Anglophone Philosophy of mind circa 1960

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 Review (Anglophone Philosophy of mind circa 1960)

1. An `intensional’ relation (/predicate/context)  is one where two otherwise valid rules of inference fail:

-Existential Generalization (a is F  something is F)

-Substitution of Identicals  (a=b & Fa) –> (Fb)

Many psychological contexts (in particular many propositional attitude contexts) are intensional;. Hus, particular. ‘John wants a sloop’ does not entail `there is a sloop that John wants’; `Brutus believes that Cicero is bald & Cicero = Tully’ does not entail `Brutus believes that Tully is tall’. 

A  theory of the nature of the nature of such mental states might reasonably  be expected to answer such questions as:  `How is it possible to want something if there is nothing that you want?’

2.  Classical Empiricism (eg Hume) endorsed a   psychology that offered answers to such questions. It consisted of the claim that:

 i believing that Cicero is tall is a relation to a `Mental Representation’ .

ii.  Mental representations are mental objects; they have causal powers.

(iii) Mental Representations are mental images.

 (iv) Mental processes are associations of ideas. To believe that Cicero is tall is to have an association between the idea CICERO and the idea TULLY (mental tokens of the former reliably cause tokens of the latter). Thus the `Empiricist Synthesis’ (ES).

By the `60sd ESlhad begun to break down, because:

-It had been around ever so long, and people got bored with it.

-It raised, but didn’t solve, the problem of how minds and bodies can interact.

-Associationism didn’t worh,  (Eg. no theory of predication; see Kant and Frege).

2.1 The interaction problem would go away if either (i) there  just aren’t any mental states/processes I, eliminativism’) or (ii) mental states/processes reduce to behavioral dispositions (whatever, exactly `reduce to’ is taken to mean. But: almost nobody could take eliminatiism

  -Almost nobody could believe 1


- Materialism is compatible with eliminativism but also with behaviorism (which many philosophers and psychologists took to be independently warranted either by the methodological demands of science or by the `analysis’ of mental concepts or by both).

So, by mid-century, behaviorism became the fashionable  metaphysics of mind, both in philosophy  (Ryle, Wittgenstein) and in psychology (Skinner, Hull).

However:  Chomsky convinced practically everybody that behaviorism is untenable.  (see Chomsky on Skinner. ) 

So. if Materialism was to be viable, it seemed it must take the form of some sort of mind-brain identity thesis.


-But a new kind of Materialism appeared on the horizon:  Propositional attitudes  are  still relations to Mental Representations, but MRs are language-like (in particular they  are syntactically structured) rather than imagistic.; 

               Mental processes are computations in something like Turing’s sense. The Representation theory of mind is thus conjoined with the`Representational / Computational Theory of Mind’; RTM and Associationsm could be abandoned. So everything was fine and everybody was happy.

However, two embarrassing  questions were unanswered: (1) It’s prima facie sort of clear how images could represent things; viz. by resembling the things they represent. But how do `language-like’ representations represent things (the semantic problem)?; (2) Propositional attitudes are all very well, but what about sensations, feelings and the like? (the problem of consciousness).

(It bears emphasis that neither behaviorism nor mind/brain identification offered a plausible solution to either (1) or (2).

Then came Nagel’s bats, which suggested that no  version of Materialism ---RTM included--- could provide a plausible account of consciousness. So everybody started writing papers about consciousness; and continues to do so.

3. Nagel’s Puzzle (the first of a number of arguments that purport to show that Materialism is false).

i. There is (presumably) `something it is like (for a bat) to hear the cry of a bat.

Ii. But we can’t, even in principle, know what it is like (for a bat) to hear the cry of a bat.

iii. So, there are states of consciousness which we can’t know about even in principle.

iv. A theory of consciousness should illuminate this situation. Why can’t we know what it’s like for a bat to hear the cry of a bat?

v.  But neither behaviorism, nor mind-brain identification, nor RTM provided the illumination required.. Since, as far as anybody knows these exhaust the varieties of materialism, facts about consciousness show there is a something fundamentally wrong with Materialism.

4. Nagel’s diagnosis of the bat puzzle
-We don’t know what bats  cries sound like (to bats) because we are too different from bats to share their subjectivity/ Point of View.  Shared POV is (or requires?  shared`subjectivity’. Nagel doesn’t say what the relation beween subjectivity and consciousness is;  presumably he takes them to b e the same.             -

5, The Moral Nagel  draws: There are some things that we couldn’t know about the subjective character of experience even if we know all the objective facts. (Nagel assumes that  the effects of subjectivity with effects of consciousness; but he’s not very clear about what exactly he think the connection is.)

               In particular, there are some facts about the world that objective inquiry  (`science’) can’t discover. That’s because science seeks to abstract from the  effects of POV on subjective experience (it wants  the facts as viewed “from nowhere”.

-Since according to Materialism, all the `objective’ facts are facts about material things, it follows that there must be something wrong with Materialism. QED.

6. Reasons for doubting that Nagel’s diagnosis is right:

-Presumably, even a talking bat couldn’t ’ tell another bat what it’s like to hear a bat’s cry We have what seems to be  the same problem  with one another in respect of any sensory experience.  Try saying what it’s like to see something red.

This can’t be because we don’t share POVs

-See Locke on knowing what a pineapple tastes like.

-Likewise with skeptical puzzles about (eg.) inverted spectra; arguably, I can’t know what red looks like to you. (Inverted spectra etc.) There is empirical evidence suggesting that it doesn’t.

-Scientific objectivity doesn’t seek a view from nowhere (i.e. a view that abolishes effects of POV.) What it wants is a view from nowhere in particular; ie one that abstracts from the effects of objectivity. (Views from one place or other fall out as special cases.( See the ‘cosmological principle’ in Astronomy.)

-The reason there’s  no such thing as a view from nowhere because  there is no such place as nowhere.

7. What I take to be the right story:

-some concepts are syntactically `primitive’ (RED) and others are syntactically `complex’ RED AND SQUARE) . (Remember, LOT says that mental representations are language-like. The difference between simple and complex concepts corresponds (roughly) to the linguistic difference between words and phrases.

-complex concepts can be acquired by construction.

-simple concepts can (only) be acquired from experience.

-the reason we can’t know what it’s like to hear a bat’s cry is that we have never had the experience of hearing one.

-Another way to say the same thing: The concept BAT’S CRY is primitive for bats; but it is complex for us (or any other creature that can’t hear bats cries,

The empiricists had this right, though they drew the wrong conclusion: viz that you can only know what you can experience. ie they tried to deduce their epistemology from their psychology,. THAT IS A TERRIBLE MISTAKE. What’s true is that you can only lrearn your primitive  concepts from experience. If you have primitive concepts that you didn’/t learn from experience, they must be innate.

- Much the same line of thought can  be run on properties rather  than concepts (unsurprisingly since typical concepts express properties.)

-this raises the question `what property does the concept RED express?’

-it’s the property a thing has if it is normally seen (by us) as red. This makes the property RED both relational and intensional.  (An illustration of the ways in which consciousness and intensionality are `entangled`).

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