The second of my ongoing series of discussions with Crispin Sartwell on my Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics.
The second of my ongoing series of discussions with Crispin Sartwell on my Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics.
I enjoyed the discussion. And it finally got to a point where I could begin to see where you are heading.
You talked about a space of reasons. And Crispin seemed not completely persuaded of that. I am also doubtful about that. Too often, reasons seem to be after-the-fact rationalizations.
If I am understanding you, then you see the world as mechanical and explained in terms of causes. You take persons to be engaged in reasons and teleology, and you see that as an interpretation of what is happening mechanically.
By contrast, I do not see the world as mechanical. So I would fit the teleology, reasoning and intentions somewhere else — basically, with our biology.
I see science as attempting to construct a mechanistic description of the world, a form of description that becomes more detailed with continued scientific investigation. But if the world is not mechanical, then this program of mechanistic description will eventually break down and science will never achieve a Theory of Everything. I see QM as arising from the breakdown of the program of mechanistic description.
From my perspective, intention, purpose, teleology and reason all arise from emotions. And the system of emotions comes from our biology. The teleology is what drives us to look for a mechanistic description system. So it is not just an interpretation of what happens mechanically.
Where they come from is not the issue. It’s the nature of the space they create.
If I were to pull back a bit, and go genealogical, I feel that making means-ends rationality the essence of personhood is approaching the whole world technologically, or maybe economically. I’d start with questions like: why did Western culture go down this road and how does that reflect, e.g., power dynamics? It’s not that you don’t have expressions of means-ends rationality in the Chinese tradition, for example, but you also have many alternatives. The ethics and the spirituality of Daoism, Confucianism, and Zen, for example, give entirely different pictures of what a person is.
Another interesting discussion. At times Crispin seems to be pushing you on the relationship between agency and action. The idea that actions require agency. I do think it can get messy here making the call of where agency is and is not present. As you pointed out this is often a pretty ambiguous line, people have numerous motivations and dispositions to act which can come into alignment or come into conflict.
Addiction is getting a lot discussion, but habit is not getting so much. Crispin has interesting ideas in ‘Entanglements’ with respect to agency, the application of cultivated skills, and spontaneous response in novel real time situations. His discussion of a Luis Armstrong improvisation comes to mind. I experience a sense of agency most strongly when I am engaged in the use of skills I have cultivated through long practice, yet sometimes the results of this type of engagement can be unplanned or surprising which does not detract from the sense of agency in their creation. This sort of the opposite feeling Crispin described in addiction when one feels compelled to act a certain way and helpless to act otherwise. Dan, how would you treat the sense of agency I am trying to describe? One where there may not be a specific goal or where the result was not the specific goal, yet is satisfying due to an agents application of skill?
I suspect Daoists go to the mall for reasons just like everyone else.
It’s not that agency is *required* for actions. Agency is comprised (partly) of actions.
I feel that in this excellent discussion, Sartwell is making his political commitments and the radicalism associated with those commitments lead him astray. That is, he is on a search (and destroy?) mission with regards to the Western philosophical tradition, finding guilt in that tradition for things. But that very mission is rooted in the flaw of his monism, ie.ethat there is A single philosophical tradition about which we can cast a final verdict. I respect his criticisms of that tradition but not to the extent where he seeks or seems to deny the value and good in the tradition.
I found the discussion of AA and Sartwell’s recovery most interesting. In that model we have a clear example of a tradition that is itself pluralistic in its many sources and influences, not only Christian but Eastern mysticism as well.
A few thoughts. First, you (Dan) keep trying to push a straw man idea that sequences of movements of physical objects (say trajectories of flies, feet, or soccer balls) are never contextualized except in the Manifest Image. This implies that ethologists can’t, for instance, talk about displacement activities in animals ie sequences of movements that are inappropriate in the current environment, and reflect anxiety or uncertainty. Reductionism doesn’t have it that one isn’t allowed to look at interactions and systems. It just holds that you don’t really understand things unless you understand the bits they are made of – and that there are bits.
