anonymous wrote:What Nagel wants to do is to challenge a form of dogmatic materialism- a materialism that refuses to consider the possibility that the mental and the physical are basic properties- not able to be reduced to anything else.
Let's look at the concept of reduction that may be implied in this statement. Let's say the mental is X, the physical is Y and something else is Z.
So, for X and Y to be reducible to Z, we would be saying that X and Y are nothing more than Z, or simplifiable to Z. Conversely, that Z is more basic than X and Y.
And for X and Y to be non-reducible to Z, we would be saying that X and Y are more than Z, or not simplifiable to Z. Conversely, that Z is NOT more basic than X and Y.
Now your statement stays like this:
What Nagel wants to do is to challenge a form of dogmatic materialism- a materialism that refuses to consider the possibility that X and Y are basic properties- not able to be nothing more than Z.
"Being nothing more than"
means that no other thing, but Z, allows the existence of X and Y. It does not mean that Z is just a key or essential ingredient, leaving open the possibility that other elements participate in the existence of X and Y. By reduction it means that it categorically denies that possibility: X and Y are nothing more than Z. Nothing else but Z.
So, what this statement suggests is, first, that Nagel wants to consider the possibility that the physical (Y) is more than Z (whatever Z might be that is not the mental). At first glance, this seems to be incompatible with the views of materialism, but let's look first to what is called "the physical". Is it A) the primordial substance alone or B) the whole domain where this substance operates, including its dynamic processes, relations and properties? We could further divide B into other possibilities, but let's keep it that way for now. If A, then there's no other option, materialism will be incompatible with what you claim is Nagel's view. It is to be expected that such materialism will describe "the physical" (Y) as everything that is "nothing more than" fundamental particles (or something of that sort), in other words, reducible to something more basic (Z). However, B is also a materialist view, and it is not a reductionist view that allows the simplification of Y to Z. And this materialism also implies the view that the mental (X) is just one of the many complex and dynamic processes and relations of Y (just one of them, not an all-encompassing property that permeates all of Y). Being complex and dynamic means that they are highly undetermined, not simplifiable, down to a single circumstance (whether it is an entity, process or relation). It seems so far that Nagel decries A as the only materialism possible, which is obviously a straw man fallacy.
And secondly, the statement suggests that Nagel wants to consider the possibility that the mental (X) is more than Z (whatever Z might be that is not the physical). One can also ask here: what is called "the mental"? Is it C) the primordial substance alone or D) the whole domain where this substance operates, including its dynamic processes, relations and properties? If C, Nagel has a big problem. As you can see, as badly simplified as the materialism of A could be, at least it could be simplified to something (ironically, reducibility comes out as a big plus for this materialism), but this mental domain has nothing to hold on as a primordial substance, nothing intelligible, describable in its essence, it is completely lost into the ineffable. The very moment it enters the domain of Y (the physical) to describe itself, it has been self-defeated in both the views of C and D. We should turn the lights off and go home. All discussion about the reducibility or non-reducibility of the mental is then restricted to how one theory of the mental (C or D) is reducible to another simple theory, a purely epistemic reduction that has no bearing on the matter of what things are, but only in how things are explained. Of course, this last discussion extends to how materialist views (A or B) explain themselves, which brings to surface the notions of a theory of Y (the physical) depending on a theory of Z. We have to be aware of which reduction we are talking about, epistemic or ontological.
anonymous wrote:He is challenging a materialism that insists that the mental must reduce to the physical.
No, if the "dogmatic" view of materialism, as you or Nagel have claimed, is that "the mental (X) is reducible to Z (whatever Z might be that is not the physical), then he is describing idealism, and could not be describing materialism. Plain reductive materialism (which I called A above), simplifies Y to Z, not X to Y. And the type of materialism which I called B above, doesn't even reduce, neither Y to Z, nor X to Y, nor X to Z, it says X (the mental) is one of the many complex and dynamic processes and relations of Y, therefore not reducible, simplifiable to something else, or more basic, unless simplification entailed the subordination of one system to another, which would not be a good way to put it.
