Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Scraps of Kant (1)

Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (German edition).jpg
The Unexperienced Soul

In a sense, Kant is quite at one with Hume in that he believes that we never actually experience the self; or, in Kant’s terms, the “soul” (or the “substance of our thinking being”). This is because the soul is the mode through which we experience and is not, therefore, an object of experience. Perhaps it would be like a dog trying to catch its own tail. We can, of course, experience the “cognitions” of the soul; though we can’t experience the soul which has the cognitions. Like all other substances, including the substances of objects, the “substantial itself remains unknown” (978). We can, however, prove “the actuality of the soul” through the “appearances of the internal sense”. This is a proof of the soul, however, not an experience of it.

The Antinomies and Experience

What are the “antinomies”? They are subjects of philosophical dispute that have “equally clear, evident, and irresistible proof”(982) on both sides of the argument. That is, a proposition and its negation are both equally believable and acceptable in terms of rational inquiry.

Kant gives an example of such an argument with two equally weighty sides. One is whether or not the world had a beginning or as existed for eternity. The other is whether or not “matter is infinitely divisible or consists of simple parts” (982). What unites these arguments is that none of them can be solved with the help of experience. In a sense, this is an argument of an empiricist. In addition, according to the empiricism of the logical positivists, these arguments would have been considered non-arguments precisely because they can't be settled or solved by experience. As Kant puts it, such “concepts cannot be given in any experience” (982). It follows that such issues are transcendent to us.

Kant goes into further detail about experience-transcendent (or even evidence-transcendent) facts or possibilities. We can't know, through experience, whether or not the “world” (i.e., the universe) is infinite or finite in magnitude. Similarly, infinite time can't “be contained in experience” (983). Kant also talks about the intelligibility of talking about space beyond universal space or time before universal time. If there were a time before time it would not actually be a time “before” time because time is continuous. And if there were a space beyond universal space, it wouldn’t be “beyond” universal space because there can be no space beyond space itself.

Kant also questions the validity of the notion of “empty time”. That is, time without space and objects within space. This is because he thinks that time, space and objects in space are interconnected. Perhaps Kant believed that time wouldn't pass without objects to, as it were, measure the elapsing of time (through disintegration and growth). Similarly, space without time would be nonsensical, on Kant’s cosmology.

The Unperceived Tree in Space and Time

This is very much like Berkeley’s argument.

Thus, when we imagine a tree unperceived, we are, in fact, imagining it as it is perceived; though perceived by some kind of disembodied mind. Or, as Kant puts it, to represent “to ourselves that experience actually exists apart from experience or prior to it” (983). Thus when we imagine the objects of the senses existing in a “self-subsisting” manner, we are, in fact, imagining them as they would be as they are experienced. That isn't surprising because there's no other way to imagine the objects of the senses.

Space and time, on the other hand, are “modes” through which we represent external objects of the senses. As Bertrand Russell put it, we wear spatial and temporal glasses through which we perceive the world. If we take the glasses off, then, quite simply, space and time would simply disappear. They have no actuality apart from our minds. Appearances must be given up to us in the containers we call “space and time”. Space and time are the vehicles of our experiences of the objects of the senses. In a sense, it seems like a pretty banal truism to say that “objects of the senses therefore exist only in experience” because quite evidently there are no experiences without the senses and our senses themselves determine those experiences.

Freedom and Causal Necessity

“…if natural necessity is referred merely to appearances and freedom merely to things in themselves…” [984]

This position unites Kant with Hume, who also thought that necessity is something that we impose on the world. That is, necessity only belongs to appearances, not to things-in-themselves. This could also be deemed a forerunner of the logical positivist idea that necessity is a result (or product) of our conventions, not of the world itself. Of course, just as conventions belong to minds, so too do appearances belong to minds. Freedom, that is independence from causal necessity, is only found in things-in-themselves. That is, the substance of the mind is also a thing in itself; therefore the mind too is free from causal necessitation. The only things that are subject to causal necessitation are the objects of experience. Things-in- themselves (noumena) are free.

Thus Kant manages to solve a very difficult problem: the problem of determinism. That is, “nature and freedom” can exist together. Nature is not free. However, things-in-themselves (including the mind’s substance) are free. The same things can “be attributed to the very same thing”. That is, human beings are beings of experience and also beings-in-themselves. The experiential side of human nature is therefore subject to causal laws; whereas the mind transcends causal necessitation. We are, therefore, partly free and partly unfree.

