|HONDERICH, McGINN, STROHMINGER
There is a lot of stuff around here, including the long reply below to a review in the journal Philosophical Review by Colin McGinn of Ted Honderich's book On Consciousness (Edinburgh University Press and Pittsburgh University Press). For the review, which you should of course read first, turn to McGinn on Honderich, but probably not Honderich's earlier remarks on his reviewer. There is McGinn's rejoinder to the reply along with Honderich's response to him in one sentence. On top of that there is the journalism -- including a confessing letter to an editor. As for the idea in it that Honderich might review McGinn's book Mindfucking, several invitations to do so, of course not from principled philosophical journals, have been declined. All of which leads up to and is overtaken by something five years later, McGinn McGinned as it might have been titled, a review of a book of his by Nina Strohminger, a rising or maybe now risen stalwart in his previous line of life, psychology. Who could not feel for him a little? T.H. does. He also feels, much too late alas, that you could better spend your time on the philosophy in question, not the personnel. Go to Actual Consciousness right now.
1. Radical Externalism
2. McGinn's Propositions and Imprecations
3. Radically Inconsistent
5. Something Called the Union Theory
6. Preposterous Externalism
7. Appearance Entails Reality
8. Easy Refutations
9. The Entire Picture Undermined, Absurdity, etc
10. McGinn's Obvious Thought, Innocuous View, and Short Reply
11. Just Call It Consciousness
12. Davidson, Putnam, Burge, Searle
13. Propositions, Imprecations, The Past, Leiter
1. RADICAL EXTERNALISM
You are now aware of the place you're in. What does that conscious experience in itself come to? In what does it itself consist, whatever its causes, correlates, effects or anything else related to it? If, in response to the question, you now have an idea in answer to it, what does that further fact about you come to? Suppose, hearing your phone ring, you want something -- not to be interrupted. What is it for you to want that?
The three sorts of thing -- perceptual, reflective and affective consciousness -- are certainly different. They are also of the same general kind. So, in addition to the particular questions, we also have the general question of what it is for something to be conscious in any of the ways -- whether a person, animal or computer. To use the philosophically most useful form of the general question, a personal form, what is that fact, state, property or feature of you? Or, if there is more in or to the fact or whatever than just you, as seems possible, what is it that includes you?
We need to be clear and go on being clear about the general question and of course the particular ones. For a start, the particular question about perceptual consciousness is not about seeing, where that is understood to include retinas and visual cortex. As you have heard, it is about just the fact of your being conscious in the ordinary way, the way that interests all of us, the way of being conscious that is so explanatory of our lives.
That is to say that the particular questions and the general question are about something's being had by you, given to you, or presented to you. The questions, again, are about that of which all of it is had, given or presented. This, if it can be overlooked, is crucial.
The three metaphors and others like them do indeed fix the subject on which we all have a grip. They fix it as well as it can be fixed. They are where we need to start, as is pretty widely accepted. As in the case of metaphors in the history of of science, well enough known, they can issue in a test or tests for a good theory and maybe a good theory.
It is the ordinary introductory stuff of the contemporary philosophy of mind, which is centrally a response to the general question of the nature of consciousness, despite often enough drifting off it, that there have been two kinds of answers to the question, both with long histories. One is to the effect that your being conscious consists in physical facts. Here we have sorts of philosophers known to themselves and others as physicalists, naturalists, identity theorists, reductionists, monists, eliminative materialists, functionalists of a kind, and so on.
Despite their differences, these physicalists in a general sense -- there is reason to call them devout physicalists -- are in agreement that being conscious consists in no more than some or other physical processes, events or the like. What is physical is commonly taken as what is admitted into science. This leaves the idea of the physical uncertain since the boundaries of science are uncertain. The idea is also relative to time, open to the possibility of ongoing revision and thus with an uncertain future, and of course uninstructive in comparison to a conception of a the physical in terms of, say, space.
The second general answer has few exponents within the contemporary philosophy of mind. Despite this, it is in fact the inclination of most of the reflective human race and most philosophers, since rightly or wrongly there is incomprehension, resistance and denial with respect to physicalism, to what is regarded as making an insufficiently fundamental difference in general kind between conscious things and things not conscious. The general answer of dualism, which somehow subtracts your being conscious from space, and hence is better spoken of as spiritualism or the like, comes in several forms. It includes, by the way, a kind of functionalism, sometimes called abstract functionalism.
There are a considerable number of criteria for a defensible general answer to the question of consciousness, and hence for judging the answers of physicalism and dualism. It is common enough to suppose, as I do, that one principal reason for the failure of dualism, although not the only one, is that it cannot deal with the fact of causal interaction between consciousness and physical events, say arm movements. For a start, it seems there cannot be causes, or effects, that are nowhere, indeed not events in a general sense. It is more common to suppose, at any rate more common outside much of the contemporary philosophy of mind, despite reports from that industry, that physicalism cannot account for the primary nature of consciousness, on which we all have a personal grip, or indeed satisfy such other criteria as those that can be spoken of clearly in terms of subjectivity.
More particularly, to stick to primary nature and to come quickly to a negative expression of my own line of thinking, what is had, given or presented when we are conscious is not in general neurons or neural activity. No one can contemplate this. It is not a possible answer. If we keep our minds on the question of what our consciousness in general consists in, the project of clarifying and indeed analysing what it is for something to be had, given or presented, it is inconceivable that the general answer is in part that what is had, given or presented is neural activity. Hardly any of us spend time seeing, thinking of or wanting neurons. That remains true however great the explanatory role of neural systems in our consciousness.
Spiritualism, given this line of thinking, is quite as impossible. It is not possible to contemplate that what is had, given or presented, in general, is spirituality, mentality, or subjectivity in an elusive sense having to do with a subject or self -- choose your term or talk for what is out of space, etc.
What we are often given instead, to speak of perceptual consciousness, as needs to be pointed out as firmly to dualists as to devout physicalists, somehow is rooms.
The book On Consciousness, and also another book on the way, defend a theory different from both physicalism and spiritualism. That remains true, although Radical Externalism can for good reason be called a near-physicalism. Its first proposition is that what it is for you to be conscious of the place you are in, say the room, whatever explanation there is of this in your and anywhere else, is for a room to exist in a defined sense -- for there to be a certain state of affairs external to you, outside your head.
