[Wittrs] Re: Dualism Cooties: Dennett Accuses Searle

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 09 Mar 2010 19:53:12 -0000

All right Joe, back now. Will finish my response to you:

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Joseph Polanik <jPolanik@...> wrote:

> OTOH, if you take the position that properties are not reducible to the
> substance of which they are a property, then the relevant questions are
> 'how many fundamentally different property sets are there' and 'how many
> substances are invoked to explain having that many property sets'.
> here's a schematic breakdown:

I think you over intellectualize this kind of thing with all your schematics. 
I'm thinking here of your categories of "1,2,3" which you developed to 
correspond (but presumably differ from) the categories you cited that von 
Neumann used of "I,II,III".

After a while it gets a little silly. But I'll read on.

> S1/P1 - substance monism / property monism - reductive physicalists and
> eliminative materialists here - Dennett and Searle (according to
> Searle) - also panpsychists

I don't know if that's a fair ascription re: Dennett. Certainly I would agree 
his metaphysical position is what you would probably call monist-physicalist 
and I expect Searle would agree to that as well, if pressed. But neither seem 
particularly keen to engage in metaphysical discourse about such things.

Searle, of course, peels off subjectness from the rest of the universe by 
asserting that it has a "first person ontology" which cannot be dealt with in a 
third person way. But what does that mean, finally? Searle, after all, agrees 
that the universe is physical but then he diverges from this when he invokes 
"first person ontology" claims (suggesting either that there is something in 
the universe that isn't physical -- or that there is something brought into 
existence by some physical things in the universe that isn't).

Insofar as ontology is about reductive description it is about what causes what 
(as in what is responsible for what). But Searle, while asserting his claim 
about consciousness being a matter of first person ontology, agrees that 
brains, perfectly physical things, cause consciousness! Thus his notion of 
ontology appears rather idiosyncratic because he separates causal descriptions 
from what we may want to characterize for want of a better term, as 
observational descriptions. But causal descriptions, at bottom, ARE also 
observational since they involve noticing consistent relations between two or 
more events/existents.

Dennett, for his part, simply hews to a physically based explanation of 
consciousness, challenging the seemingly intuitive view that we have about our 
own consciousness, i.e., that it is uniquely our own in some non-physical way. 
(Dennett thinks we can give a full account of subjectness using third person 
description, i.e., his "heterophenomenology", if not now then eventually.) 
Searle seems, instead, to want to split the difference, holding a physicalist 
view, like Dennett, while severing consciousness from whatever is physical.

I think Searle's approach is confused. But I don't see how any of this becomes 
your S1/P1 (substance monism/property monism). First, neither Dennett nor 
Searle make arguments for a bottom line physical "substance" (at least not in 
anything I have read from either of them). Both do seem to embrace the 
physicalist view of the universe but that doesn't mean they embrace claims 
regarding "substance" because what is physical is not describable as some kind 
of "substance" given today's scientific picture.

Indeed, that term ("substance") looks to me to be outmoded for the reasons I've 
already given. We do have a use for a term like "substance", of course, but 
that is generally for when we want to reference some physical material of 
unknown provenance or type. I may report stepping on a gooey, foul smelling 
substance when I'm not sure I've put my foot into a pile of doggy do, for 
instance. Or a researcher may designate an unknown material or a material whose 
name he or she cannot quickly call to mind, as in "hand me that substance over 
there". But neither of these uses covers claims about what underlies whatever 
it is that provides the foundation for the universe we recognize as physical.

> S1/P2 - substance monism / property dualism - Chalmers and Searle
> (according to Chalmers). also neutral monism

Once the notion of "property dualism" is fully explicated we either have a 
claim about different features or attributes of things or we have a case of 
classical dualism masquerading as something different (what Searle suggests 
"property dualism" really amounts to). You and I have discussed this many times 
before. Note that this is not about the nomenclature but about what is meant. 
If no ontological basicness is intended then it doesn't matter what you call 
it. As far as I'm concerned, it's not dualism in any serious sense. Of course 
there are many features in the universe. All physical things, as you have 
noted, are known via their features, the sensory inputs we pick up about them. 
A rubber ball has certain characteristics that are known by seeing it, touching 
it, tossing it, etc. Take these away and the ball is gone. Alter them enough 
and it's no longer what we mean by a "rubber ball". Classical philosophy refers 
to these features as their properties.

Historically these have been categorized as primary and secondary. It's a 
classification system, that's all. It says nothing about what there really is. 
But if you believe that some of the ball's properties aren't reducible to the 
dynamics of physics (the rubber bounces because of X, the ball has a round 
shape because of Y, etc.) then you will have a kind of dualism (or multi-ism, 
depending on how many classes of properties you want to recognize). As long as 
you don't think these features of the ball are irreducible to anything else, 
they you are not speaking in dualist terms. Now most moderns I know will agree 
that everything that has a physical manifestation (is known through physical 
features) is reducible to physics. But many of us get hung up on certain kinds 
of "things", like abstractions, relations, institutions and minds. Then we have 
to recognize that to be a thing does not imply that the thing so designated is 
the same as every other kind of thing, e.g., that rubber ball.

There are different ways things may be said to exist but that doesn't mean one 
way is more real than another. It's just about how we use our language to get 
about, to communicate. Using language in a way that fails to recognize these 
kinds of nuances leads to things like platonism and dualism (when there is no 
reason to ascribe something like dualism to the universe in which we find 

> S2/P2 - substance dualism / property dualism - non-interactive substance
> dualism - Leibniz (parallelism of pre-established harmony), dualistic
> epiphenomenalism.

