Monday, 30 October 2017

On Elizabeth Anscombe’s Modern Moral Philosophy

Elizabeth Anscombe, in her essay, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” argues that the secular approaches to moral theory, like Mill’s utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, are without any foundation.

She holds that utilitarianism leads one to endorsing evil deeds, while Kantian ethics, with its notion of self-legislation, is incoherent. At the essay’s outset she says: “Concepts of obligation, and duty — moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say — and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of "ought," ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it.”

She suggests that unless there is a divine entity, the concepts such as “morally ought,” “morally obligated,” “morally right,” cannot be justified. A moral theory, she holds, requires a legislator to legislate what is morally right. In her view the modern ethical philosophers are making a mistake when they talk about actions that are “morally right or morally wrong,” but fail to define the entity which promulgates the moral law.

According to Anscombe, without the idea of divine, the concept of “morally right and morally wrong” is meaningless. She posits that the secular philosophers should use terms such as “untruthful,” “unchaste,” “unjust.” Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

“I should judge that Hume and our present-day ethicists had done a considerable service by showing that no content could be found in the notion "morally ought"; if it were not that the latter philosophers try to find an alternative (very fishy) content and to retain the psychological force of the term. It would be most reasonable to drop it. It has no reasonable sense outside a law conception of ethics; they are not going to maintain such a conception; and you can do ethics without it, as is shown by the example of Aristotle. It would be a great improvement if, instead of "morally wrong," one always named a genus such as "untruthful," "unchaste," "unjust." We should no longer ask whether doing something was "wrong," passing directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should ask whether, e.g., it was unjust…”

However, Anscombe is not saying that only religious thinkers are entitled to talk about what is morally right and what one morally ought to do. Her view simply is that the “morally ought” is often used by secular philosophers in a way that makes no sense. She says that it will be better if the philosophers use the word “just.”

Anscombe's “Modern Moral Philosophy” has influenced the development of virtue ethics in the past few decades. It is noteworthy that the term "consequentialism" was first coined by her in this essay. She uses this term to describe the central errors in secular moral philosophies, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Communists Love Rolex Watches

Castro lights a cigar as Khrushchev is amused looking at him wearing two Rolex watches, at the Kremlin, 1963.


Friday, 27 October 2017

The Cradle of Western Thought: Ionia

Frederick Copleston, in A History of Philosophy (Volume I: Greece and Rome), represents early Greek philosophic thought as the ultimate product of the ancient Ionian civilization. Here's a quote from Chapter II, "The Cradle of Western Thought: Ionia":
"Although it is undeniable that Greek philosophy arose among a people whose civilization went back to the pre-historic times of Greece, what we call early Greek philosophy was “early” only in relation to the subsequent Greek philosophy and the flowering of the Greek thought and culture on the mainland; in relation to the preceding centuries of Greek development it may be looked on rather as the fruit of a mature civilization, marking the closing period of Ionian greatness on the one hand and ushering in on the other hand the splendor of Hellenic, particularly of Athenian, culture."

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism

Quine has argued that Aristotelian essentialism is a "metaphysical jungle," and it is incapable of being made into a sensible doctrine. He posits that the essence of a thing depends on the point of view of the perceiver—there can be as many essences of an object as there are points of view from which the object can be examined.

Douglas B. Rasmussen, in his article, “Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism,” offers a criticism of Quine’s concerns regarding Aristotelian essentialism. Rasmussen holds that the criteria in terms of which the essence of an object is determined consists of these three elements:

1. An essence is that without which a being cannot exist.
2. It is that which differentiates a being from other beings.
3. It is that in terms of which a being can be grouped with other beings into a class.

According to Rasmussen, Quine’s “Kantian turn” is responsible for his wrong notion of Aristotelian essentialism. Rasmussen writes: “Quine holds with Kant that our knowledge is structured by our conceptual system and thus we cannot know what things really are.”

Rasmussen notes that Quine’s rejection of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is based on his conceptual pragmatism whereby he expands the idea of truths based on meaning to truth itself being determined by one’s conceptual system.  In other words, truths based on fact become dependent on the interpretation that a conceptual system provides. Truth understood in this manner can tell us only about reality as interpreted by us, not reality as it is.

