Friday, December 29, 2006

Response to Steve on Naturalism

Steve: As you know Lewis opposed reductionistic accounts of even physical phenomena. The "physical thing" we call the sunbeam has nonphysical properties which have to be siphoned off in order to make it a physicalistic account. The concept of the physical is supposed to be a) mechanistic, and b) closed and c) everything else has to supervene on that. At least that's the Hasker-Reppert definition of physicalism, which can be expanded to come up with an account of what naturalism is supposed to be. (We are happy to solve the physicalists' problem of defining themselves for them, and I have it on the authority of Blue Devil Knight that our definition is a good one).
If you look at even secular philosophers like Nagel who take the toolshed distinction seriously, we find that they push the limits of what is acceptable as physicalism. Nagel seems to have broken out of physicalism even if he hasn't found his way to theism (neither did Lewis when he accepted the argument), and while Searle tries to be a materialist, I think most people on both sides of the materialist debate think he fails to do so. The strongest physicalists like Dennett, Churchland, and company, including ordinary functionalists like the early Putnam try their best to explain the distinction away.
Materialism is an attempt to say that the world as analyzed by the senses and the method of science is the ultimate reality, and that everything else is a byproduct. Insofar as they are consistent materialists, they have to try to undercut Lewis's looking at-looking along distinction. you can't press it into the service of physicalism without begging the question.


Blue Devil Knight said...

I like your definition for the most part, depending on what you mean by 'mechanistic.' That term tends to invoke pictures of determinism and clockwork universes in people's heads.

If quantum mechanics or quantum field theory [or whatever possibly indeterministic nomic regularities we find in basic physics] count as mechanistic, then your definition is fine.

Merleau-Ponty, in his criticism of naturalistic theories of perception, spends many pages discussing 'the gaze', visually experiencing the world such that the biology, the meat, of the eyes, is invisible. I have always considered it a kind of knowing-how versus knowing-that kind of thing, but there is more to it than that (knowing how to ride a bike doesn't imply anything about consciousness, for instance, while knowing how to use one's gaze, in his sense, does).

Anonymous said...

Vic, I agree that it's difficult to call Nagel and Searle Naturalists in your sense (or any decent sense), but I still don't quite see why the Naturalist can't accept the toolshed distinction and use it in Naturalism's service. Of course, my own argument in your "The Trouble with Materialism" entry, suggests a possible reason why ... would you accept this argument?

Also, I have a difficulty with some of your explanations of what Naturalism involves. You seem to imply that if Naturalism is true then all concepts must have an acceptable Naturalistic analysis.

Let's take a common case. We may offer the following analysis of "Red" ...

(R1) Something is red if and only if it is such as to cause the sensation "Red" in normal observers under normal conditions.
(R2) Things cause the sensation "Red" in normal observers under normal conditions if and only if they have surface reflectance properties XYZ.
(R3) Something is red if and only if it has surface reflectance properties XYZ.

R1 is offered as an analysis in the sense of a conceptual analysis. R2 is an empirical statement. R3 is a naturalistic reduction.

I can't help but feel that you sometimes confuse "conceptual analysis" with "reduction". Can't a naturalist legitimately offer R1 as an analysis and then go on to give R3 as a reduction motivated by that analysis?

Why shouldn't the case of intentionality be similar? If Carrier makes constant use of intentional concepts in his explanation of intentionality, are you sure he isn't at the R1-like stage here rather than the R3-like stage?

Does (R1)-(R3) offer an acceptable Naturalistic reduction of Redness? If not, why not?
If so, then presumably the difficulty with similar reductions for intentionality etc is that the R1-like stage turns them into secondary qualities, and intenionality and other mental phenomena can't be thought of that way. The reason for this would be that with colour you can separate out the bit that's in the world (the surface reflectance) and the bit that's in our heads (the experienced quality of redness), but with mental phenomena it's all in our heads to start with.

But "in our heads" has two very different possible meanings: "In our brains" and "in our minds". Why doesn't this give us somewhere to siphon things off to?

Ah, I see ... because to siphon the mind to the mind is the same as not siphoning at all. But does that necessarily make the mind a non-naturalistic thing? Couldn't an R1-R3-like reduction still obtain for the mind even in the absence of anywhere different to siphon the mind off to?

If so, this would make the Nagel/Searle mysterionism (or whatever it's being called these days) look about right.

Not sure where these leaves me ...

Victor Reppert said...

BDK : Mechanistic in my sense means free of meaning, free of subjectivity, free of purpose, and free of normativity. It does not mean deterministic.

SL: But "in our heads" has two very different possible meanings: "In our brains" and "in our minds". Why doesn't this give us somewhere to siphon things off to?

VR: Because you can indulge in a lot of loose talk about "the brain" but to serve its proper role in a physicalistic analysis of the world it can't have any fundmantally mental properties. All of those properties have to be nonmental, and the mental properties have to be systemic add-ups of physical properties, and these properties have to not be mind-dependent. In the final analysis, the serpent is chasing its tail.

Jason Pratt said...


(Note: I left a bit of a different reply--short I promise {g}--back in the previous thread, too.)

{{Does (R1)-(R3) offer an acceptable Naturalistic reduction of Redness? If not, why not?}}

I don't have any problem with R1-R3 _so far as it goes_. I'm relatively sure few (if any) Naturalists would have a problem with it, either.

But this cannot be a sufficient reduction for purposes of 'naturalistically' explaining human behavior in recognizing 'red', if only because the "if and only if" leaves out pretty much all discussion of what's happening in the receiver. The conclusion is only about the reflective surfaces over there. (And I expect most Naturalists, unless they're just being casual in conversation, would have a similar problem with how far it goes.)


Anonymous said...

"Mechanistic in my sense means free of meaning, free of subjectivity, free of purpose, and free of normativity. It does not mean deterministic. "

I, as a naturalist, would not accept that as a legitimate meaning for "mechanistic." It would certainly seem to rule out the possibility of those complex biological mechanisms we commonly refer to as animals.

Victor Reppert said...

What I mean is that these systems are mechanistic at the most basic level of analysis. Whatever of these things are are system byproducts at the organizational level. The real causation in the universe goes on without reference to them.

Blue Devil Knight said...

anonymous: I think Victor's characterization of naturalism is quite inclusive, and I wouldn't want to call someone who denied it a (metaphysical) naturalist.

Victor isn't saying that all properties are physical, but that all properties must supervene on the physical. E.g., the property of being a heart or a lung is a biological property, but ultimately they supervene on the properties of physical objects (even if they aren't identical to or reducible to such physical properties).

For those not in philosophy, property X supervenes on property (or properties) Y iff a difference in X implies a difference in Y. Equivalently, two things identical wrt Y are identical wrt X. So, two things with identical physical properties must have identical mental properties (and these physical properties may include the history of the objects, otherwise Twin Earth refutes supervenience).