[Wittrs] Re: Searlian reductions

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2010 13:42:33 -0000

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


> When we do a causal reduction, we say:
> "A's are caused by B's."
> When we do an ontological reduction, we say:
> "A's are nothing but B's."

That's one way of putting it, however, note that Searle says the wetness of 
water is caused by the behavior of the molecules of H2O under certain ambient 
conditions. But another way of saying this same thing is to say that the 
wetness of water is nothing but the behavior of molecules of H2O under those 
ambient conditions. So Searle, himself, indulges in causal reductions that are, 
at the same time, ontological reductions as presented in your above dichotomy.

> Normally we reduce A's to B's both causally and ontologically. We say "A's
> are caused by B's and are nothing but B's." For this reason most
> philosophers do not recognize the distinction between causal (epistemic)
> reduction and ontological reduction, and it seems to me this causes a lot
> of confusion.

> On Searle's view, in the case of mental phenomena we can do the first kind
> of reduction but not the second.

But he doesn't show that the case is different for mental phenomena than it is 
for wetness. In fact, there is no reason to think it is except if one is 
convinced that mental phenomena are of an entirely different order, which is to 
say outside the realm of physical causation.

> For example we can causally reduce pain this way:
> "Pain is caused by C-fiber stimulation in the nervous system."
> But we cannot (sensibly) reduce pain ontologically this way:
> "Pain is nothing but C-fiber stimulation in the nervous system."
> Identity theorists do this sort of reduction above, but not sensibly.
> We all understand "pain" to mean something qualitative and subjective!

Yes, I agree. But that doesn't mean that we can't account for pain on a 
physical basis. The issue is whether, if we are to account for subjectness, we 
have to show that it is the same as (or that it seamlessly transitions from) 
something physical. But why should we expect to be able to do that?

There is no question that there is subjectness in the world, the phenomena of 
experiencing. Why should we expect to be able to say that this physical X is 
just what this experience of Y is? I suggest this is a false expectation and 
comes with thinking that, to speak of something's physicality, we have to be 
able to speak of observable features like extension, mass, texture, color, 
etc., etc.

That there are subjective experiences in the physical universe, as much a part 
of that universe as any observable features is just how things are. A full 
description of the physical universe needs to account for the presence of 
subjectness within it, but, given that it is present, there isn't really 
anything strange here and there only appears to be something strange when we 
think we are obliged to think the two aspects of the universe are forever 
separated in kind.

But if consciousness is just a function of some physical phenomena, like light 
waves, sound waves and so forth are, why should we think there must be more to 
it? Why should we think that the fact that consciousness differs qualitatively 
from the things we encounter through being conscious is evidence or proof that 
it isn't derived from the same physical underpinnings as what is physical?

> It think it important to understand that Searle recognizes the logical
> possibility of ontological reductions on mental phenomena. Unlike a
> Cartesian dualist, Searle agrees with identity theorists that we can
> reduce mental phenomena to third-person physical descriptions.

He does. But this isn't about what he explicitly says he recognizes but what is 
implicit in the argument he makes.

> We can say,
> if we really want to, that pain is nothing but C-fiber stimulations.
> But why would we want to?

It would, indeed, be an inefficient way to speak since it subordinates 
reference to the sensations of subjective experience to reference to a 
description of causes or sources.

>Searle notes, wisely I think, that we lose something important when do 
>ontological reductions on mental phenomena. We lose the subjective nature of 
>their ontology. We would need then to find other words for the phenomena we 
> -gts

Searle is right there. But this isn't about jettisoning subjective language in 
our ordinary discourse. It's about using scientific descriptive language to 
explain the role of brains with relation to minds.


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