Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics: People

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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I shouldn’t need to tell anyone that there are people. You’re a person, as am I. There likely are others in your house. Certainly, there are more down on the street.  I understand from a not entirely reliable authority that Hell consists of them. Clearly, uncontroversially, obviously, people exist. They aren’t illusions. They aren’t like desktop icons on a computer. And they aren’t “ugly bags of mostly water,” as described by a strange alien species in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as believed, essentially, by every reductionist who has addressed the subject.

People also aren’t spirits. They aren’t souls. They aren’t any kind of weird substance that “inhabits” bodies. People have bodies, of course, but they don’t “inhabit” them and aren’t independent of them, in the way that I inhabit my house and am independent of it.

So, what are people then? This is easy to answer and – like the question as to whether there are people – shouldn’t have to be told to anyone. People are friends and neighbors. People are parents and siblings. People are plaintiffs and defendants.  People are entertainers and fans.  People are heroes and villains. Etc.

“No!” I can hear philosopher after philosopher protest in exasperation, “What are people.” And what they mean; what they are asking; what they really want to know is what are people made of?

I’m not playing. I didn’t go through all the trouble of talking about and explaining the mistake involved in the assumption that ontological commitment should be understood hypostatically, in order to have a ridiculous conversation about what people are “made of,” any more than I did it in order to argue about what parking regulations are made of. So, let me repeat: To say, “There is an X” is not to say, “There is a discrete object in space or a substrate.” That’s not what it means. It’s not materially equivalent or equivalent in any other sense. It’s just a mistake. An understandable mistake, given how we perceive the world, but a mistake, nonetheless. People do not have thingy-ness, as I’ve described it earlier, any more than do countries, laws, or the other elements that make up our social ontologies.

So, when someone asks, “What are people,” the sort of itemized list I offered is the correct and only possible answer. And it is sufficient to explain everything we want to know about them.  People are those who exist and operate within social, intentional and teleological forms of life and whose activities and character are thereby subject to normative characterization. It is this that every “People are …” that I listed have in common. It is why John Locke deemed ‘person’ a forensic term. And it’s why Sellars, in the final paragraphs of “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” wrote:

To think of a featherless biped as a person is to think of it as a being with which one is bound up in a network of rights and duties. From this point of view, the irreducibility of the personal is the irreducibility of the ‘ought’ to the ‘is’. But even more basic than this (though ultimately, as we shall see, the two points coincide), is the fact that to think of a featherless biped as a person is to construe its behaviour in terms of actual or potential membership in an embracing group each member of which thinks of itself as a member of the group. Let us call such a group a ‘community’. Once the primitive tribe, it is currently (almost) the ‘brotherhood’ of man, and is potentially the ‘republic’ of rational beings (cf. Kant’s ‘Kingdom of Ends’). An individual may belong to many communities, some of which overlap, some of which are arranged like Chinese boxes. The most embracing community to which he belongs consists of those with whom he can enter into meaningful discourse.

and…

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.

What trips up so many philosophers is that they think there is some terrible mystery involved in understanding the relationship of a person to his or her body. But there is no mystery, nor is there a problem. People have views, and in doing so, use their brains. Brains do not have views. People go on bike rides, and in doing so they use various bones and muscles. Bones and muscles don’t go on bike rides. People go to the store and shop for groceries and bring them home, and in doing so they use their bodies, but, of course, bodies don’t go to the store, shop for groceries, or bring them home.

The relationship between persons and their bodies is like the relationship between their actions and their motor movements, and both, taken together, represent the relationship between the Manifest and Scientific Images, taken as a whole. There is no problem in understanding the relationship of actions to motor movements or people and their bodies, because that relationship is not one involving material substances interacting with weird, non-material ones or substances interacting with other substances at all.  Rather, it is a relationship between the world conceived in terms of quantifiable magnitudes and causality and the world conceived in terms of reasons, actions, and ends. That relationship is complementary, not contradictory, and involves no reaching across disparate substrata or different worlds. Rather, it arises out of a single world that has people in it; people whose representations and points of view regarding that world and one another, create the space of reasons in which the social dimension of our lives lies and to which we devote much if not most of our time and energies.

