Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics: The Scientific and Manifest Images

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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I’ve characterized contemporary philosophy as beset by a number of “intellectually desperate” views that have come not just to mar the discipline but have led too many outstanding philosophers to waste their time and considerable talents. Of course, philosophy has always entertained views that when subjected to sober reflection and good sense are revealed to be ridiculous and absurd, but the cost of doing so today is discipline threatening. Aside from a small number of elite institutions, philosophy finds itself struggling to exist, in the face of an economically strapped student-population that seeks practical, income-producing educations and a university system that has already largely relegated philosophy to general education and is now increasingly contracting out that education to community colleges and high school “dual credit” programs. The novel coronavirus and its impact will only exacerbate this effect and create new, even worse ones. This is a time when disciplines must appear lean and sober and practical if they are to survive the ongoing transformation of the university, and philosophy is not helping itself with its penchant for the weird and the crazy. A discipline associated with politically “woke” histrionics and meltdowns and reputational bloodletting and ever-weirder flights of philosophical fancy – Muons are conscious! No one has agency! – has zero chance of surviving in the current climate, and I am fully prepared for the very real possibility that the study and discussion of philosophy may return almost entirely to private life and civil associations, in the manner of the Salons of the 19th century.

The “woke” dimension of the problem is not primarily intellectual in nature, but rather a matter of disciplinary standards – of codes of behavior and of research and publishing norms – that we are going to have to summon up the will to enforce, regardless of how nasty and vicious the woke-set get. The philosophical flights of fancy, however, are entirely intellectual in nature, and I suggested in the first installment of these prolegomena that they are the result of very bright people finding themselves confronted with perplexing, seemingly intractable problems, after having taken on board any number of assumptions, some of which may be widely venerated, but all of which are wrong. Philosophy’s first problem requires a political solution from within the discipline’s membership and institutions, which is unlikely at the present moment given philosophy’s compromised leadership. Its second problem demands hardnosed philosophical analysis and a serious re-examination of fundamental matters, in the spirit of Quine and Wittgenstein and the Ordinary Language philosophers.

Hence these prolegomena.

***

To the extent that there is a “foundational” element to my analysis of the mistake underlying the assumptions I’ve been talking about, it is to be found in Wilfrid Sellars’ paper, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” (PSIM).†  As mentioned in the first installment of these prolegomena, there is a significant dispute as to the correct reading of Sellars’ landmark paper, yielding wildly contradictory interpretations among Sellarsians (the eliminativist Churchlands and humanist Richard Rorty, for example, have both claimed PSIM as an influence), but as my efforts here are not historical in nature, these disputes are irrelevant. The ideas I will employ are derived from Sellars’, but if it turns out that they are at odds with what he thought he was doing, so be it. Let them belong to Sellars** for all I care (to employ a CUNYism I picked up in graduate school in the 1990’s). For some background regarding my take on Sellars, see the dialogue I did with Massimo Pigliucci on PSIM for my show, Sophia, on MeaningofLife.TV.

The relevant kicking-off point for my purposes in PSIM is the following passage:

[T]he philosopher is confronted not by one complex many dimensional picture, the unity of which, such as it is, he must come to appreciate; but by two pictures of essentially the same order of complexity, each of which purports to be a complete picture of man-in-the-world, and which, after separate scrutiny, he must fuse into one vision. Let me refer to these two perspectives, respectively, as the manifest and the scientific images of man-in-the-world…

These images exist and are as much a part and parcel of the world as this platform or the Constitution of the United States. But in addition to being confronted by these images as existents, he is confronted by them as images in the sense of ‘things imagined’ — or, as I had better say at once, conceived; for I am using ‘image’ in this sense as a metaphor for conception, and it is a familiar fact that not everything that can be conceived can, in the ordinary sense, be imagined. The philosopher, then, is confronted by two conceptions, equally public, equally non-arbitrary, of man-in-the-world and he cannot shirk the attempt to see how they fall together in one stereoscopic view. (Part I, ¶s 11; 12)

The Scientific Image is one that (to the extent such a thing is possible) attempts to provide a picture of the world as it exists in the absence of persons, their points of view, and the things that follow from those points of view. Its aim is to be as “objective” as possible, in the ordinary sense of the word. It proceeds entirely by way of third-person investigation and is a picture of us and of the world painted entirely in terms of quantifiable magnitudes and mechanistic explanations, suitably refined and complicated by modern biology and 20th and post-20th century physics.

