Thursday, 14 September 2017

David Kelley on John Searle’s Philosophy of Mind

David Kelley's review of John Searle’s Mind: A Brief Introduction is worth reading. As the review’s title, “Still Deferring to Descartes?”, indicates, Kelley’s main point is that even though Searle is a prominent critic of Cartesian dualism, he is not fully free of Cartesianism. Some kind of dualism is there in Searle’s philosophy of mind.

Kelley points out that several contemporary thinkers, who reject Cartesian dualism, accept an amended dualistic view which is called “property dualism.” Property dualism “holds that while there is only one entity in the equation—the brain or, in some versions, the person—that entity has both mental and physical properties, and those properties are as radically distinct as Descartes alleged.”

In his book, Searle says that mental states are ontologically irreducible to neural states, but they are causally reducible. But this can lead to the conclusion that consciousness is simply a byproduct of brain's evolution—consciousness is real but it is causally inert. However, Kelley clarifies that this is not Searle’s position.

In several chapters of his book, Searle discusses “the nature of deliberate rational action, the possibility of free will, and the nature of the self, and in each of these areas he seems to attribute a vital causal role to consciousness.”

Searle’s argument is that when people choose between alternatives, make decisions and take action, they act with a sense of “I.” They have a first person awareness of themselves as subjects of experience and as agents of action.

Kelley says that he is impressed by Searle’s argument that consciousness plays a causal role in human action. Here's an excerpt from Kelley's review:

“The unity of a person’s field of awareness, which allows him to bring rival goals and diverse information to bear on a decision, is something the person himself experiences but is not observable from the outside. The same is true of the difference we experience between our sense of agency when we act for a reason and the sense of passivity when we are moved by outside factors or by inner compulsions. Yet Searle also holds, as we saw, that the causal role of consciousness is nothing over and above the causal role of the neural substrate.”

Even though Kelley does not directly say that Searle is a property dualist, it is clear that Searle’s ideas are very close to property dualism. Kelley ends his review with praise for Searle’s work:

“Searle’s work in the philosophy of mind is at once a major contribution to philosophy and a crucial framework for interpreting neurobiology. Across a wide range of issues, Searle is insightful, well-informed, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Mind: A Brief Introduction can be read with profit by anyone studying mind and brain from the perspective of virtually any discipline. It is an introduction that will open doors.”

Like Kelley, Edward Feser also finds some kid of dualism in Searle’s philosophy of mind. In his paper, “Why Searle Is a Property Dualist,” Feser argues that Searle’s anti-materialist arguments in philosophy of mind entail property dualism. According to Feser, property dualism is unavoidable in the way in which Searle describes his theory of biological naturalism. 

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