Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Physicalism, mental causation, and the AFR

There are, of course, several versions of the AFR. If the opponent is advocating some kind of reductionism, then all the difficulties in providing a naturalistic account of intentionality come into play.




If the opponent is a non-reductivist, they are basically giving up on the idea of coming up with an analysis of intentionality in physical terms. Instead, they guarantee intentionality through a supervenience relation. Now, this doesn't explain intentionality, because we apparently are not told why this relation exists. It strikes me as a kind of necessity-of-the-gaps response, a kind of mystery maneuver. To the question "why are there genuine intentional states, and real conscious persons, as opposed to just behavior that looks intentional or conscious" the nonreductivist really isn't providing any answer.



I think a physicalist has to be bothered by the fact that they are positing a supervenience relation as an ultimate brute fact, even though it isn't a physical brute fact. So, I wanted to pose some problems for the ontological status of supervenience itself, which strikes me as questionable.



But, there has always been a recognized problem for the nonreductivist in the area of mental causation. If they physical is causally closed, that means nothing non-physical can cause anything. Now cause-and-effect relations between mental states seem to me to be necessary for the possibility of science. Einstein has to do the math, and his doing the math has to cause him to propose his theory. Without mental causation, it cannot be true of us that we literally add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers, much less analyze Maxwell's equations. And yet physical states, not mental states, do the causal work in the materialist's universe.

25 comments:

Clayton said...

"Now, this doesn't explain intentionality, because we apparently are not told why this relation exists. It strikes me as a kind of necessity-of-the-gaps response, a kind of mystery maneuver."

Maneuver? I thought non-reductive materialism was a position in logical space. Maneuvers are things you make in debates and arguments to fend off objections. This is just a category mistake.

You might be right that the non-reductivist is not providing an answer to the question, "Why are there intentional states, conscious persons, etc..." (although, I'd say the same for dualism as well). Suppose you are. While that might be frustrating, I don't see what this has to do with the AfR. Either the AfR is an ambitious argument that seeks to show that the non-reductive materialist view is untenable or it is an argument with more limited ambitions that addresses only some views in the philosophy of mind. I don't see what's wrong with simply conceding that it has limited application. What more does the AfR add to the list of complaints against non-reductive materialism apart from the independent charge non-reductive materialism doesn't explain why there are intentional states, conscious persons, etc...?

Victor Reppert said...

It has one central feature that isn't developed in other arguments, and that is that it points out that certain common-sense claims about our mental lives are implicit in the practice of natural science.

Of course I suppose not all non-reductive materialists will say that there is no explanation for the existence of mental states. I suppose some attempt to explain the existence of a supervenience relationship without reducing it to physics.

Let us review the situation a little bit here. The materialist says that in the beginning of the universe there were not brains, and therefore no intentional states, etc. Somehow, minds arrived on the scene. We are told this is because the brain evolved. But now I point out that we could have something that is physically identical to the human brain, but in which the inner states are not the same, or perhaps even absent. At least as far is I can see, the evolution of the brain isn't sufficient for these rich mental states, such as the first-person perspective, or intentionality. We are then told that these may look like possibilities to you, but they really aren't, because there is a supervenience relation between physical states and mental states. We aren't told why it exists, it just does. The reason why these mental states are real is because of this relation. It looks as if the NRM advocate realizes that there is an otherwise unbridgeable gap between the mental and the physical, and sticks a supervenience relation into the gap to hold everything together. One has to suspect an ad hoc hypothesis here.

I still think there is a regress problem here. Look, if the supervenience relation supervenes on the physical, then that means there is a supervenience relation between the supervenience relation and the physical. Does that relation supervene on the physical?

But, of course, that's not all the AFR has to say. If you go back to Hasker's essay in the Emergent Self, you find out that he couches the argument primarily in terms of mental causation. As I pointed out in the original post, the advantage of being a reductivist is that if you can reduce mental states to physical states, then it might be easier to see how mental states can be part of the flow of physical causation. But one central doctrine of all forms of materialism is the causal closure of the physical. What that means is that the physical goes its merry way on its own terms, and what that suggests to me is that you're only going to get mental causation, that is, causation qua mental properties, if you can analyze those mental properties in physical terms. So, even if the non-reductivist can live with some of the ontological problems connected with the very existence of, say, propositional attitudes, they're in real trouble trying to argue that the mental states don't reduce but still are causally relevant.

