Am I a Type-Q Physicalist?

In the previous post I tried to differentiate my view from type-z materialism. In this post I will address type-q materialism. Dave says, in Consciousness and its Place in Nature

Are there any other options for the materialist? One further option is to reject the distinctions on which this taxonomy rests. For example, some philosophers, especially followers of Quine (1951), reject any distinction between conceptual truth and empirical truth, or between the a priori and the a posteriori, or between the contingent and the necessary. One who is sufficiently Quinean might therefore reject the distinction between type-A and type-B materialism, holding that talk of epistemic implication and/or modal entailment is ungrounded, but that materialism is true nevertheless. We might call such a view type-Q materialism. Still, even on this view, similar issues arise. Some Quineans hold that explaining the functions explain everything (Dennett may be an example); if so, all the problems of type-A materialism arise. Others hold that we can postulate identities between physical states and conscious states in virtue of the strong isomorphic connections between them in nature (Paul Churchland may be an example); if so, the problems of type-B materialism arise. Others may appeal to novel future sorts of explanation; if so, the problems of type-C materialism arise. So the Quinean approach cannot avoid the relevant problems.

As I found out last Friday we can add David Rosenthal to the list of type-q materialists ion addition to Mandik and Weisberg. I agree with Mandik and Weisberg when they complain that it is not obvious how these problems arise for the Quinean. Take for example the type-b Quinian. She will hold that there are mind/brain identities but will go on to deny that these identities are necessary (nothing is necessary). This immediately defuses Dave’s objections to type-b materialism. There are no strong identities for the type-q position (a strong identity is a necessary truth that cannot be known a priori and is just brute). Nor are zombies an issue since the type-q will grant that they are conceivable (while muttering “whatever that means”) but so what? The identities are not necessary (nothing is, remember since modal cannot be given coherent truth-conditions) so the conceivability of zombies is irrelevant to the truth of materialism at the actual world. Zombie sonly get their bite from the necessity of identity. So problems of type-b materialism do not arise for the Quinian.

But I grant that modal talk is meaningful even though ultimately dependent on empirical justification. True empiricists wait until there is empirical evidence that merits the revision of intuitions. They do not consider every alternative as relevant; rather they make decisions about about what is most likely the case based on parsimony, simplicity, and elegance as well as explanatory power and congruency with known empirical data. Until we have some very good reason to reject [](x=x) I take the proof of it to be convincing and to justify believing that identities are necessary. Modal theory is a theory and so should be held to those standards. I claim that according to those standards basic modal intuitions should be trusted. Things get complicated quick but the necessity of identity is surely safe!

But even so there is much in the type-q position that I agree with and re-reading Pete and Josh’s paper I can see why people would say I was a type-q materialist. Their basic argument, as I see it, is that if Quine is right then every concept is open to revision in the face of empirical discoveries. Thus conceptual analysis of the concept of consciousness a priori will do us no good because Quinians cannot rule out that the concept will not need to be revised in the light of future empirical evidence. I agree in principle with this. For instance I have argued that empirical evidence suggests that it is possible that pain and painfulness come apart contrary to our initial a priori intuitions about pain. This is a key part of my counter  to the zombie argument. But notice that my argument is intrinsically modal in nature. I claim that pain asymbolia shows that it is conceptually coherent that painfulness is a contingent property of pain and so our a priori intuitions about pain are suspect until the empirical issue is settled. Discovering what actually is the case has the effect of ruling our some a priori conditionals. Ao, we can know a priori that if painfulness is an intrinsic feature of pains then various things follow and we can know that if painfulness is not an intrinsic feature of pains then various other things follow. We then need to know which is actually the case. I even agree that this might count as revising our concept of pain to include painfulness as a contingent property.

And I certainly agree with the characterization of the a priori physicalist deduction,

Consider the following scenario. I am angry, but not consciously so. I storm around the house bashing into things and grumbling, but when asked, I snarl, “I’m not mad!”  Later, my anger becomes conscious, and I see that my interlocutor was correct. I was angry, but the anger was nonconscious. Then I became conscious of the anger, and there was something it was like for me to be angry. Most folk will find this a plausible story, and certainly not one that is confused or contradictory. Thus, a reasonable clarification of “there’s something it’s like for the subject” is “the subject is conscious of being in a state.” But being conscious of something can plausibly be cashed out in functional terms. Thus, if we find the physical conditions that realize this state, we can reason, a priori, from the physical facts to the phenomenal facts.

I can even agree in principle with their expression scientism,

But more to the point for current research, the industry of modal intuition-mongering loses its reason for being. It is of little interest if zombies are conceivable. They are, in that nothing can be ruled out from the armchair. We cannot tell today where empirical results will drive us tomorrow. And whether zombies are possible or not depends strictly upon what our best theory says. And that is a matter for science to determine. Maybe qualia can be captured in a functional theory of the mind; maybe they cannot. That is for science to decide, not a priori philosophizing.

So maybe I am a type-q physicalist but one who thinks that even there is some use for a priori reasoning. Also, one who thinks that if Quine is wrong the view is still at least conceivably right and this shows that we do not have enough empirical evidence for a priori arguments to do more than reveal which side of the debate we are on. This suggests that even those who do not accept the Quinian views about empiricism should be hesitant to conclude that their a priori intuitions are correct in this case.

3 thoughts on “Am I a Type-Q Physicalist?

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