Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Emotional Appeal of Eliminative Materialism

If one were to mark upon a scale the emotional rather than the rational appeal of various philosophies of mind, one would be first inclined to place Cartesian dualism at the very appealing end, and eliminative materialism at the very unappealing end. Why? Because Cartesian dualism sees mind to be alongside or above mere matter, gives succor to the idea of an autonomous self, makes plausible the idea of immortality, and thus accords in large part with our commonsense beliefs, our hopes for human dignity, and our desires for self-preservation. Eliminative materialism, on the other hand, declares that we have no self or even mind. It would be wrong to assume, however, that this scale of appeal holds for all men. There may be some for whom the obvious appeal of dualism is itself that aspect that makes it very unappealing to them. Such men would not deny the common, emotional appeal of dualism; on the contrary, it would be important that they make much of it, all the way unto declaring it an appeal stemming from an embedded folk-psychology left over from the days of superstition that no properly modern, hard-headed, rational man should touch with a maypole. Therewith the embrace of eliminative materialism appears to put them at the greatest remove from being taken as the kind of men who would fall for ideas on account of their emotional appeal. That eliminative materialism does not appear to be emotionally appealing at all would be emotionally appealing to those in whom the need to appear utterly rational in disregard of the emotional appeal of ideas is the basis of their self-esteem and thereby their strongest emotional need of all.

8 comments:

dearieme said...

"If one were to mark upon a scale the emotional rather than the rational appeal..": I can just about believe in a single rational scale but not in a single emotional one.

Recusant said...

Why not?

Larry Teabag said...

Atypically D-Wulf, you missed a reference:

...thus accords in large part with our commonsense beliefs[1]...

[1] "How To Beg Questions", by Mike Rotch

Deogolwulf said...

You must have spent your life in some very strange circles, Mr Teabag, if you don't think the beliefs in both mind and matter are of the very quintessence of our commonsense, or of our "folk-psychology" as the eliminativists pejoratively call it. (Not even they would deny its commonsense status.) Perhaps you were brought up by zombie-robots -- or subjective idealists. But even then, presuming that you yourself are human, and thus have a mind of sensation and conscious experience, I would be surprised to learn that you yourself do not make the distinction every time you stub your toe.

And what has question-begging got to do with it?

Larry Teabag said...

You must have been reading some really weird and above averagely "eliminative" philosophy recently if you think there are many people around who do not hold "beliefs in both mind and matter".

The important issue is how one reconciles the two.

So my question is whether you really are solely addressing these eliminative extremists - who I can agree are nothing more than cranks, and of about the same interest and importance as David Icke - or whether there was an unstated assault on a more popular and moderate, "reductive" materialist position.

In other words, are you asking me to decide between two philosophies, both of which I find bizarre and anti-intuitive, better accords with commonsense, or am I allowed to make the case for more sensible position, which really does chime with my notion of commonsense?

After all, your phrase "thus accords in large part with our commonsense beliefs" followed hot on the heels of "makes plausible the idea of immortality", and if that's the sort of claim you're making, then stubbing my toe doesn't really cover it.

Deogolwulf said...

"You must have been reading some really weird and above averagely "eliminative" philosophy recently if you think there are many people around who do not hold "beliefs in both mind and matter"."

You seem confused. It was rather my point that there are hardly any such persons who do not believe in both mind and matter. Such a belief is in accord with commonsense. People are by default commonsense dualists: it is the essence of the human psyche to take the mental and the physical to be of different *kinds*. (You're not going to tell me that people are pre-theoretical monists, are you?) This dualism is the unreflective, unintellectualised default of everyday life, even for eliminative materialists, who in their intellectual work claim to be trying to think their way out of this "folk-psychology". (That something is unreflective and unintellectualised does not make it untrue, I hasten to add.)

"So my question is whether you really are solely addressing these eliminative extremists . . . or whether there was an unstated assault on a more popular and moderate, "reductive" materialist position."

This is a post about extreme materialism - and of a *possible* emotional appeal of it. It might apply to some extent to some reductive materialists just as it might apply to some eliminativists. Depends entirely on their psyche. It's not up to me.

"In other words, are you asking me to decide between two philosophies, both of which I find bizarre and anti-intuitive, better accords with commonsense, or am I allowed to make the case for more sensible position, which really does chime with my notion of commonsense?"