With respect to the Manifest Image, Sellars emphasizes that it should not be understood as in any way primitive or pre-scientific. That would be what he refers to as “the Original Image” – our earliest, pre-scientific and to a degree, “pre-rational” picture of ourselves and of the world – the Manifest Image of which is a “refinement” that continues to be built alongside the Scientific.

I have characterized the manifest image of man-in-the-world as the framework in terms of which man encountered himself. And this, I believe, is a useful way of characterizing it. But it is also misleading, for it suggests that the contrast I am drawing between the manifest and the scientific images, is that between a pre-scientific, uncritical, naive conception of man-in-the-world, and a reflected, disciplined, critical – in short a scientific – conception. This is not at all what I have in mind. For what I mean by the manifest image is a refinement or sophistication of what might be called the ‘original’ image; a refinement to a degree which makes it relevant to the contemporary intellectual scene.

I mean the sort of refinement which operates within the broad framework of the image and which, by approaching the world in terms of something like the canons of inductive inference defined by John Stuart Mill, supplemented by canons of statistical inference, adds to and subtracts from the contents of the world as experienced in terms of this framework and from the correlations which are believed to obtain between them. Thus, the conceptual framework which I am calling the manifest image is, in an appropriate sense, itself a scientific image. It is not only disciplined and critical; it also makes use of those aspects of scientific method which might be lumped together under the heading ‘correlational induction’. (Part II, ¶s 4; 5)

The Manifest Image is the picture of us and of the world that includes persons, their points of view, and the things that follow from those points of view. It is a world characterized not only in quantitative but qualitative terms; a world in which first- as well as third-person accounts of things are included; a world in which people do and create things for reasons; and thus, a world in which the available explanations must not be restricted to the mechanical (broadly speaking) but must also include the teleological. It is a world, consequently, that is centered around values; those things that we represent as being good and which comprise the ends towards which our reasons and actions and forms of life point. As Sellars describes it, “there is an important sense in which the primary objects of the manifest image are persons” [Part II, ¶15], after which he goes on to say that:

…the conceptual framework of persons is the framework in which we think of one another as sharing the community intentions which provide the ambience of principles and standards (above all, those which make meaningful discourse and rationality itself possible) within which we live our own individual lives. A person can almost be defined as a being that has intentions. [Part VII, ¶7]

These person-centered elements of the world clearly exist, in that they are the values of bound variables that occur in true statements, and it will be my view that this is all that existing consists of (suitably modified, of course). Obviously, this is the view of existence that W.V.O. Quine promotes in “On What There Is” (though he limits his ontological commitments to those bound variables that operate in true statements belonging to our best scientific theories, a constraint that is neither credible nor necessary (it would mean, for example, that the lunch you just ate does not exist)).

Equally clearly, however, these person-centered elements have no place in the Scientific Image. They cannot be investigated entirely in the third person, neither can they be characterized in terms of quantifiable magnitudes, nor can they be explained or understood entirely in terms of “mechanistic” causality. As we’ve just observed, the explanations of people’s reasons and actions and the institutions and forms of life that we create by way of them are ultimately teleological in nature, and teleological explanations have had no place in science since the 17th century. (Even in biology, where explanations may be teleonomic, but never teleological.)

***

Sellars describes this state of affairs as a “clash” between the images, and the ways in which some have tried to “resolve” this clash should be familiar to everyone.  There is of course the reductionist solution (“Manifest objects are identical with Systems of imperceptible particles in that simple sense in which a forest is identical with a number of trees”); the representationalist – or on certain ways of thinking about it illusionist – solution (“Manifest objects are ‘appearances’ to human minds of a reality which is constituted by systems of imperceptible particles”); and even a third solution, which is hard to imagine anyone offering today, according to which the representation/illusion is the other way around (“Manifest objects are what really exist; systems of imperceptible particles being ‘abstract’ or ‘symbolic’ ways of representing them.”) Refreshingly, given contemporary predilections, Sellars suggests that this option should be taken as seriously as the others. (Part V, ¶2)

Reductionism is a bust, of course, and has been now for decades, regardless of the fact that some have been determined to continue pursuing it, nonetheless. I am not going to rehearse the reasons why in these prolegomena, nor am I going to explain why eliminativism and illusionism are equally hopeless. They are among the “desperate” solutions these prolegomena are designed to help us avoid, and I’ve addressed them elsewhere, on multiple occasions, most recently in a dialogue with Massimo Pigliucci, when we discussed contemporary efforts to characterize consciousness as an illusion or worse – as the panpsychists do – as some elementary, though non-material, property of matter.

