Friday, September 8, 2017

A Philosophy of Mind Retrospective

I glanced over at Victor Reppert's blog to see the esteemed host arguing philosophy of mind with Keith Parsons. Some things never change. But it got me to thinking back of the many years I've spent on his blog, and what originally got me into it to begin with - clawing around, in a younger age, for insight and answers on questions of God, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mind. It used to occupy a lot of my thoughts (is that ironic? not sure), but lately it hasn't. I asked myself why, and I had my answer immediately.

It's no longer interesting, because the fight is over. And the anti-materialists won.

God, if you guys could only remember some of the claims. I remember, about a decade ago now, the resident atheist neurologist talking about these *exciting* happenings in neurology that were going to explain consciousness. Oh, they weren't ready for primetime yet - he couldn't even explain the gist - but it was exciting, it was addressing the hard problem and this and that. We just had to wait, and soon that check the materialists had written would be cashed. Any day now, any day..!

Complete load of crap, of course - nothing came of it, and nothing will. The hard problem is as hard as ever. The soft problems, as Feser has pointed out, are even harder than expected. The arguments came from all angles - some of them very old and updated for modern audiences, others more modern and sophisticated expressions of skepticism - but the replies never materialized. Dennett, once a rising star, has faded into academic shadows, respected by peers that nevertheless few others care about. Consciousness remains a mystery. Puzzles and problems raised by the anti-materialists have remained, grown, and largely are recognized as legitimate.

And by now, thanks to the internet, a larger audience than ever has heard the claims of promissory naturalism, and have lived long enough to know that they'll die before seeing the check paid.

Watching Keith Parsons do that sad little dance of 'well maybe it IS all physical after all', after all these years, just seems sad now. These were the foot soldiers in the army of reason, armed with the power of science, to dispel skepticism of the great materialist worldview? Some army that turned out to be. Some reason.

Still, it was the opposite of a waste of time, and the arguments are of value to this day. But as it stands, the tigers Reppert and Feser and others sought to fight, are now quite defeated. Other concerns need attending to, and thus my attention drifts (though both, particular Feser, remain extremely relevant in other contexts.)

Good job, guys. To all you anti-materialist intellectual warriors of the past, take a moment - in these days of nevertheless intensified insanity - to congratulate yourselves on a job well done.


12 comments:

Wesley C. said...

So...I guess this means the mind really is immaterial after all.

The materialists and their accolates, both in philosophy and in the sciences, were ready to prove their ideas with all they had, all of the enthusiasm and support of reason they could muster, and yet they completely failed.

Arguments advanced by writers such as Edward Feser and many others were actually the ones that saw the light of day, and had proven their complete solidity with this test of time.

It seems the issue is now fully decided in favor of the immaterialists, and it's time to move on to greener pastures.

The materialists swore that their arguments were true till' the cows come home; and the cows did come home, and not only that; they even provided some milk.

Crude said...

So...I guess this means the mind really is immaterial after all.

Well, time marches on, and I'm sure they will keep trying to argue. I believe Bill Valicella when he says that philosophical issues never really die. People will argue this way and that to this day.

But the materialists never really recovered, I think, from internal secular dissent in the form of David Chalmers. The impact of a seemingly prominent, non-religious skeptic of materialist claims was a cultural explosion, primarily in intellectual circles, but that sort of thing has a way of leaking out to the populace at large. Also, their best 'argument' against the non-materialists was a hands on hips sneering about how the non-materialists were 'unscientific', but that meant the heat was on to have science actually *deliver* for a change. Promissory notes won't cut it. But notes were all they had.

People are now more open to the idea that, well, the universe is a big, strange place and we only know so much, so maybe there's something fundamental missing to our understanding of the mind. (It doesn't help that the New Atheists promptly split, and now can't even agree on what good science and philosophy is anymore. Quick, how many genders are there? Is feminist philosophy valuable or a joke? Ask these questions to start a secular fistfight.)

So the immaterialists have won, particularly in the sense that utter skepticism of materialism, especially with regards to the mind, now seems reasonable. Materialists are left in a fighting retreat position, where their main hope of being taken seriously is in exploding the definition of 'materialism' so broadly that you can practically categorize Feser himself under the label.

It's not all celebratory, since at least part of the reason they lost (and here I mean culturally) is because the seculars have intellectually degenerated. But hey, it is what it is.

Wesley C. said...

Crude: Well, time marches on, and I'm sure they will keep trying to argue. I believe Bill Valicella when he says that philosophical issues never really die. People will argue this way and that to this day.

Except this time, it seems like the materialists really did hit a truly dead end here. The arguments from the opposition really did manage to send them running for their influence.


Crude: Also, their best 'argument' against the non-materialists was a hands on hips sneering about how the non-materialists were 'unscientific', but that meant the heat was on to have science actually *deliver* for a change. Promissory notes won't cut it. But notes were all they had.

Really? So an appeal to science really was one of their main arguments for their case? If that's so, then this just makes it look like their position has been discredited even more than I previously thought.

As for the science, isn't it supposed to be obvious that science can't completely settle a philosophical issue like that? Man, I really didn't know they had such terrible arguments.

That, combined with Keith Parsons hopeless appeal to ''But it may still be material!'' makes it really hard to ignore the fact that this points out quite clearly that the immaterialists were right, or at least have the much more rational position here.

Will Worrock said...

Crude, what is your take on stardusty psyche and his arguments he makes against A-T philosophy that he makes over at Feser's blog? Just curious because I haven't been able to find a adequate refutation.

lotharlorraine said...

I think that the debate is far from being over. There is still a lot of back-and-forths in the literature.
I'm going to write a blog post regarding a refining of the "what-is-it-likke-to-be-a-bat" argument.

