108th Philosophers’ Carnival

Welcome to the 108th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! I don’t know what is going on with the Carnival but  the last few editions have not had very many interesting submissions and I did not get a lot of acceptable submissions for this issue…but I know that there are interesting posts out there  so I scoured the internets to find the best that the philosophy blogosphere has to offer…I also checked a few other disciplines for some food for thought.
  1. Tuomas Tahko presents Draft: The Metaphysical Status of Modal Statements posted at ttahko.net.
  2. Andrew Bernardin presents Beneath Reason: An Iceburg of Unconscious Processes posted at 360 Degree Skeptic.
  3. Eric Michael Johnson presents Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward posted at The Primate Diaries.
  4. Terrance Tomkow presents Means and Ends posted at Tomkow.com, saying, “If your only available means of doing something are impermissible, does it follow that it is impermissible for you to do that thing? Judith Jarvis Thomson says, “yes”. Tomkow argues, “no”.”
  5. Thom Brooks presents The Brooks Blog: Thom Brooks on “A New Problem with the Capabilities Approach” posted at The Brooks Blog.
  1. Over at Conscious Entities Peter discusses Justin Sytsma’s recent JCS paper in Skeptical Folk Theory Theory Theory
  2. Over at Alexander Pruss’s Blog said blogger discusses Video Games as Art
  3. Not to long ago we had a very interesting post over at Brains on breeding pain free livestock. Anton Alterman has a somewhat polemical but interesting response at Brain Scam in Pains in the Brain: On LIberating Animals from Feeling
  4. Over at Siris we are reminded how malleable language is and the effect it has on reading past philosophers in Every Event Has a Cause
  5. Over at Practical Ethics Toby Ord asks Is It Wrong to Vote Tactically? I don’t want to spoil it for you but he thinks the answer is ‘no’
  6. Over at Evolving Thoughts John Wilkins discusses Plantinga’s argument that naturalism is self-refuting in You and Me, Baby, Ain’t Nothing But Mammals
  7. Did you know that a Quine is a computer program that can print its own code? It’s true and over at A Piece of Our Mind John Ku discusses them in Meta Monday: Ruby Quines
  8. Over at Neuroschannells Eric sums up his current views on perception and consciousness in Consciousness (13): The Interpreter versus the Scribe
  9. Over at Specter of Reason there is a discussion of Pete Mandik’s Swamp Mary thought experiment in Swamp Deviants, Part II
  10. Over at the Arche Methodology Blog Derek Ball asks Do Philosophers Seek Knowledge? Should They?
  11. Over at Philosophy on the Mesa Nina Rosenstrand wonders if Neanderthal’s raped early Humans in They Are Us? News from the Primate Research Front
  12. Is the idea that the mind in the head an a priori prejudice? Ken Aizawa thinks not in So, why does common sense say the mind is in the head?
  13. Over at Inter Kant Gary Benham discusses Free Speech and Twitter
  14. Over at The Ethical Werewolf Neil Shinhababu discusses his recent run on Bloggingheads and Hedonism
  15. Over at Logical Matters Peter Smith talks about Squeezing Arguments and comments on Fields characterization of them in Saving Truth from Paradox
  16. Over at In Living Color Jean Kazez discusses just how outrageous espousing moral realism really is in Torturing Babies Just for Fun is Wrong
  17. Over at Philosophy Talk: The Blog Ken Taylor discusses Culture and Mental Illness
  18. Over at In the Space of Reasons Tim Thornton discusses Aesthetic Self-Knowledge
  19. Over at the Philosophy North Blog Aiden McGlyn discusses The Problem of Vanishing Warrant
  20. Finally, have you heard about this Philosopher’s Football match? Virtual Philosopher has a nice report of the madness in Philosopher’s Football -Match Report from the Ref.
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of philosophers’ carnivalusing our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival |

3rd Birthday

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of my starting Philosophy Sucks! I started my blogging career over at Brains and had my first post on April 12, 2007. I had several posts there before I was compelled to start my own blog and as people may know I continue to contribute to Brains and am very pleased to have seen it grow in recent times. I continue to post here as well and limit my posts at Brains to ones that directly relate to philosophy of mind and consciousness.

