Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Against property dualism

A redated post

What if you accept irreducibility arguments that defend the claim that mental states are ineliminable and irreducible to physical states. Many philosophers buy these arguments without denying an overall philosophical naturalism. What they accept, instead, is dualism of properties but a monism of substances. At least when I was in graduate school, it seemed to me as if the mainstream position amongst secular philosophers was a non-reductive materialism based on the supervenience of mental states on physical states. There were numerous opposing views about what kind of supervenience relationship had to obtain between mental and physical states.
William Hasker, in his response to me in Philosophia Christi, entitled “What about a Sensible Naturalism,” is talking about just this kind of naturalistic position. He describes a sensible naturalism as “a naturalism that makes a serious effort to accommodate, or at least makes sense of, our ordinary convictions about the mind and its operations—the things we think we all “know” about the mind, when we are not doing philosophy.”
The difficulty here is that the mental and the physical are defined in such a way as to exclude one another. So reductionist accounts of the mental have a tendency to be either fully or partly eliminativist. We have to back off from what we thought were out common-sense conceptions of what the mental is in order to accept a reduction to the physical. To accept reductionist accounts of the mental, for Hasker, is not to be a sensible naturalist.
There is, it seems to me, a paradoxical difficulty for naturalistic philosophies of mind. If you can reduce the mental to the physical, then the issue of mental causation, I think, becomes easier for the naturalist. If the naturalist is inclined in a reductionist/eliminativist direction, then the argument from propositional content becomes the main focus. However, many naturalist philosophers do not think reductionism is plausible. But if the naturalist buys a nonreductive materialism, which means that we accept a dualism of properties, then the argument from mental causation becomes the key argument.
Edward Feser presents the case against the non-reductivist view on mental causation as follows:
…Property dualism seems if anything to have a worse problem with epiphenomenalism than does Cartesian dualism. Recall that the Cartesian dualist who opts for epiphenomenalism seems to be committed to the absurd consequence that we cannot so much as talk about out mental states, because if epiphenomenalism is true, those mental states have no effect at all on our bodies, including our larynxes, tongues and lips. But as Daniel Dennett has pointed out, the property dualist seems committed to something even more absurd: the conclusion that we cannot even think about our mental states, or at least about our qualia! For if your beliefs—including your belief that you have qualia—are physical states of your brain, and qualia can have no effects on anything physical, then whether you have qualia has nothing to do with whether you believe that you have them. The experience of pain you have in your back has absolutely no connection to your belief that you have an experience of pain in your back; for, being incapable of having any causal influence on the physical world, it cannot be what caused you to have beliefs about it.

6 comments:

stunney said...

For if your beliefs—including your belief that you have qualia—are physical states of your brain, and qualia can have no effects on anything physical, then whether you have qualia has nothing to do with whether you believe that you have them. The experience of pain you have in your back has absolutely no connection to your belief that you have an experience of pain in your back; for, being incapable of having any causal influence on the physical world, it cannot be what caused you to have beliefs about it.

Um, why is a property dualist committed, as Dennett suggests, to thinking that phenomenal property-instantiating mental states are all, and always, causally impotent? The only reason I can think of is the question-begging thesis of the causal closure of the physical. But I can't honestly see much point in being a property dualist if one also accepts that thesis. In other words, why can't a property dualist simply deny epiphenomenalism?

Let's suppose that phenomenal properties supervene on certain physical states and have causal relations with those and with certain other physical states. The epiphenomenalist objection is presumably that supervenience does not transfer the causal powers of physical states to the phenomenal states that supervene on them, and doesn't regard qualia as presenting any counterexample (which is prima facie implausible on my view). But this objection assumes (wrongly, in my view) that there are no (contingent) bi-directional psycho-physical laws connecting irreducibly mental properties and physical properties. If there are such laws (which may themselves be probabilistic rather than wholly deterministic), then qualia states could have causal powers that are logically/conceptually independent of the physical states they supervene on, but which are factually/causally connected both to those and other physical states, as well as to other irreducibly mental states such as intentional states.

The existence of such laws would explain why the mind-body problem is so thorny for physicalism. Physicalism simply rules out the possibility of there obtaining contingent bi-directional psycho-physical laws. Because such laws link physical to non-physical properties, and do not reduce to physical laws alone, and are not restricted to permitting only uni-directional, epiphenomenal causal connections, it would not be in the least surprising that they couldn't be detected by the physical sciences.