52 comments

  1. So is personhood an all-or-nothing phenomenon? So it requires the assent of a community? Does my personhood change when a court finds me not responsible for my actions by reason of mental illness? Or because of physical illness, such as a brain injury?

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    1. David: I think whether being-a-person requires the assent of a community is a fair question. I think the answer is yes — at the margins. The newborn baby, for example, is given honorary person-in-community status. Its being given a name is one important moment in that process, but there is much else that we do. We bring the baby into the community — of the family, in the first instance — by eye-to-eye connection and by talking to it in motherese, for example. The process of induction into full person-status runs for years. I’m stating the obvious perhaps, but your question matters, I think.

      Alan

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  2. “[The relationship between bodies and persons] is a relationship between the world conceived in terms of quantifiable magnitudes and causality and the world conceived in terms of reasons, actions, and ends. That relationship is complementary, not contradictory…”

    You make this claim in different ways, sometimes employing metaphors. But the claim itself is not supported by argument or evidence or explanation, as far as I can see. Even accepting everything as you have set it up, asking for some kind of an explanation as to how or why these views are compatible seems like a natural and reasonable response.

    ” [That relationship] involves no reaching across disparate substrata or different worlds.”

    But, in a sense, you *are* talking about different worlds. The dichotomy as you present it is clear-cut. (I talked previously about an implied or incipient dualism.)

    “Rather, it arises out of a single world that has people in it…”

    I think this is a potentially misleading way of putting it. There is an implied “container” metaphor here. (I assume you are aware of the work of Mark L. Johnson et al..)

    A single world? Yes, definitely. But it is one which ordinary language cannot comfortably embrace.

    I am not sure to what extent my doubts relate simply to the way you put certain claims or whether there is a real difference between your views (on persons, etc.) and mine.

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    1. As for the first part of your comment, I am drawing from the distinction as it is made in Sellars. I’m not sure what argument or evidence you are looking for. The entire set of prolegomena — not yet finished — are the argument/evidence.

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      1. Given the way you set things up (which I am uneasy about it, as I have indicated), an explanation as to why (and exactly how) the two views are complementary seems to be called for.

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          1. Many different movements can amount to the same action, and many different actions can be performed by the same movement. But, additionally, each human action typically has a set of alternatives attached to it. I choose Plan A, but in choosing plan A I also have a plan B. If I had not chosen to study philosophy I would have chosen to study history. Someone else who chose philosophy would have chosen mathematics or theology or whatever if philosophy were excluded. This applies down to very minor matters. if I can’t eat the apple that I would have eaten, I will eat an orange (or some other foody alternative).

            Whether any scientific story, presumably a kind of psycho-kinematics, could account for these obvious truths about persons seems to me more than improbable. If someone like Mark wants to call this an incipient form of dualism, I would choose to put up with the stigma. if Sellars has a way of integrating the person-world and the kinematic-world then all the better. But, I assume, kinematics would not as a matter of principle admit anything like these “alternatives”.

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          2. Mark also fails to consider the sort of case I discussed with Crispin in the dialogue. If I hypnotize one of my students and send her to rob a bank, and she is caught and the plot uncovered. *I* would be the one prosecuted for robbing the bank, not her, and that’s because I am the *person* who robbed the bank, not her, despite the fact that it was the motor movements of her body that carried out the action. The *action* was mine.

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  3. Dan

    I re-read your previous instalment. There is nothing there which addresses the question which I raised.

    “Actions consist of bodily movements, under interpretations that belong to a larger narrational structure whose logic is teleological, not mechanical.”

    Okay, but you say little or nothing about how this narrational structure relates to bodily processes, other than claiming that the two views are complementary (and not contradictory). Given that the two views are operating in very different areas of logical space (if I can put it like that), I see that they don’t actually *contradict* one another. But it is going much further to assert that they are actually complementary.

