What to say to a skeptical metaphysician: A defense manual for cognitive and behavioral scientists
Ross (Don) & Spurrett (David)
Source: Behavioral And Brain Sciences (2004) 27, 603–647
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Abstract

  1. A wave of recent work in metaphysics seeks to undermine the anti-reductionist, functionalist1 consensus of the past few decades in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. That consensus apparently legitimated a focus on what systems do, without necessarily and always requiring attention to the details of how systems are constituted. The new metaphysical challenge contends that many states and processes referred to by functionalist2 cognitive scientists are epiphenomenal. It further contends that the problem lies in functionalism3 itself, and that, to save the causal significance of mind, it is necessary to re-embrace reductionism4.
  2. We argue that the prescribed return to reductionism5 would be disastrous for the cognitive and behavioral sciences, requiring the dismantling of most existing achievements and placing intolerable restrictions on further work. However, this argument fails to answer the metaphysical challenge on its own terms. We meet that challenge by going on to argue that the new metaphysical skepticism about functionalist6 cognitive science depends on reifying two distinct notions of causality (one primarily scientific, the other metaphysical), then equivocating between them. When the different notions of causality are properly distinguished, it is clear that functionalism7 is in no serious philosophical trouble, and that we need not choose between reducing8 minds or finding them causally impotent. The metaphysical challenge to functionalism9 relies, in particular, on a naïve and inaccurate conception of the practice of physics, and the relationship between physics and metaphysics.
  3. Don Ross is Professor in the Center for Ethics and Values in the Sciences and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town. He is the author or editor of ten books and over forty articles on the foundations of the behavioral sciences, game theory, the philosophy of science, and the economics of developing countries. The first volume of his two-volume Economic Theory and Cognitive Science will appear from MIT Press in 2005.
  4. David Spurrett is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Howard College Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he is also coordinator of the mind and world working group. He is the author of around twenty publications in the areas of philosophy of science, cognitive science and metaphysics, appearing in journals including the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, International Studies in Philosophy of Science, and Language Sciences. In 2003, he was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award at the University of Natal and a President’s Award from the National Research Foundation (South Africa).


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