The fact is that persons, reasons, actions, and the institutions and forms of life created by them are never going to be reduced wholesale to elements within the Scientific Image, nor can or should they be assimilated piecemeal with elements therein. Sellars explicitly warns against such “piecemeal reductions” in PSIM, crediting Wittgenstein with exposing the folly in attempting to do so:

[T]he so-called ‘analytic’ tradition in recent British and American philosophy, particularly under the influence of the later Wittgenstein, has done increasing justice to the manifest image, and has increasingly succeeded in isolating it in something like its pure form, and has made clear the folly of attempting to replace it piecemeal by fragments of the scientific image. (Part III, ¶3)

The folly involved is that of committing repeated, systematic category errors, and all of the myriad assimilations people would like to make between the Scientific and Manifest Images and their respective ontologies involve such errors in one way or another. The assimilation of persons and human bodies or body parts; reasons and causes; actions and events; the common “furniture” of life and lattices of atoms or quanta or what have you. All involve category errors of a similar kind. All represent a misunderstanding of how the Scientific and Manifest Images relate. And all, when they inevitably fail, push us to embrace the sorts of “desperate” solutions we’ve been discussing.

Sellars famously describes the relationship between the Manifest and Scientific Images and between both and the world as being “stereoscopic” in nature (a stereoscope being a device by which separate left-eye and right-eye images, when viewed simultaneously, yield a single, three-dimensional image.) (Part I, ¶ 10) The idea is that a complete picture of the world and of ourselves in it requires both the Manifest and Scientific Images; that a single Image can only be produced as a result of looking through the two; that neither can replace or somehow “absorb” the other and yield a complete picture.

I don’t think that this bothers anyone too much, so long as it is meant only epistemically. Where people begin to lose their minds and start flailing about, messing with one “desperate” view after another, is when the stereoscopic vision is played out in the metaphysical arena, for it undeniably indicates a pluralist metaphysics, which to most philosophers, raises puzzling, seemingly intractable problems, all of which will be familiar to anyone who has studied the philosophy of mind and its history, which has forever been stalked by the specter of metaphysical Dualism.

The rest of these prolegomena will be dedicated to sketching out why I don’t think any of these problems arise and why, consequently, I view them neither as a threat, nor as a reason to pursue “desperate” measures. They are due entirely to assumptions like those I laid out in the first installment of these prolegomena and other related ones, assumptions the mistaken nature of which I intend to demonstrate in upcoming installments.

†All references to Sellars’ “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” are from: http://www.ditext.com/sellars/psim.html

25 Comments »

  1. “…folly of attempting to replace it piecemeal by fragments of the scientific image”: When this came up before, I put forward the view that, for example, the economic, psychological, sociological, and neurological models we use to explain when people seem to be acting for *unconscious reasons* has been absorbed into the common-sensical view of the space of reasons. When one’s bank manager absconds with his secretary and your funds, one explanation we entertain is the prefrontal leucotomy he underwent to treat his profound depression. This is not fragmentary, but an organic reorganisation of what was Manifestly inexplicable. So I don’t like the implication that, as you have described it, psychology is not integrated into science, even though it deals with entities like approval of the US President, or the genetics of introversion. If you want to maintain the stereoscopic image is what is at play in psychology, then I don’t see where this offers much over a traditional dualism.

    Regarding absence of teleology in science, I think this plumb wrong. I tend to a more reductionist view of value, as something arising from properties of an organism, not a person, interacting with the structured affordances of the environment. Human-type conscious goal-direction is just the same as that exemplified in evolved adaptation, just more sophisticated computationally, with the underlying drives shared with other life. I have yet to read David Haig’s From Darwin to Derrida: Selfish Genes, Social Selves, and the Meanings of Life but I think it goes over the same terrain as Terrence Deacon, Ruyer, Bunge, Varela, Weber, and another neo-aristotelean Christopher Shields:

    I myself am content to regard the norm given by teleonomicity as a mind- and language-independent feature of living systems as such. Those made uncomfortable by this kind of unapologetic value realism may yet, if otherwise tempted by the account offered, accept core-dependent homonymy simply by treating the relevant norms in projectivist or instrumentalist terms.