Kant has a particular way of expressing what he calls “the causality of reason”. Because reason is free, its cognitions and acts of will can be seen as examples of “first beginnings” (986). A single cognition or act of will is a “first cause”. It's not one of the links in a causal chain. If they were links in such a possibly infinite causal chain, then there would be no true freedom. First beginnings guarantee us freedom of the will and self-generated (or self-caused) cognitions. In contemporary literature, such “first beginnings” are called “originations” and what a strange notion it is! What does it mean to say that something just happens ex nihilo? Would such originations therefore be arbitrary or even chaotic – sudden jolts in the dark of our minds? They would be like the quantum fluctuations in which particles suddenly appear out of the void. Why would such things guarantee us freedom rather than make us the victims of chance?

Knowledge of Things-in-Themselves

Kant both says that we can't know anything about things in themselves, yet he also says that “we are not at liberty to abstain entirely from inquiring into them” (989). So which one is it to be? Can we have knowledge of things-in-themselves or not? Perhaps Kant means that although we can indeed inquire into things in themselves, nevertheless it will be a fruitless endeavour. Or perhaps it's the psychological need to inquire because “experience never satisfies reason fully” (989). Alternatively, though our inquiries into things-in-themselves won't give us knowledge, we can still offer, nevertheless, conjectures or suppositions about such things. That is, we can speculate about the true nature of things-in-themselves; though we'll never have knowledge (in the strict sense) of them.

There are questions that will press upon us despite the fact that answers to them may never be forthcoming. Kant, again, gives his earlier examples of evidence- or experience-transcendent issues such as “the duration and magnitude of the world, of freedom or of natural necessity” (989). However, experience lets us down on these issues. Reason shows us, according to Kant, “the insufficiency of all physical modes of explanation” (989). Can reason truly offer us more?
Again, Kant tells us that we can't be satisfied by the appearances. The

chain of appearances…has…no subsistence by itself…and consequently must point to that which contains the basis of these appearances”. [990].

Of course it's reason itself which will “hope to satisfy its desire for completeness” (990). However, it's not clear whether or not reason can satisfy our yearnings by given us knowledge of things-in-themselves. Yet “we can never cognise these beings of understanding” but “must assume them”. It is reason that “connects them” (991) with the sensible world (and vice versa). It must follow, therefore, that although “we can never cognise these beings of understanding” there must be some alternative way of understanding them. Which way is that?

*) All the notes above are readings of Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A Challenge to Materialism in the Philosophy of Mind


Certain positions in contemporary physics provide anti-materialists (in the philosophy of mind) with grist for their mill. For example, are there non-physical objects that are quite acceptable to contemporary physicists? Jeffrey Poland thinks that there are. He writes:

It should be understood that the primacy of physics in ontological matters does not mean that everything is an element of a strictly physical ontology… physicalism… allows for non-physical objects, properties, and relations… physicalism should not be equated with the identity theory in any of its forms… I prefer the idea of a hierarchically structured system of objects grounded in a physical basis by a relation of realization…” [813]

All the above is quite acceptable, even on a physicalist picture of the world. However, does any of the above help in the mind-body problem or does it somehow justify attacks on materialism?

For a start, the non-physicality of (abstract) objects, properties and relations aren't of the same logical order as the ostensible non-physicality of mind or consciousness. The above can be seen as abstract objects, properties or abstract relations. We surely can't say that mind or consciousness is abstract in nature. Sure, they're non-spatial, and perhaps non-temporal; though does this make them equivalent to abstract objects like propositions, universals, etc.? Even Quine (an arch-naturalist and physicalist) accepted the existence of numbers. And if anything is an abstract object, a number is!

Thus I think that Poland has actually set up a disanalogy between the abstract objects, properties and relations accepted in physicalist philosophy and the putatively abstract nature of mind or consciousness.

