Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective: What Is The Problem?
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective, Introduction
Paper - Abstract

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  1. What Is The Problem?
  2. The Claim of Naturalism
  3. A Challenge to Naturalism
  4. What Is At Stake?
  5. An Overview1

Initial Thoughts
  1. I can see that this book is going to be hard going. However, it is essential that I get to grips with it, as FPPs2 – whatever these may be – are essential to my thesis, in that I agree with Baker that (very roughly) the persistence of persons involves the persistence of FPPs3, but disagree that FPPs4 are (again loosely speaking) substances that have persistence conditions5 of their own; rather they are “had” by substances – in particular, human animals6.
  2. I imagine – from a quick look – that Baker is engaging with a number of views (eg. in the philosophy of language) which we both think are irrelevant to the metaphysical question whether there is – ontologically-speaking – such a thing as a FPP7.
  3. Also – again jumping the gun somewhat – there are supposedly “naturalist” positions that Baker argues against that don’t seem essential to naturalism8, to me at least.

  1. What Is The Problem?
    • The problem appears to be that naturalism has no place for first-person facts. The world (allegedly) can be understood completely from a third-person perspective. There is no room for the further fact that a particular individual is me9.
    • "Nagel (Thomas) - The Objective Self" raised this question, though Baker doesn’t believe in Shoemaker’s “objective self10”.
    • Naturalists have developed various approaches to defend their position. Baker cites two:-
      1. Semantic: “I am TT” is expressible in the third person without using the token-reflexive “I”. Sentences involving the indexical “I” are treated as are other indexicals – “here”, “now”, “this”. See "Kaplan (David) - Demonstratives". Baker claims the problem remains, because I am still TT even when not thinking or saying anything.
      2. Epistemic: While “I am TT” expresses something inexpressible in the third person, this isn’t because there’s some special fact but because beliefs about myself have special behavioural consequences under a first-person description that they don’t have under a third person description. See "Perry (John) - Identity, Personal Identity and the Self", which is critiqued in Chapter 3 ("Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Reductive Approaches to the First-Person Perspective").
    • Baker will reject all this. Insofar as naturalism finds no room for first-person properties – which Baker takes to be “irreducible and ineliminable” – it is false. She rests her case on complex thoughts like “I believe / know / say … that I am LB” wherein I am both the thinker and object of my thoughts “conceived11 of in the first person”. Such a thinker – she will argue – exemplifies “an irreducible and ineliminabe first-personal dispositional property”.
    • Baker has 3 main goals in this book:-
      1. To show that no wholly impersonal account of the world can be adequate; the apparently first-person aspects of reality are genuine – irreducible and ineliminable.
      2. To give a detailed non-Cartesian account of the first-person perspective12 and its contribution to reality;
      3. To shape a “near-naturalism” that is more accommodating to the world that we encounter than is the dominant scientific naturalism.
  2. The Claim of Naturalism
    • Naturalism – a claim about the nature of reality (metaphysics) and our knowledge of it (epistemology) – comes in weaker and stronger forms13:-
      1. Weaker: there is no supernatural reality.
      2. Stronger: science is the arbiter of reality and knowledge.
    • The strong form makes two further claims:-
      1. Reality is nothing over and above what science says it is
      2. Our beliefs are only justifiable by the methods of science.
    • Baker will focus on the ontological claims of the stronger form of naturalism.
    • Baker has on interesting footnote on Plantinga and Quine:-
      1. Plantinga, discussing weaker naturalism (see "Beilby (James), Ed. - Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" and "Plantinga (Alvin) - Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism"), thinks that science14 conflicts with naturalism
      2. Quine (see "Quine (W.V.) - Naturalism; Or, Living Within One's Means"): While strong naturalism precludes supernaturalism, Quine would allow the existence of immaterial objects – including “… spirits, a Creator” – if there was an explanatory need for them – just as “quarks and black holes”.
    • A corollary of strong naturalism is that reality15 can be described tenselessly and without indexicals.
    • Baker claims that scientific naturalism has either to describe using its vocabulary or explain away the “controversial cases” such as “mathematical entities, normativity, modality16, responsibility and freedom”. She would add the FPP17.
    • Some philosophers (Baker claims) just take it for granted that the sort of first-person phenomena she will raise is compatible with naturalism. Ie.
      1. "Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person",
      2. "Velleman (David) - What Happens When Someone Acts?", and
      3. "Bratman (Michael E.) - Two Problems about Human Agency".
    • Others don’t even acknowledge there’s a problem, taking it that first-person phenomena are either eliminable or reducible to the third-person. Even a supporter of the “Essential Indexical” like John Perry thinks first-person phenomena are compatible with a third-person ontology:-
      1. "Perry (John) - The Problem of the Essential Indexical", and
      2. "Perry (John) - The Self, Self-Knowledge, and Self-Notions".
