Searle's Rationality in Action

Just recently I came across a paper by William Hasker that cites a 2001 book by John Searle that I was unaware of.   Hasker quotes enough of Searle to seriously whet my appetite.  It should be arriving shortly.  In the meantime let me quote a big chunk from Hasker to explain my interest in Searle.

The anti-reductivism of most interest to us here is found in Searle’s recent book, Rationality in Action. Much of the argument of that book revolves around the notion of “the gap” that exists in all cases of rational action.  According to Searle, “‘The gap’ is the general name that I have introduced for the phenomenon that we do not normally experience the stages of our deliberations and voluntary actions as having causally sufficient conditions or as setting causally sufficient conditions for the next stage” (2001, p. 50). He also says, “The operation of rationality presupposes that there is a gap between the set of intentional states on the basis of which I make my decision, and the actual making of the decision” (p. 13). This gap is crossed by the activity of a “non-Humean self.” (“You cannot account for the rational self just in terms of a Humean bundle of disconnected perceptions” (p. 289).) The gap, according to Searle, is an obvious feature of everyday experience. Suppose you have gone to a restaurant, and the waiter asks for your order. You can’t just say, “Look, I am a determinist, che sarĂ , sarĂ . I will just wait and see what I order! I will wait and see what my beliefs and desires cause!” Searle continues, “This refusal to exercise my freedom is itself only intelligible to you as an exercise of freedom” (p. 14). Searle’s point here serves to underscore the failure of psychological determinism, as noted in the previous section of this essay. Important questions arise, however, when we attempt to combine this psychological account of human action with the neurobiological account. Searle queries, “There is no doubt that the gap is psychologically real, but is it otherwise empirically real? Is it neurobiologically real? If human freedom really exists, it must be a feature of brain function” (p. 269). Searle’s analysis of this question can be illustrated by a pair of diagrams. The first diagram illustrates the situation in which it is assumed that the agent’s reasons, consisting of her desires and beliefs, constitute a sufficient cause of the decision:
 
                                                         causes        
               deliberation on reasons           →                   decision

                       ↑  C&R                                                   ↑ C&R
                                                        cause        
                 neuron firings                      →                neuron firings                                  

One set of neuron firings “causes and realizes” (C&R) the deliberation, another set causes and realizes the decision, and the whole process is regarded as entirely deterministic. This way of conceptualizing the situation is quite similar to Kim’s supervenient causation, though Searle does not employ the language of supervenience. When we add the gap, however, the diagram must be altered:

                                                  causes with gaps    
               deliberation on reasons             →                  decision

                      ↑ C&R                                                      ↑ C&R
                                                    cause
                neuron firings                    →                 neuron firings

Now the assumption is that “the indeterminacy at the psychological level is matched by a completely deterministic system at the neurobiological level” (p. 283). In Searle’s view, some distinctly uncomfortable conclusions emerge from this way of understanding action:
This result . . . is intellectually very unsatisfying because, in a word, it is a modified form of epiphenomenalism. It says that the psychological processes of rational decision making do not really matter. The entire system is deterministic at the bottom level, and the idea that the top level has an element of freedom is simply a systematic illusion. It seems to me at t1 that I have a choice between the Burgundy and the Bordeaux and that the causes operating on me are not sufficient to determine the choice. But I am mistaken. The total state of my brain at t1 is entirely sufficient to determine every bodily movement as well as every thought process from t1 to t2 to t3 . . . and the only thing we can say about psychological indeterminism at the higher level is that it gives us a systematic illusion of free will” (p. 285).
In addition to undermining our lived experience of free will, Searle states that
the hypothesis seems to me to run against everything we know about evolution. It would have the consequence that the incredibly elaborate, complex, sensitive, and – above all – biologically expensive system of human and animal conscious rational decision making would actually make no difference whatever to the life and survival of the organisms. (p.286).
Given these unwelcome consequences of the hypothesis of “psychological libertarianism with neurobiological determinism,” the situation is ripe for the emergence of a competing hypothesis, which takes the form of “system causation with consciousness and indeterminacy.” On this view, “the absence of causally sufficient conditions at the psychological level is matched by a parallel lack of causally sufficient conditions at the neurobiological level” (p. 286). But this in turn forces us to
examine critically the assumptions built into our diagrammatic representation with its metaphors of ‘bottom-up,’ ‘top-down,’ ‘levels of description,’ etc. . . . The problem is this: the idea that consciousness is a higher-level or surface feature of the brain gives us a picture of consciousness as like the paint on the surface of the table. . . . All of that is wrong. Consciousness is no more on the surface of the brain than liquidity is on the surface of the water. Rather the idea we are trying to express is that consciousness is a system feature. . . . What we have to suppose, if we believe that our conscious experience of freedom is not a complete illusion, is that the whole system moves forward toward the decision making, and toward the implementing of the decision in actual actions; that the conscious rationality at the top level is realized all the way down, and that means that the whole system moves in a way that is causal, but not based on causally sufficient conditions. (p. 287)
 Clearly, this second hypothesis involves extremely difficult metaphysical questions, which cannot be pursued further here. What is remarkable is that Searle has even proposed such a hypothesis, one which challenges the foundations of most contemporary thinking about the mind and the brain. Nevertheless, Searle himself is troubled by its implications, and states, “Frankly, I do not find either hypothesis intellectually attractive” (p. 296); he is unwilling to decide definitely between them. The problem he finds with the second hypothesis “is to see how the consciousness of the system could give it a causal efficacy that is not deterministic. And it is not enough help to be told that we could accept the randomness of quantum mechanical accounts that are not deterministic. Conscious rationality is not supposed to inherit the randomness of quantum mechanics.  Rather, conscious rationality is supposed to be a causal mechanism that proceeds causally, though not on the basis of antecedently sufficient causal conditions” (pp. 297- 98). Searle himself would be the first to admit that his non-reductivism is a work still in progress.


One possible cause of Searle's discomfort with the first of these viewpoints ('psychological libertarianism with neurobiological determinism')  is that he takes a realist position with regard to his 'reasons'.  I'm not sure that this is quite right.  Suppose we agree that the ordinary objects of the manifest image---trees and houses and people---are appearances arising in me from information arriving at my sense organs from the underlying elements---molecules and photons---of the scientific image.  Then it also makes sense to say that what we call 'reasons' are also appearances in me arising from my own brain's sensing of neurobiological activity within itself.  It is as if my mind looks simultaneously outwards on the world via my senses and inwards at itself and its own activity.  If the outer gaze can give rise to appearances which are in some sense 'approximations' or 'integrations'---I see small numbers of  continuously solid macroscopic objects rather than myriads of discrete particles---then so can the inner gaze integrate reasons from neural activity.  Certainly our reasons, whatever they may be neurobiologically, appear to us in the form of sentences.  I ask myself what reason I have for some act and I get a sentence.  Similarly with belief.  Searle's 'gap' may then arise in two ways.  Firstly, the neurological activity that bridges the gap may be taking place somewhere inaccessible to the inward gaze.  The internal sense organ receives no information from it just as the visual cortex knows nothing of the distribution of infra-red and ultra-violet incident upon me.  Secondly,  the many-one 'clumping' process that renders neurobiological activity into sentences may simply be inherently gappy.  There may be no way of learning how to map such activity onto the words of a shared language.  When I ask myself  how I decided beween reasons,  no sentence is forthcoming.

A design argument

Oh dear. Bill has just given an awful, Plantinga-inspired argument for theistic design. He can do better than this! Here's what he says:
1. It is rational to rely on our cognitive faculties to provide access to truths external to them.
2. It would not be rational to rely on our cognitive faculties if they had come about by an unguided process of natural selection operating upon random genetic mutations.
3. Our cognitive faculties did come about by an unguided process of natural selection operating upon random genetic mutations.
The limbs of the triad are individually plausible but collectvely inconsistent: they cannot all be true. From any two limbs one can validly argue to the negation of the remaining one. So, corresponding to our antilogism there are three valid syllogisms. One of them is a design argument that argues to the negation of (3) and the affirmative conclusion that behind the evolutionary process is intelligent, providential guidance. "And this all men call God."

To resist this design argument, the naturalist must reject either (1) or (2). To reject (2) is to accept the rationality of believing both that our cognitive faculties arose by accident and that they produce reliable beliefs. It is to accept the rationality of something that, on the face of it, is irrational. To reject (1) is not very palatable either. But I suppose one could bite the bullet and say, "Look, we are not justified in relying on our cognitive faculties, we just rely on them and so far so good."
Let's put to one side doubts that the presupposition that whether to rely or not on our cognitive faculties is a question of rational decision making.  Not to rely on our faculties condemns us to a brief life of frustration.  The naturalist will reject (2).   Our faculties may be accidental, in the sense of contingent,  but so is the Eiffel Tower.  And they may not have arisen without accidental events such as random genetic mutations.   But Bill ignores natural selection---the winnowing out of those mutations that diminish fitness relative to those that enhance it.  We have reason to think that natural selection and genetic mutation have built effective and reliable legs, hearts, and digestive systems.  Why not cognitive faculties too?

