Saturday, 4 January 2020

Philip Goff Offers Us Non-Philosophical Reasons to Become Panpsychists

[This is a standard introduction to all my commentaries on videos.]

When it comes to my commentaries on particular videos, only the content of - or the words within - the video itself will be discussed. That is, the commentary won't be a case of detailed research on the subject discussed or person interviewed (as one would find in an academic paper or even in an in depth article). The reason for this is that I believe that this will help both the readers of the piece and the viewers of the video – even if such readers and viewers aren't exactly newcomers to the subject discussed or the person being interviewed in the video.


The panpsychist philosopher Philip Goff argues that panpsychism is “more likely to be true” than all the other philosophical alternatives which tackle the nature of consciousness and reality (which are connected in panpsychism). Yet panpsychism is almost entirely speculative - at least at present. It may well provide a "pleasing and coherent picture" (as Goff puts it). However, like "beauty" in physics, a theory's coherence and pleasing nature can be very misleading. (The theoretical physicist Lee Smolin says a lot about beauty-in-physics in his book The Trouble With Physics.). Hegelianism, Marxism, Kantianism, Christianity, etc. all provided pleasing and coherent pictures too - at least they did to very many people.

Goff's Ad Hominem

Goff says:

"When we're doing science or doing philosophy, then we should certainly be thinking about not which view we'd like to be true; but which view is most likely to be true."

This is a hopeless ad hominem (well, kind of) aimed at panpsychism's detractors. 

Goff claims that materialists (some may deny this is aimed exclusively at materialists and the other critics of panpsychism) shouldn't "believe what they want to believe". That is surely "against the man" and not against the argument.

Clearly (to me at least) Goff believes that various physicalists, Darwinians, scientists, etc. (or at least some of them) would "like their views to be true" and panpsychism to be false. However, we could just as easily turn Goff's ad hom on its head and aim it at panpsychists and Goff himself. That is, these people may like panpsychism to be true. After all, panpsychism is being tied to thousands of years of religious, spiritual and moral beliefs of various kinds - not least by the person (Adrian David Nelson) who interviews Goff in the video above.

As stated in parenthesis a moment ago, some may dispute the claim that Goff is aiming his ad-hom statement exclusively at the critics of panpsychism. In other words, what if Goff is expressing a "general approach" to philosophy when he talks about people wanting x to be true/false? However, in the context of what Goff says in this video - and elsewhere - about the detractors of panpsychism, I simply think this isn't the case. That is, he believes that many philosophers are emotionally against panpsychism. And, in the context of the video above, I think it's also clear that he's only targeting panpsychism's opponents.

It doesn't help either when Goff says that "materialism is dismal". Is that a philosophical comment? In addition, almost half of this video contains criticisms (right or wrong) of materialism.

So, basically, the inverse of what Goff says is the following:

"Philosopher X would like panpsychism to be false."

I suppose none of this matters if Goff's arguments work. However, it is Goff who's used this ad-hom phrase on more than one occasion.

So, yes, Goff claimed that those who're against panpsychism don't want it to be true. And then I aimed that way of thinking at Goff himself. In turn, it can be turned against my own position against Goff... Consequently, many analytic philosophers will see this as a hopeless game.

But not so quick!

One can confront the arguments and also do the psychology and sociology. Indeed the sociology and psychology may help us understand the arguments. (Having said that, most people aren't trained in sociology and psychology.)

So pointing out these motivations to believe in panpsychism (which Goff himself cites) may not be philosophy; but it may still be relevant.

Not Philosophy

Analytic philosophers like Goff who're panpsychists constitute a small subsection of panpsychists. Most other panpsychists explicitly cite their religious, spiritual and moral/political reasons for believing in panpsychism (e.g., Rudy Rucker, etc.). In addition, most people get their panpsychism from such people, not really from Goff or from any other analytic philosopher.

And Goff himself ties panpsychism to "the meaning of human existence", "human happiness", environmentalism, "our place in the universe"and states that "materialism is a pretty dismal worldview".

As it is, I neither believe materialism (as a view of reality) is “dismal” nor not dismal. To claim either is to make a similar mistake highlighted by Spinoza. He stated:

I would warn you that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused.”

In my view, "romantic factors" constitute the primary appeal of panpsychism when it comes to most panpsychists - including Goff. The hard analytical work may well come after the fact (as it were). That's my own ad hominem, anyway. After all, Goff offers lots of moral, political and spiritual reasons as to why panpsychism is a good idea for mankind (i.e., in the video and elsewhere). And as time goes by, Goff talks more and more about this extra-philosophical stuff.

Take Goff's specific claim that panpsychism posits "a universe we fit into". In order to understand what that means, we'd require a lot of non-scientific and, I would argue, non-philosophical baggage.

Of course:

i) Philip Goff often claims that the "good things" of panpsychism are simply its byproducts.
ii) But what if Goff's panpsychism is a byproduct of his believing in these good things?

Philosophically, it may not matter either way. Well, most analytic philosophers wouldn't care either way. Though psychologically and sociologically, surely it is of some interest.


As stated, Goff isn't doing himself any favours in this video. In it he talks about telepathy (he accepts its possibility, which is fine as it stands), "value in the universe", the "universal mind", etc. Indeed it gets worse as the video goes on. (I was waiting for something on ley lines and astral travelling.) Of course it can be argued that the person interviewing Goff is egging him on.

Finally, I can't help thinking that Goff is helping to open the floodgates. (I just mentioned telepathy and ley lines.) What's more, many lay people seem to be very impressed that professional (analytic) philosophers are now tackling all this stuff.

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