I'll say what I said earlier, that I think that the argument from intentionality is the strongest argument against reductive materialism, because I think attempts to provide a reduction via something like functionalism are not going to work. However, if we are going the nonreductivist route, which is what Hasker calls "sensible naturalism" then I think the argument from mental causation is a stronger argument than the argument from intentional states, although there are some embarrassments for the non-reductive materialist on that score. But you may be right that the nonreductivist can live with such problems. In which case "mental causation" head of the multi-headed AFR beast needs to take over.

Clayton said...

"But, there has always been a recognized problem for the nonreductivist in the area of mental causation. If they physical is causally closed, that means nothing non-physical can cause anything. Now cause-and-effect relations between mental states seem to me to be necessary for the possibility of science."

I thought mental causation was everyone's problem, but I think this version of the objection is too quick.

Suppose the physical is causally closed. What does that mean? Maybe this:

CCP: For every physical event with a cause, there's another physical event that is causally sufficient for it.

That leaves open the possibility of mental events causing mental events and it leaves open the possibility of overdetermined 'upwards' and 'downwards' causation.

A proponent of NRM could also subscribe to a Davidsonian view of event identity and say:

E: e1 = e2 iff e1 and e2 have all the same causes and effects.

Then the NRM could say that for each mental event, there's some physical event with all the same causes and effects. (I can't rule that out apriori.) By E, that means there's no mental event that's not identical with some physical event. Causal closure of the physical wouldn't rule out mental causation.

Token physicalists can say that all mental events are physical events but they needn't subscribe to reductionism. The physicalist could say that in this universe all thinking beings are made entirely of material parts while allowing that there are possible worlds inhabited by immaterial beings and they there are the same mental events there as here. (Same type, that is.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused here.

1) Aren't "token physicalists" property dualists?

2) Wouldn't saying "there's no mental event that is not identical with a physical event" add up to "there are physical events of which subjectivity and intentionality are an irreducible part"?

Victor Reppert said...

But are you solving the problem by overdetermination? I thought closure meant that certain types of causes are closed out.

Victor Reppert said...

It seems to me that the identification of someone as a rational agent involves certain counterfactuals. What happens to those counterfactuals on this overdetermination picture?

Clayton said...

"1) Aren't "token physicalists" property dualists?"

Some might be. I thought the standard line was that it doesn't rule it out, which isn't to say that it's committed. In the context of the AfR, does it matter?

"2) Wouldn't saying "there's no mental event that is not identical with a physical event" add up to "there are physical events of which subjectivity and intentionality are an irreducible part"?"

If you're a physicalist about subjective conscious episodes and intentional states who denies conceptual reduction, I think that would probably be the view.

"But are you solving the problem by overdetermination? I thought closure meant that certain types of causes are closed out."

On overdetermination: causal closure as defined above leaves room for overdetermination. If you opt for a stricter closure principle, fine, but the strategy discussed sets out one way that the physicalist could try to keep closure while maintaining that mental events cause physical events.

"What happens to those counterfactuals on this overdetermination picture?"

The overdetermination picture isn't the broadly Davidsonian picture introduced. I can't say what happens with the counterfactuals on the overdetermination view because the overdetermination view as stated didn't include any claims about the relation between the mental and physical events apart from saying that whenever a mental event is a cause, there's an additional and distinct physical event to serve as a cause as well. On the Davidsonian view (not the overdetermination view), we get the counterfactuals we want. Suppose I believe there's oatmeal, desire some oatmeal, and head to the kitchen. If we subtract the physical causes, we subtract the subvening stuff and the belief+/or desire goes missing.

Anonymous said...

Some might be. I thought the standard line was that it doesn't rule it out, which isn't to say that it's committed. In the context of the AfR, does it matter?

Because my understanding of the AfR according to Victor was that it wasn't meant to get one to theism, but to expose materialism (In particular, materialism of a type which rules out intentionality, subjectivity, etc as a real and irreducible constituent) as hopeless. And it seems like the sort of "materialism" being discussed here is one that an AfR proponent would gladly accept being among the "last choices left", so to speak.

If you're a physicalist about subjective conscious episodes and intentional states who denies conceptual reduction, I think that would probably be the view.

That sort of "physicalism" seems an awful lot like the sort Aristotle (not to mention Aquinas) spoke of, and a retreat from mechanism and materialism both.

Clayton said...

"Because my understanding of the AfR according to Victor was that it wasn't meant to get one to theism, but to expose materialism (In particular, materialism of a type which rules out intentionality, subjectivity, etc as a real and irreducible constituent) as hopeless. And it seems like the sort of "materialism" being discussed here is one that an AfR proponent would gladly accept being among the "last choices left", so to speak."

