Reblog: Problematical Property Dualism

 In the philosophy of mind, non-reductive materialism is a position taken by people who are convinced that there are non-material properties, yet still want to maintain a monistic ontology, while distancing themselves from idealism. Generally, this position entails a substance monism combined with property dualism. So, there is one kind of substance in which physical and mental properties are both instantiated. A brain would then be composed of a material substance which has both mental and physical properties.

This view is usually combined with the thesis that mental properties supervene onto physical properties, but are not reducible to physical properties. So, any substance S that has mental property Q will have physical property P; and it is necessarily the case that if  S has Q then is also has P. That is the general supervenience thesis held by non-reductive materialists who endorse property dualism.

There is a problem with this account of the mental, though. If there was a certain time in the past when there were no mental properties (a time before the existence of life complex enough to instantiate said properties), then there must be a time at which mental properties instantiated. It seems as though there’s literally a moment when mental properties didn’t exist, then they were ‘zapped’ into existence by whatever it was that instantiated the mental properties. It seems very implausible that such an account is true, given a monistic, materialist ontology. However, on substance dualism, the existence of non-material/non-physical properties like the ones endorsed by the property dualist is a plausible possibility. So, the moral of this story is that non-reductive materialism doesn’t seem as plausible as a substance dualism, given the existence of non-physical properties. If the materialist doesn’t find substance dualism plausible for the many reasons many philosophers of mind do, then the materialist may want to bite the bullet and give up his commitment to non-physical properties (unless he or she wishes to become a substance dualist).

My thoughts are re-printed below:

If I agreed that mental states had to “zap in” at some point in the past, then I would find this objection more appealing. That said, property dualism does not require that this occur. A more faithful property dualism would say, rather, that some form of “phenomenal character” existed at all points in the history of the universe, but this is not to say that it has to be recognizably “mental,” as we think of it today. The distinction between “physical” and “mental” is irrelevant to the discussion of property dualism—and philosophy of mind in general, I think, as everything mental is, so far as we can tell, necessarily physical is some way*—it is the distinction between objective and subjective that is most important. Each side of this more refined distinction has fundamentally different tools of explanation, and this is what I think of as a true property dualism.

*for support, I rely on a simple principle from Christof Koch: “No matter, never mind.”

via Problematical Property Dualism.

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[Off-topic] Reblog, with comments: An Argument against the Existence of God from Imperfection in the World

An Argument against the Existence of God from Imperfection in the World, reprinted below:

The argument goes as follows:

(1) If the creator of the world, i.e., God, is perfect, then the world that the creator created is essentially perfect.

(2) The actual world is not essentially perfect.

(3) The actual world was not created by the creator who is perfect. – from (1) and (2).

(4) Therefore, the actual world has no its creator. – from (2) and (3).

(5) Therefore, God does not exist. – from (4).

This argument is simple. It begins with some imperfect matters in the actual world that can be observed by us. We can ask as follows: “Why did a perfect being create such an imperfect world?” This actual world is the definite evidence for the non-existence of God because it is essentially imperfect.

My comments on this post are as follows:

Why is it beyond the power of a perfect being to create something that is imperfect? That is, if a being cannot perform a certain action, such as create something imperfect, then is he not imperfect himself by merit of being unable to do such?

That, and the idea of “perfect” is a very iffy concept to rely on, in any regard. Who’s to say that our world is not perfect? No good definition of perfect has thus far been put forth that would settle the matter.

In my estimation, rational arguments both for and against the existence of God are necessarily doomed to failure. The meaning of the word “belief” attests to this. Both the choice to believe and the choice to not believe are fundamentally irrational, through and through. This is not bad, but it is a useful distinction to keep in mind, nonetheless.

In addition to those, I think it can be said that 4 does not follow from 2 and 3. If anything, it only follows that the world does not have a perfect creator, but premise 1 is not very sound, as I argue above.

EDIT FOR CLARIFICATION: When I say “the choice to not believe,” I am referring to those who claim that it can be deductively proved that there is no God. I am not labeling suspension of judgment, or agnosticism, as irrational. In a way, suspension of judgment is, in fact, the only rational position to take. Again, this is not to say that rational decisions are superior to irrational decisions, but simply to note the distinction.

Mary’s Room and Non-Reductive Materialism

Mary’s Room and Non-Reductive Materialism.

The article above is, in my opinion, a very impressive account of, and response to, the “Mary’s Room” thought-experiment. I don’t necessarily agree with the labels the author gives to his ideas, but I can see the merits of each nonetheless.

My personal response to this article is reprinted below:

I agree with almost everything you say here, but your arguments seem to suggest that you’re more of a neutral monist than a strict materialist (specifically the assertion about two sides of a coin). What I am wondering, then, is what distinguishes you from neutral monists? In another way, how is it that objects can have both objective and subjective facts, but still be only physical in nature? Why can’t these objects be fundamentally neither physical nor mental, but capable of giving rise to either property?

via Mary’s Room and Non-Reductive Materialism.

A Follow-up to “A Problem with Interactionist Property Dualism”

Yesterday, I posted my response to another blogger’s post regarding Interactionist Property Dualism. Since then, the original blogger has responded, and I find his response particularly enlightening on the matter:

I’m currently interested in Searle’s biological naturalism, which retains some appeal of property dualism but does not define consciousness as a property over and above the brain, but instantiated by the brain. On this model, consciousness is a higher order process of the brain like liquidity is a higher order process of water molecules in a group. So, conscious decisions are possible given this view, but it doesn’t require telling a story about a property called consciousness efficiently causing anything – it would be a story about how certain higher order neuronal processes (called consciousness) control other, lower order processes (muscle contractions).

The original “spark” that caused the novel movement would probably be a combination of novel environmental factors (including interaction with other people) with different neuronal factors. I don’t think we need a first cause which is an irreducible, non-material property called consciousness; although I see your point.

My next response is far less enlightening, but for any who care:

I’ll admit, I find Searle’s idea much more plausible than any that invokes true dualism. Seeing how this connects to everyday intuition, if even possible, will be interesting, though. At any rate, you’ve given me another avenue to explore, so thank you for that. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on any future posts you have regarding philosophy of mind and consciousness.

For the original post, please click here for the original blogger’s site, or here for my original posting.

The one objection I can think of would be along the lines: what initiated the cascade of events that led to the muscles being activated? Simply, you could answer that the neurons firing in your brain started the march of action potentials that eventually led to the contraction—but what was the source of this neural activity in your head? In essence, what willed your brain to produce a seemingly novel action, or seemingly novel pattern of neural activation? Is it an incredibly sophisticated reflex, engineering by millions of years of evolution, and thus purely physical, or is there room for a separate causal agent to intervene? It seems to me that we can account for the causation of the content of the action in physical terms, but the causation of the origin of the action is slightly more subtle. I’m curious as to other thoughts on this.