The passage above finishes off with a statement of Poland's belief that he prefers the “idea of a hierarchically structured system of objects grounded in a physical basis by a relation of realization”. This too is acceptable to most philosophers of the physicalist kind. Perhaps, more importantly, it's acceptable to scientists because there is a way in which (like mentality) we can see meteorology, biology, anthropology, palaeontology, geology, anatomy, etc. as ‘higher-level’ sciences – or at least sciences which study higher-level phenomena. How does this concern the scientific question of consciousness or mentality? John Heil writes:

If you threw out “higher-level” mental states or properties solely on the grounds that they depend in a mysterious way on lower-level material phenomena, you would have to toss out all the special sciences as well. [813]

Yes, the sciences mentioned above do grow out of physics, as, for example, chemistry does and biology grows out of chemistry to a large extent: though does consciousness or mentality really grow out of the physical in the same - or even in a similar - way to all these acceptable scientific examples? Are these higher-level states and properties of the special sciences ‘emergent’ states and properties in the way that the states and properties of mentality can be seen as emergent or, at least, ‘supervenient’? Surely the parallel is far from exact.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

John Heil on the Mind-Body Problem

John Heil | Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society | Philosophy in London Since 1880

Colin McGinn is known for arguing that the problem of consciousness may well be insoluble in principle. He once wrote the following:

It could turn out that the human mind is constitutionally unable to understand itself.” [756]

We can ask how McGinn (or anyone else for that matter) could know that. Perhaps he's arguing that it could be the case that we are constitutionally incapable of understanding mind and consciousness: not that we actually are.

Take this case. If mind-brains are ‘formal systems’, it may be the case that they could not have complete knowledge of themselves. Heil writes:

Gödel showed us that formal systems rich enough to generate the truths of elementary arithmetic were, if consistent, in principle incomplete. (A system is incomplete if there are truths expressible in and implied by the system that cannot be proven true in the system.) The incompleteness of mathematics reflects an established fact about the make-up of formal systems generally. Now, imagine that we finite human beings are, as we surely are, constitutionally limited as to the kinds of thought we could entertain. Imagine, further, that our cognitive limitations were such that we could not so much as entertain the deep truth about our own minds.” [756]

Intuitively, the idea that we are constitutionally and cognitively limited in many, or some, ways is easy to accept. And if we accept this, then McGinn’s arguments seem acceptable, if not palatable. But are mind-brains formal systems? Is it right to compare the mind to an arithmetical formal system, as Heil does? (The argument is similar to the ‘what-is-it-like-to-be-a-bat/an x’ argument. In that case, we're constitutionally unable to imagine what it is like to be a bat (e.g., to have its sonar abilities).)

It is indeed quite wrong to simply assume that the ‘deep truth’ or truths of mind will some day be available to us (as many scientists may imagine). Heil writes:

“Indeed, we should be hard put to establish in advance that the deep truth about anything at all – including the material world – is cognitively available to us. To think that it must be is to exhibit an unwarranted degree of confidence in our finite capacities, what the ancients called hubris.” [756]

Doesn’t the (C.S.) Peircian notion of the “scientific convergence on the truth” assume that, at some point in the future, we will know everything about both the mind and the world? Don’t many scientists daily display such an example of scientific hubris? However, on the other side of the argument, deep pessimism may also be unwarranted. Heil writes:

“… we cannot positively prove that we are cut off from a deep understanding of mental phenomena.” [756]

Just as many scientists and philosophers display positivism on this issue, so many philosophers, such as McGinn, Nagel, etc. display a deep pessimism which is often disguised under the clothing of modesty or humility. Perhaps the problem of consciousness is not one of insolubilia; but one of incompletability.



Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Consciousness: Sapience & Sentience

David Chalmers makes a terminological distinction between sentience and sapience:

       sentience = phenomenal consciousness
       sapience = psychological consciousness

What does this distinction amount to?

For a start, a conscious creature “senses and feels”. That is, it is sentient. This is Chalmers ‘hard problem’:

Chalmers points out that psychology and neuroscience have made significant progress toward increasing our understanding of sapience – psychological consciousness… In contrast, we seem to have made little or no progress in understanding sentience. What understanding we do have consists mainly in the discovery of brute correlation between conscious episodes and neurological events. The identification of correlation represents at most a starting point for explanation, however, not a settled goal. Unlike the case of sapience, where it is reasonable to expect incremental progress, it is hard to see what we could do to move ahead in our understanding of the basis of consciousness.” - John Heil

One way we can appreciate our progress with sapience is with the fantastic growth of the cognitive sciences (as well as cognitive psychology). The language of thought hypothesis (LOT) is also an example of this; along with neuro-computationalism and connectionism. All are concerned with sapience – or psychological consciousness. But what about sentience? Where are the research projects in sentience? Could there even be such things as research projects in sentience?

