Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Key Passage from Hasker

In this passage from Hasker, which I feature of DI2, Hasker describes propositional mental states, and he maintains, that there are propositional states which we are conscious of when we have them, and that there is something it is like to have them.

This is an important concept. The idea that there is "something it is like" to, say, find a winning combination against Reppert in chess, is critical. When I play against a computer, and the computer finds a winning combination against me, the thing "functions as if" it has found the winning line against me, but there is nothing it is like to find that combination. Fritz wins all the time but never experiences the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

My conviction is that the intentionality Fritz possesses is a second-rate, derived, kind of intentionality, which is not to be confused with the intentionality that comes from my conscious perception of what is going on on the chessboard. Therefore, in my view, the problem of propostional attitudes "inherits" all the "hard" problems related to consciousness. When I am talking about intentionality, this is first and foremost what I have in mind, and acccounts of intentionality that leave this out are drastically incomplete.


Blue Devil Knight said...

Ack. Sorry about the two deleted posts. Next time I'll fix errors with the 'preview' function.

Could you point me to an example of a proposition that you have experienced? I don't experience propositions, but seem to have a nonpropositional phenomenology (e.g., visual experience isn't obviously propositional, nor is the agony of an awful defeat in chess). Even for the canonical propositional attitudes (e.g., desire) I don't experience propositions.

Perhaps you could say crunching through variations during analysis of a candidate move in chess is an example of propositions with some phenomenological bite. But such variation crunching is a purposeful manipulation in my visual imagination. I don't experience anything propositional, especially given the philosophical accoutrements of the word 'proposition' in philosophy.

Namely, a proposition is supposed to be that content we all share a belief in when we believe X: from Plato to Husserl, we have realized that the phenomenology is very different for different people when they believe X. It seems a focus on propositional attitudes actually strips away what you want to use to make your case against naturalism: experience. The whole focus on propositions emphasizes what these different experiences have in common, which is not experience, but some abstracted linguoformal content (that I have never experienced directly).

Put another way, there seems to be a conflation of two mind-body problems. The experience-body problem, and the proposition-body problem. The latter is the problem of semantic properties such as reference, truth, and usually includes a story about how contents are fixed partly by the world (e.g., twinearth). The former has contents that are idiosyncratic, individualized, and most people think fixed internally.

TwinEarthers have the same experiences, but different propositional contents.

It is a mistake to assume the two problems are the same, or to use examples of experience to show how hard it is to account for propositions (or to use experience as somehow evidence for propositional attitudes, which is actually just a tendentious description of certain experiences).

A somewhat revised and naturally evolved version of Fritz would likely have internal states with semantic properties (propositional or proto-propositional states), but not experiences.

Darek Barefoot said...


I admit to having a hard time with some of the technicalities here. But take the proposition, "The number two is prime." If at some point in my education I "understand" the proposition, does this understanding necessarily involve some conscious experience--the "Aha!" moment, perhaps. Or is "understanding" entirely definable behaviorally, i.e., it means strictly the ability to answer audibly certain questions about the primeness of two. If the latter, then any computer programmed to answer questions about the primeness of two "understands" the proposition cited. But some of us are not convinced. Prof. Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton center for artificial intelligence (I forget the exact formal name of the program) believes there is something experienced in understanding, which he refers to as "felt meaning." He thinks that an articulate Turing machine must be presumed to be capable of this, but he also admits that its mysteriousness confounds him.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Darek: you make a good point, I think. I am just arguing that it is a mistake to conflate propositional contents with experience.

A feeling of understanding X does not tell us anything about the nature of X. If you say X is a proposition, what exactly does that mean, and are propositions something that you are directly acquainted with? I think nobody would argue that they are.

I tend to look at propositions as theoretical constructs that are used to explain certain psychological facts (experiences/behavior) and to help give an account of mathematical or other putatively a priori truths.

Note in some ways I am arguing in a way that makes it even tougher for the naturalist. Not only do we have to explain experience, but also propositions (or at least explain why propositions don't exist, but they seem to be so useful as theoretical entities).