    “I am entirely open to the suggestion that some of our actions may turn out really to just be mere motor movements; that we might be mistaken in thinking we’ve acted and not just moved; [but] I doubt very seriously that one can plausibly argue that this is the majority or even a large plurality of cases…”

    Again, here you are speaking as if there is an absolute distinction, a clean dichotomy, between real actions and “mere motor movements.” This (like the complementarity claim) is just assumed. As I see it, the claim that movements are simply either (a) actions or (b) not actions (i.e. mere motor movements) is not plausible.

    Are there not degrees of “freedom” (or whatever you want to call it); or — putting it the other way around — degrees of compulsion or addiction? If we take this line, then your dichotomy (either (a) or (b)) no longer applies. (David Duffy made a similar point.)

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      1. I also find Mark’s difficulty itself a difficulty. The sentence he quotes (“Actions consist” etc.) reads to me clear as a bell.

        Perhaps his history of suspicion/ skepticism of narrative tells us something here. Where actions must be explained with recourse to intention, motivation and teleology, the proper discursive mode for such explanation is narrative. Narrative can only be excluded by reducing the persons involved to motor impelled units, and the actions can then be described as motions in terms of universal process (physical, chemical, at its most complicated biological).

        “A single world? Yes, definitely. But it is one which ordinary language cannot comfortably embrace.” An odd remark; I find common language has adapted to the development of science quite comfortably, and in fact modern medicine would be near impossible to articulate if it did not. I don’t know epidemiology, but have a fair enough grasp, with a college level education (setting my doctoral degree, which was in the humanities, aside) to be able to understand the workings of a virus, the processes by which it spreads, and the instructions of medical professionals about how to take precautions against it. That’s clearly not true of ignorant presidents, whose narratives only concern themselves; but my narrative, going forward, involves not catching the virus and not spreading it if by chance I do. I don’t how we can make decisions, personally or collectively, without the evidently complimentary relations between described processes and narrative of the actions consequent to those decisions

        As to davidlduffy’s question: Having been an LPN in nursing homes for 12 years, thus dealing with a population with severe cognitive dysfunctions of varying sorts, the answer is simply, no. Until they are merely a body in a bed, we are demanded to see them as persons ethically, and we can recognize them as persons by observation. Even as bodies in beds, we grant them “honorary person-in-community status,” in alandtapper1950’s phrase, just to make sense of ourselves as members of that community.

        I suppose meat-robots can debate where perfect clarity and understanding between them is lacking. But it should be technically impossible for them to hold positions out of any intuition or conviction.

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        1. What both Mark and David ignore is the case I’ve described several times now, in which I hypnotize a student to rob a bank. It demonstrates — beyond any reasonable doubt, as far as I am concerned — that people are not identical with bodies or with any other discrete objects or substrates of any kind.

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          1. Ah, but to discuss the hypothetical, you’ve deployed narrative. If we eliminate the narrative, we can only describe the “hypnosis” in terms of universal neurological/ physiological/ bio-electro-chemical processes impelling the body in question into certain motor functions. “Student,” “rob,” “bank” are merely illusory constructs of ordinary language used to negotiate a shadow world that somehow hides the real processes from common view; but these can be brought forth in discovery through some form of scientific research (or perhaps computer modelling.) Precise scientific descriptions and higher-order logic should give us all we need to know of these.

            Unfortunately, it’s not clear what we get from this (increasingly successful population control? improved robotics? a redefined, stream-lined legal system?), but very clear what gets lost: the stories that allow us to rethink our histories; to change our minds; to communicate with heterogeneous populations – our fellow persons – in a complex society.

            “People also aren’t spirits. They aren’t souls. They aren’t any kind of weird substance that ‘inhabits’ bodies. People have bodies, of course, but they don’t ‘inhabit’ them and aren’t independent of them, in the way that I inhabit my house and am independent of it.” You might be interested to know that much of what you write here is consistent with Buddhist thought. (The Sanskrit words traditionally translated as “illusion” in describing Buddhist attitudes to reality and self-hood actually translate better as “misguided” or “magical thinking,” and originally referred to the Hindu insistence on having an individual soul. For instance, I think Nagarjuna’s notorious deconstruction of the “self” via analogical deconstruction of a chariot – disappearing into little more than a sum of parts – can be understood as a deconstruction of the “self” *as a thing* rather than as means of bringing our motives, intentions, socialization and experiences together in order to determine and enact behaviors, through which we acquire responsibility and some measure of choice.) There are of course minor but important differences (and as I’ve remarked before, I personally am favorable to some form of social determinism); perhaps someday I’ll write about these.

