Ghosts in the World Machine? Humility and Its Alternatives
Langton (Rae) & Robichaud (Christopher)
Source: Hazlett (Allan) - New Waves in Metaphysics, Chapter 8
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Introduction

  1. At the heart of being lies a mystery, according to Kant: we have 'no insight whatsoever into the intrinsic nature of things.' Some people complain, but their complaints are misguided.
  2. The complainers cherish a hope that our minds should grasp how the things that appear to us may be 'in themselves.' But this is 'completely unreasonable and stupid.' And why? It amounts to a hope 'that we should be able to be acquainted with things without senses'.

Authors’ Conclusion
  1. You might accept that Humility is true, and say it doesn't matter. We are ignorant of fundamental intrinsic properties - and so what? There is nothing 'ominous' about such ignorance. There are many things we can't know about: perhaps we can’t know exactly where all the ants were standing, exactly 30 million years ago; perhaps we can't know what the fundamental intrinsic properties of things really are. But why worry? (Lewis 2009 denies Humility is 'ominous'; see also Whittle 2006; Hawthorne 2001; Schaffer 2005; Ney 2007; Locke 2009).
  2. Many discussions of Humility proceed on an assumption that it makes us ignorant of trivial properties, comparable to the haecceities of individuals: we are ignorant of a property's identity tag, so to speak, which it keeps from world to possible world, regardless of the dispositions it is associated with it. We suggest on the contrary that Kant is right on this question, and the shruggers are wrong. If there are fundamental intrinsic properties, and we don't know what they are, then we don't know that they are only trivial, identity-involving properties. All that we know is that they are intrinsic, or categorical. Kant says we cannot rule out the possibility that the fundamental intrinsic properties are thoughts; Humility cannot rule out pan-psychism, though it does not embrace it. But 'not knowing what the properties are’ means, not knowing what they are.
  3. So, to conclude, we admit ghosts in the world machine, properties that are non-physical, in the minimal sense that physics cannot find them; and we can't rule out their being non-physical in the more troubling sense that pan-psychists embrace. Humility is not to be shrugged off; but we can live with it.

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