[lit-ideas] Re: Logical Corpuscularism

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 8 Sep 2015 14:19:46 +0000 (UTC)

There are many fine jokes in JLS' last post, none perhaps richer than this:

Grice would not use 'consciousness' (a term of art) but personal identity, 
and specific personal identities>
As if (rotfl) "personal identity" is less of a term of art than consciousness.

I well remember when the last ambulance came to take me away, I heard someone
say "I think he's lost consciousness" - only to be rebuked for using a "term of
art". Then the voice said "Sorry, I mean his personal identity isn't the best."
I now think the people who took me away were Griceans.
The running joke is of course the idea that "conceptual analysis" can advance
our understanding of the facts of the matter as to the relations between mental
states and brain states. This is like saying I can find out the time of the
next train from Waterloo to Brighton by "conceptual analysis" or discover
whether atoms contain quarks by "conceptual analysis" . We must admire how the
discipline of their training allows philosophers to keep a straight face as
they offer these outrageous jokes.

On Tuesday, 8 September 2015, 12:30, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx"
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

We are considering certain objections (possible or actual -- and 'actual' 
as actually raised by Popper) against any type of corpuscularism, logical or

In a message dated 9/8/2015 2:52:58 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
the 'downward causation' of consciousness  on its brain, which Popper
defends in "The Self and Its Brain".
It is not the  claim that consciousness "produces" the brain - unless we
take this in a way so  loose it is unhelpful. It is not suggested that the
existence of the brain  depends on consciousness. It is also admitted that
consciousness depends on  there being a brain - a physical substrate for its
activity. It is also admitted  that consciousness is a product of that physical
substrate. What is claimed, by  way of "downward causation", is that
consciousness is not entirely  brain-dependent and acquires some autonomy of
'action', and is able by that  autonomous 'action' to interact with its brain -
and so exercise some form of  'downward causation' on the physical brain
substrate from which it emerges. So  it is claimed that some mental states
exercise some causal affects on some  physical brain states - but it is not
necessarily claimed that these causal  effects entirely "produce" the affected
brain state (as other brain states may  play a causal role)."

I see some similarity with William James here (and Steven R. Bayne seems to
be the expert here). If I raise my hand, say.

As philosophers of action, like Danto, and Bruce Aune, have noted the 
complexities involved here, which are merely (to use McEvoy's example) TOUCHED 
in essays like Grice's "INTENTION and UNCERTAINITY" and "Method in
philosophical  psychology". In "Intention and Uncertainty", Grice calls himself

neo-Prichardian, since by that time J. O. Urmson had reprinted some of 
Prichard's essays on

willing, intending

Grice was fascinated that Prichard had focused on WILLING-THAT.


i. Popper willed that his left arm be raised.
---- Therefore Popper's left arm was raised.

McEvoy here would distinguish between:

A. Popper's brain (composed of corpuscules)
B. Popper's consciousness (or nest of intentions and willings).

For Prichard and Grice, an 'intention' to raise one's arm is understood 
CAUSALLY in a rather complex way:

ii. a. Popper wills that his left arm be raised.
--- b. Popper believes that if he wills that his left arm be raised, his 
left arm will be raised.
--- c. Popper believes that (a) and (b) CAUSES Popper's raising his left 

(I think Grice's example is Prichard scratching his head).

Back to McEvoy's commentary:

"the 'downward causation' of consciousness on its brain",

Grice would not use 'consciousness' (a term of art) but personal identity, 
and specific personal identities, say, "Grice", as in

iii. Grice wills to scratch his head.

(vide Grice, "Personal Identity"). 'Consciousness' seems perhaps too 
abstract. It's people like Grice who are, on occasion, conscious or not.
essay deals with Reid's counterexample (alleged) to Locke's memory-based 
approach of personal identity as a 'logical' construction out of mnemonic 

McEvoy continues:

"which Popper defends in "The Self and Its Brain". It is not the claim that
consciousness "produces" the brain - unless we take this in a way so loose
it is  unhelpful. It is not suggested that the existence of the brain
depends on  consciousness."

Well, from an evolutionary point of view, this is Grice's view of cabbages 
(and kings). A brain is what a brain is for (teleo-functionalism). If the
whole  point of Grice's brain is that Grice can regard himself as Grice,
Grice's brain  does depend on the 'telos' of Grice having a consciousness. In
less specific  terms: the human brain, as every physical anthropologist is
obsessed with  torturing his students with, the changes in the evolution of the
human brain (to  'Homo sapiens') have to do with things in Homo-sapiens's
consciousness that this  or that physical change in the brain of Hominids did


"It is also admitted that consciousness depends on there being a brain - a 
physical substrate for its activity."

This is good. Consciousness or "Grice" belongs in W2, so it's good that 
Popper is allowing for W2 items to have a W1-substratum. This being Locke's 
reading of Boyle's corpuscular theories, and Locke's explanation of primary
and  secondary qualities. Locke's perception of BULK, for example, is
PRIMARY, since  BULK is a primary quality of a corpuscule. If Locke takes this
of sugar to  his mouth, the taste of sweetness is a secondary quality,
because while it  depends on primary qualities, it's not like the corpuscules
_per se_ are sweet.