In a comment to the post Bill adds,
I am not confident about this topic, but I'll venture the following. I wonder whether reliable faculties are more conducive to reproductive fitness than unreliable ones. You will agree that reliability cannot be defined in terms of fitness. One cannot say that cognitive faculties are reliable just in case they lead to reproductive success.  As I understand it, reliable faculties are those that can be trusted to deliver truth more often than not. It may well be that false beliefs are more adaptive than true ones.
Well, reliable legs, hearts, and digestive systems seem to be more conducive to reproductive fitness than unreliable ones.  What reason has Bill to think that cognitive faculties fare any different?  And it would mean that God does deceive us.

Is and Ought

I have been following Bill's is/ought series of posts, starting here. I suggest that the examples considered so far can be put into a common form:
1.  Action A is a necessary condition of goal G.
2.  If I want to achieve goal G, then I ought to perform action A.
I hope everybody will agree that (1) is not normative.  It merely expresses the objective fact that the situation G isn't going to happen unless A is performed.  The ought in (2) expresses the necessity of A, the obligation of A for me that arises when I desire goal G.  I think it's important to notice that the obligation is conditional on the desire.  To will the end one must will the means.   But absent the desire, absent the necessity.

So my first point is that ought expresses a species of conditional necessity.  We can rearrange the above into a syllogistic form:
1.  I want to achieve G.
2.  Action A is a necessary condition of goal G. Ergo,
3.  I ought to perform A.
This seems  a very common pattern of practical reasoning.  It's clear I think that there can be no inference of (3) from (2) alone.  An argument that claims that (3) follows from (2) is enthymematic on (1).  And we can summarise this result by a general claim that a practical ought like (3) cannot be derived from an is like (2).

What about moral oughts?  My answer is to subsume them under practical oughts.  For this,  for any action A that is morally obligatory on me, I have to find a corresponding goal G that I desire. In many cases this goal will be simply to remain accepted within my moral community.  I pay the grocer's bill because I want to continue to be supplied with groceries.  This is my 'long stop', ultimate, goal that comes into play if no other goal takes precedence.   Of course, it may be that A is not necessary for this G.  Perhaps my failure to A will go undetected and I will be tempted into moral backsliding.  Then a more proximate goal of not appearing to myself as a moral backslider may appear.  Note that I'm not giving the circular argument that moral backsliding is immoral.  I'm saying that, no doubt through my moral upbringing, I do not wish to see myself as a backslider.  I can't offer an account as to why I have such a desire---this will no doubt have to be explained in terms of evolved moral sentiments and education---but for the purposes of this argument I need only say that I may have such a wish, and this desire generates the obligation.  Or, possibly, I am at odds with my moral community over some issue.  Perhaps, because of my moral formation, my desire to conform to some principle outweighs my fear of community ostracism.  If this motivation is uppermost, and A is necessary to realise it, then I will be obliged to A.

A final point.  There are two aspect here:  the necessity of A for G and its devolving on me because G is my goal.   The necessity here is ultimately a logical matter, a perceived that without which not.  So this little theory is consistent with my wider thesis that this is the only kind of necessity there is, or at least the only kind that we can grasp or make contact with.

Intellect versus imagination

Ed Feser has a piece out on Hume's reduction of the mental to the imagination in the course of which he refers us back to an earlier post comparing and contrasting the intellect and the imagination.  It's this earlier piece I'd like to discuss.
As Aristotelians and Thomists use the term, intellect is that faculty by which we grasp abstract concepts (like the concepts man and mortal), put them together into judgments (like the judgment that all men are mortal), and reason logically from one judgment to another (as when we reason from all men are mortal and Socrates is a man to the conclusion that Socrates is mortal).  It is to be distinguished from imagination, the faculty by which we form mental images (such as a visual mental image of what your mother looks like, an auditory mental image of what your favorite song sounds like, a gustatory mental image of what pizza tastes like, and so forth); and from sensation, the faculty by which we perceive the goings on in the external material world and the internal world of the body (such as a visual experience of the computer in front of you, the auditory experience of the cars passing by on the street outside your window, the awareness you have of the position of your legs, etc.).
That intellectual activity -- thought in the strictest sense of the term -- is irreducible to sensation and imagination is a thesis that unites Platonists, Aristotelians, and rationalists of either the ancient Parmenidean sort or the modern Cartesian sort.  The thesis is either explicitly or implicitly denied by modern empiricists and by ancients like Democritus; as I noted in an earlier post, the various bizarre metaphysical conclusions defended by writers like Berkeley and Hume largely rest on the conflation of intellect and imagination.  But the irreducibility of intellect to imagination is for all that undeniable, for several reasons.
Ed claims Berkeley and Hume conflate intellect and imagination. Ed treats them as of different kinds. I will try to show that the distinction is not as sharp as Ed suggests.

Thinking versus imagining

First, the concepts that are the constituents of intellectual activity are universal while mental images and sensations are always essentially particular.  Any mental image I can form of a man is always going to be of a man of a particular sort -- tall, short, fat, thin, blonde, redheaded, bald, or what have you.  It will fit at most many men, but not all.  But my concept man applies to every single man without exception.  Or to use my stock example, any mental image I can form of a triangle will be an image of an isosceles, scalene, or equilateral triangle, of a black, blue, or green triangle, etc.  But the abstract concept triangularity applies to all triangles without exception.  And so forth.
Second, mental images are always to some extent vague or indeterminate, while concepts are at least often precise and determinate.  To use Descartes’ famous example, a mental image of a chiliagon (a 1,000-sided figure) cannot be clearly distinguished from a mental image of a 1,002-sided figure, or even from a mental image of a circle.  But the concept of a chiliagon is clearly distinct from the concept of a 1,002-sided figure or the concept of a circle.  I cannot clearly differentiate a mental image of a crowd of one million people from a mental image of a crowd of 900,000 people.  But the intellect easily understands the difference between the concept of a crowd of one million people and the concept of a crowd of 900,000 people.  And so on.
There is a degree  of tension between these two paragraphs.  The first says that any mental image is essentially particular and the second says any mental image is to some extent vague or indeterminateThe first says that a concept applies to every instance without exception and the second says that not all concepts are precise and determinate.  There is a certain surface plausibility to what Ed says, but on digging deeper we find that it's not that simple.  For example, we can visualise the chiliagon by imagining it scaled up so that each side was a single pace in length, and then imagining ourselves walking round it while counting our paces. Likewise, we can imagine our one million people each walking to a preassigned square in a grid one thousand metres on a side.  One might argue that this visual imagining has an intellectual element, and I'd agree.  I think the two are inseparable.  The reason for this is that as soon as we have any kind of image before our minds, intellectual processes of bringing that image under concepts, as it were, are set in motion.  And this conceptualisation will itself involve corresponding imagery.  It's quite difficult to inhibit this intellectualisation.  Perhaps experienced meditators can do this.  Picasso once said that he wanted to see the world as children do.  See next comment.
Third, we have many concepts that are so abstract that they do not have even the loose sort of connection with mental imagery that concepts like man, triangle, and crowd have.  You cannot visualize triangularity or humanness per se, but you can at least visualize a particular triangle or a particular human being.  But we also have concepts -- such as the concepts law, square root, logical consistency, collapse of the wave function, and innumerably many others -- that can strictly be associated with no mental image at all.  You might form a visual or auditory image of the English word “law” when you think about law, but the concept law obviously has no essential connection whatsoever with that word, since ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Indians had the concept without using that specific word to name it.  You might form a mental image of a certain logician when you contemplate what it is for a theory to be logically consistent, or a mental image of someone observing something when you contemplate the collapse of the wave function, but there is no essential connection whatsoever between (say) the way Alonzo Church looked and the concept logical consistency or (say) what someone looks like when he’s observing a dead cat and the concept wave function collapse
There is a spurious definiteness to this, I feel.  What is the step from man and triangle, say, which Ed agrees do support loose mental imagery, to humanness and triangularity which supposedly do not?  I can visualise a particular triangle or person---I can try to recall 'in my mind's eye' how they look, but I think I can visualise a triangle or a person, 'in general', as it were.  More needs to be said on this.  I also have visual imagery for Ed's examples of square root, logical consistency, and collapse of the wave function.  Less so of law.  So things are not as clear-cut as Ed suggests and there is room for variation between thinkers.  Richard Feynman somewhere describes a method he had for grasping abstruse mathematical assertions by elaborate visual imagery.  It would be better to say that, starting with the most determinate and particular of visual images, say that of a triangular object before us, we can choose successively to ignore aspects like size, colour, texture, possession of an interior, shape, to arrive at an abstract visual image of a triangle.  Likewise we can go from a rich description of our object to a more meagre description by a successive dropping of descriptive elements.   It seems that these processes run in parallel, each reinforcing the other, one in visual space, as it were, and the other in conceptual space.  Rather than pull them apart, as Ed wants to do, perhaps we should see two aspects of a single process.  

