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January 16, 2005



Is it just me, or is it starting to look like the Russellian view is slowly turning from an esoteric anecdote to the new non-reductionist mainstream?

What I would really like to know is how this position is viewed by the non-dualist hardcore phenomenological-realists like Ned Block or Thomas Nagel who wait for a conceptual revolution to unite the objective and subjective. It seems to me like the Russell-style position should solve their problems quite nicely, but I don't know of any reference made by them to such positions.


I think there's something to this. The Russellian view (those unfamiliar with it might see the section on "type-F monism" in "Consciousness and its Place in Nature") probably has more potential than any other view to accommodate nonreductive intuitions about consciousness while also accommodating the considerations in favor of materialism. Among aficionados, the view has become very popular. E.g. in the final poll at the 2002 Summer Institute, type-F monism was the most popular view (8 votes out of 28, just beating type-B materialism with 7). The view still has some work to do in penetrating mainstream philosophy of mind, though, where a lot of people still overlook it as an option.

I don't know of anywhere where Block discusses the view in print, though I've talked with him a bit about it. Nagel discusses the view on pp. 25-28 of "The Psychophysical Nexus". He has some sympathy with the view, but objects that (i) the view implausibly denies that physical properties are intrinsic, (ii) it is too close to reducing the physical to the mental for his tastes, and (iii) the view doesn't really explain the subjectivity of the mental. On the first two points, proponents can reasonably hold that the view is consistent with the physical properties being intrinsic, and that (at least in versions of the view that are closer to neutral monism than panpsychism) it needn't reduce the physical to the phenomenal. See e.g. Daniel Stoljar's "Two Conceptions of the Physical" for a version that will deny (i) and (ii). I think (iii), and related issues in the vicinity such as the unity and homogeneity of consciousness, are probably the biggest residual issue for this sort of view.


I'm a fan of Stoljar's work and of Nagel's. One of the things I hope APFC accomplishes is to move the discussion beyond what I call the "horse betting" stage in which philosophers and scientists simply express their intuitive preferences about very general position statements.

The central methodological message of the book is that to get an actual theory -- which is the goal -- we have to pay less attention to our intuitive preferences and more attention to justified standards of theory construction. Positions like "the experiential arises from the non-experiential" or "physical properties intuitively seem to be intrinsic properties" are potential end-points, not starting points, and whether we ever arrive at them should be a function of more basic considerations.

In this spirit, in APFC I really wanted to force myself to go beyond exploring the general shape of a position statement, which is what I see as being the state of the art in the philosophical literature about type-F views, and construct an actual theory. I have hoped there is real value in being explicit at each step about the general principles of theory construction that I feel force the choices that I make. By doing this, I think I have short-circuited traditional criticisms and I hope to show that only the real act of theory construction can force enough detail to move discussion of these issues to a new level.

I think seeing this done, seeing that it is possible to do, is a basic value proposition for the book even for those who feel they cannot go themselves to the place I end up. For example, within APFC there is clearly no question of whether subjectivity has been explained. Also, APFC argues very precisely for the reasonableness of the view that physical properties are extrinsic, and I think it provides a sober answer, without ducking issues, to critics who believe this view is too close to reducing the physical to the mental. Those critics won't find comfort in the answer, but they will find an answer that challenges them. Measured against an attempt at real depth of detail, I hope generic considerations like Nagel's and Stoljar's are no longer seen as adequately grappling with the reality of the choices that have to be made.

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