This kind of thinking is what comes of missing the nuances of language, Joe. I 
don't think anything useful is gained by developing all sorts of complex 
descriptions as you are doing which involve nothing provable or disprovable. In 
other words, I am suggesting that metaphysical exegeses of this type are not 
productive (aside from the fact that neither Dennett nor Searle embrace such an 
approach and it is Dennett and Searle and their conflicting views we have been 

> S2/P3 - substance dualism / property trialism - interactive substance
> dualism - Descartes (had one set of properties due to the soul, one set
> due to the body and one set due to their 'union' in the living person)

This is all archaic thinking, violative of Occam's Razor as much as it departs 
from modern physics theory and the picture of the universe that entails. I 
don't see the point in going on about it. It's just counting angels dancing on 
pinheads, Joe.

Certainly I have not been discussing this kind of stuff and neither are Dennett 
and Searle. So why keep trying to push it?

> S3/P3 - substance trialism / property trialism - Campanella - similar to
> Descartes except that each property set is reducible to or explained by
> its own substance. the rational soul, the sensitive soul and the body.

I don't think any of this offers much for the modern way of thinking about 
brains and minds. You are free to pursue such thoughts, of course, but not with 
me along. Unless you can show a relevance in some scientific sense, I see no 
reason to waste a lot of time on this kind of stuff.

>  >You just seem unable to get my point about dualism being to claim that
>  >there are at least two ontological basics in the universe underlying
>  >the things that we encounter.

> yes, I refuse to accept your claims about dualism. I have two reasons:
> first, by defining dualism to be concerned with what underlies
> experience you are limiting it to explanatory dualisms. I refuse to do
> so.

Yes, you seem obsessed with things like "property dualism". That's fine, but I 
think that just shows you are hung up on a term, "dualism", rather than 
attending to the point which the term is usually (and has historically been) 
used to make. As I've said, if all you mean by "dualism" when you speak of 
"property dualism" is that there are two kinds of features of things in the 
universe, observable (as in "third person") and experienceable (as in "first 
person"), I would say that isn't the kind of "dualism" I have been alluding to 
or really care about and that it has no implications for anything I have been 

On the other hand, I would just note that what is "observable" is necessarily 
therefore "experienceable" (because observation is a kind of experience) and 
that what is "experienceable" is also "observable" because we can use the term 
"observe" to apply to instances where we are attending to particular subjective 
aspects of experience. You want to draw a distinction here but I think it is a 
forced distinction that provides no real gain in making a case for some kind of 
dualist picture of consciousness. (Since your favorite sign-off is "nothing 
unreal is self-aware", I take it that you are in the dualist camp in some sense 
though you have never fully explicated your actual position. Feel free to do 
so, of course.)

> I consider the basic fact of philosophy of consciousness is the
> phenomenological dualism that must be explained --- how does it happen
> that there is subjective experience in a universe of objects with
> measurable properties.

The measurable measure you're pushing strikes me as inadequate to the task you 
have set for it. As to how there can be conscious in a universe of objects, 
etc., this, you may recall, is the question I have previously suggested seems 
intuitively to demand an answer from us. But that doesn't mean that the answer 
must be derived from the same intuition. That is, what if consciousness really 
is just a certain kind of process-based system operating in a certain way? And, 
more, why shouldn't it be that? If it is, then the intuition that consciousness 
is not physical at bottom is simply a mistake we are led to by failing to 
carefully think through that intuition. My point, of course, has been that 
Searle stumbles there as well but that Dennett manages to avoid the pitfalls.

> second, your position is inconsistent. you admit that the only
> significant dualism, the only dualism that matters, is what I call
> 'substance dualism'. you conclude from this that you don't need to be
> careful about distinguishing substance dualism from property dualism
> when you accuse philosophers of having dualism cooties.

Let me try this again, Joe. First, I don't know what it means to assert someone 
has "dualism cooties". That strikes me as an absurd locution. Second, I have 
said, over and over again on this and prior lists, what I am not accusing 
Searle of what you call "property dualism" and which others have, in the past, 
accused him of. I am accusing him of thinking that consciousness is 
ontologically basic and thus falling into contradiction between his account of 
minds and brains on the one hand and the possibility of minds and computers on 
the other. The notion of ontological basicness accords with YOUR locution of 
"substance dualism" and I have given you, many times, my reason for preferring 
to avoid talk of substances. Most importantly, we don't need the term in order 
to think that consciousness is irreducible to anything more basic than itself 
and it is THAT notion that trips Searle up.

> I conclude that
> it is very important to make this distinction very carefully.
> Joe

Then you should be more careful, Joe. I think you are hung up on these various 
metaphysical theses you've gone over above which, by dint of their being 
metaphysical, are beyond anything but endless debate. The point of the work of 
some, like Dennett, on the other hand, is to develop a theory that works with 
the science we currently have, what we currently know about how things in the 
universe work.

Dennett's thesis could be wrong and that is its strength. His whole model could 
fail to achieve the objectives set for it. But that can't happen when you argue 
over Leibnizian monadism and Cartesian dualism and so on and so forth. 
Philosophy needn't be and, indeed, shouldn't be about endless argumentation 
geared to logical proofs and such. It needs to be descriptive and supportive of 
what is known or studied in other disciplines. That's why Wittgenstein's 
approach is so valuable. He showed how so much of what we once took for 
philosophy is confusion in the way we use our words.


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