The impossibility of materialism

Now, the reason why intellectual activity cannot in principle be reduced to sensation or imagination is, as it happens, related to the reason why intellectual activity cannot in principle be reduced to, or entirely supervenient upon, or in any other way explicable in terms of material processes of any sort.  For like mental images, the symbols postulated by cognitive scientists (“sentences in the head,” “maps,” or what have you), and any other possible purported material embodiments of thought, (a) necessarily lack the universality that concepts have, (b) necessarily lack the determinacy that concepts have, and (c) generally have exactly the loose and non-essential connection to the concepts they purportedly embody that the word “law” has to the concept law or a mental image of Alonzo Church has to the concept logical consistency.
Contra (a), one might see a universal as a pattern,  and we know that material systems can detect patterns.
Contra (b), some concepts seem rather indeterminate---Wittgenstein's 'game', for example---whereas some physical systems can be pretty determinate in some respects.  There is exactly one hole in a torus, for example.  Any tangle of string is either definitely knotted or definitely unknotted. 
(c)  begs the question, I think.  Ed is saying that the only possible substrate for intellectual activity is the wholly inadequate visual imagery.  I deny this.  See contra (a).
There is no way the materialist is ever going to square this circle.  To “explain” intellectual activity entirely in terms of material processes is inevitably at least implicitly to deny the existence of the former, or of some essential aspect of the former.   For instance, if you identify thought with material processes, you are necessarily committed to denying, implicitly or explicitly, that our thoughts ever really have any determinate content.  A number of materialists have seen this -- Quine, Dennett, and Bernard Williams are three examples -- and have decided to bite the bullet and accept that the content of all thought and language is inherently indeterminate.  (This is, for instance, the upshot of Quine’s famous “indeterminacy of translation” and “inscrutability of reference” theses and of Dennett’s “two-bitser” example.)
It seems to me that our thought falls on a spectrum of indeterminacy.  In general it need be only as determinate as the business of life requires.  What does it matter that I cannot closely specify the meaning of 'game'?  'There's a bear in the cave!' is sufficiently indefinite to conjure up the image of a bear on the doorstep.   It certainly seems reasonable to me to accept Quine's indeterminacy of translation and inscrutability of reference, given that the information content of a sentence is tiny in comparison to the information content of a brain.  But it's absurd to say that the degree of indeterminacy makes communication worthless.   Dennett's 'two-bitser' example shows, I think, that the notion of 'purpose' is agent-relative and hence to some extent indeterminate.  How far this extends  to the idea that physical states have indeterminate meaning, I am not sure.  One distinction which is not made, I think, is between interpreting some state as an outside observer, and actually being in that state.  However, Dennett's claim is that our intentionality is derived rather than original and is thus potentially indeterminate, not necessarily indeterminate.  See next comment regarding arithmetic.
But such claims are indefensible, for reasons James Ross has trenchantly spelled out.  First, if you deny the determinacy of thought, there is no way you will be able to make sense of the vast body of knowledge embodied in mathematics and logic, all of which presupposes that we have determinate concepts.  And there will in that case be no way you will be able to make sense of empirical science, which presupposes mathematics and logic, and in the name of which these materialists endorse their indeterminacy theses.  Second, if you deny the determinacy of thought, then you are committed to denying that we ever determinately think in accordance with valid forms of inference -- modus ponens, modus tollens, etc. -- or that we ever really add, subtract, multiply, etc.  You have to hold that we only seem to do so.  But that entails that we never in fact reason logically or in mathematically sound ways.  This not only (once again) makes science unintelligible, but it also undermines absolutely every argument anyone has ever given, including every argument for materialism.  Third, even to deny that our thoughts ever have a determinate content -- for example, to deny that we ever determinately employ addition as opposed to Saul Kripke’s notion of “quaddition” -- you first have to grasp what addition is and then go on to deny that we ever do it.  But that means that you must have a thought with a certain determinate content even to deny that you ever have thoughts with that specific content.
Well, we disagree over what Ross has shown.   With regard to Ross's discussion of arithmetic it's perhaps worth noting that any model of the Peano axioms contains an initial segment isomorphic to the natural numbers.  So in so far as my concept 'plus' satisfies the Peano axioms that concept appears to be constrained in its meaning to the plus of arithmetic.  I think Ed would agree that mathematical and logical concepts are highly abstract and in some sense epitomise the intellect.  But interestingly, it's just these mathematical and logical concepts that are amenable to mechanisation.  Proofs can be found and checked by computer.  What does this tell us about the upper reaches of the intellect?
So, anyone who thinks that thought can even in principle be entirely material hasn’t thought carefully enough about the nature of thought.  The materialist refutes materialism every time he so much as tries to argue for it.  Or so I would argue, and have argued at length elsewhere (e.g. in chapter 7 of Philosophy of Mind, chapter 4 of Aquinas, and at greatest length in my forthcoming American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought”).  But I’m not going to say anything more about that subject here, because it’s not relevant to the point I do want to make in this post.  So, if you want to insist that intellectual activity is material, then fine, that’s another subject.  The point for present purposes is that thinking in the strict sense -- grasping abstract concepts, formulating propositions, reasoning from one proposition to another -- is different from forming mental images or the like (even if it is somehow material in some other way).
I think that the argument that's trying to get out here, that intellect does not reduce to imagery, requires the Aristotelian premise that sensation and imagination are indeed material processes whereas the intellect is not.

Science is an essentially intellectual activity

Now everyone knows that this is true where physics and mathematics are concerned.  Of course, we do find it useful to form mental images when we try to grasp the abstractions of these disciplines, at least initially.  We draw geometrical figures on paper, think of points as little dots and of lines as the sort of thing you might draw with a ruler, imagine particles as little round objects moving about and of the structure of spacetime as like a rubber sheet we might twist around in different shapes.  But none of this is strictly correct, and the deeper we understand the concepts involved, the more we see that these visual images are just crude approximations.  That’s why physicists prefer to put things in mathematical terms.  They are not trying to show off or to be difficult for the sake of difficulty.  It is rather that it is precisely those aspects of nature which can be modeled mathematically that they are interested in as physicists.  Hence to put their ideas in non-mathematical terms simply fails to get at the essence of what it is they are trying to describe.  (The mistake some of them make is in assuming that a mathematical description exhausts nature, as opposed to capturing merely an aspect of nature.  But that’s a different subject, which I have addressed here, here, and here.)
Maybe the physics of particles and fields does exhaust what can be said about nature at this level of description.  Perhaps point particles like quarks and leptons really do have just the properties physics says they have.   The rest is emergent.  Even extension is an emergent property of ensembles of interacting point particles.  But yes.
This was part of the point of Descartes’ consideration of the possibility that he might be dreaming when he thinks he’s awake, or that the world of his senses might be a hallucination put into his consciousness by an evil spirit.  He was not interesting in providing fodder for college dorm room bull sessions or science-fiction screenwriters.  Nor was he merely interested in raising and responding to the problem of epistemological skepticism.  What he was trying to do was reinforce the idea that physics as he wanted to (re)define it -- and he was one of the fathers of modern science, as well as being the father of modern philosophy -- is something that can be understood only via the intellect, and not via the senses or the imagination.  Even if physical theory must be tested via empirical observation, its content is something that is expressible only in highly abstract terms that we must grasp with the intellect rather in terms of what we can imagine or perceive.  As with the concepts law and logical consistency (to cite some examples given above), any mental imagery we associate with the concepts we learn from a physics textbook are bound to be misleading and will have little or no essential connection to the realities to which the concepts correspond.  That is precisely why modern physics is so hard -- it requires a degree of abstraction of which few are capable.
I'm not sure Ed is on firm ground with these remarks on Descartes.  Surely the 'mechanical philosophy' is to be understood through the senses of touch and kinaesthesia---the push and pull of mechanical forces---in contrast with the abstractions of Aristotelianism?  But yes, modern physics rests on highly abstract mathematics.

