Why did Tom give up his seat on the bus to someone frail and elderly? Perhaps only to impress his girlfriend, perhaps rather to be considerate, out of concern for the elder's welfare. Or maybe it was just a random act, entirely out of character, and due only to his being in a good mood. Alternatively, it might be quite in character for him to act that way. Kindness may be one of his character traits, manifest in that act.
Or so one might think without a second thought. Such reasoning seems typical of how we constantly try to understand people's conduct. Based on a body of troubling results in social psychology, however, an intriguing critique has been pressed against such character trait attributions. Here we shall review the most striking, best known results, and the arguments based on them.
The Attack Presented
The Milgram Experiments
In the early sixties, experiments conducted by the psychologist Stanley Milgram at Yale University had disturbing results (Milgram 1963, 1974). In multiple replications, moreover, the results have held up with impressive consistency. Milgram's experimental subjects believe themselves to be participating in a study of the effects of punishment on learning, and to be playing the role of “teachers” in that study. Here is the scenario. The experimental subjects are expected to administer electric shocks to “learners” (who are in fact Milgram confederates). In one version, the teacher/subject sees the learner/confederate strapped down to an electric chair in a separate room.
Natural theology has always had to contend with the argument from evil. The evil around us seemingly supports a deductive argument for the conclusion that there is no God of the sort affirmed by theology. More recently, natural theology has faced new problems, or old problems with a new urgency. Darwin, for example, showed how evolutionary design rivals Divine design, endangering the important Argument from Design. Suppose certain phenomena admit two rival, independent explanations. Any such explanation no better than its rival is insufficiently supported thereby. Theology had proposed Divine design as an explanation of the order around us. Evolutionary theory offers now a rival explanation that purports to be at least as good while independent of Divine agency.
Both of these attacks are “direct.” They both confront theology directly on its own ground, by countering its theses in one of two ways. One way is by direct refutation of a theological proposition: The evil we see leaves no rational room for an omnipotent, fully benevolent God. The other way attacks, rather, the cogency of theology's rational support: by arguing, for example, that Divine agency is no longer needed to explain the order of things.
Although both of these attacks are direct, the first is more direct, since it clashes frontally with the theological proposition that there is a God. From the premise that there is evil, it concludes that there is no God. The second attack is not frontal.
Davidson's epistemology, like Kant's, features a transcendental argument as its centerpiece. Both philosophers reject any priority, whether epistemological or conceptual, of the subjective over the objective, attempting thus to solve the problem of the external world. For Davidson, three varieties of knowledge are coordinate – knowledge of the self, of other minds, and of the external world. None has priority. Despite the epistemologically coordinate status of the mind and the world, however, the content of the mind can be shown to entail how things are out in the world. More exactly, Davidson argues, we could not possibly have the beliefs we have, with their contents, unless the world around us were pretty much the way we take it to be, at least in its general outline. We are thus offered a way to argue, to all appearances a priori, from how it is in our minds to how things are in the world. The argument is a priori at least in being free of premises or assumptions about contingent particularities concerning the world around us or our relation to it. From premises about the contents of our propositional attitudes, the argument wends its way to a conclusion about the general lines of how the world around us is structured and populated.
Before presenting his own account, Davidson rejects received views of meaning and knowledge. What follows will combine themes from his critique of alternatives with his more positive account and its way of dealing with the skeptic.
In a series of papers and a recent book, Fred Dretske has been working out an innovative account of how reasons explain behavior. His starting point is what we may call “the causal thesis”, often associated with Davidson, that reasons rationalize behavior by being its cause. With Davidson, therefore, Dretske takes rationalizing explanations to be a species of causal explanation, explanations that specify the causal antecedents of their explananda. Reasons are beliefs, desires, and other assorted “contentbearing” states, and these are among the paradigmatic instances of intentional mental states. Thus, the problem of explaining how reasons rationalize (that is, explain by providing reasons) is, for Dretske, the problem of giving an account of how intentional states can be causes, that is, the problem of intentional or rational causation. If we further assume, with Dretske, that the behavior to be rationalized is, or often involves, bodily events and processes, our problem is seen as a special case of the problem of psychophysical causation, that of understanding how mental events or states can enter into causal relations with physical events, as their causes or their effects. There is of course an even broader problem of mental causation, the problem of explaining how mental events can enter into any sort of causal relation, either as causes or as effects, whether with physical events or with other mental events.
The reality of the mental is closely tied to the possibility of mental causation, and anyone who takes a realist attitude toward the mental must be prepared with an account of how mental causation is possible.
Jonathan Edwards held the doctrine that ordinary material things do not persist through time but are at each moment created, and recreated, by God ex nihilo. He writes:
If the existence of created substance, in each successive moment, be wholly the effect of God's immediate power, in that moment, without any dependence on prior existence, as much as the first creation out of nothing, then what exists at this moment, by this power, is a new effect, and simply and absolutely considered, not the same with any past existence, though it be like it, and follows it according to a certain established method.
Thus, the present “time slice” of this table, although it is very much like the one preceding it, has no causal connection with it; for each slice is a wholly distinct creation by God. The temporal parts of this table are successive effects of an underlying persisting cause, God's creative activity. In arguing for this doctrine, Edwards offers the following striking analogy:
The images of things in a glass, as we keep our eye upon them, seem to remain precisely the same, with a continuing, perfect identity. But it is known to be otherwise. Philosophers well know that these images are constantly renewed, by the impression and reflection of new rays of light; so that the image impressed by the former rays is constantly vanishing, and a new image impressed by new rays every moment, both on the glass and on the eye … And the new images being put on immediately or instantly, do not make them the same, any more than if it were done with the intermission of an hour or a day. […]
Suppose we could create an exact physical replica of a living human being - exactly like him cell for cell, molecule for molecule, atom for atom. Such a replica would be indistinguishable, at least physically, from the original. For we are supposing that the replica is a perfect physical copy in every detail. The idea of such a replica, whether artificially created or naturally found, is a perfectly coherent one; in fact, it is consistent with all known laws of nature. The idea of course is a commonplace in science fiction.
