Upcoming Dennett speech

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Daniel Dennett, author of such brilliant books as Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained, will be giving the W.D. Hamilton Memorial Lecture at the University of New England in April.

77 Comments

Is that The University of New England in New South Wales, Australia? or The University of New England which has two separate campuses in Maine, USA?

These sorts of details can be important before lining up airline tickets, etc.

Thanks,

Yes, and if you would click on the link provided, you would learn this helpful information.

So many keystrokes, so little time.

your link

New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology 4th Annual William D. Hamilton Memorial Lecture

Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Daniel C. Dennett

April 29, 2005 at 7:00 PM CHP Room, Parker Pavilion Westbrook College Campus University of New England, 716 Stevens Avenue, Portland, Maine.

(abstract omitted)

I just rolled my eyes so hard my glasses fell off.

I disagree with almost everything Dennett says, but I never miss an opportunity to hear him say it. I’ve been to several of his papers at the APA, and he is without a doubt one of the most entertaining people to listen to.

This is my first post on this board, and I don’t know anyone knowledgeable on the subject, so can anyone tell me how “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” was received among Darwinists? I know that “Consciousness Explained” (more aptly titled “Consciousness Explained Away”) met with harsh criticism from the Phil. of Mind community.

It’s been a few years since I read it, but I thought he was pretty much on the mark about the implications of Darwinism. I also thought he did a very good job of dismantling Roger Penrose’s pretentiously titled The Emperor’s New Mind.

This is my first post on this board, and I don?t know anyone knowledgeable on the subject, so can anyone tell me how ?Darwin?s Dangerous Idea? was received among Darwinists?

Rather well, although Stephen Jay Gould wasn’t too thrilled, of course.

I know that “Consciousness Explained” (more aptly titled “Consciousness Explained Away”) met with harsh criticism from the Phil. of Mind community.

The dingbat dualist philosophers of the Phil. of Mind community, who ascribe to vitalism, essentialism, and other forms of nonsense don’t like Dennett – no kidding; I wouldn’t pay much attention to those folks, who are to “mind” about where creationists are to “life”. Their “harsh criticism” didn’t go much farther than silly slogans like your “Consciousness Explained Away”. But the cognitive scientists, neurophysiologists, and others with proper grounding in the material universe thought rather highly of it – of course, since it reflected their work. CE is actually a bit old hat by now – Dennett made some very hedged predictions in CE which have turned out to be true in considerably stronger form than even he imagined, and there’s been a lot of groundbreaking work since then, largely consistent with the view he espoused.

Funnily enough I’ve just got through reading Consciousness Explained and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. I thought they were both excellent, but then I’m not a scientist so my view counts for little. He’s surely right though to mock the idea that there could be a “zombie” which has all the neural wiring of a “human”, but isn’t conscious.

I’m debating reading The Intentional Stance. Anyone here got an opinion on it?

ts, have you got any more up to date reading suggestions for Dennettesque models of consciousness? Who’s doing the most productive research in this field at the moment? I’ve read Jackendoff’s Foundations of Language, which takes a similar approach with language production and comprehension.

By “Philosophy of Mind” I certainly did not intend “vitalism, essentialism, and other forms of nonsense.” In fact, it’s quite difficult to find a dualist (Keith Yandell at Ohio State comes to mind), vitalist or essentialist these days. Rather, I meant the phrase to include the likes of functionalism, etc.

Serious thinkers such as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel have criticised Dennett’s approach as an ad hoc redefinition of consciousness. Perhaps you think their writing do not go much beyond “silly slogan’s.” In which case, I must disagree with you.

He’s surely right though to mock the idea that there could be a “zombie” which has all the neural wiring of a “human”, but isn’t conscious.

Well, a person in a coma has all the neural wiring of a human but isn’t conscious. But the notion of a philosophical zombie goes way beyond that. Dualist philosopher David Chalmers claims that a world that is physically identical to this one, but in which his analogue isn’t conscious, is logically possible. But the difference between Chalmers and his zombie twin is nothing physical, nothing characterizable in terms of physical law or observation. The difference is mere assertion, a difference without a distinction.

I’m debating reading The Intentional Stance. Anyone here got an opinion on it?

It’s quite a bit different from the others, because it’s Dennett’s major theoretical philosophical contribution. Dennett’s theory includes three stances or levels of description. The physical stance looks at things in terms of their composition. The design stance looks at things in terms of function; you can apply the design stance to a can opener or a heart, but not a rock. The intentional stance looks at things in terms of rational agents – you can apply it to people and some computer programs, for instance. The value of applying higher level stances is that you can make predictions of a sort not possible at the lower levels. But a person on drugs or with a brain tumor requires the design stance to understand their deviation from rational behavior, and you need to take a physical stance to figure out how many of them you can cram into an elevator.

ts, have you got any more up to date reading suggestions for Dennettesque models of consciousness? Who’s doing the most productive research in this field at the moment?

There’s lots and lots of stuff going on, and I’m no authority, but you might want to look at

Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness by Bernard Baars et. al. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/t[…]d=1108580494

Neural Correlates of Consciousness: Empirical and Conceptual Questions by Thomas Metzinger (ed.) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/t[…]-/0262133709

The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach by Christof Koch http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/t[…]-/0974707708

The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/A[…]d=1108580636

Yes, I was just going to say, if David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel, Saul Kripke, John Searle, and Ned Block are all intellectual equivalents of creationists (not that they are all dualists or vitalists but they all, to some degree, reject Dennett’s functionalism and others’ materialism), then perhaps creationism is in better shape than we loyal Panda’s Thumb readers had previously thought. The other possibility, of course, is that ts is talking out of an orifice other than his mouth.

Serious thinkers such as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel have criticised Dennett?s approach as an ad hoc redefinition of consciousness.