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    • Most of psychology belongs to the Manifest Image. As for teleology in nature, I’ll leave you to argue with Massimo about it. He and I have discussed for hours, over several dialogues, why teleology plays no role in modern natural science.

      The remark that my approach has no advantage over traditional dualism would normally make me wonder whether you actually read the piece, but I know that you did, so all I can do is express puzzlement, for anyone who read the piece — and the previous one — and who understood them, this should be obvious.

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      • Hi Dan. I think I have some sense of the distinctions you think are important – eg Rorty’s claim, “…[that] Sellars has shown…the subjective-objective distinction (the notion of “seems”) can get along quite well without the notions of ‘mind,’ ‘phenomenal property,’ etc.”

        Let’s take the example of demonstrating the effect of an individual’s genotype on extraversion. Psychometricians measure extraversion as a weighted sum of the responses to a number of questions that the *person* responds to, that summarize their observations of their own behaviour over their lifespan, as well as any introspective insights they have. One’s overall disposition to be more or less outgoing surely is part of the space of reasons. A mathematical factor analysis demonstrates that the distribution of values on the score derived from these items is orthogonal in an imaginary space with that of scores measuring other dimensions that fall out mathematically from answers to a broad pool of questions (look at the derivation of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory as the ur-example of this – I am passing over “first order” versus “second order” factors aka facets, here). These abstract mathematical entities are then
        validated back against other domains of psychology, including animal models of personality and learning. Eysenck was particularly fond of showing that if you plot the four Greek classical temperaments (choleric, sanguine etc) as two axes, a mathematical rotation of 45 degrees converts these into the modern axes of Extraversion and Neuroticism.

        One mode of validation is to show there are correlations between these scores and physical properties of the organism. The property I am interested here in is individual genotype at genes that encode proteins that are expressed in brain neurons and its relationship with personality score. The mathematical analysis might be a linear regression of score versus genotype in a large sample of people, or a more elaborate model that tests the correlation between different people in personality score versus the correlation in the same population for genotype. If such a relationship is found, then we will look through the neuroscience literature for possible mechanisms for this relationship.

        A thoroughgoing naturalist will have no problem with all this I hope. My question is where the Manifest Image ends and the Scientific Image begins in the chain of scientific inference being made, and where would this differ from the cuts a traditional dualist would make, or those the man-in-the-street would make between “everyday” reality and “science”. And, will these change over time as science makes more discoveries? I see Rorty’s Antipodeans in The Mirror of Nature also addresses the Manifest-Scientific Image in the context of consciousness, though I don’t think he explicitly draws this out. Further, I don’t think Massimo Pigliucci’s attitude to the behavioral genetics of this particular example – that it’s somehow different from every other metrical trait geneticists deal with – is correct. We have enough validations now in the GWAS literature.

        So, yes, I am supporting the usual scientistic ontological layer cake, that includes many layers that according to you lie largely in the Manifest Image. The question of top-down causation is still up for grabs, but my way of thinking is that if a high-level analysis reduces the complexity of a description, this makes high-level entities, like pressure or extraversion, more likely to be “truth apt”.

        If anyone is interested
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6848211/
        is a review of personality neurobiology and some genetics; Kant gets a mention, as one of constructs being studied is self-regulation 😉 Hopefully it also highlights how hard this all is in practice.

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    • David, this is the dialogue I did with Massimo on teleology, nature and science.

      https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/38638

      Now, Massimo splits the difference with you. He believes teleological explanations have no role to play in natural science, but he thinks nonetheless that there is sufficient teleonomy in nature to ground classical virtues. As you and everyone knows, I agree with Anscombe that this is not possible. I understand that you disagree, but until I hear some pretty strong arguments — and counterarguments against arguments that have already been made — I can’t take it as anything more than saying-so.

