- The paper aims to support a two-sided conjecture about the mind/body problem.
- Despite the mind/body problem having been a focus of massive attention no philosophers have adduced or discovered good arguments favouring any particular answer to the problem, and,
- the fundamental explanation for this is that when correctly conceived the problem is rather a scientific one than a philosophical one.
- Taking the acceptance or rejection of materialism as the basic choice in considering the problem, conjecture (1) is itself two sided;
- there are no good philosophical reasons to say that materialism is false, and,
- there are no good philosophical reasons to say that materialism is true.
- (1) and (2), it is suggested, reflect the fact that the mind/body problem is asking what the real nature of mental occurrences and states is, in particular, do such mental features have a purely physical nature. Despite their propensity to pronounce on such matters, philosophers should realise that they have no grounds for determining the real nature of such phenomena.
- The argument proceeds by trying to provide a formulation of the mind/body problem, which is compared and contrasted with the self/body problem. Although not the same problem consideration of the self/body problem highlights that philosophers tend to argue against physicalist type identities on the basis of supposed modal differences. This is true in the case of most arguments against materialism. It is argued that there are no good reasons to agree with such modal claims.
- The weakness with arguments for materialism, it is argued, is that either they start too far away from materialism and provide too little reason to believe in it, as in the case of Smart's famous argument, or they start too close to materialism, and appeal to things that only a materialist would accept, a criticism it is argued applies to some well-known arguments based on causal considerations.
- The purpose of this talk is motivate a thesis2 – namely, that the Mind/Body problem is not a philosophical problem but an empirical one, about the real nature of mental processes, which philosophers are ill-equipped to address, “having very limited access to reality”.
- This explains why there’s been so little progress towards a solution despite the problem having been the focus of attention since WW2.
- The potential solutions to the problem are basically
- materialism – that matter is all there is, and that the mental can be reduced to it, is nothing over and above it – and
- its denial.
- There are no good philosophical reasons to choose either horn of the dilemma, though Snowdon inclines towards the materialist horn, and thinks it’s easier to show that there are no good reasons against materialism than that there are no good reasons in its favour.
- The reason is that arguments against materialism all seem to take the same form, so are an easier target:
- if materialism (M) is true, then some conclusion (C) follows,
- We can show not-C,
- Therefore not-M.
- In general, C is filled out as a modal claim, and Snowdon says that these implications are such that philosophers have no good reason to deny them.
- However, arguments in favour of materialism can take any form.
- Two thoughts:-
- The mind/body problem is one about the real nature of processes in the world, so how are philosophers in a position to show what the real nature is or isn’t?
- Arguments in favour of materialism either start so far from materialism that – plausible though they might be – they can’t really get you there, or are so close to materialism as only to entice the already-converted.
- Many people – mostly scientists – already agree with Snowdon’s conjecture that philosophers ought not to be involved in the mind/body problem, but that’s from the standpoint of not knowing quite what philosophers do. Snowdon is an insider, so is better equipped to explain why.
- The approach to the Mind/Body problem traditionally involves describing two relata – Mind and Body – and positing a relation between the two.
- Snowdon can’t see anything wrong with this approach as such. Both mind and body are well understood in virtue of philosophers being able to give examples – and Snowdon gives a few of the standard ones. He does point out, though, that while physical things are everywhere, mental things are not; and it’s the real nature of these mental events and their real relation to the physical things in the world that we’re after.
- The choice is basically between saying
- that the mental occurs purely in virtue of the physical and is nothing over and above it and
- it is not
- As for the relation3 between mind and body, Snowdon mentions four possibilities, and gives the usual brief explanations:-
- Reduction4 (mentioned above)
- Constitution5 (but not material constitution, or – probably – the sort envisaged by Baker6): mental features are exhaustively constituted by the presence of physical features.
- Supervenience7: the mental supervenes8 on the physical; so, necessarily, once the physical features are fixed, the mental features are fixed as well. Snowdon doesn’t particularly endorse this stance, but for now just notes the element of modality.
- Identity9: mental occurrences are identical to certain physical occurrences; they are the very same thing.
- The Self/Body problem
- Snowdon compares the Mind/Body problem with a similar-sounding but in fact different one, namely the Self/Body problem.
- Snowdon equates this problem with the question10 “am I or am I not identical to my body”.
- The Mind/Body problem is about the ontological nature of certain phenomena we find in the world, while
- the Self/Body problem is about the relation between certain objects11 we find in the world.
- The Self12 – as conceived of by Snowdon – is just me; the Body is equally unproblematical.
- So the Self/Body problem is analogous to the Mind/Body problem, and has been addressed similarly – particularly by philosophers inimical to materialism – ie. using modal arguments and intuitions, but these intuitions are unreliable.
