Monday, June 22, 2009

Reply to Clayton on Intentionality

Clayton: Suppose the dualist and the physicalist square off. The dualist believes in mental substances and the modes, attributes, properties of such substsances along with physical substances and their modes and attributes. The physicalist believes in only physical substances. The dualist says that no description of the physical substance will allow us to work out 'what it's like' to taste chocolate or see red. The physicalist response is that no description of the mental substance will allow us to work it out either. Doesn't that mean that there's something wrong with the suggestion that to determine the ontology of the mental, we try to see what can be worked out from descriptions of the relevant substances?

VR: But when you look at what could possibly count as physical, you have constraints concerning what can be put in the basic level of analysis, and given those constraints, you can't "build up" to intentionality. If you lift those constraints, then intentionality fits in without difficulty.


To have a genuinely and consistently naturalistic view you perforce have to leave out intentionality or aboutness, purpose, subjectivity or perspectivality, and normativity. If we something exists because it means something else, if we say something exists because it serves a purpose, if we say that it does something because of its own point of view, if we say it does something because it satisfies some norm, then we are in effect mentalizing the supervenience base, unless we are expecting an analysis of a supervenience base that lacks all these things to entail states of this type.

For example, if we consider the position of the bricks and mortar to be the supervenience base, then it seems to me that a combination of these is going to give us a "brick wall" even though the word "wall" doesn't appear in the supervenience base. There is no logico-conceptual gap between walls on the one hand and bricks and mortar on the other. Rather, a wall is a set of brick and mortar states taken together.

But in the case of the mental, so long as you keep the four elements I listed above out of the supervenience base, it isn't going to add up to something in which those four elements exist. The logic doesn't work. There is always going to be a logical gap between something without those four elements and something with them. Listing truths in the constrained supervenience base is always going to leave the mental states indeterminate.

However, the problem can be overcome by lifting the contraint on the supervenience base. Dualism is one way of doing that, absolute idealism is another.

However, if you assert that the physical universe began with only elements which lacked these four elements (the description of the universe at the Big Bang doesn't seem very mental to me), then if those elements now exist, we need a fundamentally non-physical explanation to explain why they now exist.

If you read C. S. Lewis's books, especially Miracles: A Preliminary Study, you find that Lewis argues separately against Absolute Idealism and Pantheism. He doesn't use any version of the Argument from Reason.

12 comments:

Gordon Knight said...

The reason materialism does not allow for intentionality is that material properties are not intentional. There is no similiar problem with the mental, since we are each introspectively aware of the intentional character of the mental--indeed, intentionality has often been held to be the defining feature of consciousness. consciousness is just a strange kettle of fish. Or I should say, C. is strange if we foolishly use material things as our paradigm for what it is to be.

Suppose someone says: But this is an argument from ignorance, maybe physical things do have the property of intentionality. Maybe.. but then we move away from trad. physicalism and towards panpsychism.

Victor Reppert said...

If the definition of the physical excludes the mental, then it is not just an appeal to ignorance to say that physicalistic explanation cannot explain the mental.

When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?[1] P. T. Geach. The Virtues (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1977) 52.

Gordon Knight said...

I agree, but you don't need to definine material to exclude the mental. The earliest identity theorists--Feigle, the late Russell, didn't, for instance.

Galen Strawson's work is really good in this regard. Strawson calls himself a materialist, even though he broadens the scope of the material to include mental properties.


There is an important epistemic component here. The problem is not that we don't understand the mental, it that we don't have direct awareness of anything else (unless direct realism is true). Its the material that is mysterious,and appeals to science only gives us a formal, structural account of what it is to be.e.g., an electron. So since we are ignorant of what the intrinsic properties of physical things are, its possible that they are in fact nothing other than mental properties. And, since mental properties are the only ones we really know, its a good bet they ARE mental properties. Strawson goes further are argues that panpsychisms is the only way to account for the emegernece of (higher) minds from physical stuff. Special creation of souls would be the other alternative.

Clayton said...

