[Wittrs] Re: Dualism Cooties: Ontologically Basic Ambiguity

  • From: Gordon Swobe <gts_2000@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2010 12:01:24 -0700 (PDT)

If we embrace the view in which we reduce mental phenomena to nothing but 
third-person objective physical facts, both epistemically and ontologically, 
then we embrace a position like type physicalism or its close cousin token 
physicalism. The type physicalist identifies mental states with their 
third-person descriptions. In the neurology of pain, for example, stimulation 
of C-fibers correlate with the experience of pain. The type physicalist reduces 
pain both epistemically and ontologically and declares that C-fiber stimulation 
IS pain.

But common sense tells us that the word "pain" means something that we 
experience in the first-person. Third-person stories about C-fibers do not 
explain or capture what we mean by the word. In effect we lose the concept of 
pain -- the very thing that interests us in this case -- when we reduce it 
philosophically to nothing but its objective third-person description. Type 
physicalism defies common sense, literally.

One might ask why anyone should want to embrace type or token physicalism. It 
seems to me that many philosophers of the materialist persuasion (e.g., 
Dennett) cannot see that as materialists we can reduce mental phenomena 
scientifically to third-person descriptions while preserving their subjective 
reality -- and that we can do this *without* embracing dualism. 

Following Searle, we can reduce mental phenomena to third-person causal 
descriptions without reducing them ontologically. In this case, we can tell a 
complete scientific story about the neurology of pain while recognizing that 
our epistemic reduction to objective scientific facts does not entail an 
ontological reduction.

Though causally reducible to third-person descriptions, mental phenomena also 
have an irreducible first-person ontology. And we can accept this brute fact of 
existence without adding any metaphysical baggage about non-physical properties 
or substances!




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