In contrast to Quine’s Kantian view, the Aristotelian view holds that there is a “difference between the mode of human cognition and the content of human cognition, and it is not necessary that the two be identical in order to claim that such cognition can know what things really are… [S]imply because concepts/words must be employed when we know or talk about X does not mean that we cannot know what X really is or that talk of what X really is is (somehow) meaningless.”

Rasmussen argues that knowledge of the world that exists can be attained. This knowledge is attained through awareness, and it is not confined to “inner states” of  awareness. “There is no Cartesian question regarding the existence of an “external” world or doubt as to our ability to know it.” Therefore it is possible to identify what features of an entity are essential and what are not. An object’s essence can be expressed on basis of the knowledge that is available. 

A Comparison Between Quine and Russell

W. T. Jones offers an interesting overview of Willard Van Orman Quine’s philosophy in Chapter 13 of his A History of Western Philosophy (Volume V: The Twentieth Century To Quine and Derrida). In the last section of the chapter, he compares Quine with Bertrand Russell.

Here’s an excerpt:
There are many close affinities between [Quine’s] position and that of Russell. They were not only both leading figures in the development of modern logic, they also both employed the methods of logic to deal with fundamental philosophical issues. In particular, they both employed logical analysis as a device for eliminating—as far as possible—unwanted abstract, or otherwise peculiar, entities. In this respect, Quine’s “On What There Is” can, in a large part, be read as a continuation of the project launched by Russell in “On Denoting.”  
But even if Russell and Quine often make a similar use of logical methods in dealing with ontological issues, their positions are profoundly opposed in other important respects. Most significantly, they have opposed views concerning meaning. Along with other classical analytic philosophers, Russell thought that it made sense to inquire into the meaning of a specific proposition. Propositions expressed in ordinary language may be vague or ambitious, and their grammatical form may disguise their logical form, but, still, there was nothing wrong in asking what an individual proposition meant, and it was the business of the philosopher to answer just such questions. Logical atomism is the clearest example of philosophy operating under these assumptions.  
Quine, in contrast, is wholly opposed to an atomistic conception of propositional meaning. The logical atomist believed that, down deep, determinate meanings can be found. The persistent theme in Quine’s writings is indeterminacy—indeterminacy of reference translation, indeterminacy of  translation, and so on. In place of the radical atomism found in the writings of Russell and the early Wittgenstein, Quine embraced an equally radical version of holism.  
According to W. T. Jones, the innovation that Quine brought to philosophy consists of his combination of momism (with its strong indeterminist implications) with austere commitments to an extensionalist logic and a physicalist ontology. Jones says that no other analytic philosopher before Quine has thought of developing such a combination. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Henry Veatch on the Notion of Analytic Truth

Henry Veatch, in his book Intentional Logic: A Logic Based on Philosophical Realism, gives several arguments to challenge the notion of analytic truth. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3, "Mathematical Logic and Intentionality," in which Veatch is trying to show that the analytic propositions, which are certified by reference to the meanings of the terms used and require no reference to experience or to matters of fact, cannot be defended:
Everyone is familiar with Kant’s celebrated examples of the two different types of propositions. Thus, as he thought, “Every body is extended” is clearly analytic, whereas “Every body is heavy” is just as clearly synthetic. Unfortunately, in contemplating these examples, we cannot but wonder whether, if Kant were a successful teacher of philosophy, as no doubt he was, he actually followed the now current practice of the profession of ever inflicting upon his students his own ideas and theories. It has been my experience that although professorial expositors of Kant do not seem to have too much difficulty with his examples of analytic and synthetic propositions, students, particularly if they be comparatively unsophisticated, almost invariably do. 
Thus they will insist that to them “heaviness” is just as much a part or what they mean by “body” as is “extension.” If the professor counters with the suggestion that they would never have known that heaviness pertained to physical bodies, had they not observed them to be heavy simply as a matter of fact, the recalcitrant students are likely to respond that they would never have known that extension pertained to the very notion of body without having observed physical bodies to be in fact extended.  
In short, however sound the distinction between analytic and synthetic may happen to be in principle, it would seem to be extremely difficult to apply in practice. Nor will it do to try to make the distinction clearer by suggesting that analytic propositions are those which are a priori, whereas synthetic propositions arc empirical. As we have already noted, it is the distinction between the analytic and synthetic which is usually offered as a criterion pf the distinction between the a priori and the empirical. Other wise, how can one be sure that a given proposition really is a priori and not based on experience? To be sure, one might have a sort of feeling or “hunch” that certain propositions are a priori. But hunches, particularly among philosophers, are notably unreliable. Hence there would seem to be no other definitive criterion of a priori certainty than the fact that in any a priori proposition the predicate must be presumed to be contained analytically in the subject.

