Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics: Initial Impressions

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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A number of recent – and not so recent – essays and shorter pieces, plus several dialogues with Massimo Pigliucci and discussions on Twitter have begun to converge in my mind around several points, all of which suggest (a) a fundamentally pluralist metaphysics and (b) a central role for Wilfrid Sellars’ landmark paper “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” in that metaphysics.I find myself increasingly convinced that in such a Sellars-inflected metaphysics lie the “solutions” to perennial philosophical problems in the philosophies of mind and action, as well as social-political philosophy and ethics.

This essay begins a series of sketches of what will become prolegomena to a pluralist metaphysics. I doubt that I ever will do a full treatment of such a metaphysics beyond this, however. As those who have read my essay in Philosophy Now will know, I think that most significant philosophical positions suffer from a kind of indeterminacy; that the most valuable work we do, consequently, is accomplished during the initial forays into a subject; and that it doesn’t take very long before our philosophical pursuits begin to suffer diminishing returns. A metaphysics cannot be proven or otherwise demonstrated and competing metaphysical views may be empirically equivalent (as metaphysical Realism and Anti-Realism are), so a thorough and well-drawn impression of it is all we require. If others who are sympathetic think otherwise, they are free to develop these ideas further. I have no proprietary feelings with regard to such things.

***

There are certain theses that one could only credibly advance in an intellectually desperate context; which, in ordinary times, would be non-starters. I include among these Panpsychism, Illusionism (regarding consciousness, as well as ordinary objects), Eliminative Materialism, Dualism (psychological and metaphysical) and Determinism. That so many intelligent, knowledgeable contemporary philosophers embrace views like these and are being taken seriously indicates that they – and we – feel ourselves to be in desperate times.  The question is “why?”

I want to suggest that a number of core assumptions under which we have been operating – some for decades; some for a century; some going back to the Enlightenment – have yielded dilemmas that seem to force us in the directions I’ve just mentioned. A return to philosophical normalcy will require critical examination of these assumptions and the development of alternatives. The Sellarsian, pluralistic metaphysics I will be suggesting is one such potential alternative.  I call it “Sellarsian,” because there is substantial disagreement as to how Sellars’ paper on the Scientific and Manifest images should be interpreted and because it makes no difference to my project whether my version of Sellars is historically true to the man or not.

In these initial impressions, I want to describe the most significant of these core assumptions and point to some of the ways in which they lead to the “desperate” philosophical positions I have itemized.

[1] Materialism

The view that everything that exists is made of matter/energy.  I will use the term ‘physicalism’ to refer to the thesis within the philosophy of mind.

[2] Ontological commitment and hypostatization

Many think of our ontological commitments as representing our view of which entities exist, and when we think of entities, we think of things in the sense of discrete objects in space. That is, we tend to hypostatize our ontological commitments and to think of existing as something that things, in this sense, do.

[3] Explanatory unity

For any number of reasons – the explanatory generality of physics; Materialism (as described above); methodological (and I would argue, psychological) commitments to parsimony and coherence – many have thought that all of our explanatory frameworks should ultimately cohere with one another and thus, constitute what is essentially a single framework.

[4] The assimilation of reasons and causes/actions and events

As a result of philosophical developments in the 1950’s and 60’s, many philosophers are inclined to assimilate reasons and causes: to say that reasons are causes and vice versa; that the beliefs and desires to which we refer in explaining our actions are causes of those actions, just as the motions of certain billiard balls are the causes of and explain the motions of other billiard balls. Simultaneously, we assimilate actions with motor movements and consequently, with events, understood more generally.

***

Let’s look now at some of the ways these assumptions intersect to create the kinds of problems with regard to which we turn to “desperate” positions to solve.

First, with respect to so many of the things that we encounter in our daily lives the idea that they are “made of” matter/energy – or indeed, “made of” anything – is obscure at best.  Parking regulations certainly exist, but are they “made” of matter/energy or of anything else? People obviously exist and possess a number of body parts that also exist, but are people “made of” matter/energy in the way that the parts of peoples’ bodies are?  Again, the notion seems obscure at best.