A little more fully, there is something had by you and there is something had by me when, as ordinarily said, we are both aware of the one room we are in together. As we ordinarily say, there is your view of the room and there is mine. As we ordinarily say, there is the room as you see it and there is the room as I see it. However these two things are to be understood, whatever philosophical guidance is taken from the pieces of ordinary talk and others, nothing will make the two things other than different, non-identical, firstly on account of point of view. Since this is so, and however they are related to the physical world, neither is the physical world.
Each, none the less, is spatial, coloured, in causal relations, and so on. Further, my world of perceptual consciousness has a dependency on me neurally and also on external physical facts. Yours partly depends on you. The personal dependency, dependency on a particular person, has been the subject of the philosophy of empiricism since Locke, a lot of psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and more.
Take the physical world in an ordinary way, a way more effective than the gesturing at science. Take it, that is, as having two parts or levels, the things in space with perceived properties not dependent on any particular person, and the things in space in lawlike connection with the first things. So the physical world is chairs and the like and atoms and the like.
Evidently your world of perceptual consciousness, like mine, is akin to the physical world in its perceived part or level. To speak quickly and thus dangerously, your world of perceptual consciousness is real despite not being objective in several senses but subjective instead.
So -- in perceptual consciousness what is had, given or presented is a world of perceptual consciousness. Moreover, and quite as importantly, nothing else whatever is. No self, as Hume remarked, no relation of intentionality or directedness, no sense data, no vehicle of a content, and so on. No such thing can be reared up into existence in our consciousness, by the way, by our saying that in consciousness something is had by us, given or presented to us. The ordinary usages require a lesser understanding, and certainly can be given it.
As already indicated, there is another question answered in the theory -- the second question raised immediately by the metaphors. What is it for a world to be had, given or presented? The distinctive answer in the theory is that it for it to exist -- i.e. to be spatial, temporal, coloured, in certain dependencies, such that our physical-object language can by extension be applied to it, and so on. Out of the metaphors comes a theory, of a reductive kind in both its parts.
This theory goes further than other externalisms in the recent philosophy of mind, externalisms to which I myself have in the past actually preferred an internalism or cranialism, and in fact it owes little or nothing to them. To the account of perceptual consciousness are added related but different accounts of reflective and affective consciousness. These, it is maintained, absolutely demand different treatments that they are not usually given in the contemporary philosophy of mind, certainly including physicalism. Seeing isn't believing, and it isn't desiring either.
Reflective consciousness, to say but a word, is conceived in the theory in terms of representations. The idea contains that of a language of thought but has rather more in it. Some of the representations are in heads, this giving Radical Externalism an an internalist component at a less fundamental level. There is a related fact with affective consciousness.
The three accounts taken together are to the general effect, fourthly, that what it is to be conscious is for one or more of three sorts of things to exist in defined senses, and no more than that, nothing at all. . The theory for a while had the name of Consciousness as Existence. It makes reflective and affective consciousness quite as subjective, in several ways, as perceptual consciousness, and gives an account of those two parts, sides or whatever of consciousness that also satisfies other criteria.
So what is to be said for Radical Externalism, for a start, as you have heard, is that it does indeed give at least a possible or conceivable answer to the general question before us. It is such an answer to the question of what it is for a person or whatever to be conscious, what it is for something to be had, given or presented. Radical Externalism records the primary nature of consciousness. It is therefore superior to physicalism.
For the same reason above all, it is superior to traditional dualism. Also, it puts no real difficulty in the way of psychophysical relations -- the traditional problem for dualism. Worlds of perceptual consciousness, for one thing, are as spatial as the physical world.
Radical Externalism also does better than physicalism and dualism, I take it, with a raft of other criteria, lesser but essential, for an adequate theory of consciousness.
2. McGINN'S PROPOSITIONS AND IMPRECATIONS
Professor Colin McGinn, an English philosopher at the University of Miami, and a lecturer in the Philosophy Department at University College London in the past, is known for what is called his mysterianism. It is somehow to the effect that we cannot have, and no humans will ever have, a satisfactory theory of the mind-body problem. That will remain a mystery forever. We humans are and forever will be as incapable of coming to a satisfactory theory of it as monkeys are incapable of doing Quantum Theory. At the centre of the philosophy of mind, we must all be without hope, and give up.
It is not entirely clear what a theory of mind and body in McGinn's sense would be, partly since the theory that mind and brain are in lawlike correlation or connection, necessarily connected, is for him not such a theory. It is hard to resist the thought that the problem that will remain insoluble forever, a mystery, includes and perhaps mainly consists in exactly the problem of consciousness as we have been understanding it. Certainly philosophers and scientists who have commented on mysterianism have seemed to assume something like this. What will make a relation between two things an utter mystery for all time, it seems, is in fact one of the things.
On Consciousness is a collection of papers published previously elsewhere but a little amended. The book moves towards and then, as you have heard, expounds and argues for Radical Externalism, the theory just sketched of the nature of consciousness.
McGinn says in his review, to which you can turn, that the book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad, is painful to read, poorly thought out, uninformed, radically inconsistent, sly, woefully uninformed, at best amateurish, often or weak or nonexistent in its understanding of positions criticized, preposterous, easily refuted, unsophisticated, uncomprehending, struggling in its understanding of simple distinctions, self-scathing, banal, pointless, excruciating, capable of a moment or two of sanity that undermines the entire picture it is promoting, unwilling to see obvious truth because that would be an abandonment of the author's wonderful new theory, confused, absurd, with only the merit that is a glimmer of understanding that the problem of consciousness is difficult, and in sum shoddy, inept, and disastrous.
I guess there must be something wrong with the book. More than I thought. But what? There must be more than that the book dismisses McGinn's mysterianism in an unkind footnote, which relevant fact he omits to mention. Let us see, by making our way through his propositions as distinct from his imprecations. Also some places where propositions are missing.
