Friday, January 21, 2011

Feser contra Neurobabble

This post, which was first brought up by Ben Yachov, has some exchange between Feser and Blue Devil Knight.

17 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

Finally a chance to get some straightening out on hylemorphic dualism! He seems like a patient guy answering all these questions.

BenYachov said...

I hope it helps.

BRAINZZZ!!!!!


*BDK gets it.;-)

JS Allen said...

I have to say, I had the very same reaction as BDK:

"I tend to be sympathetic to the antiCartesian rhetoric of hylemorphic dualism, but have yet to see it articulated in a way that distinguishes it empirically from sophisticated materialism."

As Feser was describing hylemorphic dualism, it sounded a lot like a special sort of supervenience to me.

Anonymous said...

I think Feser would agree, and in fact he says explicitly in his book, that a lot of modern materialism is (if concepts such as algorithms and information are taken seriously, rather than as empty metaphor) not materialism at all, but Arisotileanism.

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

One difference is that hylemorphism is holistic -- a material substance can be analyzed into its parts, but the parts in turn are to be understood in relation to the whole. In that sense it is committed to a kind of "downward causation" (though this should not be understood as a kind of efficient causation, to use the Aristotelian terminology). Materialist supervenience, by contrast, allows only for "bottom up" causation, where "causation" is understood exclusively in terms of efficient causation.

This commitment to holism is (part of) what it means to say that hylemorphism affirms formal causes and materialism does not. Also, of course, hylemoprhism affirms final causality and materialism rejects it, at least notionally. (Though as Anonymous points out, I think that when materialists help themselves to concepts like "information," "natural meaning," and the like, they are really implicitly returning to something like the Scholastic conception of final cause, and fail to realize this because they know only caricatures of what the Scholastics thought.)

In general, it is a mistake to try to understand hylemorphism by analogy with the standard contemporary options. For the contemporary options are all variations on the truncated and anti-Aristotelian metaphysics of the early modern thinkers. Aristotelianism says there are four irreducible modes of causality -- formal, material, final, and efficient. The moderns rejected formal and final causes and radically redefined the other two, and all the standard positions familiar in contemporary philosophy -- materialism in all its flavors, substance dualism, property dualism, idealism, etc. -- tend to take for granted this basic anti-Aristotelian and simplified modern conception of causality. Hence when people try to understand hylemorphism by comparing it to various contemporary views -- "Is it a kind of functionalism?" "Is it a kind of supervenience?" "Is it a kind of non-reductive physicalism?" etc. -- they are badly missing the point. The A-T hylemorphist rejects the basic conception of the natural world that underlie all those views. It says "A pox on all the modern metaphysical houses -- materialist, Cartesian, idealist, and all variations thereof."

Anyway, maybe you'll find the exchange with BDK over at my own blog helpful.

Landon Hedrick said...

Cool. I've been checking in on Feser's blog from time to time ever since I recently began reading through his philosophy of mind book on my spare time. I'm interested in having a look at his other work in the future when I get time.

awatkins69 said...

BDK: Maybe it would be helpful to understand formal causation in terms of dispositions and powers. A lot of philosophers of nature these days speak of certain things having dispositions and powers. Either people as holistic substances do, or for the reductionists some sort of basic entity, the atom maybe.

So if we take the atom as the basic entity, and ask why it can naturally behave and react in certain ways, we say it does so because it has a certain "form". And when it *does* in fact exercise powers this is an instance of formal causation.

I think that's right. Aristotelians may flog me for being quite off track.

Blue Devil Knight said...

awatkins thanks, since I don't really want to go in two parallel blog tracks I'll post over there and paste your response.

Blue Devil Knight said...

So far I am not convinced that I should take much more time to learn more about this view.

awatkins69 said...

Good idea. I posted there a more thorough response. It may or may not be illuminating.

Blue Devil Knight said...

OK, my more considered response is here. My overall reaction? Interesting, but I'm a lot more impressed with hylemorphism than hylemorphic dualism. Hylemorphic dualism doesn't seem to offer anything particularly new over all the other arguments for dualism (of the substance or property variety).

Can still be convinced I'm wrong, but that's where I am now.

BenYachov said...

> but I'm a lot more impressed with hylemorphism than hylemorphic dualism.

That is a very good start.

>Can still be convinced I'm wrong, but that's where I am now.

Your open mindedness does you credit.

I hope you enjoyed having the discussion as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Cheer man.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben I'm all about hylemorphic naturalism now. Someone needs to pull that off. Assuming anyone cares about hylemorphic dualism, which on second thought lots probably don't. But if they did, it would make a big splash to do for hylemorphism about mind what Pat Kitcher did for Kant's transcendental psychology.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Feser is OK, he seems to like to lecture more than to grapple with material. But I guess he probably doesn't have much time to interact on his blog so that's OK. The ocmmenters by and large are civil and intelligent, a higher than average humility to know-it-all ratio in the commenters. Especially for a religious topic.

JS Allen said...

@BDK - Now I'm really confused. "Hylemorphic naturalism" certainly *would* be a form of supervenience, right?

I enjoyed reading the discussion at Feser's blog, but don't feel that anyone really answered the questions. I remain interested, since both Al Moritz and Reidish have recommended it. When Reidish sent me down the trail months ago, I ended up buying a Moreland book and being disappointed in it, but maybe I'll blow money on a Feser book now.

Al, if you're still there, which Feser book would you recommend to someone who is basically a non-eliminativist supervenience naturalist?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Another anonymous is the one that made the best effort to directly answer my questions, the person really seems to know his/her stuff.

Blue Devil Knight said...

JS: yes it would definitely be a supervenience affirming theory. It's almost an oxymoron, which is one reason it would be fun to explore.