Physicalism rules out the possibility of the physical order not being causally closed. But this strikes me as simply an obvious case of petitio principii, and is hard to justify without knowing what causation really is.
What, indeed, is it for one material something to cause another material something? We surely must answer that before we should accept the causal closure of the physical.

If the right answer about causation is along the general lines of, 'There's a lawlike observed correlation between A things happening and their soon being followed by B things happening', how would that account of causation rule out irreducibly mental states causing physical states? And if instead the right answer is along the lines of 'A things have an intrinsic causal power, ICP, to make B things happen', how would that account of causation rule out mental states having an intrinsic causal power, MICP, to make certain physical states happen? I don't see how it would in either case.

The foregoing account does not commit the property dualist to also being a substance dualist, since the causally potent non-physical entities are not Cartesian souls, but rather mental states or events which instantiate the relevant phenomenal and intentional properties. This might be compatible with the subject of those states/events being a physical organism, or with a neutral monism about the subjects of properties in general, or about human persons specifically.

Victor Reppert said...

One of the main reasons for being a property dualist and not a substance dualist is that this will permit you to hold on to the causal closure of the physical. If there are substances whose activities violate the causal closure of the physical, people like Dennett (and me actually), are going to say that you are in effect a substance dualist. It is true that maybe this substance is located in space, but it still strikes me as substance dualism and not property dualism.

Arnold Guminski said...

INTERACTIONIST PROPERTY DUALISM AND COMMONSENSIBLE NATURALISM

I describe myself as a commonsensible naturalist because I am committed, to borrow the words of William Hasker, to “a naturalism that makes a serious effort to accommodate, or at least make sense of, our ordinary confictions about the mind and its operations—things we think we all ‘know’ about the mind, when we are not doing philosophy.” So I cordially invite the reader to read my A Metaphysical Naturalist Manifesto, my inaugural blog of 21 July 2007 on the Securlar Outpost for a general statement of my philosophy.

So being very commonsensible about the mind, I thoroughly reject epiphenomenalism and the physical closure principle, according to which mental states or events are not causally efficacious. I adhere to the idea of interactionist property dualism, understood to disallow substance dualism, and thus hold that there are mental states of (some) living organisms (such as humans) and that these entities are irreducibly distinct from any accompanying physiological states.

Oddly, Edward Feser (approvingly quoted by Victor Reppert) appears to hold that beliefs, and other intentional states (e.g., intentions, purposings, etc.), are not mental states. He boldly and erroneously refers to them as physical states of the brain. In my opinion, beliefs and other intentional states have par excellence a better claim to be irreducibly mental than simple qualia.

Victor Reppert, in his reply to stunney’s excellent comment, rather lamely claims that “[o]ne of the main reasons for being a property dualist and not a substance dualist is that this will permit you to hold on to the causal closure of the physical.” However, being the commonsensible naturalist that I am, interactionist property dualism (which appears to be the belief of stunney) rightly rejects the dogma of the causal closure of the physical. No—the reason that I am an interactionist property dualist is: (1) interactionism (including the causal efficacy of mental states or events) is so evidently true and is a fundamental properly basic belief; and (2) the evidence overwhelmingly shows it as more probable than not that mental activity cannot exist without the substratum of an appropriately configured brain. Reppert is reduced to alleging that rejection of the causal closure principle means that “you are in effect a substance dualist.” This can be justly labeled as Reppert’s ipse dixit, or (if you prefer) his idée fixé. He owes us an explanation and justification of this implausible contention.

Now, although I am an interactionist property dualist, I am quite willing to agree that a substance dualist has an equal claim to consider himself as a commonsensible naturalist provided that he maintains that the posited spiritual substance depends for its existence upon the appropriately configured physical organism. Accordingly, William Hasker’s emergent self is a kind of substance dualism which a naturalist could plausibly embrace were it purged of its theistic aspects, i.e., the doctrine that the emergent self survives the death of its parent organism due to miraculous intervention.

Jeremy said...

VR,
I have often thought about this myself and wondered how I could turn it into some sort of argument. One direction I was heading was this: Suppose property dualism (of the epiphenomenal sort) is true. Now look at the proposition expressed by "I am aware of feeling a particular sensation of pain." Now, on property dualism, the "I" refers to a wholly physical human organism, correct? But "pain" refers to a non-physical property. If epiphenomenalism is true, then the proposition must be false (which it isn't). If epiphenomenalism is false, then interactionism is no problem and the property dualist might as well be a substance dualist.