This initial Materialism-induced puzzle promptly metastasizes when one takes some of the other assumptions on board, leading people down one rabbit-hole after another. Here are just a few examples (see how many “desperate” contemporary philosophical positions you can spot):

  • If something exists, then it must be a “thing,” but what kind of a “thing” is a non-matter/energy thing? It must be a transcendent thing! But what kind of thing is that?  And how does such a thing interact with the things that are made of matter/energy?
  • Since all things that exist are material and these (laws, people, etc.) are things and exist, they must ultimately be material. So, we must find some way to reduce laws, people, etc. to biological and ultimately physical entities.
  • Reductionism is a bust. It can’t be done. Those things that we thought existed and which don’t reduce to material things must not exist after all, so we must ontologically eliminate them. But what attitude should we take with regard to them, in light of their ontological elimination? We could treat them as instrumentally useful illusions. Sort of like the icons on your computer desktop! Or we could treat think of them as harmful, distracting falsehoods that should be purged even from our very language. They are like bad old non-existent entities such as phlogiston or the ether!

Even regarding the kinds of things about which saying that they are “made of” matter/energy is somewhat more intelligible, the way in which they are is not particularly straightforward.  Saying that my desk is made of matter/energy makes more sense than saying that a parking regulation or person is, but physicists tell me it’s made of molecules and atoms and sub-atomic particles, whereas it seems to me to be made of wood, metal, and paint and even more so, out of legs, a desktop, drawers, etc. As a result, given the same underlying assumptions – Materialism and a hypostatized conception of ontology – one can take the aforementioned “desperate” moves employed in the philosophy of mind and apply them to the metaphysics of the “furniture” of daily life, yielding reductionist, eliminativist, illusionist, and even Platonist treatments of tables, chairs, etc.

Second, as already indicated, philosophical developments in the 1950’s and 60’s led many philosophers to assimilate reasons and causes. We say of a teenager that he went to the mall, because he wants to meet girls, and we say of an 8-ball that it went into the corner pocket, because it was struck by the cue ball, and we interpret the “because” in the analysis of the teenager’s actions in the same way that we interpret the “because” in the analysis of the 8-ball’s movements. In doing so, we identify the teenager’s actions with the relevant motor movements – i.e. the motions of his arms, legs, and other body parts – and by extension, assimilate them with the movements of the billiard balls.

As a result, a number of mystifying problems arise pertaining to agency and so-called “free will,” with even more mystifying implications for ethical responsibility.  Once again, see how many “desperate” contemporary philosophical positions you can spot.

  • If something’s movements are caused, then they are determined, in the sense that they are governed by physical laws. The 8-ball cannot choose not to go into the pocket, upon being struck, for example. That means that if human actions are caused, they too are determined and governed by physical laws, which means ultimately that we cannot choose to act or not to act in certain ways either. Human beings therefore lack agency, and we should take a deterministic view of our behavior.
  • If human beings lack agency, then it makes no sense to view our behavior through a moral lens. As a result, we should drop moral discourse and judgment; abandon notions like accountability and responsibility; move Beyond Freedom and Dignity!
  • We cannot do away with the concept of moral accountability and responsibility, upon which a good amount of our social forms of life and practices depend. Of course, these concepts presuppose that we have agency, but given Materialism and the assimilation of reasons and causes and actions and events, our behavior is entirely caused and law-governed, which entails that we lack agency. Consequently, we must reject materialism and assume a transcendent person; a noumenal or Cartesian or other such self.
  • Both of these conclusions are unacceptable. Yes, our behavior is caused, and yes, that would seem to suggest that we lack agency, but we are accountable and responsible for our actions, nonetheless. Consequently, we must find some sort of “agency-light” and explain why being caused is compatible with it and thus, with responsibility and accountability. [Trigger endless iterations and variations on Compatibilism].

Hopefully, my readers can see the trend in these two examples. One could produce many more. And hopefully, readers, having read the things I’ve written and listened to the things I’ve said about the indeterminacy inherent in these sorts of philosophical problems and their “solutions,” will recognize that they are hopeless; not just because many of them are batshit crazy, but because they are subject to endless iteration and unresolvable disputation. A really thorough treatment would require painstaking illustration of this, and that is something I am not going to do. I am content to leave it as a provocation and to tell those who disagree not to hold their breaths waiting for the iterations or disputations to be resolved.