Philosophy and theology are also essentially intellectual activities 

Now the key concepts of the great systems of metaphysics -- whether Platonic, Aristotelian, Thomistic or other Scholastic systems, or modern rationalist systems like those of Descartes and Leibniz -- are also of the sort that can be grasped only via a high degree of intellectual abstraction, with little or nothing in the way of assistance by mental imagery.  Indeed these concepts are if anything of an even higher degree of abstraction than those dealt with by the physicist.  For many of them concern not just material being, nor even the most abstract aspects of material being, but being as such.  When the metaphysician inquires into the nature of existence, or essence, or causation, he wants to know not merely what it is for this or that material thing to exist or have a nature or have a cause, nor even merely what it would be for some particular immaterial thing to exist or to have a nature or a cause.  He also wants to know what existence as such is, what causation as such is, and so forth.  His enterprise requires taking the mind as far from mental imagery -- as far from what we can visualize, for example -- as it can possibly go.  Thus, while metaphysics does not involve complex calculations or the like, it is in another respect even more difficult than physics insofar as it requires an even greater sustained effort of abstraction.
Yes, and it's a high-wire act without a safety net.  No way of checking that these ratiocinations haven't gone wrong.   On the other hand, the mathematics of theoretical physics is checkable, by machine if necessary, and its physical interpretation is subject to empirical test.  The metaphysician may ask what existence as such is, but does this question make any sense?  We move from 'to exist', which looks like a verb, to 'existence' which looks like a noun, and we can ask of any thing what it is, so the question What is existence? is grammatically well-formed.  It's just that we seem to have lost touch with solid ground, just like a cartoon character running off  a cliff.  See next comment.
Hence, when it is said by the Scholastic philosopher or theologian that God is pure actuality, subsistent being itself, and absolutely simple, or that the human soul is the substantial form of a living human being, you are going to misunderstand these concepts completely if you think of them as literally having anything to do with what you can visualize in your mind’s eye.  For example, if you think of an explosion (say) when you think of God qua Actus purus actualizing the world, or of a tiny marble-like object when you think of absolute simplicity, or the dotted-line outline of a body when you think of substantial form, you will be misunderstanding these concepts as badly as -- indeed, far worse than -- you would be misunderstanding molecules if you thought of them as literally being little balls held together by sticks, or of spacetime as if it were literally a kind if sheet with indentations in it.  Similarly, if you think of Descartes’ notion of res cogitans on the model of “ectoplasm,” or goo of the sort you’d see in Ghostbusters only invisible and intangible, or as “bits of non-clockwork” (as Gilbert Ryle described it), then you will be taking it to be nearly the opposite of what Descartes actually had in mind.  For these are all quasi-material kinds of thing insofar as they imply extension and/or composition.  And Descartes’ whole point was that a res cogitans is neither extended nor composed of parts.  It is precisely the sort of thing you cannot visualize, nor model on the workings of any kind of material system whatsoever, even the most ethereal.
My problem with pure actuality, substantial form, etc, is not that I misunderstand them through misleading attempts at visualisation, but that I can't attach any meaning to them at all.  My suspicion is that the philosophers who advance these ideas are trapped in Wittgenstein's language net.  They have been systematically misled by various maladaptations present in ordinary language.  This idea goes back at least to William of Ockham.  It's a very large and disparate philosophical research programme bits of which I but dimly make out.  Some of the posts on this blog hint in these directions.

Double standard 

And this is where so many New Atheist types come to grief.  (As I find I keep having to reassure the hypersensitive reader, no, I don’t mean all atheists.  I mean the kind of atheist who seriously thinks a Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, or Laurence Krauss deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with J. L. Mackie, J. Howard Sobel, or Quentin Smith.)  Those among them who actually know something about science (and not merely how to shout “Science!”) are well aware that you are not going to understand physics properly if you take too seriously the mental images we tend to form when we hear terms like “spacetime,” “particle,” “energy,” and the like.  They are well aware that physics requires us to abstract from ordinary experience, to move away from what we can visualize or otherwise imagine.  The man on the street may think that whatever is real must be something you could in principle see, hear, touch, smell, or taste, but the more scientifically savvy sort of New Atheist knows that this is a vulgar prejudice, and that it is with the intellect rather than the senses that we truly understand the world.
But what do we find in quantum electrodynamics?  Feynman diagrams.  Pictures of the combinatorial possibilities involved in the interaction of two electrons, say,  and the electromagnetic field.
And yet, when dealing with metaphysical or theological concepts New Atheist types suddenly become complete Philistines, feigning an inability to grasp anything but the most crude and literal physical descriptions.  Hence if you claim that the human mind is immaterial, they suppose that you simply must be committed to the existence of a sort of magical goop that floats above the brain; and if you say that the universe has a cause they will insist that you must believe in a kind of super-Edison who draws up blueprints, gets out his tools, and sets to work.  And when you object to these preposterous straw men, they will pretend that they cannot understand your language in any other way, that it is mere empty verbiage unless read in such a crassly mundane fashion.  Of course, if they held physics to the same narrow, literalistic standard, they would have to dismiss wormholes, quantum foam, black holes, gravity wells, electric fields, centers of gravity, and on and on.  (I’ve discussed this double standard before, here and here.)
Well, perhaps there are two standards in operation.  The first is the standard applied to mathematical proof and the empirical testing of its physical interpretation.  The  second is the poetry of metaphysics.  But I will check out those earlier postings.
It is no good to object that the predictive and technological successes of physics justify this double standard, for two reasons.  First, the predictive and technological successes of physics are relevant only to the epistemic credentials of physics, but not to its intelligibility.  In other words, that such-and-such a theory in physics has been confirmed experimentally and/or had various practical applications is relevant to showing that it is correct, but it is not necessarily relevant to interpreting the content of the theory.  Physicists knew well enough what Einstein was claiming before tests like the 1919 and 1922 eclipse experiments provided evidence that he was right.  Similarly, though string theory has proved notoriously difficult to test, we know well enough what the theory means; the trouble is just finding out whether it’s true.  (No one would make the asinine claim that string theory simply must be committed to the existence of literal microscopic shoelaces unless and until some experimental test of the theory is devised.)   So, even if it were correct to say that metaphysical and theological claims cannot be rationally justified, it simply wouldn’t follow that such claims must be given the crude readings New Atheists often foist upon them, on pain of being empty verbiage.  But it is, in any case, not correct to say that they cannot be rationally justified, which brings us to the second problem.  That the methods of empirical science are rational does not entail that they are the only methods that are rational.  In particular, and as I have pointed out many times, it is simply a blatant non sequitur to claim that science’s success in discovering those aspects of reality that are susceptible of strict prediction and control shows that those aspects exhaust reality.  This is like a drunk’s insisting that because it is only under the streetlamp that there is light to look for his keys, it follows that the keys cannot be elsewhere and/or that there cannot be methods by which they might be sought elsewhere.
This is one of Ed's more opaque passages.  Has he finally ascended into the empyrean? Can anyone explain what he is getting at here?
As I have also pointed out many times, the premises from which the historically most important arguments for God’s existence proceed derive, not from natural science, but from metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.  They are, that is to say, premises that any possible natural science must take for granted, and are thus more secure than the claims of natural science, not less -- or so many natural theologians would claim. Obviously such claims are controversial, but the point is that to insist that metaphysical and theological assertions must be justified via the methods of natural science if they are to be worthy of attention is not to refute the metaphysician or theologian, but merely to beg the question against the metaphysician or theologian.  Philosophical arguments are different from empirical scientific arguments, but they are no less rational than empirical scientific arguments.
Metaphysical claims concerning the foundations of natural science are more secure than the claims of science itself, yet they are controversial?  Have I understood this?

