Archive for February, 2007

The Mental, the Epistemic, and the Normative

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Red Detector

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

It’s not unheard of to encounter claims to the effect that there’s something irreducibly normative about things epistimic and/or mental, that failure of derivability of “ought”’s from “is”’s somehow is significant for philosophy of mind.

I’ve always found this to be a bit of a head-scratcher, though, and have had recent occasion to contemplate it again in commenting on Ignacio Prado’s Transcendental Argument Against Physicalism. The following is adapted from my comment on that post:

There are two main problems that arise for the claim that “statements about what we have reason to believe have the logical form of ought-statements, and ought-statements cannot be derived from is-statements”:

1. That you can’t derive “ought”’s from “is”’s isn’t exactly clear or noncontroversial. 2. That evidence for belief is relevantly normative isn’t exactly clear or noncontroversial.

Re 1. It’s not just any statement with an ‘ought’ in it that resists derivation from a statement without an ‘ought’. Consider,for example, hypothetical imperatives like “If you want to catch a fish, you ought to put a worm on your hook.” That may very well just be expressing a counterfactual conditional. For the allegedly nonreducibly normative, you need (a) genuinely categorical imperatives that (b) are truth evaluable. “You ought to put a fish on your hook” is a categorical imperative only on the face of it, for in certain contexts it will be clear that it is really just expressing the aforementioned hypothetical imperative. “You ought to pay your debt to me” might arguably be a genuine categorical imperative, but it remains open to be argued that it is not truth evaluable. It may instead simply function as a command (”pay me your debt”) or a long-winded hooray (”yay for those who pay their debts to me”).

Re: 2. So, what are the genuine truth evaluable categorical epistemic imperatives? Is an example “You ought to believe what the evidence supports”? If so, what makes you so sure it satisfies the criteria set forth in the remarks above?

Machismo, Telekinesis, and Chainsaws

Monday, February 26th, 2007

This is pure genius: David Barnett’s “Kit Fine: Doin’ it Well.”

Contentful and Inefficacious

Friday, February 23rd, 2007


Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

The quick and the dirty:

Representational contents are causally efficacious only if representational contents are properties. But not all representational contents are properties. So not all representational contents are causally efficacious.

The slow and the clean:

The bearers of causal efficacy are properties. Something causes something else in virtue of some of its properties and not others. The color of an object, say the redness of a Frisbee, may be inefficacious with respect to the bump on my head. But this does not mean it is inefficacious tout court, since the redness may have the power to make a bull charge.

We may not have to dig very deeply into the notion of content to find some serious challenges to claims of its efficacy. This suggestion is fleshed out further as follows.

The bearers of efficacy are properties. But not all contents are properties.

The key language of the discussion of efficacy involves phrases such as “causal relevance” and “in virtue of” all of which implicate properties as the bearers of causal efficacy. Consider a red Frisbee. It is in virtue of its mass and velocity that it may cause a bump on my head, and in virtue of its redness that it may cause a bull to charge. If mental events are causes, and causes in virtue of their contents, then contents will need to be properties.

However, more will need to be said about contents to justify assimilating them to property-talk. Consider the content of my belief that not all beer is carbonated. What is the content of this attitude? Plausibly, the proposition that not all beer is carbonated. But it is not clear that this is a property. The content of attitudes is supposed to reduce to the meanings of component representations, ala The Language of Thought Hypothesis. Plausibly, the components here would include a predicational representation x is carbonated, the meaning of which is, I suppose the property of being carbonated. So, in at least one instance, we’ve found a property among the contents, and further it is an efficacious property, but it is not clear that we will be able to do this in every case. Some representations will not have properties as their meanings, as in the cases of the mental analogues of quantifiers and singular terms. And some representations will have inefficacious properties as their meanings, as in the cases of the of the predicate x is outside of my light cone or, better yet, x is an inefficacious property.

Does the inefficacy of content violate Folk Psychology?

Let us grant that Folk Psychology acknowledges things with content and that these things figure into the causes of behavior and or bodily motions. But it is not entirely clear that this alone commits Folk Psychology to the efficacy of content. Consider the following attitudes: I believe that there will be a bake sale tomorrow and that I desire to go to tomorrow’s bake sale. The content of both of these attitudes is that there will be a bake sale tomorrow. For reasons given above, it is unclear that this content has effects on me. Additionally, we may wonder how anything happening tomorrow can affect something happening today. Further, note that there is a lot more to the Folk Psych story than the contents, the other half of the story contains the attitudes themselves. The bake sale may be tomorrow, but I have the desire today, and it is the desire itself that drives my behavior and whatnot. So, it is not clear that the sorts of considerations from Folk Psych, like, “Mandik opened the fridge ‘cuz he thought beer was near” are evidence that Folk Psych contains an intuition that contents are efficacious. It seems merely to indicate that attitudes are causes.