What I want to do next is begin sketching some of the ways in which a pluralist metaphysics and Sellarsian approach to inquiry can help us to avoid starting down any of these futile roads to begin with. To do this, however, I will first talk about how I read Sellars, the distinction he makes between the Scientific and Manifest Images, and how I understand their relationship.

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/11/11/bits-and-pieces-consciousness-and-wittgenstein-ryle-style-dissolutions/

https://theelectricagora.com/2018/05/31/bits-and-pieces-physical-material-exists-real/

https://theelectricagora.com/2017/06/29/bits-and-pieces-truth-and-ontology/

https://theelectricagora.com/2017/03/11/why-the-free-will-problem-isnt-one/

https://theelectricagora.com/2017/07/08/selves-and-social-ontology/

https://theelectricagora.com/2016/01/10/explanations-in-the-social-sciences/

https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/42689 (Consciousness)

https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/41227 (Philosophy of Action and Free Will)

https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/40477 (Ontology and Materialism)

https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/38394 (Sellars)

https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/33625 (Explanations in the Social Sciences)

29 comments

  1. One of the interesting things about your metaphysical beef is how it doesn’t just go back to the fifties and sixties, it’s there in the mid-nineteenth century too. I’m reading FH Bradley, Studies in Ethics, and in his essay “The Vulgar notion of Responsibility” he makes some of the same metaphysical complaints about “necessitarians” and Kantians as you are doing. Bradley’s instincts seem to go in the opposite direction from reductionism: “We say “I will” and we mean something by it. We distinguish I and will; will means some particular act which we will. The notion of dividing them (I/will) is absurd. The one is in the other, partition is out of the question – an inseparable whole. The will is a thing in a bag called ‘self’. Determinism ignores and denies the identity of the self in all the acts of the self….without personal identity responsibility is sheer nonsense. By both doctrines of free will and necessity the word ‘responsibility’ is devoid of signification and impossible of explanation.” I look forward to your explication of Sellars pluralist metaphysics.

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  2. I’ll only comment on two small things:

    “If human beings lack agency…abandon notions like [moral] accountability and responsibility” – Even Bruce Waller says there is responsibility, in the sense of (social) role responsibility, and Skinner that there is such a thing as punishment (just empirically less effective than negative reinforcement).

    Re agency and determinism, I think we really have to wait until the ontology of quantum physics is sorted out (metaphysicians may be able to make some contributions). Again as per Waller, freedom to act is a thing that all higher animals search for, while game theory means we agents want some kind of randomness available to our actions and explorations. Randomization and minimax is one type of warrant that you can really count on. Lequyer agrees with me –
    “La liberté, condition positive de la connaissance”.

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    1. Well, I have my own “solution” to the problem of agency, but it is entirely within the Manifest Image. I don’t think the problem arises in the Scientific Image. The thought that it does is the result of assimilating actions and events, which I address in the essay.

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      1. I tend to read your material and then comment on it as a whole. And often don’t receive a reply, as if to “say”, I’m not on topic. Or, maybe it’s the last sentence I wrote, which I see now doesn’t get the point of your essay that you are not going to expand on this topic. Sorry, my mistake. Well, I’m at the beginning of my philosophical career, so I don’t mind expanding on this topic. I think the concept of responsibility is an Archimedean point of leverage here, a central notion that defines the boundary between the material and the ideal. “Facts are there, whereas decisions have to be made.” Popper, “Open Society”.. You mention the follies of reductionism, and it seems to me that you give even shorter shrift to Idealism. I believe my quote of Bradley is relevant here. “Determinism ignores and denies the reality of the self in all the acts of the self.” “without personal identity responsibility is sheer nonsense.” To me, it is uncanny how your objections to the free will vs determinism debate echo Bradley’s. He went for Idealism, you for pluralism. Back to responsibility. Herbert Fingarette has written two great books on it, which have made a huge impression on me, “On Responsibility” and “Mapping Responsibility” Fingarette says that philosophy has made a huge mistake by focusing on action and cause as basic notions when it is, in fact, responsibility that is the central root notion. In my mind any metaphysics must base itself on human reality, namely that we each develop a self by accepting responsibility in a dialectic between what society offers and what we bring to it through our decisions. Everything else, both ethical and scientific knowledge follows from this.

