Philip Goff to criticizing the panpsychism he defends in his book and elsewhere. Goff begins by reminding the reader that he and I agree that the mathematized conception of nature that Galileo and his successors introduced into modern physics does not capture all there is to the material world. But beyond that we differ profoundly. Goff writes:
I agree with Galileo (ironic, given the title of my book) that the qualities aren’t really out there in the world but exist only in consciousness. So I don’t think we need to account for the redness of the rose any more than we need to account for the Loch Ness monster (neither exist!); but we do need to account for the redness in my experience. Following Russell and Eddington I do this by incorporating the qualities of experience into the intrinsic nature of matter, ultimately leading me to a panpsychist theory of reality.
End quote. Now, as I noted in my earlier post, this combination of views is odd right out of the gate. It starts out accepting the view that sensory qualities aren’t really there in matter. But then, noting the problems this raises, it proposes that the solution is to hold that sensory qualities… really are there in matter after all! Only, not in the way we thought they were, but instead in some totally bizarre way that creates further problems without solving any (which is indeed what Goff’s view does, as I’ll show below).
This is comparable to thinking about killing someone, and then, noting how problematic this would be, proposing that after the murder we look for some way to resuscitate the corpse, Frankenstein-style. All despite the fact that this will leave us with a grotesque patchwork of a human being rather than the original person! How about just not killing him in the first place? Similarly, if you are going to end up having to put the sensory qualities back into matter after all, why not just refrain from taking them out?
Goff thinks he has a positive argument for taking them out, which I’ll come to in a moment. But first let’s note what he says is the problem with not taking them out:
Feser, in contrast, rejects Galileo’s initial move of taking the qualities out of the external world. The redness really is in the rose, the greenness really in the grass, etc., and hence we have a ‘hard problem’ not just about consciousness but also about the qualities in external objects.
End quote. This is the reverse of the truth, and Goff misses the point that rejecting Galileo’s move leaves us, not with a second “hard problem,” but rather with no “hard problems” at all. And Goff himself should see this, given his other commitments. The so-called “hard problem of consciousness” arises only if we assume that higher-level properties must be reducible to lower-level ones – that the qualitative character of a visual experience, for example, must be reducible to neurological properties or the like. There will be a corresponding “hard problem” of explaining how redness can be a feature of a rose only if we assume that redness must be entirely reducible to properties of the sort described by physics and chemistry.
But these “problems” disappear if we reject this reductionist assumption. And Goff himself rejects it, as I noted in my earlier post! He denies that all the higher-level properties of a thing must be reducible to lower-level ones. So how can he justify the claim that rejecting Galileo’s move would leave us with two “hard problems”? Indeed, how can he justify the claim that accepting Galileo’s move would leave us with even one “hard problem” that calls for the radical solution of panpsychism? Goff’s own commitments dissolve the problem, leaving the panpsychist “solution” otiose even if it didn’t have its other defects.
Let’s turn now to the positive argument Goff offers for accepting Galileo’s removal of the sensory qualities from ordinary material objects like the rose. It is an application of the traditional argument from hallucination for the indirect realist theory of perception. The character of someone’s experience of looking at a red rose might be the same whether there is really a red rose out there or instead the person is just hallucinating. Hence, the argument concludes, what the perceiver is directly aware of in each case is really just something going on in the mind rather than in mind-independent reality (even if it is caused by something really out there in mind-independent reality).
Now, at one time I accepted this sort of argument myself (and, like Goff, was influenced in this connection by Howard Robinson, a philosopher whose work I too have long admired and profited from). But I later changed my mind. There’s a lot that can be said about the topic, and I address it in (see pp. 106-113 and 340-351). For present purposes I will simply note that Goff’s conclusion is a non sequitur, as (once again) it seems to me that he ought to realize given other things he holds. For he seems to think that the argument gives us grounds for denying that anything like the red we see when we look at a rose is really out there in the rose itself. But this would not follow even if we accepted the argument from hallucination as a proof of indirect realism. After all, Goff himself allows that the rose itself really is out there. He doesn’t think that (what he takes to be) the fact that we aren’t directly aware of the rose (but only of the mind’s perceptual representation of the rose) casts any serious doubt on the reality of the rose. So, why would the claim that we aren’t directly aware of the rose’s redness show that we have reason to doubt that there is something corresponding to it out there in mind-independent reality, in the rose itself?
