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Friday, April 24, 2009


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While I agree that Searle is a fantastic critic, I admit that (as an admitted, express amateur on this and most philosophical topics) I always can't help but think his argument boils down to, 'If I just call the mental physical, everything is solved.'

And now, to expose my amateur-ness. Searle is not a materialist? What would he be called then? He's not a dualist or a panpsychist (is he), so what would be left? Or is he off in his own category?

I've never understood how Searle's appeal to pragmatic considerations is supposed to explain why consciousness won't be reduced. But I don't think that can be turned into an argument against monism. Consciousness, after all, is hardly the only "thing" that resists reduction -- most tellingly, the most fundamental "things" posited by physical theories. Taking an historical view, forces of the sort posited in Newtonian mechanics aren't reducible to Cartesian extension (nor, for that matter, is the "resistance to deformation" that Descartes attributed to matter). We don't know what sorts of "occult properties" sceintific investigations will urge on us.

Can there even be a recognition of, much less any discussion of, any sort of "third-person (objective) being" is there is not first some "first-person (subjective) being" to do the recognizing and discussing?

It's similar to the "consciousness is an illusion" mind-set ... one points out that 'illusion' presupposes the very thing it is being alleged to explain and eliminate.

Thanks for this post. I have been reading Searle, and I was wondering how to interpret his claim that he is neither a materialist nor a dualist.

He wielded his critique of the various forms of materialism effectively, but then with a redefinition of terms, claims to reject materialism and dualism. As I read his "solution" it did not ring true; it sounded to me like he was simply redefining the words used in the debate rather than expressing a new solution.

Then I read some of his comments on science, and I somewhat understood where he was coming from. He sees science as something to be revered in its certainty. As he mentions the history of science, with the standard litany of science shattering superstition time and again, only to show the entire truth in some unforeseen time in the near future, I got the impression that perhaps he does not have a solid grounding in history.

Perhaps if he would revere science less than philosophy, maybe he would take his arguments against materialism a little further, which I am imagining could be a brilliant critique of materialism in general and the limits of scientific inquiry. His fear (as I see it) of a critique of scientific inquiry is perhaps holding him back from some brilliant insights into the issues.

I'm wondering if there is not a Reppertesque argument for dualism to be found in the fourth paragraph from the bottom. If it is really because we are conscious of things like heat, lightning, etc. that we can pursue investigation of how they work or reduce them to more fundamental descriptions, then it follows that conscious experience is causal to other human behaviors and even to other mental excercises. But, if one holds to physical causal closure without reductionism, then the experience of heat is not itself causal to anything. One's consciously perceiving lightning and thunder would not really benefit one's ability to explain why the appearance of light precedes the sound of thunder.

I do know that one could show that it is the conscious perception rather than the physiological counterpart which enables us to perform such actions as reduction and explanation, but it certainly does seem that the subjective quality plays some role in the formulation of the question (why we see the lightning before we hear the thunder, for example), as well as our understanding of the components (such as light waves as contrasted to sound waves). It would seem that we were seeking to discover something, not merely about the things subjectively perceived, but about how they are subjectively perceived. This seems problematic for physical causal closure. I do not know what Searle would make of it, as I seem to recall an argument in Mind that mental properties are causal, but I think it would still be problematic for epiphenomenalist and supervenientist philosophies of mind.

In any case, a very good post. This whole series on philosophy of mind has been excellent. Thank you, Bill.

Hi Bill,

Let me see if I've got this right--consciousness is the space in which reducible events occur because the subjective experience can be cashed out into signs of objective reality (for instance, your example of lightning). But consciousness itself isn't subject to that means of explanation because it is subjectivity itself! If you try to step away from it, it vanishes. That is why the Dennett explanations will always fall short.

Great post, Bill. I haven't read as much Searle as you have, but from what I have read, plus a nifty tape series he did from The Teaching Company, I came to the same conclusion. He cuts down the physicalist arguments and then just *posits* that the mind fits within his naturalistic world view.

Take care,


Two papers similar to this thread:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/f315455273744p08 (by my friend D. D. Novotný)
http://dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=48 (by D. Willard)

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