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.

1 comment:

  1. Eliminativism - There is a persistent misunderstanding inherent in both criticisms and neutral reportage of eliminative determinism that in the event of such eliminativistic reduction being generally adopted the beloved abstractions of traditional and academic folk philosophy will be gone for ever as a consequence of the need to establish a reality-contactedness appropriate for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

    In fact most obfuscatory dualism will be semantically fused into the physical holism in a similar way that the neologism 'matergy' is starting to replace the dualistic reificative split between ‘matter’ and ‘energy’ to become 'datergy' which is the ontological reality of 'data' and 'energy.’

    Such linguistic movement from dualism to monism will also be achieved semantico-syntactically, with such reifications as 'cause' and 'causality' eliminated using such dispositional sentential forms as: ‘a causal object, a causal entity,’etc. which make clear that inter-matergic impingement is an existential modality of causal objects and that the thingification 'cause' and 'causality' do not exist either as quasi-objects or instatiations of some transcendental activity.