being convincing because all the life patterns who didn't find it convincing soon became broken life patterns/atoms/to dust.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"Also, I thought Yanks called them cell phones?"

And I thought Brits distinguished between Yanks and Aussies. ;-)

Anonymous said...

@Callan

"I know you're going for an reductio_ad_absurdum, but it's ironic in its effective grasp."

I have no idea what this means.

"If it eliminates processing that wasn't beneficial in regards to darwinistic trials, then that is the relevance it has (and the word 'relevance' here presupposes a desire to continue living and/or for future generations to continue living. That is not to say such a desire is definately in all subjects)"

You have not understood the objection at all. If Bakker's claim is true, then everything you've just said here has no content. You are not entitled to talk about, among other things, "processing", "beneficial", "relevance" (even defined as you've stipulated), and many other important things beside.

This is the problem: you cannot even articulate a scientific account on your own terms if you do not have at the least the logical-semantic resources provided by a theory of truth, reference, and some idea of what might entitle inferential moves.

It makes no sense at all -- it is "squaring a circle" -- to, on the one hand, deny intentionality (or as Bakker will sometimes put it, make it "heuristic"; he is never consistent), while at the same time espousing a scientific account which already relies on those intentional tools. You cannot even elaborate a scientific theory without basic logic -- which is exactly what the theory denies.

Going on about science this and science that is pointless as empirical findings do not have anything to say about the logical and semantic notions that they already presuppose.

Callan S. said...

John West, I hope people re-read that post too - including you. I don't know how you got insults out of it, left handed or otherwise.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John West said...

Let's take it from the top to keep everything in context:

If you can't be bothered speculating on such scenarios where the intentional is actually something else entirely, like buzzing electricity, fair enough if you don't want to. But how much of a philosopher does that make you?

Yes, what could people here possibly know about philosophy?

But this 'by using intentional terms you are confirming intentionality' is just a big failure to keep up with the idea. Any 'performative contradiction' responce is just a big failure to keep up with the idea.

Yes, clearly us silly Thomists couldn't possibly keep up with your robot army.

Or is it good thinking to apparently easily solve something and treat it as that was definatley all that was involved?

Right, because we're so unfair and dismissive towards your profound movie-esque insights.

What are you saying - that if you were to humour the idea, the eliminativist would keep treating their position as absolutely true and sort of bludgeon their position through - as you humour their position and so leave yourself a bit vulnerable to someone who just treats their counter position as right and imposes it that way into conversation?

Yes, Callan. Of course that's what I'm saying. That I'm afraid of leaving myself “a little bit vulnerable” because you're going to “impose” your way into the conversation.

If you are disinclined to humour the position because you fear this inequal situation would come up - okay, fair enough!

What on Earth are you talking about?

But maybe you'd look forward to a better debate being set up, where both sides humour their position rather than just think its true? Hopefully a discussion like this one here might lead to such a debate in future.

Ah, yes. What was I thinking? Us poor, close-minded Thomists.

Do you have an argument against the incoherence objection, or not? If you do, present it. If not, quit wasting my time with dogmatic bluster.

I see you've chosen the second horn of my dilemma. Have a good evening, Mr. S.

VicP said...

Scott, I have to confess I'm a geogravitationalist because I can see that objects get attracted to the earth, but along come the physicists who explain that the gravitational force manifests in everything. The pangravitationalists explain that the mechanisms of friction etc.prevent the coffee cups on my desk from being attracted to each other.

Yes you are all panpsychists but our own language has created words like God, mind etc. as placeholders for the mechanisms and unexplained neural processes which are being investigated. Scott Bakker expresses anxiety and depression while Thomist's won't entertain the thought. St Thomas was a wealthy, educated and modern man for his day, if alive today he may be studying neuroscience.

"In the beginning was the word" What were St Paul and others writing so effusively about? It was actually a form of elimitivism.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Scott,

I never knew Australians could read and write!

Anonymous said...

"In the beginning was the word" What were St Paul and others writing so effusively about?

"In the beginning was the word" What were St Paul

St Paul

Stand back folks, philosophical and biblical juggernaut crashing through here.

Step2 said...

@Callan S.
Was incoherence always your dream or the result of finding a magic ring in a dragon's cave?

Edward Feser said...

Hello again Scott (Bakker),

With respect, it does seem to me that you keep missing the point, and keep seeing circular reasoning where there is none at all. Of my second premise, namely:

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.

you say that it “clearly assumes the truth of intentionalism.” On the contrary (and as Brandon already pointed about above), simply as a matter of formal logic, it clearly does NOT assume this. In particular, the premise does not say that the use of intentional terms entails a commitment to intentionalism. The premise explicitly allows that that is merely ONE way, but not the ONLY way, in which the use of intentional terms might be justifiable. It explicitly allows that it would also be justifiable if the eliminativist has some alternative, non-intentional way of construing such expressions.