We can thereby also see what justice there has been in comments and editorial proceedings of Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, who also had an honorary visiting appointment in the Philosophy Department at University College London from 2001 to 2006, teaching there at various intervals. He is best known in philosophy for his ratings of university philosophy departments, rather like a guide to restaurants.
Is he right in a reason for inviting comments on the review for his website Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, to which you might also turn. This reason is that his readers can usefully make the assumption that the 'substance' of McGinn's review is correct -- make that assumption for the purpose of commenting on its 'tone'. They can make the assumption because the review makes good, i.e. offers prima facie plausible evidence, on most of many of the charges listed above. It offers prima facie evidence that the book is mediocre, ludicrous, radically inconsistent, shoddy, etc. The invitation to comment, by the way, was preceded by an earlier one of some interest on the website.
The review does not call for more time spent on it than the days I shall give it, or for so reflective and complete a reply as would need to be made to a review restrained by ordinary principles of self-doubt on the part of the reviewer and hence self-restraint. Still, you may excuse me trying to be diligent in making my way though a list of issues.
My diligence has a source in self-concern, of course, and a human vulnerability to low abuse, low abuse given some certification by the editors of a known philosophical journal, and perhaps made a little use of by others. But there is also the matter of logic and truth. There is the matter of philosophy. There is that greater reason to try to attend to the issues. It does not have to do with self-concern, let alone engaging in philosophy as a spectator-sport.
I guess if philosophy is worth doing, which it is, then a piece of it you have worked on is worth standing up for, at length, even in the embarrassment that includes an embarrassing adversary, as it happens a fellow philosophical autobiographer, even if the standing up is demeaning and comical.
3. RADICALLY INCONSISTENT
The beginning of McGinn's review has partly to do with a great disaster found in the book.
'This book ... is also radically inconsistent. ... The second half tries to develop a new theory of consciousness, according to which the positive theses of the first half of the book are all wrong (not that this was signposted while the first half was assertively in progress), and the fact is only slyly acknowledged towards the end of the dicussion -- hence the radical inconsistency I mentioned.' (review, paragraph 1)
'To say that these authors [Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge] emerge unscathed is to misidentify the locus of the scathing -- Honderich is a master of the self-scathing critique. And then, after all this, the second half of the book turns round to defend a version of anti-individualism that rejects the union theory and with it the notion that consciousness is in the head!' (3)
Well, the aim of the whole book evidently was not only to republish some papers, but to exhibit what seemed to me to be progress in thinking about consciousness. More important than that, the aim was in a way to argue for Radical Externalism by showing inadequacies of alternatives, including my own earlier ones.
This is no afterthought of mine prompted by McGinn's discovery of self-contradiction. The book says right at the start about the papers in it:
'They do come together into a sequence of argument too. They are also a narrative of a struggle with the subject. It goes somewhere, maybe gets somewhere. ... They move towards a theory of consciousness that is not more of the same. ... You will indeed see that first thoughts give way to second thoughts. Will you see that second thoughts are best?' (On Consciousness, p. 3)
That is signposting, in the introduction. It is also a description of something pretty ordinary, inside and outside of philosophy. (Cf. p. 44, p. 68, p. 98.)
Here is a little more on the sequence of argument.
The book in its first three papers rejects Donald Davidson's Anomalous Monism, defends from some objections but finally rejects a theory of mind and brain common in neuroscience, Mind-Brain Correlation with Non-Mental Causation, and, thirdly, rejects what is called cognitive science's philosophy, essentially a functionalism, and sets out an alternative. The alternative is identified by McGinn as 'something called the "union theory"'. It is introduced by myself as 'what seems to be a superior proposal about the mind-body problem', which description will have a little importance with respect to the matter of radical inconsistency.
The fourth paper in the book, on the externalisms or anti-individualisms of Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge, objects to both and takes the Union Theory further forward. It is of a little importance that the introduction to the paper ends with the sentence 'I think the Union Theory wins over anti-individualism' (p. 84).
The fifth paper, on Searle, has an introduction in which there is some of what you may count as signposting, at length.
'We all have a grip on the nature of our consciousness, a grip that issues in the ordinary settled and obscure idea of it. ... The grip and idea have seemed to be enough not only to enable us to reject...identity theories, but also to reflect more hopefully on the mind-brain relation. They have enabled or at any rate helped us, in particular, to pass beyond Anomalous Monism and Mind-Brain Correlation with Non-Mental Causation to what is surely an improvement, the Union Theory. The same grip and idea served us well in reflecting on anti-individualism.
But it is philosophically unsatisfactory to have only a hold on our consciousness, a kind of ostensive definition of it, and some thoughts of it, given that the thoughts are obscure. We certainly want and we probably need an analysis or articulated conception of the nature of mental events, say as good as our conceptions of the nature of events generally, or of the realm of the physical, or of truth, or of time. Not having such a conception is philosophically unsatisfactory, since inexplicitness and the like always are philosophically unsatisfactory. ...
...Mind-Brain Correlation with Non-Mental Causation, or indeed the Union Theory. If these two views have the great recommendation of not making consciousness into merely neural events, they do not by themselves give an adequate understanding or analysis of it either. They are essentialy mind-brain theories rather than mind or consciousness theories.' (On Consciousness, pp. 86-7).
The paper on Searle thus introduced is to the effect that he fails to provide an analysis or articulated conception of mental events. The paper in effect also contemplates further the Union theory, and in effect agrees with possible objectors that despite hopes for it, it is pretty outrageous.
The introduction to the sixth paper goes further in this rejection. The paper is about perceptual consciousnes. As it says of itself, it is a struggling paper, one that tries to make sense of consciousness in terms of subject or self and content. The struggle ends with several sections that admit failure and thus the need for something else.
'The tangled story we have been contemplating is that my visual experience consisted in an unmediated awareness of a content, which awareness was not a belief but was of what might be called a datum, and this awareness somehow involved the content taken as a particular impression, an impression of just the lawn.