"Fight of the Century": Keynes vs. Hayek Rap Battle Round Two

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Teleology: Inorganic and Organic

In his essay, “Teleology: Inorganic and Organic,” David S. Oderberg examines the extent to which teleology can be found in the inorganic world. He argues that while there is no immanent causation in inorganic world, the non-living things follow the concept of function, which in the broadest sense is “any natural specific activity of a power or capacity of a thing."

Oderberg says that while the idea of teleology in the world of non-living things may seem bizarre, the alternative viewpoint is even more so. It is not logical, he says, to believe that “there should be full-blooded teleology in the organic world, while the rest of the universe was a blooming, buzzing realm of wholly non-functional events.” His argues that teleology in the organic world should be regarded as a basis for there being teleology in the inorganic world.

Here's an excerpt from Oderberg's essay:
The banishment of teleology from the natural world during the early modern period is something from which philosophy has still not fully recovered. This period saw the almost wholesale rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics, and with it the ‘final causes’ that are a central part of that worldview. It is not merely that final causes were replaced by a mechanistic picture of nature bolstered by newtonian physics and general corpuscularianism, but that final causes and the Aristotelian ‘baggage’ associated with them were shunned with an almost visceral distaste bordering, it seems to me, on the pathological.  
One need only look at the hostility shown by Thomas Hobbes, at the end of Leviathan, to the ‘barbarisms’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘darkness’ of the ‘vain philosophy’ that allegedly permeated the schools, serving no other purpose than to maintain and enhance the power of the ‘Roman clergy’ and the Pope at the expense of the civil government. No less hostility, though expressed in slightly more measured tones, is found in Locke, Hume and Descartes. ‘Occult’ qualities and mysterious ‘substantial forms’ are out; law-governed mechanism is in. The idea that all objects have a natural tendency to some kind of motion or behaviour characteristic of their essence is interpreted as illicit mentalism: material objects do not ‘endeavour’ to go to the centre of the earth when dropped, ‘as if stones and metals had a desire, or could discern the place they would be at, as man does’. That this was an egregious misreading of Aristotle did nothing to dampen the re of animosity towards all things teleological.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Hayek, Popper and The Causal Theory of The Mind

In his essay, “Hayek, Popper and The Causal Theory of The Mind,” Edward Feser presents an account of F. A. Hayek's and Karl Popper’s philosophy of mind.

Hayek has a mechanistic conception of nature, but he brings evolutionary biology in his theory of the mind. Therefore his worldview cannot be regarded as strictly mechanical. But Karl Popper rejects the mechanical worldview. He is a Cartesian dualist.

Towards the end of his essay, Feser offers an alternative to the mechanistic worldview. Here’s an excerpt:

“There is also the question of what alternative view one ought to take if one rejects Hayek’s causal theory of the mind and any other essentially materialist position. Popper’s response was to embrace Cartesian dualism. Putnam’s (1994, p. 69) is to opt for pragmatism, though he acknowledges that the considerations he raises against the causal theorist are ‘‘grist for the mill of a possible latter-day Aristotelian metaphysics.’’ My own view is that this is precisely what is called for – that the mind-body problem, whose origins lay in the early moderns’ anti- Aristotelian revolution, can only be resolved (or dissolved) by a neo-Aristotelian restoration. Naturally, I am talking about a return to Aristotelian metaphysics, not Aristotelian science. Unfortunately, not all writers on these issues are careful to make this distinction.”

