Archive for the ‘Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind’ Category

The Varieties of Externalism

Friday, April 24th, 2009

externalism, the view of the mental states of an individual that they (the mental states) may have, as their physical SUPERVENIENCE bases, something of greater spatiotemporal extent than the individual himself or herself. Alternately, any view that holds that either mental states themselves or the factors determinative of a state’s CONTENT, extend beyond the physical boundaries (skull and skin) of the individual who possesses the mental states. This latter construal of externalism allows us to sort externalistic theories into two sorts: VEHICLE externalism and content externalism (see CONTENT/VEHICLE DISTINCTION). Another way of sorting externalistic theories, a way that cuts across the content-externalism vs. vehicle-externalism division, sorts externalistic theories in terms of whether they apply to QUALIA (see CONSCIOUSNESS, PHENOMENAL) or instead to only non-phenomenal aspects of the mind, e.g., allegedly non-phenomenal intentional states such as beliefs (see BELIEF). The four kinds of externalism generated by these two cross-classifying distinctions (content-vehicle, intentional-phenomenal) may be usefully labeled as follows: (1) intentional content externalism, (2) intentional vehicle externalism, (3) phenomenal content externalism, and (4) phenomenal vehicle externalism.

Intentional content externalism is probably the most discussed in the literature. One version of it may be described as follows. Individuals that have the same intrinsic physical properties may nonetheless diverge in the content of the thoughts they express when they say ‘this is water’ if the substance called ‘water’ in their respective environments is chemically distinct (H2O in the one and XYZ in the other). Content viewed as the intentional content externalist views it is oft described as “WIDE CONTENT”. (See SWAMPMAN; TWINEARTH; XYZ.)

One version of intentional vehicle externalism has been defended by Andy Clark and David CHALMERS under the heading of the “extended mind hypothesis” (see EXTENDED MIND).

Contemporary defenders of phenomenal content externalism, such as Michael Tye and Fred DRETSKE, identify qualia with the contents of certain kinds of MENTAL REPRESENTATION and then are led to externalistic conclusions via an embrace of an externalistic theory of content such as a version of the CAUSAL THEORY OF CONTENT or TELEOSEMANTICS. Such phenomenal content externalists also embrace FIRST-ORDER REPRESENTATIONALISM about CONSCIOUSNESS as well as the thesis of that experience is transparent (see TRANSPARENCY (OF EXPERIENCE)).

Phenomenal vehicle externalism is perhaps the least popular of the four kinds of externalism so far. But it does have advocates, notably Alva Noë and Susan Hurley. Advocates of this approach frequently emphasize the role of EMBODIMENT in structuring our PHENOMENOLOGY.

What is a Transcendental Argument?

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

transcendental argument, a kind of argument, most closely associated with Immanuel KANT (though, arguably, there are examples that pre-date Kant’s) that has (1) as one of its premises an allegedly obvious claim about EXPERIENCE, KNOWLEDGE, or some other feature of one’s own mind (for example, the grasp of certain CONCEPTS or the capacity to entertain some kind of THOUGHT), (2) as another premise a claim about a necessary condition on the truth of the allegedly obvious claim in (1), and (3) a conclusion that the necessary condition in (2) is satisfied. Transcendental arguments often have anti-skeptical conclusions (see SKEPTICISM). For example, a transcendental anti-skeptical argument famously associated with Kant may be paraphrased as having premises (1) I am aware of my mental states as having an order in time and (2) it is a necessary condition on my awareness of anything being ordered in time that there be objectively existing entities undergoing alteration. A contemporary anti-skeptical argument is due to Hilary PUTNAM and utilizes a version of EXTERNALISM to establish knowledge that he is not a BRAIN IN A VAT. A crucial premise of Putnam’s argument is that he could only coherently conceive of the possibility of being a brain in a vat if there really was an external world containing brains and vats (see also CAUSAL THEORY OF CONTENT). P.F. Strawson developed a transcendental argument against skepticism about other minds (see OTHER MINDS, PROBLEM OF). Employing an early version of the GENERALITY CONSTRAINT, Strawson argued that I can only coherently conceive of myself as being in PAIN if I could likewise conceive of beings other than me being in pain. Not all transcendental arguments target skepticism. For example, Martin Davies has developed a transcendental argument for the existence of a LANGUAGE OF THOUGHT. Not all transcendental arguments postdate Kant. Arguably, the cogito of Descartes can be regarded as a transcendental argument with its premises as follows: (1) I think, and (2) it is a necessary condition on my thinking that I exist.

