Sunday, September 1, 2013

Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective: the Core Argument.


After having criticized reductive and eliminative approaches (John Perry, David Lewis, as well as John Searle and Cognitive Science belong to the first group, whereas Daniel Dennett and Thomas Metzinger to the second) to first-person perspective, Lynne Baker takes up one of the central tasks of her work: the Core Argument against scientific, or ontological, naturalism. In its overall meaning, the argument can be summarized as follow:

1. There are fist-person properties that are neither eliminable nor reducible (linguistic and ontological arguments)
2.  Any property that is neither eliminable nor reducible belongs in the ontology (conceptual truth)
3.  First-person properties belong in the ontology.
4.  If first-person properties belong in the ontology, then ontological naturalism is false (definition of “ontological naturalism)
5.  Ontological naturalism is false. (p. 123)

The Core Argument can be broken down under two sub-arguments, the linguistic and the ontological. The argument presented at point 1 underpins the overall point, in particular conclusions 3 and 5.

The linguistic argument
The exposition of linguistic argument is preceded by a discussion about the problem of what we may call the alleged emptiness of I*-concepts. Many reductionists would say that even if I*-concepts are concepts that we really have and use, they might be empty as in the case of the concept of phlogiston. In that case, the use of the concept does not correspond to anything real (more precisely, the concept does not express any properties) as though we were victims of hallucinations. The best reply to the problem is that the reality of I*-concept is warranted by the use people make of it. “Just a look around shows regular exercise of the capacity to conceive of oneself as oneself* in the first person. For example, ‘I did not realize I* was being rude’. Therefore, we have good reason to suppose that there is such capacity. So, we have good reason to think that the I*-concept is not empty.” (p. 106).
Leaving aside the emptiness of I*-concepts, let’s start looking at the linguistic argument.

1.  I*-sentences are not reducible.
2.  If I*-sentences are not reducible, then I*-properties are not reducible.
3.  I*- sentences are not eliminable.
4.  If I-*sentences are not eliminable, then I*-properties are not eliminable.
5.  If I*-properties are neither reducible nor eliminable, then a complete ontology includes I*-properties.
6.  A complete ontology includes I*-properties. (pp. 109-110).

The underlying assumption is that I*-sentences, that express I*-propositions, contain I*-concepts, and I*-concepts express I*-properties. If that assumption works, Baker needs only to provide arguments for points 1 and 3. Consider the I*-sentence and its counterpart non-I*-sentence:
(i)  I believe that I* am wealthy (assertively uttered by Jones);
(ii) I believe that Jones is wealthy (assertively uttered by Jones);
We need to demonstrate that (i) is irreducible to (ii). As was shown by the discussion of the case of the “messy shopper” introduced by John Perry, there are cases in which when the first-person sentence like (i) is true, the third-person counterpart like (ii) is false, and vice versa. So, if (i) and (ii) do not share the same truth-conditions, then (i) is not reducible to (ii). As the fantasy of “Jones the multimillionaire hedge fund manager” (p. 110) tells us, the third-person description of Jones cannot substitute the first-person one because Jones can think of himself as himself* without identifying himself with the Jones the figured in (ii). For clarity, I quote part of the story:

Jones is a multimillionaire hedge fund manager, who has a belief that he express by saying at t, “I believe that I* am wealthy.” One unhappy day, Jones is abducted, bopped on the head, and left on the side of the road in Vermont. When he recovers, he cannot remember his prior life. Eking out a living as a farmhand in Vermont, he regularly reads in the newspaper and on the internet of Jones, the missing millionaire. He thus comes to believe at t’ that the missing Jones is wealthy and he express his belief at t’ by “I believe that Jones is wealthy”; not realizing the he* is Jones, he dissents at t’ from “I believe that I* am wealthy.” In these circumstances at t’, (ii) is true and (i) is false… (pp. 110-111)

The argument that bolsters up the assertion at point 3 of the linguistic argument is based on the inescapability of rational guidance of action: “If Jones had continued to believe that he* was wealthy, he would have gone back to his opulent former life. The purpose of guiding action cannot be achieved without beliefs expressed by I*-sentences.” (p. 112). I*-sentences cannot be eliminated because as agents we have an irreducible first-personal perspective on the world. To control action means to control our goals and drives, and that amount to have self-consciousness, that is, to be capable of thinking of oneself as oneself* or have a self-concept or I*-concept.
     The linguistic argument argued that a complete ontology must include I*-properties, and that scientific naturalism, by excluding I*-properties, ends up as incomplete and hence false.  


