- Introductory Paragraph: Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary science that includes the collaboration of a number of fields, such as biology, medicine, psychology, and philosophy, to name a few. Something of a revolution occurred when scientists realized that this interdisciplinary approach to brain studies could yield a more adequate understanding of the workings of the brain. Since that revolution began in the 1970s, neuroscience has been rapidly advancing. In fact, the fastest growing association of professional scientists in all of experimental biology is the Society of Neuroscience. As neuroscience has advanced, the general view of the human mind has been increasingly understood to be the functioning of a material system, nothing more. The view that mind or consciousness is something beyond or emergent from the physical processes of the brain and central nervous system is now taken by many in the field to be nothing but a remnant of the antiquated Cartesian ghost in the machine. Concomitant with these scientific developments has been a philosophical naturalism which eschews the reality of entities beyond the physical and if the mental cannot be either identified with or reduced, then it is ripe for elimination in the final, preferred description and explanation of reality. And if the mental is jettisoned, it is hard to see how one might still find a place for a robust view of values, freedom and responsibility, and more.
- Daniel Robinson, "Neuroscience and the Soul" – 11
- Professor Robinson is aptly suited to write this opening piece2, having published widely on consciousness and the mental life, having been the past president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association — the History of Psychology Division and the Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology Division, receiving lifetime achievements in both — and having served as the principal consultant to PBS and the BBC for their award-winning series “The Brain” and “The Mind.” In this article he reflects on some internal threats to scientific progress, including science’s attenuated capacity to be self-critical and its potential to over-extend its reach (what does science truly have to say about art, culture, the moral life, the conscious life?). There is also regular criticism by many in the scientific community about those who have faith in realities beyond the physical. How ironic, then, that the very practice of science entails faith commitments, such as in the enduring reliability of the laws of nature. He further argues that while the scientific advances regarding the brain are impressive, no equivalent scientific advances have been made with regard to the other dimensions, including the moral and aesthetic. From the vantage point of contemporary naturalism, perhaps even thinking that there should be such advances is a category mistake.
- William Hasker, "What is Naturalism? And Should We be Naturalists?" – 21
- William Hasker considers several definitions of naturalism. Given a definition widely held by leading naturalists, he argues that naturalism is unable to account for rationality (which involves drawing conclusions in light of reasons, entailment relations and the like). So long as naturalists affirm or presuppose the normative nature of rationality (and they seem to need to do so insofar as they advance arguments that they believe will make evident the truth of naturalism), they appear to be unable to explain the normativity they require in arguing for their position.
- E. J. Lowe, "Naturalism, Theism, and Objects of Reason" – 35
- E. J. Lowe examines some of the internal inadequacies of philosophical naturalism and argues that theism offers a more plausible account of certain dimensions of the world, in particular of the ontological status of objects of reason. His conclusion also threatens a purely empirical neuroscientific approach to understanding the role of the mental life.
- Stewart Goetz, "The Argument from Reason" – 47
- Stewart Goetz tackles the topic of human reason, in this case offering an interpretation of C.S. Lewis’s argument from reason as developed in his book Miracles ("Lewis (C.S.) - Miracles: A Preliminary Study"). Goetz examines different interpretations of the argument from reason, shows how it reveals a deep problem with naturalism, and concludes that the argument remains timely and worthy of continued serious philosophical attention.
- J. Daryl Charles, "Blame it on My Criminal Brain: Materialism, Metaphysics, and the Human Moral Instinct" – 63
- Due to advances in biogenetics and brain research, some neuroscientists and neurophilosophers have envisioned a revolution in the social sciences and ethical theory; namely, that purely naturalistic evolutionary processes are capable of providing a full-orbed explanation of the material universe and of human morality. Daryl Charles challenges this vision, one rooted in what he calls “metaphysical materialism.” He also offers some reflections on what is at stake in the debate from a cultural perspective.
- Angus J. L. Menuge, "Neuroscience, Rationality and Free Will: A Critique of John Searle's Libertarian Naturalism" – 81
- Angus Menuge proposes that on Searle’s view, reasoning requires free will — a libertarian version of free will which can be (hopefully, for Searle) subsumed within a naturalistic neuroscience. Menuge argues that Searle’s view fails to overcome four central problems and is therefore unable to account for reasoning without appealing to nonphysical realities.
- Eric LaRock, "From Biological Naturalism to Emergent Subject Dualism" – 97
- Eric LaRock argues that Searle’s account of mental causation3 is unwarranted on various grounds, including neuroscientific ones, and that his theory of emergent mental features also fails. With the support of recent work in neuroscience, LaRock proposes an expansion of Searle’s ontology of mind to include an emergent subject with causal powers. He highlights the additional explanatory advantages of this view.
- John M. DePoe, "RoboMary, Blue Banana Tricks, and the Metaphysics of Consciousness: A Critique of Daniel Dennett's Apology for Physicalism" – 119
- John DePoe critically examines recent arguments offered by Daniel Dennett to support the view that consciousness need not be nonphysical. He utilizes both philosophical arguments and empirical scientific discoveries to support an antiphysicalist position.
- J. P. Moreland, "Mental vs. Top-Down Causation4: Sic et Non - Why Top-Down Causation5 Does Not Support Mental Causation6" – 133
- J. P. Moreland next addresses forms of physicalism that employ what is called top-down causation7. Some physicalists who want to find a role for mental causation8 contend that when a physical system (an animal with a brain) reaches a certain level of complexity it can have features as a whole (features from or at the top of its formation) that are not deterministically fixed by microfeatures (features from or at the bottom). By their lights, events in the world may be explained by the causal power of a human being as a whole, and one is thereby able to escape the idea that all our activities as a whole being are explained only in terms of the explanatory power of the things that make us up (controlled from below). Moreland argues that there are no clear examples of top-down causation9, especially with respect to any events that may shed light on mental causation10. He then provides an argument against top-down mental causation11, concluding, however, that because mental causation12 is real, physicalism should be rejected.
- Anthony J. Rudd, "Bodily Subjectivity and the Mind-Body Problem" – 149
- Anthony Rudd argues that the mind-body problem can be beneficially reconfigured by gleaning insights from the phenomenological tradition. He examines the relation of consciousness to the body from a phenomenological, first-person perspective13, introducing a phenomenological account of embodied subjectivity. He goes on to propose how we can recount this first-person experience with a scientific depiction of the human being. He concludes with reflections on whether this notion of subjectivity permits personal disembodiment.
See Link (Defunct).
Footnote 1: The chapter-summaries are extracted into the TOC below.
Footnote 2: It is unfortunate that the piece in question is not available freely on-line, or via JSTOR. I suspect he’s a “big name” who may be out of sympathy with dualism, but also out of sympathy with the New Atheists, so is willing to lend his name to this venture. Hopefully he’s not another Eccles.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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