In these three years I have had over 100,000 hits, nearly 350 posts, and almost 2,000 comments…and next week I will be hosting my third Philosopher’s Carnival (I hosted the 58th and the 50th); not bad! I have had some rough experiences adapting to online discussion (there are some crazies out there as people well know) but all in all the discussion has been extremely helpful and challenging. I have had two papers and numerous presentations (two at the apa Pacific) develop out of discussions that started here. So thanks to everyone and I hope it continues in the future!

The year is still young but here are the most viewed posts so far (see also the best of all time).

10. HOT Qualia Realism
9. Am I a Type-Q Materialist?
8. Why I am not a Type-Z Materialist
7. Consciousness, Consciousness, and More Consciousness
6. More on Identity
5. The Singularity, Again
4. HOT Damn! It’s a HO Down-Showdown
3. Attention & Mental Paint
2. Part-Time Zombies
1. The Identity Theory in 2-D

Pain Asymbolia and A Priori Defeasibility

I listened to the first lecture in David Chalmers’ Locke Lectures currently taking place at Oxford and I was intrigued by the argument he gave in defense of the claim that we can have a priori knowledge and do conceptual analysis even if we cannot give definitions of the concepts that we are analyzing. The argument appealed to the claim that any counter-example to a definition involved reasoning about possible cases and so we could give an account of the a priori in terms of our capacity to think about possible scenarios and our judgments about whether certain sentences are true in those scenarios.

I wanted to find the text of the talk to check on the details of the argument and in the lecure Dave mentioend that he was putting manuscripts up online and I went to his website to see if I could find them…sadly I couldn’t. But I did find this paper which if I am right is probably the text that the fourth lecture will center on. Anyways, I read the paper and now want to say something about it. As I read it the central point is very simple: one can accept Quinian arguments about conceptual revisibility and still have a robust a priori/a posteriori and analytic/synthetic distinction.  One does this by simply stipulating that something is a priori if it is knowable independently of experience without conceptual change. That is given that we hold the conceptual meanings fixed is the statement knowable a priori? Much of the paper is spent fleshing out a suggestion made by Carnap updated with 2-d semantics and Bayesian probability theory aimed at giving an account of conceptual change.

So to put it overly simply one can say to Quine “sure, my concept may change and if so this wouldn’t be true but given that my concepts don’t change we can see that this would be the case.” So to take pain as an example. When we are reasoning a priori about what we would say about pain (can there be pain/pleasure inversion for instance) we can admit that if we change what we mean by pain this or that will be different. But as long as our concept of pain doesn’t change we can say this or that would be true in this or that scenario and therefore bypass the entire Quinian argument altogether. This would seem to give Dave a response to the type-q materialist who has been getting so much attention around here lately. This is because they seem to be saying that since our concept of pain might change we cannot know a priori whether zombies are conscious or not. Dave responds by saying that as long as we do not have to change our concept of pain we can see that zombies are not conscious. I think that this response to the Quinian argument is quite good but I would respond to it differently. I would argue that as of right now we do not know which scenarios are ideally conceivable because we have cases of disagreement about decisive scenarios.

To fill this in with a particular example that I have talked about before let us focus on the notion of pain and Pain Asymbolia. Now many philosophers hold that it is a priori that if something is a pain then it will be painful (and that conversely if something is painful then it will be a pain). Now suppose that one of these philosophers finds out about pain asymbolia and denies that these people are in pain. Now suppose that this person comes to change their mind and instead thinks that they are in pain but that pain and painfulness are (contrary to appearances) only contingently related. What are we to say? In the paper Dave says,

A fifth issue is the worry that subjects might change their mind about a possible case without a change of meaning. Here, one can respond by requiring, as above, that the specifications of a scenario are rich enough that judgments about the scenario are determined by its specification and by ideal reasoning. If so, then if the subject is given such a specification and is reasoning ideally throughout, then there will not be room for them to change their mind in this way. Changes of mind about a fully specified scenario will always involve either a failure of ideal reasoning or a change in meaning.