The ontological argument
The metaphysical argument is quite more complicated than the linguistic one.

1.  If P is a naturalized property, then either (i) the concept associated with P has a functional analysis in terms recognized by natural science, or (ii) the property P strongly supervenes on one or more (appropriate) properties recognized by natural science.
2.  The concept associated with P does not have a functional analysis in naturalistic terms.
3.  The property P does not strongly supervene on any properties recognized by natural science.
4.  P is not a naturalized property. (p. 117)

The first step of the argument simply states the conditions under which P, expressing the property of conceiving oneself as oneself* in the first person, is “natural”: (i) functionalization and (ii) supervenience. The third step is supported by the bare fact that science does not recognize first-person properties as genuine properties. Science, broadly construed to include psychology, sociology and biology, is a third-personal enterprise, which does not recognize any connection between first-personal phenomena and natural facts. What does not exist cannot supervene on the natural: “If property P supervened on properties recognized by natural science, then natural science would recognize first-person properties.” (p. 122).
     Provided all that, the burden of proof falls on the arguments bolstering point 2, which is the very heart of Baker’s ontological argument. Can a functional analysis of first-personal phenomena be given in terms of natural properties? A functional analysis of a certain phenomenon, such as a property or even a mental competence, amounts to a definition of the capacity in question in terms of its functional role, that is, in terms of the causal connections that occur between mental representations, like beliefs and desires, in order to produce action. An effective formulation of functional analysis in that context is given by Kornblith. Consider a mental representation, say ‘#’, that stays for I*-thoughts.

The inferential role of I*-thoughts, then, may be characterized by the relationship between certain representations containing ‘#’. For example, my belief that I* am a registered voter may be caused by my belief that I* received a notice about the polling place. The “I*” can be eliminated by showing the connection between representations in the “belief box” – between “# received a notice about the polling place” and “# is a registered voter.” So, Kornblith may continue, the inferential role of “I*” can be characterized by the relationship between ‘#’ representations. (p. 119)

Baker propounds to counter the functionalization strategy by underlying the specificity of first-personal phenomena. If I understand it correctly, the overall criticism can be broken down under two main points. One of them rely on the fact that functional analysis to succeed has to account for a myriad of disparate kinds of I*-thoughts not only I*-belief and I*-desire which are not necessarily connected by causal relations. Even if it were possible to account for I*-beliefs and I*-desire in terms of natural causal relations amenable of functionalization, what about I*-hopes, I*-fears, I*-wish, etc.? Moreover, not all beliefs cause behavior. How functionalists can deal with first-person beliefs not directly connected with causing? For example, beliefs about the past or about present situation not immediately related with desire such as those beliefs that convey information, and so on.

Even if we are concerned only with first-person beliefs, their action-causing role is matched in importance with their other roles: being vehicles for conveying information (“I was born in Atlanta”), for correcting misunderstanding (“I was here on time, but the door was locked”), getting to know someone or articulating truths about oneself (“I have a fear of flying”), narratives that makes sense of our lives (“I had a happy childhood until I met Frank…”), and so on. So, a functional definition of “belief” (first personal or not) seems to me not to capture the actual concept at issue. And belief would be just a start: we would also need functional definitions of hope, regret, and so on. (p. 118, footnote 15)

In order to accomplish this task, an ample non-causal portrayal of our mental life would be required, one that functionalism cannot possibly achieve.

     The second point at issue, which might be considered a phenomenological argument, is related with the alleged role played by self-consciousness in “unifying our lives” (p. 121) or in expressing the moral and personal significance of certain decisions or circumstances. The causal-functional rendition of the content of I*-thoughts simply does not do justice to our personal experiences and leaves out personal values as well as idiosyncratic self-evaluations. “So, what it is to think, “I deeply regret that I* misspent the past twenty years”, is just a matter of connections between (in my deeply regret box) “# misspent the last twenty years” and other “#” representations. This puts my deep regret (or my profound love) on the same psychological plane as my momentary preference to go to a movie.” (p. 121).

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