No, Mr Teabag, I am asking you no such thing. I cannot imagine why you would think so. This post has nothing to do with choosing between philosophies of mind. You're more than welcome to make your case for a "more sensible" position in accordance with *your* "notion of commonsense". But it is herewith that I become confused by your claim to find dualism "bizarre and anti-intuitive", that is, that you find it strange to take the mental and the physical to be of different kinds, even though you do this pre-theoretically and unreflectively and intuitively everyday, in, say, stubbing your toe, whereas, I suppose, you find the position of moderate reductive materialism intuitive and commonsensical, a position so commonsensical and intuitive that it has taken centuries, nay, millenia, of assumptions, thoughts and findings of philosophy and science, pursued by the narrowest class of men, to gain ascendency only recently, and only then as a hard-fought *intellectualised* position that does not reign in everyday life. Well, all I can say is that *your* commonsense is some powerful stuff!
Part of the emotional-polemical force of the argument of the eliminativists against dualism is that we all fool ourselves with this "folk-pyscholgy" everyday.

"After all, your phrase "thus accords in large part with our commonsense beliefs" followed hot on the heels of "makes plausible the idea of immortality", and if that's the sort of claim you're making, then stubbing my toe doesn't really cover it."

Is that a desperate attempt at misinterpretation? Vide: "our desires for self-preservation". But interpret it any way you like.

Larry Teabag said...

This is a post about extreme materialism...

In which case I will leave you alone to enjoy your fish and your barrels with your gun, since you've made no claim on any philosophy I consider even within the realms of sanity.

But first, just to explain my misunderstanding. If by "dualism" you simply mean that the belief that "the mental and the physical are of different kinds", then of course I do not find it remotely bizarre or anti-intuitive. But nor is this dualism at all incompatible with even fairly extreme reductive materialism.

You should be aware that there is another meaning of "dualism" which holds that mind *cannot be reduced* to matter, which is a very different proposition indeed. This is the meaning that I assumed you meant, and it obviously this dualism does make more "plausible the idea of immortality". As for this this stronger dualism, to my mind, commonsense has no bearing on it one way or the other - any more than one could estimate the number of moons around mercury using commonsense - i.e only where "commonsense" is being used as a shorthand for lazy conclusion-jumping.

So again, apologies for the mistake: I took your comments to have possible relevance to the interesting "strong dualism" versus "reductive materialism" debate; if they really are firmly confined to the fatuous "weak dualism" versus "eliminative materialism" non-debate, then I'll leave you to it.

Deogolwulf said...

"I took your comments to have possible relevance to the interesting "strong dualism" versus "reductive materialism" debate; if they really are firmly confined to the fatuous "weak dualism" versus "eliminative materialism" non-debate, then I'll leave you to it."

This post has nothing to do with epistemic or explanatory claims in "the interesting 'strong dualism' versus 'reductive materialism' debate" or any other debate in the philosophy of mind. This post says nothing about the *explanatory* merits of any particular position, whether of dualism, panpsychism, eliminativism, or monkey-juice bobulism. This post is a side issue.

I don't see why my post has to tackle the mind-body debate (which is for more complicated than reductive materialism versus dualism). I might as well criticise one of your posts for not being about ant-colonies. If you want my tuppence worth, however, then I would say that reductive materialism, as it stands on present concepts of the physical, is not much cop at all. An account of how the experiential reduces to the non-experiential seems to be impossible in principle; for the experiential and the non-experiential *seem* to be of such different kinds that no one is able even to conceive of how we might be able to give a good account of how the one reduces to the other. Now, whether that is because of our cognitive/linguistic limits or because of an actual ontological gap is the interesting question. You may have some excellent and interesting things to say on the subject. But easy, it isn't. As it happens, the so-called hard problem of consciousness is something about which I spend much time reading, thinking, and writing. Why? Because it is a fascinating problem, and, as a brain-exercise, it certainly beats sudoku. But having a fair idea of the paltry level of my intellect, I don't expect to be able to solve it. But then again, I have no great expectation that anyone will solve it. How the ontological and epistemological subjectivity of consciousness can arise from the ontological and epistemological objectivity of matter is truly the greatest mystery. Postitions such as eliminativism, dualism, panpsychism manage to avoid the problem of reduction, but encounter problems of their own. But I agree with you: a materialism that must eliminate consciousness from its picture of the universe is possibly the most insane development in the history of thought.