Less dogmatic approaches such as Strawson's and Stoljar suggest that it is possible to accept that both the mental and the physical are irreducible, and still consider oneself to be a physicalist- and Nagel is fine with approaches to materialism that accept that both the mental and physical properties are irreducible.
As we have seen, the separation between the mental and the physical, as both being starting points, proves to be a failure. If you are a physicalist, then there's no way you can use a mental substance as a starting point, it is self-defeating, it implies dualism, and dualism clashes with physicalism, by definition. Unless one is a idealist (monistic or dualistic), the mental is already embedded into the ontological notion of the physical, which does not mean reducible to it. I can think of sidewalks embedded into the ontological notion of cities, which does not mean cities are reducible to sidewalks. It makes no sense for a physicalist to think of the properties of the mental without reference (let's not say reduction, please), or independently, of the properties of the physical domain. Reducibility is irrelevant for that matter, whether one endorses reductive materialism, or non-reductive materialism.
Re: Naturalsim- Nagel is pursuing a non-reductive naturalism... as opposed to the reductive naturalism that he is challenging.
As a good old idealist, he's just taking shots to a straw man of materialism. I also suspect he's just trying to conceal, as hard as he can, his mysticism. That's what panpsychism is, anyway.
Re: Monism- Nagel's view is that there is only one kind of substance- and that all forms of that substance has both mental (or proto-mental) and physical (or proto-physical) properties.
If the mental properties are completely independent, not related to the physical properties, what would be the difference with proposing two kinds of substances with their own properties? This monism appears to have shaky grounds and falling very closely to dualist territory. But if there's a relationship between those properties, wouldn't Nagel be forced to always describe one in terms of the other in the same substance, in which case the distinction disappears? There would be just properties of the substance, neither material or mental. What are they, then?
I'm puzzled be your approach to the subject of consciousness. One the one hand you suggest that you are a physicalist who believes that the mental and the physical are both basic properties
As you can see, I don't suggest such a thing, which would make me a dualist and an idealist. I cannot say that the mental is a basic property independent of the physical, and still call myself a materialist.
anonymous wrote:but on the other hand you also say that you believe there was a time (before conscious life evolved, for instance)- when there was nothing mental. Do you see the contradictory nature of you beliefs?
I'm confident that by now I explained myself enough to dismiss this contradiction, that never existed.
anonymous wrote:If there was a time before anything mental- then the mental must necessarily reduce to the physical.
No, you're falling again in the error of thinking that everything must necessarily reduce to something else. You're forcing reduction, but on which philosophical grounds? Is it an epistemic reduction or an ontological one?
I accept that you are a physicalist who is after a non-reductive view of the mental (but, it appears that your theory needs some work- witness the contraction I pointed out above)
It must have been made obvious that I entirely deny any search for a "non-reductive view of the mental". I'm after a non-reductive view of materialism.
anonymous wrote:I (and Nagel) was under the impression that every physicalist theory of consciousness was necessarily reductive- and Nagel specifically challenges those approaches.
All forms of identity theory
That's what I call his fallacious straw man argument against materialism. That list conveniently restricts materialism to non-emergentist versions of materialism, ignoring emergentist materialism theories like Searle's biological naturalism and Bhaskar's transcendental realism, all of which, in my view, could be reconciled with Dialectical Materialism, another noticeable absence in that list.
Yours appears to be a new approach that is none of those. I was unaware that there was a "non-panpsyschist" way to accept that both the mental and the physical are non-reductive. You don't appear to be describing Integrated Information Theory (ITT). Does the theory of consciousness you are advocating have a name? Are there other followers? Or is this something you've come up with on your own?
My approach to consciousness is just an extension of my understanding of the dialectics of nature, for which I claim no particular authorative basis, although it is consistent with Dialectical Materialism. As I said, I'm interested in emergentist, non-reductive conceptions of materialism. Particularly, regarding the problem of reduction in materialism as presented by Nagel, I endorse Bhaskar's views on the compatibility of epistemic reductions of naturalism, which he calls diachronic explanatory reduction
, and synchronic emergence