[Wittrs] Re: Dualism Cooties: Ontologically Basic Ambiguity

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2010 22:07:47 -0000

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

These are ways of talking. But there's no denying we have mental lives (the 
things going on in our subjective experience) and that these things are NOT 
what we mean by references to particular brain events. Nevertheless, if the 
brain event and the subjective experience are linked as being aspects of the 
same thing, we could certainly say "ah, this little neuronal excitation is the 
feeling of happiness you just felt". But of course the feeling you felt is not 
the same as the electrical charge in the neuron. They are aspects of the same 
thing though, the visual or other sensory evidence of the charge in the cell 
and the instant of private feeling by the subject.

> 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.

Yes, the linguistic descriptions and many of the particulars are not 
interchangeable. But the fact that we talk about things we experience 
subjectively one way and things we experience in an objective way (in a public 
domain) another does not mean that the subjective is not an outcome of some 
objectively observable events.

> 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.

Again that we have a language that is attuned to subjective reference is not to 
say that we cannot also use a language attunded to the objective to discuss 
aspects of the subjective. We can speak of the phenomena happening in brains as 
resulting in the subjective experience we identify with being conscious without 
giving up subjective language!

> 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.

Except Searle's efforts lead to mystification with regard to brains. It's 
people like Dennett who actually contribute to the work of brain researchers 
(see the work of Stanislas Dehaene who is looking at how the brain produces 

That we have mental lives does not mean they are ultimately inexplicable 
scientifically, even if they currently are.

> 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!
> -gts

This just seems to me to reiterate Searle's basic confusion. That we know 
consciousness subjectively does not mean we cannot speak of the causal role of 
brains in producing consciousness which Searle rightly recognizes. However, 
Searle then steps into his CRA which hinges on a presumption that runs entirely 
counter to his acknowledgement that brains bring minds about. I think this is 
because he confuses this idea of ontology. Yes, we can use the term as a way of 
categorizing what there is on all levels of existence. But the only ontology 
that really matters in a case like this is whether the distinct things we call 
"minds" reduce to what we call "brains". If they do, then there is no dualism 
because brains are just a class of physical thing and, if that's so, then 
there's no reason, in principle, that other physical things can't do what 
brains do.


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