The story can for a time seem not only unsatisfactory and tangled but in part plainly false. If I think of my experience of seeing the lawn a moment ago, I can recoil from this talk of awareness of a peculiar content as a particular impression. I can feel impelled to say that the lawn was given or presented. What was given or presented was no mental thing or fact, but the lawn.' (On Consciousness, p. 119)
Signposting, I'd say. The struggle of the paper ends, indeed, with steps towards what promptly followed this paper, Radical Externalism. In so doing, by the way, the paper rejects the conventional account of perceptual conscious reiterated by McGinn in his review, of which you will be hearing something later.
I do not so much admit as affirm, since what is in question is an obvious fact, that On Consciousness is a collection of papers making up a line of argument that would have been more explicit, yet more explicit, in a book written from scratch.
Entirely consistent with that is the proposition that McGinn's supposed contradiction does not exist. There is no radical inconsistency at all.
It is worth saying that my remarks quoted above to the effect that the Union Theory wins over anti-individualism and is surely an improvement on Anomalous Monism and Mind-Brain Correlation with Non-Mental Causation are of course perfectly consistent with Radical Externalism being better than the Union Theory. But something else is much more important.
Really to believe of a book that proceeds and says it proceeds from less satisfactory theories, including the author's preferred one among them, to a theory advocated at length in place of all of them, a theory advocated for half the book -- really to believe that such a book is a self-contradiction would be to believe the point of the most juvenile of debaters. To advance it seriously, in a state of actual belief, is or would be remarkable at least. Not very bright. If believed by a philosophy librarian, or any other librarian, it would clear shelves.
To remember Professor Leiter and his contributions to all of this, what we have seen so far does not make it possible to suppose with him that McGinn's review comes in sight of making good the charge of self-contradiction, of offering prima facie evidence for it.
The contradiction is a figment. Come, McGinn, prove otherwise. Pretend otherwise even.
4. WOEFULLY UNINFORMED
A further great failing of the book is also revealed at the beginning of the review.
'Throughout, the book is woefully uninformed about the work of others and at best amateurish. Honderich's understanding of positions he criticizes is often weak to nonexistent, though not lacking in chutzpah.' (1)
McGinn is not explicit about what it is I do not know or do not understand, of which, no doubt, there is a lot. Going by the guide of juxaposition or contiguity, always useful in approaching and interpreting works that flow rather than proceed in an orderly way, one of my shortcomings has to do with Davidson, of which more in due course. But let me now say something general about what is indeed left out of On Consciousness and hence may be ascribed to my being uninformed and not in the class of the professionals.
Could McGinn in fact dispute the book's division of previous views on consciousness into physicalism and dualism? No doubt he has much to say elsewhere in at least some detail of doctrines, theories, ideas, arguments, judgements, concepts and no doubt people in physicalism. He may have a decent amount to say of dualism. I see that among his writings unread by me are some that suggest so.
Those facts and the prior and larger fact that there is a lot of different and specific material in contemporary physicalism and naturalism does not trouble the other fact, does not so much as touch the other fact, that there are and have been the two traditions with hardly anything left over. There must be many lines of McGinn that will have to be recanted if this general division of philosophies of mind is wrong or even open to doubt. Of course he does not deny or doubt the division in his review.
The division issues in what I take to be a simple rejoinder to him. It is also a rejoinder to Professor Timothy Crane, a good philosopher and house-trained, who has noted in his piece in Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed (ed. Anthony Freeman, Imprint Academic, 2006) that I have not submerged myself in the physicalist flow of the philosophy of mind.
I am no Darwin, no Marx, but I remind McGinn that Darwin in his theory of evolution rightly did not take it to be necessary to crawl through the toils of creationism, and Marx did not take it to be necessary to spend time with variations in conservatism and liberalism or catalogue the rationalist, religious and other alternatives to the materialist conception of history. Think of almost any great scientist or philosopher, any scientist or philosopher of note.
Forget them and consider us all. Does anyone engaged in thinking suppose that effective generalization is not a proper part of inquiry, indeed the very stuff of effective thinking? I suppose it must be among the most rudimentary truths of inquiry that if anyone's concern is with a type of thing, a true general characteristic of a collection of things, it is not only wholly unnecessary but would be irrelevant and self-defeating to spend time on particulars that distinguish them.
If your concern is a general one, say with egoism or disappointment in life or or envy, and there is agreement on the identification of envy or whatever in general, you are not required to spend time on particulars.
One other simple thought. What one philosopher says is scandalously left out by a second philosopher may indeed be what the second is confident is not worth putting in. It is useful for the first philosopher to have that thought, whatever he does with it. Also, it is possible for two people to differ reasonably about what is most relevant to a question, what is of most value in answering it, even about what it is more or less essential to consider, without either being, say, uncomprehending or inept.
5. SOMETHING CALLED THE UNION THEORY
The Union Theory, so named because it brought brain and mind into intimate connection without paying the price of asserting identity, is the subject of other lines by McGinn near the beginning of the review.
'This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad. ...The views advocated include: ...something called the "union theory," which attempts to paste the mental and physical together inside the brain, with mental events declared spatial and physical (though not neural);...' (1)
'It is repeatedly insisted as if it might be controversial, that there are correlations between mental and neural properties and that this somehow amounts to a theory of the mind-brain relation. The aforementioned "union theory" is quickly established by asserting that anything causal must be spatial, so that mental events -- which are held to be distinct from neural events -- are also in the head next to their neural correlates, as well as being physical (because spatial). Why this is not just intracranial token dualism (with the usual epiphenomenalist consequences) is not explained.' (2)
McGinn's lines indicate nothing whatever of the recommendations of this theory over the two others discussed before it in On Consciousness, Davidson's Anomalous Monism and the philosophy of mind implicit in most neuroscience. Instead, McGinn's lines dispose of the theory by means of a handy verb for sticking things together, to paste. If he had tried to mention a reason for the verb, he would not have found that easy, given my efforts in constructing the theory and in particular my attention to how the two things are in a union (pp. 61-65, 68-70, 77-84).
But I do not much object to his omission. It's just a book review, isn't it? They have their limits, some limits anyway. Two or three other things are a little different.
One is his aside that the theory of lawlike correlation, nomic connection, between mental and neural properties is not a theory. Well, we had better get in touch with those dictionary-makers in Oxford and let them know that it turns out it isn't the case that a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something is a theory. It must be that a theory is a higher or lower or deeper thing, better than a causal or lawlike explanation.