In his essay Feser is essentially making a case for going beyond the Humean theories and embracing some kind of Aristotelian conception of causality. Overall, this is a good article for understanding Hayek's philosophy of the mind. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Adler’s Cartesian Argument for Refuting Artificial Intelligence

In How to Speak How to Listen, Mortimer J. Adler offers a good exposition of two aspects of communication that are often ignored by our education system—speaking and listening.

He also offers in the book a perspective on several controversial areas of philosophy. For instance, in Chapter 14, “Conversation in Human Life,” Adler uses Descartes’s idea that only human beings can hold a conversation to counter the arguments of the exponents of Artificial Intelligence. Here’s an excerpt:  
This century has also seen the production of computerlike machines that are eulogistically referred to as artificial-intelligence machines. Their inventors and exponents claim for them that they will soon be able to do everything that the mind enables human beings to do. Their claim goes further than predicting that these machines will someday simulate characteristically human performances of all sorts, such as reading and writing, listening and speaking, as well as calculating, problem solving, and decision making. It predicts that the machine performance of these operations will be indistinguishable from the human performance of them.

Three centuries ago, a famous French philosopher, Rene Descartes, countered this prediction by asserting that there would always remain at least one thing that would separate the performance of machines from that of human beings. This one thing, which machines would never be able to simulate so successfully that machine and human performance would be indistinguishable, Descartes said, was conversation. For him that was the acid test of the radical difference in kind between humans and brutes as well as between men and machines.

In Part V of his Discourse on Method, Descartes conceded that intricate machines might be constructed to simulate successfully the performance of other animals—brutes by virtue of their lack of intellect, reason, or the power of conceptual thought. If there were machines possessing the I: organs and outward form of a monkey or some other animal without reason, Descartes agreed that "we would not have any means of ascertaining that they were not of the same nature as those animals." And in another place he wrote:

It is a very remarkable fact that there are none so depraved or stupid, without even excepting idiots, that they cannot arrange different words together, forming of them a statement by which they can make known their thoughts; while, on the other hand, there is no other animal, however perfect and fortunately circumstanced it may be, which can do the same...
This does not merely show that the brutes have less reason than men, but that they have none at all, since it is clear that very little is required in order to be able to talk...
 
A central thesis in the philosophy of Descartes was that matter cannot think. It was, therefore, quite consonant with the whole tenor of his thought to use machines—purely material mechanisms—as a challenge to his materialistic opponents. Here is the passage in which he hurls that challenge at them. I quote only the first part of it.

If there were machines which bore a resemblance to our body and imitated our actions so far as it was morally [i.e., practically] possible to do so, we should always have two very certain tests by which to recognize that, for all that, they were not real men.
The first is that they could never use speech or other signs as we do when placing our thought on record for the benefit of others. For we can easily understand a machine's being constituted so that it can utter words, and even emit some responses to action on it of a corporeal kind, which brings about a change in its organs; for instance, if it is touched in a particular part, it may ask what we wish to say to it; if in another part, it may exclaim that it is being hurt and so on. But it [could] never happen that it [would] arrange its speech in various ways, in order to reply appropriately to everything that may be said in its presence, as even the lowest type of man can do.
What Descartes is here saying, as I understand it, stresses the almost infinite flexibility and variety of human conversation. If over a long period of time two human beings were continuously engaged in two-way talk with one another, interrupted only by brief periods of sleep, it would be impossible to predict with certainty what turns such conversation would take, what interchanges would occur, what questions would be asked, what answers would be given. 
It is precisely this unpredictability that makes human conversation something that programmed machinery will never be able to simulate in a manner that renders it indistinguishable from human performance. The twentieth-century revision of Descartes's dictum, that matter cannot think, is as follows: all the wizardry of man's technology will never be able to shape matter into truly thinking machines.

