Thursday, March 5, 2009
Searle and property dualism
David Lewis once wrote that “philosophical theories are never refuted conclusively. (Or hardly ever, Gödel and Gettier may have done it.)” To this list should be added John R. Searle, who has in my estimation conclusively refuted the computationalist theory of mind – not so much with his famous “Chinese Room” argument, but with the less well-known but far more devastating arguments presented in his paper “Is the brain a digital computer?” and in chapter 9 of his brilliant book The Rediscovery of the Mind. When (not if, but when) the philosophers and psychologists of the future look back at the bizarre fad for characterizing the brain as a kind of computer and the mind as software, and ask “So what the hell was that all about?”, Searle will be remembered as the man who did more than any other philosopher to break the spell of this illusion.
Searle is also an effective critic of other materialist theories of the mind. But though he rejects all extant forms of materialism, Searle also famously denies being any kind of dualist. Still, his critics regularly insist that his views nevertheless entail dualism whether he realizes it or not, and that this suffices to show that they are mistaken. In short, Searle says: “My arguments are correct, and they do not entail dualism,” while his critics say: “Searle’s arguments do entail dualism, and therefore they are incorrect.” In my view both sides are partly right and partly wrong: Searle’s arguments are correct, and they do entail dualism.
As my longtime readers know, the version of dualism I think one ought to accept is Aristotelian-Thomistic hylemorphic dualism. As it happens, Searle’s views have been compared by some commentators to Aristotle’s (see e.g. Alan Code’s essay in Lepore and van Gulick’s John Searle and his Critics). But Searle rejects any such interpretation. (At a conference at which Searle and I were both presenters, I gave a paper the first part of which put forward a diagnosis and critique of naturalistic theories of the mind, and the second part of which proposed a return to hylemorphism as a remedy. Searle called the first part “brilliant” and the second part “crazy.” Coming from a man whose work I admire so much, that was good enough for me. The first part, incidentally, would go on to become “Hayek the cognitive scientist and philosopher of mind,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hayek. The second part was merely a sketch of ideas that I have developed in more detail elsewhere, most fully in The Last Superstition and in the forthcoming Aquinas.)
Indeed, when Searle has worked his positive views out more fully, the version of dualism they end up resembling most is property dualism. But Searle rejects this interpretation as well, arguing against it at length in his article “Why I am not a property dualist.” Victor Reppert kindly linked yesterday to a paper of mine, “Why Searle is a property dualist,” which replies to this article of Searle’s. Since Searle’s essay has just been reprinted in his new anthology Philosophy in a New Century, I thought I would post a link of my own to my reply, for what it is worth.
(Bonus link: Here is an interview Steven Postrel and I did with Searle for Reason magazine some years back. Among other things, it gives a good sense of Searle’s political views, which aren’t quite the sort you’d expect from a UC Berkeley professor.)