You brought up the conception of person as a forensic one – I like this even if you may not. A minimal list that comes to me includes that a) persons are unitary and countable b) a person can be a cause of events that have particular consequences for other people (which might be omissions); c) causation can be multifactorial – 50% due to kneeling on a neck, 50% due to a preexisting heart condition; d) blame can apportioned to persons who acted without thinking, but should have thought first – consider the shift in responsibility for drink drivers; e) agency can also be along a quantitative dimension – ie partially impaired, acute versus chronic, exhibiting specific deficits that may or not be remediable by cognitive work-arounds. f) mens rea an act alone cannot not create criminal liability unless it was accompanied by a guilty state of mind. All this looks pretty commonsensical, but leaves lots of places for the subjective to be reduced to the objective. Personally, I’m in favour of scientifically driven excus-ism undermining legal responsibility as far as possible.
Which leads me to your ducking about mental representations, trying to partly hew the logical behaviourist line. How can an action be an interpretation of a series of movements without representation in the interpreter?
On coronavirus, FWIW, our state of Queensland has a population of 5 million, and has had 6 deaths out of 1000 cases, and no local transmission for weeks. However, this is because we closed our borders with the other states in April. There was a Black Lives Matter march on the weekend, but risk would be pretty minimal.
“Reductionism (…) just holds that you don’t really understand things unless you understand the bits they are made of – and that there are bits.”
I don’t think the manifest image denies there are bits. The point is, I feel, that in the manifest image you *really* do understand things without understanding or needing to understand “the bits they are made of”.
As I — and Massimo — have said on a number of occasions, science is interpreted in the Manifest Image.
I am not pushing any “straw men.” This is what I actually think and what I think are good arguments. You may disagree, but that doesn’t mean I am being dishonest or playing games.
lots of conflations and straw0manning of your own here. However, Ill just note that your paragraph on the ‘forensic’ conception of a person is inconsistent with the laws of the state of New York (and those of Minnesota as well. I assume). I don’t know how it stands in Queensland; but here, the determination of homicide or manslaughter would have nothing to do with any pre-existing heart condition of the victim. And the “act” determined would be homicide or manslaughter, *not* “kneeling on the neck.” The exact physiological events would certainly be considered “cause of death” of the body, but the act of murder is the cancellation of the person’s life as person. (The pre-existing heart condition would probably be introduced in the inevitable civil lawsuit, and probably dismissed as irrelevant. Such effort by the defense in the criminal case would likely be quashed on objection as wholly irrelevant; as would attempted introduction of previous behavior of the victim, unless it were demonstrably material to the immediate situation, provoking deployment of lethal force, which clearly it was not.) The degrees of misdemeanor and felony responsibility have largely to do with motivation, intent, interaction culpability of those involved, and states of mind. Racial bias is a recognizable influence on state of mind and intent, and ability to exercise restraint under stress. It is an influence most states, and the federal government, have determined unacceptable – as is true of your “gay panic defense” from a previous discussion, by the way.
Defenses such as “temporary insanity,” holding that the defendant was incapable of restraint at the time of the criminal act, are themselves intent and state-of-mind defenses; it might be pertinent that such a state of mind was induced by, say, certain drugs or other physiological imbalances; but what is at issue is whether the defendant could know what he/she were doing; recognize that it was wrong; capable of restraint or decision. Since it is actually difficult to demonstrate any of this in the defendant’s favor, this generally proves a weak defense.
“blame can apportioned to persons who acted without thinking, but should have thought first – consider the shift in responsibility for drink drivers; e) agency can also be along a quantitative dimension – ie partially impaired, acute versus chronic, exhibiting specific deficits that may or not be remediable by cognitive work-arounds”
The drunk driving laws in the state of New York due apportion degree of responsibility to some extent on numerical values – the amount of alcohol in the blood. This is because there is close co-relation between blood-alcohol levels and mental capacity or impairment. Obviously. However, the initial judgment of responsibility – whether the driver has any responsibility at all – is absolute, i.e., it does not depend on whether the driver “should have thought first.” Undoubtedly, if a driver complains, he or she will be told this, but the law is simply about the act itself, and assumes intent without needing demonstration.
By the way, this assumption of responsibility is so absolute, that the laws concerning drunk driving are actually adjudicated twice – once in law courts, and once in the administrative regulations of the Department of Motor Vehicles. The judgment in the courts can be contested as all court cases can be. Judgments and infliction of punitive measures by the DMV are automatic and contestable only through a rather arcane administrative-law hearing process.