The unkind thought comes to mind that it is one of these higher, lower or deeper theories that we can't have if mysterianism is true. Maybe the idea of such a theory can be made clear. Maybe it has been. I don't want to deny it. This leads to another unkind thought. It is that what is really wrong with Radical Externalism, to turn to that as against the Union Theory, is that it is a theory of exactly the higher, lower or deeper kind. It could be that what is wrong with Radical Externalism is not so much that it is ludicrous etc. but that it is the kind of theory that mysterianism says we cannot ever have, the kind of thing that is an improvement on, say, what the chimps can do with Quantum Theory.
To return to the passages quoted above, it is also worth remarking that it is not true or arguable or thinkable that the argument for the theory can be reduced to what McGinn mentions in the second passage, that the theory can be established in that way. One major part of the argument is what McGinn does not dispute, lawlike connection between mental and neural events. Another, as you have just heard, is shortcomings of alternative views, in particular Mind-Brain Correlation with Non-Mental Causation.
McGinn also reports in the second passage that in the Union Theory mental events are spatial and of course physical. In what sense, then, can this be what he says it is, dualism? Isn't dualism, dualism as easily referred to and without qualification, a theory that makes mental events non-physical? A review could have fitted in a few words on that, although words that might then have called out for more. What we have instead, in my opinion, is easy verbiage. What a wordsmith might call paperhanging, wallpapering.
So too with McGinn's words about the usual epiphenomenalist consequences, except that they are more startling wallpaper, maybe Miami wallpaper. There is nothing whatever in the Union Theory that makes it possible to talk of epiphenomenalism. Psychoneural pairs or unions are indubitably and repeatedly specified as causal with respect to later such things, and a problem to which this gives rise is given a specific solution, maybe even a little sophisticated. There is nothing in the theory -- certainly no relevant dualism -- that can be imagined to make it epiphenomenal.
6. PREPOSTEROUS EXTERNALISM
It would be worth your time, if you have a serious interest in judging this dispute, to look up pages in On Consciousness. If you are less serious, an attitude with which I greatly sympathize, just look back to the introductory sketch of Radical Externalism at the beginning of this reply -- say the three paragraphs of which the first begins with a sentence very relevant at the moment, 'The book On Consciousness, and also another book on the way, defend a theory different from physicalism and spiritualism'.
Here is what McGinn makes of the fundamental part of Radical Externalism and me.
'...his view is that consciousness is the world we are aware of -- it is what we would normally say that our perceptual consciousness reveals. Your consciousness is actually identical to a state of affairs outside your head in the perceived environment! He says, clarifying: "The new account is that what it is for you now to be aware of your surroundings is for things somehow to exist [note that "somehow"].' (4)
'His view is that consciousness is the state of affairs around you; it is the room you are seeing. Is he perhaps an idealist about rooms? No, he thinks rooms are objects in space, physical things of a sort, made of matter, and indeed counts this fact as buttressing his claim to be a kind of physicalist about consciousness. Consciousness is not the awareness of the room (Honderich can make no sense of such "ofness"); it simply is the room -- that very spatial, physical object.' (4)
'One might venture the following objection: the room could exist without you existing, so how can the room be your consciousness? To this rather natural objection, Honderich has an ingenious reply:....' (5)
'There is, we are assured, nothing spooky about this room, nothing beyond common sense -- it is a physical thing in space that you see.' (5)
'He also appears to be a direct realist about perception, supposing that we see objects that exist independently of us; again, how this is consistent with those peculiar neuron-dependent objects is not explained. Note that there is no sufficient neural condition for those objects, so that they certainly cannot be regarded as mental products of some kind: they are not supervenient on what is in the head. Indeed, they also have a foot in the objective, material world outside; yet they are what consciousness is. (5)
Those lines, despite vagueness in such words as 'the perceived environment', amount to persistent ambiguity. What your perceptual consciousness is said plainly or by implication to consist of according to Radical Externalism is sometimes the physical world, nothing else, and sometimes, despite the red herring about idealism, more or less what Radical Externalism calls a world of perceptual consciousness.
On the one hand we hear your perceptual consciousness is 'what we would normally say that our perceptual consciousness reveals', it 'simply is the room -- that very spatial physical object', it is 'a physical thing in space that you see', it is objects that exist independently of us. On the other hand, we hear your perceptual consciousness is something that only exists 'somehow' -- not in the standard way of physical things, something that suggests philosophical idealism to your guide, something such that you need to be assured that it is not spooky.
The ambiguity in reporting what is unambiguous in Radical Externalism is itself something that tempts me, fortunately unsuccessfully, to one or another of the epithets on McGinn's list. So does something more important.
At the start of his review, he informs his readers that the view that On Consciousness ends up defending is preposterous in the exteme. His manner of conveying that view, Radical Externalism, in the paragraphs above and by way of lines from the book that he implies have to be quoted in order to be believed, are to prove the judgement of preposterousness. Here, he declaims, is no obvious thought, no innocuous view that perceptual awareness is intentional directedness to the environment. Here is something that needs be reported by sentences whose logic is improved by italics and whose force is increased by exclamation marks.
All that needs to be said of this by me, obviously, is that it depends on the ambiguity. One of the two propositions in question is indeed the preposterous one that your being perceptually conscious consists in the existence of the physical world. The other is not preposterous at all. The other is more or less the theory in question.
Whatever is to be said of the line of argument for Radical Externalism, however it departs from philosophical convention, it is entirely secure, as safe as houses, in so far as this sort of incomprehension or whatever is concerned. What is preposterous in McGinn's paragraphs is not the theory under discussion.
7. APPEARANCE ENTAILS REALITY
In the review there is no report or summary of the general line of argument for Radical Externalism. Therefore it was sketched at the beginning of this reply. What is provided instead in the review is essentially a line thrown off in another context. It is in fact more a wave at something rather than a report of the line of argument for it.
