No Credible Alternative To Physicalism

And strangely enough, just yesterday, David Chalmers reviewed Jaegwon Kim’s “Physicalism, Or Something Near Enough” and accused him of being a “closet dualist”. The quote in the blog post title is from Kim’s closing paragraph.

My only problem with Chalmers response here is the keeping score aspect of pigeonholeing people. If Kim is a physicalist, as I claimed to be (believing I’d invented it at the time), I’ll need to understand in what sense that made him a “dualist”, and why the pigeonhole is in any way relevant to the quality of his explanation of consciousness.

I may never work out why these guys see saying one thing as being equivalent to denying something else. Anyway, to be fair to David, he does use the idea of “sympathy” with any given pigeonhole, rather than exclusive occupation – at least he allows himself this view, so I must assume he sees it valid for the rest of us too, Kim included. (In the comment thread, he links via a paper of his own to Chrucky’s summary of C D Broad’s taxonomy of these mind-matter relationship pigeonholes – small world, I’ve linked to Chrucky several times before. Anyway – apart from the limitations of “material” and “substance” in this arena, it looks useful. It needs a broader “physical” update – I wonder where Kim stands on this ? Must read I guess.

Having read Kim’s own sample material and synopsis – I see he makes it a stark choice between – reductionism and epiphenomenalism. (I see he also makes use of “supervenience” and has written about this previously – like David has – must get to grips with the concept.) The stark choice – choosing reductionism – seems to me more a matter of not-epiphenomenalism – ie saying that a bottom-up causal explanation of the mental by the physical and a mental causation of the physical both exist, and simply positing a broad definition of “reductionist” to cover that. But I could be wrong.

Even more interesting a Ross & Spurrett paper also referenced in the comments seems to fight against reductionism precisly for reason of the problems caused to philosophy itself (!) though it goes on to admit that this fails to address the metaphysical challenge, which they go on to consider. Interesting in the wider sense, is that

(a) the two issues of explanation (reductionist or otherwise) and causation (mental or otherwise) bubble up as the real issues again, whether we were talking about the mind-body problem or not; and

(b) the paper starts with a tidal flow and backwash, pseudo-cyclic / dynamic metaphor for the evolution of a philosophical basis for scientists to take seriously. Sound familiar ? Interesting too, in his own closing remark, that David’s blog post appears (light-heartedly anyway) to dismiss the sociological / psychological aspects tainting any worthy philosophy.

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