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      • Hi Dan, re teleology I was taught physiology using the now standard concepts from cybernetics such as “negative/positive feedback/feedforward loops”, “homeostasis” [though this concept came first from physiology as it happens, see ref below] and so on, that are shared with engineers. These result from “blind” evolutionary processes filtering “working” from “nonworking” systems in a given environment. But it is not a circumlocution to say that the renin-angiotensin system has the goal of maintaining blood pressure against buffeting by the environment (temperature, and availability of water and electrolytes to the organism). It is a statement of the facts, and the flourishing organism is the one that does this successfully. I think this can be argued from that other cybernetic principle, Conant and Ashby’s Internal Model principle. This holds that “Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system”, and can be proved mathematically [see my web page http://users.tpg.com.au/davidd02/ for citations]. This is just as true of the brain, which in Friston’s slogan is the organ for minimizing surprises – that is, homeostasis in the most general sense using the most elaborate of models.

        Mosio and Bich [Synthese 2014]

        [The usual locus for arguments about teleology,]…the evolutionary account actually presupposes the existence of individual organisms that are able to survive and reproduce in their environment. Therefore, it seems to rely on an account of how individual organisms manage to maintain themselves, which as we will see, already involves a teleological dimension.

        This is not quite right, as in the case of pools of autocatalytic RNA (which we take as a model for abiogenesis and precellular life), but is true for cellular life.

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        • Sorry, but teleology involves the representation of things and states of affairs as good or bad (and all their variations). This is the province of persons.

          Again, I’ve been through all of this with Massimo, a biologist, who agrees with me. You can take it up with him.

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          • I don’t see any requirement for final causes (“the fourth foundational cause of the natural world“) to involve persons. Obvioiusly, it is persons like us who can recognize the ends at work.

            Back to the original topic – why should we derive any metaphysics from the “heuristic” of the stereoscopic view, which we might just limit to epistemology?

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  2. Would Scruton’s “Lebenswelt” be anywhere near Seller’s manifest image? Scruton too talks about the world revealed by science and the world which people, with all their thoughts, fear, joy, longing, faith, … live.

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  3. Dan,
    davidlduffy’s remarks indicate how entangled metaphysical assumptions are with ordinary thought and speaking processes. :”that the renin-angiotensin system has the goal of maintaining blood pressure against buffeting by the environment (…) is a statement of the facts,” No, obviously it is an interpretation. This is an accessible statement of the “facts” (from Wikipedia):

    “When renal blood flow is reduced, juxtaglomerular cells in the kidneys convert the precursor prorenin (already present in the blood) into renin and secrete it directly into circulation. Plasma renin then carries out the conversion of angiotensinogen, released by the liver, to angiotensin I.[3] Angiotensin I is subsequently converted to angiotensin II by the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) found on the surface of vascular endothelial cells, predominantly those of the lungs.[4] Angiotensin II is a potent vasoconstrictive peptide that causes blood vessels to narrow, resulting in increased blood pressure.[5] Angiotensin II also stimulates the secretion of the hormone aldosterone[5] from the adrenal cortex. Aldosterone causes the renal tubules to increase the reabsorption of sodium which in consequence causes the reabsorption of water into the blood, while at the same time causing the excretion of potassium” –

    As we see, there’s no mention of any “goal” in this description. But it must be admitted that the Wiki article then can’t avoid an insertion of opinion: “to maintain electrolyte balance.” Of course this process does “maintain the electrolyte balance,” and it does “maintain blood pressure,” but is this such its “goal.” Will we assign intentionality to cells, and thence to molecules? This is a strange reductionism, that reduces up towards a disembodied consciousness, distributing intentionality to all manner of material entities.

    I watch a lot of nature documentaries. There is much to be learned from them, although I have recently developed the sense that there is more aesthetics than science involved in their production. However, there are two aspects of such documentaries I have grown wary of (and David Attenborough is the worst of the lot in this regard, despite that I appreciate his informed, conversational, intimate voice). The first is the lingering interpretation of evolution as the “survival of the strongest,” with predators always given top spot on the food chain – which is clearly nonsense. Survival of the fittest depends on reproduction despite environmental change – clearly bacteria are greater survivors than sharks or lions; ancient trees have lasted longer than aging crocodiles.

