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William Lycan Defends Dualism

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A new day is dawning when philosophers of William Lycan‘s stature start questioning materialism and making conceptual room for dualism:

I mean to have shown here that although Cartesian dualism faces some serious objections, that does not distinguish it from other philosophical theories, and the objections are not an order of magnitude worse than those confronting materialism in particular. There remain the implausibilities required by the Cartesian view; but bare claim of implausibility is not argument. Nor have we seen any good argument for materialism. The dialectical upshot is that, on points, and going just by actual arguments as opposed to appeals to decency and what good guys believe, materialism is not significantly better supported than dualism…. Yet, I am inclined to believe, the charge of implausibility is not irrational or arational either, and I would not want this paper to turn anyone dualist. Have a nice day.


Materialism is a strange belief. A materialist actually believes that the forces of nature caused him to type what he types into this little comment box on uncommon descent. That's incredibly bizarre. Up there with fairies under the garden and leprechauns crawling up the pipe while you're on the toilet. Vladimir Krondan
What’s striking is not so much the use of the word “dualism” as the admission that there is weakness in materialism and its accounts of the mind. Like Darwinism, materialism depends very much upon a façade of invincibility—a bluff. A crack in this façade is like a crack in a windshield. It doesn’t look like much at first and then… So let’s try something new with Hofstadter’s analogy. The brain may be a little like a computer, but mind is Hofstadter himself. Mind is that which thinks to compare the brain to a computer. Computers never think to do this on their own. The capacity for choice, then, indicates the difference between mind and computer as well as brain. Is this “dualism”? Not necessarily. Perhaps it simply means that men are endowed by their creator with some attribute that enables them to transcend the limitations of the brain and make choices. This attribute escapes quantitation, but it does not negate brain or lead to the nothingness in our notions of value that dualism always causes. We blush to name it, but then it s already known. allanius
Perhaps what we have to say is not that the soul is immaterial in the sense that it is made of something other than atoms, but that it is elemental. Thus it would not be a spiritual machine or set of immaterial algorithms, otherwise eventually such a machine might be duplicated with silicon and other material elements. If the mind is a mechanism it could be cloned, and thus the soul would not be a unique identy. Are the philosophers arguing in that direction? Rude
Graham: Thank you for your post. My argument for the immateriality of the mind is not based on its complexity, but on more mysterious abilities such as our capacity to form concepts (which I touched on above), and also the intentionality of our beliefs and desires. I'll just quote Lycan on intentionality, since he is an avowed materialist:
For the record, I think intentionality is a much greater obstacle to materialism than is anything to do with consciousness, qualia, phenomenal character, subjectivity, etc. If intentionality itself is naturalized, those other things are pretty easily explicated in terms of it [Lycan 1996]. But in my view, current psychosemantics is feeble: it treats only of concepts tied closely to the thinker’s physical environment; it addresses only thoughts and beliefs, and not more exotic propositional attitudes whose functions are not to be correct representations; and it does not apply to any thought that is even partly metaphorical. More on these failings in a subsequent paper. (Footnote 8)
On the question of whether intentionality can be naturalized, you might like to have a look at this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, for a fair-minded discuission of the current state of play in the ongoing debate. (I suggest you scroll down to sections 8 and 9.) Finally, I would like to remind you that I don't believe the human mind is supernatural. I do however believe that intellect and will are immaterial faculties of the soul. vjtorley
To vjtorley, this seems to be a common awe that people have for the 'mind'. Im pretty sure that the universe is not deterministic because, ultimately, (quantum) uncertainty prevents us from predicting the future, ie: the future is a random outcome. Also, the workings of the mind look mysterious (and are very impressive) but dont require the supernatural. Conways game of life is a simple demonstration that apparant complexity can arise from very simple rule-based processes. To kairosfocus, I think you are raising the old straw man, a watch being obviously designed, etc etc. Yes, we know a watch is designed because we are familiar with the process of designing watches. But what about a reasonably round stone ? It may be just rough enough to look like a river pebble, but just regular enough to suspect that it was manufactured, ie: we dont have enough experience to say which. Life forms are like that, they look designed, but we dont have experience of how biological structures are created to say which. This is why Evolution is so valuable in that it provides a possible explanation that doesnt require recourse to gods. And thats my longest post ever. Graham