Given that your replica and you are exactly alike physically, will you also share your psychological life with him? Will your replica have your psychological traits and dispositions, intellectual powers and artistic gifts, anxieties and depressions, likes and dislikes, and virtues and vices? Will it feel pain, remorse, joy and elation exactly in the way you do? That is, if two organisms have identical physical features, will they be identical in psychological characteristics as well?
According to many moral theorists, any two things sharing the same ‘naturalistic’ or ‘descriptive’ features cannot differ in respect of moral or evaluative properties. Thus, it has been said that if St. Francis is a good man, anyone who is just like him in all naturalistic respects - in this case, broadly psychological properties, such as traits of character and personality - must of necessity be a good man.
I want to reopen the question whether the same bit of behavior, say an action we perform such as climbing a ladder, can be given both a “mechanistic” explanation, in terms of physiological processes and laws, and a “purposive” explanation, in terms of “reasons” (e.g., goals and beliefs). In a paper published in 1968, Norman Malcolm defended a negative answer. He argued that once an action has been explained by setting forth its physiological causal antecedents it is no longer open to us to explain it by citing the agent's reasons, that is, his beliefs, desires, intentions, and the like. Alvin Goldman immediately replied to Malcolm, arguing that mechanistic and purposive explanations are indeed compatible, that we can in fact characterize a type of situation in which one and the same behavior can be seen to be explainable both physiologically and rationally.
I want to reopen this debate not only because there is more to be said on this issue but also, and more importantly, because the issue has significant implications for some problems of much current interest in the philosophy of mind. A proper appreciation of the broader methodological issues and options involved will, I believe, help us to get clearer about some matters of current controversy. As we shall see, the question of explanatory compatibility leads us to more general questions about the pos-sibility of multiple explanations of a single explanandum, and the relationship between two distinct explanatory theories covering overlapping domains of phenomena.
Asked how badly he wanted to win the Super Bowl Washington Redskin left guard Russ Grimm replied, “I'd run over my mother to win it.” The quote was repeated to Los Angeles Raider inside linebacker Matt Millen, who answered, “I'd run over her, too, - I mean Grimm's mother.”
Accounts of supervenience to date have almost exclusively focused on properties (that is, monadic attributes), although relations are informally mentioned sometimes in connection with supervenience. What happens if relations are explicitly taken into consideration in characterizing supervenience?
Let A be the supervening set of attributes, and B the base set. Consider first the case in which A includes an n-adic relation R, but B includes only monadic properties. It is evident that for R to supervene on B, the following condition is necessary and sufficient:
For any n-tuples, (x1,..., xn) and (y1,..., yn) (to be abbreviated as Xn and Yn respectively), if they are indiscernible in set B, then R(Xn) iff R(Yn)
Depending on whether the n-tuples compared are restricted to a single world or may berecruited from different worlds, this will yield either “weak” or “strong” supervenience (Essay 5). But what is it for two n-tuples,Xn and Yn, to be indiscernible from eachother with respect to B? Since B is assumed to include only properties and norelations, the answer is simple: Xn is indiscernible fromYn in B just in case for each i (1' i' n) xiis indiscernible from yiin respect of B-properties.
The essays selected for this volume have been written over a period of approximately twenty years since the early 1970s, and are reprinted here without changes except for typographical and minor stylistic corrections and the updating of footnotes. Part I consists of papers on the metaphysical issues of events, causation, and supervenience; Part II includes papers on issues in the metaphysics of mind - in particular, mind-body supervenience and mental causation. Each part ends with a set of postscripts indicating my current thoughts on some of the central problems discussed therein.
I wish I could say that I stand by everything I said in these papers; on some issues I do of course, but on others my views have changed, rather significantly in a few instances, and I expect them to continue to change and evolve. On some of the issues I am not even clear just what I am now prepared to defend. This is the case, for example, with the theory of events. In Essays 1 and 3, I formulated and argued for what is now standardly called the “property exemplification” account of events, and I still think that it is a viable approach. However, I am now inclined to think that ontological schemes are by and large optional, and that the main considerations that should govern the choice of an ontology are those of utility, simplicity, elegance, and the like.
It is part of today's conventional wisdom in philosophy of mind that psychological states are “multiply realizable”, and are in fact so realized, in a variety of structures and organisms. We are constantly reminded that any mental state, say pain, is capable of “realization”, “instantiation”, or “implementation” in widely diverse neural-biological structures in humans, felines, reptiles, mollusks, and perhaps other organisms further removed from us. Sometimes we are asked to contemplate the possibility that extraterrestrial creatures with a biochemistry radically different from the earthlings', or even electro-mechanical devices, can “realize the same psychology” that characterizes humans. This claim, to be called hereafter ‘the Multiple Realization Thesis’ (“MR”, for short), is widely accepted by philosophers, especially those who are inclined to favor the functionalist line on mentality. I will not here dispute the truth of MR, although what I will say may prompt a reassessment of the considerations that have led to its nearly universal acceptance.
And there is an influential and virtually uncontested view about the philosophical significance of MR. This is the belief that MR refutes psychophysical reductionism once and for all. In particular, the classic psychoneural identity theory of Feigl and Smart, the so-called “type physicalism”, is standardly thought to have been definitively dispatched by MR to the heap of obsolete philosophical theories of mind. At any rate, it is this claim, that MR proves the physical irreducibility of the mental, that will be the starting point of my discussion.
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