    The second sin of such documentaries is their dogged Lamarckianism. It is unintentional, yet apparently unavoidable. I recurrently hear that a fish grew certain fins “in order to” swim a certain way; or that a big cat developed long teeth “because” it needed to bite a certain prey in a certain way. More nonsense; as if lions could plan ahead for the time when there would be wildebeests to chew on! Yet such Lamarckian explanations seem to satisfy some basic need for basic, simple conceptualizations of the world around us; as if most people really can’t wrap their minds around an essentially purposeless universe, filled with living entities driven by what Kant remarked as “purposeless purposiveness” – the “world as will” as Schopenhauer called it, the drive to be, when being is no necessity – the struggle against Nothingness, not because there is a grand ‘Something,’ but because Nothing is always possible (and for the living inevitable).

    The determination of Natural Selection is not the species, it is the environment; what is determined is which accidental mutations will be allowed beyond antagonistic changes in the environment. This is so obvious; yet it is somehow incomprehensible – the universe has no special place for us – for any life form. Can this be true? Well, why not?

    As to the main article: I am reminded here of James’ lectures on “The Pluralistic Universe.” James was willing to entertain some explanations which you reject – for instance, religious explanations, or even panpsychism, which you call desperate (but which didn’t seem so desperate in the 19th century, perhaps). But the main thrust of his argument was against what at the time was known as “monism” – the philosophical faith that the universe could ultimately find a single explanation that would include all others – a “theory of everything” that would successfully interpret science, art, society, even spirituality, according to a small set of general principles. He posited, on the contrary, that the “universe” of experience – the physical, the social, the personal/ psychological – was in fact multi-faceted, and thus requiring multiple explanations of differing type and form. He not only rejected monism, but denounced it as a pathology, the will to a single, unified “theory of everything.” Why can’t we allow (as Mao once put it, allowing his poeticism without accepting his authoritarian hypocrisy) “a thousand flowers bloom”?

    The universe is a strange, wild, wonderful place, and that part of which we experience as human is no less that, and in some ways even so much more that. Whether we can ever learn to live with it is an entirely different matter.

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    • Hi EJ. I don’t want to rehearse the entire philosophical disputes about functionalism, and merely point out that the Wikipedia paragraph you quote is just a list of parts of a system with a description of one arm of the regulative action it takes, that is the response to a fall in renal blood flow. Obviously the next question is what happens once the renal blood flow returns to its biological norm, what happens if it overshoots, what the dynamics of this servo system look like over time, and how does this affect the life of the organism.

      Regarding Lamarckianism of nature documentaries: this is just the usual shorthand that biologists use to reason about function and adaptation – “the intentional stance”.

      As to James – any monism or physicalism has to be just as complicated as the world is. Hopefully, not too trite.

      In passing, Walter Cannon and Lawrence Henderson were the two physiologists who coined the term homeostasis in the 1930s, and who, I just found out, also dabbled in sociology:

      The most significant parallel, in our view, is that both physiologists developed a version of the “organic analogy” whose distinctive feature was the Hippocratic assumption of a vis medicatrix naturae. Cannon, in his theory of “social homestasis,” and Henderson, in his conception of a “clinical” or “concrete” sociology, both employed a medical logic explicitly identified with what they understood as Hippocratism. Each took the notion of organic homeostasis as a modern physiological expression of the ancient Hippocratic conception of the natural relations of freedom and necessity [my emph], a conception that could serve as a biological analogy of how the natural, spontaneous regulation of social stability and cooperation makes individual freedom possible.

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      • davidlduffy,
        “just a list of parts of a system” – my point is that such a list of “parts of a system” is all the fact we can get out of the matter, even answering your other questions. There is no “goal” in this. That the organism benefits is useful, but not definitional of the system.

        “Lamarckianism (…) is just the usual shorthand that biologists use to reason about function and adaptation” – as a metaphor for use among other professionals, understandable, perhaps unavoidable; as a public teaching in mass media, perhaps a great mistake.

        “any monism or physicalism has to be just as complicated as the world is” – generally, the greater the complexity, the weaker the monism, hence the tendency toward extreme reductionism or all-engulfing logics.

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        • I suspect David’s is a highly eccentric view. I have not had a single biologist — Massimo included — tell me he thinks there is actually purpose in nature. Now Massimo does think that teleonomy is sufficient to get values out of — at least, that’s what he said in the dialogue I did with him — but I think he is wrong about that.