The presumption of Constitutionality of these laws hinges on the status of driving as a state-granted privilege, not a right. However, review of the punitive measures the DMV can actually inflict really does raise questions about whether this process is defensible Constitutionally. But the history of damage and death inflicted by drunk drivers is so compellingly unacceptable that most of us are willing to live with such questions. And we also have the testimony of the drunk drivers themselves, that they did’ think about it first.’ They simply refused to acknowledge their impairment, or believed their wills superior to it, or excused it as a necessity to drive home, or whatever.
“mens rea an act alone cannot not create criminal liability unless it was accompanied by a guilty state of mind” – But this is not the simple waiver that you seem to be implying:
“Since its publication in 1957, the formulation of mens rea set forth in the Model Penal Code has been highly influential throughout the US in clarifying the discussion of the different modes of culpability. The following levels of mens rea are found in the MPC::60–62
Strict liability: the actor engaged in conduct and his mental state is irrelevant. Under Model Penal Code Section 2·05, this mens rea may only be applied where the forbidden conduct is a mere violation, i.e. a civil infraction.
Negligently: a “reasonable person” would be aware of a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” that his conduct is of a prohibited nature, will lead to a prohibited result, and/or is under prohibited attendant circumstances, and the actor was not so aware but should have been.
Recklessly: the actor consciously disregards a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” that his conduct will lead to a prohibited result and/or is of a prohibited nature.
Knowingly: the actor is practically certain that his conduct will lead to the result, or is aware to a high probability that his conduct is of a prohibited nature, or is aware to a high probability that the attendant circumstances exist.
Purposefully: the actor has the “conscious object” of engaging in conduct and believes or hopes that the attendant circumstances exist.
Except for strict liability, these classes of mens rea are defined in Section 2·02(2) of the MPC.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mens_rea
I think overall the problem with your comment is that it lacks a nuanced grasp of the relationship between the subjective experience of the actor and the objective interpretation by others; which I think Dan understands and Crispin is struggling with. One of the problems with scientistic-reductionist claims on persons and the social ontology they inhabit, is exactly a failure to grasp the interplay within and between such relationships, which defines us as a certain social animal in the first and at the last.
Hi EJ. it’s nice of you to expand so much. I was trying to draw some broad-stroke claims about the ontology of persons and causation that might be relevant to how Dan is thinking. Let’s assume that all reading here are aware of the complexity of the world – even complete determinists think the only way to find out how our universe will evolve is to “run” it. So, do you think responsibility is really absolute, or is it a fiction? When the social norms regarding drunk driving changed, so that it was no longer a mild deviation that led to a small acceptable increase in risk, a proportion of the population did not alter their behaviour. Could they have done differently?
I believe in the law, and the law is not a fiction. If I disagree with a law, I will work politically to change it. I also believe that in certain circumstances non-violent disobedience is warranted, as long as I am willing to accept the consequences this may face in the judicial system.
Drunk driving laws assume responsibility is absolute, largely on the principle of mens rea strict liability, but also given what we know of impairment due to intoxication. The degree of responsibility escalates according to the assumption of the awareness we should all have in the knowledge base we share as a community, depending on how dangerous the accompanying behavior is, involving additional crimes and misdemeanors. Since it is common knowledge that drunk driving can initiate accidents causing death, infliction of death can be prosecuted as vehicular manslaughter or homicide, and possibly compounded as a felony homicide, that is a homicide while committing another crime. We can assume the driver knows this, at least as common knowledge, thus indicating a further assumption of risk on the part of the drunk driver.
“a proportion of the population did not alter their behavior” – Social norms are not a technology, and they cannot be switched into a gear that all will agree with; they are not a strictly predictable pattern, and are thus not reducible to generalized but specific measurements; they depend on people negotiating a given context. Friction , tension, sometimes out-right conflict is inevitable, as the social context inevitably changes over time. Management of such tensions and conflicts is partly what practical law applications, and political determination of these, are all about. There will always be outliers, rebels with or without a cause. That’s one reason why, in the case of drunk driving, legal consequences now involve enforced rehabilitation and punitive measures – fines, suspension of licenses, monitored enrollment in rehab programs, imprisonment. Recidivism escalates the punitive consequences, since, if the driver didn’t know what the law was or what possible results of drunk driving could be, certainly they must after arrest and punishment and monitored rehabilitation (assuming their initial arrest did not itself involve severe damage or death.