I'm not sure if this works or not - I haven't thought through it fully yet...but I'm convinced there's something in the neighborhood.

- Jeremy (withallyourmind.net)

Neil' said...

That is a gross misunderstanding of the very definition of property dualism, and shows Dennet really founders in his basic understanding. The whole point of property dualism is that the *same thing* (such as the brain processes that produce behavior, including talking about qualia etc.) manifests different properties depending on how it is encountered, studied, measured, and especially if they are the processes constituting the very identity of the entity instead of what comes to the entity when it gathers data about processes outside of itself. Thus the same thing "doesn't seem to be" the same thing in these different contexts. Maybe that's a good use we can put "seeming" to, but understand that the relative properties are thought to be fully real, but really like that in a *relative* way (rather than being just a conceptual delusion etc.)

So since the process is physical, it can of course have effects on the physical, including stimulating our talking about it. What is literally qualitative "for us" has some property that makes sense as the generator of our saying that (well, some of us!) Hence the statement, "But if the naturalist buys a nonreductive materialism, which means that we accept a dualism of properties, then the argument from mental causation becomes the key argument" is totally the opposite of the truth about *property* dualism. The whole point of PD is also expressible as to have the cake of real subjective experience and "eat" (have it express causality on our bodies) it too.

Yet we don't find literally qualitative character when we study brains with electrodes etc. That's because the latter generate data types and possible interpretative schemes relative to what those methods are instead. IOW, it's "right under our noses." Most of us don't realize they are the "same thing" (denotatively - as in taking away one would always take away the other) but not "the same" in traits.

Regardless of whether one accepts that interpretation or not, it is inexcusable to think that PD *implies* that qualia can't have effects on the physical. That is confusing relative traits with the literally separable "entities" that are posited in literal old-fashioned dualism. IOW, the entities of traditional dualism are like two different rods of different stuff, the relative rods of PD are (rough analogy of course!) like the different lengths in Lorentz contraction.

Finally, there is an interesting parallel to imagining zombies versus "people with real feelings" (and can you really not imagine that as an essential distinction?) It resembles the difference most of us feel there is between "real worlds" of "real matter" and the model Platonic worlds that a hard-line modal realist says are fully equivalent to the former. A non-modal-realist would think of "non-existent" model worlds as being like the "zombies" of philosophy of mind, lacking that certain difference that no structure description can give. Real worlds are like real consciousness to anyone who isn't into hard MR.

A modal realist can use most of the same arguments against "real worlds" that you guys use against "real consciousness." The main similarity is the idea that we don't need more than information itself to define something. A modal realist can argue that you can't explain the *ineffable* something that is the essence of "really existing" versus just being a mathematical model etc.

As I said elsewhere, there is no logical way to do that, since logic is a formal system and only deals with the structural relationships. Therefore, the modal realist is right - unless you grant something more to "existing" than purely logical distinctions like those we make between quadratic and cubic equations.

It is so ironic that a physicalist you would find himself in similar predicament to me, pleading to someone who cannot or will not accept the distinction he is trying to make in similar vein to how I would make it. He might say "But look, here we are, we know we're here" and similar to any normal person's pleadings about real feelings etc. The rejection (in principle, apart from how a given thinker would do it) follows the same pattern of the doubters, the same perversity "in the face of the given."

I myself at least am consistent about it, since I reject both challenges. I reject the challenge to the specialness and realness of consciousness apart from information structures, and I reject the challenge to the specialness of "material existence" apart from the "logical existence" of descriptive structures. As a property dualist, it is sensible for me to affirm the special and logic-transcending "realness" of both together as different aspects of the same thing.

Hal said...

"The difficulty here is that the mental and the physical are defined in such a way as to exclude one another."

That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The only things we know that can have mental attributes are physical things. How could there be things like the mind or consciousness or will without a physical being to instantiate them? And we exchange or communicate our thoughts and feelings through our bodies and our languages which are physical things.

When you laugh at a joke I see and hear the delight you are feeling.

Unfortunately many naturalists are still reductionists. As long as they go down that path they are going to be trapped in the sort of paradoxes that you mention.