"But when you look at what could possibly count as physical, you have constraints concerning what can be put in the basic level of analysis, and given those constraints, you can't "build up" to intentionality. If you lift those constraints, then intentionality fits in without difficulty."

Right, but the point has to do with the meaning and significance of "can't build up". If by "can't build up", you mean that you can't deduce that some array of matter will have certain higher-order properties, it seems the response is that there's little reason to assume that we could tell in advance that an array of matter will have properties over and above the basic properties of matter. I could be wrong on this point, but I've not seen much argument that suggests that I am wrong on this point. (Note: I'm not asserting that materialism is true, I'm asserting that the test for determining whether it is true is unreliable.)

"For example, if we consider the position of the bricks and mortar to be the supervenience base, then it seems to me that a combination of these is going to give us a "brick wall" even though the word "wall" doesn't appear in the supervenience base. There is no logico-conceptual gap between walls on the one hand and bricks and mortar on the other. Rather, a wall is a set of brick and mortar states taken together."

The fact that there are _some_ properties that you can determine supervene upon basic material properties gives us no reason to think that this is true in general.

Gordon wrote:
"The reason materialism does not allow for intentionality is that material properties are not intentional. There is no similiar problem with the mental, since we are each introspectively aware of the intentional character of the mental--indeed, intentionality has often been held to be the defining feature of consciousness. consciousness is just a strange kettle of fish. Or I should say, C. is strange if we foolishly use material things as our paradigm for what it is to be."

According to Descartes, we are never directly aware of any substance (physical or non-physical). Instead, we are aware of these things indirectly, by means of awareness of their modes and attributes/properties. Introspection might tell you that certain mental properties are instantiated (e.g., that I believe p), that certain mental events are taking place (e.g., that there's a change in the mental properties that are instantiated), or about some mode of mind having to do with impressions and sensations. Our conception of mind is, according to him, that substance (whatever it is) that is the substance in which these properties are instantiated. He doesn't seem to think there's any positive conception of mental substance except that which is picked out by description of these insubstantial entities, so he wouldn't buy your appeal to introspection. And, if there were any way to pick out the mental substance except as "whatever it is that instantiated these mental properties", we'd have the same problem establishing apriori a connection between the substance so described and that whatever it is that instantiated these mental properties.

Victor Reppert said...

But shouldn't there be some logic path from the statements describing the supervenience base adn the properties of objects which are built up out of those building blocks?

To make matters worse for the materialist, what it is to have mental states involves what causal powers a mind is supposed to have. If there are causal powers in existence that are not written into the supervenience base, then the mental states, whatever they are, are going to be epiphenomenal. That will lead to the conclusion that we do not literally add, subtract, multiply, or divide numbers, since the state of "recognizing 2," recognizing plus (not quus), recognizing equals, seeing the mathematical relation between these concepts, and recognizing the answer as 4, will all have nothing to do with where the molecules in the brain go, since those brain molecules are, ex hypothesi, governed by physical and not mathematical law.

Gordon Knight said...

Clayton: Instead of looking to Descartes, perhaps we should look to Husserl or, more radically, Sartre. It is consciousness that is intentional. Whether it is appropriate to call consciousness a "substance" or to say there is an ego of self which "is" conscious is of course a difficult matter. Sartre argues phenomenologically that C is in fact empty.. a wind blowing towards objects. Whether that rather truncated view is correct or not, what cannot be denied is that it is consciousness that exhibits intentionality and that this intentionality is not a property of physical things as they are ordinarily understood.

materialist attempts to understand intentionality fail because they try to turn intentionality into something else, a causal or functional relationship. but we know that intentionalit is not causality, it is directedness.

On the other hand, i don't see why a proponent of substance dualism should be fazed re: intentionality. Here is a crude view: There are meanings. the mind instantiates them. Meanings are intrinsicaly about something other than themselves.

How is that more mysterious than the case when a physical thing exhibits a physical property. To be sure there are deep metaphysica issues about properties, etc. but this is a general problem, not particular to the mind.

J said...