I can agree with this in principle but since I can clearly conceive pain and painfulness being only contingently related it cannot be the case that we are in a position to determine which concept of pain is the one which will be employed in ideal reasoning. We may have our favorite but there are arguments on both sides and it is not clear where the truth lies. So though we can know a priori that either pain is necessarily painful or that it is contingently painful but we cannot know which is true now. To know that we would have to settle the pain asymbolia case; but that case it hotly contested (pun sadly intended :()

The upshot then is whether or not Dave has a response to Quinian worries about the a priori in principle he has not done enough to show that we are currently in a position to make use of this apparatus and so we are forbidden any of its fruits.

Sellars on Mind and Language

I found this very interesting lecture by Sellars where he talks about dot quotes and its relation to ontology and the mind-body problem…all good stuff and worth a listen. But what really caught my interest was his comments at the beginning of part F where he seems to admit that some kind of causal theory has to be right for the way thoughts work but not for the linguistic meaning…is there any other way to interpret these remarks? Also, does anyone else feel like they are listening to Jimmy Stewart talk about philosophy??


On my way home from class today I realized that what Sellars says in these lectures vindicates something I thought of after someone objected that on my view names would fail the Church translation test. t thought you could just dot quite your way out of it so it is nice to hear Sellars talking about dot quoting ‘Socrates’.

Reduction v. Elimination

In the video of Quine I posted yesterday he says that it is only a terminological difference whether the physicalist says that they are identifying the mental with the physical or that they are eliminating the physical (“disavowing the mental”). This has never seemed right to me but it is hard to say what is wrong with  It seems to me that in one obvious sense of the word ‘reduction’ the identity theory cannot be reductive. The identity theorist holds that there is not the mind and the brain but that there is just the brain. This sounds like it is getting rid of the mind (“there is just the brain”) but it is not. One does not get rid of A# when one finds out that it is just Bb. One does not eliminate water when one discovers that it is H2O. Identity theorists have always been resentful of the talk of ‘reduction’, ‘elimination’, and ‘correlation’. Smart puts it well in his classic paper; “you can not correlate something with itself.” Water is not correlated with H2O it just is H2O.  Only if one is already assuming that ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ have different referents will one see the identity as eliminative. Surely there is all the difference in the world between saying that the true nature of the mental is that it does not exist and saying that the true nature of the mental is that it is neural! I mean, right?

On the other hand, Quine is right that at the semantic level the identification of mental and physical would allow us to “disavow” the mental terms in our ultimate theory since wherever we saw one we could replace it with the thing it was identical to (compare: we could eliminate the word “bachelor” from our language if we wanted to since it is really identical to “unmarried male”). In that sense eliminating the mental predicates from our completed theory wouldn’t affect any truth values of statements in the physical theory. This is surely right but the elimination/identification that is going on here is at the level of semantics (or concepts if one likes) not ontology. Now if one adds to this the Quinian thesis that one is ontologically committed to what one’s variables range over one will not be committed to mental entities at the level of particle physics. But this is not an embarrassment for the physicalist! The physicalist denies that the completed micro-physics will have to appeal to mental properties as basic constituents of reality and that is all that Quine has said here. It may still be the case that one is ontologically committed to mental items at a different theoretical level.

Now this way of talking is at odds with John Searle and Ned Block. According to Searle we cannot get an ontological reduction because consciousness essentially has a first-person ontology whereas brains have a third-person ontology but even so we can get what he calls a causal reduction. Now this sounds a lot like property dualism but Searle denies that it is. Block on the other hand argues that we can have a scientific reduction of consciousness (that is, we can find out that its essential property is being physical) but we cannot have an explanatory reduction of consciousness (that is an a priori conceptual reduction of consciousness). For Block identities are at bottom unexplainable which translates into the claim that they cannot be deduced from a completed micro-physics. They have to be postulated on the basis of additional explanatory power.

Glossing over some obvious differences Quine, Searle, Block, and even Chalmers seem to think that if we have an explanatory reduction of consciousness then we have really eliminated consciousness and so they think that (at best) we can give a causal/scientific reduction but that we cannot deduce the qualitative properties from the physical properties. But if we combine the Lewisian-Armstrong style of argument with 2-d semantics we can see how it would be possible to give this kind of explanatory reduction. We start with the correlations between qualitative states and physical states. As Dave noted there are several options at this point one of which is postulating an identity between the qualitative properties and the physical properties but instead of postulating this identity we should be able to deduce that it is true. Real identities are earned not postulated. I think we can do this, or at least see that it is in principle possible.