In short, even if we buy indirect realism, the rose itself (by Goff’s own admission) still exists in a mind-independent way. And by the same token, for all Goff has shown, even if we buy indirect realism, the redness of the rose, as common sense understands redness, still exists in a mind-independent way. The argument from hallucination for indirect realism thus turns out to be something of a red herring (pun not intended but happily noted).
Finally, Goff says:
[Feser] doesn’t in fact consider my main argument for panpsychism, which is a simplicity-based argument. I have argued that panpsychism is the most parsimonious theory able to account for both the reality of consciousness and the data of third-person science.
End quote. But actually, I did address this argument, because part of the point of the criticisms I raised was precisely that Goff’s position is not parsimonious. For one thing, as I emphasized in my original post and reiterated above, the panpsychist solution is simply unnecessary, because the problem to which it is a purported solution does not arise once we see – as Goff himself emphasizes! – that Galileo’s mathematized conception of nature is a mere abstraction that in the nature of the case cannot capture all of matter’s properties. As I noted in my original post, if you draw a portrait of someone in pen and ink, no one thinks that the absence from the black and white line drawing of many of the features that exist in the person (color, three-dimensionality, etc.) generates some deep metaphysical problem. It merely reflects the limitations of the mode of representation, that’s all. But in the same way, the absence of sensory qualities from physics’ mathematical mode of representation doesn’t pose any deep metaphysical problem either. It simply reflects the limits of mathematical representation, that’s all.
Hence Goff is like someone who looks at a black and white line drawing, notes that it leaves out many features, and then starts spinning complex metaphysical theories to “explain” the “mystery.” In both cases, there is no genuine mystery and the problem is completely bogus. And a theory can hardly be “parsimonious” if the problem it claims to solve is a pseudo-problem. (Go back to my other analogy from above. Suppose I say “Let’s kill Bob, but then find a way to bring him back to life!” And suppose you answer “How about just not killing him?” Whose plan is more parsimonious?)
For another thing, and as I also pointed out in my earlier post, panpsychism creates new problems of its own. As common sense and Aristotelianism alike emphasize, conscious experience in the uncontroversial cases is closely linked to the presence of specialized sense organs, appetites or inner drives, and consequent locomotion or bodily movement in relation to the things experienced. It is because human beings, dogs, cats, bears, birds, lizards, etc. possess these features that few people doubt that they are all conscious. And it is because trees, grass, stones, water, etc. lack these features that few people believe they are conscious.
The point is in part epistemological, but also metaphysical. Aristotelians argue that there is no point to sentience in entities devoid of appetite and locomotion, so that (since nature does nothing in vain) we can conclude that such entities lack sentience. Some philosophers (such as Wittgensteinians) would argue that it is not even intelligible to posit consciousness in the absence of appropriate behavioral criteria. Naturally, all of this is controversial. But the point is that a theory that claims that electrons and the like are conscious faces obvious and grave metaphysical and epistemological hurdles, and thus can hardly claim parsimony, of all things, as the chief consideration in its favor!
So, Goff’s defense fails – and again, most of the problems are of Goff’s own making, because they have to do with parts of his position being inadvertently undermined by other parts. His exposure of the limits of Galileo’s mathematization of nature, his rejection of reductionism, his affirmation of external world realism, his call for parsimony – all of these elements of Goff’s position are admirable and welcome. But when their implications are consistently worked out, they lead away from panpsychism, not toward it.