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?

1 comment:

  1. Skepticism claims that true knowledge in a certain area (whatever area to which it is applied) is not possible. It is not the claim that what we think we know (for example, that we have control over our actions) is not what we know—that is a precisely non-skeptical claim. If you say to a skeptic “what we think we know is not really the case,” all a skeptic would say is “how do you know?” How can you say something is not really the case unless you believe it is possible to find out what is really the case? Skepticism, at least as I understand it, is the claim that we can’t know anything for sure.
    Hard determinism is the claim that our behavior and thoughts are subject in every way to the causal and determinate laws of nature. It depends on two things for correctness: (1) materialism of the mind, or some form of strict physicalism and (2) causal determinism, i.e., that the events in physical space are determinate—when an event occurs at a certain time, no other event could have occurred at that time. If all is physical, including the mind, and if all events in physical space and time are determinate, then even our behavior, the choices we make etc… are determinate and thus cannot be said to be real choices at all. In other words, if I ‘chose’ to eat cheesecake for dessert instead of chocolate cake on January 3rd 2007, at precisely 7:30 pm, then upon rewinding to that time and place over and over again I will make no different decision. What I decided was set in stone. That I believed I had a choice in the matter is only a token of our illusion—the way I am constructed predisposes me to thinking that what I do is a choice. “I could have chosen to eat the chocolate cake, right?” “Wrong,” says the determinist.
    I see no connection between hard determinism and skepticism. Hard determinism depends on determinism, which is absolutely not a form of skepticism. Hard determinism makes the claim that what we think we know—that we are in control of our behavior—is not true. This may seem like the skeptical claim that what we think we know is not known, and cannot be known, for sure. However, the claim that nothing can be known for sure and to claim that a particular thing we’d like to think we know for sure (viz., that we have control over our actions) is not true, are two different claims. One is an epistemological claim concerning the limits of human knowledge while the other is a metaphysical claim concerning the ontology of human behavior. A good skeptic might even scoff at the determinist’s attempts to establish an ontology of the mind. Hence, I do not see how you could be able to utilize anti-skeptical arguments against hard determinism.
    Please get back to me at this. Perhaps I am merely misunderstanding your claims.