Friday, December 15, 2006

What Does Eliminativism Claim?

The standard introductory argument for eliminativism, from Paul Churchland, is an argument from the history of science: some putative entities from older theories get reduced (Zeus's thunderbolts = electrical discharges), while others are eliminated (forget the clunky phlogiston example. The heavenly spheres don't survive modern astronomy. Students can at least get that). And so traditional (intentional, belief/desire) psychology is a theory, and subject to revision (thus "The Theory Theory"). So far eliminative materialism is not a theory of its own, it's an historical cautionary: don't just assume that the traditional categories of intentional states ("attitudes") will survive material analysis. But what is the idea here really? Either the idea is that there are some attitudes of the same kind as beliefs, desires, hopes, fears, etc., that will be eliminated in the light of neuroscience, maybe even some of those but not others. This I think is incoherent: surely the attitudes are kinds of behaviors? People aren't going to behave differently (at least not much) when neuroscience is more advanced; our understanding of the etiology of the behavior might be different. No, eliminativism is an all or nothing thing, and the thing is content itself. It may be that there is an alternative to the representational theory of mind. It may be that after a maturation of neuroscience we understand thought without attributing semantic properties to mental states (or to anything else) at all. That's the materialist intuition behind behaviorism, the one that persuaded Wittgenstein and Ryle. Mental content must be washed out of an authentically materialist psychology (and semantics must be washed out of an authentically materialist linguistics). The only coherent form of eliminativism is the claim that material analysis will eliminate intentionality altogether, not only as a problem for philosophy but as a phenomenon. And at that point, if it turns out that this kind of eliminativist materialism prevails, the traditional categories of belief/desire psychology will be: still standing, used just as they always have been.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Determinism is Skepticism, so what about Eliminativism?

I think that hard determinism is a kind of skepticism: the claim is that we don't actually know something that we believe that we know. This scans under two versions of determinism: the claim that our thoughts and feelings play no causal role in our behavior, and the subtler claim that our thoughts and feelings could not be different than what they are. If I am right that hard determinism is a form of skepticism, then we can deploy counter-skeptical arguments against the hard determinist. I take the best counter-skeptical arguments to be what I think of as Wittgensteinian: the skeptic has tricked us up front by changing the context of use such that the word does not have a meaning (a function). I think that Hume anticipates Wittgenstein here; Hume is an anti-skeptic, not a skeptic. Strictly speaking, the reply is "I neither know nor do not know that (for example) the external world exists: that is not a coherent subject of belief (that is not an example of a belief). The verbs 'to know' and 'to believe' do not apply here."
OK, here's the thought that I'm trying to think: If the foregoing is defensible, can it be extended to eliminativism in the philosophy of psychology? The eliminativist says that I (perhaps falsely) only believe that the traditional intentional categories (beliefs, desires, etc.) pick out anything like what we would use to explain people's actions in light of some future understanding of neurophysiology (or something). Is this like telling me that I only believe that I'm not dreaming, or that other minds exist?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Library of Tibetan Classics

These days I'm starting my mornings with ten pages or so of Mind Training: The Great Collection, published by Wisdom Publications 2006 ISBN 0-86171-440-7. This book is an excellent example of the new wave of English translations of classical Tibetan Buddhist literature, spurred on by recent and unfortunately grim developments in Tibet. The Mind Training literature, first anthologized in the fifteenth century, is homely advice in the form of traditional Buddhist enlightenment stories of wealth and renunciation. A central idea is the practise of total altruism: all my assets unto all other beings, all of the woes of all other beings unto myself. This mental exercise is both a recipe for peace and tolerance (and thus calmness of mind) and also a technique for cultivating mindfullness (awareness of the state of one's own consciousness), something that cannot be done from an ego-centered standpoint. It is an early volume of the Library of Tibetan Classics, a project of the Institute of Tibetal Classics. A real joy and "jewel," in the traditional Tibetan sense of jewels as symbols of wish-fulfillment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dec. 12 2006

This is the first installment of Anderson Brown's Philosophy Blog. I call it a "philosophy" blog rather than a "philosophical" blog since I can only hope that the blog will actually be philosophical, but I know it will always be about philosophy. Here I will try to record some of the day's philosophical thoughts, mostly as I go about my business as a philosophy professor, or not about my business as a writer of philosophy, or the reverse, as the case may be. I have a little dictaphone and I also have pens and paper in case you forgot about those but let's see if this medium is fruitful. There will be a lot of stuff about philosophy of mind and psychology, with material about metaphysics and the history of philosophy and whatever else comes up in my classes and reading.