Chalmers and Nagel are both essentialists in re consciousness. As such they are bound to complain that Dennett is “redefining” consciousness or “leaving something out” – but these “criticisms” simply reflect their own metaphysical commitments, rather than reveal any actual error on Dennett’s part.

Yes, I was just going to say, if David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel, Saul Kripke, John Searle, and Ned Block are all intellectual equivalents of creationists (not that they are all dualists or vitalists but they all, to some degree, reject Dennett?s functionalism and others? materialism), then perhaps creationism is in better shape than we loyal Panda?s Thumb readers had previously thought. The other possibility, of course, is that ts is talking out of an orifice other than his mouth.

Rejecting functionalism and materialism – exactly so. The state of Phil. of Mind is largely where biology was before Darwin. That these folks are serious thinkers, hold advanced degrees and chairs, and so on, does not validate their metaphysics. Searle holds a special place as a master of sophism – he claims that his Chinese Room argument is a proof, despite more refutations than just about any other offering in philosophy, including several from Chalmers. Here Larry Hauser rips Searle a new one:

http://members.aol.com/lshauser2/chinabox.html

I was oversimplifying the zombie thing, thanks for the correction. Although it’s probably fair to say that someone in a coma is not neurologicaly the same as someone not in a coma. There’s usually brain damage involved, isn’t there?

Oscar and asg, the point Dennett makes is that while (almost) nobody espouses explicit dualism or vitalism these days, they don’t follow through the logical conclusions of shedding them. Dennett argues, among other things, that the notion of a “central meaner” is as misguided as the pineal gland being the anchor of the mind, for the same reasons.

David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel, Saul Kripke, John Searle, and Ned Block are all intellectual equivalents of creationists (not that they are all dualists or vitalists but they all, to some degree, reject Dennett’s functionalism and others’ materialism), then perhaps creationism is in better shape than we loyal Panda’s Thumb readers had previously thought.

Dream on.

In fact, it’s quite difficult to find a dualist

It’s odd that you would say that and then mention dualist David Chalmers, who hatched so many. Perhaps you just don’t know where to look; try http://www.newdualism.org/

“Searle holds a special place as a master of sophism.…”

Wow. You’d think we were talking about Gish or Dembski and not one of the current giants (say, next to Putnam) in Anglo-American philosophy.

“…he claims that his Chinese Room argument is a proof, despite more refutations than just about any other offering in philosophy.…”

Is “refutations” as you use the term synonymous (assuming you grant synonymy)with “papers written in opposition to”? I’ve read many such papers with arguments against Searle’s Chinese Room experiment, but to call these “refutations” would be to accept the validity of those arguments. I don’t.

Is the issue here a (mistaken) belief that all denials of physicalism (e.g., neuroscientific accounts) pose some unspecified threat to Darwinsim? As far as I can tell, the two topics are distinct.

Chomsky is a giant (the giant?) of linguistics. He’s still wrong about a lot of things.

Wow. You’d think we were talking about Gish or Dembski and not one of the current giants (say, next to Putnam) in Anglo-American philosophy.

What is this, argument by reputation? Among professional philosophers (and most others with personal experience with him), Searle is considered to be a braying ass who doesn’t honor the basic requirements of good faith discourse. And on top of that his arguments are fallacious.

Is “refutations” as you use the term synonymous (assuming you grant synonymy)with “papers written in opposition to”?

Refutations are valid rebuttals.

I’ve read many such papers with arguments against Searle’s Chinese Room experiment, but to call these “refutations” would be to accept the validity of those arguments. I don’t.

So much the worse for you.

Is the issue here a (mistaken) belief that all denials of physicalism (e.g., neuroscientific accounts) pose some unspecified threat to Darwinsim? As far as I can tell, the two topics are distinct.

There’s no “issue”, just a matter of what is true and what is not. And what is this nonsense about “threats”? If there’s a valid argument against Darwinism, any good scientist should embrace it. And I have no idea why you consider neuroscientific accounts to be denials of physicalism – that’s downright bizarre. Or perhaps you are saying that neuroscientific accounts are instances of physicalism – that would be even more bizarre.

There is a relationship between denials of physicalism and Darwinism. The eventual goal of the ID crowd is the overturn of materialism, so they would welcome any argument against physicalism or any sign that biologists don’t accept physicalism. I’m sure the IDists would love to know if some biologists reject the thesis that consciousness evolved through natural selection.

It’s a mere propaganda technique to claim that your favorate hobbyhorse—Dennett’s Philosophy of Mind, Libertarianism, or whatever—is in the same position relative to its critics as Darwinism is to Creationists. Whatever our opinions, can’t we at least agree that the situations in metaphyics and politics and economics are far murkier than the situation in biology where the main facts of evolution have long been established?

It is particularly demented to pretend that anybody has a handle on the best way to talk about mental activity. It isn’t just that there is no consensus on these things. Even those who disagree don’t fall into easily definable camps. Normal science, evidentally, will have to wait developments in a field where phlogiston would probably represent progress.

It?s a mere propaganda technique to claim that your favorate hobbyhorse?Dennett?s Philosophy of Mind, Libertarianism, or whatever?is in the same position relative to its critics as Darwinism is to Creationists.

Not necessarily, and not in this case.

Whatever our opinions, can?t we at least agree that the situations in metaphyics and politics and economics are far murkier than the situation in biology where the main facts of evolution have long been established?

The main facts of functionalism and materialism have long been established – longer, in fact, than has evolution.

It is particularly demented to pretend that anybody has a handle on the best way to talk about mental activity.

That’s a nice bit of ad hominem propaganda, but there is a consensus among cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and so on that the mind is what the brain does, and does not require Chalmers’ “psychophysical laws” or other forms of dualism.