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    1. Mark: Give us an example to show how, as you see it, there is not a clear “dichotomy” between movements and actions.

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      1. Spasms are movements, not actions, sure. But you talk about people not being responsible (or being less than fully responsible) *for their actions* under certain circumstances (when they are under the influence of drugs, hypnosis, etc., or due to certain mental conditions or disorders). The behavior is still discussed in terms of actions even in fairly extreme cases. So any simple dichotomy collapses, I think.

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        1. How is a series of motor movements characterized as one action, rather than another without reference to reasons and ends? That’s how actions are individuated. And that’s ultimately the point of the hypnotist example.

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  4. Dan

    “The very quote you cite explains the relation. I suspect what you want to know is how “they interact” which I explained is a mistake.”

    I want to know what you mean by saying they are complementary and how you justify the claim.

    I said: “Given that the two views are operating in very different areas of logical space … I see that they don’t actually *contradict* one another. But it is going much further to assert that they are actually complementary.”

    Complementary means more than just non-contradictory. (Alan gets this point if I am reading him correctly.)

    Also, my point about your apparently absolute dichotomy (which seems to preclude accepting degrees of freedom, etc.) was ignored.

    This is what I said: “[Y]ou are speaking as if there is an absolute distinction, a clean dichotomy, between real actions and “mere motor movements.” … As I see it, the claim that movements are simply either (a) actions or (b) not actions (i.e. mere motor movements) is not plausible… [If there are degrees of compulsion or addiction] then your dichotomy (either (a) or (b)) no longer applies.”

    This is not to say that there are never straightforward cases of “mere motor movements.” Obviously there are.

    Your hypnosis example involves a situation where you would not blame a person for actions done by her under hypnosis, because you would see the hypnotist as being responsible for those actions. Fine. I don’t know why you think this is in conflict with anything I am claiming.

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    1. Because it was the hypnotist who acted, not the hypnotized person. It demonstrates that people are not identical with bodies.

      As for the complementariness, it’s because both the Manifest and Scientific Images are required to obtain a complete picture of the world. That has been a consistent thread running throughout.

      I don’t see compulsion or addiction as any sort of counterexample. Reasons, actions, and responsibility go together. When we act, we do so for reasons, which is why actions are subject to normative assessment. Without reasons, motor movements are not interpretable as actions to begin with. Actions are individuated by their relevant reasons/ends. The three examples of hand raising demonstrate that point.

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    2. Your assessment of the hypnosis case is incorrect. The student didn’t rob the bank. I did. This can be demonstrated by slightly changing the case. I build a machine to go rob a bank. Machines don’t act. And yet there was a robbery. *I* acted, despite the fact that I never set foot in the bank.

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      1. “Your assessment of the hypnosis case is incorrect.”

        Meaning, you don’t like me talking about the student not being responsible for her *actions*. And yet this is a very natural way of putting it.

        And you still haven’t addressed my point about *degrees* of freedom, *degrees* of compulsion, etc..

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        1. Sure, I can be more or less free. If I have a lot of money, there are things I can do that I can’t if I have none. If I break both of my legs, I can’t bike to the mall. If I want to impress a date, I’ll have to shave, even if I don’t want to. Don’t see how any of it is relevant.

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          1. The examples you give are not particularly relevant to my point. I am thinking of psychlogical differences between people. Some people are more prone to addiction, some less. It is a matter of degree. And presumably an addicted person has more control at certain times of the addiction cycle and may overcome the addiction. Typically mature people have more self-control than children do, which is why children need to be protected from things like drugs or sexual predation. It’s all a matter of degree — so your dichotomy is by no means absolute.

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          2. I don’t see how this demonstrates that. I don’t hold the view that agency means being free from causality. To act is simply to do something for a reason/end. To the extent that one’s reasons are subverted, one has less agency. But it doesn’t change the difference between acting and merely moving.

