What is Real
From "Things and Their Place in Theories"
Our talk of external things, our very notion of things, is just a conceptual apparatus that helps us to foresee and control the triggering of our sensory receptors in the light of previous triggering of our sensory receptors. The triggering, first and last, is all we have to go on. In saying this I too am talking of external things, namely, people and their nerve endings. Thus what I am saying applies in particular to what I am saying, and is not meant as skeptical. There is nothing we can be more confident of than external things — some of them, anyway — other people, sticks, stones. But there remains the fact — a fact of science itself — that science is a conceptual bridge of our own making, linking sensory stimulation to sensory stimulation; there is no extrasensory perception.
"Mind and Illusion" in Minds and Persons, Anthony O'Hear, ed. (Cambridge University Press: 2003), p. 251.
Much of the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind is concerned with the clash between certain strongly held intuitions and what science tells us about the mind and its relation to the world. What science tells us about the mind points strongly towards some version or other of physicalism. The intuitions, in one way or another, suggest that there is something seriously incomplete about any purely physical story about the mind. For our purposes here, we can be vague about the detail and think broadly of physicalism as the view that the mind is a purely physical part of a purely physical world. Exactly how to delineate the physical will not be crucial: anything of a kind that plays a central role in physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience and the like, along with the a priori associated functional and relational properties count as far as we are concerned. Most contemporary philosophers given a choice between going with science and going with intuitions, go with science. Although I once dissented from the majority, I have capitulated and now see the interesting issue as being where the arguments from the intuitions against physicalism — the arguments that seem so compelling — go wrong. For some time, I have thought that the case for physicalism is sufficiently strong that we can be confident that the arguments from the intuitions go wrong somewhere, but where is somewhere?
"The Conceivability of Naturalism", in Conceivability and Possibility, Tamar Szabo and John Hawthorne, eds. (Clarendon: 2002), p. 401.
A central dilemma in contemporary metaphysics is to find a place for certain anthropocentric subject-matters — for instance, semantic, moral, and psychological — in a world as conceived by modern naturalism: a stance which inflates the concepts and categories deployed by (finished) physical science into a metaphysics of the kind of thing the real world essentially and exhaustively is. On one horn, if we embrace this naturalism, it seems we are committed either to reductionism: that is, to a construal of the reference of, for example, semantic, moral and psychological vocabulary as somehow being within the physical domain — or to disputing that the discourses in question involve reference to what is real at all. On the other horn, if we reject this naturalism, then we accept that there is more to the world than can be embraced within a physicalist ontology — and so take on a commitment, it can seem, to a kind of eerie supernaturalism.
Moreland & Craig, eds., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal (Routledge: 2002), p. 38.
The "Midas touch" picture of consciousness, as I call it — is the view that to take something as our 'object' automatically transforms it in some essential way (possibly even making it 'mental'). How, exactly, consciousness — or for that matter language, or culture — being what it is, could make a tree or block of ice what it is, or turn something that was not already a tree or block of ice into one, is truly hard to say. We actually know how trees etc. come about, and they are not made by consciousness. One can also safely say that the story about how consciousness supposedly does its transforming and productive work has never been satisfactorily told. The second interpretation plays off of the saying that one cannot escape consciousness — cannot, as it is often said, "step outside of one's mind." Certainly, to be conscious of anything one must be conscious. But it does not follow from this that one cannot compare a thought to what it is about and whether it "matches up" or not. Only confusion could make one think it does — a confusion probably based upon the "Midas touch" picture of consciousness. [Editor's note: Midas, in Greek mythology, had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.]
The Problem of the Soul: Two Visons of Mind and How to Reconcile Them (Basic Books: 2002), p. 3.
There is no consensus yet about the details of the scientific image of persons. But there is broad agreement about how we must construct this detailed picture. First, we will need to demythologize persons by rooting out certain unfounded ideas from the perennial philosophy. Letting go of the belief in souls is a minimal requirement. In fact, desouling is the primary operation of the scientific image. "First surgery," we might call it. There are no such things as souls, or nonphysical minds. If such things did exist, as perennial philosophy conceives them, science would be unable to explain persons. But there aren't, so it can. Second, we will need to think of persons as part of nature — as natural creatures completely obedient and responsive to natural law. The traditional religious view positions humans on the Great Chain of Being between animals on one side and angels and God on the other. This set of beliefs needs to be replaced. There are no angels, nor gods, and there is nothing — at least, no higher beings — for humans to be in-between. Humans don't possess some animal parts or instincts. We are animals. A complex and unusual animal, but at the end of the day, another animal.
"Naturalism and the Mind" in Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal, Craig/Moreland, eds. (Routledge: 2002), p. 135.
Eliminative materialism is not as popular as it was some decades ago. A major problem has been the task of developing a version of eliminative materialism that is not self-refuting or self-contradictory. Some eliminativists appear to be in the unenviable position of claiming to believe that there are no beliefs. Another difficulty is the problem of being able to accommodate human reasoning. A further worry still is that eliminativism is flatly refuted by experience.
Carol Zaleski on Dualism said...
First Things 105 (August/September 2000): 36-42.
As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man's jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can't his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.
The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World (Basic Books: 2000), pp. 13-4.
But in the case of consciousness the Darwinian explanation does not tell us what we need to know, for the simple reason that it is unclear how matter can be so organized as to create a conscious being. The problem is in the raw materials. It looks as if with consciousness a new kind of reality has been injected into the universe, instead of just a recombination of the old realities. Even if minds showed no hint of design, the same old problem would exist: How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness? Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang, so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it.
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), p. 9.
But who, in that case, can be watching this pixilated show? The answer is straightforward: no one. There is no distinct "self" in there, beyond the brain as a whole. On the other hand, almost every part of the brain is being "watched" by some other part of the brain, often by several other parts at once.
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), p. 322.
You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences. That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language. And each state is typically identified by way of a specific sentence in one's natural language: one has the belief that P, or the desire that Q, for example, where P and Q are sentences. Human cognition is thus commonsensically portrayed as a dance of sentential or propositional states, with the basic unit of computation being the inference from several such states to some further sentential state. ¶ These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called "folk psychology" to acknowledge it as the common property of folks generally. Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.