So the upshot is that on this view there is a difference between reduction and elimination that is more than terminological. When we reduce something we discover what the primary intension picks out in the actual world whereas when we eliminate something we discover that the primary intension doesn’t pick anything out in the actual world. Hence we reduce water to H2O and eliminate phlogiston. The physicalist can be reductive (claiming the the primary intensions pick out brain states at the actual world) but not eliminative (by denying that the primary intensions fail to pick anything out at the actual world) in this sense. But even so this is not reductive in the first sense: everything that was there before we started theorizing is still there after the explanatory reduction.

HOT Qualia Realism

A lot of philosophers seem to take the higher-order thought theory of consciousness to be eliminative or deflationary about consciousness; of course, it doesn’t help that people go around saying that we need to get rid of qualia or even that we should endorse the claim that we ourselves are zombies! But aside from this misguided rhetoric I just don’t see any argument which shows that the higher-order theory is eliminative or deflationary. Of course I do not deny that it is counter-intuitive but so is any cutting edge theory. Let us rehearse what I take to be the basic argument for the higher-order theory.

1. A mental state that I am in no way aware of myself as being in is not a conscious mental state

This seems to me to be a common sense platitude and maybe even an analytic truth. If one accepts this then some kind of higher-order theory of consciousness is true: (1) is the converse of the transitivity principle.

2. Certain kinds of thoughts can make us aware of things.

Thoughts that are seemingly unmediated by inference and represent the target as present make us aware of the target. if this isn’t true then higher-order thought theory is false, though some other kind of higher-order theory may still be true.

3. Phenomenal feel is a matter of what it is like for one to have conscious mental states

This also seems like a common sense platitude. If one accepts this then explaining phenomenal consciousness is just explaining what it is like for one to have conscious mental states.

4. What it is like for one to have a conscious mental state is determined by a higher-order thought

This is supported or at least made plausible by considerations about wine tasting and the like. In the wine tasting case one’s experience changes as one learns a new concept. It is consistent with this that applying a concept to one’s first-order states results in a change in phenomenal experience with no change in the first-order state’s properties (this is not the only thing this is consistent with of course). If this is right (and it is presumably empirically testable) then applying new concepts results in a change in what it is like for one to have the experience. If this is right then perhaps it is not too crazy to think that applying concepts is what results in phenomenal feel in the first place.

5. Only conscious mental states exhibit phenomenal feel

This is where the higher-order theory stands or falls. If it really is the case that there are no phenomenal feels when a state is unconscious then we really would have evidence that higher-order thoughts result in or produce phenomenal consciousness. It is not clear that this is true but it can be supported by philosophical analysis. For instance it is not at all clear that anything substantive hangs on whether we call qualitative properties  of which we are in no way aware phenomenally conscious or not. if all one means is that unconscious pains have some property in virtue of which they are pains and that when we are aware of ourselves as being in feels a certain way then there is no disagreement. if on the other hand, one means that the unconscious pain feel painful for the person that has it then it is not clear what that would even mean. Besides this there are no telling empirical reasons to think that it is wrong.

Now each one of these claims is more or less controversial but if one accepts them then one accepts the higher-order thought theory and it seems to me that nothing in these four claims rules out qualia realism. In fact it seems that if these five claims are true then we have succeeded in explaining what phenomenal consciousness is and if we ultimately identify the neural means by which all of this is implemented then we will have discovered that consciousness is physical.

As of right now it seems like we can conceive of creatures that have HOTs but which lack phenomenal feels but further empirical results may yet show that the HOT theory is the best theory of consciousness available (or if you prefer: it may show that it is true). The acknowledgement that it seems conceivable to have HOTs without phenomenal feel is enough to get qualia realism but not enough to show that higher-order thought theory is false. Is it really so strange that we should find out that qualia just are higher-order thoughts and that higher-order thoughts just are brain states? Sure, it is surprising; but is it more surprising than relativity theory, quantum mechanics,  or string theory? I should think that the discovery of the relativity of simultaneity, Bose-Einstein condensates, dimensionless point-particles, and 11 dimensional space-time are quite a bit surprising indeed!