Tag Archives: Levinas

Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.

twominds

Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading

The self is both made and explored with words

“The self is both made and explored with words; and the best for both are the words spoken in the dialogue of friendship.”
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self – The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 183.

In reading these pages, I was reminded by the abomination that is the word “paradigm”. Although I am largely sympathetic to the project of Charles Taylor in tracing the origins of self and identity, there is a certain something about it which annoys me. Thinking about it his pinpointing of pivotal moments in philosophy is the cause of this slight discomfort. In his own words I think his is the natural way of explaining, as against the more convoluted way which is less prone to be accepted in this scientistic bottom-up world. Sure, this way serves the purpose of bringing home the point that the way we see things naturalistically is neither eternal nor inescapable. Still it also exposes us to the risk of marking “paradigm shifts” showing side by side clear before’s and after’s and simultaneously expressing a strong valuation that such before’s are inferior and the corresponding after’s are superior. Thinking in “paradigm shifts” has led to the abominable results that we see all around us, marking in’s and out’s in the most uncharitable of ways.

The quote stresses, I think, not the discrete but the continuous; not the sudden but the emerging; not revolution but evolution. It connects the continuous evolution of language with its essence in friendship. The quote gets it all right. From that very first time that people pointed to the same thing in uttering or gesturing (hence thinking) the word “that”, the mechanism of development is a mechanism of co-operation (see P. Grice), a mechanism presupposing being charitable to understanding the other (D. Davidson) and best seen in one of Quine’s favorite metaphors of rebuilding the ship as we are sailing it:

“We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.”
Otto Neurath, from Wikipedia. Continue reading