The premise can be represented as having the logical form:

p  (q V r)

“q” represents the proposition that intentionalism is to be accepted. Premise (2) would be question-begging only if this proposition q were asserted in the premise. But it is not asserted, because it occurs in the context of a disjunction (“either-or”), and component statements in a disjunction are not asserted.

So, again, simply as a matter of the formal structure of the premise, it does not presuppose the truth of intentionalism.

As to your missing the point: You write:

You're basically saying that you cannot be wrong about intentionality so long as people use intentional terms, because every such use presupposes your interpretation of intentional terms! Such a claim effectively removes you from the possibility of rational debate on the nature of intentionality. You do see this?

Again, that is simply not at all what I have said. I have explicitly allowed that there IS another way intentional terms could legitimately be used, namely if a literal re-statement can be given in which the apparent commitment to intentionality drops out. That is the whole point of the parallel with heliocentrism. And it is a point you keep failing to address.

Again, talk of sunrises doesn’t commit a heliocentrist to believing that the sun literally rises, because he is able to show us how to replace “sunrise” talk with a description that makes no reference to the sun rising. What I’ve been saying is that IF the eliminativist can do the same, then he’s in the clear. So let’s hear already how he can do it!

Frankly, it’s rather rich of you ask me where the evidence is for what I’ve been saying. For what I’ve been doing is asking the eliminativist for evidence for what he is saying. The eliminativist claims that his position can coherently be stated without making reference to intentional notions. I’m asking for evidence to back up this claim. You act like I’ve been responding to the eliminativist claim by sticking my fingers in my ears and saying “No you can’t, and I won’t listen to any evidence to the contrary!” But that is the reverse of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been begging for the evidence. I’ve carefully examined the attempts made by Churchland and Rosenberg, and shown in detail why they fail. I’ve asked you for an alternative way for the eliminativist to show that he can indeed state his position without using intentional notions. I’ve asked for an improvement on what people like Churchland and Rosenberg have tried to do, or for an explanation of where I’ve gotten them wrong. But all I’m hearing from your direction is crickets chirping!

You do see this?

Georgy Mancz said...

@ Callan S.

If the ability to question is lacking, you cannot question.
I'm genuinely sorry if that makes you feel sad. Some advice: try questioning questioning everything (as in everything). Perhaps then you'll see the difference between critical thinking and the intellectual malady of skepticism.
I'm not using 'evident' in the limited sense of 'perceived by one's vision'. The truths of arithmetic are evident, for example, as is the aboutness of the sentences being typed by you and read by me, the aboutness of your thought regarding the critics of EM etc. You seeing dust being blown along the road certainly does involve intentionality - the act of you seeing being "about" the things seen.
Perhaps you'll find that odd, but there are even things that are self-evident, that cannot be coherently denied: like the principle of non-contradiction, or truth being attainable, for that matter, because you'll end up affirming the thing denied in the act denial. I do hope pointing that out does not constitute failing to keep up with the idea. Am I supposed to stay with it after it refutes itself, like EM arguably does?

Do remember what I jokingly proposed as your implicit definition of philosophy.
So no, I don't think this blog is dedicated to "wild speculation with no connection to reality", nor do I think this obtains on it frequently enough to be worth mentioning.

Philosophy is about truth, reality. As I initially presumed this discussion to be. You, on the other hand, seem to think that both are about (heh) gaining a social outcome or surviving Darwinian trials or whatever. Which aren't the same as attaining truth.
Producing mobile phones, though it normally does involve grasping reality, doesn't exhaust grasping reality.


P.S.
Also, what exactly do you mean by a conclusion to the effect that something may be (!) the case being forced (!) ?..

Edward Feser said...

Hmm, I see Blogger turned the horseshoe symbol into gibberish. Anyway, I trust it is obvious that the formula above is supposed to read "If p, then q or r"

VicP said...

Biblical juggernaut?

At least have the decency to rewrite the entire post. I was discussing physics.

Kiel said...

*sips single malt whisky, sits back and enjoys the show*

Edward Feser said...

By the way, Scott, your book Neuropath just arrived in the mail today, and I look forward to reading it.

Georgy Mancz said...

@ VicP

It seems to me that only your first paragraph can be uncontroversially said to contain a discussion of physics.

This paragraph was followed by blunt assertions about general metaphysics, epistemology, natural theology (what seems to be the assertion of EM's truth); also, guesses about St. Thomas' career preferences and motivation.

