Naturalism, Evolution and Mind: Editor's Introduction
Walsh (Denis)
Source: Walsh - Naturalism, Evolution and the Mind
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  1. The papers collected in this volume are the proceedings of the 1999 Royal Institute of Philosophy conference: the theme of the conference, the same as the title of this collection, Naturalism, Evolution2 and Mind. The essays collected here cover a wide array of disparate themes in philosophy, psychology, evolutionary3 biology and the philosophy of science. They range in subject matter from
    • the mind/body problem and the nature of philosophical naturalism, to
    • the naturalization of psychological norms to
    • the naturalization of phenomenal and intentional content, from
    • the methodology (of) cognitive ethology to
    • issues in evolutionary4 psychology.
    They are united by the simple thought that the great promise of current naturalism in philosophy of mind resides in its potential to reveal mental phenomena as continuous with other phenomena of the natural world, particularly with other biological phenomena.
  2. The study of the mind is undergoing something of a revolution. Advances in a number of disparate disciplines have given new impetus to the study of long-standing problems in the philosophy of mind. The essays collected in this volume give an overview of some of the ways in which developments in cognitive ethology, the philosophy of biology, evolutionary5 psychology, cognitive science and other fields have impacted upon the philosophy of mind.
  3. Given the diversity of approaches and points of view on display it is something of a vain hope that a synoptic introduction might extract a single, overarching theme from this collection. To impose one would be artificial, not to say unilluminating. These papers may not present a single point of view or even cluster around a single, relatively well circumscribed issue, but that is not say that they constitute only a gerrymandered collection. It is fascinating to see the way in which various disparate themes emerge, recur and intertwine among the papers:
    • the significance of the concept of adaptation to the study of mind,
    • the importance of higher-order intentionality,
    • the role of the concept of function in naturalizing intentionality and phenomenal character,
    • the significance of normativity to the understanding of mental phenomena.
    These themes and others appear repeatedly in the essays which follow.
  4. The collection begins with an object lesson in the ways in which thinking of the mind as a biological category illuminates traditional philosophical problems. "Shapiro (Lawrence) - Mind the Adaptation" applies evolutionary6 thinking to the mind/body problem. Shapiro offers us a simple proposal: the mind is an adaptation.
  5. 'Mind-as-adaptation is ... shorthand. It's a slogan that invites us to conceive of the various cognitive capacities that we typically associate with the mind as structures with functions' (Shapiro p. 36). This issue arises again in later essays. Shapiro clearly presents rationale for the evolutionary7 psychology discussed by Wheeler and Atkinson and Plotkin. It is also interesting to note the tension between Shapiro's justification for the use of history in individuating mental categories and Jackson's claim that the mental categories with which we are most familiar are functional and not historical.
  6. Bontly’s discussion of naturalism ("Bontly (Thomas) - Should Intentionality Be Naturalised?") raises another set of issues related to the realization of mental states by physical states.
  7. After the discussion of mind/body matters in the first two papers, attention turns to three long-standing problems posed to naturalism by the nature of mental states: phenomenal content, normativity and intentionality. In each of these cases, recent work in higher-order intentionality and teleosemantics offer distinctive, sometimes conflicting perspectives on these issues.
  8. "Carruthers (Peter) - Consciousness: Explaining the Phenomena" asks whether phenomenal consciousness is susceptible of reductive, naturalistic explanation.
  9. Carruthers points to the significant role of consumer semantics in naturalizing the phenomenal content of experience. The theme of consumer semantics surfaces in each of the following two papers.
    1. It is implicitly denied in Dretske's account of the respective roles of history and norms in naturalizing intentionality.
    2. It is explicitly recommended in Millikan's discussion of the significance of natural information to the nature of intentional content.
  10. "Dretske (Fred) - Norms, History and the Mental" addresses a problem seen by many as the scourge of naturalism, the norm-ladenness of the mental.
  11. Dretske's themes are taken up in various other places in this collection.
    • "Millar (Alan) - Rationality and Higher-Order Intentionality" presents a strikingly different account of the ways in which normativity might be thought to be integral to the mental.
    • Furthermore, Dretske's distinctive conception of the roles of history and natural information in the determination of intentional content present the ideal platform for the discussions of teleosemantics offered by Millikan and Jackson which follow.
      1. "Millikan (Ruth Garrett) - What has Natural Information to do with Intentional Representation?" challenges the notion of natural information implicit in Dretske's account of content.
      2. "Jackson (Frank) - Locke-ing onto Content" addresses the presumed significance of history.
    • Millikan and Jackson do not however offer a unified front. Indeed they appear to take diametrically opposed views on an issue of central importance.
