- Strawson's (2006) case in favour of panpsychism is at heart an updated version of a venerable form of argument I'll call the 'intrinsic nature' argument. It is an extremely interesting argument which deploys all sorts of high calibre metaphysical weaponry (despite the 'down home' appeals to common sense which Strawson frequently makes). The argument is also subtle and intricate. So let's spend some time trying to articulate its general form.
- Strawson characterizes his version of panpsychism, or ‘real physicalism’, as the view that ‘everything that concretely exists is intrinsically experience-involving’. He approvingly quotes several of Russell’s remarks, the general upshot of which is that ‘we know nothing about the intrinsic quality of physical events except when these are mental events that we directly experience’ which sentiment is echoed by various pronouncements of Eddington, such as ‘science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the atom’. In whatever way the argument is going to proceed, it evidently depends upon some conception of the intrinsic nature of things. What is this supposed to be?
- The philosophical literature on the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties (or relational properties) is vexed and very far from settled (see Humberstone, 1996, for an extensive review and discussion). The core intuition would seem to be the idea that the intrinsic properties of X are the properties that all duplicates1 of X would have. Thus, for example, any duplicate2 of me would have the same mass as I do (so mass looks like an intrinsic property) but would differ from me in not being an uncle (so uncle-hood looks — as it should — to be a non-intrinsic or extrinsic property). But there does not seem to be any way to define duplication3 in the relevant sense without circular reference back to intrinsic properties. Another way to get at the idea is to characterize the intrinsic properties as those which X would persist in exemplifying were it absolutely alone in the universe. That is, the intrinsics are the properties X has ‘all by itself’ or ‘of its own nature’. For example, the clearly extrinsic (or relational, I will not attempt to forge a distinction between these notions here) property of ‘being an uncle’ is not a property one can have if one is absolutely alone in the universe. This suggests that a simple characterization of the notion of intrinsic property would be something like ‘F is an intrinsic property of x just in case Fx does not imply the existence of anything distinct from x’. Unfortunately, this won’t quite do. In the first place, necessary existents are entailed by anything having any property. Kim (1982) amended the condition to require that Fx not entail the existence of a distinct, contingent thing. But as Lewis (1983) pointed out the property of loneliness (being absolutely alone in the world1) is obviously extrinsic and yet its possession does not entail the existence of any distinct contingent beings. Langton and Lewis (1998) suggest that the intrinsics are the properties which are logically independent of both loneliness and accompaniment, that is, F is an intrinsic property of x just in case Fx is compatible with loneliness and accompaniment and not-Fx is similarly compatible with both loneliness and accompaniment. On the face of it however, this criterion appears to make the relational property of ‘. . . loves a’ (where a is some object) into an intrinsic property, for a can love itself or not whether or not it is accompanied. Be that as it may, the concept of the intrinsic properties of an object seems intuitively intelligible, despite the difficulties philosophers have in spelling it out precisely in non question-begging terms. It may well be that the concept of intrinsicness is a ‘primitive’ notion. The point here is simply that a difficult metaphysical question lurks within the issue of intrinsicness itself, even prior to putting the concept to any argumentative use.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)