Tuesday, January 31, 2012

3 Step Argument Against Materialism of the Mind

I. Three Kinds of Materialism

Materialism of the mind can be roughly divided into three groups:
  1. Non-reductive: There is a mind that arises from matter, but it is not explainable in physical terms.
  2. Reductive: There is a mind, but what it really is is a physical brain.
  3. Eliminative: There is no mind. There is only the physical brain.
II. Problems with Non-Reductive Materialism

The physical state of the brain before you pick up a beer is entirely sufficient to explain the physical action of you picking up the beer. The mental event ("I desire a beer") is left out of this picture, and seems to be an unnecessary dangler. As Huxley put it, it is like the smoke from a train; it plays no causal role in the forward motion of the train. This is undesirable at best. If you think about something, like this very article, and then cause your fingers to type a response to it, your mental grasp of the argument clearly caused your fingers to do the typing. Thus, reductive materialism might be a better route and might save mental causation, by making the mental purely physical. But there are problems there, as well.

III. Problems with Reductive Materialism

Reduction says: "There is a P, but what it really is is just a Q." If there is a P, but what it really is is just a Q, then you are in effect saying that there is no P.  If you say, "There is a God, but what God really is is just the collective hopes and fears of the human race", then what you are really saying is that there is no God; there is just the collective hopes and fears of the human race. Thus, reductive materialism collapses into eliminative materialism.

IV. Problems with Eliminative Materialism

Eliminative materialism solves the problem of accounting for the mental by getting rid of it, either some or all. One popular version denies that beliefs, desires, thoughts, doubts, and so on exist at all in any form, and another denies that there is any subjective experience. This can be shown to be absurd by putting it into an argument:
  1. If eliminative materialism is true, then we do not have beliefs, doubts, desires, etc
  2. Eliminative materialism is true
  3. Therefore, we do not have beliefs, doubts, desires, etc
The conclusion follows logically. However, every modus ponens can be made into a modus tollens:
  1. If eliminative materialism is true, then we do not have beliefs, doubts, desires, etc
  2. We have beliefs, doubts, desires, etc.
  3. Therefore, eliminative materialism is false
Premise 1 in both arguments is just a statement of what eliminative materialism is. Premise 3 in both arguments is the conclusion that follows logically. So it comes down to a plausibility comparison between premise 2 in both versions:
  • Eliminative materialism is true
  • We have beliefs, doubts, desires, etc.
What is our knowledge that eliminativism is true? It is supported by philosophical arguments, all of which are contestable. What is our knowledge that we have beliefs, desires, doubts and so forth? We have them constantly, and you are probably doubting this right now. We have immediate and incorrigible access to the presence of beliefs, doubts, and desires. So the second version of the argument works, and eliminative materialism is shown to be false. Not to mention, science and reason themselves depend on beliefs, doubts, thoughts and so forth, and thus would be impossible if eliminative materialism were true.

V. Is Materialism False?

If the above shows that materialism is false, then what is left? Dualism is not proven to be true just because materialism is false. But this narrows the options a bit:
  • Substance Dualism: mind is a separate fundamental substance from matter
  • Property Dualism: mind arises from matter, but has non-physical properties
  • Idealism: there is only one substance: mind. matter arises from mind.
  • Neutral Monism: there is only one substance, but it is neither mind nor matter
  • Aristotelianism: humans consist of matter + form, and final causality explains the mind

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