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science
Armand Marie Leroi 
Bloomsbury

Aristotle is known primarily as a philosopher, but in The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science Armand Marie Leroi shows that he was also a great scientist who has illuminated almost every facet of our science. Aristotle’s main scientific contributions are in the field of biology.

The idea of Aristotle being regarded as a scientist may come as a surprise to some readers because past thinkers like Francis Bacon have portrayed Aristotle as a major obstacle to science. Even modern scholars like Peter Medawar (who is a Nobel Laureate in physiology and medicine) have held Aristotle’s science in scorn. Medawar credits (and celebrates) Bacon for having contributed more than anyone else towards the destruction of Aristotle’s reputation.

But Leroi points out that Bacon had a complex agenda for propagating the idea that Aristotle is intrinsically anti-scientific. Here’s an excerpt:

“[Bacon], wanted to paint the Philosopher in the colors of the quarrelsome scholastics, contrast their intemperate disputations with the new, civil kind of scientific discourse that he envisioned (but that his own writings hardly exemplify) and indict Aristotle for injustice towards the true scientific heroes of antiquity the phisiologoi.”

There was another reason behind Bacon’s aversion to Aristotle and Aristotelianism. His view of the purpose of science and its proper object of study was different from the view held by Aristotle.  Bacon demanded a new, mechanistic natural philosophy underpinned by a unified physics that would explain the movements of both natural and artificial objects.

Bacon saw no value in the complex theories of biology which Aristotle had developed—he preferred a mechanistic model of life. The idea of mechanistic view of life was further developed by Descartes, who, unlike Aristotle, held that animals and plants are merely machines.

In his book, Leroi makes it wonderfully clear that Aristotle has developed the method and the rules which continue to dominate philosophy, politics and natural science till this day. He credits Aristotle with inventing the science of biology. However, Leroi has nothing nice to say about Aristotle’s teacher, Plato. He says,“Plato’s science is barely distinguishable from theology.”

But there is theology in Aristotle too, and Leroi acknowledges it. In the chapter, “Kosmos,” Leroi writes, “I have kept Aristotle’s theos in the shadows. It may even be that I have done so deliberately; that I have been reluctant to reveal the degree to which my hero’s scientific system is riddled with religion. Yet it is.”

Leroi’s standpoint on the aspects of the Aristotelian corpus that he is willing to explore in his book is understandable—he wants to keep the concentrate on Aristotle’s biology and therefore he is keen to avoid Aristotle’s theology. In many respects Aristotle’s writing on biological issues is anachronistic but Leroi provides the historical and cultural context behind what Aristotle is saying.

The focus of Leroi’s book is not so much on Aristotle’s specific biological theories but on his method of exploring the natural world. Aristotle loved the facts that he derived through a direct observation of the natural world. He dissects all kinds of birds and animals to learn about their internal organs. From fish to birds, to hyenas and elephants—Aristotle is interested in everything.  

Much of Aristotle’s science is not descriptive—rather it consists of his answers to hundreds of questions. “Why do fishes have fills and not lungs? Fins but not legs? Why do pigeons have a crop and elephants a trunk? Why do eagles lay so few eggs, fish so many, why are sparrows so salacious? What is it with bees, anyway? And the camel?”

It is clear that Aristotle’s method is different from that of Plato, who believed that transcendental truth can only be discovered when we learn to ignore our natural observations. Aristotle rejects the Platonic idea of transcendental truth. For him, the ultimate truth is what he can observe with through the means of his own senses.

Aristotle developed his biological ideas mainly during the two years that he spent on the lagoon on the island of Lesbos. However, in his works he also uses the evidence that he gathers from other scholars, fishermen and many others. According to Leroi, Aristotle has made 9,000 distinct empirical claims in the Historia animalium.

Leroi offers a fascinating comparison between Aristotle’s method and that of Darwin. He points out that the struggle of existence between different creatures that Aristotle has described is almost Darwinian in its essence. In the chapter, “The Stone Forest,” Leroi spectates why Aristotle did not come up with some kind of a theory of evolution because it is obvious that he is struggling towards such a theory.

