Out of Form, Out of Mind – Part II
Guest Blog by Kevin Vallier
Sorry I’ve been incommunicado for so long, particularly if you’ve been awaiting my reply. Rumors of my concession have been greatly exaggerated. Roderick and I have simply been rather busy. But, I have returned. In this post I’m going to do two things:
1) I’m going to respond to Roderick by addressing abbreviations of his relevant points which are fully elaborated in previous posts.I begin:
2) I’m going to intersperse my responses to him by weighting against my actual view, which is something like St. Thomas Aquinas’. I think my view comes out stronger in the end, because I don’t think Roderick adequately addressed my concerns. So, you’ll get to see why I asked this sort of question in the first place. I think Roderick’s conception of the soul is too metaphysically thin; you’ll see why I think this below.
3) I know this is three things, but I just wanted to point out that for those of you who don’t care or don’t have time to fiddle with the details, just read the summary I’ve given below.
“Here I dissent; Aristotelean forms are not mere shapes.”I’m aware of this. It just isn’t clear what sort of form of the body that the soul is supposed to be. Presumably, it should be the configuration of the brain (at a time or over time) that embodies its activity. I concede the general point, to whatever extent I denied it, that a dead brain and a living brain can have the same shape without having the same form (although, modern biology would tell us that they will actually have different shapes). Nonetheless, even if the form of the brain contains every aspect of its manner of organization, it isn’t clear what aspect of its organization entails mental activities, and it seems to me that this will be impossible to discover empirically for “problem of other minds” type reasons. This is a point I will make throughout my response: there’s an inevitable conceptual gap between mental and physical facts for which some account is going to have to be given.
“The soul consists in the body’s vital organisation, its functioning as a living and conscious being.”I’ve gathered from the response you’ve given that you want to say that the soul just is the brain’s conscious life and that the form just is this sort of thing. Is that a fair way of putting it?
”If this sounds like functionalism, the difference is that for functionalists the bodily functioning in which mental processes consist can be identified in non-mental terminology, whereas for Aristoteleans it can’t.”I’m not sure at all why this is. Imagine I have a recording device that can record all of the atomic facts about neurons, and lay out in a spatial grid all of their locations, and record their biochemical interactions over time. A computer records all of this data and I write a program to spit it out in propositional form. Now, it sure seems to me that I’ve just specified all the facts about my brain without making reference to mental processes.
“And the function of a brain is inter alia to enable mental processes.”I like that you’ve used “enable” here. I agree with you that the purpose of a brain is to enable mental processes. But that isn’t enough to necessitate them. This seems to beg the question of just what the brain’s final cause is. Perhaps it is as you say, and the purpose of the brain is just to produce mental activities. However, perhaps it is as I say and the purpose of the brain is to provide a substrate for the soul to cognize in. I’ll expand on these points down below. But why prefer your account to mine?
“Well, Aristotle thought that there were some psychological functions that (unlike sense-perception) have no organ. (And I think he was right about this; see Peter Geach’s article “What Do We Think With?” in his book God and the Soul.) But it’s a mistake to slide from saying that such functions have no organ to saying they have an immaterial organ. (It’s hard to tell whether Aristotle in fact made this mistake, since his remarks on this topic are so brief and cryptic.) If they don’t need an organ, an immaterial organ is of no more use than a material one. Likewise, positing an immaterial “medium” is just positing a medium and then calling it immaterial; but it’s not going to be immaterial in the Aristotelean sense.”I want to say four things here:
“Does Kevin think all causal necessity is incomprehensible unless mediated by conceptual necessity? (If so, why?) Or does he think causal necessity is intelligible in most contexts but not in the mind-body case? (If so, why?)”When I made this point, I was referring mostly to the British Emergentist position, which holds that the mental is a kind of substance that arises from the brain in a causally necessary fashion, but without any sort of conceptually necessary relationships and without any additional fixing facts to shore up the entailment gap. I know that William Hasker in his book The Emergent Self attempts to solve this problem by arguing that God attaches some nomologically necessary clause to the laws of physics which is something like, “When you get organized brain-wise, spit out a soul.” That seems terribly ad hoc to me, but at least it takes the conceptual gap somewhat seriously.
1) The mind is a separate thing from the brain.Thus, it seems to me that the emergentist picture decays either into arguing that there are conceptually necessary relationship, or that there are additional “fixing” facts involved in producing minds. Otherwise, we have minds for no reason at all.
2) The mind arises via causal necessity.
3) There is no conceptually necessary relationship between the existence of a brain and the existence of a mind.
