Wednesday, November 02, 2005

On the concept of physicalism part II

In my previous post on the concept of physicalism I wrote:

Physicalism, as understood in my book (and the definition is laid out clearly) is committed to three fundamental doctrines. 1) Physics is mechanistic at the most basic level of analysis. Whetever is happening to the basic stuff of the universe is fully determined by the laws of physics, the initial conditions, and perhaps a quantum chance factor. 2) Physics is closed. No physical event has a nonphysical cause. 3) Whatever exists in space and time that is not physical supervenes on the physical. Given the state of the physical, whatever states that are not physical must be the way they are and not some other way. So, for example, we can describe the braking system of a car in physical terms that does not mention the capability of stopping a car, but given the state of the physical, the braking capacities of the system are guaranteed to be there. Nothing in this definition requires reductionism, and this definition should encompass all forms of materialism, whether they are eliminative, reductive, or non-reductive. Is this definition of physicalism in any way a straw man?

But now that I go back and look at my book, I find that I wrote the following: (CSLDI, pp. 52-53).

1. The physical level is to be understood mechanistically, sucht aht purposive explanations must be further explained in terms of a non-purposive substratum. This will be called the mechanism thesis.

2. The physical order is causally closed. No nonphysical causes operate on the physical level. The physical is a comprehensive system of events that is not affect by anything that is not itself physical. (I really should have said physical in the final analysis.)

3. Other states, such as mental states, supervene on physical states. Give the state of the physical, there is onely one way the mental, for example, can be. Somethings this is called the supervenience and determination thesis. The idea is thatthe state of the supervening state is guaranteed by the state of the supervenience base. Thus it might be argued that biological states supervene on physicals tates. Imaginae a scenario in which a mountain lion kills and eats a deer. Even though "mountain lion" and "deer" are not physical terms, nevertheless, given the physical state of the world, it cannot be false that a mountain lion is eating a deer.

Now I don't know if I need an "and there's nothing else" clause. It looks as if according to this definition all there is is the physical and what supervenes on the physical. But I don't make any "in space and time" reference in my book's definition, but I did put it on the website. The "in space and time" was put in there to explicitly allow naturalists to be Platonists about numbers.

Can a physicalist be a Platonist about, say, numbers? Keith Parsons and Theodore Drange, in their responses to me, seemed to want to opt for forms of naturalism that allow for the existence of Platonistically conceived numbers, indeed this formed that centerpiece of his response to the argument from truth. I didn't want to argue that makes them not physicalists, what I wanted to say is that whatever these Platonic entities are, they can have nothing to do with anyone's brain states unless we reject the causal closure of the physical, and therefore such theories could not help solve any problem that had anything to do with mental causation.

Now I think I'd want to say that the causal closure principle, at least as I am understanding it, rules out any kind of causal influence by anything that is not physical, even if it is God's causing the world to exist or God's setting up a pre-established harmony between the mental and the physical. That gives you a non-physical entity causing effects in the physical world, and I really did mean to rule that out.


Steven Carr said...

'Now I think I'd want to say that the causal closure principle, at least as I am understanding it, rules out any kind of causal influence by anything that is not physical,....'

Does the desire to mate of a lion cause the lion to do anyhting? Is a 'desire to mate' a physical thing?

Could you examine a collection of atoms and discover a desire to mate in them?

Does this mean that animals have souls?

Victor Reppert said...

On the understanding of physicalism which I am attempting to articulate (and you may have noticed people in the physicalist camp telling me my definition is too permissive), the desire to mate is not describable in the language of physics, so it will not appear in the comprehensive description of the world at the level of physics. However, given the position of all the physical elements in the world, it is impossible that we could fail to have a lion desiring to mate.

There is nothing in Christian theology that requires us to affirm the Cartesian position that animals are automata. One of Hasker's early essays on the philosophy of mind (which came out in Religious Studies around 1982), was entitled "The Souls of Beasts and Men." If you remember your C. S. Lewis, you remember him talking in The Problem of Pain about the possibility of animal immortality (though he did not end up accepting it). "Where would you put all the mosquitoes? Well, I think a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for men could easily be combined."

When we talk about the desire of a lion to mate, are we talking about a behavioral disposition, or are we talking about a propositionally articulatabled desire, "I want condition X (lunch, sex, what have you)? Whichever it is you mean, a desire that was incapable of producing any behavior wouldn't be much of a desire.

Victor Reppert said...

There is a difference between saying that an animals might have souls and saying that they might be resurrected or have a future life. I think most Christian theologians would not say that the human soul is immortal on its own, apart from any act of preservation (not to mention re-embodiment) by God.