Thinking abstractly 

Some readers might wonder how what I am saying here squares with what I said in a recent post about the danger of reifying abstractions.  But there is no inconsistency.  Naturally, I was not saying in the earlier post that abstraction per se is bad; indeed, I said the opposite.  What I was criticizing was treating as substances (in the Aristotelian sense of that term) things which of their nature cannot be substances.  Mathematical features of reality, for example, are aspects of substances and of relations between substances, rather than substances in their own right.  Hence it is an error to treat the mathematical description of nature that physics gives us as if it were a complete description.  Bodily organs like brains are also not substances but rather components of substances (namely of certain kinds of organisms) and intelligible only by reference to the complete organisms of which they form integral parts.  Hence it is a category mistake -- deriving from a tendency first to abstract the brain from the organism and then fallaciously to treat it as a substance in its own right -- to speak (as some neuroscientists and philosophers do) of the brain or its components as if they “see,” “interpret,” etc., or to conclude that since free choice, purpose, etc. are not to be found at the neurological level of description, it follows that they don’t exist at all.  These concepts apply in the first place only to the organism as a whole, and not to its parts. The arguments of natural theology that I am defending do not commit errors like this.  They abstract from experience, but they do not fallaciously treat accidents as if they were substances or parts as if they were wholes.
I agree with Ed here.  Loose talk of brains seeing and interpreting conflates the languages of the manifest and scientific images and results only in confusion.  Conversely, Ed should not seek to inject the terms of his preferred theory of the manifest image into the scientific image.
In any event, it is only by learning to think abstractly -- to engage in rational thought in its highest and purest form -- that you are ever going to understand metaphysical and theological arguments well enough to earn the right to criticize them.  “New Atheists” -- by which, again, I do not mean all atheists, but rather the likes of Dawkins, Coyne, Myers and their innumerable online clones -- have not earned this right, precisely because they do not think at this high level.  Indeed, they do very little thinking at all where metaphysics and theology are concerned, unless you count smartass remarks aimed at straw men followed by mutual high fives “thinking.”  When dealing with one of these brainiacs, you might as well meet him where he’s at and channel Biff Tannen: [insert video clip here]
So, after four thousand words, the upshot is that Dawkins et al are not worthy critics of Ed's Aristotelianism because their metaphysical thinking is stuck in the imagistic rather than the intellectual, and hence isn't really thinking at all.

You can't get there from here

Victor Reppert has a recent post loosely summarising a number of problems for physicalism, which has set me thinking.  Following my usual practice, I comment directly on gobbets of Victor's post.
1. Suppose we are given a complete list of physical facts, facts about where all the particles are. The information, thus given is insufficient to determine a unique mental state that a person is in. There is no entailment relation of any kind to the relevant mental state.
Indeed.   This, I believe, is known as the anomalism of the mental.   A physicalist has to offer some account of why this is so.  Here is a suggestion that I'd like to receive comments on.  I start with the thought that our only contact with the mental is through language, typically propositional attitude reports.  It's not as if we have an extra sense by which come to know the mental.  For example, our visual sense is equipped with qualities like colour and shape.  We can pay attention to these aspects without seeing any object, and sometimes these aspects cannot be made sense of as objects, and we are unable to describe a scene in propositional terms.  Example.  In contrast, the mental simply manifests itself in ready-made propositions, or rather, sentences.  Indeed, a number of writers have asked the question,  How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?  This sounds like Lewis Carroll's Alice but it is in fact EM Forster.  This suggests to me the following picture.


Sentences here count as physical.  Sentences 'in the head' can be uttered.  Brain states are clearly physical.  So we have a causal relation labelled language production.  We have little idea at the moment how language production works, but at least it relates the physical to the physical, so we can have some hope that the methods of science will uncover more.  How do mental states fit in?   We all seem to believe that there are such things as mental states and that they lead to the production of utterances, but it's not at all clear how the dotted horizontal arrow does its work.  One possibility is to think of mental states as theoretical entities introduced to explain sentences just as particles and fields are theoretical, ie, not directly sensed, entities brought in to explain matter.  The horizontal arrow then represents some set of theoretical principles by which sentences can be derived from mental states, much as physical principles enable us to derive the behaviour of ordinary bodies from that of their particles.  On this understanding it's hardly surprising that we can't specify the upward pointing dotted arrow, though it does make sense that mental states appear to supervene on the physical brain states.   How close is this to eliminativism?   Quite close, I guess.
2.  In virtue of what is some physical state about some other physical state? This is the familiar worry about intentionality, a worry made more difficult by my claim that the kind of intentional states involved in rational inference are states in which the content is understood by the agent and put into a propositional format.
I suspect the only sense in which physical state B can be said to be about physical state A is if A is causally contributory to B so that B contains some information about A.  This seems to rule out a physical basis for intentionality, for we can think about things that don't physically exist.  I'm inclined to explain the 'aboutness' of thoughts by means of the 'aboutness' of sentences.  Again, our contact with thoughts qua mental states is through the sentences they produce.  The aboutness of sentences is a shallow syntactical business by which sentences analyse into subject terms and predicate terms.  Is this eliminativism with respect to intentionality?  You tell me.  I certainly take issue with Victor's characterisation of inferential intentional states.  I think he has things backwards.  For me the 'mental content' manifests itself in propositional format, ie, sentences, and then becomes available to be understood.
3.  In the case of mental states, I do not see how the physical states can possibly “add up” to any determinate mental state. There is a qualitative difference between the physical base and mental content, that no amount of investigation can possibly overcome.
I agree.  But I don't get from the physical to the mental by a process of accumulation like building a brick wall (Victor's metaphor in his original post).  
4.  Given naturalism’s commitment to the natural sciences, the naturalist must presuppose the existence of mathematicians as well as scientists. Therefore, some serious consequences follow from the indeterminacy of mental states. It would mean that what Dawkins means by atheism is indeterminate. It means that it is not literally true that Einstein developed his theories of relativity from Maxwell’s equations.*
This follows a quote from Daniel Dennett arguing for the indeterminacy of mental states.  Victor feels that mental states must be determinate else rational thought be impossible.  I say that inference operates on sentences and sentences are quite determinate.  Have you ever repeated a sentence over and over in the hope that its implications become clear?   The meaning of a sentence may be indeterminate---ultimately the meaning of a sentence is what it does to us, the changes it produces in our brain state, and this is certainly indeterminable with current technology---but it is sentences that are the primary bearers of truth, in that it is sentences that we judge true or false.
5.  More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical components, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks. Any intentionality they would also have to be derived from something else. But if anything physical would be devoid of intrinsic intentionality, whatever does have intrinsic intentionality would thereby have to be non-physical. Sine the mind is the source of the intentionality of physical entities like sentences and pictures, and doesn’t get its intentionality from anything else (there’s no one “using” our minds to convey meaning) it seems to follow that the mind has intrinsic intentionality, and thus is non-physical.
This is a quote from Ed Feser.  There is something deeply amiss with the notion of intentionality.  It splits the world into two disjoint classes, the interpreters and the interpreted, processor and data.  But brain states are clearly simultaneously both processor and data.  How are we to understand this? Shades of Frege's object versus concept distinction perhaps?



* Actually, it isn't true  that Einstein developed his theories of relativity from Maxwell’s equations.  Certainly not GR.  SR starts with the observed constancy of the speed of light and derives the Lorentz transformations.  Earlier work (check this!) had shown that Maxwell's equations are Lorentz invariant.

Feser on teleology

In the course of a 4000 word essay aimed squarely at the ignorance of Jerry Coyne,  Ed Feser gives us a discussion on teleology.
Consider the notion of “purpose.”  Coyne seems to think that all talk of purpose entails a conscious rational agent like us, but that is, conceptually speaking, just sloppy.  Where purpose is concerned -- a better term would be “teleology” or (better still because unassociated with irrelevant pop-theology baggage) the Scholastic’s term “finality” -- there are, as I have pointed out many times (e.g. here), at least five kinds, with each of the last four progressively more unlike the sort we know from introspection.  Hence we can distinguish:

1. The sorts of purposes we know from our own plans and actions.  In this case the end that is pursued is conceptualized.  When you order a steak, you conceptualize it as steak (as opposed, say, to vegetable protein processed to look and taste like steak), you express this concept linguistically by using the word “steak,” and so forth.

2. The sorts of purposes non-rational animals exhibit.  A dog, for example, exhibits a kind of purpose or goal-directedness when it excitedly makes its way over to the steak you’ve dropped on the floor.  Such a purpose is certainly conscious -- the dog will see the meat and imagine the appearance and taste of past bits of meat it has had, and it will also feel an urge to eat the meat -- but it is not conceptualized.  The dog doesn’t think of the meat as meat (as opposed to as textured vegetable protein), it doesn’t describe it using an abstract term like “meat,” etc.

3. The sorts of “purposes” plants exhibit.  A plant will grow “toward” the light, roots will “seek” water, an acorn “points to” the oak into which it will grow, etc.  These “purposes” are not only not conceptualized, but they are totally unconscious.  A plant will not only not think of the water it “seeks” as water (as a human being would), but it will not feel thirst or anything else as it “seeks” it (as an animal would).

