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Sunday, March 15, 2020

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Bill,

'But then couldn't any old crazy doctrine be defended in this way?"

There are philosophers who take the eliminativist line that consciousness is an illusion. This is a crazy view that refutes itself straightaway: nothing is an illusion except to consciousness; hence, the crazy view presupposes the very thing it proposes to eliminate. Well, could one give a mysterian defense of the crazy view? I don't see how. We have direct Cartesian evidence that consciousness exists and cannot be an illusion.

Granted. How about:

“But then couldn't any philosophically substantive thesis (cf. here and here) be defended in this way?”

Or perhaps:

“But then couldn't any thesis compatible with the corpus of Moorean truths be defended in this way?”

If yes to either, a follow up: “It's epistemically possible that the doctrines might be true, but how much weight should we really give that? It may be that we nonetheless have overwhelmingly better reasons against a thesis someone is mysterian about than for it. Is it still reasonable for that person to be a mysterian in a case like that? Or is your yes tied up with the success of something like the strong metaphilosophical skeptic thesis expressed at the bottom of the second post I linked above?”

Of your three examples of a mysterian position, two of them are justified by other, very strong sources of belief: one by the sensory evidence of motion and one by revelation. However, you didn't say what McGinn's reason for accepting his form of mysterianism is. What is his very strong source of belief sufficient to overcome the very strong appearance of contradiction in his position?

Well, Dave, I gestured toward it:

>>McGinn 'takes it on faith' as a teaching of the scientific magisterium that all mental activity is brain activity. He no more questions this than a believing Catholic questions the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Real Presence, etc. It just seems obvious to him and therefore a thesis that cannot be reasonably questioned. Of course mental activity is brain activity! What the hell else could it be? You think and feel with your brain not with some 'spook in the skull' (my coinage) or "ghost in the machine." (Ryle) There is one world, this physical world, and we are physical parts of it. And so consciousness, self-consciousness, qualia, intentionality, conscience must all be reducible without remainder to physical processes and states.<<

Most philosophers today would dismiss talk of souls and such as relics of religious superstition.

Cyrus,

Good questions. But you need to give an example. I will give one. Consider the presentist who maintains that

1. Only temporally present items (times, events, etc.) exist.

This implies that wholly past events do not exist. But surely

2. Some wholly past events do exist.

(Of course, these past events do not exist at present, but they do exist in the sense of 'exist' featured in (1) that insures that (1) is a substantive claim and not a miserable tautology.)

So we have an apparently inconsistent dyad: (1) and (2) after careful and protracted consideration appear to be such that they cannot both be true.

And yet powerful arguments can be given for both limbs of the dyad. So we have good reason to think that both are true, and that therefore they are collectively consistent. But we cannot understand how they could be consistent. So what exactly is wrong with saying that it is and will remain a mystery how they can both be true?

Bill,

And yet powerful arguments can be given for both limbs of the dyad. So we have good reason to think that both are true, and that therefore they are collectively consistent. But we cannot understand how they could be consistent. So what exactly is wrong with saying that it is and will remain a mystery how they can both be true?

Nothing. Here is another example:

3. All minds are material.

McGinn might take it on faith from the scientific magisterium, but I don't see why scientists' thoughts should be given much weight in this. Scientists say all sorts of ridiculous things when they philosophize, and there are a lot of powerful arguments against 3 and no particularly good arguments for it (and, anyway, not all scientists are materialists).

I'm not inclined to give revelation much weight without prior evidence for its truth either (Which revelation? Why it and not another? Why not none at all?), but I'll leave it alone.

Bill, you write: "He no more questions this than a believing Catholic questions the Trinity..."

I thought I might detect a bit of satire in your tone, but I hope you don't mind if I pursue the topic seriously--an effort at a charitable interpretation, maybe.

I got the "statement of faith" aspect, but clearly that is just a restatement of the fact that he believes something very strongly, not a description of his source of belief (by "source of belief" I mean something like experience, intuition, revelation, etc.). The only source of belief that I could extract from your comment is perhaps "the opinion of all the best men", which is not a contemptible source of belief by any means, but it is hardly strong enough to stand up to the strong appearance of paradox.

I'm not familiar with McGinn's writing, but if he is like many other moderns, I would like to propose a more charitable interpretation of his source of belief:

(1) The success of the entire enterprise of science is so extraordinary that it would be outrageous to think there is anything that science could not explain.
(2) Science could not explain mind if it were not material.
(3) Therefore it would be outrageous to think that mind is not material.

Given (1) I can see some level of rationality in thinking that mind is material, despite the apparent paradoxes; however (1) strikes me as a very poorly supported belief (I've written a book-length manuscript on this very topic, and my research for that project has made me even more skeptical of science than I was at the beginning).

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