Dualism versus materialism again from Feser (Humans)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, September 07, 2021, 20:31 (335 days ago) @ David Turell

His latest:


"Materialism can at first blush seem to have a more commonsensical and empirical character than Cartesian dualism. The latter asks you to believe in a res cogitans that is unobservable in principle. The former – so it might appear – merely asks you to confine your belief to what you already know from everyday experience. You pick up an apple and bite into it. Its vibrant color, sweet taste and odor, feel of solidity, and the crunch it makes all make it seem as real as anything could be. Anyone who says that all that exists are things like that might, whether or not you agree with him, at least seem to have the evidence of the senses in his corner.

"The trouble is that that is not what the materialist is saying. The matter to which he would reduce everything is not the matter of common sense, not the hard earth of daily experience. It is instead a highly abstract theoretical construct which – just like Descartes’ res cogitans – is not and indeed cannot be known directly via perception (nor, unlike the res cogitans, by introspection either). Moreover, it is a conception the materialist has inherited from Cartesian dualism itself. And it is that conception of matter, rather than the Cartesian’s commitment to a non-empirical res cogitans, that has made it so difficult for Cartesians and materialists alike to account for how conscious awareness relates to the physical world.


"Oddly enough, the trouble with the Cartesian dualism comes from the side of the body. The body, as Descartes conceives it, is not such that it can accommodate the soul. It cannot, so to speak, be penetrated by the soul; it can only remain in external contact with it. This body is not the physical body, our physical body, as we know it in our daily intimacy with it. It is the body of physics – that is, of the science of physics; a piece of matter, and particularly as Descartes conceived of matter. But the body of physics is remote and unknown to us and is not the body we live in in our day-to-day existence. The body we know is rarely sharply distinguishable from the soul: in our moods and feelings we are not often sure what part is physical and what not. There is no sharp dividing line between. The life of flesh and blood is particularly focused about the feelings and emotions. So long as there is no adequate conception of the concrete or lived body, our theories of mind cannot deal adequately with the life of feeling.


"Descartes notoriously takes non-human animals to be insensate automata. They lack rationality, hence they lack a res cogitans. Thus, since for Descartes the only other kind of substance there is is res extensa, which is pure extension devoid of any consciousness, that is what animals must be.


"Some contemporary philosophers, cognizant of the problems with the early modern mechanistic and mathematicized conception of matter, have reinserted into matter the qualities common sense attributes to it, but then fallaciously draw the conclusion that this entails panpsychism....For like the early moderns, they take the qualities of ordinary physical objects to be partially or wholly mind-dependent, i.e. to be identified with the qualia of conscious experience. Unlike the early moderns, they take these qualities to exist in physical objects themselves, and not just in our minds. The result is that they conclude, absurdly, that there must be something analogous to conscious awareness even in rocks, dirt, tables, chairs, etc. (The poor moderns. They just can’t do anything right!)


"The sober, boring truth – enshrined in Aristotelian philosophy and common sense alike – is that some kinds of purely material substances (namely non-human animals) are conscious, and others (like rocks and dirt) are not. The latter really do possess qualities like color as common sense conceives of it, but that does not entail panpsychism, because (contra Descartes, Berkeley, and company) those qualities are not entirely mind-dependent. Not all matter is reducible to one, lowest-common-denominator type, and none of it is reducible to the purely mathematical description afforded by physics. That description is merely an abstraction from concrete physical reality. It captures part of that reality, to be sure, but not the whole of it.

"To think otherwise is somewhat like thinking that “the average person” of the statistician really exists, but that the various individual people we meet from day to day do not. The reality is that those individuals do exist, and that the notion of “the average person,” while it captures important aspects of reality and is therefore useful for certain purposes, is a mere abstraction that does not correspond to any concrete entity. And in the same way, the concrete physical objects of everyday experience also really do exist, whereas the mathematical description afforded by physics, despite its undeniable predictive and technological utility, does not capture the entirety of concrete reality."

Comment: Pure materialism tries to tell us the way our sensations are converted into charged ions interpreted by our brain, they are not really what we feel. But Feder argues common sense has to play a role in our theories.

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