Mind, Brain, Monism, Dualism
"Against Materialism" in The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert C. Koons and George Bealer (Oxford University Press: 2010), pp. 3-4.
Why have materialist views been so dominant? Part of the answer is that it is far from clear that dualist views, at least those that go much beyond the bare denial of materialism, are in any better shape. But it must be insisted that the inadequacies of dualism do not in themselves constitute a strong case for materialism: arguments by elimination are always dubious in philosophy, and never more so than here, where the central phenomenon in question (that is, consciousness) is arguably something of which we still have little if any real understanding. Instead, materialism seems to be one of those unfortunate intellectual bandwagons to which philosophy, along with many other disciplines, is so susceptible — on a par with logical behaviorism, phenomenalism, the insistence that all philosophical issues pertain to language, and so many other views that were once widely held and now seem merely foolish. Such a comparison is misleading in one important respect, however: it understates the fervency with which materialist views are often held. In this respect, materialism often more closely resembles a religious conviction — and indeed, as I will suggest further in a couple of places below, defenses of materialism and especially replies to objections often have a distinctively scholastic or theological flavor.
"Against Materialism" in The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert C. Koons and George Bealer (Oxford University Press: 2010), p. 7.
A second sort of defense in favor of materialism appeals to the general idea of naturalism. Here again we have a view, like materialism itself, to which many, many philosophers pay allegiance while offering little by way of clear argument or defense, but here the view itself is much harder to pin down in a precise way. Indeed, even more striking than the absence of any very clear arguments is the fact that many recent philosophers seem so eager to commit themselves to naturalism — to fly the naturalist flag, as it were — while showing little agreement as to what exactly such a commitment involves. Thus naturalism seems to be even more obviously an intellectual bandwagon than materialism. (In addition, naturalism, for some of those who use the term, seems to just amount to materialism, which would make an argument from naturalism to materialism entirely question-begging.) ¶ Is there any genuine support for a materialist presumption to be found in the vicinity of naturalism? One version of naturalism is the idea that metaphysical issues — or philosophical issues generally — should be dealt with through the use of the methods of natural science. If this is accepted, and if it is true that following the methods of natural science leads plausibly to an endorsement of materialism, then at least some presumption in favor of materialism might follow. But both of the needed suppositions are in fact extremely dubious, to say the least. There is simply no good reason to think that the methods of natural science exhaust the methods of reasonable inquiry — indeed, as has often been pointed out, there is no plausible way in which that claim itself can be arrived at using those methods.
The Niomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. Robert William Browne (George Bell and Sons: 1889), pp. 252-4.
Now he that sees, perceives that he sees; and he that hears, that he hears; and he that walks, that he walks; and in every other case, in the same manner, there is some faculty which perceives that we are energizing; so that we perceive that we are perceiving, and understand that we are understanding. But this is the same as saying that we perceive or understand that we exist; for existence was defined to be perceiving, or understanding. Now, to perceive that one is alive, is of the number of those things which are pleasant in themselves: for life is a good by nature: and to perceive the good which is inherent in one's self is pleasant. But life is eligible, and particularly to the good, because existence is to them good and pleasant; for by the consciousness of that which is absolutely a good, they are pleased.
"Cosmological Arguments" in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, Charles Taliaferro and Paul J. Griffiths, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: 2003), p. 252.
On the other side, the hypothesis of divine creation is very unlikely. Although if there were a god with the traditional attributes and powers, he would be able and perhaps willing to create such a universe as this, we have to weigh in the scales the likelihood or unlikelihood that there is a god with these attributes and powers. And the key power ... is that of fulfilling intentions directly, without any physical or causal mediation, without materials or instruments. There is nothing in our background knowledge that makes it comprehensible, let alone likely, that anything should have such a power. All our knowledge of intention-fulfillment is of embodied intentions being fulfilled indirectly by way of bodily changes and movements which are causally related to the intended result, and where the ability thus to fulfill intentions itself has a causal history, either of evolutionary development or of learning or of both. Only by ignoring such key features do we get an analogue of the supposed divine action.
The Evolution of the Soul (Clarendon Press: 1986), p. 191.
There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, of sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively very distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanics — for molecules are particles; the entities and properties are not now of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter.
Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Intervarsity: 1983), p. 49.
Computers function as they do because they have been constructed by human beings endowed with rational insight. And the results of their computations are accepted because they are evaluated by rational human beings as conforming to rational norms. A computer, in other words, is merely an extension of the rationality of its designers and users, it is no more an independent source of rational insight than a television set is an independent source of news and entertainment.
The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge University Press: 1992), p. 50-1.
So far no attempt at naturalizing content has produced an explanation (analysis, reduction) of intentional content that is even remotely plausible. A symptom that something is radically wrong with the project is that intentional notions are inherently normative. They set standards of truth, rationality, consistency, etc., and there is no way that these standards can be intrinsic to a system consisting entirely of brute, blind, nonintentional causal relations. There is no mean component to billiard ball causation. Darwinian biological attempts at naturalizing content try to avoid this problem by appealing to what they suppose is the inherently teleological, normative character of biological evolution. But this is a very deep mistake. There is nothing normative or teleological about Darwinian evolution. Indeed, Darwin's major contribution was precisely to remove purpose, and teleology from evolution, and substitute for it purely natural forms.
Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction (Oneworld Press: 2005), p. 136.
More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical components, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks. Any intentionality they have would also have to be derived from something else. But if anything physical would be devoid of intrinsic intentionality, whatever does have intrinsic intentionality would thereby have to be non-physical. Since the mind is the source of the intentionality of physical entities like sentences and pictures, and doesn't get its intentionality from anything else (there's no one "using" our minds to convey meaning) it seems to follow that the mind has intrinsic intentionality, and thus is non-physical.
"De Futilitate" in Christian Reflections (Eerdmans: 1967), pp. 63-4.
We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer's brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.
Miracles: A Preliminary Study (MacMillan: 1978), pp. 19, 22-3.
Once, then, our thoughts were not rational. That is, all our thoughts once were, as many of our thoughts still are, merely subjective events, not apprehensions of objective truth. Those which had a cause external to ourselves at all were (like our pains) responses to stimuli. Now natural selection could operate only by eliminating responses that were biologically hurtful and multiplying those which tended to survival. But it is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn them into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so. The relation between response and stimulus is utterly different from that between knowledge and the truth known. Our physical vision is a far more useful response to light than that of the cruder organisms which have only a photo-sensitive spot. But neither this improvement nor any possible improvements we can suppose could bring it an inch nearer to being a knowledge of light. It is admittedly something without which we could not have had that knowledge. But the knowledge is achieved by experiments and inferences from them, not by refinement of the response. It is not men with specially good eyes who know about light, but men who have studied the relevant sciences. In the same way our psychological responses to our environment — our curiosities, aversions, delights, expectations — could be indefinitely improved (from the biological point of view) without becoming anything more than responses. Such perfection of the non-rational responses, far from amounting to their conversion into valid inferences, might be conceived as a different method of achieving survival — an alternative to reason. A conditioning which secured that we never felt delight except in the useful nor aversion save from the dangerous, and that the degrees of both were exquisitely proportional to the degree of real utility or danger in the object, might serve us as well as reason or in some circumstances better.