Chalmers is correct to argue that the discovery of brute correlations (or connections) between conscious states and physical states is only the beginning of the story – or, at the least, a different story to the story of sentience altogether. Chalmers last point is very telling, if not overtly pessimistic. He writes that

it is hard to see what we could do to move ahead in our understanding of the basis of consciousness”.

Perhaps this word ‘basis’ is incorrectly used here. We do indeed partly know the basis of consciousness. What we don’t know is the why-of-consciousness. What we can't explain is why a conscious state should arise out of such a physical basis in the brain. The correlates are known; though not why they are correlated.

Some philosophers seem to offer a way out of this impasse that is, quite frankly, little more than a cop-out. In general terms, they “hope that sentience [will be] reducible to sapience” [601]. Surely this couldn’t be the case.

This is the position on offer:

"… all there is to being conscious is acting and interacting intelligently in a complex environment (see e.g. Dennet 1991)."

Acting thus and so is to be conscious. What of feelings and other sensuous states? These are species of sapient state. Functionalists, for instance, may hold that, to be in pain is to be in a state with the right sorts of cause and effect. Pains are caused by tissue damage and result in aversive behaviour (including the formation of various beliefs and desires).

This is indeed a reductive explanation of consciousness. It seems, to me, to be obviously false and even disingenuous in nature. How could anyone really believe that consciousness is our acting and interacting in a complex environment? How could anyone believe that acting thus and so is to be conscious? No. Consciousness comes along with interacting intelligently. Consciousness comes along with functional roles as well. Pain, on the functionalist picture, is indeed caused by tissue damage. And it's true that pain results in the right sorts of aversive behaviour (including the formation of various beliefs and desires about pain and ways of escaping pain). But all these causes and effects are accompanied by consciousness. They aren't examples of consciousness. They may even be the necessary accompaniments of consciousness; though they aren't sufficient for it. It's is incredible, again, that any philosophy could uphold these reductive (or functionalist) explanations of consciousness. And yet they do!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Frank Jackson’s ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’ (1982)

Firstly, Frank Jackson introduces us to the case of Fred. Fred can see two colours in a given areas; whereas we can see only one. The problem is that he's unsuccessful when it comes to teaching the rest of us the difference between red1 and red2. We can't make the distinction. Fred, therefore, concludes that “the rest of the world is red1 – red2 colour-blind”. The point is that Fred has a different phenomenal experience than the rest of us. He has the “ability” to distinguish two shades of red which we can't distinguish. We can, initially, accept this hypothesis. Jackson concludes that it won't help us to understand the difference between red1 and red2 even if we were to know everything there is to know, physically, about both red1 and red2. There must therefore be a phenomenal gap between the physical and either red1 or red2 (perhaps both). Either one or both must run free (as it were) of any physical underpinning. Despite all that, researchers do find a physical explanation as to why Fred can distinguish between red1 and red2. In this hypothetical situation we

find out that Fred’s cones respond differentially to certain light waves in the red section of the spectrum that make no difference to ours (or perhaps he has an extra cone) and that this leads in Fred to a wider range of those brain states responsible for visual discriminatory behaviour”. [1982]
Yes, you guessed it, this imaginary state of physical affairs doesn't have the slightest impact on Jackson’s argument. It's indeed the case that red2 has it own physical underpinning. It is the case that we have full physical knowledge as to why Fred can distinguish between red1 and red2.; though we still can't distinguish red1 from red2. We still can't read-off the extra colour from the new physical information we've acquired of Fred’s brain, eyes, etc. And nor can we infer or deduce what red2 is like from these physical facts. There's still a gap between our knowledge of the physical and our knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the phenomenal (i.e., if we can call phenomenal knowledge, knowledge at all).

The Modal Argument

Jackson then brings on board a modal argument; as well as giving attention to the possibility of zombies. In fact the zombie-possibility starts of with a logical argument - or at least a statement about the limits of logical entailment.