Steven Carr said...

I don't understand what you mean by 'physicalism', or why not being able to describe something in the language of physics is a problem for materialists. It really is a big puzzle for me.

Victor is explaining , often very clearly, what he considers to be a problem for materialists, but I just don't get it.

'White is checkmated' is not describale in the language of physics, yet given the physical positions of certain pieces on a chessboard, it cannot fail to be the case that White is checkmated.

Why is the existence of checkmate only explainable on a supernatural thesis?

Is all goal-directed behaviour of animals to be explained by saying that they have souls?

Are there no animals with goal-directed behaviour that really are 'automata'?

Bees seek out plants with pollen. Is this goal-directed behaviour? Do they have souls? At what level can we start to anthropmorphise goal-directed behaviour as saying that that behaviour was caused by 'wants' and 'desires'?

Can we sensibly say that the physical hardware is behaving isomorphically to an abstract analysis of a bee in terms of 'wants' and 'desires', so that analysis the (fictitious) wants and desires of a bee will give us insight into how the non-conscious, purely physical bee behaves?

Victor Reppert said...

I was not, in this post, attempting to argue that physicalism has a problem. Quite the opposite. I was trying to come up with a definition of physicalism that physicalists will accept as their own position. If a refutation of physicalism is built into the definition, if it ruled out by definition things that a physicalist says they believe in, then this would be trouble for the definition.

Viewed with a narrow scope then yes, the physical configuration on a chessboard called checkmate cannot fail to exist given the state of the physical atoms that make up the board and pieces. But, using a broader scope, we can see that the fact that a particular configuration of pieces could be called checkmate in the first place requires the existence of intentionality or about-ness, the fact that certain states have the characterstic of being about other things. This post, by William Vallicella, argues that intentionality is a problem for naturalists.

I never said that all the goal-directed behavior of animals requires souls. When I am talking about intentionality I am referring to some state of mind being about something else. There can be trial-and-error arrangements of matter that simulate purposes. Whether those trial-and-error Darwinian explanations are sufficient to account for the full range of our mental lives is, of course, the big issue.

Steven Carr said...

Why should intentionality be a problem for naturalists and only explicable on the thesis that the supernatural exists?

Having read The Maverick Philosopher's article, I can't see the problem.

He gives the example of Bush believing Saddam had WMD's. True, we can have intentions about objects that do not exist, but I don't see the problem. After all, computers contain all sorts of software objects that don't exist as a collection of atoms, yet computers are fully materialistic.

If the problem is that my intentionality is original and 'not derived or borrowed intentionality of the kind found in words and maps.', then I would like an explanation of how a physical map can contain borrowed intentionality.

When we understand how a physical object can exhibit borrowed intentionality, I will understand better how physical objects can exhibit original intentionality.

If the problem is that I cannot explain how matter is conscious , then this is a fact about me, and not a disproof that matter is conscious. It is a pure ad hominem argument.

How can we know when an animal has a soul and has a desire to mate, and when it is only 'simulating' purposes, and do does not have a soul?

Are souls restricted to mammals, but not insects?

It seems to me that there is a continuum, when substance dualism implies a sharp cut-off. Something either has a soul or it doesn't.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Vic, you wrote, "given the state of the physical," but who really knows all the states of the physical, all about them in every possible mode of physicality? And if you knew every possible mode of physicality, something science makes no claims to presently knowing, would you even continue to call define every such mode as "physicality?"

You also wrote about "disentangling mental and physical states," but scientific investigations-- by virtue of seeking the connections that lay between atoms and between molecules and between organs and between living beings and their societies (and between knowledge in one area and knowledge in another)--is actually trying to accomplish the opposite, i.e., discover where the entanglements lay, not the "disentanglements."

I imagine it must be pretty easy to keep coming up with arguments that continue to deny connections bewteen things and instead argue that everything is irreconcilable just between two huge generalizations like "mental" and "physical," are two separate words when written on paper. That's an easy way to argue, just write down two words, define them using other words as irreconcilable, then go home and enjoy some tea, and do more "philosophy" tomorrow.

I say, let science do her thing. Don't place all your trust in words and definitions influenced by incomplete knowledge and assumptions.

There is very little money and research being aimed at discovering more about the consciousness of living things, but the amount of unknown territory in that field is currently inconceivable if I may employ a sort of semi-pun.

There's the consciousness of animals with the smallest brains and tiniest numbers of neurons to animals with enormous brains like man, the great apes, elephants and dolphins. We haven't even started at the bottom and you assume we already know all there is to know about the top? There's so much more to learn. Or do you have little taste for both patience and living with uncertainty?