[Wittrs] Re: Dancing Dualisms: Searlean Moves and Cartesian Moves

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2010 15:34:40 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Gordon Swobe <wittrsamr@...> wrote:

> --- On Fri, 3/26/10, SWM <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
> > But then Searle is a "property dualist" since he just expresses the same
> > notion differently, i.e., in his claim that consciousness
> > has a first person ontology that is irreducible to the third
> > person ontology of so-called physical things.
> But Searle doesn't make that claim. He acknowledges that we can reduce mental 
> phenomena to physics both causally and ontologically if we so choose. He also 
> observes that it would make no sense to do the ontological reduction, as we 
> would lose the concept that interests us.

The issue, of course, isn't about ways of talking but about whether computers 
can cause consciousness as brains cause consciousness since THAT is the crux of 
Searle's CRA.

We can all agree that there are different ways of talking, different language 
games relevant to speaking about our thoughts, feelings, intentions, etc., on 
the one hand, and speaking about publicly observable phenomena on the other. So 
the question is whether "it would make no sense" as you put it to speak of 
subjective phenomena in terms of objectively observable (physical) causes.

Note that the language game of causal descriptions, a la science and some other 
human endeavors, is not the language game of referencing elements of our 
subjective experiences, our mental lives, of reporting our feelings, our pains, 
etc. But they are not mutually exclusive either, i.e., we can acknowledge we 
have feelings, motives, beliefs, perceptions, etc., AND speak about them, 
without denying or jettisoning the scientific approach which hinges on 
determining their causes, etc.

My recollection is that Searle says we can causally reduce minds to brains but 
then makes a distinction between such reduction and ontological description 
which, he avers, cannot be reduced, one to the other (via his first-person, 
third-person ontological assertion). Thus he says that what is describable in 
terms of what he calls first person ontology is NOT describable in terms of a 
third person ontology and vice versa, making a distinction between ontological 
claims and causally reductive ones. This distinction strikes me as an 
artificial one precisely because speaking of causes is not to speak of 
intentions, motives, etc.

And, as Feser indicates in that article, one can do an ontololgically causal 
reduction, too, of course. That is, to speak of causes is also to attend to 
ontology if the claim in that A's cause B's is that A's are the real underlying 
phenomenon and B's are merely what we happen to see, etc.

Now you say Searle allows ontological causal reduction but I don't recall 
seeing that he actually does. Have you a source for the claim?

The problem, or at least one problem for Searle, seems to me to be his 
introduction of a distinction between first and third person ontologies on the 
one hand, and causal reduction, on the other, since, by doing this, he seems to 
say there is nothing ontological about causal reductions when, in fact, there 
manifestly is, i.e., we can reduce B's to A's where A's are seen as the more 
basic constituent of reality.

But it does seem to me that this talk of "ontologies" and "reductions" 
introduces some very unclear ideas into the discourse since both terms are 
fairly specialized with a range of somewhat technical and not necessarily clear 
uses. Perhaps more clarity is needed with regard to these terms.

> By contrast, property and substance dualists outright deny the possibility of 
> an ontological reduction on the grounds that mental phenomena have a 
> non-physical kind of reality.
> -gts

What do you mean when you say Searle allows for ontological reduction? Are you 
saying he allows for first to third person (or vice versa) causal reduction in 
an ontological sense (A's cause B's) or are you saying that he merely allows 
that we can re-state our mental (first person) claims in physical (third 
person) claims?

If this is all you mean, no one is arguing that this wouldn't be clumsy and 
impractical and even, perhaps, impossible on the grounds that mental phenomena 
are just a different level of operation for us. But the issue, again, has to do 
with how the physical begets the mental. Searle asserts that the CR can't do it 
(we agree it can't as specked) and that, because it can't, none of the 
constituents of the CR can do it under any other circumstances either. But IF 
the mental is a system property rather than a property of particular physical 
events (processes) as in so-called "property dualism", then there is no reason 
it cannot do it, especially once we agree that physical events in brains can do 

But if computers can't, just because the physical events that make them up 
can't, then why should we think that the physical events that make up brains 
can? Well, we know physical events in brains do. But then that isn't an 
argument that the ones in computers can't! Something else is needed. And that 
is that what we call mental is basic. But then either brains do it by 
introducing something new to the universe or in the same way computers might do 

Anyway, I see I'm getting into my argument with Searle again though I wanted to 
mainly focus here on your claim that Searle allows ontological reductions while 
"dualists" don't. Note that Feser says property dualists allow causal 
reductions and calls them ontological while Searle, as you note, allows causal 
reductions but doesn't call them "ontological". So what's the difference 
besides the terminology?


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