According to Leroi, there is a fundamental difference between Aristotle and Darwin. Aristotle’s view of the creatures in the natural world is not evolutionarily; it is static. When he talks about nature making small steps he means it in a static sense—that one can observe fine gradations between forms. Whereas, Darwin asserts that species can dynamically transform in a gradual sense.

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science is a good appreciation of the Aristotelian tradition. The book offers an interesting and detailed account of Aristotle’s biology. In the first chapter, “At Erato,” Leroi writes: “Ask Aristotle: what, fundamentally, exists? He would not say – as a modern biologist might – ‘go ask a physicist’; he’d point to a cuttlefish and say – that.” It is worth noting that Plato, with his focus on transcendental truth, would never have said something like this.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Aristotle on The Position of The Heart

Aristotle’s teleology is riddled with value judgements. He uses the concept of "honor" to explain why the heart is located in a certain region of the human body. Here’s an excerpt from Armand Marie Leroi’s The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science:
[Aristotle] says that the position of the heart in the middle of the body is dictated by its embryonic origins. But it is also located more above than below and more before than behind, ‘For nature when allocating places puts more honourable things in more honourable positions, unless something more important prevents this’ — the language suggests the seating plan at a dinner. One may wonder why, then, the human heart (actually its apex) is located on the inferior left, but Aristotle has inserted a caveat — ‘when nature does nothing…’ — and gives a patently ad hoc explanation that it’s needed there to ‘balance the cooling of things on the left’. He thinks, of course, that the right hand side of the body being more honourable, is hotter than the left, and that this is especially so in humans, and so the heart has to shift to compensate for the left’s relative coolness.
Leroi points out that Platonic influence is most obvious when Aristotle considers man. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Why Did Aristotle Leave Plato’s Academy

Why did Aristotle suddenly leave Athens in 348 or 347 BC? In his book The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science Armand Marie Leroi says that there are at least two accounts which attempt to explain why. Here's an excerpt:
In the first he leaves out of pique. For twenty years he’s worked in Plato’s Academy. His colleagues call him ‘The Reader’, but he’s original too. Perhaps too original. Plato, with a hint of asperity, called him ‘The Foal’ — he meant that Aristotle kicked his teachers as a foal kicks its dam. Aelian, writing centuries later, tells a story that isn’t particularly to Aristotle’s credit and hints of a power-struggle at the Academy. One day the elderly Plato, doddery and no longer that sharp, is wandering in the Academy’s gardens when he comes across Aristotle and his gang who give him a philosophical mugging. Plato retreats indoors and Aristotle’s posse occupies the garden for months. Speusippus is useless against the usurpers, but Xenocrates, another loyalist, finally gets them to move on. Who knows if this is true; but it is certain that when Plato died the top job didn’t go to Aristotle but rather to Speusippus and that, coincidently or not, this is when Aristotle heads east.  
In another version, politics rather than pique causes Aristotle to flee. Aristotle has close connections to the Macedonian court. Amyntas’ son, Philip II, is flexing his military muscles in the Greek hinterland. He’s just razed Olynthus, an ally of Athens, to the ground and sold its citizenry — along with a garrison of Athens’ soldiers — into slavery. In Athens, Demosthenes is rousing the citizenry to new heights of xenophobia; Aristotle gets out while he can.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Rediscovery of The Mind

The Rediscovery of The Mind
John R. Searle 
The MIT Press

In The Rediscovery of The Mind, John Searle elaborates the arguments against the materialists and the dualists that he has been making for more than two decades. In the course of the book, he shows that both materialism and dualism are profoundly mistaken and we need a new approach for explaining the nature of the mind.

The problems in materialism and dualism, according to Searle, start with their acceptance of a certain vocabulary and with it a set of assumptions. He points out that the vocabulary is obsolete and the assumptions are false. His arguments are directed against materialism, because he believes dualism is no longer relevant. He says that it is now widely accepted that dualism is inconsistent with a scientific worldview. However, he has argued extensively against dualist doctrines in his earlier works.

