Emotive Realism

In some earlier posts I have been clearing the way for presenting the metaethical view that I defend (The Meaning and Use of ‘is True’, Truth, Justification, and the Quasi-Realist Way, Meaning and Justification, Reason and the Nature of Obligation, and A Simple Argument for Moral Realism). What I want to do now is to introduce Emotive Realism which is supposed to be a way of combining classical emotivism with moral realism.

The basic idea is simple enough. When I say that something is right/wrong/good/bad I express my moral sentiment in just the way that the classical emotivists thought and at the same time I assert (that is express my belief) that my moral sentiment is the correct way to feel about the person/act in question. As an example, when I say something like ‘suicide bombing is wicked’ I express my moral condemnation of suicide bombing; that is I express my moral feeling about suicide bombing. This is the illocutionary act. It is successful just in case you recognize that I intend to be expressing my moral condemnation. I also at the same time express the belief that moral condemnation is the correct attitude to have towards suicide bombing. I (usually, but by no means always) do this with the perlocutionary goal of trying to get you have the same attitude. Whether we are successful in this perlocutionary goal has no bearing on whether or not we are successful in our illocutionary act. In other words, you may ‘grasp’ the attitude that I express (namely that I morally disapprove and think this is the correct way to feel) without your thereby coming to share my attitude.

There are of course bells and whistles that have to be added to the theory (like an account of the semantics of moral sentences) which I intend to talk about later. But here what I want to point out is that this kind of theory is in principle compatible with any theory of justification. The issues of justification, on this view boils down to answering the question ‘is the belief that I express ever true?’ The answer to this question could be ‘no’ in which case you would have something like Ayer’s version of emotivism. It could also be ‘yes’ at which point we have further questions, like is the truth of the belief robust or not? If we say no to this question then we would have a version of expressivism like Blackburn’s. But it should also be clear that we can say ‘yes’ to this last question, in which case we would have an emotive realism and the belief will be true in virtue of the correct theory of moral justification.

A Simple Argument for Moral Realism

 OK so I am back! Vegas was a blast (though I am broke-as-a-joke now, I didn’t win anything!!!) and I learned a lot…I will definately be posting on some stuff inspired by the conference later…though for now if I hear the word ‘consciousness’ one more time I may loose my mind :)

There seem to be obvious cases of moral statements that are straight-forwardly true. So for instance, ‘Hitler was evil’ certainly seems to be a true statement about Hitler, for that matter ‘smashing the heads of babies for fun is wrong’ and ‘barring special circumstances, promises should be kept’ also look like they are obviously true. From these considerations a simple argument for moral realism can be formulated.

Granted that there are things that are totally and obviously right (i.e. all moral theories will agree that these things are morally good), and that there are things that are totally and obviously wrong (i.e. all moral theories will agree that these things are morally bad), it looks like what we have is a continuum. Since each end point of the continuum is well defined, it would seem that there must be an answer to the in-between cases like eating meet and abortion, though of course we may not know the answer as of yet.

49th Philosophers’ Carnival

is here.

Somehow I got two posts (under the Euthyphro and the Gorgias, my two favorite Socratic dialogues!) in this one, even though I only submitted one :)

Speaking of the Carnival, Philosophy Sucks! will be hosting the 50th edition due out July 16th…the theme, with apologies for blatantly ripping off the name of a certain blog and for shamelessly catering to my own interests, will be Mind, Meaning and Morals (all broadly construed). So c’mon submit something!

Is There Such a Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness?

Pete has Ch. 4 of his book-in-progress up over at the Brain Hammer, entitled The Neurophilosophy of Consciousness. His stated goal is to discuss

philosophical accounts of state consciousness, transitive consciousness, and phenomenal character that make heavy use of contemporary neuroscientific research in the premises of their arguments.

This is because he defines ‘neurophilosophy’ as the bringing to bear of concepts from neuroscience to solve problems in philosophy, as he says

neurophilosophical work on consciousness proceeds largely by bringing neuroscientific theory and data to bear on philosophical questions such as the three questions of consciousness.

But it is unclear to me in what sense a theory of consciousness can be neurophilophical at all.

For instance, here is how he charecterizes Churchland’s account of what a conscious state is,

Paul Churchland articulates what he calls the “dynamical profile approach” to understanding consciousness (2002). According to the approach, a conscious state is any cognitive representation that is involved in (1) a moveable attention that can focus on different aspects of perceptual inputs, (2) the application of various conceptual interpretations of those inputs, (3) holding the results of attended and conceptually interpreted inputs in a short-term memory that (4) allows for the representation oftemporal sequences.

How is this neurophilophical? To be sure, Churchland goes on to talk about how this could be implemented in a connectionist neural architecture, but the actual theory of what a conscious state is isn’t much different from standard higher-order accounts. It involves being aware of myself as being in a certain state. Nothing neurophilosphical here! And his account of the what it is linke-ness just involves appeal to the representational content of sensory states, again nothing specifically neurophilosophical about this.

