Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quicklink: Dennett and Clark Smack Substance Dualists Down

New Scientist recently ran a very short piece in which Dennett and Clark respond to accusations that any talk about mind influencing body (e.g. as when a deliberate shift in attention causes a change in brain states) implies an acceptance of some kind of immaterial soul / Cartesian ego.  The rejoinder they offer is short, to the point, and (it seems to be) decisive.  Snip:

But this would lend support to the proposition that minds are non-material - in the strong sense of being beyond the natural order - only if we were to accept the assumption that thoughts, attending and mental activity are not realised in material substance.

I've had my differences with both Clark and Dennett with regard to the nature of consciousness, but they're right on here: arguing that the explanatory role of consciousness proves the existence of an immaterial (i.e. essentially non-physical) kind of substance is straightforwardly question-begging--it assumes that consciousness is not itself the result of physical processes.  Descartes' legacy haunts us still.

1 comment:

Alex said...

What on earth does it mean to say that a thought is "realized in a material substance"? Does it mean that mental states supervene on physical states? Or that a thought is a property of a physical substrate (substance)? Or that thoughts just *are* arrangements of matter?

If you haven't, you should read Tyler Burge's "Mind Body Causation and Explanatory Practice", plus the postscript, from "The Foundations of Mind".