Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science

Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science

Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science

Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science

Synopsis

Contemporary philosophers of mind tend to assume that the world of nature can be reduced to basic physics. Yet there are features of the mind consciousness, intentionality, normativity that do not seem to be reducible to physics or neuroscience. This explanatory gap between mind and brain has thus been a major cause of concern in recent philosophy of mind. Reductionists hold that, despite all appearances, the mind can be reduced to the brain. Eliminativists hold that it cannot, and that this implies that there is something illegitimate about the mentalistic vocabulary. Dualists hold that the mental is irreducible, and that this implies either a substance or a property dualism. Mysterian non-reductive physicalists hold that the mind is uniquely irreducible, perhaps due to some limitation of our self-understanding. In this book, Steven Horst argues that this whole conversation is based on assumptions left over from an outdated philosophy of science. While reductionism was part of the philosophical orthodoxy fifty years ago, it has been decisively rejected by philosophers of science over the past thirty years, and for good reason. True reductions are in fact exceedingly rare in the sciences, and the conviction that they were there to be found was an artifact of armchair assumptions of 17th century Rationalists and 20th century Logical Empiricists. The explanatory gaps between mind and brain are far from unique. In fact, in the sciences it is gaps all the way down.And if reductions are rare in even the physical sciences, there is little reason to expect them in the case of psychology. Horst argues that this calls for a complete re-thinking of the contemporary problematic in philosophy of mind. Reductionism, dualism, eliminativism and non-reductive materialism are each severely compromised by post-reductionist philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind is in need of a new paradigm. Horst suggests that such a paradigm might be found in Cognitive Pluralism: the view that human cognitive architecture constrains us to understand the world through a plurality of partial, idealized, and pragmatically-constrained models, each employing a particular representational system optimized for its own problem domain. Such an architecture can explain the disunities of knowledge, and is plausible on evolutionary grounds.

Excerpt

It is difficult to fix a date for the beginnings of this book with any real precision. It is one of several fruits of a project that began in the summer of 1993. At that time, having finished all but editorial work on Symbols, Computation and Intentionality (Horst 1996), I began to explore a topic on which I had left a substantial promissory note in that book: namely, the question of whether mental phenomena like intentionality and phenomenology could be naturalized. It was with this in mind that I attended NEH Summer Institutes on Naturalism (at the University of Nebraska, hosted by Robert Audi) and Meaning (at Rutgers University, hosted by Jerry Fodor and Ernie LePore). One thing that became clear to everyone at Audi’s institute was that, while a great number of philosophers wish to lay claim to the word ‘naturalism’, they in fact use that word in a surprising number of ways. Chapter 1 of this book, which attempts to bring some order to this motley assortment of usages, grew out of extended research into the contemporary and historical usages of the term and the research projects associated with it.

When I started out on the project, I still assumed, as I had in Symbols, Computation and Intentionality, that intertheoretic reductions were the rule in the natural sciences and that the explanatory gaps encountered with respect to consciousness, intentionality, and normativity present unique problems. During a 1997–98 sabbatical at Princeton and Stanford’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, made possible by an NEH Fellowship and by sabbatical support from my home institution, Wesleyan University, I had several conversations with philosophers of science (Paul Humphreys, Bas van Fraassen, Patrick Suppes, and my Wesleyan colleague Joseph Rouse) who regarded my . . .

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