'...now we know that it follows from being conscious that we perceive veridically since consciousness just is the existence of the state of affairs apprehended. Appearance entails reality.' (6)
Certainly my book is imperfect, as it says of itself regularly, and no doubt it needs more excuse than saying it is an attempt to leave behind two hopeless cart-tracks in the philosophy of mind. But the general line of argument in On Consciousness, indubitably the materials of that argument and the direction, are plain enough -- including the essential identification of the subject-matter of consciousness as only something's being had, given or presented (pp. 49, 59-60, 86, 119, 121, 124, 149, 174, 183-4).
Or, as perhaps I should say, the general line of argument is plain enough to anyone whose vulnerable amour propre has not been excited into a splutter of exclamation marks by some new and different ideas, someone whose conventionality in the current philosophy of mind survives his having announced its hopelessness.
8. EASY REFUTATIONS
Before the wave in passing at Radical Externalism, McGinn provides (paragraph 6) what he calls an objection against the theory. The supposed objection is speculation about the theory and denial of it, a request for more information about neural dependency, and the mistake that Radical Externalism about perception is the idea of direct realism, what was once called naive realism.
Certainly there are ideas more distant from Radical Externalism than direct realism -- that perceptual consciousness is not in part or in whole having or being given or presented with things intermediate between external things and something else. But Radical Externalism is fundamentally different from direct realism in excluding a subject, self-consciousness or whatever from what is given, which sort of thing remains explicit or implicit in direct realism. Radical Externalism is different, more fundamentally, in taking it that what it is for a world of perceptual consciousness to be given is only for it to exist in the defined way.
A second supposed objection by McGinn is this:
'...if consciousness is a state of affairs existing in the perceived environment, doesn't it follow that hallucination is impossible? Honderich finally gets round to considering this critical question, wondering whether his theory might implausibly rule out the brain-in-a-vat that seems to see things beyond itself. His answer is that his theory refutes any such possibility -- there simply cannot be perceptual hallucinations. He modestly refrains from announcing the good news that skepticism has finally been vanquished, though his theory has that consequence....' (6)
I concede that my treatment of the argument from illusion or hallucination, a form of which can indeed be advanced against Radical Externalism, was not good enough, indeed not good (On Consciousness, pp. 122, 1556, 204, 209-14). McGinn has a point here. It was also made effectively by contributors to Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed.
The better reply to the objection must be along the lines of what is called Disjunctivism, developed by Paul Snowdon, a contributor to the mentioned volume, and by others. It is to the simple effect, to be brief indeed and to speak ordinarily, that in taking ourselves to see things, or something of the sort, we are either doing so or thinking we are doing so. In my terms, what is happening is to be understood either in terms of perceptual consciousness or in terms of reflective consciousness. The hallucination, then, which is reflective consciousness, does not put in doubt the account advanced of actual perceptual consciousness.
To which needs to be added that Radical Externalism in itself leaves it open that on every occasion, to speak ordinarily, when we take ourselves to see things, we are in fact only thinking we are. What we take to be our perceptual consciousness is always reflective consciousness. So Radical Externalism does not vanquish scepticism or pretend to.
I take it that these various objections by McGinn are or have in them the easy refutations of the theory promised at the beginning. There are no refutations in the various objections.
9. THE ENTIRE PICTURE UNDERMINED
My sketch at the beginning of this reply reports, as the book does, that Radical Externalism makes what it takes to be essential differences between perceptual, reflective and affective consciousness, and takes the contemporary philosophy of consciousness to have a great shortcoming in this respect. An adequate account of consciousness will have to give different accounts of the three things.
The account then given of perceptual consciousness in the sketch, as you have heard a few times, is to the effect that what it is for you to be perceptually conscious is for something to be had, given or presented -- only what makes up a world of perceptual consciousness. When, as we say, you are aware of the room, what is had or the like is not a self or sense data or the like, and in particular not some relation of intentionality, directness, or aboutness. What is had is a room.
Of course the fact of your consciousness depends on other things. Of course it depends on relationships between you -- you neurally -- and the physical world. Of course there are retinal images and so on. They are part of the theory. Neuroscience exists. Psychology exists. Cognitive science exists. But being conscious of the room is no more being given a relationship of intentionality, directedness or awareness than being given or informed of any effect whatever, any correlate or other relatum, is being given or informed of the cause, other correlate or other relatum.
The sketch at the beginning of this reply also included a brief description of reflective consciousness, true to the book. Reflective consciousness according to Radical Externalism is indeed different. It also consists in the existence of something, but in this case representations, these being things both outside and inside of heads that share some of the effects of what they represent. Since intentionality is in fact thought of in terms of representation, indeed thought of rather more clearly, this account of reflective consciousness can be said and was said by me to give a place to intentionality in Radical Externalism. It was said mistakenly in a way, incidentally, as I came to see myself some time ago, but a way with no bearing on present issues.
So much for Radical Externalism and perceptual and reflective consciousness. Enter the mighty McGinn.
The first of two speeches from him is about On Consciousness and exactly perceptual consciousness.
'...Honderich assures us that he is not defending the innocuous view that perceptual awareness is intentional directedness to the environment, and in an excruciating discussion of Searle on perception and intentionality, he totally rejects the whole notion of intentionality. His view is that consciousness is the state of affairs around you; it is the room you are seeing.' (4)
The second speech, long, is about reflective consciousness and all of Radical Externalism.
'With perceptual consciousness thus taken care of, Honderich tries to extend the theory to thinking. Here, to sum up, his theory is that thinking is the perceiving of external representations like pictures and words, plus some inner representations. Two problems: first, you can think about something and perceive no external representation of it -- indeed you might not perceive anything at all relevant to your thought; second, those latter inner representations, introduced by Honderich in a sudden moment of sanity, undermine the entire picture he is promoting. He has thereby acknowledged the importance of intentionality and is now invoking a relation between subject and object, not just the object considered in itself, collapsing his theory into something familiar. But he sternly reminds us that there is no such impurity in his account of perceptual consciousness; it is still just the external state of affairs itself, with no relation between the subject and the object invoked. Why exactly he still resists inner representations for perception is left unexplained—except that it would be an abandonment of his wonderful new theory.' (7)
This is a shambles. The first speech is ambiguous and thus wholly misleading in speaking of the theory of Consciousness as Existence -- Radical Externalism -- or our Ted as 'totally rejecting the whole notion of intentionality'. The second speech, if you will allow me the expression of some feeling, is inane in the vagueness of the declaration that in writing of reflective consciousness, and letting in intentionality, I undermined the entire picture of Radical Externalism being promoted.