4. The “goal-directedness” of complex inorganic processes.  David Oderberg offers the water cycle and the rock cycle as examples of a kind of inorganic “goal-directedness” insofar as there is an objective (rather than merely interest-relative) fact of the matter about whether certain occurrences are parts of these causal processes.  For instance, the formation of magma may both cause certain local birds to migrate and lead to the formation of igneous rock, but causing birds to migrate is no part of the rock cycle while the formation of igneous rock is part of it.  That each stage of the process “points” to certain further stages in a way it does not “point” to other things it may incidentally cause reflects an extremely rudimentary sort of teleology.  It is a kind of teleology or “directedness” that involves neither conceptualization of the end sought (as human purposes do), nor conscious awareness of the end (as animal purposes do), nor the flourishing of a living system (as the “purposes” of plants do).

5. Finally there is a kind of absolute bare minimum of “directedness” exhibited in even the simplest inorganic causal regularities.  As Aquinas argued, if A regularly generates some specific effect or range of effects B (rather than C, or D, or no effect at all), there is no way to make this intelligible unless we suppose that A is inherently “directed toward” or “points to” the generation of B (rather than to C, or D, or no effect at all).  Suppose all higher level causal regularities -- not only the water and rock cycles, but even simpler phenomena like the way the phosphorus in the head of a match generates flame and heat when the match is truck, or the way ice cools down room-temperature water surrounding it -- were entirely reducible to causation at the micro-structural level.  Still, we would have absolutely basic causal regularities -- the fact that some micro-structural phenomenon A regularly generates a range of outcomes B -- that is intelligible only if we suppose that A inherently points to B.  Or so the traditional Aristotelian view goes, anyway.  Here we lack in A not only conceptualization, consciousness, and life, but also complexity of the sort in view in teleology of Type 4.  There is just the bare “pointing to” or “directedness toward” B which would exist even if the causal transaction were not part of some larger structure.
What are we to make of this?  Can the single concept 'purpose', 'teleology', or 'finality' span such a vast range of phenomena described in (1) to (5)?  I struggle with this.  As, in a way, does Feser.  For as we move from (1) to (5) the concept seems to come under increasing stress, as evidenced by the frequency of the quotation marks.  One question I'd like to ask is this.  If everything has purpose(s), how do purposes interact?  Is my 1-purpose in going to the fridge somehow a sum or composition of the 5-purposes of my molecules?  Is this panpsychism? This query is analogous to the query directed to the Aristotelian theory of forms: How, if at all, is the form of a thing related to the forms of its parts?  Again, it would seem that we should say that the 5-purposes of molecules are trivially satisfied.  They are never thwarted.  But my 1-purpose in going to the fridge is easily thwarted.  How does it come about that some purposes can be thwarted?  Then again, perhaps the 5-purposes of molecules can be thwarted.  Maybe what happens in nature is the outcome of an argy-bargy of competing purposes among the molecules.  Perhaps a theory of composition for purposes could answer this question?

Let me say that I accept entirely Ed's 1-purposes, though I don't appreciate the emphasis he is making in his paragraph (1) above.  I would want to say that a purpose P in performing action A is a reason for A, in the sense that one believes that in some context C, P follows from A.   A suggestive notation might be C,A ⊢ P.   A purpose P for an object O is a reason for its existence:  C, ∃O ⊢ P, in an abuse of notation.  There is much that needs to be clarified here.  We are clearly in the realm of the rational planning of our actions in order to achieve our ends. The key idea is the notion of logical sufficiency.  Also, that a purpose is a cognitive entity, a thought, something that can participate in an inference, rather than a spatio-temporal entity or property.   It's difficult to see how to extend this idea to other domains.   I think Ed's 2, 3, 4, and 5-purposes must be metaphorical usages, and the metaphor is increasingly stretched as we go down the list.   I suggest that the sense of directedness or of finality that Ed finds is the sense in which the premises of an inference lead to its conclusion.  The spatial metaphors here are striking.  Let's consider his example of a match.  Suppose we have internalised our experience of matches into a general proposition: striking a match produces a flame.  So producing a flame might be our purpose or our end in striking a match.  Without any further explanatory resources at our disposal we might be tempted to account for the regularity expressed by the general proposition by means of a purpose or end or directedness towards producing a flame that is inherent in striking a match.  This might be seen as a vestige of animism.  The difficulties with it are immediately apparent.  Is the directedness inherent in the match or in its striking? As I understand it, the Aristotelian view is that these 'qualities' are inherent in the objects.  Certainly, causation is seen as a relation between objects. How then does the striking come into it?  The problem is that the resources available in a explanation of this kind---ordinary objects, or even ordinary objects equipped with directednesses---are too coarse-grained.  A nice demonstration of this is Ed's ice-cube example.  Granted that the ice-cube at minus five degrees Celsius, say, will cool liquid water at twenty degrees.  But it will also warm liquid CO2, say, at minus sixty Celsius.
For as I have also pointed out many times (e.g., once again, here) there are several possible views one could take about purported teleology or finality of any or all of the five sorts just described:

A. One could hold that one or more of the kinds of teleology described above really do exist but that it is in no way inherent in the natural world, but rather imposed on it from outside by God in something like the way the purposes of an artifact are imposed on natural materials by us.  Just as the metal bits that make up a watch in no way have any time-telling function inherent in them but derive it entirely from the watchmaker and users of the watch, so too is the world utterly devoid of teleology except insofar as God imparts purposes to it.  This “extrinsic” view of teleology is essentially the view represented by William Paley’s “design argument.”

B. One could hold instead that teleology of one or more of the kinds described above really does exist and is inherent in the natural world rather than in any way imposed from outside.  Someone who takes this view might hold (for example) that an acorn really does have an inherent and irreducible “directedness” toward becoming an oak, or that in general efficient causes really are inherently “directed toward” or “point to” their effects, and that this just follows from their natures rather than from any external, divine directing activity.  Why does an acorn “point toward” becoming an oak?  Not, on this view, because God so directs it, but just because that is part of what it is to be an acorn.  This ”intrinsic” view of teleology is the one usually attributed to Aristotle (who, though he affirmed the existence of a divine Unmoved Mover, did not do so on teleological grounds, as least as usually interpreted).

C. One could hold that teleology of one or more of the kinds described above really does exist and has its proximal ground in the natures of things but its distal ground in divine directing activity.  On this view (to stick with the acorn example -- an example nothing rides on, by the way, but is just an illustration) the acorn “points to” becoming an oak by its very nature, and this nature is something that can be known whether or not one affirms the existence of God.  To that extent this view agrees with View B.  But a complete explanation of things and their natures would, on this View C, require recourse to a divine sustaining cause.  This is the view represented by Aquinas’s Fifth Way, which (as I have noted many times) has nothing whatsoever to do either with Paley’s feeble “design argument” or with the arguments of recent “Intelligent Design” theorists.  (I have expounded and defended Aquinas’s Fifth Way in several places, such as in my book Aquinas and in greatest detail in a recent Nova et Vetera article.)

D. One could hold that one or more of the kinds of teleology described above are in some sense real but only insofar as they are entirely reducible to non-teleological phenomena.  To speak of something’s “pointing to” or being “directed toward” some end is on this view “really” just a shorthand for some description that makes no reference whatsoever to teleology or finality.

