Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Which Animals Have Minds?
Some of us (OK, I) have an intuition that dogs, say, are accurately described as having beliefs and desires, but crickets, say, are not. What about carp? There seems to be a threshold problem. How do we fix the set of beings that come under intentional psychological explanation? On a Wittgensteinian view this is not a problem, because psychological descriptions are necessarily descriptions of publicly observable phenomena. Like life, consciousness is either there or it is not. There is the well-worn objection that it is at least conceivable that there could be a being that behaved as if it were conscious, but that was not. David Chalmers, for one, has built an entire philosophical position on this claim, so debunking it would be significant. Wittgenstein's response is interesting if perhaps not knock-down: he suggests that in fact such a being is not conceivable, that we are confuting reference and use when we say that it is (we can name a round square, but we can't conceive one). As with many of Wittgenstein's arguments, this one seems awfully fast. Still, I feel its pull: for example, I suspect that a disembodied mind is actually inconceivable, even though people claim to be conceiving of them all the time. Reading the Investigations, it may be that Wittgenstein is more interested in the property of "being alive," as a property that he might take seriously, while he may be more skeptical about the claim that "having a mind" is a property at all.