The same can be said about Prinz’s AIR model, which Pete quotes a summary of,

When we see a visual stimulus, it is propagated unconsciously through the levels of our visual system. When signals arrive at the high level, interpretation is attempted. If the high level arrives at an interpretation, it sends an efferent signal back into the intermediate level with the aid of attention. Aspects of the intermediate-level representation that are most relevant to interpretation are neurally marked in some way, while others are either unmarked or suppressed. When no interpretation is achieved (as with fragmented images or cases of agnosia), attentional mechanisms might be deployed somewhat differently. They might ‘‘search’’ or ‘‘scan’’ the intermediate level, attempting to find groupings that will lead to an interpretation. Both the interpretation-driven enhancement process and the interpretation-seeking search process might bring the attended portions of the intermediate level into awareness. This proposal can be summarized by saying that visual awareness derives from Attended Intermediatelevel Representations (AIRs). (p. 249)

Again, it is difficult to see how Prinz is doing anything more than discussing a possible implementation of the transitivity principle, which is not neurophilosophical. Pete does note that Prinz does not WANT his theory to be an implementation of the transitivity principle, but the challenge is to explain how it isn’t, not merely indicate that one wants it to be different.

Pete himself makes this clear in his summary of the three positions.

Churchland, Prinz, and Tye agree that conscious states are representational states. They also agree that what will differentiate a conscious representation from an unconscious representation will involve relations that the representation bears to representations higher in the processing hierarchy. For both Churchland and Prinz, this will involve actual interactions, and further these interactions will constitute relations that involve representations in processes of attention, conceptual interpretation and short term memory. Tye disagrees on the necessity of actually interacting with concepts or attention. His account is dispositional meaning that the representations need only be poised for uptake by higher levels of the hierarchy.

So, in so far as these are theories of consciousness, they are the standard ones. Now, I am not denying that these guys are neurophilosophers in the sense that Pete means; they do appeal to detailed neuroscience in the premises of their arguments. But I don’t see how the neuro stuff is supposed to be a theory of consciousness. As I have said, it looks like spelling out ways of implementing the two standard (first-order/higher-order) representational theories of consciousness.

The challenge then, is to spell out a neurophilosophical theoryof consciousness that is distinct from these standard theories which are not themselves neurophilosophical.

I Necessarily Exist

In several earlier posts I introduced and defended what I call Frigid Stipulation as an alternative to Rigid Designation (Introducing Frigidity, Applying Frigidity, What Kripke Really Thinks). The basic claim is that in natural languages (as opposed to in thoughts)there are no logically proper names at all, no singular terms what so ever. Every sentence with what looks grammatically like a singular term is really a disguised quantifier at the level of logical form and truth conditions and so can be analysed via Russell’s theory of descriptions.

Aside for the argument that I gave for frigidity from the fact that the truth conditions of sentences with so-called rigid designators in them change depending on who the speaker had in mind, there are also all kinds of well-known problems with construing linguistic names as logical constants, in fact with the whole idea of logical constants in the first place. These problems range from the normal ones about identity and existence statements, and belief attributions involving co-referential terms, to the bizarre logical result that we can prove that any given individual exists as a matter of first-order logic. The proof is actually quite simple and takes the form of a reductio of the assumption that the individual in question does not exist.

Here is a version of the proof that Rosenthal once presented in a Quine class I had with him.

(1) Proof by reductio that Saul Kripke exists: ((Ex) (x=SK))

            1. –(Ex) (x=SK)                     assumption for reductio

            2. (x) –(x=SK)                       equivalent to 1.

            3. (x) (x=x)                            axiom of identity

            4. (SK=SK)                             UI of 3.

            5. –(SK=SK)                           UI of 2.

            6. (SK=SK) & -(SK=SK)       4., 5.

As you can see, we derive the contradiction that Saul Kripke is both self-identical and not self-identical from the assumption that he does not exist and the axiom of identity with just two uses of universal instantiation. So we can prove that any given object exists as a matter of first-order logic with identity. But surely that is absurd! We may be able to live with the result that some object or other exists (Ex (Fx)), which naturally follows in standard first-order logic, but we cannot live with the fact that we can prove that any given particular object exists.

Even worse it seems to me that we can give an analogous proof that the object in question necessarily exists!

(2) Proof that Saul Kripke necessarily exists: □Ex (x=SK))
                1. ◊ –Ex (x=SK)          assumption for reductio

                2. ◊ (x) –(x=SK)         equivalent to 1.

                3. (x)□ (x=x)               modal axiom of identity

                4. □ (SK=SK)               UI of 3.

                5. ◊ -(SK=SK)              UI of 2.

                6. –□ (SK=SK)              equivalent to 5.

                7. □ (SK=SK) & -□ (SK=SK)           4,6

But surely this is even more absurd than the last! How can I necessarily exist? These kinds of results offer good reason to adopt frigidity.