Mary may well have all the physical information about red or about red’s physical underpinnings. Similarly, we may have all the physical information about what seems to be another person. Jackson argues that no
“amount of physical information about another logically entails that he or she is conscious or feels anything at all”.
This is an incredible conclusion. It's not only about the possibility of zombies: it also applies to all our fellow human beings. Perhaps it's a new take on the “problem of other minds” in that Jackson argues that a complete physical picture won't tell us whether or not another being is conscious or feels anything at all. As with other-minds arguments, we infer, perhaps inductively, that other people have minds and feel pain because of their behaviour and what they say. Though, again, we can't say that behaviour alone logically entails consciousness or pain. However, we have good reasons to believe that others do suffer pain, etc. (though that’s another story). In the case of zombies, we can say that a zombie is physically and behaviourally identical to us, yet he won't be conscious and he won't feel pain. More technically, he may have the same “functional states” too. Jackson concludes this by asking a very telling and simple question:

“But then what is it that we have and they lack?”
Of course he answers his own question thus:

Not anything physical…”
Jackson concludes from his self-questioning that “[c]onsequently there is more to us than the purely physical. Thus Physicalism is false.”

As it stands, this seems to beg the question that the phenomenal, by definition, must be non-physical. Many philosophers reject this. Indeed, according to certain physicalists (such as Lewis), they do think that the phenomenal is something over and above the physical – or, at the least, above the physical as we currently describe it. (The point is that we can't have new knowledge of an experience of red, etc.) Jackson tells us that certain philosophers

sincerely deny that there cannot be physical replicas of us in other possible worlds which nevertheless lack consciousness”.


Perhaps we can say here that such beings couldn't exist according to the physical laws of our world. Aren’t philosophers usually talking to us about the possibility of zombies in our world? Or, at the least, about zombies at a possible world which nevertheless still shares our laws of nature? However, isn’t it logically possible that zombies could exist not only at other possible worlds but also in our own? Is this scenario metaphysically possible? (It depends on what metaphysical possibility actually is.)

What is it Like?

T. Nagel offered us something very special to this general debate when he published his paper, ‘What is it like to be a Bat?’ Very generally, S can't tell us what it is like “from a bat’s point of view”. The bat’s point of view is “not our point of view” [443]. In addition, the bat’s point of view

“is not something captureable in physical terms which are essentially terms understandable equally from many points of view”

All this is pretty much incontestable.

David Hume, according to Jackson, offered an argument that goes against the general position (at this time). Hume argued that “from knowledge of some shades of blue we can work out what it would be like to see other shades of blue”. That is, did Hume think that we could deduce or infer what a new shade of blue is like simply by studying the physical basis of the given shades of blue? Or did Hume mean that we could work out a new shade of blue from the shades of blue we've already seen, not from the physical substructure of our known shades of blue? These two claims are quite different. For example, we could work out the physical substructure of another shade of blue by examining it. But we still couldn't imagine another shade of blue. As for inferring another shade of blue simply from our previous experiences of known shades of blue; this is equally contestable and probably untrue. Indeed both hypotheses seem untrue, at least prima facie. At the phenomenal level, only, we couldn't do so, according to Nagel (if not Jackson), because bats, for one, are simply “too unlike us”.

The Bogey of Epiphenomenalism

Jackson now introduces epiphenomenalism into the debate.
What is epiphenomenalism? Well, for a start, epiphenomenalists don't deny qualia. However, they do “countenance the idea that qualia are causally impotent with respect to the physical world”. They don't necessarily deny that there are qualia. They believe, or some of them do, that it's “possible to hold that certain properties of certain mental states” can indeed be seen as qualia. However, “their possession or absence makes no difference to the physical world”. They are ‘causally impotent’.

Perhaps, however, an epiphenomenalist can accept that the “instantiation of qualia makes a difference to other mental states though not to anything physical”. One can immediately ask here whether or not it's coherent to deny qualia causal efficacy at the same time as allowing that they may well make a difference to other mental states (regardless of their effect on anything purely physical).