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  3. I read this piece with great interest, mainly because the word pluralism leaped out at me and I am some kind of pluralist.
    I am curious as to one question and that is the relationship between manifest and scientific. If you say that there is inevitably merging some kind of endless loop of iterations and disputations, my follow up question then is what IS the place of a whole host of beliefs and how are we to regard them? In other words how are we to accommodate the beliefs and feelings people actually do hold in ways that are both respectful of truth broadly construed or some kind of social tolerance?

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    1. I’m not sure I understand the question. What I am going to say is that the scientific image presents the world as it is, in the absence of people, their points of view, and their actions. The Manifest image presents the world as it is, including people, their points of view and their actions. The basic principle of explanation appropriate to the former is causal, while the basic principle of explanation required for the latter is teleological (intentional). A complete picture of the world requires both, yet they are not related by reduction or some other assimilating process. Rather, the complete picture is formed by looking through them both, simultaneously, as in looking through two colored transparencies with the effect experienced as a third color that depends on both.

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      1. Well it appears you did understand the question since you answered it! I think I am beginning to understand Sellars a little better. Thank you.

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    2. The best way I understand pluralism is that it is a space opened between an absolutist conception of explanation where there is only one account that holds up, and the relativist conception where anything goes. Too often it is seen as if these are the only alternatives. But absolutism isn’t mistaken because relativism is right, and relativism isn’t mistaken because absolutism is right. Both have ingredients that need to be respected but holding them together at the same time is impossible. The extreme insights are not compatible or can easily coexist without some sort of non-detrimental schizophrenia or conceptual framing and compartmentalization such as Sellars’ manifest and scientific images. I would personally spread the manifest image out into more and more possibilities, such as art, economics, ethics, and basically any semi-coherent posture for confronting the world and its navigation. The manifest image is itself a pluralism. I see no reason to simply divide human behavior between science and the rest of human life.

      Bernard Williams is a confessed pluralist and he has some good things to say in its defense. Hillary Putnam seems to have misunderstood some of Williams’ position, but is himself a pluralist and may have merely been rejecting Williams’ idea of the ‘absolute conception’ behind much of (or some of) science. This seems somewhat related to the division Sellars endorses between manifest and scientific images, so I’m not so sure I’d be as hard on Williams as Putnam is. Isaiah Berlin is another great exponent of pluralism. I need to find more and more thinkers who have expressed these ideas, so I’m eager to read what Dan will say about Sellars and his own thoughts.

      I might even go so far as to put Ludwig Wittgenstein in this crowd, though he never addresses it explicitly. There seems no better starting point for pluralism than the declaration that at some point explanation must end and description alone take its place, or that once our spade is turned, we are left merely with “this is what we do”. That is, things add up differently depending on where you are standing, but you may be standing in places that are common with other people, and in groups we may be standing in places that are shared with other groups. In the end, as Wittgenstein points out on multiple occasions, we are among the animal species of the world and do not need to make apologies for that. If there is a common ‘human’ condition in the world, our pluralism fits on top of that, is accommodated with it, by necessity. Neither absolutism nor relativism have even the remotest chance of squaring with the plurality of human life and the commonality of the human condition all at once.

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  4. I have to admit your presentation of Sellars’ ideas was the first time everything clicked into place for me, and I realized how misplaced a lot of scientific discussions were when they attempted to try and “solve” the “problem” of consciousness, free will, and so on. I only wish I had come across these ideas decades earlier. I only wish there were some easy strategy of making them more commonly accepted. I find a lot of ignorant push back on many fora that I frequent when I try bring these sort of ideas into the coversations.

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  5. Dan,
    “because they are subject to endless iteration and unresolvable disputation.” Yes, there is a growing sense (certainly I feel it, but see it simmering under many philosophy/ philosophy-oriented discussions on the internet) that not only has every position been filled and properly articulated, but there just isn’t much moving any position forward; philosophy to continue to claim our attention really needs to be about something other than positioning and strictly logical argumentation. I have my own ideas on the matter, but share much of your perspective as well.