The picture has parts and declares it has parts, because consciousness has parts or something of the sort. McGinn is on this showing not good at distinctions, or at supplying any reason for trying to override them. There is a difference between smelling the roses over there on the table, thinking about McGinn, and wanting to be somewhere else. Radical Externalism is true to the fact and in no way undermines itself. Here, as before, in the case of the course or progress of the book, there is no inconsistency, no contradiction.
My interest and fortitude with respect to this reply is not what it was. Still, here are some quick remarks about other items in the second speech.
The second sentence and the first part of the third sentence consist in an entire misreading and a supposed refutation owed to it. The last sentence of the second speech is more than surprising. You will remember that the reason for resisting inner representations for perception is indeed explained. It is the reason having to do with all of what is had, given or presented when you are perceptually conscious.
10. McGINN'S OBVIOUS THOUGHT, INNOCUOUS VIEW, AND SHORT REPLY
'perceptual consciousness (Honderich's focus) is surely the presentation of a world (or at least a bit of one) to a conscious subject; but no such obvious thought is what Honderich is advocating. He thinks such an account would be "circular" since it is tantamount to saying that perceptual consciousness is the awareness of a world, and we were trying to say what awareness is.' (4)
'...he is not defending the innocuous view that perceptual consciousness is intentional directedness to the environment...' (4)
'The short reply to Honderich's existence theory is of course that he is confusing vehicle and content, act and object. My experience of a room is the vehicle of a certain content, rather as a word is a vehicle of meaning. My seeing the room is not the room I see but the means by which I see it; the seeing is not its own object.' (8)
These items are as close as McGinn gets to stating an alternative theory of perceptual or other consciousness. It is easy to accept that having had much else to do in his review, so much sanity to defend, he did not have time for speaking of whatever view of consciousness he has -- and its relation to the eternally insoluble mind-body problem.
Let me remark that I persist, perhaps like the rest of our colleagues in the philosophy of mind, in supposing that an analysis or account of consciousness containing unexplained occurrences of 'consciousness' or the like does or would not mark the greatest achievement in the history of analytic philosophy.
Let me also remark that McGinn can have as much vehicle as he wants, but not as part of what we are given in being conscious. He can have a Cadillac of neurons, with motorcycle cops, that stand in a certain relation to what it is to be conscious, but they cannot conceivably be part of that fact or property itself.
11. JUST CALL IT CONSCIOUSNESS
'In the final paper of the book, we read: "It [the existence theory] does not purport to give what we ordinarily have in mind in talking of being aware of this room, and in talking of perceptual consciousness generally. We do not have in mind a state of affairs outside the head. Cranialism has a hold on us and our language. .. . The enterprise in hand, rather, instead of being only conceptual or linguistic analysis, is one of conceptual reconstruction, of which a little more will be said at the end" (207). Are we to assume, then, that he has simply decided to call a state of affairs in the environment "consciousness"? In which case, the obvious reply is that this is not what we call consciousness, and we'd like a theory of that. (Let me call determinism "free will"; now I have reconciled free will with determinism!)' (9)
Of this, what seems to need to be said is that On Consciousness proceeds and repeatedly says it proceeds in terms of criteria for an adequate theory of consciousness. What we have to do, the book says, is keep clearly in mind the primary nature of consciousness, the fact of causal relations between consciousness and physical events, considerations of subjectivity, and so on. The conceptual reconstruction in which the book engages is the forming of a conception of consciousness that does best at satisfying the criteria, our own criteria.
The resulting departure from internalism or cranialism, and from more than that, including easy philosophy by ordinary language, can only be dimly described as simply deciding to call a state of affairs 'consciousness', etc.
Let me instead spend a little time on our reviewer's thoughts having to do with other philosophers considered in On Consciousness.
12. DAVIDSON, PUTNAM, BURGE, SEARLE
Return for a minute or two to the opening paper in the book, the objection to Donald Davidson's theory, Anomalous Monism. That theory, true to the first part of its name, denies lawlike correlation between mental and physical events. Papers in On Consciousness affirm such lawlike connection, as McGinn notes, in his way.
'The views advocated include: the existence of lawlike correlations between mental and physical events (without identity -- which Honderich repeatedly qualifies as "Leibnizian," as if there were some other kind)....' (1)
An example of the mediocre? The ludicrous? The merely bad? Maybe all of them.
Before you decide, remember that there is another understanding of identity of events, an understanding that was of peculiar relevance when Davidson was under consideration. It was worth excluding by a qualification. It is his own well-known understanding in terms of same causes and effects. I guess that that might have prompted my qualification. So might a theory, Anomalous Monism, which is indeed called a monism by its owner, and called a dualism of properties by others, precisely by way of a non-Leibnizian conception of event identity in the first case and a Leibnizian one in the second case.
Further, with respect to whatever other instances in On Consciousness of my qualification about identity, there are of course other criteria of identity that needed or could do with excluding. One is same place and time. There are also various weakenings of the Leibnizian criterion. There are also uncertain lines about identity in terms of intertheoretic reduction and the like. It is essential both to what can be said for the identity theory and what can be said against it that it be understood in terms of true identity.
McGinn in his review also notes something else about the opening paper on Davidson.
'Honderich begins by reprinting an article of his that makes a point made by nearly everybody writing about Anomalous Monism....' (2)
He might have added that I made the point pretty early, ahead of some others, and that it is sufficiently different from other points to have been all my own work and also to have given rise, unlike other papers, to a run of articles -- some of them reprinted in the book Mental Causation and the Metaphysics of Mind, edited by Keith Campbell (Broadview Press, 2003). As for McGinn's subsequent little tutorial on Davidson, it would have been better if it depended not on what must be taken to be Davidson's undeveloped thoughts on laws and lawlike connection but on something else. While we are giving tutorials, I recommend Honderich, A Theory of Determinism or Mind and Brain, pp. 1-70.