- Snowdon gives Descartes – who was interested in the Self/Body Problem – as his example. He cites two of Descartes’s modal arguments, which are intended to show that Descartes is distinct13 from his body:-
- My body is necessarily extended, but I am not:
- This is a valid argument, but how did Descartes know that he was not essentially extended?
- His argument is just that he can’t discern any reason why he is.
- But even his contemporaries “blew his philosophy out of the water” by pointing out that this proves nothing other than that by simply thinking about the matter he hadn’t discovered the facts.
- They gave the example of Pythagoras’ theorem: until Pythagoras’ discovery, no-one knew the necessary properties of right-angled triangles.
- So the fact that you can’t affirm a necessary modal property doesn’t mean that you lack it, only that you haven’t managed to work things out.
- I can solve any problem, but bodies cannot solve any problem.
- This is from the Discourse on Method and is very odd. Snowdon’s response is that this is doubly false:-
- Just why did Descartes think he could solve any problem? He couldn’t.
- The properties of matter are much greater than Descartes could imagine. He was thinking of clocks, but the CNS14 is material and can do a lot (namely, “what Descartes can do”).
- So, this is the sort of argument whose premises might look plausible to a philosopher, but when you stand back from them, they are not.
- What we should be getting from this is a scepticism about the way philosophers handle modality. He has no theory of all this – and is willing to allow that we can make modal judgements and have modal knowledge – but “what he’s trying to sell” is that there are some modal claims we can’t make.
- Snowdon wants now to return to the Mind/Body problem and move on to the sort of modal argument philosophers have used recently to attack materialism.
- His example is from "Chalmers (David) - The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory". He will not address Chalmers’ “impressive” book directly, or engage closely with its “extremely complicated” text. This is one of the problems with philosophers – who love complexity – so the crucial point of the central and rather simple argument gets lost.
- So, we move on to Chalmers’ Zombie15 Argument for rejecting materialism, which reduces to this:-
- A zombie is someone materially identical you, atom by atom, but without any conscious experience.
- If materialism is true, then any being like you would have conscious experiences, because these experiences – according to materialism – just are the workings of the CNS.
- But, zombies – so defined – are possible … the reason being …
- Zombies are conceivable – I can imagine them.
- What is conceivable is possible (a premise often omitted)
- So, your mind’s modal properties differ from those of your brain’s – in that your brain could have no phenomenal properties (ever) but your conscious mind could not – without ceasing to be a conscious mind.
- So, your conscious mind is not identical to your brain.
- So, materialism is false.
- Snowdon sees two obvious objections to this.
- Conceivability doesn’t imply possibility.
- Just what does Chalmers think he’s conceiving when he conceives of a Zombie? Snowdon makes two points:-
Well, this is far too slight an argument to tell us anything about what’s happening in the real world.
- Chalmers can’t really imagine the human body (or brain) other than in the most superficial way, so he’s not really imagining anything.
- This is clear when we repeat our question – and the answer is again very slender – I’m imagining a brain just like mine with no conscious experience.
- The necessity of Identity
- Kripke argued for the necessity of identity in "Kripke (Saul) - Identity and Necessity" and also in "Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity"; and his arguments have great intuitive plausibility, but lead Kripke into some problems:-
- His argument for necessity showed that if heat is indeed molecular motion, then it is necessarily molecular motion.
- Now if we – say as “revisionary scientists” – think we can imagine heat not being molecular motion we must be wrong.
- So what we’re imagining (says Kripke) must be the effect of heat, rather than heat itself; and that makes perfect sense.
- However, Kripke was / is an anti-materialist, and he didn’t want to apply this “redescriptive” strategy in the case of the mind.
- But Snowdon thinks that we are imagining heat without molecular motion in any case – what’s hard about imagining molecular motion, or the lack of it?
- So the correct response is that this “imagining” can’t get you anywhere: and this is the point – if philosophers aren’t in a position to demonstrate that heat is not molecular motion, they aren’t in a position – using similar arguments – to “show” the real nature of mental states. Why think they know more about the mind than about heat, other than that they’ve always claimed to do so, but haven’t been so stupid as to imagine they can intuit the real nature of heat?
- So, again, the message is that we should be suspicious of arguments based on modality.
- Snowdon mentioned that Chalmers distances himself from all this.
- That’s enough on the anti-materialist arguments, which depend on modal claims that philosophers are in no position to affirm.
- What about arguments in favour of materialism?
- He starts by considering Smart’s contribution – especially in the seminal "Smart (J.C.C.) - Sensations and Brain Processes", which (together with other papers published at the time) shifted the debate from the supposition that the philosophy of mind was all about conceptual analysis; ie.
What Smart did was show that we need knowledge of the real world: that (eg.) what’s going on in perception involves an appeal to neuroscience. No amount of conceptual analysis is going to tell us about what conscious experiences really are – this requires an appeal to the real world.