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  6. Dan

    I am following this from a slight distance, having made various comments in the past on previous pieces of yours on this topic which I haven’t looked at recently. Don’t want to repeat myself.

    I am more comfortable with Sellars’ own views, actually, than most Sellarsians seem to be. I note that, like McDowell, you explicitly distance yourself from Sellars’ actual views.

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    1. Everyone thinks they’ve correctly identified Sellars’ view, me included. There is neither end nor resolution to that disagreement which is precisely why it is irrelevant. Those of us who draw inspiration from the work, therefore, are all Sellarsian, you included.

      I’m happy to debate Sellars interpretation if you like. You can tell me why you think I’ve got him wrong, and I can tell you why I think you are mistaken. We could do that for quite some time. Of course we also could just debate the relevant issues, rather than argue over who ia right about Sellars.

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      1. What a long sentence!

        ‘Left-wing’ Sellarsians such as McDowell and Brandom embrace the space of reasons thesis and argue that because the latter shows that what is essential to conceptual activity as such (i.e. that it is characterizable in normative terms) is irreducible to non-normative discourse it follows that science (with its commitment to non-normative explanations) cannot in principle explain what is essential to normativity or conceptual activity as such, while ‘right-wing’ Sellarsians, such as Millikan, Churchland and Rosenberg, accept the scientia mensura principle and argue that since the latter (with its essential use of arguments for scientific realism) shows that science can in principle explain what is essential to normativity or conceptual activity as such, it follows that the irreducibility of the normative to the non-normative as described in the space of reasons thesis is strictly speaking false as a description of how things are and has merely pragmatic utility.

        Sellars in 1977 being asked what the SI/MI dichotomy was about:

        Firstly, that there is not yet a complete Scientific Image of the mind as there is for (most of) physics, so there is still a place for the MI.

        And then the second point is that when you take the Manifest Image as I describe it, you can see it approximated to in various ways by standard philosophies, you see. You can understand why Berkeley says what he says, you can understand why G.E. Moore says what he says, you can understand why Austin says what he says. It provides a way of summing up those philosophies which don’t take science seriously. What I am doing in the Scientific [I presume he actually means Manifest] Image, in one way, is to throw science away except insofar as it requires inductive generalizations and…with the exception of bringing in explanatory states of the person but with respect to objects, throw away all objects except those which we see, hear, taste and smell because if we do that, then we get in a pure form, what many anti-scientific philosophers think the world is like.

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      2. “You can tell me why you think I’ve got [Sellars] wrong, and I can tell you why I think you are mistaken…”

        I did not say that you have got Sellars wrong. I merely noted that (like McDowell) you seem to be distancing yourself from his stated views. You wrote in the OP: “I call [my approach] “Sellarsian,” because there is substantial disagreement as to how Sellars’ paper on the Scientific and Manifest images should be interpreted and because it makes no difference to my project whether my version of Sellars is historically true to the man or not.”

        I think that it *could* make a difference, but perhaps only if you see your project as having an intellectual-historical dimension.

        Part of the point of my comment was to elicit a response which might clarify where you see yourself as standing with respect to the views of John McDowell.

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        1. Well let me restate. I think I’ve got Sellars right. However, there is substantial disagreement on the correct interpretation of Sellars. Fortunately, nothing depends on whether my take on Sellars is historically accurate, as the work in which I am using him is not a work in the history of ideas.

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  7. Just curious, have you ever read anything in philosophy that makes you doubt this view? In other words, have you read any pieces that, in your opinion, provide formidable challenges to your view?

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    1. Well, I used not to hold this view myself. I used to be a metaphysical realist, a Platonist, and a Kantian. I have come to this view after decades of work in the field and as a result of relationships with truly great philosophers whom I admire, some of whom have no public recognition as such: esp. Ian Ground of the University of Newcastle, who is the one who really persuaded me of the significance of the later Wittgenstein.

      So, the answer is “Yes.” Indeed, for a good while, I held the opposite view myself.