The Economy Problem

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

The Perfect Cow

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

While there are many theories of what representational content is and how representations come to have it, it is not entirely clear that these theories are compatible with basic assumptions about the diverse roles that representations play in the internal causal economies of organisms. Let us call the problem of showing the compatibility of a theory of content and these pre- theoretic assumptions about the roles of representations within a causal economy “the economy problem.�

The economy problem is due in large part to the emphasis that perception has received in theories of content. Consider the kind of stock example typical of this literature. Smith has a mental representation heretofore referred to as “/cow/.� As the story goes, /cow/ means cow, that is, Smith has /cow/ in his head and /cow/ represents a cow, or cow-ness, or cows in general. On the standard story, Smith will come to have a tokenning of the representation type /cow/ when Smith is in perceptual causal contact with a cow and comes to believe that there is a cow, presumably by having, in his head /there/ + /is/ + /a/ + /cow/ or some other concatenation of /cow/ with various other mental representations. The main question addressed in this literature is how /cow/, a physical sort of thing in Smith’s head, comes to represent a cow, a physical sort of thing outside of the Smith’s head.

This focus on the perceptual case has made causal informational proposals seem rather attractive to quite a few people, so let us focus on the following sort of suggestion, namely, that /cow/ represents cow because in typical scenarios, or ideal scenarios, or in the relevant evolutionary scenarios, /cow/s are caused by cows, that is, /cow/s carry information about cows. Thus, tokenings of /cow/s in the heads of Smith and his relatives are part of the operation of a cow-detector. A widespread presumption of this kind of view, and a not necessarily bad one, is that the /cow/s you find in the perceptual case are the same things that will be deployed in the memory, planning, and counterfactual reasoning cases too. The presumption, inherited from a long empiricist tradition, is that what ever happens in perception to wed representations to their contents, can simply be passed along and retained for use in non-perceptual mental tasks. In its most literal form, this is the view that whatever happens to items in the perception “box� is sufficient to mark those items (picture them as punch cards, if you like) as bearing representational contents. Those items can thus be passed to other boxes in the cognitive economy, and retain their marks of representational content even after they may go on to play quite different causal roles.

This is an interesting suggestion, but certainly open for questioning. That is, what might seem like a good idea about the nature of representations in connection with perception may not generalize to all the other sorts of things mental representations are supposed to do. Presumably, /cow/s, that is, mental representations of cows, have a lot more work to do than take part in perceptions. Consider that /cow/s are used to remember cows, to make plans concerning future encounters with cows, and to reason about counterfactual conditions concerning cows (e.g., what if a cow burst into this room right now?). Perhaps, then, the sorts of conditions that bestow representational contents onto perceptual states are very different than the conditions on representation in memory, which are yet different from the conditions for representation in planning, counterfactual reasoning, and so on.

A second concern, not unrelated to the first, is how you tell what and where the /cows/ are in the first place. Focusing on the case of perceptual belief brings with it certain natural suggestions: point Smith at some cows and look for the brain bits that seem to “light up� the most. Much talk of representation in neuroscience is accompanied by precisely this sort of methodology. But are the bits that light up during the retrieval of memories of cows or counterfactual reasoning about cows the same bits that light up in perceptions of cows? And more to the point, how will various theories of representational content cope with the different possible answers to this question?

The economy problem might best be seen as decomposing into a pair of problems, the first concerning a question of representational content and the second concerning a question of representational vehicles. The economy problem for content is the question of whether the conditions that establish representational content for perceptual representations are the (qualitatively or numerically) same conditions that establish the representational contents of memories and intentions or whether distinct conditions are necessary. The economy problem for vehicles is the question of whether the vehicles of perceptual representations will be the (qualitatively or numerically) same vehicles as in memories and intentions or whether distinct vehicles are necessary.

(excerpt from
Mandik, P. 2003. Varieties of Representation in Evolved and Embodied Neural Networks. Biology and Philosophy. 18 (1): 95-130. )

PMS WIPS - Uriah Kriegel - A Cross-Order Integration Hypothesis for the Neural Correlate of Consciousness

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

“A Cross-Order Integration Hypothesis for the Neural Correlate of Consciousness ” by Uriah Kriegel, University of Arizona and University of Sydney.

