Friday, 25 July 2014

George Stout on the Mind-Body Problem

George Stout offers a rather original take on both the mind-body problem and causality. However, even though I've just used the word ‘original’, Stout’s take is original because it's so obvious and, therefore, quite un-philosophical.

Passmore writes 

"that matter could never produce anything so different from itself as mind" (310). 

We can say that this is the kind of argument offered by some religious people or naïve realists; though it needn’t be taken that way at all. Perhaps it would only be rejected by the type of physicalist who's never even looked at the mind-body problem this way.

The case is similar to (though not quite so blatant as) Stout’s view on causality, which stands in violent opposition to Hume’s position.

What he argues is that 

"a cause is not only an antecedent to, but is an 'intelligible ground' of the effect" (310). 

This seems to be an argument that the cause may not only be like the effect in some way; but, more importantly, we could infer or posit the effect from the cause without ever having experienced the effect. The effect, therefore, would be known a priori from its "intelligible ground". Stout himself is explicit about this. He writes:

"A cause is such a reason, so that if we had a sufficiently comprehensive and accurate knowledge of what really takes place, we should see how and why the effect follows from the cause with logical necessity." (310)

This is clearly the exact antithesis of Hume’s a posteriori position on causality. Not only that: Stout also uses the logical term ‘necessity’ – which must mean that it isn't the case that the effect can be inferred or posited from the cause; but that it entails it and can also be known a priori. This is a very strong claim on Stout’s part. Of course we must ask: How could this possibly be the case?

Stout’s position on the mind-body problem is not, however, Cartesian. In fact it's very contemporary in its general tone.

Stout argues that the mind is "embodied mind", not the "pure spirit" of Cartesian dualism. His reason for this position is, in a sense, quite commonsensical; even though no one holds it today in Stout’s precise form.

Firstly Stout says that 

"every material object… must be infused by mind, even though it is not itself a mind" (311).

Clearly Stout didn't think that material objects can think. Indeed the ‘infusing’ of objects with mind may still mean that such objects have no mental properties whatsoever. Indeed this distinction of mind and the mental is not unlike that of Davidson’s anomalous monism.

Like Davidson, Stout thinks that there's only one substance. In most cases, that substance isn't complex enough to cause or bring about mentality. However, when complex enough (as in human brains) it does create mentality. As Davidson argues, the mental supervenes on the physical; though it's not identical to it. Just as Stout’s mind isn't complex enough when found in material objects "infused by mind"; though it is when found in human brains.

Stout argues that the prime reason for such a monist position on mind and matter is that only this position can explain 

"the distinctness of mind and matter be reconciled with their continuity" (311).

So we have two very different aspects of the mind-matter relation: their obvious distinctness and also their continuity. Indeed their distinctness can only be explained by their ontological continuity and not by, for example, the mental’s strong emergence; or, alternatively, by Cartesian substance dualism.

Emergence seems miraculous and doesn't explain anything about the relation. Cartesian dualism, on the other hand, can't explain the interaction of mind and brain/body (among other things).

Philosophers to this very day are still grappling with the mind-body problem and overwhelmingly rejecting Cartesian dualism; as well as rejecting the various kinds of emergence theory which are seen as being little better - in terms of their explanatory power - than Cartesian dualism.

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