Maybe, but here's what Vic says about the AfR:
"if successful, it supports theism in that one it shows that one feature of a theistic world-view, namely that the source of all reality is mental and not physical, is true, and that the most popular alternative to theism, scientific naturalism, is inconsistent with the very possibility of science."

To test it, we should be able to help ourselves to _any_ view on which it's not a feature of that view that the source of all reality is mental. The pickier we get about what's "real" materialism or physicalism, the harder it is going to be to get an argument that succeeds in the task Vic has set for himself.

Anonymous said...

To test it, we should be able to help ourselves to _any_ view on which it's not a feature of that view that the source of all reality is mental. The pickier we get about what's "real" materialism or physicalism, the harder it is going to be to get an argument that succeeds in the task Vic has set for himself.

When you're both admitting to the reality of these mental things (subjectivity, intentionality, etc) yet insisting they are somehow a real and irreducible aspect/property of the physical... it's not clear you're resisting Vic's point anymore, as I take him to mean it. In fact it really seems like you're just accepting the AfR and looking for a viable place to fall back to.

Think of it this way: If Vic's argument is intended to get you further along to the view that "the source of all reality is mental", then just by admitting the existence of the irreducible and mental you're playing into his hands in a big way. And by attributing these irreducibly mental properties/aspects/"things" to the physical (which was supposed to exclude these particular things), you're also making it harder to resist that ultimate aim. Now it's not clear, if you say "the source of all reality is physical" that you're not also saying "the source of all reality is mental".

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Reppert hasn't even ruled out type-F monism or Russellian monism -- both sexy views in philosophy of mind at the moment (cf. Chalmers, Stoljar, et al.), and both thoroughly naturalistic. There isn't the slightest force in this argument. Just a great big false dilemma.

Anonymous said...

The very fact that arguments like the AfR and Chalmers' own views have forced a fallback to panpsychism and "neutral monism" helps show the problem materialists really are in. It's like responding with "Aha! Well absolute idealism is still on the table!"

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, obviously: the hypothesis that

1. the world is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenological or proto-phenomenal attributes (alternatively: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it).

is clearly much less plausible than the hypothesis that

2. The world is composed of two really distinct kinds of substance: purely physical substances and purely immaterial substances. Furthermore, these two sorts of substances are capable of interacting with one another. In addition, there are both finite and infinite immaterial substances -- human (and perhaps animal) souls and God -- and the infinite immaterial substance created the finite immaterial substances (and perhaps the material ones, too), and created them without pre-existing materials (i.e., out of nothing).

Yes, clearly: you've got the naturalist grasping for straws in the face of an obviously more plausible hypothesis.

Anonymous said...

Yes, clearly: you've got the naturalist grasping for straws in the face of an obviously more plausible hypothesis.

After so much nattering on about materialism, how the mental is not at all fundamental to the world, etc, the grabbing for panpsychism and neutral monism *is* the grasping at straws. And it's about as "naturalistic" as Nick Bostrom's simulation hypothesis.

Meanwhile, it's not like non-naturalist hypotheses are limited to some kind of crude cartesian dualism. But as materialism continues to shrivel up and die as an option, it's going to leave these (and other) far more mental-fundamental views as the only options left in a narrowed field.

Oh wait. That's what the AfR was supposed to do.

Anonymous said...

The probabily of theism given materialism is zero (unless you make an exception for God as non-material)

The probability of theism given the irreducibility of the mental is greater than zero.

I think its fair to say that dualism/idealism/panpsychism etc. are each much more friendly to theism than materialism. But clearly there is no entailment or strong probabilistic relation.

I think these are exciting times in philosophy as, it seems to me, the 30 year dominance of materialism in analytic philosophy is crumbling.

Tangentially related: I have a new argument against epiphenomenalism.

http://idealismbook.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

"Oh wait. That's what the AfR was supposed to do."

Really? I thought the AfR was supposed to do what Vic said it was supposed to do.

To quote Vic:
"if successful, it supports theism in that one it shows that one feature of a theistic world-view, namely that the source of all reality is mental and not physical, is true, and that the most popular alternative to theism, scientific naturalism, is inconsistent with the very possibility of science."

Victor Reppert said...

Perhaps I should have said "if fully successful." There may be various degrees of success for this argument. Back when I was in grad school, philosophy of mind was dominated by denominational controversies amongst physicalists. You had eliminativists like the Churchlands, semi-eliminativists like Dennett, traditional functionalists, Fodor-type realists, anomalous monists, and supervenience non-reductivists like Horgan. Strangely enough, though, if you strung all of their arguments against one another together, you would end up with an argument against materialism.