Defining “Intentionality”

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I’m working on my second draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. (See also my Philosophy of Mind MetaResource.) Here’s “intentionality”:

intentionality, the directedness of the mind upon its objects; the aboutness of mental states that are about something; the possession, by mental states, of CONTENT; the relating or quasi-relating, of a mental state such as a BELIEF or a DESIRE toward its INTENTIONAL OBJECT. Some controversy surrounds the question of whether non-mental entities such as words and pictures may have intentionality and, if so, whether non-mental instances of intentionality are derivative phenomena, with the only instances of non-derivative, original intentionality being mental instances. The remainder of this entry will focus on the intentionality of mental states.
The philosophical notion of intentionality originates primarily from the medieval era and was introduced into contemporary philosophical discussions via the work of FRANZ BRENTANO. Brentano held intentionality to be the mark of the mental and to pose a permanent obstacle to PHYSICALISM or MATERIALISM. One especially problematic feature of intentionality, the feature that makes it especially difficult to regard it as a physical phenomenon, is the INEXISTENCE of intentional objects. One way of highlighting the problem of intentional inexistence is via the contemplation of the following inconsistent triad concerning an intentional state such as a THOUGHT.
(1) To have a thought about something is to bear a relation to a thing that is thereby thought about.
(2) One can bear relations only to things that exist.
(3) One can have thoughts about things that do not exist.
Each of the three items in this triad is independently plausible, but taken together it is clear that they cannot all be true. Different philosophers have held varying positions about intentionality that involve rejecting one or more of the items in the inconsistent triad.
One key feature of intentionality (with a ‘t’) is its relation to intensionality (with an ‘s’). This may be brought out with respect to item (3) in the inconsistent triad: Another way of highlighting the intensionality of intentional states is in terms of DE DICTO belief: John may believe that Mark Twain had a mustache and believe that Samuel Clemmons did not have a mustache even though “Mark Twain” and “Samuel Clemmons” are names for one and the same person.
Another key feature of intentionality is that intentional mental states may be characterized in terms of their DIRECTION OF FIT. For example, a belief is supposed to be true of aspects of the world, but a desire is not supposed to conform to the way the world is. Instead, the world has to be a certain way in order for the desire to be satisfied.
One sort of question that arises is whether all mental states have intentionality. Another sort of sort of question that arises is whether the mental properties of states include only their intentionality. Call these the “all” and “only” questions, respectively. Regarding the “all” question, philosophers have wondered whether intentionality is a property of mental states other than the paradigmatically intentional examples of belief, desire, PERCEPTION, and INTENTION. To what degree, if at all, does intentionality attach, for instance, to states of EMOTION or SENSATION? Regarding the “only” question, philosophers have wondered whether phenomenal characteristics or QUALIA should be regarded as mental properties that are distinct from intentionality. One sort of position to hold with respect to both the “all” and the “only” question, is to hold that, for instance, a sensation of PAIN has no intentionality, it doesn’t, for example, represent any part of the world as being any particular way and that the mental properties of this state are exhausted by qualia such as phenomenal intensity and negative valence. An opposing position, such as that held by some adherents of FIRST-ORDER REPRESENTATIONALISM, is that a sensation of pain does have intentionality, that the intentional object of a sensation of pain is some part of the body, and that the sensation represents the tissue in that body part as being disturbed or damaged. Thus, on such a view, a sensation of pain has a direction of fit similar to a belief or a state of perception. See also CONTENT, THEORIES OF.

Defining “Introspection”

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

I’m working on my second draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. (See also my Philosophy of Mind MetaResource.) Here’s “introspection”:

introspection, the faculty by which the mind is known to itself without the KNOWLEDGE in question being the consequence of an INFERENCE. Introspection shares with PERCEPTION the feature of being a means to non-inferential knowledge, but differs from perception in providing non-inferential knowledge about the mind. Despite this key difference between introspection and perception, some philosophers hold that introspection is sufficiently similar to perception to be regarded as a faculty of inner-sense. Against the view that introspection is a kind of perceptual faculty is the following consideration. In the sensory perception of, for instance, a red square, there arises a sensory intermediary between my AWARENESS of the square as red and the red square itself: this intermediary is a SENSATION, in this case a sensation of redness (and perhaps also a sensation of square-ness). The presence of a sensation is what makes this awareness a sensory perception as opposed to a mere THOUGHT or BELIEF that a red square is present. By analogy, if introspection is sensory as opposed to merely a kind of thought or belief, then it would be natural to supposed that when introspecting a sensation itself, there should be an additional intermediary, this time a sensation of the sensation. However, many philosophers find implausible the suggestion that there are such higher-order sensations, that is, sensations of sensations. A different kind of position to hold about the introspection of perceptual states is that not only does introspection fail to reveal any sensations of sensations (higher-order sensations), we are incapable being introspectively aware of even first-order sensations. For more on this view, see TRANSPARENCY (OF EXPERIENCE).
Another set of controversies surrounding introspection involve those outlined in the entry on FIRST-PERSON AUTHORITY concerning whether introspective beliefs have an epistemological (see EPISTEMOLOGY) status or level of justification superior to non-introspective beliefs.

Defining “Information”

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

I’m working on my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “information”:

information, a property of a state or event, X, (a signal) enabling one to infer truths about some state or event Y (where X and Y are usually distinct). Alternately, “information” may be used to refer to the truths about Y that X enables inferences of. The mathematical theory of information (Shannon and Weaver’s “Mathematical Theory of Communication”) provides means for defining amounts of information (such as “bits”) in terms of the number and probability of possible events. Philosophical theories of information strive to define the semantic CONTENT of information, that is, they strive to define not how much information a signal carries but instead what information a signal carries. Various philosophical conceptions of information define signal content in terms of what events are either causally, nomologically, or probabilistically correlated with the occurrence of a signal. The notion of information may be utilized to characterize various mental states such as states of PERCEPTION and MEMORY as information-bearing states: states by which a creature respectively acquires and retains information about its environment. The notion of information has also been used by some philosophers as a basis for understanding INTENTIONALITY and CONTENT (see INFORMATIONAL THEORY OF CONTENT). A further use of information of significance for the philosophy of mind is in characterizations of COMPUTATION as “information processing”.