E. Finally, one could hold that none of the sorts of teleology described above exists in any sense, not even when understood in a reductionist way.  They are entirely illusory.
My view is closest to (E).  1-purposes exist, though they are cognitive entities. 2, 3, 4, and 5-purposes do not.
1. Now that means that of the approaches to teleology or finality described above, the materialist is committed to either View D or View E.  But View D really collapses into View E.  For attempts to reduce teleological notions to non-teleological notions are notoriously problematic.  To take a stock example, suppose it is claimed that such-and-such a neural structure in frogs serves the function or purpose of allowing them to catch flies (insofar as it underlies frogs’ behavior of snapping their tongues at flies).  And suppose it is claimed that this teleological description can be translated without remainder into a description that makes use of no teleological notions.  For instance, it might be held that to say that the neural structure in question serves that function is just shorthand for saying that it causes frogs to snap their tongues at flies; or perhaps that it is shorthand for saying that the structure was hardwired into frogs by natural selection because it caused them to snap their tongues at flies.  The trouble is that the same neural structure will cause a frog to snap its tongue at lots of other things too -- at BB’s, black spots projected onto a screen, etc. -- yet it would be false to say that the function of the structure in question is the disjunctive one of getting frogs to eat either flies or BBs or spots on a screen, etc.   Of course, someone might respond: “But that’s because the reason the neural structure gets frogs to snap their tongues, and the reason it was favored by natural selection, was in order to get them to eat flies, not to eat BB’s or spots on a screen!”  But that’s just the point.  To say that “the reason” the structure exists is “in order to” get frogs to do that, specifically, is to bring teleological notions back into the analysis, when the whole point was to get rid of them.
Ed is being a little careless here.  The underlined sentence conflates two reasons:
a. Why the neural structure gets frogs to snap their tongues, and
b. Why the neural structure was favoured by evolution.
The explanation for (a) is in terms of the physiology of frogs---how the neural structure processes retinal images of small dark objects and stimulates the muscles of the tongue.  The explanation for (b) is the usual Darwinian one---the differential reproduction of frogs equipped with such neural structures and refinements thereof, compared to those without.  One can explain this without resort to 'in order to'.  I'm afraid Ed is putting up an all-to-familiar anti-Darwinian straw-man.
2. This sort of problem -- known by philosophers as the “disjunction problem” -- illustrates the impossibility of trying to reduce teleological descriptions to non-teleological ones.  Such purported reductions invariably either simply fail to capture the teleological notions, or they smuggle them in again through the back door and thus don’t really reduce them after all.  Hence, as naturalists as otherwise different as John Searle and Alex Rosenberg have acknowledged, a consistent materialist has at the end of the day to deny that teleology really exists at all.  That is to say, he has to opt for what I have labeled View E.
I fail to see the relevance of the disjunction problem.  This is supposed to show that there can be no unique function or purpose for a physiological structure.  Under my interpretation of 'purpose' this is obvious.  One would not expect there to be a unique P such that C,∃O ⊢ P.  But this has no impact at all on the Darwinian argument.  Among the things in the frog's environment that trigger tongue snapping are flies, and the benefits of snapping at nutritious flies outweigh, in terms of reproductive success, the downsides of snapping at possibly-noxious fly-like things.  This account need not mention functions or purposes.  Isn't Jerry Fodor's attack on Darwinism just this misapplication of the disjunction problem? Ed has not shown that Darwinism must be formulated in teleological terms, nor does this argument rule out my modified (E) view.
3. Now this is where an insuperable problem for materialism comes in.  If you take View E, then you have to say that teleology, purpose, “directedness” or “pointing toward” of any kind is an illusion.  But illusions are themselves instances of “directedness” or “pointing toward.”  In particular they are instances of intentionality, where intentionality is what the “directedness” or “pointing toward” that is definitive of teleology in general looks like in the case of mental states (thoughts, perceptions, volitions, and the like) in particular.  This is why the intentionality of the mental has notoriously been difficult for the materialist to account for.  For materialism maintains that there is no irreducible “directedness” in the world, yet intentionality just is a kind of “directedness.”  A thought or perception is about or directed at a state of affairs (whether real or illusory), a volition is about or directed at a certain outcome (whether actually realizable or not), and so forth.
Ed now assimilates intentionality to purpose, via what amounts to a pun on 'directedness'.  The sense of directedness in intentionality is not the sense of entailment that I claim for purposiveness.  The directedness of intentional states is a quasi-relation between thoughts and objects.  The directedness of purposiveness, or so I claim, is the entailment relation between thoughts.  So a denial of purposiveness in the material realm need not rule out the intentionality of the mental realm, even if the former provides the material substrate of the latter.  The difficulty for materialism of accounting for intentionality is not due to the lack of purposiveness in the material realm.
4. As materialists like Alex Rosenberg and Paul Churchland see, this is why a consistent materialist really has to be an eliminativist and deny the reality of intentionality altogether.  The problem is that this simply cannot coherently be done.  To be sure, the eliminativist can avoid saying blatantly self-contradictory things like “I believe there are no beliefs,” but that doesn’t solve the basic problem.  For he will inevitably have to make use of a notion like “illusion,” “error,” “falsehood,” or the like even just to express what it is he is denying the existence of, and these notions are thoroughly intentional (in the sense of being instances of intentionality).  For one to be in thrall to an “illusion” or an “error” just is to be in a state with meaning, with directedness on to a certain content, and so forth.  In short, to dismiss the “directedness” or “pointing toward” characteristic of teleology and intentionality as an illusion is incoherent, since illusions are themselves instances of the very phenomenon whose existence is being denied.  We saw in a recent series of posts how Rosenberg tries to solve this incoherence problem -- in an attempt that is, to his credit, more serious than that of other eliminativists -- but fails utterly.
I wouldn't want to deny intentionality, though I don't think it's all it's cracked up to be.  It's not at all clear to me that intentionality is captured through this notion of 'directedness'.  It's only through his conflation of the apparent directedness of intentionality with the hypothetical directedness of teleology that Ed thinks that the denier of teleology must deny intentionality.  And that's down to a rather bad pun.

More on seeing, apparently

In  Seeing: Internalist and Externalist Perspectives (17 January), Bill puts forward another aporetic tetrad:
  1. If S sees x, then x exists 
  2. Seeing is an intentional state 
  3. Every intentional state is such that its intentional object is incomplete
  4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.
These, he argues, are inconsistent, and his preferred solution is to reject (1), as discussed previously.  He distinguishes between an 'existentially-loaded' sense of 'see', for which (1) holds, and an 'existentially-neutral' sense, for which it does not.  Fair enough.  We know we sometimes 'see things that aren't there', when the evidence of the eyes is not backed up by evidence from the other senses.  So let's sharpen up (1) and (2) a little by declaring that the sense of 'sees' is the loaded one.  I'll call this 'veridical seeing'.  Our tetrad then becomes,
  1. If S veridically sees x, then x exists 
  2. Veridical seeing is an intentional state 
  3. Every intentional state is such that its intentional object is incomplete
  4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.
Bill would presumably regard this tetrad as inconsistent. (1) is now undeniable, by definition.  (2) could be denied, but in On Seeing: Intentionality without Aspectuality? (30 December),  to which I have recently referred, Bill argues that seeing in both its forms possesses the 'aspectuality' characteristic of intentionality.  Let's assume that this is sufficient.  Where does this leave us? 

The nice answer is to say, No, the tetrad is perfectly consistent, but there are no intentional objects.  Another answer is to reaffirm the consistency of the tetrad but assert that intentional objects are non-existent.  This is presumably the Meinongian route which Bill has repeatedly scorned, though Ed Ockham regards him as a Meinongian in denial.  I propose to go with the nice answer.  There is obviously something very fishy about (3).  It's trying to say something interesting about the aspectuality of intentional mental states, but the language is not quite right.  It is, as it were, ontologically over-committing. Is there a way of conveying the sense of (3) without using the language of objects?

When we look at a thing or think about a thing, that which is manifestly incomplete is our knowledge of that thing.  Perhaps I should use a term more 'truth-neutral' than 'knowledge', but it seems appropriate.  When the drunk sees pink elephants he knows they are pink.  When we look at a thing or think about a thing what is 'before our mind', or better, 'in our mind' is knowledge of that thing.  Here is a well-known image: 


On first seeing this picture it may be that all we have in mind is the thought that there are patches of dark and pale.  Arguably this state is not intentional.  Then, perhaps after a little hinting, quite suddenly what comes to mind is the thought that there is a dalmation dog, standing, its left flank turned away from us, and its nose to the ground.  There is little more that can be said, especially if we close our eyes and try to recall the scene.   We know there is a dog, but we know relatively little about it.

Why then would the philosopher fall into talking of 'incomplete objects'?  Perhaps through a wish to be true to the visual experience?  There are but two possible experiences here: the patches of light and dark, and the dalmation dog.  To speak of an 'incomplete dog' fails to capture the experience, as we have seen.  Besides leading to absurdity, as our revised aporia shows.  Perhaps to remain neutral as to whether visual experience gives us knowledge of external objects?  Possibly, but to describe the experience in terms of objects, complete or otherwise, is tacitly to presuppose that there are such things.  If visual experience were merely of patches of light and dark we could never grasp the concept 'object'.  Just as the experience itself is dual, there are two alternatives in describing it: the object-free and the object-saturated, the non-intentional and the intentional. There is no middle ground.

Intentional states have objects in this sense.  They are states in which thoughts having the following form occur: There is an object; it has property P1, P2, ... and it enters into relations R1, R2, ... with other objects.  When we reflect on this intentional state we recognise that the set of thoughts it contains is incomplete---no object is fully knowable to a finite mind.   Furthermore, these thoughts need not be true.

