Thursday, November 29, 2012

DeLong on Nagel on Mind and Cosmos

Lewis Carroll sends me this link, Brad DeLong ridiculing Thomas Nagel.

I happen to be teaching Nagel's little book The Last Word right now, so I've got these topics on my mind. I've got Mind and Cosmos on order, but haven't read it yet.

Incidentally, IMO, DeLong is being kind of  an idiot in this post. I'll try to explain why later, but not now. The short version of the story is that nobody should be eager to embrace the view that I'm just a turbomonkey with a bunch of wet-wired heuristics that masquerade as reason in some more robust sense. On such a view, it's very hard to argue that I ever have justified beliefs. Which makes the whole enterprise of human inquiry--and that mostly means science, broadly construed--impossible. But it's ridiculous to pretend to be dealing with such issues in an even semi-serious way in a post like this.

Nagel is a really interesting guy, and I think he's in the right sector on these issues. I, myself, am a non-theist and a non-meataxe-physicalist. Or, more precisely: I'm inclined to think that extremely strict/parsimonious versions of physicalism or naturalism are unlikely to be true. Or, I might rather say: if you think that things like logical validity ought to be--and could be--reduced to (or explained in terms of) something about efficient causation, then I think you're wrong. I don't see a place for validity (or consciousness) in the universe as conceived of by extremely parsimonious naturalists and physicalists. And I don't think that God helps a bit. So I am inclined to believe in a Godless universe that admits of validity and consciousness. What would such a universe be like? We don't know. But it'll be more complicated (and interesting) than a parsimonious physicalist universe. I privately think of myself as a naturalist, mostly...but, like Pierce, I suspect that there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in certain philosophies. Just adding, say, ghosts to a material world won't do anything; that's just a different kind of stuff. What's needed is actual teleology, final causation.

But I barely understand these issues, so my hand-waving at a view shouldn't matter much. Thing is, lots of other philosophers who apparently don't understand the issues very well either are convinced physicalists. As Peirce argued, we need to start with science, broadly construed, and accept whatever theory of the universe makes it possible. The folks Nagel tends to go after are the ones who push parsimonious physicalism (basically on aesthetic grounds), and who want to pretend that things like validity and consciousness fit unproblematically into such a universe. But they don' far as I can tell.


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