October 27, 2007

I just spilled coffee all over a few pages of Heidegger’s Being and Time. I think it was an accident, but I must admit that subconsciously it may have been intentional.


Wittgenstein, qualia, and Private Experience

May 9, 2007

Wittgenstein denies the Cartesian-esque theses that we undergo private expriences, that the mind is somewhat like an inner theatre of experience.  But this view seems to have much going for it.

For example, it seems intuitive that when I remember something, there is an inner process taking place to which I affix the term “remember.”  And what I mean by “remember” is just what this inner process is.  But Wittgenstein thinks this intuition mistaken.  Consider an example: Suppose I (qua a Cartesian soul) decide to take note of a certain sensation I experience by recording “S” in a diary whenever I have this experience.  I say that by “S” I mean this sensation, but just how is this relationship established?  What is it precisely that affixes “S” to this particular sensation?  One cannot just ostensibly define a sign unto himself. 

Nevertheless, when I remember, there seems to be a certain mental object, something there that I (and only I) “see.”  And it is for this mental process that I use the word “remember.”  But Wittgenstein insists that it is a mistake to think that “the picture of the inner process gives us the correct idea of the use of the word ‘to remember.'”  It is not possible to translate a private experience into a public language.  But this is not to deny that there is a mental process of remembering, he says (this would be nothing other than behaviorism).  Rather to speak of a mental process of remembering is nothing other than that the individual has remembered

Maybe it’s just me, but I find this ambiguous in the Phil. Investigations: Does Wittgenstein mean to deny the possibility of private experience because they couldn’t be expressed in natural language, or does he mean to say that even if private experiences were possible, we couldn’t express them in natural language?  He could have intended the latter.  In that case, he would admit that private experiences were possible but that we just couldn’t express them .

 I think one putative example of this would be qualia–the thesis that for some sentient organism there is in all its consciousness and sensory perceptions, a certain subjectivity such that there is something it is like for that organism to be conscious or to have a sensation.  There is something it is like for me to see this piece of paper that I have here before me–and what that is, is something that I am immediately acquainted with.  And this, further, is an irreducibly mental object.  Indeed it is a private mental object.  No one knows what it is like for me to see this piece of paper but me.  But qualia are thought to be inexpressible.  I do not know how I could, in any natural languge, express what it is like for me to see the color green.  So qualia sensations are at least one putative example of private experiences.

Interview with Richard Swinburne on mind-body dualism

December 1, 2006

The interview is farily short (4 pages), informal, and, as one would expect, interesting. It may be found here.

Moreland’s Substance Dualism Part II: An Argument from the Indexicality of Thoughts

April 4, 2006

We turn now to survey an argument offered by Moreland to support substance dualism. I have chosen this one from among his extensive arsenal simply because I find it interesting and compelling. Also known as the argument from the experience of first-person subjectivity, this line of reasoning seems true prima facie. It is based largely on a proper understanding of indexicals (expressions of a first-person point of view, e.g., I, here, now), but is helped considerably by first-person introspection. Before delving into the argument itself, a review of these concepts will no doubt prove helpful.

Introspection is nothing new. It is, in fact, the oldest research technique in psychology. There are various types of introspection, but we are interested only in its cognitive form. Introspection comes in two levels: (1) Simple, which refers to a direct report of sensations, feelings, and/or thoughts, and (2) reflective, which refers to one’s reactions (both cognitive and affective) to what one is experiencing and reporting. Hilary Kornblith has observed:

If we wish to know what is going on in someone else’s mind, we must observe their behaviour; on the basis of what we observe, we may sometimes reasonably draw a conclusion about the person’s mental state. Thus, for example, on seeing someone smile, we infer whether they are upset. But this is not, at least typically, the way in which we come to know our own mental states. We do not need to examine our own behaviour in order to know how we feel, what we believe, what we want and so on…. The term used to describe this special mode of access which we seem to have to our own mental states is ‘introspection.1

Thus, “you experience goings-on in the world, and, turning inward (“introspecting”), you experience your experiencing. 2 Though we are considering introspection only insofar as it may provide support for the argument from the indexicality of thoughts, it is worth noting that Moreland does base another argument on it alone.3

As indicated above, indexicals are basically expressions of a first-person point of view. These include such terms as I, here, now, there, then: Here and now refer to where and when I am; there and then are where and when I am not. ’I’ is the most basic indexical and refers to a self that is known by acquaintance with one’s own consciousness in acts of self-awareness. ‘I’ am immediately aware of my own self and ‘I’ know who ‘I’ refers to when ‘I’ use it; it refers to an individual as the self-conscious self-reflexive owner of his own body and mental states.4

We take these words to be token-reflexive, that is, they systematically change their referents in a context-dependent way.5 For example, if two individuals simultaneously utter the phrase “I am here,” (which undoubtedly happens daily), are they each saying the exact same thing? Of course not; the statements are context-dependent. When person A says, “I am here,” she is referring to herself, as well as to a certain place. The same goes for person B. Even if they were arriving simultaneously at the same place, they would still not be saying the same thing: each phrase has a unique referent, namely, the speaker.