Abstract. One major problem many hypotheses regarding the neural correlate of consciousness (NCC) face is what we might call “the why question”: why would this particular neural feature, rather than another, correlate with consciousness? The purpose of the present paper is to develop a NCC hypothesis that answers this question. The proposed hypothesis is inspired by the Cross-Order Integration (COI) theory of consciousness, according to which consciousness arises from the functional integration of a first-order representation of an external stimulus and a second-order representation of that first-order representation. The proposal comes in two steps. The first step concerns the “general shape” of the NCC and can be directly derived from COI theory. The second step is a concrete hypothesis that can be arrived at by combining the general shape with empirical considerations.

[Link to full text of article]

[Link to further info on  PMS WIPS]

Unconditional Love

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Horned Heart
Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

For Valentine’s Day, Barbara Andrew and I were going to hold a debate at William Paterson University on the existence of unconditional love. I was going to argue against its existence, but weather forced a campus closure.

So here is my argument. If you have plans for Valentine’s Day, you better read my argument before you execute them.

My argument will be scientific. I will not consider so-called divine love. Nor will I make the claim that it is logically impossible for there to be unconditional love. I will argue that on a straightforward analysis of love and and a scientific understanding of conditions, human beings are incapable of it.

What is love? We need to make remarks general enough to cover romantic love, familial love, etc.

In the most general sense of love as it applies to contexts in which x loves y, where x and y are both persons, x loves y insofar as x desires benefits for y and does not desire harms for y. For simplicity I will define benefits to include harm-avoidance.

What does it mean for love to be conditional?

X loves y unconditionally iff x desires benefits for y regardless of x perceiving any benefits for x.

x loves y conditionally iff x’s desire of benefits for y depends on x perceiving benefits for x.

An example of conditional love would be if Sally let Jim live in her home, but kicked him out when she discovered that Jim had been stealing from her. An example of unconditional love would be if Sally let Jim live with her even after Jim was caught stealing from her, was later discovered to have killed Sally’s puppy, and even later was discovered to have raped and tortured Sally’s mother.

Now that the crucial terms have been clarified, here is the crux of my argument:

There is no human being that desires benefits for another human regardless of benefits to themselves. Keep in mind that the avoidance of harm is a benefit. For each person who loves another person, there is a finite threshold of harm beyond which they cannot tolerate to continue their love. The threshold may be higher for some than for others. For some it may be cheating while for others it will be torture. But being finite creatures, humans have only a finite capacity to put up with crap.

In summary: Send flowers.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gibbons’ “Qualia: They’re Not What They Seem”

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Light Leaks

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

Reading Notes on John Gibbons’ “Qualia: They’re Not What They Seem” Philosophical Studies 126:33, 397-428, Kluwer, 2005.

Ways things seem are not invertable. Intuitively, they would have been. Qualia are not the ways things seem and we should not trust our intuitions about them. There are unlikely to be good arguments for the existence of qualia. Certainly, we can’t trust claims that qualia are obvious.

§2. A Surprising Impossibility
Ways things seem cannot be inverted between Laverne and Shirley. Laverene and Shirley learned the same language in the same environments. They both call red things “red” and they both believe what they say. When they say “x seems red” it is true.

§3. A Surprisingly Unstable Situation
If transported to Inverted Earth and fitted with reversing lenses, you will call green things “red” and mean red. You will have systematically false beliefs. But over time the meanings of your terms will change: when you say “red” it will refer to green. Not only will the meanings of your words change, so do the contents of your beliefs. The ways things seem to you have changed without your noticing. But this has been accompanied by a change in the meanings of your words and thought contents.

§4. Should we believe in qualia at all?
Red qualia are the redness in the mind. Three main but not good reasons for believing in the redness in the mind are introspection, intrasubjective spectrum inversion, and the argument from illusion.

Bad reason 1: Introspection
Introspection does not tell us that there is redness in the mind. When we go looking for redness we find it in the objects in the world.

Bad reason 2: Intrasubjective spectrum inversions
Qualia are hypothesized to explain a certain case. This is not a great reason for believing in qualia if there are other ways to explain the case

The case and the qualia explanation
You put on inverting lenses and eventually get used to them. Before putting them on, grass looks green. Right after putting them on, grass looks red. What we need an explanation for is what to say about after you get used to them. One thing you might say is that the grass seems green in one sense and in another sense seems red. This is the qualia strategy. It postulates that there are two kinds of “seeming”, “looking”, etc.. There are two senses for every appearance concept: an epistemic sense that has to do with the representational content of judgments and a phenomenal sense that has to do with qualia.