There are good reasons for holding that qualia are indeed causally efficacious. For example, “a quale like the hurtfulness of pain must be causally efficacious in the physical world”. A pain is a phenomenal process that can cause us, for example, to remove our hand from the fire. This is a causal relation or link between phenomenal pain and the physical movement of a hand. Surely this causal link is real. However, there's a Humean argument against believing this which makes use of a general position taken from Hume’s well-known stance on causality. Jackson writes:
"No matter how often B follows A, and no matter how initially obvious the causality of the connection seems, the hypothesis that A causes B can be overturned by an overarching theory which shows the two as distinct effects of a common underlying causal process.”
We can rewrite the passage above by making it germane to our current debate. Thus:

No matter how often the removing of one’s hands follows the hand’s experience of intense heat, and no matter how initially obvious the causality of the connection seems, the hypothesis that the intense heat causes the removal of the hand can be overturned by an overarching theory which shows the two as distinct effects of a common underlying causal process.
In that case, what would that common underlying causal process actually be? Why augment entities at all by positing yet another causal process to account for the feeling of heat and the removal of the hand? The epiphenomenalist argument would of course be that instead of the feeling of intense being itself a physical cause of the moving of the hand, there would be a causal process which subserves the feeling of intense heat. It would be that underlying cause that prompts the sudden movement of the hand. The feeling of pain, or the quale, simply “rides on the top” of this so far undiscovered underlying causal process.

So why the quale or the feeling at all? What point does it serve? Why not simply do without it? Why not give a fully physical and behaviourist account of what happens? And if there is such an account, then what point is pain from an evolutionary point of view? Jackson alights on this last point. He asks:

We may assume that qualia evolved over time… and so we should expect qualia to be conducive to survival. The objection is that they could hardly help us to survive if they do nothing to the physical world.”
The assumption here is that everything about the human body and mind has its evolutionary value in the precise sense that it helps us survive in some shape or form. This is wrong, according to Darwinians.

Take the well-known case of a coat being both warm and heavy, which Jackson cites. A warm coat was clearly once conducive to survival for all kinds of animal (including man). The problem is that warm coats are also heavy coats. The coat’s heaviness was not conducive to survival (for obvious reasons). However, this example of both pro and con is adequately explained by evolutionists, and indeed by Jackson. He writes:

Having a heavy coat is an unavoidable concomitant of having a warm coat… and the advantages for survival of having a warm coat outweighed the disadvantages of having a heavy one.”
What has this to do with the qualia debate? The epiphenomenalist argues that qualia “are a by-product of certain brain processes that are highly conducive to survival”.

As is often the case in many debates in the philosophy of mind, the problem of other minds also raises its head. In terms of qualia, we can ask the following question:

… how can a person’s behaviour provide any reason for believing he has qualia like mine, or indeed any qualia at all, unless this behaviour can be regarded as the outcome of the qualia.”
Clearly another person’s physical behaviour doesn't point directly, or even indirectly, to the existence of qualia (like or unlike our own). So what's the point of qualia? Even if that question was answered a moment ago, can’t we still see this lack of behavioural evidence for qualia, as well as their very existence, as pointing us to the conclusion that behaviour must indeed be the outcome of qualia? Clearly an epiphenomenalist can't accept this conclusion.

Jackson then reiterates the basic epiphenomenalist position on qualia. He writes:
“Now the epiphenomenalist allows that qualia are effects of what goes on in the brain. Qualia cause nothing physical but are caused by something physical.”
We know this position by now. However, the epiphenomenalist can still give a physical or behaviourist account of qualia. He does so in the following way:

Hence the epiphenomenalist can argue from the behaviour of others to the qualia of others by arguing from the behaviour of others back to its causes in the brains of others and out again to their qualia.”
The epiphenomenalist has already accepted qualia and he gives a physical account of them. Thus if the epiphenomenalist accepts that he indeed has qualia, he must make sense of this in terms of the behaviour of other people. If other people behave like him, and he admits to his own qualia, then he can happily accept that because others behave like him, then they (probably?) also have their own qualia. And because he has already argued that qualia are caused by the brain, the brains of other people must cause their qualia as well. Thus qualia are given a physical or behaviourist explanation, even if qualia are still seen as being inefficacious physically.

Many, if not all, epiphenomenalists argue that the supposed causal impotence of qualia is a godsend for die-hard (neo) dualists. They merely “sooth” their “intuitions”. The fact remains, however, that they are an ‘excrescence’:

They do nothing, they explain nothing…”
At least they do nothing and explain nothing if one accepts the general epiphenomenalist position, which many philosophers of mind – sometimes vocally – don't!