To come on to Hilary Putnam, On Consciousness reports, indisputably, that Putnam in his seminal paper 'The Meaning of "Meaning"', took the meaning of a term, say the term 'page' to include its extension, the set of things of which the term is true. This idea of meaning, I remarked at the beginning of the discussion in the book, has the unfortunate consequence that the meaning of 'page' would change or indeed end if all the pages in the world were burned. McGinn writes of the discussion that
'Putnam is treated to a critique in which he is reprimanded for not noticing that you can vary the extension of "page" by changing the actual pages in the world, without changing the meaning of "page".' (3)
McGinn omits to say something that he must know if he read on in the paper. It is that the principal argument of the paper and the principal conclusion having to do with Putnam is that his view, rightly rather than plainly understood, is precisely not open to the given objection (pp. 74-76). If I were to join McGinn in his habits, the word 'shoddy' would come to mind about this performance. Read my book, Hilary. As for the remaining bits of McGinn's performance, they do not improve it.
Of the discussion of Tyler Burge's work, which is treated in as friendly and admiring way as Putnam's, and the excruciating discussion of Searle on perception and intentionality, I take time to say only that McGinn does not make me dream of changing a comma. So too, as you will have gathered, with the discussions of Davidson and Putnam.
13. IMPRECATIONS, PROPOSITIONS, THE PAST, LEITER
We are none of us pure inquirers, led forward only by evidence and logic to truth. We are affected by feeling and passion, including the passion of others that goes into ridiculing something. In particular, we are affected by such a carry-on as McGinn's in his review. Surely, you must be inclined to say to yourself, that unprecedented intemperateness must be some indication that he has got some case? He wouldn't go on that way, would he, unless the book was pretty bad somehow?
Well, intemperateness can have other sources. One is feeling that comes out of a reviewer's past personal connection with an author who was a colleague in the same philosophy department, and maybe a reviewer's alliance with others left over from old battles in the past. Say an author's battle against there being a chair in Freudianism and also a couch put into a department of philosophy, the Department of Philosophy at University College London, and then disappointments of friends and hostilities having to do with philosophy professorships, and then feelings about the departmental headship. The last two items involved a colleague who is the dedicatee of one of McGinn's books.
Indeed the intemperateness of the review could come out of personal disconnection rather than connection, and in fact nothing other than personal enmity, having little or nothing to do with the worth of a book as judged in a disinterested way. I see this possibility is touched on speculatively by contributors to the website of Brian Leiter -- about whom it comes to mind to mention something in passing.
It is that if what you have read above is more or less right, there was in fact little or no justice in his assuring his readers that McGinn's review made a prima facie or plausible case about a book's mediocrity, ludicrousness, radical inconsistency, shoddiness etc. If you look at the review, you may think that no evidence at all was provided for such a case, as distinct from assumed and declared. Denials are not reasons for denials.
Accepting the existence of such a case, whatever the motivation of the acceptance, about which questions arise, must have much or at least something to do with the worth of judgements as to mediocrity etc. Accepting the existence of such a case cannot rest just on someone else's say-so, but must rest on the worth of what they say considered in the light of some reflection and inquiry, your own independent reflection and inquiry, say with respect to a book and persons.
To return to McGinn, one of the contributors to the Leiter website quotes some lines written by me on McGinn a while ago in my autobiography, which also sets out to be an account of English academic life. For your convenience and my own reassurance and my case, I bring them closer to hand -- at Colin McGinn According to Ted Honderich. They indicate something of the fact that I have given offence to my reviewer and that our relations have been complicated by other personal connections. I have given a little more offence, in fact, than is explicitly confessed by me in the autobiography.
I did not like him for taking the small profit from the writing of a witty line when the line was one that insulted the life of a man who supported him out of kindliness, he being A. J. Ayer, of whom I happen to be the literary executor. I did not like my reprinting of my funeral speech for Ayer described as 'ill-written, plodding, and faintly nauseating in places' (London Review of Books, 30 August 1990). This first public expression of our personal disconnection was not by me. I didn't start this stuff.
To which can be added something that goes beyond my own unkind footnote mentioned above. In 2006 there was published Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed, edited by Anthony Freeman. There were responses by me in it to pieces by other philosophers. One commentary included the following lines on McGinn's pages on mysterianism.
'Well, it is hard for me to think of known pages weaker in the logic of philosophy. James Garvey, of whom you know, lays out McGinn's failure to make rudimentary distinctions necessary to his argument (Garvey, 1997). They are distinctions of a kind fundamental to good philosophy and too often lacking in the science and particularly the psychology of consciousness. Also, pages devoted to proving we can never solve the mind-body problem have the absurdity of having to be considered, anyway for a minute or two, as advice to the human race to give up one of its three or four most compelling intellectual problems.'
I am in fact sorry to have written those lines, which fact is quite other than the prudence of apology, and want to take back entirely the disdain expressed in them. I am sorry to have contributed to McGinn's evident unhappiness, before and after his opening of public hostilities, and maybe relieved that I have now paid a penalty.
I confess also to not being a pure inquirer in letting you know that his imprecations and indeed propositions have a past. That is consistent, however, with something else -- wanting to serve truth in the matter of consciousness and to resist two hopeless conventionalities. As remarked before now by me, Radical Externalism may not be true. But it has a chance, and is sufficiently distant from devout physicalism and spiritualism to indicate the extent of departure that a true theory will have to be.
This reply has been slightly revised, if not in any way relevant to McGinn's rejoinder noted below.
McGinn's rejoinder to this reply with Honderich's response
Nina Strohminger's review of McGinn's book, The Meaning of Disgust
Honderich's Earlier Remarks on McGinn
Philosopher: A Kind of Life -- reviews
Seeing Things -- a paper from the book On Consciousness
Intentionality -- another paper from On Consciousness
Andrew Ross, First-Person Consciousness: Honderich & McGinn Reviewed
Andrew Ross, Hitting on Consciousness: Honderich Versus McGinn
Colin McGinn According to Ted Honderich
Four Newspaper Stories and a Letter to an Editor
Ted Honderich, Persona Non Grata, by Brian Leiter
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