          Beyond which, social reality itself will force us in my direction. Parking regulations exist. They are not illusions or fictions. They are not identical with any material thing or event. And they can only be “eliminated” if one is being dishonest.

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          • Hi Dan.

            ” social reality itself will force us in my direction. Parking regulations exist. They are not illusions or fictions. They are not identical with any material thing or event.”

            I reckon that these are not the best place to start. Rules of behaviour such as that all entities travelling in the same direction should stay on the same side of the route arise naturally from the interaction of large numbers of agents that don’t need to be particularly complicated mentally (eg social insects). A naturalistic view is that social rules that human persons follow are of the same nature as those a termite follows when cooperating with others to, say, build a complex nest, just relying on larger numbers of neurons per individual. I am reminded of Eric Schwitzgebel’s If materialism is true, the United States is probably conscious…”the United States would seem to be a rather dumb group entity of the relevant sort”. The rules that termites follow are just as material as human laws, they just change a lot slower, and are inscribed in a different medium.

            As to purpose, the usual terms in scientific papers are “role” and “function”. One occasionally does see articles with names like “On the purpose of selective innervation of guinea‐pig superior cervical ganglion cells”, or more frivolously, “All purpose Sox: The many roles of Sox proteins in gene expression”.

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          • Oh dear. This is precisely the sort of stuff that is the reason I’m doing the prolegomena. Parking regulations clearly exist and are ontologically uncomplicated. One only says things like you’ve written here if one has taken on board a number of bad metaphysical/ontological assumptions.

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          • Also, i am quite familiar with what biological functions are. To conflate them with purposes of the sort involved in the reasons we invoke in accounting for the actions of persons is exactly the sort of category error I talk about in the essay.

            I’m afraid you are going to have to wait for the prolegomena to be finished before you can mount a credible argument. I haven’t made some elementary mistake that you can dismiss by invoking rudimentary notions of which I am very well aware.

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  4. Quick comment on the opening section: you write, “Aside from a small number of elite institutions, philosophy finds itself struggling to exist, in the face of an economically strapped student-population that seeks practical, income-producing educations and a university system that has already largely relegated philosophy to general education and is now increasingly contracting out that education to community colleges and high school “dual credit” programs. … This is a time when disciplines must appear lean and sober and practical if they are to survive the ongoing transformation of the university, and philosophy is not helping itself with its penchant for the weird and the crazy. A discipline associated with politically “woke” histrionics and meltdowns and reputational bloodletting and ever-weirder flights of philosophical fancy – Muons are conscious! No one has agency! – has zero chance of surviving in the current climate, and I am fully prepared for the very real possibility that the study and discussion of philosophy may return almost entirely to private life and civil associations, in the manner of the Salons of the 19th century.”

    I wonder about this, in a couple of ways.

    First, sometimes when a discipline says crazy things, that’s what attracts people to it. Obviously, the rejoinder is: “true, for every one person its craziness attracts, it repels at least two more, if not ten more.” But it depends on how this craziness is presented to students. I can present van Inwagen’s mereological nihilism and then say, “this has powerful arguments in its favor. Where does it go wrong?”

    Alternatively, imagine I present van Inwagen’s position and then say I agree with it. Do you think that students would really recoil at this? And if so, what should I conclude from this? Should I conclude: (a) I shouldn’t let students know that I agree with van Inwagen — I should keep that to myself. Or should I conclude: (b) jeez, the fact that an intelligent person like van Inwagen has the views he has means that something has gone wrong with how we produce philosophers. We should change the discipline so that it produces mostly philosophers who agree with common sense?

    If (b), then my response is: but isn’t the world very complex? Isn’t it expected that thinking hard about a very complex world will result in a person’s giving up certain significant elements of his worldview that had appeared commonsensical to him? And wouldn’t it make philosophy rather boring if every philosopher accepted the Sellarsian/Wittgensteinian picture?

    Second, every discipline is getting woke. So, I don’t know that philosophy’s being woke will make it any less attractive than it already is. What’s the alternative? Don’t say STEM — its mathematical difficulty will make it prohibitive to most students. As for business, it’s just as woke as philosophy, isn’t it? Is the idea that if philosophy *weren’t* as woke as it is, it would attract a lot more students? (I.e., philosophy’s non-wokeness (it’s sleepiness?) would make it more attractive to most students who have no non-woke alternative?)