    • Baker cites Hilary Kornblith’s On Reflection (2012) as alleging the epistemic pre-eminence ascribed to the FPP18 as arising from a “mystification19” account of reflection. It seems to Kornblith that first order processes are describable in third-person terms, but reflection (thoughts about oneself) is described in first person terms – hence second order. Baker will argue that there would be no second-order (reflective) mental processes in a world lacking first-person properties, and any scientist wanting to study second-order mental processes must assume first-person properties in the subjects of those processes. Whatever the epistemological outcome, Baker sees the ontological status of the FPP20 as secure.
    • Baker gives an example - "Lewis (David) - Philosophical Papers Volume II: Introduction" - of a naturalist providing a semantic account of a domain of interest (in this case Lewis’s21 “Humean Supervenience”22 account of modality)23 without ontological24 commitment, where this domain is prima facie awkward for a naturalist.
    • A second example – this time of value – is Philip Kitcher in a 2011 paper / book; while the universe is devoid of value, Kitcher gives an account of how hominids came to ascribe it.
    • Baker’s lesson from all this is that naturalists – given a “difficult” topic like modality25 or normativity – given a naturalistic account of a closely-related phenomenon (in these cases modal26 statements or the origin of moral judgments) and “leave the original (putative) phenomenon out in the cold as something that has no purchase on actual reality”.
    • Can the FPP27 be treated in the same way – with a shift from a first- to a third-person perspective being like a change from rectangular to polar coordinates? Baker thinks this is not the case, because there is no third-person perspective – alluding to (the title of) "Nagel (Thomas) - The View from Nowhere" - naturalists (says Nagel, p. 5628) treat the world as “simply existing”, without perspective.
    • Baker has a footnote that claims that even if we combined this perspectiveless world with all the perspectives on it, we would – be treating all the perspectives equally – not be treating them in a first-person way.
    • Baker thinks the FPP29 cannot be downplayed either by saying it’s nothing, or really “something else30”.
  3. A Challenge to Naturalism
    • Baker gives examples of what she calls a robust FPP31 which is “the capacity to think of oneself, conceived in the first-person, as the object of one’s thought”. So, “I’m glad that I* study philosophy”.
    • The “*” is indicative of the appropriate conception – and is an extension of Hector-Neri Castaneda’s “He*32”.
    • The robust FPP33 “is manifested with every thought, utterance or action that exhibits self-consciousness”34.
    • Many naturalizing philosophers see no problem in this data – even David Kaplan, who has done so much on indexicals – has not treated of sentences such as “I believe that I* am a slow reader”.
    • Indeed, self-consciousness35 is taken to be a lesser problem than phenomenal36 consciousness. She quotes to this effect:-
      1. "Block (Ned) - On a Confusion about a Function of Consciousness", p. 230, and
      2. "Chalmers (David) - The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory", p. 2437.
    • Baker will seek to show that the significance of the robust FPP38 can neither be explained by science (reduced to something non-perspectival or non-first-personal), or explained away (eliminated). She claims it’s a dispositional property that’s part of basic ontology. Since the objective scientific picture of the world cannot accommodate the FPP39, the FPP40 represents a challenge41 to naturalism.
  4. What Is At Stake?
    • What is at stake is the nature of reality – whether it is at bottom wholly impersonal or whether there is an ineliminable personal element.
    • In a footnote, she admits that reality may not always have had this – or other – emergent properties, which have arisen since the big bang through evolution or even human intervention, and we are referred to Chapter 10 ("Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Natural Reality").
    • This has epistemological as well as ontological implications. Baker takes issue with Williams’42 “absolute conception”, saying that it – “a maximally inclusive representation of the world” – one that is “there anyway” – is not even ideally feasible as it is totally mind-independent.
    • The upshot – as Baker says she has been arguing for decades43 – is that the mind-dependence / independence distinction is not metaphysically fundamental, because we live in a “stoutly minded” world “without appeal to imaginary skyhooks44”.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: I have extracted this verbatim and used it as “author’s introductions” to the various Chapters of the Book.

Footnote 9: Baker uses the expression “I am LB”, which I may replace by “I am TT” to save awkward expressions referring to LB.

Footnote 10: Baker chooses to reify FPPs (Click here for Note) rather than Selves (Click here for Note).

Footnote 11: Baker repeats this, so presumably it’s important.

Footnote 13: See "Armstrong (David) - Metaphysics and Supervenience" for an alternative weak/strong distinction.

Footnote 14: Yes – science, not “religion”.

Footnote 15: Footnote 19: I don’t fully understand what Baker is on about here. Maybe it’ll become clear in due course.

Footnote 24: Footnote 28: Ie. In "Nagel (Thomas) - The Objective Self".

Footnote 30: Footnote 32: Eg. in "Castaneda (Hector-Neri) - Indicators and Quasi-Indicators".

Footnote 36: Footnote 37: Ie. "Chalmers (David) - Two Concepts of Mind", Section 4: “The two mind-body problems”.

Footnote 41: Baker makes the FPP sound like something “supernatural”, which – though she is a supernaturalist – is probably not what she has in mind.

Footnote 42: Footnote 43: We are referred to "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Explaining Attitudes: A Practical Approach to the Mind", 1995, so only just “decades”.

Footnote 44:

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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