bookmark_borderDissatisfaction with Many Arguments for and Against Dualism

Victor Reppert recently posted on his blog the following quotation of Susan Blackmore:

How can objective things like brain cells produce subjective experiences like the feeling that ‘I’ am striding through the grass? This gap is what David Chalmers calls ‘the hard problem.’ …It is a modern version of the ancient mind/body problem – but it seems to get worse, not better, the more we learn about the brain… The objective world out there, and the subjective experiences in here, seem to be totally different kinds of things. Asking how one produces the other seems to be nonsense. The intractability of this problem suggests to me that we are making a fundamental mistake in the way we think about consciousness – perhaps right at the very beginning.
Susan Blackmore, ‘What is consciousness?’, Big Questions in Science, in Harriet Swain (ed.), Big Questions in Science, (Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 29-40.

This quotation reminds me of why I am dissatisfied with so many arguments for and against dualism. I am not an authority on the mind/body problem so take what I am about to write with a grain of salt, but in my experience most of the arguments:
a. Amount to a statement of incredulity; or
b. Beg the question.
Now, with all due respect to Susan Blackmore (whose work I have not read), the passage just quoted seems to amount to nothing more than a statement of incredulity, as opposed to an actual argument. If physicalism is true, then the mind just is the brain and, it would seem, there is no subjective experience ‘in here.’ It’s not clear to me how that statement of credulity is supposed to be any more compelling than the following:

The problem of mind/brain interaction seems to get worse, not better, the more we learn about the brain… Nothing mental happens without something physical happening. The idea of mental ‘substance’ existing wholly apart from arrangements of physical matter seems to be nonsense. Even if there were a mental ‘substance’ existing ‘out there’, how, precisely, does it interact with arrangements of physical matter?

Why is Blackmore’s passage supposed to be any more compelling than what I just wrote? What have I missed?
In spite of everything I’ve written above, I still think there is a good evidential argument against naturalism based on consciousness. At the same time, I also think there is a good evidential argument against theism based on mind-brain dependence. This suggests to me that the issue is far more complex than simple quotations of supposed ‘hostile’ authorities would seem to suggest.

bookmark_borderJoel Steinmetz: The Problem of Intentionality: A Cardinal Difficulty for Physicalism (2005)

A very interesting summary of a lecture delivered to Gonzaga University’s Socratic Club on December 9, 2005.
Disclaimer: As always, links do not necessarily constitute endorsement. 
See also:
Craig’s Argument from Intentionality

bookmark_borderJ.L. Mackie’s Argument from Queerness against Objective Values

In his highly significant book, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, the late Oxford philosopher J.L. Mackie rejected moral objectivism and instead defended an error theory.[1] Although Mackie admitted that ordinary moral language and first-level moral beliefs imply moral objectivism, he argued on empirical grounds that moral objectivism is false.  Mackie called one of his anti-objectivist arguments the “argument from queerness.”  Mackie viewed his argument as having “two parts, one metaphysical, the other epistemological.[2] Since our focus here is on moral ontology, not epistemology, I shall discuss only the metaphysical part.
In the metaphysical part of the argument from queerness, Mackie argues that objective values, including objective moral values, do not exist because they are metaphysically anomalous.  He writes, “If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.”[3] As I read him, Mackie provides two reasons in support of that claim.  (1) First, Mackie assumed that moral objectivism entails nonnaturalism, which Mackie considers ontologically queer.  In his words, “Plato’s Forms give a dramatic picture of what objective values would have to be.”[4] (2) Second, if moral objectivism were true, then internalism about moral motivation would also be true.  As Mackie puts it, “if there were objective principles of right and wrong, any wrong (possible) course of action would have not-to-be-doneness somehow built into it.”[5]
Mackie later imported his argument from queerness into the philosophy of religion.  Given the queerness of objective values, Mackie argues, moral objectivism is more likely on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true.  In his landmark critique of theism, The Miracle of Theism, he states,

Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.  … If … there … are objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus, we have … a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a god.[6]