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          3. By the way, I should say that I appreciate the substantial interrogations. When these are done and I put them together to form a book, I will consider and respond to these kinds of criticisms.

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        2. Mark,
          The missing term is “behavior,” the purely observational description of either teleological or teleonomic acts by a performer, either programmed or ingrained. And I suspect you would want both “action” and “motion” reducible to this. This has been a shibboleth of post Logical Positivist philosophy and psychology for some time, and requires considerable unpacking. (Robots and dogs exhibit behavior without the kinds of motivation/ reasoning Dan is arguing for.) Dan is rejecting this reduction – there are interior motivations simpliciter without recourse to any ‘subconscious,’ and yet are clearly beyond the reach of any behaviorism.

          The judge might well say “the student is not responsible for these actions,” but most would understand the reference was to a certain set of behaviors, programmed by the *actions* of the hypnotist. The hypnotist’s behaviors would be more easily recognized as ‘actions’ in Dan’s sense, because they were intended to achieve an end, robbery of the bank.

          Ordinary language is frequently sloppy, and is often battered by rhetorical intentions, but it only “misleads” those who demand logical precision from it. It is about communicating with others, not about accumulation of knowledge (which I find somewhat esoteric, give the multiplicity of human experiences and practical decisions we face.)

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          1. “The hypnotist’s behaviors would be more easily recognized as ‘actions’ in Dan’s sense, because they were intended to achieve an end, robbery of the bank.”

            This is exactly right. And what I think Mark is missing.

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  5. ejwinner

    For the moment I am trying to stay focussed on specific criticisms of what Dan is saying in these pieces. Your comments raise all sorts of wider issues and seem like an attack on (what you take to be) my general position. But I am not the subject here and the points I am making are not necessarily dependent on the broader views which motivate my participation.

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    1. Mark,
      I’m sorry; you’re probably right, I went too far down the path of which you complain.

      I just wondered about the difficulty you had with what to me seems a very clear sentence: “Actions consist of bodily movements, under interpretations that belong to a larger narrational structure whose logic is teleological, not mechanical.” – which difficulty you clarified as: “Okay, but you say little or nothing about how this narrational structure relates to bodily processes, other than claiming that the two views are complementary (and not contradictory).” This reminded me of your previously expressed suspicions concerning narrative per se, leading me perhaps too far afield in speculation. Nonetheless, the complementarity seems to me fairly clear. “John walked to the store to buy a loaf of bread.” Surely we all know that walking involves motions of the legs and the bodily processes required for these. Again, medicine is the moment making explicit the complementary relation between the two views.

      “Doctor, I walked to the store to buy a loaf of bread and my knee gave out on me.”
      “John, tests indicate you’ve been developing arthritis.” Now, the Doctor doesn’t simply usher John out of office and send him a bill. She assumes, and is quite likely right, that John would like to continue walking, and that therefore some plan of care is needed so that John can continue to walk at some optimal level and reduce the interference of the arthritis and the pain involved. John’s story makes the discovery of the arthritis meaningful to both John and the doctor in a way that mere clinical research would not. The arthritis and its treatment then becomes absorbed into that story. “Why are you limping, John?” “Doctor says I have arthritis; may need a knee replacement. Can’t go hiking with you this week-end, I’m afraid.”

      Medicine also reminds us that an interesting aspect of the relationship between the Manifest and Scientific Images of the world is that the former largely drives the development of the latter. Our stories impel us to accumulate knowledge of the world that we can include in them. Come to think of it, I doubt there’s any relationship more complementary; maybe the relationship between “red beans and rice,” as they used to say in the South.

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  6. “I hypnotize a student to rob a bank”…yeah, but hypnosis is not a particularly good example, precisely because you need the scientific image to understand what is going on, consider

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00207147208409280

    Whether an unscrupulous hypnotist could induce antisocial or criminal behavior in a subject has long been a matter of considerable controversy among workers in the field. If one were to try to decide this matter by a vote of “experts,” one would find a number of distinguished contributors who, in their speaking and writings, insist that the hypnotic subject has built-in resistances against antisocial suggestions

    and

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207147208409281

    …[N]o evidence is available to indicate that hypnosis increases the behavioral control of the hypnotist over that already present prior to its induction. Certainly, the popular view which holds that hypnosis is able to exert a unique form of control over the hypnotized individual, which can compel him to carry out otherwise repugnant actions, must be rejected.