The Non-qualia explanation of the case
Where the qualia explanation postulates an ambiguity in the meaning of “seems”, the non-qualia strategy postulates an ambivalence people have about whether one’s representational contents can change without one noticing. So, prior to the lenses, one represents grass as green. Right after, one represents grass as red. After one has gotten used to the glasses, one is ambivalent about whether one’s experiences still represent the grass as red or now represent it as green. The non-qualia explanation is also able to explain what it is like to undergo experiences similar to intrasubjective spectrum inversion like getting used to sunglasses. Here, the difference of what it is like is doe to differences in the operation of thought. It is not weird to think that thought influences what it is like. Consider what it is like to taste wine before and after gaining wine-tasting expertise.

Bad reason 3: The argument from illusion
The argument goes something like this. Things can look red even though they are not red. But in order for things to look red, something or other has to be red. So, when you undergo the illusion that something external to you is red, what is really happening is that you are experiencing the redness in your mind. Such an argument about rock illusions wouldn’t suffice to show that you had rocks in your head. Just rock beliefs, that is, beliefs about rocks. If the argument from illusion doesn’t suffice to show that you have rocks in your head, why think it suffices to show that you have redness in the mind? Is there some special distinction between properties like redness for which the argument works and properties like rock-ness for which it does not?
Failed attempts at such a distinction:
-Secondary vs. primary qualities
-Just seen vs inferred properties
Secondary vs. primary won’t work because things that are red must be shaped. This puts shapes in the head too and they are no better than rocks in the head.
Just seen vs inferred properties won’t work because something can seem like a rock even though you believe I isn’t. If you don’t believe it you don’t infer it.

Philosophy Porn and Other Things that Do Not Exist

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Before we get to the philosophy porn, here are a few brief considerations in favor of the view (”VIEW”) that we represent things that do not exist.

Suppose that, contrary to VIEW, we do not mentally represent things that do not exist. A natural formulation of the negation of VIEW would be the following:

(~VIEW): There exists no mental representation such that it is a mental representation of something that doesn’t exist.

I assume that ~VIEW can be grasped in thought and this involves having a mental representation the content of which is the same as the content of ~VIEW. A natural question to raise about this suggestion is the following: what is such a mental representation a representation of?

A natural answer is that it is a mental representation of a certain kind of representation. Further, it represents instances of a certain kind of representation as not existing. So, the mental analog of ~VIEW is itself the sort of mental representation that it denies the existence of: a mental representation of things that do not exist. If true, (the mental version of) ~VIEW is self-defeating insofar as it turns out to be a representation of nothing at all, which, in turn, I take it, renders it, ~VIEW, meaningless.

However, I think it pretty clear that neither ~VIEW nor VIEW is meaningless. Therefore, ~VIEW is not true and VIEW is.

One kind of response one might attempt against VIEW is something that I’ll call the “combination response”. According to the combination response, the representation of inexistents like unicorns involves either a combination of representations of existing things or a representation of a combination of existing things. Either way of construing what it is that is combined, it involves at some level the representation of things that do exist. So, in the case of unicorns, the actually existing things referred to in the combination response will be horses and horns.

Whatever the merits of this combination view of the mental representation of inexistents, what I don’t see is how it suffices to defeat VIEW. Suppose we formulate the combination response as the view that one can think of some thing U say a unicorn only if one bears some relation E to some (existing) set S of (existing) properties P1 to Pn such that if P1 to Pn were coinstantiated, then U would exist. (This might be a kind of empiricism.) But it would entail neither that E is the representing relation nor that U is identical to S. Thus, I don’t see how it would entail that one can think about U only if U exists. In brief, the combination response says that having a thought entails the existence of something, however, it remains to be shown that when I have a so-called thought about something that doesn’t exist, what I’m really doing is having a thought about something that does exist.

And now, some philosophy porn:

Hyperbolic Colors

From left to right: color plate for generating hyperbolically colored after-images from Churchland’s “Chimerical Colors” in Cognitition and the Brain; 80gig video ipod; the best pen in the world; the latest draft of “Beware of the Unicorn: Consciousness as Being Represented and Other Things that Do Not Exist”.

…and what is it that you do do?