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  5. rgressis,
    forgive me for barging in (but you are becoming a favored interlocutor of mine, much like Mark English, with whom I have had many a snarly snarky disagreements which have challenged me mightily – and no, I’m not being sarcastic, “all real Americans love the sting of battle,” as Patton noted).

    “I can present van Inwagen’s mereological nihilism and then say, “this has powerful arguments in its favor. Where does it go wrong?”” I haven’t read van Inwagen, but as a Buddhist, I feel impelled to suggest that mereological nihilism is not necessarily wrong; it is at the core of Nagarjuna’s metaphysics ( or rather, his rejection of metaphysics, since any entity can be reduced to parts and any part is an entity that can be reduced to parts, ad infinitum ad nauseum) (see Mūlamadhyamakakārikā).

    Perhaps van Inwagen simply doesn’t go far enough. But in looking him up, I see that he got his doctorate only 20 miles from where I live, at the U of R, which means that he probably attended a class taught by the father of my high-school crush, as well as that of one of the most respected jazz musicians in this area.

    Interestingly, van Inwagen seems to use mereological nihilism as part of a larger argument for free will, while Nagarjuna uses it to empty the free-will debate of any assumed necessary content. (The truth of dependent arising – foundation of the Second Noble Truth and key to the Third – reveals us as a certain kind of organism pre-disposed to certain behaviors; the problem – which becomes the great problem Buddhist philosophy attempts to deal with – is, what kind of organism, and what sorts of pre-dispositions? There is no easy answer to this, and thus the multiplication of many differing sects of Buddhism, as well as development of sects that reject such inquiry all together. In an interesting historical arc, Buddhism ends – with Zen – pretty close to where it began in the Theravada tradition – practice is more important than theory.).

    Perhaps what Western thought needs is a philosophy of practice… oh, wait, it has one, it’s called Pragmatism.

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  6. I have been reading both the essays parts 1 and 2 as well as all of the comments n threads with greatest interest. It seems to me that most of the objections to Kaufman stem from a presupposition that there can’t be these two categories of things called manifest and scientific. Even if we accept that the two categories are two parts of a single and singular world I suspect that there is a fear of dualism, and maybe fears of excessive explanation since, the influence of the hard sciences are so strong on come philosophy today that, even thous some of the commentators on these threads I take to be philosophers and not biologies or physicists their skepticism of the Sellars model seems to be rooted in this kind of scientistic functionalism. It is odd to me that this should be so strong in philosophy departments as it is. Maybe it is a kind of science envy among some philosophy departments?

    What I am saying is that there is already a rigid commitment to something anti-pluralistic (monistic) and the singular explanation is what is considered or gets called science. I think there will be rejoinders that are disingenuous to the effect, “of course we aren’y really saying that human beings don’t have motive or reasons or feelings and so on, but we must insist that it is “all” the brain”. It is the kind of nat and switch that I think Dennett is guilty of of, by the way. It seems to me that the people in a discipline should respect what is unique to that discipline or they should leave that discipline for another. I mean one could argue that there should be no separate disciplines at all if one wants to renege on the project of discipline. Either philosophy has its own unique project or it does not.

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    • This is exactly right. And I am quite explicit that fears about dualism and other “weird” metaphysics are unwarranted, as they only follow if one holds a number of bad assumptions, some of which I itemize, and I also make it quite clear that I will address it in future installments.

      So it is amusing to see responses like David’s considering, I have just started and most of the arguments are still to come. Not sure why he thinks he knows I’m wrong, before the thing is even finished, but there it is.

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      • Dear Dan. I certainly don’t know you are wrong, and am really looking forward to rest of the series. I have spent a lot of my working life in areas where we move freely backwards and forwards between the social and the biological, and as I sketched above, apply a continuity of methods across both domains. So I am naturally suspicious of this talk of category errors. Or elsewhere, the specialness of human intentionality, or mysteriousness of the quality of sensation.

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        • I haven’t said anything about things being “mysterious.” Indeed, my approach is entirely demystifying. Your take on parking regulations, on the other hand, was quite esoteric.

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