    I have previously made an ambit claim that the concept of unconscious reasons and unconscious reasoning is not part of the Manifest Image, even though it is a part of the most people’s everyday theory of mind. The two quotes above are pretty central to reasons and responsibility, but the only answers can be from (imperfect) scientific knowledge. This is just as true of sleepwalking, the influence of psychoactive drugs, toxins (reason responsiveness of those with fetal alcohol syndrome or low levels of lead exposure), kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army etc. This then gives us “creeping excus-ism” [Waller 2006 doesn’t actually like this, but Sergeant Krupke was briefly impressed]

    People are exempted from moral responsibility when they are warped or deranged or compulsive. Thus a universal exemption from moral responsibility must be based on the judgment that everyone is warped or deranged or compulsive [to some lesser or greater extent]

    Talking just about moral responsibility and agency is probably too narrow for me.

    Anyway, I’m just saying that one doesn’t have to make any deep ontological commitments at all to completely enfold the Manifest Image into the Scientific Image. Everything is still there, especially reasons and ends when one is studying behaviour.

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    1. Oh my god. You have such a way of spectacularly missing the point. Sometimes I wonder whether you’ve understood anything i’ve written at all.

      Forget the freaking hypnosis. Make it a robot instead.

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  7. I am all in favor of the complementarity between the manifest image and the scientific image. In fact, for example, people take drugs acting upon the firing of brain neurons (scientific image) to improve their sense of well-being (manifest image).
    But I disagree on the idea that this complementarity never raises a contradiction.

    When describing somebody doing something, it is certainly appropriate to describe that in teleological terms. But we should be equally entitled to describe the same event in terms of neurological events (in fact that’s the whole idea behind drugs acting at a neurological level).

    So if we take the best scientific knowledge of the brain we have (which could always turn out to be incorrect, of course) and we apply it to what happens when a person acts in a particular way, we can describe that, in addition to the teleological way, in purely deterministic ways (excluding quantum randomness in neurological events, which so far seems not to play a role).

    If we truly embrace a pluralistic ontology, we have to say that those two descriptions are equally valid. At the same time, they certainly feel to be contradictory.

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    1. Well, throughout all the installments thus far, I’ve explained exactly why there is no contradiction. If you still don’t get it, I’m not sure what else I can say that will change that.

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  8. ejwinner

    “I just wondered about the difficulty you had with what to me seems a very clear sentence: “Actions consist of bodily movements, under interpretations that belong to a larger narrational structure whose logic is teleological, not mechanical.” – which difficulty you clarified as: “Okay, but you say little or nothing about how this narrational structure relates to bodily processes, other than claiming that the two views are complementary (and not contradictory).” This reminded me of your previously expressed suspicions concerning narrative per se, leading me perhaps too far afield in speculation. Nonetheless, the complementarity seems to me fairly clear.”

    I don’t have difficulty *understanding* the quoted claim! It’s as clear as a bell. It’s just a definition, isn’t it? It is Dan’s definition of action. He is defining action in a particular way (such that other animals don’t act, for example), and it fits into the kind of philosophical theory which he is presenting. But I think the theory (or picture or whatever you want to call it) is flawed for the reasons I have outlined.

    My main problems don’t relate to the sorts of issues to which you allude (diagnosing and treating a sore knee); they relate to broader issues of understanding. The “bodily processes” I refer to (in that sentence of mine which you quoted) are primarily *brain* processes. Dan will say that knowledge of brain processes is irrelevant to what he is interested in. And I agree that knowledge of such processes is irrelevant to lots of things, to lots of activities and disciplines. And, the way he and many others conceive philosophy, philosophy is one of those disciplines. I have been hearing this argument since I was 18 years old (originally from an Oxford-educated philosopher).