“Could they have done differently?” I would say yes; even given a history tending in the direction of commission of the crime, many moments of self-recognition and reflective realization are possible before the laws must be enforced. At any rate, after the law is finally enforced, the driver would have the opportunity to do things differently in the future, or they will eventually spend a lot of time behind bars, making the world a little safer for sober drivers in their communities.
(BTW, I’m amused that in Australia ‘drunk driving’ is referred to as ‘drink driving’ – it almost sounds like a slogan for a soda-pop!)
“even given a history tending in the direction of commission of the crime, many moments of self-recognition and reflective realization are possible” -as something of a social determinist, have good reason to think that personal and social history re-enforces certain tendencies and behaviors. However “Time may change me/ But I can’t trace time.” History is not a linear expression of exhaustive possibilities; it is a rolling wave leaving behind eddies, mud-puddles, and debris that somehow adds up to a life.
At any rate even scientistic hard determinists have their “conversion experiences,’ do they not? Jerry Coyne says it occurred to him in high school when he was getting high listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; B. F. Skinner had his when while trying to write, a jet breaking the sound barrier impelled reflexive attention to the sound. I confess that neither the Beatles nor high-speed jets seem to me to warrant conversion to either physicalist determinism or to Watsonian Behaviorism. My own conversion to Buddhism was the end result of a long process of struggling with various explanations for the pain and chaos of certain previous experiences. Having been raised a Catholic, a part of me had always wished that lightening could strike me the way it had Pascal. I was left finally with a long walk, sitting down for a rest, and a night sky I suddenly realized was just a night sky. Still; “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.”
In the end, hard determinism cannot explain itself; I’m not waiting for it to explain anything else.
I find myself by and large agreeing with Dan, except when it comes to the science. But then I think that when Dan is talking about the science, he’s not really talking about science: he is talking about how the science was received into the mainstream culture, and embraced there by the philosophers and the general public alike.
And by the scientists themselves, I would add; and with the exact same kind of crazy, desperate ideas; hidden variables or Mad Dog Everettianism: these are not ideas that any sane person would embrace unless they felt desperately compelled to.
Along with the science came ideas that are just not warranted by the practices of science, but themselves originated in metaphysical speculation, like what if the entire world was a strictly deterministic mechanism? Or in theology. Leibniz is exemplary clear about this. For him, the physics was a direct continuation of his theology, and determinism the actual mechanism of predestination. For the young Leibniz, that is; the Leibniz of the monadology is a very different beast altogether, and something I don’t presently feel qualified to comment on, but one day I might do it anyway. But the young Leibniz saw himself as an intellectual heir to Thomas Aquinas, and he wanted to accomplish a synthesis between Thomism and the new mechanistic world view of Descartes. And he resolves the conflict between that, and human personal agency, by recourse to the office of the good God, who simply makes it so that our desires just happen to coincide with what our mechanical bodies are doing. In the Thomistic conception, the Aristotelian Prime Mover is to be identified with the Christian God, and since God is good, the world is as good as it can be, and so on.
There’s no need to dwell more on that somewhat dubious theology, except to maybe note that the concept of free will, or voluntas, itself, as far as I am aware, was introduced by Augustine of Hippo, also in a discussion of the Christian doctrine of predestination, and in an attempt to justify the notions of culpability and desert, as also the practices of punish and reward.
When I listen to Sartwell, and many others, it sounds to me like we haven’t moved an inch since then, and perhaps then finally lay to rest, this strange and preposterous doctrine of predestination?
But that is what it is: doctrine, not science. And we are not so much standing on the shoulders of giants, as fending in the dark with vaguely remembered things our elders told us when we were young, and that we took to heart, like a child might, without understanding.