The Cartesian/dualist sorts manipulate the language of perception, and mostly appeal to ignorance. IN effect they claim "you, heathen materialist, cannot prove via logic that an external physical reality causes my perceptions, or that I really perceive something beyond my own ideas, yada yada yada." Even Hobbes, early on, had quite a few answers to that. One, to say something exists does not merely mean the idea of something: existence implies corporeality--walking implies something that walks. thinking implies something that thinks. eating implies an eater. At least the Cartesian must then provide his counter-argument to that rather sound concept of existence.

We might agree--as even the empiricists did--that the perception of the external world is subject to human's own filtering, vision, sensation, etc.--but that in itself does not establish Cartesian skepticism or idealism. It's rather more likely than not that when you pick up a glass of water off the table--oops, apparent glass of water off the apparent table-- and drink it, you are indeed imbibing water (which your body appears to need--ie the real Cartesian skeptic should stop eating, and drinking)--call the water something else, agua, H20, but the water-object is out there, as is the glass. That the senses filter perception hardly suffices as proof that real objects do not exist.

One can say the same about the claims of immaterialism. It does seem difficult for physicalism to account for mental events, concepts, will, memory so forth. But there's no contradiction in compatibilism: human brains could be bio-chemical AND still think, intend, use language, play chess, however unsettling that is to the dualist (or to the strict determinism).

It's rather more likely than not that the brain located in your skull (apparent skull!) has an important relation to your thoughts. A lobotomy would further confirm the hypothesis.



, not merely mental

Clayton said...

"But shouldn't there be some logic path from the statements describing the supervenience base adn the properties of objects which are built up out of those building blocks? "

Why? I'm inclined to think the answer is 'No'. You hold to a meta-ethic that I think is a kind of realism. Moral facts supervene upon non-moral facts but there's no deduction from the non-moral to the moral. If we already know that there are cases of necessitation without deducibility, you need a special reason to say that non-deducibility means no necessitation.

Clayton said...

Hey Gordon,

"Clayton: Instead of looking to Descartes, perhaps we should look to Husserl or, more radically, Sartre. It is consciousness that is intentional. Whether it is appropriate to call consciousness a "substance" or to say there is an ego of self which "is" conscious is of course a difficult matter."

But I think Descartes appreciated the limits of certain arguments for dualism. I think Descartes saw why arguments from introspection and the failure of apriori-deducibility show us nothing. (He doesn't think consciousness is a substance, by the way. He thinks that there is consciousness only if there are certain kinds of substances.)

J said...

Moral facts supervene upon non-moral facts but there's no deduction from the non-moral to the moral.

That's the modern metaphysician's dualism, or substance dualism. A bit more sophisticated than like the sunday schooler's but still more or less positing a mind-substance apart from the neurology of the brain, which somehow has or enacts "intentionality". The jargon--"supervenience"-- does not create some magic transcendence. Supervenience means more or less, cog-sci can't yet account for consciousness (tho' some cog-sci people have made great inroads). Similarly "intentionality" is not an object. More like a property of the brain--when it's Lunchtime, humans have an ability to sort of decide--burgers, or mex, etc. But still responding to stimuli, impulses, drives. One doesn't choose to be hungry.

Even in terms of basic Ockhamist thinking, the dualist faces more problems than does a physicalist view. CS Peirce himself objected to dualism in all of its forms, (tho' I don't think CSP. was a typical naturalist).

Ilíon said...

VR, does WV know about your "unteachability," your "confusion," and your "domatism"?

====
Way off topic, but he has even purged the comments I'd made here (while leaving his now-dangling pooh-poohing of them)

Ilíon said...

VR: "For example, if we consider the position of the bricks and mortar to be the supervenience base, then it seems to me that a combination of these is going to give us a "brick wall" even though the word "wall" doesn't appear in the supervenience base. There is no logico-conceptual gap between walls on the one hand and bricks and mortar on the other. Rather, a wall is a set of brick and mortar states taken together."

Actually, even with "brick wall" we have intentionality -- for a "brick wall" is not *merely* a collection or conglomeration of molecules and atoms. And the intentionality of a "brick wall" does not reside in the molecules and atoms of which it is comprised.