      1. Millikan believes that it is a requirement on any naturalized account of content that it countenance the possibility that a creature may have a concept that applies to Xs and not Ys even though that creature cannot distinguish between Xs and Ys.
      2. Jackson, in contrast, cites with approval, Locke's claim that 'Words being voluntary signs, they cannot be voluntary signs imposed on [a man] by things he knows not' (quoted in Jackson, p. 127).
    • These two positions look to be in tension.
  12. "Millikan (Ruth Garrett) - What has Natural Information to do with Intentional Representation?" outlines the conception of 'natural information' which figures in many informational accounts of intentional content, most particularly those advocated by Dretske.
  13. It is another question whether the verificationist implication is one that should be resisted. This question is usually answered in the affirmative. But Jackson isn't so sure. "Jackson (Frank) - Locke-ing onto Content" cites Locke to the effect that '...language ... rests on voluntary, if largely implicit, agreements to use words and sentences to stand for how we take things to be.'
  14. Alan Millar and David Papineau both undertake discussions of the ways in which human psychology is distinguished from that of non-human animals.
    1. Papineau's concern is to develop an understanding of the nature of means-end reasoning that at once sets human cognition apart from other animals and can be shown to be an adaptation.
    2. Millar's concern is to demonstrate the link between the capacity for rational deliberation that is characteristic of means-end reasoning and the possession of propositional attitudes.
  15. In "Papineau (David) - The Evolution of Means-End Reasoning", Papineau begins his characterization of means-end reasoning by listing a variety of increasingly sophisticated ways by which organisms could tailor their responses to various environmental conditions.
  16. "Millar (Alan) - Rationality and Higher-Order Intentionality" proposes, for reasons somewhat similar to those invoked by Papineau, that among animals only humans possess propositional attitudes.
  17. Higher-order intentionality in non-human animals is the topic of Andrew Whiten's excursion through some recent empirical work on non-human primate cognition. Attributing propositional attitudes to others is of course an important component of our capacity to explain, predict and manipulate the activities of others. It has been noticed that non-human primates interact in the wild in surprisingly sophisticated ways which suggest that they too have the capacity to attribute propositional attitudes to others. The question whether monkeys and apes possess a theory of mind — the capacity to interpret behaviours of others as the manifestation of mental states — has become an issue of central importance both in primate ethology and in more general considerations concerning the nature and origin of propositional attitude psychology. Sober, in the paper immediately following Whiten's, discusses some of the methodological implications that arise from this question.
  18. "Whiten (Andrew) - Theory of Mind in Non-Verbal Apes: Conceptual Issues and the Critical Experiments" asks: 'Are non-human primates mind-readers?' and 'What considerations are relevant to determining whether they are?'.
  19. "Sober (Elliott) - The Principle of Conservatism in Cognitive Ethology" finds much to applaud in the cognitive ethologists' approach to mind-reading.
  20. Our final two papers concern the expanding field of evolutionary8 psychology. Evolutionary9 psychology, broadly construed, is the view that the mind is a suite of adaptations, a set of adaptive solutions to specific problems raised by the environment of our human ancestors. As such the mind can be studied in the same way that we study any morphological or behavioural adaptations. In many ways this issue brings us back to the considerations raised by "Shapiro (Lawrence) - Mind the Adaptation" (Chapter 1).
    1. Wheeler and Atkinson discuss some methodological concerns which arise form evolutionary10 psychology.
    2. Henry Plotkin, one of evolutionary11 psychology's most prominent proponents, surveys some significant work in this discipline to date and assesses its future prospects.
  21. The Massive Modularity Thesis has been one of the central pillars of orthodox evolutionary12 psychology. It is, roughly, the view that the human mind is an assemblage of discrete tools designed to address specific problems posed by our ancestral environment (The Environment of Evolutionary13 Adaptedness), rather than a general all-purpose apparatus. The adaptations which constitute the mind are domain-specific, special-purpose devices rather than domain-general all-purpose devices.
  22. The Massive Modularity Hypothesis has been the subject of a considerable amount of discussion. Yet there are a number of confusions concerning the content of this hypothesis. "Wheeler (Michael) & Atkinson (Anthony) - Domains, Brains and Evolution" proposes to do some much needed 'conceptual spring-cleaning' on precisely this issue. Their first order of business is to clarify the concept of a domain in order to ascertain what precisely the domain-specificity claim amounts to.
  23. The final paper is a transcript of a presentation – "Plotkin (Henry) - Evolution and the Human Mind: How Far Can We Go?" – intended for public consumption. Its brief is to introduce a non-specialist audience to the central tenets of the evolutionary14 approach to the study of mind and to point toward future directions.



In-Page Footnotes

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