North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Vital Spirits

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Johnny Dee quotes from one of his texbooks in a philosophy of mind course, written by one John Searle:

it is very hard even in the present era to come right out and say, “No human being has ever been conscious.” Rather, the sophisticated philosopher gives the view that people are sometimes conscious a name, for example, “Cartesian Intuition,” [and] then he or she sets about challenging, questioning, denying something described as “the Cartesian Intuition.”

Rhetorically speaking, the idea is to make you, the skeptical reader, feel that if you don’t believe the view being advanced, you are playing Cardinal Bellarmine to the author’s Galileo. Other favorites are phlogiston and vital spirits, and again the idea is to bully the reader into supposing that if he or she doubts, for example, that computers are actually thinking, it can only be because the reader believes in something as unscientific as phlogiston or vital spirits.

The ultimate absurdity is to try to treat consciousness itself independently of consciousness, that is, to treat it solely from a third-person point of view, and that leads to the view that consciousness as such, as “inner,” “private” phenomenal events, does not really exist.

It’s an interesting quote on an interesting subject and worth checking out. My comments are only on the rhetoric, which is certainly not confined to philosophy. We see it in politics all the time. It’s a sort of straw man, or a false dilemma is it not? Sure is nice to see it confronted head on.


Written by Curt

January 31, 2005 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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