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Animadversions - Haldane - Naturalism and the Mind

  1. Haldane had an extensive hand-out ("Haldane (John) - Naturalism and Mind") but didn’t stick to it, being deflected by the (rather unsurprising) things Papineau had to say (in "Papineau (David) - The Argument for Naturalism about the Mind").
  2. Papineau’s arguments belong to a family2 (from Donald Davidson, David Lewis, and so on). Mind makes a difference, but both cause and effect are physical. Haldane thinks that the argument is less straightforward than it might seem.
  3. Scientific Explanation is a “privileged” route to knowledge.
  4. The “integral unity of substances”. Effects flow from the nature of things – which are not just lumps of stuff.
  5. The rejection of the supernatural – but another Haldane – an atheist – claimed that the world is stranger than we can3 think.
  6. In contemporary usage supernatural is really praeternatural4 – the miraculous – ie. beyond the ordinary powers of substances. Strictly, supernatural is the operation of grace.
  7. If we depart from physicalism, does this mean that we need to view the mind in praeternaturalist terms? No.
  8. There are three views of metaphysics:-
    • Metaphysics as science - Quine – scientism.
    • Metaphysics as a priori etc. This view is deflationary about ontology. Does whatever we talk about in a regulated and well-ordered manner exist? If so, then what we mean by saying that numbers exist is that there exists a well-ordered discourse that involves them. For realism about minds, we need more than just talk about them – we need them to make a difference.
    • Third5 option – not discussed?
  9. Arguments6 against physicalism in the philosophy of mind:-
    • a. Sensibility: Eg. consciousness. Not persuasive.
    • b. Intelligibility: Modality, etc.
  10. Substances (eg. water) are identified by their causal powers – whether active (abilities) or passive (liabilities). Eg. Acid has the ability to dissolve.
  11. Haldane is not impressed by the arguments from consciousness (as arguments against physicalism). It’s not obvious that consciousness isn’t part of the physical world. It’s “isomorphic” to the physical world – can turn up the volume. Consciousness is just a mode of receptivity to the physical.
  12. Aquinas: unpack. We have powers of categorisation into kinds. Universals are not material. There’s no such thing as the organ of thought. Deliberation is not over particulars (= actuals) but over possibles.
  13. To be continued7?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: Track down the references in these philosophers.

Footnote 3: According to Wikipedia (Wikiquote: Arthur Eddington (, “Though sometimes attributed to Eddington without citation, this seems to be derived from a statement by J. B. S. Haldane (Wikiquote: J. B. S. Haldane ( in Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), p. 286: The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.“

Footnote 4: See, for instance, Wikipedia: Preternatural (

Footnote 5: The hand-out has:-
  1. Metaphysics as science
  2. Metaphysics as prior to and independent of empirical knowledge
  3. Metaphysics as interpretative of empirical and other knowledge.
Footnote 6: Haldane had a (non-distributed!) hand-out with 20 arguments against physicalism.

Footnote 7: My notes run out at this point, but don’t indicate that there was more said – they run straight on to the Q&As. I’ve no idea what the point of Haldane’s talk was.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Haldane (John) Naturalism and Mind Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Religion and Naturalism, Heythrop College, 12 July 2010 Yes

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Timestamp: 28/05/2020 15:40:10. Comments to