Academic journal article Behavior and Philosophy (Online)

José E. Burgos Antidualism and Antimentalism in Radical Behaviorism: A Critical Discussion

Academic journal article Behavior and Philosophy (Online)

José E. Burgos Antidualism and Antimentalism in Radical Behaviorism: A Critical Discussion

Article excerpt

As the title makes clear, José Burgos' is an ambitious paper, attempting to tackle a number of positions spanning three centuries or so in the philosophy of mind, and over a century in non-philosophical areas such as behaviourism, cognitive psychology, and other psychological accounts. It tries to draw on and include philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant, none of whom is easy, as he acknowledges, each meriting a separate paper.

Burgos's paper is clear and well argued and achieves what it sets out to do, namely, to show the problems facing the various physicalist and behaviourist positions that he considers. In particular, I admire his painstaking examination of the non-philosophical positions that he discusses. My main aim is not to comment on such positions, though at the end of my discussion I shall offer some brief remarks. I am mainly concerned to raise a few points concerning the discussions Burgos has woven into his account. Three stand out that are of the first importance for metaphysics, which I shall take in turn: Descartes' dualism; the metaphysics of causality; and Kant's thesis of the self. I shall finish with some brief general comments on behaviourism.

Descartes' Dualism

It is an intellectual duty of anyone who embarks on an exposition and discussion of another thinker to start by presenting as clearly as possible the positions and arguments of that thinker. Otherwise, one risks presenting a straw man. The particular case in point here is Descartes' argument for the Real Distinction between mind and body or corporeality.

First, the title 'Real Distinction Argument' is used by Burgos (P. 6) interchangeably with the 'Argument from Doubt' (following not Descartes' own argument, but another writers misconceived version). The so-called 'Argument from Doubt' is not Descartes' argument - it is a misrepresentation by Antoine Arnauld, to which Descartes replied both in the Fourth Set of Replies and in the Preface to the Reader, pointing out that his arguments in Meditations II and in the Discourse were "merely based in an order corresponding to [his] own perception." (AT VII 8) In other words, his commitments in those passages were epistemic, not metaphysical, and no metaphysical conclusions were drawn. The Real Distinction argument is a metaphysical argument, and is found in Meditations VI (AT VII 78); it is an argument from what is clearly and distinctly understood, that is, it is based "in an order corresponding to the actual truth of the matter" (AT VII 8).

In Meditations II, in his cross-examination of the indubitably true proposition 'I am, I exist', Descartes suggests a counterargument: "And yet may it not perhaps be the case that these very things [i.e., the human body] which I am supposing to be nothing, because they are unknown to me, are in reality identical with the 'I' of which I am aware? I do not know, and for the moment I shall not argue the point, since I can make judgements only about things which are known to me." (AT VII 27) This crucial passage is ignored by most writers, including Arnauld, and yet it clearly demonstrates the rigorous and painstaking method of scrutiny that Descartes follows throughout his philosophical enquiries, taking nothing for granted. It also clearly demonstrates that Descartes does not argue from ignorance or indeed from doubt, but only from what he can know or clearly understand.1 For a Real Distinction to be drawn both entities in question must be clearly and distinctly understood, not only one while having doubts about the other.

Unfortunately, philosophers and other writers through the centuries have latched on to Arnauld's mistaken attribution to Descartes of the so-called argument from doubt because, it seems, it suits their anti-dualist, physicalist positions. Burgos, unlike the writers he discusses, is sensitive to such mistaken attributions; yet despite his acknowledgement he states that he "will stick to the story [he is expanding], as nothing [he] will say hinges on Descartes' really having held it. …

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