North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest


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Bill Vacellia and Kevin Kim continue to discuss the merits of naturalism and dualism. What’s interesting in these debates is that as an undergrad, I would have argued alongside Kim. I didn’t grok the kind of argument Vacellia is making; it was just too new and too strange to me. So was Berkeley’s idealism. Now, I would say they are… interesting.

As I’m older and (I hope) wiser now, I think my ability to weigh into these things is getting better instead of worse. Looking back, I think I was arguing with a figment of the dualist argument, not the real thing, and I think Kevin is in the same danger.

Kevin attempts to use Occam’s Razor to validate his naturalism, arguing that dualists bring unnecessary items to the debate. Bill suggests that Kevin’s definition of reality is a bit thin. He writes:

I have no problem with methodological naturalism. If the task is to explain physical phenomena, then by all means go as far as possible invoking only physical causes. But mental phenomena, whether intentional (e.g. desiring a beer) or non-intentional (e.g. suffering a headache) have properties that make it impossible to identify them with physical state or events. How do you get meaning out of meat? By squeezing hard? The intentional states mean something, they refer to an object, which may or may not exist. This semantic property of aboutness is not a physical property.

So at the very minimum it looks as if we are forced to posit irreducible mental properties. Thus arises property dualism, which of course is not to be confused with substance dualism.

What I would say to Kevin is that his appeal to Occam’s Razor is out of place. The Razor says: Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity. But as I have suggested, it is a necessity to posit irreducible mental properties if we are to account for mental phenomena. The fact that they do not fit into the naturalistic scheme is just too bad. And is it not unscientific to demand a priori that everything fit a preconceived conceptual mold?

Under Kevin’s scheme, the intentional “I” is an illusion, as would be things that are the objects of intention – items like Truth and Justice. It’s been a while since I read The Republic, but I recall Plato discussing ideal forms as real objects. We know what a perfect circle is, although we’ve never seen one. We can describe one mathematically but we can’t create one; it will always be off by minute amounts. Does that mean the perfect circle does not exist? Surely my intention is not the same thing as that which it produces? Does it seem reasonable to suggest that meat can be wired to apprehend and intend perfection?

If the perfect circle is an unseen real object, there might be other things that are unseen but real, and these things might well be considerably more complex than a circle. Like, for instance, justice, or the “I” itself. If they are indeed real objects and we have never seen them, that raises the juicy question of how we should come to be familiar with them.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft writes about things that we sense without our conventional senses in this exploration of the Argument from Desire.


Written by Curt

June 16, 2005 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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