[Wittrs] Re: How Does Causal Reduction Entail Ontological Reduction?

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 01 Apr 2010 02:00:39 -0000

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

> SWM wrote:

>  >Joseph Polanik wrote:
>  >>how do you justify your claim that a causal explanation (whether
>  >>considered as a reduction or as an emergence) entails an ontological
>  >>reduction?
>  >Some causal reductions are ontological in nature, i.e., the idea that
>  >the wetness of water is explainable via description of certain atomic
>  >level phenomena. The wetness is nothing more than that behavior.

> it sounds like you want to say that, in the case of consciousness (C)
> and brain (B), it is possible to say "B causes C; and, therefore, C is
> nothing more than B". is that your claim?

My claim is that we can reduce some things in an ontological way ('this is 
really that') and that, in the case of consciousness, we are either saying this 
is really that or this (brain) is the agent which introduces that (mind or 
mental feature) where the latter formulation (admittedly ambiguous) can mean 
that what the agent introduces is entirely different (differently sourced) than 
the agent that introduces it.

An example of this is the Russian mystic philosopher P.D. Ouspensky's claim 
that the brain's role in the occurrence of mind is to serve as a lense through 
which something that is entirely different than physical brains shines through. 
Thus impaired mental capacity arising from damage to the brain is explained not 
in a causal way but as a result of a refracted image shining through, as when a 
clear picture is fractured when the lense through which it is seen is fractured.

>  >>this is important to your case because you say that Searle, having
>  >>conceeded the causal reduction of consciousness to brain, falls into
>  >>self-contradiction because he denies the ontological reduction of
>  >>consciousness to brain.

>  >I think he confuses ontological description with ontological reduction.
>  >We can describe all sorts of things in the universe and even agree that
>  >we MUST speak of them in certain ways but not in others. But that
>  >doesn't mean they are necessarily irreducible in a causal sensse to
>  >more basic constituents.

> according to Searle, "consciousness is casually reducible to brain
> processes". [Why I Am Not a Property Dualist]

Yes, he says that. The question is then whether his separate claim, that 
consciousness has a first-person ontology while descriptions (including causal 
descriptions) have a third-person ontology precludes the possibililty that a 
causal reduction (say of consciousness) can also involve ontological 
descriptions. My point is that it can whereas Searle seems to proceed as though 
causal descriptions with regard to consciousness has no ontological aspect at 
all. In this I think he confuses the ideas of ontology and causal reduction, 
thinking they are mutually exclusive when there is no reason to think they are.

>  >Searle makes a distinction between causal explanation and ontological
>  >description but doesn't see that ontological description can apply in
>  >causal reductions as well. All ontological description is is to
>  >classify the different distinct types of existents.
> okay, let that be the definition of 'ontological description'.
> up until a few days ago, you spoke only of 'ontological reduction' and
> its relation to causal explanation; for example, you said, "the very
> issue at hand, causal reduction, IS one of ontological reduction".

I did. In the case at hand.

> is 'ontological description' a synonym for 'ontological reduction'? if
> not, what is the difference between them?

I did not say they were synonyms. The difference is that questions of ontology 
are questions of what there is. One can identify and categorise the things that 
exist at many levels. But when one is speaking of providing a causal 
explanation such as Searle asserts is done with the question of why water is 
wet, there is no reason to think that questions of what there are get left 
behind. If there are Xs and Ys in the world, then the question is whether Xs 
and Ys are all aspects of the same underlying phenomenon (or complex of 
phenomena) or whether they are traceable to distinctly different underlying 

> in any case, Searle is one of the few philosophers of consciousness who
> has classified "distinct types of existents". he distinguishes two modes
> of existence, experiencer dependent and experiencer independent; so,
> it's not clear what your complaint is.

That he confuses the issue. See above.

>  >>what is your argument in favor of your claim that causal reduction
>  >>entails ontological reduction?
>  >It's not my claim.
>  >I don't claim that causal reduction entails ontological reduction. See
>  >above. I claim that some instances of causal reductions are also
>  >ontological in that they involve ontological descriptions (identifying
>  >and classifying distinct types of existents).

> okay, so sometimes a causal explanation involves an ontological
> description. are you saying that this happens in the case at hand, the
> relation between consciousness and brain?

I am saying that if we are speaking of what is the cause/source of 
consciousness, we speak of it in an ontological sense if we are aiming to track 
it back to whatever is most basic that underlies it. And then the question is 
whether there are one, two or more ontological basics in the universe based on 
the need to explain where consciousness comes from, how it comes to be, what it 
consists of, etc., etc.

>  >I said some causally reductive explanations ARE also ontological
>  >descriptions and that Searle simply misses that when he makes the
>  >distinction between causal explanations and ontological descriptions.
> Searle says that consciousness is causally reducible to the brain. what,
> is that an ontological description of?
> Joe

It is if the point is to track back the phenomenon to what it consists of, in 


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