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Friday, June 12, 2009

Consciousness: Conference offers challenging new ideas

The Metanexus Institute offers an interesting sounding conference July 18-21 in Phoenix, Arizona, details here: A number of the speakers seem to want to develop a theory of consciousness that is materialist but does not fall into the "there is no self and no free will" trap. Eric Weislogel writes, reviewing a book:
Campbell is one of many proponents of non-reductive physicalism. Non-reductive physicalism is purportedly an alternative to reductive physicalism, but one which does not revert to dualism. It is best not to think of non-reductive physicalism as a theory in its own right. Think, instead, of non-reductive physicalism as a disideratum, as a standard by which to judge how satisfactory to our intuitions is any particular theory of mental causation. The tenets of non-reductive physicalism represent our basic intellectual commitments going into the question from the start. What are those tenets?

First, there is the commitment to non-reductionist explanations of consciousness, of mental states, and of mental causality. We will not be satisfied with any theory that explains away thought, consciousness, intentionality, desire, creativity, or moral responsibility as mere illusion. We are committed, for example, to the idea that our wanting a drink is causally connected to our getting a drink. We are committed to the idea that our desire for that which is not our own is causally connected to our stealing that thing and that we are responsible for that theft.
So he wants to maintain that the self and free will really exist, but that a materialist account of them can ultimately work.

That I doubt. The whole point of materialist accounts is reductive.

Here is an explanation: If I offer to explain why ants feed and defend their queen instead of killing and eating her, you will not value my explanation if I describe their actions as guided by loyalty. You likely doubt that ant minds host such a concept. You want a reductive explanation.

However, most people think that "loyalty" might be an actual cause of human behaviour. Yet loyalty is an abstract concept. Any approach that attempts to explain loyalty in a material or physical way will end up being reductive, no matter how the explainer talks around the point.

Now, there is, ofc ourse, a difference between being reductive and being vulgar. A "selfish gene" explanation for loyalty is vulgar as well as reductive.

I am glad these cognitive philosophers as so anxious to avoid the Gadarene descent into vulgarity chronicled in - and illustrated by - the pop science media.


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