    “Medicine also reminds us that an interesting aspect of the relationship between the Manifest and Scientific Images of the world is that the former largely drives the development of the latter. Our stories impel us to accumulate knowledge of the world that we can include in them.”

    Yes, exactly! Exactly! The relationship is not symmetrical.

    “Come to think of it, I doubt there’s any relationship more complementary…”

    “Complementary” is not the term I would use for this at all. You say yourself that it is a dynamic process in which the knowledge feeds back into and changes our view of the world. But the term “complementary” implies (1) that the relationship between the two elements is more or less symmetrical and (2) that neither element changes the other as an entity. It’s not that the parts (considered individually) are changed. Rather the combination creates an effect such that the positive qualities of the two elements are emphasized or enhanced. For example, one piece of clothing might complement, i.e. enhance or “set off” another; or the skills of two people working together may be complementary (meaning working as a team they can be more flexible or productive than they could working as two loners).

    This may sound like a trivial complaint (about the deviant use of a term). I realize that words can be used in different ways. But there is another angle to this: complementarity is a positive thing, more than just non-contradiction. So the complementarity claim needs to be explicitly spelled out and justified. It can’t just be assumed that a scientific view will confirm and enhance our intuitions.

    In fact (and this is a logical rather than a linguistic point) if there is — by definition — no possibility of contradiction or conflict, I can’t see how there can be concord either. Logically, for complementarity to be possible, contradiction and conflict must also be possible.

    Moreover, these linguistic and logical points tie in quite closely with my other concerns about dualism, false dichotomies, and an unnecessarily narrow view of science.

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    1. Mark,
      First, thanks for this comment, it clarifies much of your position.

      Yet I still think you miss something here. “But the term “complementary” implies (1) that the relationship between the two elements is more or less symmetrical and (2) that neither element changes the other as an entity.” What seems to be missing here is recognition that the complementarity depends on an holistic picture of the processes and relationships. “For example, one piece of clothing might complement, i.e. enhance or “set off” another; or the skills of two people working together may be complementary (meaning working as a team they can be more flexible or productive than they could working as two loners).” But, surely, the first example depends on the whole appearance of the clothing ensemble; the second upon the final product. In other words, the elements are only meaningful *as complementary* as the subsumption within of a whole. “They are complimentary, precisely in that together they give us a complete picture.” (Dan)

      “The “bodily processes” I refer to (…) are primarily *brain* processes.” I won’t speak to that directly; but brain processes do not reveal a “person,” in the way Dan discusses, and never can.

      I (vaguely) remember a heavy drinking period in my life, and particularly a night when this abuse effectively reduced my “brain processes” to the small cerebral cortex of animal experience and response, some thirty years ago. If you ever go through such an experience, you would never forget it. I know what it means to be enraptured by pure “brain process” without identity; I hope you never go through this. (Perhaps not surprisingly, this was one of the experiences that led me to convert to Buddhism.)

      But who would ever want to go through that? And who, having gone through it, would not recognize how valuable, how precious, how intimately important it is to bind ourselves to the common experience, the everyday, the common-place of human community?

      I know you separate yourself (rightly) from Rosenberg’s absolutism (the hope that someday we would not say “I love you” but “neurons in this brain are excited by your presence” – and yes, although I lack the citation, he actually did say something like that). Yet, I suspect you are tempted. I could be wrong; I hope I am.

      This “narrow view of science” of which you complain – perhaps it is knowledge tempered by experience. Logic isn’t the answer to everything; sometimes it is no answer at all. “The heart know reasons that reason never knows.” The greatest logician of the 19th Century, Charles Peirce, held that view, I stand with him.

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  9. Dan,

    I mostly agree with how you’re saying things in your first paragraph, and here

    “… People have bodies, of course, but they don’t “inhabit” them and aren’t independent of them, in the way that I inhabit my house and am independent of it.”

    When you say of course people *have* bodies, would you say people are embodied?

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  10. I can’t otherwise make sense out of ‘having’ a body.

    “People are friends and neighbors. People are parents and siblings. People are plaintiffs and defendants. People are entertainers and fans. People are heroes and villains. Etc.”