To see or not to see

Bill continues his musings on intentionality here.  First quoting himself, he says,
'Sees’ is often taken to be a so-called verb of success: if S sees x, then it follows that x exists. On this understanding of ‘sees’ one cannot see what doesn’t exist. Call this the existentially loaded sense of ‘sees’ and contrast it with the existentially neutral sense according to which ‘S sees x’ does not entail ‘X exists.’
I should add that I consider the existentially neutral sense of 'see' primary for the purposes of epistemology. For if visual perception is a source (along with tactile, auditory, etc. perception) of our knowledge of the existence of material things, then it seems obvious that the perception verbs must be taken in their existentially neutral senses. For existentially loaded uses of these verbs presuppose the mind-independent existence of material things. [my underlining]
I disagree that it seems obvious.  To me, the opposite seems obvious.  For if it's true that visual perception is a source of our knowledge of the existence of material objects, then surely this fact warrants the inference from
I see a cat,
to
There is a cat,
else it would seem that visual perception is not a source, etc.   In order to think about the puzzle of intentionality we have to assume that the senses give us knowledge of objects.  The puzzle is then how this comes about.  The assumption is implicit, for example, in the distinction between 'complete' and 'incomplete' objects.  If we can't assume this then it's no use Bill offering us a picture of his car and contrasting the seeing of the complete car with the incomplete seeing of the car.  For we are entitled to ask, What car?

Seven puzzles: twin earth

Here is how Sainsbury and Tye present the twin earth puzzle.
Suppose there is a planet (far, far, away)---call it 'twin-earth'---which is exactly like our planet except in one respect: where on earth there is water, made of H2O molecules, on twin-earth there is a similar-looking and tasting liquid made up of XYZ, a compound unknown in earthly chemistry.  We'll refer to this stuff as 'twater', though this word belongs neither to the language used on earth, nor that used on twin-earth.  Like water, twater is colourless, tasteless, odourless, and wet.  On twin-earth, twater comes out of taps, fills lakes, falls from the sky, and so on.  On twin-earth, there is no water.  The twin-earth word 'water' refers to the local water-like stuff, twater.

Earth and twin-earth are so similar that everyone on earth has a duplicate on twin-earth: duplicates have all their intrinsic properties in common.  When anyone on earth does anything, their duplicate on twin-earth does something intrinsically the same.  Moreover, the English spoken on earth is duplicated on twin-earth by a language that sounds and is spelled just the same: twin-English.  On earth there's a word 'water', which refers to water.  On twin-earth there's a similar sounding word. But it cannot refer to water, for there is no water on twin-earth.  Rather, 'water' in twin-English refers to twater.

Tim, on our planet earth is holding a glass of water.  Speaking sincerely in English, he says, 'Water is wet'.  He expresses the belief that water is wet, so his belief is true if and only if water is wet.  Whether twater is wet is irrelevant to the question whether Tim's belief is true.

Tim's intrinsic duplicate, Tom, on twin-earth, is holding a glass of twater.  Speaking sincerely in twin-English, he says, 'Water is wet'.  He expresses the belief that twater is wet, so his belief is true if and only twater is wet.  Whether water is wet is irrelevant to the question whether Tom's belief is true.

Tim's belief, which is about water, is not the same as Tom's belief, which is about twater.  How is this possible?  Tim and Tom are intrinsic duplicates. Intrinsically, there is no difference whatsoever between them.  So how can there be a mental difference, a difference between their beliefs.
They summarise thus,
Someone can be the same in all intrinsic respects as their 'twin'---their duplicate on twin-earth---even though they think different thoughts.  mental properties are intrinsic, and thoughts are mental, so twins shouldn't be able to think different thoughts!
In their section on their solution to the puzzle Sainsbury and Tye simply say,
Tim and Tom have different concepts, respectively WATER and TWATER.  The concepts have different origins, WATER having been introduced in Tim's community, and TWATER having been introduced in Tom's entirely distinct community.  The different acts of introduction guarantee difference of concept.
Hmm.  Sainsbury and Tye seem pretty confident they know a priori what the earth term 'water' and the twin-earth term 'water' refer to.  I think this is an empirical question.  We should take earthly Tim to twin-earth and ask him if the water-like stuff he finds there is water.  Likewise twin-earthly Tom could be brought to earth and set the same question.  Given Tim and Tom's ignorance of chemistry and the stated similarity of earth and twin-earth neither would have a reason for saying 'This water-like stuff isn't water'. So in both languages 'water' refers to both water and twater.  Despite the separate originations, WATER and TWATER are the same concept and have a common referent, the motley of water and twater.  The twins do not think different thoughts.

Incomplete objects

Bill continues his musings on intentionality here, with emphasis on the idea of 'intentional incompleteness'. Consider,
  • Tom is thinking about a unicorn, but Tom does not think every possible thought about a unicorn.
  • Jake wants a cigarette, but Jake does not want every possible aspect of a cigarette.
  • Bill sees his car, but Bill does not see every possible aspect of his car.
Bill takes this as evidence that Tom's thinking, Jake's wanting, and Bill's seeing have 'incomplete objects'. He says,
Suppose you see my car.  You won't help being able to see it is as bright yellowish-green sport-utility vehicle.  But you could easily see it without seeing it as a 2013 Jeep Wrangler.  I take this to imply that the set of perceived aspects of any object of perception not only can be but must be incomplete.
Yes indeed.  That agrees with the above.  But then he goes on,
But now it seems we have a problem. If that which is (phenomenlogically, not spatially) before my mind is necessarily property-incomplete, then either seeing is not existentially loaded, or existentially loaded seeing is not an intentional state. To put the problem as an aporetic tetrad:
  1. If S sees x, then x exists
  2. Seeing is an intentional state
  3. Every intentional state has an aspectual shape: its object is incomplete
  4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.
How does he justify the move from an incomplete set of aspects to an incomplete object?

Seven puzzles: Paderewski

Courtesy of Amazon Prime, Seven Puzzles of Thought and How to Solve Them arrived just before Christmas and I have been dipping in.   Puzzle number four is Kripke's puzzle about Paderewski.   Although Sainsbury and Tye seem to have the resources in their originalistic theory of concepts to treat the problem nicely, I'm not sure  I find their analysis on page 131 and following entirely convincing.

Here is the puzzle.  Peter our subject has been to a concert by the great pianist Paderewski and agrees that he has musical talent.  He has also attended a political rally at which Paderewski gave a speech, but believing that no politician is musically talented he thinks this is a different Paderewski.  So, although he is rational enough, Peter appears to have the contradictory beliefs that Paderewski is musical and that Paderewski is not musical.  As the authors say, 'no amount of logical acumen on his part will enable him to uncover the inconsistency.'

Sainsbury and Tye present the puzzling aspects of this as follows:
  1. Peter believes that Paderewski has musical talent (formed at the concert).
  2. Peter believes that Paderewski lacks musical talent (formed at the rally).
  3. The belief attributed in (1) that Paderewski has musical talent, contradicts the belief attributed in (2) that Paderewski lacks musical talent.
  4. Peter cannot tell that he has contradictory beliefs: 'no amount of pure logic or semantic introspection suffices for him to discover his error' (Kripke)
  5. Anyone is in a position to notice and correct contradictory beliefs if he has them.
  6. Peter's ability to 'notice and correct' contradictions is unimpaired: if he has such beliefs he is in a position to come to know this merely by reflection.
The authors accept 1--4 and reject 5 and the second part of 6.  Their analysis diverges into a discussion of our beliefs about our beliefs.  They say, page 137,
The answer is that Peter falsely believes that he does not believe that Paderewski has musical talent.  The second order belief is false: he formed the belief that Paderewski has musical talent at the concert, and has not abandoned it.  So his belief that he lacks this belief is false...
This is too baroque for me.  It merely elaborates on the same confusion that results in the inconsistency of 1--6, without satisfactorily explaining it.   As I see things, the puzzle arises because of the attempt in 1 and 2 to report Peter's belief state in terms of our concepts rather than Peter's.    Peter's belief state is this.
  • There are two men called Paderewski. 
  • One is a pianist and a talented musician. 
  • The other is a politician and is not musically talented. 
  • No politician is musical.
There is no contradiction in these four statements, though they add up to a false picture of reality.  The world could indeed be like this, so there can be no contradiction here.  Peter has two singular concepts, PADEREWSKI-1, the pianist and musician, and PADEREWSKI-2, the unmusical politician, and these are distinct.  Sainsbury and Tye claim that Peter exercises the public concept PADEREWSKI.  I can't agree with this:  PADEREWSKI includes IS-A-POLITICIAN whereas Peter's PADEREWSKI-1, the only possible candidate for identity with PADEREWSKI, certainly does not.  If it did, and knowing that this concept is instantiated, Peter would have available to him an immediate counter-example to his belief that no politician is musical.  Peter's problem is that he has somehow acquired a faulty copy of the public PADEREWSKI concept, one that lacks the critical IS-A-POLITICIAN component.

Sainsbury and Tye's analysis is full of sentences attempting to explicate Peter's belief state in terms of the public concept PADEREWSKI, as in the example quoted above.  If my analysis is right they are adding storeys to a house built on sand.