When we do the science, and many other things besides, we naturally divide the world up into three parts (some physicists will tell you that we divide it into two parts, but that’s ignoring the environment, and I don’t think we’re allowed to do that. We divide the world into the System (following the jargon of many physicists), which is that which we want to know about, and into the Apparatus, which is what does the observing and the understanding. We may call it the apparatus, but we should never forget that there’s a person inside, and a person with an agenda; with a desire to understand something, and explain it so that others may follow. And it is solely by that agenda that some particular aspect of the world is picked out, and becomes the system under this inquiry, while the rest of the world becomes environment, usually, in this business, a source of distractions and noise that we want to eliminate as much as possible; but my noise could easily be your signal, and vice versa. If we want to study, say, gravity at the submilimeter scale, we’ll find that the interactions at this scale – electrically neutral interactions between very small things – are completely dominated by van der Waals forces, and that’s the environmental noise that we want to eliminate one way or another. But in the lab next door, van der Waals forces may be exactly what they want to study, and gravity is very weak, so they’ll just happily ignore it.
This division of the world into parts is not, or at least not necessarily, any kind of dualism, but in most cases a completely pragmatic and blindingly obvious way to go about it; a planetary scientist is not himself a planetary body; a child looking at ants through a magnifying glass is not herself an ant, and so on. But there are at least three occasions where that easy division of the world into parts, itself falls apart. And at least two of those involve self-reference of some sort, and at least two involve gravity in some deep way that no one fully understands.
It breaks at the scale of the very small. At the quantum scale we find that we can no longer adequately distinguish between system, apparatus, and environment, because everything becomes entangled. And at the same time we find that there’s a hard limit to reductionism, since in order to go to smaller and smaller scales, we need to go to higher and higher energies, and eventually we’ll find that we need to pour so much energy into a finite volume of space, that the whole thing collapses into a black hole, and then we know nothing.
It also collapses in the very large, since if we take for our system, the entire cosmos, then there’s really no way of having an apparatus that is not itself just a part of that system. Physicists sort of get around this, by imagining observers at infinity looking into an interior, but some day someone will have to come up with a way of doing physics from the inside, as it were.
And finally, it breaks down at the human scale, since if we want to consider being a person as a property of being a particular kind of organism, then ipso facto we’re using physics to talk about ourselves, and talk about ourselves in the specific capacity of doing the physics. So physics itself becomes self-referential, and a lot of things we normally take for granted, no longer makes any damn sense.
And all of this gets compounded by the unreflected inheritance of bad ideas and wonky concepts.
Yet within that framework of system – apparatus – environment, wherever it does work, we are free to make assumptions about the system, for example, that it behaves deterministically. But we’re not required to that. It is not the only way to do mechanics. We can also think in terms of optimization. We can also do that in physics, even in Newtonian mechanics; we can replace Newtons way of doing it, with the way developed by Euler and Lagrange, who noted that everything behaved as if it was trying to minimize a quantity called the action, which is the kinetic energy minus the potential energy. Why nature would do that they had no answer for. There’s a proper explanation due to Feynman and his generation, but I shan’t get into that. But once we do make that assumption, we find that we can do away with determinism altogether, and replace it everywhere with optimization problems.
But we are still at liberty to assume determinism wherever it makes sense to do so.
Finally, any talk of mechanics, whether deterministic or optimizing, is talk about the system, whereas talk about causes and reasons apply to apparatus, and to the people inside it. And when there’s any reason to think that they may in fact be the same thing, then it is a good guess, in my view, that this whole way of thinking has already collapsed in on itself, and what is needed is a new approach, for example a Sellarsian stereoscopic vision.
I’ll have lot more to say on this subject, should anyone care to listen. But for now, that’s it for me.
I quite liked the tripartite partitioning in
I think that the thermodynamics of information might be a way forward – where consciousness is just life, as per the neurophenomalists, from the very smallest
up to middle-sized things. But I’m a dilettante in such matters.
“A proportion of the population” – this way of thinking is natural to me, but it was made poignant to me by a project of Koestler’s (IIRC), where his coauthor mused on entities such as the murder rate, which might remain constant from year to year. It was the underlying bones of determinism in such statistics leading to mock questions like “how did Bob know to murder his wife this year so that the expected number of annual murders was reached by December 31?” You can see how this might interact with ideas of responsibility versus “there but for the grace of”. In the case of rates of alcohol taxation, one can predict, moderately accurately, the mean decrease in drinks per week and resulting changes in DUI – is there a place here for contra-causal free will? There are some people who will “swerve”, do the opposite precisely because someone is telling them what to do – Chesterton made much of such perversity. The Dutch Book type arguments of game theory say such people will lose out on average in the long term – why there are norms of rationality – but game theory also has setups where a truly randomized strategy is the best thing to do. I can choose to carry out an act based on some kind of random process (noise in thresholds of activation in my nervous system can be chaotic, and might even partake of quantum chaos) – zigzagging between necessity and chance as freedom seems the closest thing to me. This can include higher order desires and other “strange loops”, else CBT wouldn’t work, would it?.