4) There are no additional facts to shore up the remaining conceptual gap.
Happy Birthday, Herbert Spencer
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Today marks the birthday of Herbert Spencer (27 April 1820––8 December 1903), a thinker whose contributions to philosophy, biology, psychology, sociology, and political theory earned him the status of required reading in most universities a century ago. Today he is largely forgotten – except in ludicrously inaccurate caricature as a “Social Darwinist” who supposedly advocated letting the poor and weak die off in order to improve the breed. (Nope, he never said it.) These days most of Spencer’s works are out of print; no historic plaque marks his London residence (38 Queen’s Gardens, just north of Kensington Gardens; I paid my respects there last May), and his grave is overgrown and neglected. Happily, however, interest in Spencer seems to be reviving of late.
Spencer was one of the last stalwarts of classical liberalism, holding up the banner of peace and freedom, and inveighing against regimentation and the régime of status, long after the liberal mainstream had sold out to collectivism and militarist imperialism. After working as a railroad engineer and an editor at The Economist, Spencer devoted the rest of his life to developing, over the course of many volumes, an integrated and systematic theory of life and society. His political philosophy (which I summarize in Herbert Spencer: Libertarian Prophet) anticipated – and influenced – much of contemporary libertarian thought. Likewise, his theories of spontaneous social order, pattern-perception, and the self-defeating character of direct utilitarianism anticipate the work of Friedrich Hayek; his evolutionary cosmology anticipates that of astrophysicist David Layzer and chemist Ilya Prigogine; his writings on the relation between statism, militarism, and male supremacy anticipate the insights of radical feminism; and his pre-Darwinian (1852) critique of creationism could have been written yesterday.
One of Spencer’s contemporaries described him as a “prophet whose greatest discoveries can only be duly appreciated after two or three centuries.” Let’s hope we can accelerate that process a bit. (For a list of online works by and about Spencer, click here.)
The Primacy of the Abstract
CALL FOR ABSTRACTS
The Molinari Society will be hosting its second symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in New York City, December 27-30, 2005. We plan a two-hour session, with two papers, and hereby solicit abstracts on the general topic of “Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin.” Papers should address the general question of whether libertarianism should be thick or thin (“thin” libertarianism is libertarianism understood as a narrowly political doctrine, while “thick” libertarianism is libertarianism understood as essentially integrated into some broader set of social or cultural values) and may (but need not) also address the connection between libertarianism and some specific position or set of positions (environmentalism, left-anarchism, Aristotelianism, feminism, egalitarianism, Christianity, secular humanism, the labor movement, etc.).
Send abstracts to Roderick T. Long at:
(Those interested in being a commentator at the session should do likewise.)
Deadline for receiving abstracts: 5 May 2005
Notification of acceptance / rejection: 15 May 2005
Accepted papers due: 1 November 2005
Vienna Waits For You
This month sees the release of two journal issues of possible interest to my legions of screaming fans:
Issue 19.1 of the Journal of Libertarian Studies – the first to appear under my editorship – features articles on Benjamin Constant, Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, economic methodology, and the politico-economic causes of World War I, as well as a new design format. I offer a summary of the contents here.
Issue 6.2 of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies offers a symposium on the interconnections between Ayn Rand and the Austrian School, including an article by me, “Praxeology: Who Needs It,” responding in Austro-Athenian mode to Rand’s philosophical criticisms of Ludwig von Mises. Bettina Bien Greaves reviews the issue here.
If you haven’t subscribed to these two journals your life is undoubtedly a bleak and meaningless void. Happily, this problem can be corrected by clicking here and here. Libertatem stude!
Rock Me Ludwig
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
At the last Austrian Scholars Conference several of the faculty, including myself, were brutally conscripted into performing a musical skit based on the songs that Ludwig von Mises and the other members of the Mises Circle back in 1920s Vienna used to sing at dinner after meetings of Mises’ Privatseminar. (The lyrics were written by philosopher Felix Kaufmann, a member of both the Mises and Vienna Circles.)
For this performance Jeff Tucker actually did most of the singing while we drank wine, scarfed down chocolate creams, and read our lines off notes. Guido Hülsmann played Mises (appropriately, since in the songs Mises is about to abandon Vienna for Geneva, just as in real life Guido is abandoning Auburn, the Vienna of the South, for Angers); Walter Block played Hayek (’cause you need a moderate to play a moderate …); and so on. I was cast as the villainous Hans Mayer, a follower of Max Weber who later ditched Austrian economics for National Socialism.
This painfully unrehearsed performance is now available in online video format. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.