- Gilbert Ryle thought that conceptual analysis would dispose of the Mind/Body problem.
- Peter Strawson thought that conceptual analysis could dispose of Cartesian dualism by showing it to be incoherent.
- Wittgenstein is not quite in the same camp, but you still didn’t need to do any work to solve the Mind/Body problem.
- There are two arguments for materialism that Snowdon will consider:-
- Smart’s identity theory, and
- Papineau’s over-determination argument
- Smart’s identity theory
- Uses Occam’s Razor; but this is a cateris paribus principle – so, go for the simpler theory unless there’s some reason to go for the more complex theory.
- So, materialism is simpler than its denial, and Smart thought he could show that the CP principle is satisfied – other things are equal.
- There are two obvious problems with Smart’s approach.
- Smart tried to pick off the objections to materialism, and there are two problems with this:
- he doesn’t address all the problems and
- those he does address he doesn’t really answer.
- Why do philosophers thinking about materialism suppose that the kinds of difficulties that occur to them are the only ones? It presupposes that philosophers are experts when they aren’t – the problems might arise (say) in constructing a physical theory of pain.
- This is ultimately too far from the topic to motivate those not already convinced.
- Papineau’s over-determination argument:
- The most popular argument today, that Snowdon used to think was really good.
- Developed by Christopher Peacocke and well expressed by David Papineau in "Papineau (David) - Thinking About Consciousness", chapter 1 ("Papineau (David) - The Case for Materialism").
- The argument has three key premises:-
- Conscious mental experiences have physical effects (the experience of thirst causes you to go to the fridge)
- The completeness of physics tells us that all causation16 is ultimately physical causation17, and any physical effect ultimately has a physical cause.
- The physical effects of conscious mental occurrences aren’t always over-determined by distinct causes.
- Causal over-determination is a problem18. The conclusion is that all mental causation19 is really physical causation20: if there is “mental” causation21 distinct from physical causation22, then we have two causes for the same event, which is a problem.
- There are – thinks Snowdon – problems with this argument which won’t get the materialist where he wants to go.
- The logic of the argument:
- Does the argument claim that all conscious experiences have physical effects? If so, it is a very strong claim that is hard to justify. How do we know? So, it’s a claim about just some conscious experiences.
- Then the third premise adds a further restriction – the physical results of at least some conscious events aren’t over-determined by distinct causes.
- So the conclusion is that there are only some conscious events whose physical results are not over-determined.
- Secondly, the conclusion – that some mental events don’t have over-determined physical effects – might be accounted for by some theory other than materialism. So we’re not even sure if materialism is implied by this restricted subset of conscious experience.
- Causation23 is a quagmire that is as poorly understood as the Mind/Body problem itself.
- Then Papineau24 notices two things:-
- The epiphenominalist option – maybe I was wrong in thinking that all conscious events had physical effects. He just claims that Smart has disproved epiphenomenalism, but Snowdon notes that he has demonstrated the weakness of Smart’s approach.
- The completeness of physics premise would only be accepted by those (like Snowdon himself) who belong to the materialist faith. A non-materialist hasn’t been given much reason to accept it.
- So, Papineau’s argument uses premises that are just too close to where you want to get. So, it’s not definitive and conclusive.
- So, that explains why philosophers haven’t got anywhere, and we hand the problem over to those who can do it!
For a YouTube podcast – delivered at the Royal Institute of Philosophy, 25/10/2013 – see Link.
Footnote 2: Snowdon calls it a “conjecture”, which he wouldn’t be able to demonstrate however much time he had.
- My comments are based on the YouTube video, and not the paper as such, which I didn’t then have,
- For the video, see Link,
- These notes are fairly full, and are hopefully accurate, though are not a transcript.
Footnote 3: As posited by the materialist!
Footnote 10: This is a very brief and misleading statement, especially as Snowdon – an animalist – knows that “bodies” are not the same things as “organisms”. But this doesn’t really matter here, and “body” is probably being used in the sense of “organism” in any case.
Footnote 11: Snowdon gesticulates in a way that’s intended not to assume that he and his body are identical, but it’s a hard act as he just points twice to the same thing.
Footnote 14: Snowdon doesn’t mention computers.
- Snowdon has an aside where he claims that there’s a distinction between
- “being distinct from your body” and
- “not being identical to your body”.
- Snowdon will only address the second – allegedly weaker – claim.
- I couldn’t see the difference, myself.
Footnote 18: I seem to have invented this bullet, and I don’t think Snowdon actually said it, but he should have!
- I think that’s what Snowdon said, though the second “thing” appears to have been noticed by Snowdon himself.
- Snowdon makes out Papineau’s argument to be rather feeble. Is it (in real life)?
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)