Normal science, evidentally, will have to wait developments in a field where phlogiston would probably represent progress.

There is far more in terms of “normal science” developments concerning brain function and cognition than you seem to be aware of.

Perhaps you should go hear Dennett speak, rather than spout so many content-free cliches.

I’ve read Dennett, who tends to give himself a lot of credit, and lots of other functionalists, who are rather less assertive. I have no quarrel with their research agenda. Maybe they’re right or at least on the right track; but the title of Dennett’s book, Consciousness Explained, remains a check that has yet to clear the bank.

I’m personally inclined to think both that consciousness is an authentic reality, which, for the record, does not commit me or Searle or anybody else to metaphyscial dualism. Indeed, I expect that consciousness has a physical cause and that the mechanism of its production will eventually be elucidated by natural science.

Sneeze.

I’m personally inclined

Why should anyone care what you’re personally inclined to? Talk about giving oneself a lot of credit. At least Dennett, recognized by his peers as one of, if not the, leading American analytical philosopher, and certainly one who has had tremendous influence, deserves a lot of credit.

to think both that consciousness is an authentic reality

As Dennett has noted, people should be able to address the ontology of laps and smiles before making claims about far more difficult cases like consciousness.

ts, you can’t just lambaste the likes of Nagel, Kripke, and Searle, without some sort of substantive “rebuttal” and expect us to take you seriously.

Come on, don’t be shy . … Let us know what you really think.

ts, you can’t just lambaste the likes of Nagel, Kripke, and Searle, without some sort of substantive “rebuttal” and expect us to take you seriously.

Rebuttal of what, exactly? Someone stated that Dennett was criticized for Consciousness Explained – well bully – no substantive criticism was posted here; it seems you’ve got a double standard going. OTOH, I did post a substantive piece by Larry Hauser that ripped Searle to shreds – did you read it, or are you just blowing smoke? Hauser wrote his PhD thesis on the Chinese Room; I’ve located that online at http://members.aol.com/wutsamada/disserta.html It’s an impressive piece of work.

Nagel and Kripke are far more respectable and far more highly regarded in the philosophical community than Searle, who is well known in the lay community because of his bravado and the fact that so many people like the conclusion of his Chinese Room Argument – independent of the argument itself, which is fallacious crap, as Hauser and Chalmers and Dennett and Minsky and numerous other philosophers and computer scientists have demonstrated. But the fact that Nagel and Kripke are respected doesn’t mean that their criticisms of Dennett – and the cognitive science community that he is aligned with – are valid. Kripke is a dualist and Nagel verges on being one, claiming that it’s impossible for us to see how physicalism could be true. Dualism is the position that consciousness is a ghost in the machine – it’s bizarre that biologists or any other natural scientists wouldn’t reject it out of hand as explanatorily insufficient, regardless of the stature of those who promote it.

Here’s a paper that tackles Nagel’s objections to the possibility of a natural explanation of consciousness: http://www.lclark.edu/~clayton/pape[…]iningcs.html

And here’s a paper that addresses, among other things, Kripke’s objections to physicalism: http://www.meta-religion.com/Psychi[…]iousness.htm

In his last post ts helpfully provides the evidence that nobody much agrees about the nature of consciousness at this point. The various critics of Searle don’t agree among themselves either, except to reject the Chinese room bit, which, by the way, isn’t the only idea Searle ever floated. I think he’s pretty sensible on performatives, for example.

Why make a fascinating but exceedinly difficult set of issues into a pissing contest?

Speaking as a scientist, the pissing contest is far more fascinating than the issues themselves. If I want to puff my head out, I read Bowles, Gysin, Borges, Cortazar, Nettlebeck, Celine … you know, people who can actually write.

Yet me take another stab at this. I wrote

I don’t accept that it is possible that non-natural claims “might actually be correct” or that “it was a miracle” could be “the right” explanation.

I then gave an argument (which might, of course, be flawed) to that effect, concluding with

and so “it was a miracle” a priori cannot serve as an explanation of a murder or anything else.

An a priori argument against a claim is an argument that the claim is, ahem, logically impossible. It is silly then, to ignore the argument and ask “Really? How?s that? What logical rule in particular is being violated?”, just as it would be silly to ask of Euclid what logical rule is being violated by the claim that there’s a largest prime – it is by virtue of Euclid’s proof that the claim leads to a contradiction that it is logically impossible. And it would be silly to ask what rule of logic is violated by talk of square circles – square circles are logically impossible because they require contradictory attributes. And David Papineau argues that – on his view – zombies are logically impossible, not because of a “logical rule”, but because conscious states are physical states, and so saying that two beings have identical physical states but different conscious states is contradictory.

For “it’s a miracle” to be the right explanation, it must not just mean something, it must be true. “square circle” means something, but it can’t possibly be true of anything. If, like square circles, there’s nothing to which “miracle” could refer, then “it’s a miracle” can’t be right. And while “it’s a miracle” may mean that the laws of physics that govern the behavior of the universe were suspended, it can’t possibly be true, because the laws of physics don’t govern the behavior of the universe and aren’t the sort of thing that can be “suspended”. Rather, they are just our best description to date of how things go. So the notion that “it’s a miracle” could be right depends upon an erroneous reification of “laws” – taking them too literally as being prescriptive, like human laws, rather than descriptive. What could be right is that an event isn’t consistent with our current understanding of physics, but that’s no explanation of the event – quite the contrary.

Your attempt at clarification seems (to me) to deepen your confusion.

Your initial claim appears to be that the notion of a miracle contradicts something else that is known to be true, say naturalism (it does not cohere with some known truth, and is therefore incoherent). The logical impossibility of miracles, then, depends on the justification of naturalism. Please provide the justification.