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      1. I’d like to think that the many years I spent hectoring you about the limits of realism contributed to your eventual move to the light, Dan.

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  8. Bravo, this is one of your better essays. Not because it gives the answers but because it sketches the terrain of the problem with a lucid, deft and light touch that provokes, as it should, more questions and insights.

    You have identified and described the problem more clearly than anyone I know and I agree with your diagnosis. You indicate that you will try to make sense of the dilemma by appealing to and expanding on Sellars’ manifest and scientific images.

    I have my doubts about this “Sellarsian” direction but I look forward to reading your account.

    I turn instead to Roger Scruton who made “…a prophetic call to oppose those who would ‘dismiss the sacred from our view of things’, and put in its place ‘a presumptuous ignorance fortified by science’. In everything he wrote, his principal aim was to show that through love and art, religion, music, hunting and wine, we see and experience something which science can’t explain, but which is no less real for all of that. ” (Mark Dooley)

    He claimed “the encounter with the sacred ultimately is – a fusing of the experience of beauty with the moral order
    and we
    have an innate need to conceptualise our world in terms of the transcendental’, and, in so doing, ‘to live out the distinction between the sacred and the profane’

    Dooley said of Scruton
    Scruton’s idea of the sacred, or the transcendental, did not amount to a religious philosophy. But it did suggest that there is a deep mystery at the core of human experience. We love the person that is revealed through the flesh, but which cannot be reduced to it.

    the meaning we find in the human person exists also, in heightened and more awesome form, outside us, in places times and artefacts

    When we talk about life being sacred I believe this is not just a convenient, motivating metaphor. I think instead that in life we see the sacred and this is why death is so shocking because it is the destruction of the sacred. In that awful, dreadful, bitter moment of the taking of a life it is not just a biological transition where brain and cardio-vascular activity cease. It is instead the destruction of a portion of the sacred where something of unspeakable value is lost and in so doing part of oneself is lost.

    By desacralizing the world and hiding from the transcendental we are forced into explanations that, as you say, “ are batshit crazy, …[and] are subject to endless iteration and unresolvable disputation

    When I use the word ‘sacred’ I am not doing so in a religious sense. I mean instead it is the recognition of an inestimable value outside of ourselves that is not the sum of its parts or explainable by the parts. It is something that reaches into the core of oneself and ennobles oneself. In quantum mechanics they talk of ‘entanglement’ between local and remote particles, or ‘spooky action at a distance’. I am invoking this idea to convey a sense of the ‘entanglement’ between the sacred and ourselves. It is as unexplainable as the experience is undeniable. We may diminish that experience with the surfeits of hedonism and narcissism but we can only destroy it when we destroy life.

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  9. How is dualism differentiated/related to plauralism? Perhaps this is something which will clarify in your upcoming discussion as to how you have assimilated Sellars’ images.

    You say that the manifest image is the world perspective which includes people and the scientific the one which does not, or casts people as not relevant to investigations. But people are firmly implanted exactly in the middle of this, one foot in the manifest and one foot in the scientific. To understand ourselves we must utilize and develop both. Further it is human conceptualization which gives origin to these distinctions, these images, in the first place.

    You wish to avoid or disavow the transcendent as you call it, or the noumenal. But conceptualization is prior to both images. This is why I think we must start here to crawl out of the morass you’ve reasonably well described. What is thinking? And going back to your recent dialog with Massimo — this is why I think it quite apt to re-examine ‘First Philosophy’. We know more now and have more ammo to bring to bear on these questions. It is completely to be expected in the evolution of knowledge to circle back — well, really spiral back — and rethink these things anew. I think a Sellarsian perspective can be one ingredient in this, but not the new grounding foundation.

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  10. Dan, you say
    A metaphysics cannot be proven or otherwise demonstrated and competing metaphysical views may be empirically equivalent

    but then go on to say

    There are certain theses that one could only credibly advance in an intellectually desperate context….Eliminative Materialism, Dualism (psychological and metaphysical) and Determinism

    I sense a confusion here. You have admitted that “A metaphysics cannot be proven” and then promptly set about labelling views that run contrary to your worldview as “intellectually desperate” .