Defining “Modal Argument”

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I’m working on my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “modal argument”:

modal argument, an argument for property dualism (see DUALISM, PROPERTY) in which key roles are played by the modal concepts of necessity and possibility or contingency. The basic gist of the argument involves arguing from premises concerning the necessity of identities (if x=y then necessarily x=y) and the contingency of any relation between mental and physical properties. Since, allegedly, for any physical property, it is possible for it to be instantiated without any mental property to thereby be instantiated, no physical property is identical to any physical property. According to a version of the modal argument formulated by Saul Kripke, although all identities, if true, are necessarily true, some identities, such as the identities found in natural science (like “water is identical to H2O”) seem contingent. According to Kripke, the appearance of contingency for such identities can be explained away in the following manner: what is contingently related to H2O is the watery appearance to us of H2O. While H2O is necessarily water, H2O is not necessarily water-appearing to us. So, any apparently contingent identity, that is, any apparently possible non-identity, is not really a non-identity if the appearance of contingency can be explained away in terms of a contingent relation between the appearance and the reality of a phenomenon. Contrapositively, if some apparent possible non-identity cannot be explained away in such a manner, then it is a real non-identity. Kripke offers that the apparent contingent relation between PAIN and neurophysiological events (“c-fibers firing”) does not admit of any such explaining away. Since, according to Kripke, anything that appears to the mind as a pain just is a pain: there is no distinction between the appearance of pain and the reality of pain. In versions of the modal argument due to David Chalmers, the contingency of mental-physical relations is supposed to follow from the conceivability of hypothetical scenarios such as the INVERTED SPECTRUM and the ZOMBIE.

Videos for Hammerheads

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

The following two videos are for those who have been enjoying the discussion threads on computation and emergence, respectively. Check out the discussion at Cognitive Daily re the emergence video.

Defining “Emergence”

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

I’m working on my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “emergence”:

emergence, the arising of a property in a relatively unpredictable way from the interaction of other properties. Alternately, the instantiation of a property by a whole that is due to “more than the sum of its parts”, or, less colloquially, due to properties of the parts in a way more complicated than mere summing. Part of what’s difficult in supplying a viable notion of emergence is the task of characterizing a relevant notion of unpredictability that isn’t due simply to the current ignorance of investigators. Early proponents of the existence of emergent properties claimed that certain chemical properties like the liquidity or solubility of certain chemical samples were emergent on the grounds that they could not be predicted by knowledge of the nature and interaction of their atomic constituents. However, as chemistry and physics progressed, such claims were discovered to be false. Another difficulty in supplying a viable notion of emergence is in giving a precise meaning to the imprecise phrase “more than the sum of its parts”. We can see that there are clear cases in which the property of a whole is more than a sum of properties of its parts but that the properties of the whole are unlikely to be regarded by anyone as having emerged from the properties of the parts. For example, the temperature of a gas is the average kinetic energy of its constituent molecules. As such, it is thus not simply the sum of the molecule’s kinetic energy. It is instead the sum of their kinetic energy divided by the number of molecules. There’s a sense in which being a divided sum of its parts is more than the sum of its parts: since it involves division, it involves a further arithmetical operation than mere summing. However, this seems not to get at the sort of thing that emergentists have had in mind, perhaps since the result of the operation is insufficiently surprising or unpredictable. Emergentism, the proposal that there exist emergent properties, is closely related to non-reductive physicalism (see PHYSICALISM, NON-REDUCTIVE).

Defining “Computation”

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

I’m about half-way through my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “computation”:

computation, the process of arriving at a (typically numerically or symbolically interpretable) state from an initial condition via the application of a set of rules; alternately, rule-governed symbol manipulation. The definition of computation is somewhat vexed, and its historical development has been influence by the not always congruent concerns of philosophers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. The most archaic uses of the term refer to calculation, typically of the sort done by humans solving problems involving numerically represented quantities. The notion of computation came to be associated with the notion of being effectively computable, which involves calculation via procedures that are “mechanical” in the sense of being able to be performed by the application of relatively simple procedures without the utilizations of much insight or ingenuity. This notion was later developed in such a way that made it clear how the procedures in question might be literally mechanical, that is, performed by machines. Such notions were made mathematically precise by Turing via the notion of what sorts of things can be done by Turing machines. Part of the history of these notions, and most significant for the philosophy of mind, is the hypothesis that human mental processes are themselves composed of the sorts of rule-governed and mechanistic processes distinctive of computing machines. According to some, the mind literally is a computer. See also ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE; FUNCTIONALISM; TURING MACHINE; TURING TEST; TURING, ALAN.

[Related Brain Hammer post: What’s so metaphorical about the computer metaphor?]