In passing, as to mens rea – even in the 1980s some Californian Supreme Court judges were saying things like:
“(1) a single episode of drunk driving does not usually result in death or injury; (2) driving to a bar does not justify the conclusion that the defendant harbored a conscious disregard for life when he later drove under the influence; (3) the defendant may not have been aware of the hazards of drunk driving; (4) evidence of intoxication may show a lack of awareness of risk” in the context of whether the act was “implied malice second degree murder”.
Thank you for those links, David. I’ll definitely look into those. And I absolutely do believe that thermodynamics, perhaps in the form of quantum information theory, is our best current bet for a unifying framework – which is not the same as a unified theory.
When it comes to understanding consciousness in a physical frame, I think everyone is a dilettante. But I do not believe that consciousness equates to life. It is to me completely obvious that there are lifeforms, and even lifeforms engaged in what appears to be fairly complex cognitive processes, that are absolute not consciously aware of any damn thing. I think consciousness requires natural language and a large prefrontal cortex, that just happens to be unique to humans, and that from then on, consciousness is something that emerges in social interactions within a culture that has a long memory.
We may consider, or assume, that material reality is essentially Markovian; in order to understand the system, we may need to consider its previous state, but not arbitrarily far back in time; nor do we need to project out into arbitrarily distant futures; we may find it a good idea to look under the hood, but not to arbitrarily small scales; and we may equally find it a good idea to look at it in its natural environment, but not out to arbitrarily large scales, just as in order to understand what is happening in Washington one does not need to understand what goes on in the Andromeda galaxy, nor know that Julius Caesar was murdered on the ides of March; and in all, everything we need to know is in the vicinity.
But there are important ways in which life is non-Markovian, and even more important ways in which people are non-Markovian, and in both cases this has to do with memory. But the memory of life is encoded in the genome, while the memory of people is encoded in its culturally transmitted forms. Only the latter requires conscious understanding, and perhaps it is what generates it in an appropriately receptive brain. That, at least, is what I think.
I picked up a couple of points from your posting: “consciousness requires natural language and a large prefrontal cortex” and “perhaps memory encoded in culturally transmitted forms is what generates consciousness in an appropriately receptive brain”. Are you saying that homo sapiens 200,000 years ago was probably not conscious? That is something I have always been curious about
I have no idea when that might have happened.
Just thought I would mention that an illusionist philosopher popular on on twitter (Keith Frankish) is at on twitter here:
Opps I just wanted to link a couple of Keith’s pots because no one is voicing objections along your line of argument, So I think it demonstrates the need for your project:
So sorry cant get shift control to work — Feel free to delete mt other posts. Just linking some example today for Keith Frankish (who seems like a smart, reasonable guy, but is illustrating what you are arguing against)
: here is the link: https://twitter.com/keithfrankish/status/1270834399504982023
You may want to check out Daniel Dennett who has some very interesting things to say on the matter of cultural evolution, imo. Also Julian Jaynes on how consciousness may have come about. Although I think his overall thesis of a very recent emergence of consciousness is resoundingly refuted by the archeological record, he at least tried to tackle the issue in a serious and methodical way, and I think many of his observations may hold true, even if the overall thesis does not.
There’s also Lynne Kelly, on memory and fidelity of transmission in oral traditions.
My own take, bearing in mind that I’m a naive romantic who knows next to nothing of these matters, is that language, memory, narrative song, and consciousness coevolved over thousands of years, perhaps in the context of a not-conscious Dennettian cultural evolution; and that this likely happened a long time before civilizations and literary culture emerged.
Yes, I am familiar with Julian Jaynes’ “The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind”, even though I never read it. Like you said, the historical period he chose for the event is unbelievably recent, but the general idea is intriguing.