The main concentration of my arguments have been against a threefold thesis:

1) There is a mechanistic substrate (where mechanism is defined in terms of the absence of intentionality, purposiveness, subjectivity, and normativity).

2) This substrate (usually called the physical) is causally closed.

3) All mental states supervene on physical states. Necessarily, if the physical is what it is, the mental must be what it is.

If the naturalist is driven off this position, then we have to see where he goes.

Clayton said...

"Strangely enough, though, if you strung all of their arguments against one another together, you would end up with an argument against materialism."

That's true, I suppose, assuming that all the positions a materialist could take were occupied. Does it matter? I mean, I do a lot of work on the internalism/externalism debate and if you string all the arguments against internalist and externalist views of justified belief, you end up denying that there are any justified beliefs including those that look to be justified by the fusion of the arguments. My response would be that some of these arguments might not be that good. I'd say the same in the phil mind case.

A lot of the work in the AfR seems to be that physicalists have to deny that there's mental causation (no mental to mental causation and no mental to physical causation). I don't think you've shown that as much as assumed it, but even if you did show that, there's another line of response which I think you haven't considered. What's wrong with the view that says that all causation takes place at the bottom level, but there are true explanatory statements that describe things in terms that won't figure in the final physics. I'm thinking of Jackson and Pettit on program explanation.

Gordon Knight said...

I thought the AFR argued you cannot understand how thinking is guided by reasoning given materialism. All you have is causality. Modern materialism suffers the same problem that pre fregean Psychologizing logic does.

There is even a famous argument against platonism in mathematics that argues that b/c abstract objects cannot cause anything, we cannot make sense of mathematical knowledge given platonism.

The argument always struck me as absurde. Why should we suppose that the grasping of mathematical truth is a causal relation?

Anonymous said...

The probability of theism given the irreducibility of the mental is greater than zero.

I think its fair to say that dualism/idealism/panpsychism etc. are each much more friendly to theism than materialism. But clearly there is no entailment or strong probabilistic relation.



Two questions:

First, whether the irreducibility of the mental raises the probability of theism at least a little bit, do you think irreducibility of the mental makes theism more probable than naturalism (note: I didn't say 'materialism')? If so, I'd be very interested in hearing a reason for thinking so.

Second, I'm not interested in idealism or straight panpsychism. I'm interested in more recent versions of Type-F monism (e.g., Chalmers' version). And while you might be right that such a vie is more friendly to theism than to materialism (but see Stoljar's work), do you think there's any reason to think such a view is even the tiniest bit more friendly to theism than to naturalism (again: naturalism, not materialism)? If so, I'd be very interested in hearing the reason for thinking so.

Victor Reppert said...

One of my central arguments is that there isn't a workable conception of naturalism that is meaningfully different from materialism or physicalism. You have to give me some conception of what it is for something to be natural.

But, it seems to me taht irreducibility, if it reduces the probability of materialism, enhances the probability of theism and all other alternatives to materialism.

Suppose someone has a a noetic structure like this.

33% probability for materialism.
33% probability for non-materialist forms of naturalism (if there are any)
33% probability for theism.

Now if the argument takes points away from materialism, those points have to go somewhere, and we have no good reason to suppose tha they all go to the other forms of naturalism. They are divided between theism and the other forms of naturalism, no?

Anonymous said...

It looks like we're in agreement, then: the AfR, if successful, is a good C-inductive argument for theism (splitting the difference with theism, polytheism, etc.), but not a good P-inductive argument for theism. For while it may raise the probability of theism (deism? polytheism?....) make theism even a tiny tad more probable than not (i.e., above 1/2).

Anonymous said...

Blergh -- That came out awfully sloppy. I meant to say:

It looks like we're in agreement, then: the AfR, if successful, is a good C-inductive argument for theism (splitting the difference with deism, polytheism, etc.), but not a good P-inductive argument for theism. For while it may raise the probability of theism ( and deism? polytheism?....), it doesn't make theism even a tiny tad more probable than not (i.e., above 1/2).

Victor Reppert said...

Doesn't that pretty much depend on what probabilities you started out with? It can go over 50% if it started in the high 40s, no?

Anonymous said...

My point is that if all the evidence you have is that highlighted in the argument from reason, then that evidence doesn't favor theism (or deism, or...) over, say, Chalmersian panprotopsychism.