We talked earlier about the relevance of evolutionary theory on the qualia debate. What about an evolutionary account of our knowledge, or lack thereof, with regards to the reality of qualia? Perhaps our lack of knowledge about qualia can also be explained in evolutionary terms. Jackson states that

it is very likely that there is a part of the whole scheme of things, maybe a big part, which no amount of evolution will ever bring us near to knowledge about or understanding of”.
Perhaps the simple reason for this is that “such knowledge and understanding is irrelevant to survival”. This may account for this epistemological dearth on our part. Similarly, it has been argued, by, for example, Donald Davidson, that certain false beliefs are quite helpful for survival in certain contexts! In addition, Jackson’s position is a little like Colin McGinn’s position in that he talks in terms of “cognitive closure”. That is, we are (or we may be) cognitively incapable of acquiring a complete knowledge of consciousness (or qualia). Perhaps McGinn’s position can also be given an evolutionary explanation. 


Jackson, Frank. (1982) 'Epiphenomenal Qualia'.
-- (1986) 'What Mary Didn't Know'.
McGinn, Colin. (1989) 'Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?'

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Frank Jackson on What Mary Didn’t Know

Mary doesn't know what it's like to see red. This argument has nothing to do with imagination or Mary’s inability to imagine red. As Frank Jackson puts it: “Powers of imagination are not to the point [567]”. This is about Mary’s knowledge (or lack thereof), not her imagination. More precisely, “she would not know” what it's like to experience red. More to the point,

“if physicalism is true, she would know; and no great powers of imagination would be called for”. [567]

The first response to this is to ask what Jackson means by the word “knowledge” (or by the words “knowledge of red”). This seems like an odd use of the word ‘know’. How would Mary, or anyone else, know what red is like? What is the epistemology of knowing red? Even if Mary could sense red, how could she also know red (or what red is)? Could she, or anyone else, be wrong about red without inter-communal responses?

Is Jackson’s conclusion correct? That is:

i) If physicalism were true
ii) then Mary would know what red is.

Firstly, Jackson argues that given Mary’s “fantastic grasp of neurophysiology and everything else physical” she couldn't thereby work out the last phenomenal part of red “by making some more purely logical inferences”. Mary can't, then, infer the phenomenal from the purely physical - no matter how complete and exact her physical knowledge is.

Jackson makes a distinction that's often been made in various areas of philosophy: the distinction between “knowledge by description” and “knowledge by acquaintance”. Presumably Mary had knowledge by description before she was let out of her black and white room. After she was let out, she had knowledge by acquaintance. In other words, her complete description of red wasn't enough. On freeing, she became acquainted with red – not only with red’s physical “supervenience base” (as Jaegwon Kim puts it). This must also mean that phenomenal red literally can't be described. This has been something long accepted by many philosophers. That's why colours (or colour words) are taught purely by ostension – by the teacher pointing to something red and then saying to the student, “This is red.” However, if red is in effect purely phenomenal, and purely taught by ostension, then how can Mary (or anyone else) have knowledge of red?I've questioned Jackson’s use of the notion of knowledge. So too does David Lewis and Laurence Nemirow. They do so by distinguishing knowing or learning that something is red from acquiring “a certain representational or imaginative ability” [568]. How can the sudden new experience of red (outside the black and white room) be a knowledge of red? How does Mary learn something new? She experiences something new; though she doesn't learn something new or acquire new knowledge.

However, something new does happen to Mary. As we've said, she acquires a certain representational or imaginative ability. Presumably that ability is to recognise red on further occasions (or to distinguish red from any other colour). Though how would she know, on her own, that it's red unless someone else tells her that this is the case? This would be especially the case if her new experience of red was sudden and had no direct connection to her examinations of red’s physical micro-structure. Outside the room she would see something new; though how would she know that it is red? Indeed how would she have known that it was a colour of any description?

Earlier we commented on Jackson’s use of the knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance distinction. Now he brings in the “knowledge how” and the “knowledge that” distinction (as used by David Lewis).

Mary now knows how to recognise red. She has that ‘ability’. Does she know that it's red? Not if, as we've argued, she has no new knowledge of red at all. And even with knowledge, she would still require third-person help (as it were) to tell her that the red wall outside is indeed red. That wouldn't be knowledge.