I think it is sane to be an eliminativist about propositions, but not experience. But I don't have a good argument for the insanity of denying experience. I can only point to things like stomach aches and the like and ask someone if they really don't think they exist.

The option of behaviorism isn't one I would take seriously. Perhaps because I pick at brains for a living.

Victor Reppert said...

dBut surely when I crunch through variations I come to believe that White stands better after Nf7 but the game looks even if Qb6. If I am teaching a logical class, and I put on the board "All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal," unless there is some common sense that can be given both to my thought about that proposition and my students' thought about that proposition, we can't have a logic class. If we have to know what theory is true before we can say waht these statements mean, then how could I possibly teach a logic class? There has to be a truth about what these thoughts mean to you and mean to me, otherwise we could not communicate.

Yes. I mean to try to show that the problems you face as a naturalist with qualia also come into our propositonal lives. The idea that you can come "near enough" to physicalism by saying that you can functionalize our propositional life but not qualia is, I think a mistake. The difference between the two is that one could chalk up qualia to a "user illusion," but you can't eliminate our propositional life without undermining science.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor, What in your opinion is the connection between experience and propositions? Is the existence of propositions sufficient or necessary for experience?

It would only help your case against naturalism to clarify this distinction, even if you ultimately think the two are intimately connected. Naturalists have problems with logical/mathematical truths (in virtue of facts are they true?), and experience (why should we think a chunk of complicated matter can experience anything?).

Mushing the problems together undermines the argument because it comes off as sloppy and sort of lawyery (if that isn't an adjective, it should be :)).

Darek Barefoot said...


Maybe the similarities that Victor is arguing for can be understood in terms of Searle's Chinese Room.

Suppose the man in the room exchanges messages calling for logical analysis. He receives the message, "If Jones has never been to China, can he ever have stood on the Great Wall?" He sends back the reply, "Since the Great Wall is in China, if Jones has never been to China he has not stood on the Great Wall." But the man in the room is not giving a rational answer to the extent that he doesn't understand the question or respond because certain premises demand a conclusion. Rather, he manipulates symbols according to a rule book. The cause of his response is the graphic features of the ideograms he has received and the mechanical rules he follows, not the propositional content of the ideograms. His of conscious awareness--or lack of it--of the meaning of the messages determines whether or not his response is rational in terms of the content of the messages.

Now suppose the message comes in, "I hate men in Chinese Rooms, so I am about to dispatch you with my 9 mm automatic." The man in the room sends back a message pleading for his life, but he has no conscious awareness of his peril or experience of fear. The qualia that accompany fear cannot be the cause of the plaintiveness of the man's message, because the cause of the message is the rule book for processing ideograms.

In other words, the causal tyranny of the mechanical rules followed by the man in the Chinese Room erases the causal role of rationality in much the same way that it erases the causal role of qualia.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Or it's because his concepts of 'china' etc are not activated by the pictograms, and these concepts can be accounted for without appeal to qualia, even if such concepts are contingently associated with certain qualia (e.g., fear, images of the Chinese flag).

Again, these waters seem very muddy to me. My question is very basic: is the claim that propositions are necessary, sufficient, both, or neither, for qualia? Or something else.

To pick one example, it intuitively seems that twinearthers would have identical qualia but different propositional contents. Is this important? If not, why not?

Darek Barefoot said...


The waters are not exactly clear to me either.

It seems to me that animals, for example, have qualia because they experience sensations. But animals do not entertain propositions. However, I find it problematic that a mind could entertain propositions without consciousness, and therefore without qualia of some kind occuring.

As for the twin earth arguments, I may be just too unsteeped in philosophy to judge their worth. The classic case is that there could be a substance that has all the physical characteristics of water without being H2O, called for the sake of argument XYZ. So that if someone on twin earth referred to water, they would really be referring to something different than we would. However, they would be referring to a substance (XYZ) with all the sensible physical characteristics of water. Does this argument prove something about propositions that affects the AfR? If it does, I don't see how it does.

Whatever the worth of H20 versus XYZ, propositions are abstractions without physical properties. Yet only that which possesses physical properties can affect the brain as a purely physical system. Hence the AfR.