metaphysical dualism

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metaphysical dualism

Here's a recent post in an ongoing discussion between myself, pkremida and todangst discussing what is essentially naturalistic dualism. While I understand that the overall character of this website is against theism and the supernatural, I think it should be kept in mind that ALL irrational or arational claims need to be shown for what they are. Promoting the ideologies of Liebniz, Schopenhauer and such is just as problematic as believing in the god of abraham, isaac and jacob.

There were also a few other comments recently made that have to do with experience and it's supposed self-evident basis in immateriality. For those of you following all this, here is a classic case of naturalistic dualism at its finest and I have little doubt that pkremida would find great joy in reading David Chalmers.

Unfortunately for Mr. Chalmers and the young lady here, the problems for said position are rather numerous and have already been outlined by Dennett, Owen Flannagan and a few others. The core of the problem has to do with a certain naive understanding of language and a misunderstanding of the term "self."

Language, as outlined by J. Jaynes and others, has a certain proclivity towards dualism as words are easily misconstrued as existing in themselves and therefore having a life all their own. however, words are indexical, they merely point to something and have no necessity in being real. For those having studied the ontological proof of god, this point should be helpful. Hence, for the present discussion, when someone says "I" or "me" there is an assumption made that the term has much the same meaning as rock or plane, as if it points to some separate entity, when in fact, much like even rock and plane, it merely points to a relation or section of space/time in material reality (Bertrand Russell excellently discusses this). At no time should the terms begin to take on a life of their own, but should be kept in mind that they point to something in particular.

What they point to is determined largely upon your metaphysic, whether explicit or implicit. The emphasis on "personal experience" that pkremida keeps harping on is reminiscent of the romantics and subjectivism that seems to have run rampant in american circels over teh past few decades. The issue here is that any singular "experience" you have is impossible to be used in any logical justification for a self in any way removed from the relational system of the brain and all of material reality. To use such an example is inchoherent not only because, neurologically you aren't discussing the event itself but rather a reconstruction of it, but also as to the fact that there is no coherent sense in which you can discuss singular events and get a seamless "self" out of it. This is why dualism is so damning, because it requires an unchanging entity that in some way makes sense out of the disparity of experiences, when in fact it is precisely the different experiences and our ability to narratize that creates the semblance of continuity.

Every one of your relationships to man and to nature must be a definite expression of your real, individual life corresponding to the object of your will. -Erich Fromm

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Confusion runs rampant

There are many confusions in the above. Let me name a few.


1) Chalmers certainly does not use subjectivism as a "logical justification for a self". Chalmers merely argues that if one agrees with the claim that one aspect of consciousness is how experience feels to a conscious agent and this needs to be explained by any theory of consciousness. Further arguments Chalmers offersupports the further claim that such experience cannot be captured by a physicalist theory, i.e., a theory that posits only physical matter and natural/probabilistic laws. This does not have anything to do with the "Cartesian Theater" notion of Dennett or any skepticism about their being some immaterial "self" which "watches" experience.

2) You write:

words are indexical, they merely point to something and have no necessity in being real.
Well, not really. Of course, if an indexical refers, the object exists. An indexical that does not refer is empty and its referent does not exist. You seem to be using a lay notion of "necessity" here, since Saul Kripke certainly does believe that the referents of indexicals are necessarily real (and exist in all possible worlds where they exist)! Naming and Necessity makes this case rather persuasively, I think.

The main issue is that you are constructing a straw man if you think that Chalmers falls prey to objections to "subjectivism". I am not sure exactly what you mean by it, but the stuff about the irreality of the "self" just hints at a fundamental misreading of Chalmers. He is a very thorough philosopher and would not fall prey to such easy target practice.

If there were a verb meaning "to believe falsely," it would not have any significant first person, present indicative. - Ludwig Wittgenstein

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reason_passion wrote:
Language, as outlined by J. Jaynes and others, has a certain proclivity towards dualism as words are easily misconstrued as existing in themselves and therefore having a life all their own. however, words are indexical, they merely point to something and have no necessity in being real.

I think that this is a key point.
Monists tend to start from a metaphysical position while dualists tend to start from an intuitive grasp of the 'mind', which will be largely determined by our language.
I personally favour anomalous monism as it appears to recognise the best parts of both positions, being both metaphysically coherent and yet preserves our intuitive grasp of mental concepts.

The other day I wrote a post about it in another thread which I'll copy and past to here:

Bear in mind that this is my own personal interpretation on it as much as anything else, and there's chance that Davidson's position is significantly different.

It starts with the topic of mental causation.
It seems common sense the desires cause our physical actions, and physical stimulations cause us to have sensations. This agency seems necessary by common sense and the denial of it, epiphenomenalism, is usually used as a way of accusing a position of failing.

Substance dualism, for instance, had instant problems with causation. In a not so obvious way, these problems extended to all types of dualism. The exclusion argument is as follows:

1) Every physical event has a physical cause.
By the laws of conservation, any event that happens must have had a previous physical cause.

2) The exclusion principle.
No physical event can have more than one cause unless it is a case of overdetermination - e.g. two bullets hitting a man at the same time are each individual causes of death.

3) Mental to physical causation is not overdetermined.
That is, if a desire causes an action then it was the desire the caused the action. Otherwise the desire wasn't really necessary - the action was going to happen by physical causes anyway. We like to think that if a desire caused an action, then a lack of desire would've resulted in a lack of said action. So mental to physical causation is not a case of over-determination.

C) The desire is a physical object.
As the desire is the cause of the action, and the action has atleast one physical cause, the desire must be this physical cause. As such, the conclusion of this argument is that only reductive physicalism allows for mental causation, and any competitors must fall into epiphenomenalism.

However, reductive physicalism appears to have problems of its own, namely the explanatory gap. Many mental concepts feel 'straight jacketed' when reduced to a physical state or function, and others seem to elude it altogether. So there appears to be the dilemna; dualists recognising the un-physicalness of mental concepts but being metaphysically forced to admit to epiphenomenalism while the reductive physicalists are metaphysically sound with the causation, but appear to have difficulty in nailing down mental concepts into physical form.

Davidson starts off by backing 'epiphenomenalism' by giving arguments as to why psycho-neural laws are impossible - why it is impossible to reduce psychological laws to physical laws. (compared to biology that can be reduced to chemistry which in turn can be reduced to physics.)

He then claims that when we say "desires cause action", we don't mean 'cause' exactly in the physical sense, e.g. lifting a ball and releasing it causes the ball to drop at the acceleration of 9.8 m/s/s.
Desires are more like social explanations for actions rather than physical type causes. So to use Wittgensteinian terminology, 'beliefs' and 'desires' (and other intentional states) are a part of the social language game, predicting and making sense of human behaviour and interactions, rather than the empirical language game of physics.

The arguments to support this tend to make use of the linguistic nature of our intentional states. One example is externalism. A proposition containing a belief can involve information that the believer is not aware of. For instance, if I saw my cat suddenly dart away from my friend, I might say "my cat believed that John would hurt her".
We would agree that the cat believes this, even though it references John by name and the cat doesn't know he's called John.
This externalism implies that when I declared my cat believed something, I wasn't referencing a thought inside my cat's head, rather I prescribing the belief that fit the ideal behavioural explanation and made sense of her darting away.

(That probably wasn't a good example of externalism. A better example of externalism comes from Putnam and his 'twin earth' mind experient.)