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On Eliminative Materialism
March 28, 2012Posted by on
If you want to discuss a hypothesis you must be able to define it. Eliminative Materialism, however, is as elusive a concept as you will ever come across. The proponents of this view sometimes think specific mental states exist – and sometimes not. It is very difficult to pin down exactly what the Churchlands and Dennett thinks. It’s a real shame that the academic world allow people like these to call themselves philosophers. What’s even worse is that most people don’t understand enough philosophy to see through the charade. Even today I think most people in the academic world accept Eliminative Materialism as an actual contender for the “throne”. More than ever this leaves me with the feeling best articulated by Schopenhauer: -“Sometimes I speak to men and women just as a little girl speaks to her doll”.
The certain flavour of Eliminative Materialism that I’m going to criticise works as follows: It holds that our folkpsychological understanding of consciousness is flawed in the same way that the folkpsychological view of physics (i.e. flat earth theory or geocentrism) is flawed. I will not bother with those that deny pains and visual perception – but instead go for those who deny beliefs, desires and other attitudes that imply intentionality. The first thing that should make us suspicious of this view is that the argument seems not to be an argument as much as a statement. If someone wants to convince me that I am the victim of some sensory illusion than the statement won’t do – there has to be some argument or proof. This is not offered by the Eliminativists.
( Intentionality, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is: the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. The puzzles of intentionality lie at the interface between the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language. The word itself, which is of medieval Scholastic origin, was rehabilitated by the philosopher Franz Brentano towards the end of the nineteenth century. ‘Intentionality’ is a philosopher’s word. It derives from the Latin word intentio, which in turn derives from the verb intendere, which means being directed towards some goal or thing)
In order to discuss this we must understand that almost all of philosophy fails to see the difference between objective and subjective points of view. Most philosophers and scientists of today think that science can’t tell us something of the subjective side of consciousness – and of course that is completely false. You don’t need to have a science of ontologically objective things, things that are ontologically subjective – i.e. your pain is truly an objectively existing pain albeit subjective in its ontology.
The problem with the view that folk psychology is false is that our “illusion” of an outside world is not an acquired illusion. Disregarding our cultural background, which might influence our choice of the objects of our desires, the feeling of a desire is a biological fact about human existence. There seems to be no “seeing through the illusion” as would other illusion.
The arguments from the Eliminativsts is that science can show us that our visual experience is not what we think it is – but of course – the experience of it is tied to consciousness, which we don’t as yet understand. Even there the difference between ontologically objective and ontologically subjective matters – for our subjective experience can’t, as I see it, be changed by the fact that we realize that the mind puts together a lot of visual perceptions to one visual experience of flawless unity.
There is also a taste of Scientism to the world-view of Dennet and the Churchlands. The metaphysical stories of science has as yet not given us a theory of everything, and some doubt that it will. I myself feel that we are nowhere near explaining consciousness and should be humble before that fact. There is a certain sense in which the language of “absolutes and absolutely-nots” permeates all of scientism today – but there are more than one metaphysical story of relevance out there.
On the scientific world-view of todays pop-skeptics things like meaning, purpose and inner experience are necessarily left out of the equation because they don’t have a language-game to handle it. And man is a story-telling animal in need of meaning and purpose.