Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mind what you say

I had some thoughts yesterday about the gods and wonder, etc., but didn't write them down and have now forgotten them completely. So I'm inclined to put thoughts here even if they are not yet even half-baked, just in case I lose ideas that might have potential. So...

I was thinking today about God and other minds, but not in the sense that belief in the existence of God might be justified in the same kind of way that belief in other minds is. Rather, I think that other minds don't exist. A mind is not a thing that exists. The same goes for souls, God, and what it is like to be a bat. These, if they are anything at all, are not objects, whether objects of knowledge or objects that can properly be said to exist. No more than pain is an object or kind of object.

Behaviorism would be closer to the truth than realism about these things, but (or, partly, because) behaviorism is obviously false. I am not of the opinion that he is in pain, but my attitude is an attitude toward a being in pain. Or something like that. And these attitudes are a matter not only of behavior but of how something is experienced.

Perhaps this is all just what Wittgenstein said already.

This is what I get for saying I didn't want to do any philosophy of mind.


  1. Ok, I've been thinking about bats and Nagel (and in another context materialism/physicalism). I'm not sure what you mean by "realism"--does realism about pain insist that pain is an object? (In what sense? An object of knowledge, that can occupy a slot in a proposition?)

    "Not a something, but not a nothing either," seems important here, re: behaviorism. Perhaps what you have in mind is a "non-reductive behaviorism": that is, the view that, roughly, here is what we can objectively study and observe about pain, but there are obviously other [features? aspects?] that are not amenable to objective description?

    (I've been puzzling over Nagel's suggestion that we can't a priori rule out the possibility of devising a more "objective phenomenology" to describe subjective experience--which wouldn't depend upon empathy and imagination. He seems here to be resisting the implication of his suggestion that there are unknowable, humanly inaccessible facts. Now, maybe the term "facts," as you suggest in a sense above, is the problem. But it might also be the term "objective," or perhaps the aspiration to it...)

  2. Yes, I sort of knew that 'realism' was a bad word to use, but went ahead anyway. I mean reification, or something like that--the idea that pain is a something. With the emphasis on -thing.

    I don't think I want any -ism at all (although that's an easy and lazy way out of problems, of course). Behaviorism, or logical behaviorism, is important because it's a big step away from Cartesianism (and other kinds of 'realism') and because it's partly true. It's obvious inadequacy for first-person cases has the advantage of stopping would-be adherents from getting carried away too. If some form of behaviorism is the best bet, then a non-reductive form would be best, yes.

    I associate Nagel with the view that among all the objects in the world with which one might be acquainted, one is what-it-is-like-to-be-a-bat. I think there is no such object. Knowing what it is like to be a bat is not being acquainted with such an object. It's a matter of having a certain right (as in the case where one might insist that no man can ever know what it is like to be a woman) or of having a kind of ability (the kind that someone like Ted Hughes might possess, to say what it is like to be a bat) or perhaps something else (such as both of these).

    I don't know, but I feel that maybe "humanly inaccessible fact" is an oxymoron. And what "objective phenomenology" is meant to mean might be an illusion too.