    With this grand gesture you have swept everything off the table, to leave space for your as unsaid alternative. I respect you as a thinker and so I am eager to read your unspoken alternative to see if it is any less “intellectually desperate.“. I am sure I will learn from you, as I usually do, even if it happens that I disagree with you.

    I have just read Thomas Nagle’s NDPR review of Richard Swinburne’s book, Are We Bodies or Souls.(https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/are-we-bodies-or-souls/)

    What is notable here is the charitable and thoughtful way he engages with Swinburne’s views, while not subscribing to them. He has accorded him the respect that is his due as a formidable thinker, read the book and analysed his thinking, reproducing it with balanced clarity.

    And this is important. We can legitimately differ but we should differ in thoughtful and charitable ways.

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    1. I don’t really get this objection. The panpsychist idea that muons are conscious is an intellectually desperate position, as it is (a) 100% ad hoc; and (b) contradicts everything that we already know (which is quite a lot) regarding consciousness, from the relevant sciences (i.e. it is something belonging to highly sophisticated brains). Panpsychism is the result of a desperation born entirely of philosophical paradoxes or perplexities.

      “Intellectually Desperate” strikes me as a perfectly legitimate criticism. And the purpose of inquiry isn’t to make sure everyone feels validated and accepted. It is to try and arrive at some clarity regarding things.

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  11. Dan,
    The panpsychist idea that muons are conscious is an intellectually desperate position

    I am tempted to agree with you on that score. But you have made a questionable move here. That is only one, and undoubtedly the most extreme member of the grab bag you listed below:

    Panpsychism, Illusionism (regarding consciousness, as well as ordinary objects), Eliminative Materialism, Dualism (psychological and metaphysical) and Determinism

    To characterize this mixed bag by its most extreme member is decidedly a questionable move. Eliminative materialism, determinism and dualism are actually quite defensible once you take that initial stance that God does or does not exist.

    The atheist non-believer who is nevertheless a believer in the sense that he worships at the altar of science must inevitably conclude that determinism and eliminative materialism are true. It follows naturally from their starting point that God does not exist and that science determines all. In that sense it is a thoughtful and defensible position. Yes, their thought is incomplete and contradictory but that is true of every position, bar none, in both philosophy and science. In any case they have a nearly unanswerable riposte, science is very much a work in progress, which means there must be gaps and contradictions. Give science enough time and they will fill in the gaps and resolve the contradictions. And we should grant science time on the evidence of their past record. They have been astonishingly successful.

    Essentially your criticism of eliminative materialism and determinism is founded on its contradiction of our lived experience. The simple answer is give science enough time and it will get there. You are demanding answers before science has completed its job! Your impatience is understandable since we won’t live long enough to see the answers that science will provide. Mind you, given my belief in metempsychosis I am sure I will eventually see the answers that science will provide 🙂

    If I must characterize anything as desperate then I would apply that label to your pluralist, Sallarsian metaphysics that would deny an underlying unity. To use a simple analogy, this is like someone who sees the six faces of a die and insists they are six separate things and not the faces residing on a single object because you can’t see that single object, only the faces. The evidence points away from your conclusion. For example, the entire Universe began in a single instant at a single point in a state of complete uniformity. From that initial condition it gradually evolved into the world of immense diversity that we know today That must point to an underlying, orderly unity. If there was none we would all be a sea of formless particles. Science has made astonishing progress precisely because it insisted on an orderly unity underlying the bewildering diversity.

    But I won’t use the label ‘desperate’ of other points of view because:

    1) it is a closing of the mind that insist on one truth, denying the possibility of other truths. Hardly the right attitude for a pluralist metaphysics.
    2) if we refrain from peremptorily dismissing other points of view we can learn from them. This is always to be desired.
    3) I often disagree with people but I invariably find them to be sincere people who honestly derived their conclusions from a given starting point. I respect that so normally would not want to use disrespectful labels. (but I admit I have failed on occasion)

    And the purpose of inquiry isn’t to make sure everyone feels validated and accepted.

    You are implying something I did not say. Not useful. The point of charitable disagreement is
    1) it makes us better people,
    2) it keeps our minds open to other possibilities,
    3) it reduces the emotional barriers to fruitful engagement.

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