By the way, your intelligence is much better used by focusing on such problems and on defending your faith than by engaging in the culture warrior.

I appreciate your insights into intellectual matters but I am put off by what I can now only describe as bigotry (such as lumping people you don't like together).

Crude said...

Will,

Just curious because I haven't been able to find a adequate refutation.

My criticisms weren't dependent on the success of A-T philosophy, much as I believe A-T is correct. Feel free to bring up any points you think require refutation, and I'll address them to the best of my ability.

With that in mind.

SP is an intellectual joke. I ran into him first on the Shadowtolight blog, where he later got banned. In my view, he's similar to the standard atheist comment troll - he has little of value to say, but he's got a tremendous amount of time on his hands, so he'll keep attacking and talking over and over and flat out refuses to admit when he's been caught in a contradiction or a misrepresentation. Resilience is not a replacement for argument.

Nor is assertion. Glancing over his most recent contributions, all I see is SP repeating - vehemently! - words to the effect of "I am right. You are wrong." No argument. No evidence. Just determined, frantic assertion.

In other words, the man is all rhetoric, no dialectic. It's an easy trick: give your objection with *force* and *confidence* and people will assume you did the one thing you didn't do - actually state your argument. Ergo if someone talks about a per se cause, you go, 'Wrong. All causes we call per se are in reality per accidens causes, and thus are tractable to physical and temporal modeling.' There's no argument there. Just assertion. But damn, will that snowball some people.

Crude said...

I think that the debate is far from being over. There is still a lot of back-and-forths in the literature.

Debate isn't settled only when all sides agree and people stop arguing. For decades now, we've been promised results on these and other fronts. We have none. None coming. The old arguments remain standing. The reasons to embrace materialism are non-existent.

Who knows what the future holds, but the confidence of the past turns out to have been a bluff.

By the way, your intelligence is much better used by focusing on such problems and on defending your faith than by engaging in the culture warrior.

I'll decide how my intelligence is best used, thank you. And since when do you abhor culture war? Frankly, you were one inspiration I had to finally embrace it. Watching you cheer on and find common cause with the worst atheists on the grounds that you too were willing to go to war with Christians until they, under duress, would be forced to make women priests, officiate gay weddings, and generally submit their religion to the entire modern slew of left-wing social sacraments demonstrated an important truth to me. Namely: 'Politics is religion, and left-wing religious are really evangelists for left-wing causes in the Church. If they have to choose between Christianity and the left-wing gospel, the latter wins every time.'

Until that point, I was trying to maintain the belief that religious commitment could bring people together across the political spectrum. But no - with exceptions too rare to ultimately matter, it really can't. I think I'll continue to fight the culture war however I can, Lothar. It's where the action is.

I appreciate your insights into intellectual matters but I am put off by what I can now only describe as bigotry

My concern for such labels has burnt into ash. I'll spare telling you what labels I would apply to your approach.

Unknown said...

I don't know, Crude. I mean, I certainly think that materialism and naturalism are bankrupt. But I don't know if your average person will be able to see that just yet. We live in a culture that idolizes science. Yet this just cashes out to people saying that they love science without doing the actual work of understanding science or evaluating science in relation to metaphysics. It's produced an entire generation that thinks in Neil Degrasse Tyson memes- you know, idiots. You can see this at places like Feser's all the time. So they'll continue to give credence to materialism and naturalism because they liking the things that "science" produces means having to endorse the beliefs of a bunch of dumbasses who claim to be acting on behalf of "science".

Crude said...

I don't know, Crude. I mean, I certainly think that materialism and naturalism are bankrupt. But I don't know if your average person will be able to see that just yet.

I get what you mean, but this is one case where the average person is irrelevant. This was always a higher-level fight among people who actually are conversant with and interested in more philosophical concepts. (In the meantime, the Cult of Gnu has largely died for completely different reasons - but died all the same.)

That said, there's one thing that the success of Feser, Reppert, and others have yielded that impacts the average person: intelligent, informed people with scruples now feel more confident yelling at them. And the average person gets confused and scared when someone yells at them confidently. No matter how much they 'fucking love science'.

It's only a bare handful of atheists who can withstand being told that they're out of their league by people who seem to know a lot more than them. The best they can do is scamper over to the company of other people who know more than them (and who they also don't understand) for solace. A decade of testing these arguments and objections and noting that they're actually quite valid has emboldened many better-than-average sorts to cut to the chase and just say 'You're a fucking moron, atheist, will you shut the fuck up and listen?' when necessary. Now, not enough of them for my taste - too many still try to do the comfy-sweater 'let's sit down and have a chat' routine. But providing intellectual backing for the intelligent and scrupulous frees them to stand up to the idiots and the intellectual-but-unscrupulous.

JBsptfn said...

What's sad is that there is a poster on Metacrock's blog (7th Stooge is their name) that isn't convinced of the arguments that people make in favor of an immaterial mind. I guess I will show them this, then.

Crude said...

I think there's a gulf between 'being convinced that the mind is immaterial' and 'not being convinced that the mind is material'.

I can understand someone maintaining skepticism about particular theories of immateriality of the mind. There's a number of options, and while I think Thomism is real powerful, I wouldn't write off dissent as insane. But someone who believes that a wholly material mind is the only game in town? That one's passed the sell-by date.

JBsptfn said...

Actually, Eric Sotnak was the one that isn't convinced (on Metacrock's blog) of the arguments in favor of an immaterial mind. I just want to make that clear.

And, I agree with you about the wholly material mind being obsolete. I also know that you said that you were real impressed with Feser's arguments for immateriality.