“Square circle” means something, but it can’t possibly be true of anything.

This example of logically impossibility, on the other hand, is different from above. The notion of a square circle is [bold]self contradictory[/bold]. And as such, it is meaningless. It does not have a meaning, and therefore, it does not have a reference.

This brings us back to the distinction between sense and reference. A square circle lacks both, and in particular, it lacks reference because it lacks meaning. Meaning is a necessary condition for reference. The word “Miracle” has meaning, but it may not have reference. Furthermore, to have sense is to be possible (see Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, et al.). Your comparison of “miracle” and “square circle” shows a lack of understanding here.

…the laws of physics don’t govern the behavior of the universe and aren’t the sort of thing that can be “suspended”. Rather, they are just our best description to date of how things go.

This is a confusion of the laws of nature with their expression. By “best description” I assume truth is meant, i.e., best in terms of truth. Thus, the expressions of laws are correct or not, and if correct, then they describe something, viz., laws. Were “laws of nature” merely descriptions that cover how things have gone to date, they would not be very useful for making predictions. I suspect that you are (perhaps unwittingly) relying on some version of Humean skepticism concerning causality. The problem with such arguments is that, when carried through, they make science impossible.

TS:

Well, I shall make an effort to be more civil as you are a fellow graduate of my alma mater. I graduated from Hillsdale in 1997 with a B.A. in philosophy. I still think your position needs some constructive refinement, but I shall suggest improvements with a smile from now on.

PJF Wrote:

Part of the point of thinking “philosophically” is to try and set aside those sort of motivators.

Why? I think they are important parts of the ‘data set’ of observations.

ts Wrote:

Free will is not required for rational consideration of the evidence — in fact, rational consideration, and rational decision, is arguably determined by the evidence. Why would we want a decision regarding the facts that was not determined by the facts? And to the degree that decisions are not determined by the facts, in what sense are they rational?

Rationality is only part of the issue - the issue is the freedom of choice. In fact, rational decisions are usually not determined by the evidence: most problems are underdetermined. The rational part comes in assuming that the person you are conversing with is genuinely capable of changing their mind - consciously choosing to hold a different belief. But they’re just as capable of choosing to ignore (or go against) the available evidence - that’s why it is non-determinate. (And that is frequently a good thing, since often the available evidence points in the wrong direction.) You seem to be dismissing irrational decisions as not real decisions - not truly free choices. Is that so? (I don’t think the jump-out-of-the-way-of-a-car example is useful - that’s an instinctive behavior, not a considered one. Unless you’re arguing (or Dennett is) that all decisions are instinctive.)

It’s mechanical sort of freedom, but as we’re (per physicalism) mechanisms, that’s the only sort of freedom we can really have

I don’t know about you, but my experience is not that I only have a mechanical sort of freedom, which is really no freedom at all. I can’t prove it, all I can do is make the claim that arguing that human beings don’t truly have free will is contrary to people’s experience, and to the assumptions we make in dealing with others.

I said, “What would be the point of the law if one rules out free choice?”

To which ts replied,

To deter negative behavior. See www.naturalism.org

That’s remarkable. The only reason for punishing wrongdoers is to deter others? Justice is not involved at all?

I definitely agree that non-natural explanations don’t explain anything, in any relevant or useful way.

That depends upon how you define ‘relevant’ or ‘useful’.

This is well demonstrated by the interaction problem with cartesian dualism — there is no way for non-material “mind” to affect or be affected by anything physical.

Like I said, I don’t really know the latest theories. But I think Cartesian dualism is a straw man, is it not? I don’t have the vocabulary (or the time or energy, for that matter), to discuss this in detail, but my limited understanding of the mind/body problem is not that there is a “Ghost in the machine” a la Decartes, but that the human experience cannot be meaningfully encapsulated by reduction to a particular pattern of neuronal firings.

Useful explanations must be causal, which means they must be natural.

Useful in what sense? For example, I think that the most powerful causal explanation for the spread of Christian belief is that it is, in fact, true that Jesus was resurrected. The most parsimonious explanation for the behavior of his early followers was that they truly believed that he was who he said he was, and that he had, in fact, been resurrected. That doesn’t prove that they were correct, only that it requires more ad hoc assumptions to fit their behaviors into a model where they were deceived or were trying to deceive others. The cause of his bodily resurrection was a supernatural (or non-natural) intervention by God. Thus this explanation is both useful and non-natural (at least in part).

Perhaps you have an entirely materialistic account of the whole scenario. We could then argue (probably ad nauseum) over which explanation was the most ‘useful’. But then you’d have to revise your statement. Or else you can just require an arbitrary condition that all explanations must be naturalistic.

BTW, the article by Thomas W. Clark on naturalism.org is ridiculous. He argues that all behavior is determined in some sense, yet he still argues that we should hold criminals responsible for their behavior:

Some might suppose that dispensing with free will amounts to universal exculpation— that to understand is necessarily to excuse. But, even in the light of science, our moral standards of right and wrong remain intact; we still find murder abhorrent, and we must still protect ourselves from dangerous individuals. Likewise, we can still distinguish the sane from the insane, the immature from the mature, those who act voluntarily from those who act under duress; and so the concept of a responsible agent—an agent that it makes sense to hold responsible in order to shape moral behavior—still has footing, even though all agents are fully determined in their actions.

This is nonsensical - our moral standards of right and wrong depend upon the notion of free will. In his scenario, they emphatically don’t ‘remain intact’. Besides, how can we rationally determine policies that will ‘shape moral behavior’ if ‘all agents are fully determined in their actions’?

