Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Philosophy of Mind

Jaegwon Kim, Philosophy of Mind
Cartesian dualists, keep out. Jaegwon Kim's accessible, though difficult, survey of the issues and problems with physicalist conceptions of the mind wastes little time dispensing with substance dualism, the belief that
...each of is, at least as we exist on this earth, a composite being made up of two distinct substances, an immaterial mind an a material body.... There has been near consensus among philosophers that the concept of mind as a mental substance gives rise to too many difficulties and puzzles without compensating explanatory gains (pp. 3-4).
The rest of the book focuses on varieties of physicalism--from emergentism to reductionism, from behaviorism to functionalism--and dwells on the explanatory benefits of, and difficulties with, each perspective. Though the book is meant for the informed reader, as Kim notes,
In the course of writing this book, I was constantly reminded of what Sir Peter Strawson once said, namely, that there is no such tihng as "elementary philosophy" (p. xi).
Those who struggle through discussions of twin earths, Nagel-reduction, supervenience, and Turing machines will be rewarded with a new understanding of the complexity--and possibility--in the fields of neuropsychology and philosophy. The book is part of the Dimensions of Philosophy Series which is "dedicated to the next generation of philosophers and their students." A superlative achievement.

5 Comments:

Blogger Matthew Anderson said...

I take it that Kim is attempting to keep his book (which I have not read) at a readable length. There is an extensive amount of literature defending substance dualism (even of a non-Cartesian variety!) by a NUMBER of scholars. The "near consensus" sounds significantly more optimistic than Quentin Smith's realization that a fourth to a third of scholars are theists (and hence, dualists of some sort). I point this out merely as a qualifyer to Kim's somewhat sweeping assertion.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

In fairness to Kim, I cited just the summary of his dismissal; he has more to say about it in the book. He also packs a lot of references into his footnotes, and has a "further reading" list at the end of each chapter, many of which present dissenting views. (It was published in 1996; I don't know if there have been dualistic breakthroughs since then.) Brevity is a likely reason, too. The book is intended as an introduction for non-philosophers, so it's a mere 250-odd pages.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Matthew Anderson said...

I thought as much. I really respect Kim as a scholar. He's pretty good. If you're interested, in a recent issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Plantinga has a pretty convincing refutation of Kim's reductionism. I would write specifics about it (maybe on Mere-O) but it will have to wait until Saturday when I can get back to the library to read it again.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew Anderson: "a fourth to a third of scholars are theists (and hence, dualists of some sort)."

That doesn't follow. Significant numbers of academic theists are also physicalists.

Consider Nancey Murphy's _Whatever Happened to the Soul_. Peter van Inwagen and I believe William Alston are also physicalists. In his debates William Lane Craig always points out that theists aren't necessarily dualists as they can believe in resurrection alone.

I think the obvious fact that a lobotomy can destroy your intellect and moral inhibitions is such compelling evidence against dualism that about the only remaining motivation for defending dualism is a religious agenda rather than a genuine philosophical or scientific consideration.

I think Kim's point was that among philosophers of mind whose opinions are shaped solely by considerations having to do with the philosophy of mind, who don't bring any particular religious prejudices they feel compelled to defend to the table, there is nearly a consensus that substance dualism is false.

The "consensus" is among the remainder of philosophers of mind, those who are not a priori bound to restrict their reasoning only to those ideas which conform to religious doctrines. And that is as it should be, since the only justification for specific religious dogmas, after all, is tradition.

Even among theists, J. P. Moreland, William Hasker, and Victor Reppert are the only theistic defenders of dualism that I'm aware of. The neuroscientific
evidence for some form of physicalism has left them little wiggle room unless they want to go the way of creationists and dismiss legitimate scientific data altogether.

The NEAR-consensus lies with those who publish almost exclusively in the philosophy of mind. Those whose primary focus is in the philosophy of religion are the die-hard holdouts. That's why you are hard pressed to find enough nontheistic substance dualists to count on one hand.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Victor Reppert said...

There are a significant number of other defenders of dualism besides Moreland, Hasker and myself. Geoffrey Madell's Mind and Materialism is a book that came out way back in 1988 with no explicit religion backing it up, Charles Taliaferro's Consciousness and the Mind of God came out in 1996, Swinburne's Evolution of the Soul came out in 1986, I know Plantinga has defended substance dualism, John Foster and Howard Robinson are defenders of dualism as well. Some of these people have religious commitments that have something to do with it, and some do not.

One's broader metaphysics invariably has a great deal to do with what one accepts in the philosophy of mind, and this makes sense. If you are an atheist, if you think that we started off with a physical universe and everything else got here by evolution, then you are hard pressed to find any way that a non-physical soul could possibly emerge. This is why many people in the philosophy of mind are convinced that they have to be physicalists no matter what the difficulties with physicalism are, and many of them, like Kim, McGinn, Nagel, (who isn't really a physicalist) and Searle, are prepared to acknowledge massive difficulties for physicalism. No one starts doing philosophy from a neutral position; everyone who has a world view, to some extent at least, uses the faith seeking understanding principle.

The arguments that anonymous is providing show a close interconnectedness between mind and brain, but these discoveries seem to me to be quite compatible with dualism, as even Richard Carrier concedes.

You also seem to be underestimating the influence of intellecutal peer pressure, which pushes pretty strongly in favor of physicalism. At least it did back when I was in grad school!

9:55 AM  

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