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

A metaphilosophy and methodology round-up in four parts:

1. Jonathan Ichikawa, guest-blogging at Schwitzgebel’s The Splintered Mind, asks “What do analytic philosophers analyze?

2. Regular Splintered readers know that Schwitzgebel posts a lot (and well!) on questions like “Do ethicists behave better than the rest of us?” I wonder how best to phrase analogous questions about epistemologists and metaphysicians. How about “Do epistemologists believe better?”? And “Do metaphysicisns have a better grip on reality?”?
3. I love this remark by Denis Des Chenes from a while ago at Leiter Reports:

I must admit that when I read some analytic philosophy (and some history of philosophy too) I ask myself what anyone who wasn’t wholly immersed in the debate would find in it. The standard defense against that sort of jibe … is to say that epistemology or whatever is a specialized discipline that, like physics or mathematics, has good reason to employ its own jargon and that has, as a pursuit, value in its own right; it need not justify its existence to outsiders.

That’s all well and good. But physics and mathematics have striking, stable results and notable applications to back up their claims of value. What does metaphysics have to offer? Physicists, moreover, have done a very good job of popularizing even the more esoteric reaches of their science—think of Stephen Weinberg’s or Brian Greene’s books. Is there any popularization of metaphysics as it is done now, or of epistemology, that compares to them? Would we value such a work if someone troubled to write it?

4. Perhaps not the popularization that Des Chenes asks for, but relevant nonetheless, is Timothy Williamson’s manuscript on philosophical methodology available here: [Link to ms]. Spoiler alert! The following is from the penultimate paragraph:

Philosophy has never been done for an extended period according to standards as high as those that are now already available, if only the profession will take them seriously to heart. None of us knows how far we can get by applying them systematically enough for long enough. We can find out only by trying.

Abstraction in Leather and Wood

Abstraction in Leather and Wood. 2007. Pete Mandik.

Are there any non-question-begging arguments for externalism?

Monday, February 5th, 2007


Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

The point of this post is not so much to answer the titular question (though hopefully commentators take a stab at it) as to sketch some remarks about how to avoid giving question-begging arguments for externalism.

Before diving into the remarks, first some term-defining preliminaries.

Let internalism be the view that whatever makes a person’s mental state the type of mental state that it is, it involves no relations other than relations to other mental states of that person. Let externalism be the view that whatever makes a person’s mental state the type of mental state that it is, it involves at least one relation to things other than mental states of that person. Various externalisms, then, include social externalisms (via essential relations to states of other persons), evolutionary externalisms (via essential relations to states of evolutionary ancestors), embodied cognition views (via essential relations to extra-mental bodily states), and what I shall call referential externalisms (via essential relations to extra-mental entities that constitute the referents of mental states). I’m particularly interested in referential externalism here, so let me say a bit more about it.

Referential externalism is primarily a theory of mental states that have content and explicates content in terms of a semantic relation—the reference relation—between a mental state and a (typically) extra-mental entity that the mental state designates. On such a view, for example, my belief that Socrates philosophized is the type of mental state that it is in virtue of there being, among other things, a semantic relation between my mental state and Socrates. For examples of referential externalists I offer philosophers that hold the wide-spread view that Twin-Earthlings have different beliefs from Earthlings in virtue of environmental chemical differences between XYZ and H2O.

For the rest of this post I shall refer exclusively to referential externalism by my use of “externalism”.

How to avoid giving a question-begging argument for externalism

One good thing to avoid if you want to avoid being a question-begging externalist is characterizing the explanandum—content—in terms of a reference relation. So, for example, if you characterize what needs to be explained as how your beliefs about Socrates are able to bear the reference relation to Socrates, then your very characterization of the explanandum is going to make everything but externalistic explanations seem totally hopeless. In short, you would be begging the question against the internalist from the outset. Similarly, if your characterization of the explanandum is done in terms of representation instead of reference, you may still be in danger of question-begging if your model of representation is a relation between representer and represented.

Consider that the internalist is very likely going to advocate a conceptual role semantics for mental content. On such a view, what makes beliefs about Socrates the beliefs that they are are relations only to other beliefs (beliefs about Athens, beliefs about Platonic dialogues, etc.). Characterizing the explanandum in terms of a reference relation to extra-mental entities begs the question against this kind of internalist.

What needs to be done, then, is to characterize content in a way that is neutral between internalism and externalism. For propositional attitudes, at least, the topic of content can be introduced as (1) that toward which attitudes are taken and (2) in virtue of which distinct attitudes (e.g. the belief that grass is green, the fear that grass is green) may nonetheless psychologically resemble each other. This characterization leaves it open for externalists to argue that the belief that grass is green involves relations between beliefs and grass and it leaves it open for internalists to argue that the belief that grass is green involves only relations to other beliefs. What this characterization does not do is make essential reference to extra-mental entities (e.g. grass). The use of “grass” in characterizing the belief as a belief about grass does not necessarily involve bearing a reference relation to grass, or so it is open for the internalist to deny.