Don’t really have much luxury-time to post (it’s not a holiday, here), but I just have to chuck a few things in:

The “motivators” I referred to when I said that part of the point of philosophy was to avoid such things – I mean things like “what we want to believe”, and preferring to believe what we can easily grasp – are not, contrary to what Mike S. suggests, “part of the data set of observations”. They’re not “observations” at all, really. They only refer to ourselves, not the thing in question.

Presented with a bowl of fairly plain, white-colored ice cream, I pretty much have to conclude it’s vanilla. Even if my die-hard preference is for (identically colored) White Rum, MSG and Salt flavor (which I do hope is fictional), it’s just not really justified to believe such. And even if I just plain don’t understand what the hell vanilla is, or how you make icecream out of it, I’m still obliged to admit it’s the better bet. A weird analogy, to be sure, but as I say; I’m rushed.

Methinks you’ve got a pretty bunked-up view of “parsimony”, from what you said about Christianity’s “success” and the matter-of-fact of Christ’s resurrection. It’s not a “simpler” explanation for the success that the resurrection actually happened, because that thesis entails a whole steaming great big tangle of philosophical committments: the existence of God, the personality of God, the dual-natures incarnation of Christ, the theology of the sacrifice and resurrection, etc., etc..

The alternative, naturalistic explanation involves the invocation of no new entities. The process of cultural change isn’t “easy” to follow, sure, but there’s some good work being done (memes and things are handy tools, obviously) and it’s becoming understandable. And we’ve got all sorts of textual history that was done, particularly with the Gospel of Mark (working off the top of my head, here) and its ending, where the ressurection-story is told. We know there’s been a process of textual change, and we can document some of it.

The naturalistic explanation is more detailed than “Christ actually rose from the dead”, but that should be seen as a virtue, really, much more than a vice. In the relevant senses, it is far more parsimonious.

The “motivators” I referred to when I said that part of the point of philosophy was to avoid such things — I mean things like “what we want to believe”, and preferring to believe what we can easily grasp — are not, contrary to what Mike S. suggests, “part of the data set of observations”. They’re not “observations” at all, really. They only refer to ourselves, not the thing in question.

I think we have fundamentally different foundations from which we’re approaching this problem, so we’re not going to get anywhere continuing the discussion. The ‘problem’ I’m saying that ‘how people feel about certain concepts’ is a relevant observation for is ‘what are human beings?’, not necessarily any individual person. And I’m including in the realm of possible explanations that the Bible is correct in its description of what human beings are (i.e. created in the image of God). You frame the problem as one where people have these emotional reactions to a particular idea (that people are meat machines), but those emotional reactions are irrelevant, or are explained away. I’m saying they are relevant to describing human beings and why they are the way they are. But if you start from the physicalist assumption, then there’s nothing to discuss: I don’t start from that assumption, and nothing either of us says is likely to change the assumptions of the other. You can always find naturalist explanations of any human behavior, and I can always say that such explanations are incomplete. But you can’t prove that the physicalist assumption is correct, and I can’t prove that it isn’t. If you’re open to the idea that it isn’t, I could offer persuasive arguments to support my position (assuming I had the time & energy - probably a dubious assumption), but if you rule it out ahead of time there’s not much point in my trying to persuade you.

True, you can always *say* that naturalistic explanations are incomplete. That’s easy enough; no denying that. My point is that that such claims look increasingly ad hoc, unjustified and motivated by irrelevancies as the game goes on. And you won’t catch me in any of the old canards about who can “prove” what: all I’m saying is that it is far more reasonable to believe in the naturalistic view of the mind, than any of the alternatives floating around.

If you do have the time and energy to set forward what you see as the persuasive arguments in favor of your position, then I’ve got the time and energy to read them. As you say, it’s unlikely I’ll be convinced, believer as I am in the strengths of naturalism. Your position is of interest to me, however, because it stands as a Thing People Aren’t Yet Convinced About Naturalism. What is it about “our” view of the mind that is so deficient; or what about “your” view is so much stronger..?

Michael Finley Wrote:

Well, I shall make an effort to be more civil as you are a fellow graduate of my alma mater.

I have no idea why you think that – it isn’t true. And I think your other comments are equally confused and mistaken, but as the discussion would be interminable, I won’t address them further, other than to point out that Frege noted that the sense of a statement is the composition of senses of its components, which renders “suspend the laws of nature” senseless, since there’s no concept that it picks out, any more than “end a batchelor’s marriage”. They both sort of look like they mean something, until one carefully examines the semantic relationships of the components.

Mike S. Wrote:

BTW, the article by Thomas W. Clark on naturalism.org is ridiculous.

It’s a big site and he has written many articles there. I don’t agree with all of it, but I haven’t found any of it to be “ridiculous”.

This is nonsensical - our moral standards of right and wrong depend upon the notion of free will.

Clark’s view is not made nonsensical merely by asserting that it is. Your position strikes me as similar to a comment made in all seriousness many years ago on talk.philosophy by, IIRC, Laura Creighton, that “If I thought I didn’t have free will, I’d shoot myself”. But of course, no choice can be justified on the basis of a belief that one lacks free will. This includes choices to murder, steal, etc. Whatever reasons for opposing these behaviors, having free will doesn’t enter into it. Rather, our moral standards of right and wrong depend on culturally established norms that are largely rooted in our biology as a social species. Murder, theft, disobeying parents, and inseminating a man’s wife in a patriarchal society disrupt social order; in a more egalitarian society where women’s autonomy is valued, rape rather than adultery is a crime. It’s not our standards of right and wrong, but rather the idea of retributive justice, that depends on the notion of free will – just as Thomas Clark observes. But a move from libertarian free will to determinism suggests a move from retributive justice – making people suffer on the sheer basis that they “deserve” it, to the idea of deterrence – changing people’s behavior, through punishment, reward, and constraint, to reduce crime both by the perpetrator and by others (deterrence). This move is rational since it reduces crime, both as a matter of logic and statistics. Of course, this is discussed at length by Clark at his site, as well as throughout the extensive literature on crime prevention and deterrence, human psychology, animal training, etc. (We don’t tolerate killing humans or removing or destroying their property by animals, either, and we take steps to prevent it through constraint, training, and “capital punishment” – e.g., putting killer lions and bears to death. It is interesting how we apply mercy to animals but treat criminals with cruelty and contempt. We justify this on the basis of moral culpability, but the underlying reason has to do with deterrence – we think that this sort of treatment discourages other people from acting criminally, but of course we don’t expect it to have any effect on animals.)