We can join up the two dualisms thus:

knowledge by acquaintance = knowledge how
knowledge by description = knowledge that

However, according to our discussion, neither knowledge by acquaintance nor knowing how are, in fact, examples of knowledge (strictly speaking). Only knowledge by description and knowing that are true examples of knowledge. Alternatively, perhaps we can't have one without the other. That is,

         i) We can't have knowledge how without knowledge that. Or,
        ii) We can't have knowledge that without knowledge how.

Mary needs knowledge that red is red, as we said, before she can learn how to distinguish red from other colours. Alternatively, she must know something in order to know that it's a colour or that she has had a new experience outside her room. To know that red is red, she must know how it looks. How does this work for the other distinction? Thus:

                 i) We can't have knowledge by acquaintance without knowledge by description. Or,
                ii) We can't have knowledge by description without knowledge by acquaintance.

    This works in a similar way to the above, and for similar reasons. How do we know we are acquainted with something (an X) without the help of some form of description? How do we know we're now acquainted with red without some kind of ostensive definition (or some other kind of help)? We may know that we're acquainted with something new; though not that it's red or even that it's a colour of any kind. Alternatively, red can't be described to us to give us knowledge that without our being acquainted, in some way, with phenomenal red. Without being acquainted with a something, we wouldn’t know what it is that's being described.

    But both distinctions are cases of a false disjuncture between ostensibly two alternatives. Perhaps this is like Ned Block’s distinction between “phenomenal consciousness” and “access consciousness” [ ]. The difference here is that Block admits that in this case you may not be able to have the one without the other. Nevertheless, this should not stop us making the distinction because it's still, after all, an acceptable distinction. And the same goes for our own ‘false dichotomies’.
    The important conclusion to this is that

“a physicalist can admit that Mary acquires something very significant of a knowledge kind – which can hardly be denied – without admitting that this shows that her earlier factual knowledge is defective”. [568-69]

Physicalists are not, then, denying that extra little something. They only deny the increase in Mary’s knowledge. Thus it's strange that Jackson still insists in using the word knowledge (suitably reduced to his “of a knowledge kind”). What does he mean by this? A kind of knowledge is still an example of knowledge, isn’t it? Thus it all depends on what Jackson and the physicalists mean by ‘knowledge’!


Jackson, Frank. 'What Mary Didn't Know' (1986)
Lewis, David. 'What Experience Teaches' (1990).

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Wittgensteinian Fragment on Solipsism and the Self

The solipsist, according to Wittgenstein, is contradicting himself when he says, ‘Only what I see exists.’ That's because the I/self itself isn't seen in experience. Therefore, like the rest of the things he doesn't see, he has no right to talk about the I/self at all.

As Quine said, if we have no “criterion of identity” for an object, then we should deny that object any (official) existence. Thus the I/self has no criterion of identity and therefore it should be thrown overboard.

The solipsist doesn't exist by his own standards because the I is not seen, only the things that the I sees are seen. Thus the subject is indeed “a vanishing point” (Tractatus). There's nothing to see, or hear, or smell, but the things the I itself sees, hears and smells. Thus perhaps we should write the I/self in quotes because it can be taken as a word without a referent or designation.

What is a person? Is it something over and above “the subject which is living this mental life” or “the subject which is having these visual impressions” (David Pears)? Surely some thing needs to have a mental life or have visual impressions. Or do we just intuitively presume that there needs to be a subject of a mental life or a subject of visual impressions?

Now, instead of the word 'person', we meet the word 'subject'; which doesn't seem identical. A subject is a subject of something whereas a person needn't be the subject of something. At least this is the case on certain readings of the concept [person].

What is the subject? Subjects in subject-predicate expressions are of the subjects of predication. Can we predicate anything of the subject? We can predicate experiences or cognitive operations of the subject? For example, when I say ‘The rose is red’ I'm predicating an attribute (or property) to the rose. However, experiences or cognitive operations aren't of the same kind of predicate as “red”. These are things the subject does or carries out. The rose, on the other hand, doesn't do red, carry out red or experience red. (This is like saying “John works on the farm” rather than “John is tall”.) Do we have predicates of the latter kind which can be predicated of the subject? We can say what the subject does or what the subject experiences; though can we attribute properties to the subject? It is these kinds of criteria of identity that are missing from the subject. No, the subject has no intrinsic identity conditions. However, if the subject has vanished, then how can it be the subject of experiences and the subject of cognitive operations? Something must surely experience things and carry out cognitive operations.