Ironically, what began as an argument against moral objectivism became an increasingly popular argument among some moral objectivists—proponents of ontological versions of the moral argument for God’s existence, to be exact—as an argument for theism and against metaphysical naturalism.[7] Given this popularity as well as Mackie’s own immense influence, this argument is worth a detailed look.  Has Mackie shown that objective values are queer given metaphysical naturalism? Let’s consider Mackie’s two reasons in turn.
(1) begs the question against ethical naturalism by assuming without argument a nonnaturalist interpretation of objectivism.  By itself, however, moral objectivism is metaphysically neutral since it does not specify whether moral facts and properties are natural, nonnatural, or supernatural.  Moreover, nonnatural moral facts and properties are not queer even on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true.  Metaphysical naturalism only rules out the existence of nonnatural entities that can affect nature; it does not rule out the existence of acausal objects, including abstract objects or irreducible, sui generis moral properties.  Of course, ethical nonnaturalism does pose a problem for reductive physicalism, since reductive physicalism by definition rules out irreducible, sui generis moral facts and properties.  Since Mackie accepted not only metaphysical naturalism but also reductive physicalism, it is not surprising that Mackie considered nonnatural facts and properties queer.  But this biographical information is of little philosophical significance.  As Quentin Smith writes, “nonreductive physicalism can allow for nonnatural moral values, as Post has plausibly argued, and most physicalists today accept a nonreductive version” of physicalism.[8]
As for (2), why should we believe that internalism is true if moral objectivism is true?  According to Mackie, moral objectivism entails internalism about motives.  He writes, “Something’s being good both tells the person who knows this to pursue it and makes him pursue it.”[9] However, this is incorrect.  Moral objectivism has not been shown to entail internalism, and certainly not by Mackie.  On the contrary, as David Brink has demonstrated, if an objective moral truth is motivating, then that is a contingent fact dependent upon external factors such as the content of the moral truth, the psychological state of the agent, etc.[10] Moreover, internalism is not supported by the empirical evidence.  The existence of intelligent psychopaths shows that one can understand true moral propositions and yet feel utterly unmotivated to act in accordance with such propositions.[11]
I conclude, therefore, that Mackie’s argument from queerness fails.  On the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true, it neither follows nor is probable that objective moral truths are “queer.”  Thus, Mackie’s argument from queerness does not support the claim that, given metaphysical naturalism, objective moral truths cannot be truths about nonnatural facts or properties.
[1] J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (New York: Penguin, 1977).
[2] Mackie 1977, 38.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 40.  Italics are mine.
[5] Ibid.
[6] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1982), 115-16.
[7] J.P. Moreland, “The Ethical Inadequacy of Naturalism” Promise (May/June 1996): 36-39, republished electronically at <URL:>; Paul Copan, “Can Michael Martin Be A Moral Realist?: Sic et Non,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, 1/2 (1999): 45-72.  Cf. George I. Mavrodes, “Religion and the Queerness of Morality,” Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment (ed. Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986).
[8] Smith 1998, 174; cf. John Post 1987.
[9] Mackie 1979, 40.
[10] David O. Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), chapter 3.
[11] Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature (State University of New York Press, 1998), 211-30.

bookmark_borderLINK: What is a Physical Object? by Ned Markosian

I am quoting the abstract of this paper here, without comment pro or con, for interested readers who may wish to read the paper for themselves. Feel free to debate in the combox.

Abstract: The concept of a physical object has figured prominently in the history of philosophy, and is probably more important now than it has ever been before. Yet the question What are physical objects?, i.e., What is the correct analysis of the concept of a physical object?, has received surprisingly little attention. The purpose of this paper is to address this question. I consider several attempts at answering the question, and give my reasons for preferring one of them over its rivals. The account of physical objects that I recommend – the Spatial Location Account – defines physical objects as objects with spatial locations. The intuitive idea behind the Spatial Location Account is this. Objects from all of the different ontological categories –physical objects; non-physical objects like souls, if there are any; propositions; universals; etc. – have this much in common: they all exist in time. But not all of them exist in space. The ones that exist in time and space, i.e., the ones that have spatial locations, are the ones that count as physical objects.


bookmark_borderEvan Fales: Deepak Chopra’s $1M Prize is a Publicity Stunt

(This is a guest post by Evan Fales about Deepak Chopra’s recent challenge to the new atheists.)
This is a publicity stunt.  He’s smart enough to have picked what may be the biggest unsolved puzzle for naturalism.  At the same time, his challenge is seriously vague in its wording.  What exactly does he mean by ‘biological basis’?  Would an invariant neurological correlate of a mental event-type do?  A neurological cause?  Does he need identity?  Supervenience?  What counts as a “valid” scientific explanation?  True?  Serious contender?  He’s got goal-posts he can move backwards, sideways, up-side down.
I actually have a possible solution for the qualia problem.  But it depends upon a solution to what I think is really the most fundamental (and hard) problem of consciousness:  the problem of (original) intentionality.  (Computers have imputed, or derived intentionality:  their operations “mean” what they do because we assign a semantics – and interpretation – to their syntactic operations.  But our mental states intend what content they have originally – not because it’s assigned to our minds by some other mind.)  I have no idea how to understand this physicalistically.  On the other hand, I have no idea how to understand it theistically either.  God could make a brain (I suppose), and impute semantic content to its operations (just as we can do for a computer), but how would he insert original intentionality into the thing?  I’m sure Chopra has no better explanation of that than I do.

bookmark_borderNew Paper by Taner Edis: “Beyond Physics”

From Taner Edis:

I have been working, on and off, on a paper with Maarten Boudry concerning physicalism and the prospects of detecting nonphysical agents.

Well, it’s been published, and I thought others on the list might want to take a look, since it concerns supernatural agency and design arguments but approaches these questions from an unusual perspective.
Springer is making an e-offprint available for four weeks. Grab it if you like.