Besides, how can we rationally determine policies that will ‘shape moral behavior’ if ‘all agents are fully determined in their actions’?

In the same way that we rationally determine policies that shape the behavior of puppies so as to not crap on the furniture. Those policies that are rational are those that achieve the goal at which they are aimed.

I don’t think the jump-out-of-the-way-of-a-car example is useful - that’s an instinctive behavior, not a considered one.

This misses the point entirely. I said “If a car comes at us”. Try it – stand in a quiet roadway and contemplate what you are going to do if a car approaches. See what you do when a car approaches. Since you don’t want to suffer great pain or die, you shouldn’t mind the fact that it is very hard for you to just stand there and think calmly about the possible outcomes as the car comes near. That you lack that sort of freedom is no problem, since it isn’t a sort of freedom you want – or should want. I for one wouldn’t mind if I “instinctively” made the best financial choices – if I had a computer in my brain that examined the facts and calculated the probable outcomes and, when I go to make an investment, caused me the same sort of discomfort about bad choices as the discomfort that comes from standing in front of an oncoming car – or the sort that comes from contemplating financial ruin. I don’t know about you, but I have been faced by the latter and, believe me, it caused a very strong feeling of a desire to avoid that outcome on a par with facing an oncoming car – and I wish I had such a computer inside me, as I would be a lot wealthier. I can “consider” remaining in front of an oncoming car or making a bad financial choice – but why should I want to? The point of my comment about the car is that it is predictable that we will act in our interests – as we see them – and we want that to be predictable – we have no desire to be “free” to act in a way that is inconsistent with our interests as fully conceived (e.g., acting altruistically if that is what we desire as a matter of our self-image and self-esteem), and in fact we go to considerable effort to avoid such freedom – by not drinking to the point where our judgment is impaired, for instance, or not giving ourselves the freedom to be able to fall off a precipice. In all cases, the only freedom we want is the freedom to do that which accomplishes our desires – additional freedom is pointless. Underdetermination is irrelevant – it’s fine if more than one behavior fits our best interests. It’s not as if Dennett’s sort of free will requires a deterministic universe – after all, the universe isn’t deterministic at the quantum level. It’s only that it is compatible with a deterministic universe – there’s nothing in our behavior that is inconsistent with determinism.

But they’re just as capable of choosing to ignore (or go against) the available evidence - that’s why it is non-determinate. (And that is frequently a good thing, since often the available evidence points in the wrong direction.)

How very bizarre. It’s frequently a good thing to be able to make a choice that the available evidence indicates is unfavorable, because it might be a good choice anyway? Hey, how about buying all my overvalued stocks from me, because they might make you a lot of money? Or how about playing Texas Hold’em with me – you can ignore the cards on the table, the odds, my past and present behavior and what kinds of hands I bet, bluff, and fold on, or go against what all that evidence suggests, because it’s “frequently a good thing”. Man, I hope you don’t hold a position of responsibility of any sort.

The fact is that, for instance, diversification, rather than investing everything in the market with the most potential, is a good thing not because it goes against the available evidence, but because the totality of the evidence suggests that strategy. The notion that it’s “frequently a good thing” to ignore or go against the available evidence misconstrues what “the available evidence” consists of, miscontrues probability and induction, and is a philosophy for losers. “the available evidence” includes the historical probability of outcomes so, if going against something were frequently a good thing, the available evidence would indicate that. While it’s always possible that going against the available evidence in any given circumstance might result in a good outcome, we can’t possibly know that, so such a choice is never advisable. If, for instance, the available evidence is that the odds against an event are 2 to 1, it is never advisable to take an even odds bet on it – if you do so “frequently”, you’ll lose your shirt. And if the world were so random and so unpatterned that ignoring the available evidence were “frequently a good thing”, then it would be a very inhospitable place in which rational faculties like ours never could have evolved.

You seem to be dismissing irrational decisions as not real decisions - not truly free choices. Is that so?

Uh, no, I dismiss irrational decisions as not desirable – there’s no reason to want to be able to make them. We want the decisions we actually make to be limited to rational ones, so it’s no loss if we are constrained to make only those decisions.

TS Wrote:

I have no idea why you think that — it isn’t true.

My mistake. I (wrongly) assumed that “ts” meant Timothy Sandefur, the originator of this thread. That, “T.S.” is a graduate of my alma mater. I should have known that no graduate of Hillsdale could be as brashly obtuse as you.

…other than to point out that Frege noted that the sense of a statement is the composition of senses of its components

.

As I’ve said to you elsewhere, you need to read more books. You have confused Frege’s notion of sense with that of truth value. For Frege, the truth value of a complex sentence is determined by the truth value of its component sentences. Frege never defines sense more than providing suggestive examples.

which renders “suspend the laws of nature” senseless, since there’s no concept that it picks out, any more than “end a batchelor’s marriage.” They both sort of look like they mean something, until one carefully examines the semantic relationships of the components.