"It is also admitted that consciousness is a product of that physical 

This is good from an evolutionary point of view, even if, if we adopt a 
teleo-functional approach, we allow that the lung was developed out of the 
creature's desire to breath, and the leg (of the animal, not the table) 
developed out of the desire of the animal to walk (for Aristotle, plants were 
animals that did not walk), and the brain developed out of the problems "Homo 
sapiens" found himself having to solve "under the circumstances". A
dinosaur's  brain differs from Homo-sapiens brain because they deal with
problems  (And no, the main problem for a dinosaur is NOT to eat a
Homo-sapiens, they were  herbivorous on average).

McEvoy, finally, considers what 'downward causation' boils down to for 
theories like Boyle's, etc.:

"What is claimed, by way of "downward causation", is that consciousness is 
not ENTIRELY [my emphasis -- Speranza] brain-dependent"

This may require a complex analysis in terms of necessary and sufficient 
conditions. It reminds me of Mill's generalities about causation in the
sections  of inductive logic in "System of Logic".


"and acquires some autonomy of 'action',"

There may be some category mistake here. Does consciousness act? Grice 
acts. Autonomy was I think a keyword in Kant's system. Are we saying Grice is 
autonomous. McEvoy had previously used AUTOMATA, which may, ironically,
relate!  In previous notes, McEvoy used the abstract (Anglo-Saxon, contra "The
Wake)  noun, 'freedom', as in "human freedom". Are we saying Grice is 'free'.
As I say,  'free' can be a problem, and Grice was obsessed with providing a
linguistic  botany for the uses of 'free' he encountered: there's free
fall, which is  physical (as: "The nurse dropped the patient's brain, and it
a short, but  strict, free fall of the brain to the floor. Fortunately,
there was no damage,  and the doctor could proceed with the transplant, and
even the floor was not a  mess." Then there's, Grice notes, 'sugar-free' and
'alcohol-free', and finally,  Grice is free in that he is not a slave. He can
raise his arm (which is back to  the sort of examples that fascinated
William James in his Elements of Psychology  -- is there telepathy for


"and is able by that autonomous 'action' to interact with its brain"

Well, the idea that Grice interacts with his brain has a science-fiction 
touch about it.

iv. Grice wills to stop his headache (which he knows it's  brain-produced).
---- He believes that if he takes three aspirins, his headache will  stop.
---- Therefore he does that. And he no longer has a headache.

But note that it's an aching head (and thus slightly dysfunctional brain --
Grice with a headache, or Witters with a tootache) that brings Grice or 
Witters to do, freely, this or that (take three aspirins, remove his head, or
go  to a dentist, as the case might be).

McEvoy: "and so exercise some form of 'downward causation' on the physical 
brain substrate from which it emerges."

McEvoy nicely manages to insert his favourite keyword (second to 'merely'):
'emerges' -as if to say that Grice-qua-consciousness is a logical
construction  of the physical stratum (Grice's body) out of which
emerges.  When proposing his 'logical construction approach to personal
identity', Grice  is dubious:

v. Grice fell from the stairs.

In this case, "Grice" does NOT refer to Grice-consciousnes, but Grice being
the 'complex' body-and-soul. I think this type of theory was later refined
by  Strawson and Parfitt ("The concept of a person"). Ayer, too, has an
essay on  "The concept of a person" that may relate.

vi. Grice's head was hit by a cricket ball.

seems to refer merely to the physical. While,

vii. Grice KNOWS that he will join the Royal Navy soon.

(He wrote "Personal identity" before the 1939-1945 war) seems to be for 
Grice merely 'mental' -- he is playing with approaches to the mind-body
problem  after the convoluted theories of Cambridge philosopher Broad and opts
a  'logical construction' theory of the ego).

McEvoy concludes:

"So it is claimed that some mental states exercise some causal affects on 
some physical brain states - but it is not necessarily claimed that these
causal  effects entirely "produce" the affected brain state (as other brain
states may  play a causal role)."

This has a Davidsonian ring to it, and we may want to elaborate on it. For 
the refinements may go along the lines:

i. Some mental state (Grice's willingness that his arm be raised) causes a 
state in Grice's brain that 'fulfils' this willingness: his brain then
proceeds  to interact with Grice's arm and Grice's arm is raised -- so he can
scratch his  head and relieve the itch.
ii. "Brain state" seems ambiguous in that we seem to be concentrating on 
brain states that have some 'manifestation' in behaviour, to use a 
Wittgensteinianism. Grice's willingness to scratch his head has a correlate or 
substratum in some state of Grice's brain, but there may be some brain sates in 

Grice's brain that have no outward manifestation and about which, to put it 
bluntly, Grice could care less (while his wife could NOT care less).

And so on.



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