    I agree, that’s strait forward.

    “No!” I can hear philosopher after philosopher protest in exasperation, “What *are* people.” And what they mean; what they are asking; what they really want to know is what are people made of?

    I sympathize. I want to groan when I hear questions like that.

    At the end of the next paragraph, when you say “People do not have thingy-ness”. How do you see that in relation to the idea that people have bodies?

    Not sure where I stand, but I think one thing I can say for sure is that people are definitely not just things. I’m still processing.

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    1. Dan,

      I meant to reply to your comment “Yes”. When I started my comment with “I can’t otherwise make sense out of ‘having’ a body”, I was agreeing that people are embodied.

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  11. ejwinner

    Again, in your latest reply you hardly engage with my criticisms of what Dan is saying, but instead make further vague accusations about what you imagine my general point of view to be (heartless and coldly rationalistic: thanks a lot).

    You say I am missing something in my account of complementarity.

    “… I still think you miss something here. “But the term “complementary” implies (1) that the relationship between the two elements is more or less symmetrical and (2) that neither element changes the other as an entity.” What seems to be missing here is recognition that the complementarity depends on an holistic picture of the processes and relationships.”

    Complementarity normally refers to a reciprocal relationship between two elements. As I said, one piece of clothing might complement, i.e. enhance or set off another. You criticize this example because the effect “depends on the whole appearance of the clothing ensemble.” Of course it does: that top and that skirt may be complementary under normal circumstances. Wearing an inappropriate hat or footwear would spoil the effect. But that does not change the fact that the claim about two pieces of clothing being complementary is specifically about the (reciprocal) relationship between these two pieces of clothing.

    You go on: “[T]he elements are only meaningful *as complementary* as the subsumption within of a whole.”

    The point is not altogether clear to me. Of course our *perceptions* of the world are holistic. But we still *talk about* specific things and their relations to one another without necessarily dragging everything else into the picture. Communication would not be possible without implicit ceteris paribus and similar assumptions.

    Dan’s use of the term does indeed relate to seeing “the whole”. Two views, each one limited or partial, combine to produce one complete, holistic view. I am not saying that such a claim is not meaningful. I am saying, for one thing, that given the dynamic *and asymmetrical* relationship between the two views, it involves a non-standard use of the term “complementary”. After all, scientific knowledge, as it develops, changes in subtle ways how we see things.

    But I am saying more than this. I won’t repeat it all here. Clearly, however, the claim needs to be both clarified and substantiated. If you just point to Sellars for this, you get (as Dan has pointed out) an interminable scholarly discussion. Otherwise you have to explicitly articulate your own view (Sellars-inspired or not). One of the things which puzzle me is how we know that the stereoscopic spectacles are going to work as advertised?

    In point of fact, most people get by with a fragmented view of reality, a bit of science here, a bit of commonsense there. What is so bad about that? Who says we need more than this? How do we know that we can achieve more than this?

    I’ll reiterate one other point. If you define your terms such that the two views cannot logically contradict because they are operating in different areas of logical space, how can you then turn around and claim that they are complementary? Either they potentially mesh with one another or they don’t. If they do, there is the possibility of conflict and the possibility of concord/complementarity. If they don’t potentially mesh, neither conflict nor complementarity apply.

    These issues look surprisingly like the typical problems of dualism. I think that Dan is working with false dichotomies and pushing in an obviously dualistic direction.

    You write: “[B]rain processes do not reveal a “person”…”

    I didn’t say they did! But I will resist the temptation to sketch out my view of these matters.

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    1. In point of fact, most people get by with a fragmented view of reality, a bit of science here, a bit of commonsense there. What is so bad about that? Who says we need more than this? How do we know that we can achieve more than this?

      = = = = =

      Is it your impression that I disagree with this? It sounds like you are agreeing with me.

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  12. One problem I see with a philosophy which is strongly focused on people is that it might have limited reach in other domains of philosophical investigation. For instance, would such a philosophy be able to tell me anything about the presence (or absence) of consciousness in other animals or in machines?

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