This is crowned by remarking that the doctrine expressed in the New Testament is a form of eliminative materialism.

Physics? Seriously? Ah well.

P.S.
Have to give it to you: "en arche en ho Logos" taken to be expressing a philosophical viewpoint that denies the reality of meaning is almost certainly a first.

John West said...

It would be interesting to see an eliminative materialist with the spine of Hartry Field.

Greg said...

Why do people become eliminative materialists? I imagine folks like the Churchlands feel some pressure from the intractability of the philosophy of mind. But their disciples seem to be under the impression that there are no other naturalistic theories on offer, so how else does one pay homage to Science?

John West said...

Greg,

I'm starting to wonder if the disciples just don't know how to use science in their arguments. Some naturalist authors have some really elegant arguments. But the disciples usually just flail around, making strange, dogmatic assertions.

John West said...

Also, I think the rejection of the immaterial plays an important part. Speaking from my own experience as an atheist, I was prepared to accept some pretty wild stuff, simply to avoid positing immaterial entities of any type.

Greg said...

I would say the same. You could say I engaged in 'folk philosophy'. I remember a naive conversation I had with someone about artifacts. I said cars are a particular arrangement of particles and shirts are a different arrangement of particles.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg,

I seem to recall someone arguing (perhaps it was Dr. Feser himself?) that eliminative materialism looms for all materialists, because of the problems of explaining intentionality in a naturalist framework.

John West said...

Greg,

I think materialism can lead to a strange regress: fictional objects, fictional counterfactuals, fictional mathematics, fictional free will, until everything is fictional and we're back floating in a jar, hallucinating the world. Perhaps eliminative materialism is the final absurdity in the regress -- eliminating even the mind.

John West said...

Ah, I see Jeremy Taylor beat me to it.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with shirts and cars being atoms?

Bob said...

What is at issue is whether an across-the-board eliminativism is coherent, whether the eliminativist can in principle avoid all intentional notions. The proponent of the incoherence objection says that this is not possible, and that analogies with heliocentrism and the like therefore fail.

Wouldn't the actual language for the eliminativist be mathematics and wouldn't "intentional notions" disolve when put into terms such as State 1 moving to State 2, etc.

Not sure what I personally think of eliminativism, but this objection doesn't seem to have much force.

Jeremy Taylor said...

If it doesn't have much force you will, of course, be able to show how use of the language mathematics can avoid all intentional notions, or at least point us to the accounts of others who have shown this.

Bob said...

@ Jeremy

State 1 -> State 2 -> State 3 ... etc...

"State" represents the relative position of each and every thing in the universe.

Probably not practical to communicate in such a way, but perhaps the most accurate.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Bob,

The point is to explain human consciousness and cognition (thinking, reasoning, truth, perception, and so on) without making sure of intentional notions. How does your account do this? At the moment, to say your description is vague would be an understatement.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should be use, not sure.

Obviously, intentionality is not just an issue for philosophy of mind - for the Thomist (and others) at least - but that is usually where the main discussions take place.

Bob said...

@ Jeremy

You are begging the question against eliminativism as, it seems to me, an eliminativist would deny the actual existence of these things. What they would say is that what you describe as consciousness and cognition simply a short-cut, but more easily digestible version of State 1 -> State 2 -> etc...

My description is vague in the sense that I do not list the relative position and subsequent movement of each and every thing in the universe, however it is not vague in the sense of the question it is answering.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Your argument seems to be exactly the same as Bakker's, and fails for the same reason. You need to show an account of human consciousness and cognition that doesn't appeal to intentional notions.

And the impossibly vague allusions to mathematically expressed states doesn't count. How, for example, can such states express my thinking about a cat without in any sense appealing to intentional notions.

Bob said...

@ Jeremy

I thought I did show an account that does not appeal to intentional notions.

Perhaps you can point out which intentional notions I am appealing to with the response "State 1 -> State 2 -> etc..."?

To your example, don't you see how much your description has compressed the specific facts alluded to by "thinking about a cat"? For instance, the relative position of each and every thing in the universe and their relative movement covering the precise period of time in question?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Well, you actually seem to have failed to give an account at all, beyond the vaguest allusions to mathematically expressed states.

Maybe I am reading you wrong, but you appear to refer to the specific facts alluded to in thinking about a cat and then refer to everything in the universe. Besides, if your explanation of such cognition is everything in the universe, this seems, again, very vague and in dire need of specifics and detail.

Bob said...

@ Jeremy

How exactly would the precise position of each and everything in the universe and their relative positions and motion be vague?

I would call that specificity overload and say that it is much easier to simply say that I am thinking about a cat.

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