Even were you right about Frege, which you are not, what you say here is wildly off point. Each of the components of the phrase “suspend the laws of nature” is meaningful. On your bizarre rendition of Frege, therefore, their composition is meaningful. What you are stumbling towards is Wittgenstein’s qualification that words have meaning in certain connections (see LW on “grammar”). What you mean (with some generous fill-in-the-blank assistance) is that these words have no meaning in that configuration. Good luck justifying that claim. To quote Aristotle: “Your premises are false, and your conclusion doesn’t follow.”

Try as you might, the phrase “suspension of the laws of nature” is not self-contradictory in the way “square circle” or “married bachelor” are. And given that self-contradiction is what your position requires, your argument is futile.

ts Wrote:

In the same way that we rationally determine policies that shape the behavior of puppies so as to not crap on the furniture. Those policies that are rational are those that achieve the goal at which they are aimed.

So, who is doing the rational determination of policy, and who is the puppy?

Uh, no, I dismiss irrational decisions as not desirable — there’s no reason to want to be able to make them.

This makes no sense - surely you’ve heard of, or can imagine, decisions that were irrational at the time that turned out to be fortuitous?

We want the decisions we actually make to be limited to rational ones, so it’s no loss if we are constrained to make only those decisions.

I don’t want my decisions to be limited to only rational ones - I want to have the freedom to choose, regardless of the apparent rationality of the choice. But desire is irrelevant - the question is, what is the reality? The reality is that human beings have the capacity to choose actions that are irrational or rational. And your assertion that “it’s no loss” if we don’t have that freedom is profoundly wrong - in fact, we lose what it means to be human.

“Does it not occur to you…that by purging all sacred images, references, and words from our public life, you are leaving us with nothing but a cold temple presided over by the Goddess of Reason – that counterfeit deity who, as history has proved time and time and time again, inspires no affection, retains no loyalties, soothes no grief, justifies no sacrifice, gives no comfort, extends no charity, displays no pity, and offers no hope, except to the tiny cliques of fanatical ideologues who tend her cold blue flame?” –John Derbyshire

Mike S.: I suspect you might be missing quite what I’m on about when I talk about the ir/relevance of what I referred to as “motivators”.

I’m drawing a comparison between non-naturalism in regard “origins”, and non-naturalism in regard “mind”. In the history (and present) of the debate over evolution, many, many “deniers” (be they Creationists outright, or “ID” supporters, or whatever) speak along these lines:

“If evolution is true, it entails [something I don’t want], and therefore I don’t believe it is true.” Lest this seem like a caricature, there’s a book on my shelf at home which was quite popular for a time called ‘In Six Days’; a collection of short pieces by Ph.D.-holding Genesis-literalist Creationists. It was divided into two halves; fully fifty percent of the book was devoted to “moral” objections to evolution, ie: if evolution is true, it implies something about morality I don’t like, therefore evolution’s not true. It’s been a common theme for years; you can read William Jennings Bryan making just that claim as part of his writings at the time of the Scopes trial.

(I’ll leave aside all the reasons why I believe that argument to be flawed; for now, I’m interested in its form.)

If people are discussing origins, and don’t want to believe that they are related to monkeys (or mushrooms, for that matter), or just don’t like the way it makes them feel less “special” – that doesn’t make it relevant to the actual question of origins.

Yes, it’s an interesting question, in human terms: Why don’t people like seeing themselves as related to other animals? Why do people feel like their “special nature” is threatened by evolution? Why do people feel the need to feel “special” in that sense, at all? And so on.

But it is not at all relevant to the actual question of origins.

Likewise, with mind. There, the “motivators” are usually a fear of losing our sense of “free will”, and an aversion to seeing ourselves as an “unspecial” machine made of meat. (And again, I’ll leave aside the serious flaws I see in those arguments; I am concentrating on their form.) They are interesting questions, to be sure, but they are likewise totally irrelevant to the actual question as to the nature (naturalistic or non) of mind.

In the same way that we rationally determine policies that shape the behavior of puppies so as to not crap on the furniture. Those policies that are rational are those that achieve the goal at which they are aimed.

So, who is doing the rational determination of policy, and who is the puppy?

Ahem. You asked “Besides, how can we rationally determine policies that will ‘shape moral behavior’ if ‘all agents are fully determined in their actions’?” Obviously, the first “who” is your “we” and the second who is those whose moral behavior we wish to shape.

Uh, no, I dismiss irrational decisions as not desirable — there’s no reason to want to be able to make them.

This makes no sense - surely you’ve heard of, or can imagine, decisions that were irrational at the time that turned out to be fortuitous?

I discussed this at length in the post you are responding to. The one not making sense is you, since restricting oneself to rational decisions is at least as likely to result in fortuitous outcomes as is making some mix of rational and irrational decisions. This follows from the very meaning of “rational”. If some other behavior would, in totality, have better expected results than the “rational” behavior, then the “rational” behavior wouldn’t be rational after all. For instance, game theory indicates that, in many games, it is better to behave randomly rather than to make conscious choices, because making conscious choices could reveal a pattern of bias to your opponent and allow prediction of your future behavior. In that case, behaving randomly is rational and behaving consciously is irrational.

I don’t want my decisions to be limited to only rational ones

But you should – if you were to be rational.

I want to have the freedom to choose

You don’t have any choice over what freedom you have, but you should want the freedom to make rational choices – if you were to be rational.

regardless of the apparent rationality of the choice

I said nothing about apparent rationality, only rationality in fact. That seems to be at the heart of your confusion.

But desire is irrelevant - the question is, what is the reality?

Indeed, quite so. And reality of human behavior is deterministic and mechanistic – the evidence is overwhelming.

The reality is that human beings have the capacity to choose actions that are irrational or rational.

Yes, quite so, and I never said otherwise. The point was that a process of evolution has produced in us a capacity to act rationally – it has turned us into somewhat rational mechanisms. And we should have to desire to make irrational choices when out brains are working out rational ones – not if we were to be rational.