He identifies seven propositions which, he says, form the foundations of modern materialism. Here’s the list:

(1) Where the scientific study of the mind is concerned, consciousness and its special features are of rather minor importance. (2) Science is objective. (3) Because reality is objective, the best method in the study of the mind is to adopt the objective or third-person point of view. (4) From the third-person, objective point of view, the only answer to the epistemological question 'How would we know about the mental phenomena of another system?' is: We know by observing its behavior. (5) Intelligent behavior and causal relations to intelligent behavior are in some way the essence of the mental. (6) Every fact in the universe is in principle knowable and understandable by human investigators. (7) The only things that exist are ultimately physical, as the physical is traditionally conceived, that is, as opposed to the mental."

Searle shows that each of these seven propositions is false and the total picture that they present is not only unscientific, it is also incoherent.

He offers a simple solution for the mind-body problem: “Mental phenomena are caused by neurophysiological processes in the brain and are themselves features of the brain.” Therefore he believes that while consciousness and mental are real, they are caused by biological, neurological, and so physical processes. This sounds similar to epiphenomenalism, but Searle tries to avoid the use of this term. He prefers to call his theory “biological naturalism.”

While attacking the materialist arguments, he challenges the view that consciousness does not exist as a private and subjective phenomena. He finds the idea that consciousness must be an observable third-person phenomena unacceptable.

If this book is right, then the greatest motivation of the materialists is their terror of consciousness. Searle asserts that the materialists cannot accept consciousness as just another material property among others. He writes, “The deepest reason for the fear of consciousness is that consciousness has the essentially terrifying feature of subjectivity. Materialists are reluctant to accept that feature because they believe that to accept the existence of subjective consciousness would be inconsistent with their conception of what the world must be like.”

He says that consciousness can be illustrated through examples—“When I wake up from a dreamless sleep. I enter a state of consciousness, a state that continues as long as I am awake. When I go to sleep or am put under a general anaesthetic or die, my conscious states cease.” He sees consciousness as an on/off switch—which means that a system is either consciousness or not. Also, there are degrees of consciousness, and one can’t be just conscious, because consciousness is always consciousness of something.

This is how Searle explains the place of consciousness within our world view: “Consciousness, in short, is a biological feature of human and certain animal brains. It is caused by neurobiological processes and is as much a part of the natural biological order as any other biological features such as photosynthesis, digestion, or mitosis.”

I think one of the highlights of this book is the arguments that Searle offers to show that the mind as a computer program theory is not just imperfect, it is totally absurd. He gives two main reasons. Firstly, all mental phenomena are ether actually or potentially conscious. But the materialists are unable to deal with conscious experience—so they either ignore it or identify it with something (like a computer program) which has no consciousness.

Secondly, in essence the computers (which do not have mind) are machines which run programs, process information, manipulate symbols, answer questions, and so on because they have been constructed by human beings, who have minds, and are capable of interpreting the operations of the computers. But when we claim that the brain is a computer program, we are implying that a mind can interpret what a brain does—therefore the idea of explaining mind in terms of a computer program is incoherent.

In the book’s final section, Searle says: “In spite of our modern arrogance about how much we know, in spite of the assurance and universality of our science, where the mind is concerned we are characteristically confused and in disagreement. Like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, we grasp onto some alleged feature and pronounce it the essence of the mental.” I think in The Rediscovery of The Mind Searle is unable to clear the confusions and disagreements—but he provides a good account of the issues which give rise to the confusions and disagreements. 

Thursday, 5 October 2017

7 Good Literary Insults

“Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch.” ~ William Shakespeare in King Lear 

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake

“I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.” ~ Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest

"I feel like getting married, or committing suicide, or subscribing to L'Illustration. Something desperate, you know.” ~ Albert Camus in A Happy Death

“This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion!” ~ John Kennedy Toole in A Confederacy of Dunces

“I told him he didn’t even care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row or not, and the reason he didn’t care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. He hated it when you called him a moron. All morons hate it when you call them a moron.” ~ J.D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye

"Thou wretch! - thou vixen! - thou shrew!" said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding, "thou witch! - thou hag! - thou whipper-snapper! - thou sink of iniquity - thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable! - thou - thou-“ ~ Edgar Allan Poe in Loss of Breath