Subjective states of experience also exist. These experiences are such that I have a unique, first-person perspective of them; they are experiences of my “I” that cannot be reduced to third-person characterizations. This is often described by saying there is “something it is like” to having these experiences (e.g., what it is like to be me, what it is like for me to hear a bird singing), something, the content of which, cannot be captured without indexical language.

A completely physicalist description of the world would be one in which everything would be exhaustively describable from a third-person point of view in terms of objects, properties, processes, and their spatiotemporal locations.6 This points to the falsity of physicalism because “according to physicalism, there are no fundamentally basic or intrinsic (irreducible), privileged first-person perspectives.”7 Moreland approvingly quotes Thomas Nagel (a philosopher devoid of any religious tendencies) concerning this:

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features [the
sounds, colors, smells, tastes of experience that make the experience what it is] must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible.8

Thus, a formal argument may be formed:

(1) Statements using the first-person indexical ‘I’ express facts about persons that cannot be expressed in statements without the first-person indexical.

(2) If I am a physical object, then all the facts about me can be expressed in statements without the first-person indexical.

(3) Therefore, I am not a physical object.

(4) I am either a physical object or an immaterial substance.

(5) Therefore, I am an immaterial substance.9

1 “Introspection: Epistemology of,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4, ed. by Edward Craig (London: Routledge, 1998), emphasis mine.

2 John Heil, “Awareness,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd ed., ed. Robert Audi (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999).

3 The argument goes as follows (as in “The Soul and Life Everlasting: Introduction,” 434).
(1)I am an unextended centre of consciousness (justified by introspection).
(2) No physical object is an unextended centre of consciousness.
(3)Therefore, I am not a physical object.
(4)Either I am a physical object or an immaterial substance.
(5)Therefore, I am an immaterial substance.

4 Moreland, “Body and Soul Part II: Why the Soul is Immaterial,” in Facts for Faith, no. 7, 2001, available online .

5 See Philosophical Foundations, 294.

6 “Body and Soul Part II: Why the Soul is Immaterial.”

7 “Physicalism, Naturalism and the Nature of Human Persons,” 233.

8 “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in his Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,1979), 167, quoted in Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 86.

9 “The Soul and Life Everlasting: Introduction,” 436.

Moreland’s Substance Dualism: Part 1

March 20, 2006

This is the first of a two part post on J. P. Moreland’s version of Substance Dualism. As such, you won’t see too much original thinking; my purpose is merely to introduce Moreland’s position. In Part 2 I will present one of Moreland’s supporting arguments: the argument from indexicals.

Among responses to the perennial (and often nebulous) debate surrounding the Mind/Body problem, J. P. Moreland has defended a position of Substance Dualism. This he defines as “the view that the soul- I, the self, mind- is an immaterial substance different from the body to which it is related.” So, “I am my soul and I have a body.” By way of distinction, property dualism claims “a person is a living physical body having mind, the mind consisting, however, of nothing but a more or less continuous series of conscious or unconscious states and events…which are the effects but never the causes of bodiliy activity.”

We may futher distinguish Moreland as a Thomistic substance dualist, as opposed to a Cartesian dualist (this at his behest). The dissimilarities are, in my opinion, subtle and impertenent (I’m sure one of you Thomist or Cartesian scholars will make me pay for that claim), so we won’t linger on them. Suffice it to say that Moreland understands Descartes to (1) have incorrectly reduced the soul to the mind, and (2) have mistakenly distinguished between two seperable substances- mind and body (whereas Moreland recognizes only one substance- the soul, with the body being an ensouled biological and physical structure that depends on the soul for its existence). Concerning (1), Moreland holds that the soul contains, among other things, the faculty of mind (which, incidentally, identifies him as a dichotomist). Hence, the soul is much more than the mind, and the two ought are not be conflated. As for (2), Cartesian dualists argue that the body is a physical, ordered aggregate fully describable in physical terms: the mind is related to the mind only via an external, causal relationship. Moreland, on the other hand, though agreeing the body is a physical structure, argues that it is not an aggregate: the body needs the soul. The body, it is claimed, is made human by the presence of the soul diffused equally throughout.

This, obviously, is meant to be an overview- it is merely a catalyst for discussion. If you are familiar with Moreland’s work, much of the above phraseology probably rang a bell: that’s because a good deal of it came straight from several of his works. For more on this, see Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City(esp. ch. 3), Love Your God with all Your Mind, Body and Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (with Scott Rae). This is a select list.