And your assertion that “it’s no loss” if we don’t have that freedom is profoundly wrong

Nope, wrong.

in fact, we lose what it means to be human

This is a conceptually confused construction, and is the sort of thing that is at the heart of a lot of irrational thinking about these sorts of matters. We are human; “what it means to be human” is to have human characteristics, whatever those are, so we can’t “lose” that. And human characteristics include being a biological mechanism produced by evolution, an object that operates in a deterministic fashion in a deterministic world. Unlike a rock, these objects respond to their environment in complex ways. And these objects produce some very intricate behavior, which we call language, and these objects tell themselves and listen to stories in this language, and one of the stories is that the complex responses that these objects make are “choices”, and they “could have done otherwise”, and so these “choices” are “free”. It’s a very useful story which is itself utilized as part of the objects’ complex responses to other of these objects, but it’s just a story nonetheless. This is not “profoundly wrong”, but rather is profoundly right, and is a major discovery by scientists and philosophers who have studied and investigated these matters extensively.

ts Wrote:

Obviously, the first “who” is your “we” and the second who is those whose moral behavior we wish to shape.

But what happens when the shaper and the shapee are the same person? (Actually, this isn’t necessary, it just highlights the contradiction.) Then we have the same person rationally making policy (or moral rules) towards some end, but you’re arguing that the same person is also ‘fully determined in his actions’. The whole necessity of making the policy is due to the fact that the actions, or behavior, of the shapee could be different if the policy were different. Yet you say those actions are fully determined. Can you at least see the contradiction that I do? If there’s a way out of it, please explain it to me.

I said nothing about apparent rationality, only rationality in fact. That seems to be at the heart of your confusion.

If some other behavior would, in totality, have better expected results than the “rational” behavior, then the “rational” behavior wouldn’t be rational after all.

The point is that the “in totality” or “rationality in fact” are only apparent after the consequences of the decision have become clear. Prior to making the choice, one choice may have been much more rational than the other, but you chose the less rational, or irrational one. After the fact, that choice turned out to be highly beneficial. You can’t retroactively claim that the original decision was rational, though, since given the available evidence at the time, it was the irrational choice.

We are human; “what it means to be human” is to have human characteristics, whatever those are, so we can’t “lose” that. And human characteristics include being a biological mechanism produced by evolution, an object that operates in a deterministic fashion in a deterministic world.

True, we can’t “lose” it - but we can lose the correct understanding of what human beings are, with drastic consequences. For example, look at Marxism. It was built on a profoundly incorrect understanding of human nature, and had disastrous consequences for those that bought into its description of reality. Human characteristics, do, indeed, include being a product of evolution, but it is not true that we are deterministic (or that the world is). You said yourself that we are only partly rational, and I’m sure you’d agree that human beings make mistakes. How do you know with such confidence that we are deterministic in nature? You seem to be rather cavalier about the possibility that you are wrong, or about the severity of the consequences of your being wrong.

+++

PJF Wrote:

If people are discussing origins, and don’t want to believe that they are related to monkeys (or mushrooms, for that matter), or just don’t like the way it makes them feel less “special” — that doesn’t make it relevant to the actual question of origins.

Yes, it’s an interesting question, in human terms: Why don’t people like seeing themselves as related to other animals? Why do people feel like their “special nature” is threatened by evolution? Why do people feel the need to feel “special” in that sense, at all? And so on.

But it is not at all relevant to the actual question of origins. Likewise, with mind. There, the “motivators” are usually a fear of losing our sense of “free will”, and an aversion to seeing ourselves as an “unspecial” machine made of meat. (And again, I’ll leave aside the serious flaws I see in those arguments; I am concentrating on their form.) They are interesting questions, to be sure, but they are likewise totally irrelevant to the actual question as to the nature (naturalistic or non) of mind.

You need to place a modifier in front of ‘origins’. I agree with your assessment if you’re talking about biological origins. But if you are talking about metaphysical origins, then I don’t agree with you. We agree that biology is necessary for a comprehensive description of human beings - the question I’m getting at is whether it is sufficient. If the question is whether biology (or the natural world) is sufficient to explain human beings, then you cannot limit the possible levels of explanation to biology only - that is predetermining the answer (or at least predetermining that it can never be addressed in a rational manner). Evolution and the mind are two different facets of the same problem: what are human beings?

But what happens when the shaper and the shapee are the same person? (Actually, this isn’t necessary, it just highlights the contradiction.) Then we have the same person rationally making policy (or moral rules) towards some end, but you’re arguing that the same person is also ‘fully determined in his actions’. The whole necessity of making the policy is due to the fact that the actions, or behavior, of the shapee could be different if the policy were different. Yet you say those actions are fully determined. Can you at least see the contradiction that I do? If there’s a way out of it, please explain it to me.

That you see a contradiction (but can’t actually demonstrate one, in terms of a logical contradiction) where there is none is due to conceptual confusion. I suggest that you read Dennett’s “The Intentional Stance” and “Freedom Evolves”.

what are human beings?

They’re featherless bipeds.

The point is that the “in totality” or “rationality in fact” are only apparent after the consequences of the decision have become clear. Prior to making the choice, one choice may have been much more rational than the other, but you chose the less rational, or irrational one. After the fact, that choice turned out to be highly beneficial. You can’t retroactively claim that the original decision was rational, though, since given the available evidence at the time, it was the irrational choice.

It would help if you actually understood the meaning of the words you use. “rational” refers to reasoning, to the justifications for decisions – it is always and only “prior to making the choice”. It has nothing to do with whether it was the best choice in hindsight. You’re treating “rational” as a synonym for “most beneficial”, which is, well, deeply irrational.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on February 16, 2005 9:16 AM.

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