Grasham: In the case of evidence pointing to the action odf intelligence on matters inconvenient to materialism, their imposed "methodological naturalism" plainly CENSORS science and blocks it from delivering teh goods. For instance, is it reasonable to infer from the linguistically functionally specific alphanumerical strings that appear in a post attached to your name, that it was produced intelligently based on complex functionality and associated specificity? If you say yes, then DNA is a very similar, linguistic -- computer language though -- string. If you say no, why? And on what evidence do you infer that functionally specific complex digital information can on empirical evidence be produced by the other two known relevant causal factors without intelligent intervention? Namely, chance + mechanical necessity? the point of the design inference is that intelligence is an empirically observed phenomenon, and that we know per longstanding investigation, routine DIRECT observation and experience that it routinely produces patterns of complex, purposeful -- often functional -- organisation that are not plausibly the product of chance + necessity. To suddenly roadblock that inference when it might cut across an imposed evolutionary materialistic view is censorship. And, such censorship is DOCUMENTED, e.g. from the US National Academy of Sciences acting as de facto magisterium. Pointing out the inconsistency, incivility and implications of such authoritarianism are not "rabitting on." Please wake up and hear the warning of the Paul Revere riders of our day! GEM of TKI kairosfocus
Graham: Thank you for your post. You write that "materialism works" and that "materialism produces the goods." I presume you mean that it allows scientists to (i) explain what we observe and (ii) predict how things will behave in the future. Now, that's perfectly fine, as far as it goes. Airplanes have to fly, and bodies have to function. Our brains have to work properly, too. We rely on all these things, on an everyday basis, and we can explain how they work, without resorting to unobservable entities. But I cannot explain how I get a new idea, or how I am even capable of having concepts of things in the first place. (If you don't think that the ability to form concepts is especially mysterious, please read Dr. David Oderberg's article, "Concepts, Dualism, and The Human Intellect" which I provided a link to in #4 above.) And I certainly cannot predict what I - or those near and dear to me - will choose to do tomorrow. Nor do I think I'd want to. Would you? I should add that materialists themselves are divided as to whether the world is governed by deterministic laws or not. Your answer to that question will depend on your particular interpretation of quantum physics. I should also add that materialism cannot tell us whether causation is invariably bottom-up (as reductionists suppose) or whether genuine top-down causation occurs in the world too. If that be the case, and if additionally determinism turns out to be false, then there is scope for libertarian free will - which entails that scientists can actually choose what experiments they'll do tomorrow, and how they'll interpret the results of those experiments. Imagine that! Finally, I would like to point out that the workings of an immaterial mind might be unobservable, but they are not "supernatural." Dualism doesn't require daily miracles. vjtorley
People here do rabbit on about that awful materialism. Surely the reason Science is fiercely materialist is that materialism produces the goods. Theres nothing philosophical about it, just the purely pragamtic experience that materialism works, and the supernatural doesnt. If I see the pilot praying that the engines wont fail, then Im not getting on the plane. Graham
Thanks for the psi links, magnan. I've been trying to find the best books on the empirical evidence for psychic phenomena, and this is what I've come up with so far: The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin http://www.amazon.com/Conscious-Universe-Scientific-Psychic-Phenomena/dp/0061778990/ref=ed_oe_p Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality by Dean Radin http://www.amazon.com/Entangled-Minds-Extrasensory-Experiences-Quantum/dp/1416516778/ref=pd_sim_b_1 The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations by Stephen E. Braude http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226071529/stephebraud Hope that helps. vjtorley
A few more links to good articles about the evidence for psi, psychical phenomena, etc. and its relevance to the mind-body problem: Parapsychological Association paper, Jessica Utts & Brian D. Josephson, The Paranormal: The Evidence and Its Implications for Consciousness, at http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/psi/tucson.html John Beloff, Mind-body interactionism in the light of the parapsychological evidence, at: http://moebius.psy.ed.ac.uk/~dualism/papers/light.html John Beloff, Parapsychology and Radical Dualism, at http://moebius.psy.ed.ac.uk/~dualism/papers/radical.html Parapsychology and Personal Survival after Death, at: http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/psi/tucson.html magnan
Thanks vjtorley. In 2005 David Chalmers guesstimated that about a quarter of current (and I presume Anglo-American) philosophers of mind were dualists, while half were materialists, leaving another quarter agnostics. Of course it depends partly on how you define dualism. anonym
As I have mentioned many times, the philosophical debate between materialism and dualism is thoroughly trumped by the actual data of parapsychology. magnan
For those who are interested, here is a list of free, online articles which either address head-on the scientific and philosophical arguments against interactionist dualism, or which formulate cogent philosophical arguments for dualism and/or against materialism. In my opinion, these are the best resources available on the Web, for combating materialism. The dualism I am speaking of here is substance dualism, as opposed to property dualism. Hylemorphism, under this classification, is a variety of substance dualism, as it rejects supervenience and claims that some human actions are non-bodily actions. The papers below espouse a variety a substance dualist positions. Online Theses Richard J. Bernier, The Plausibility of Substance Dualism as an Approach to the Mind-Body Problem (M.A. thesis, Department of Theological Studies, Concordia University, Canada, 2003) http://www.newdualism.org/papers/R.Bernier/Bernier_Thesis.pdf Ole Andreas Klaeboe Koksvik, In Defence of Interactionism, (M.A. thesis, Department of Philosophy, Monash University, Australia, 2006) http://rsss.anu.edu.au/~ole/files/indefenceofinteractionism.pdf Articles Alexander Batthyany, Mental Causation after Libet And Soon: Reclaiming Conscious Agency http://philpapers.org/archive/BATMCA.1.pdf Mario Beauregard, Mind does really matter: Evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect http://www.mapageweb.umontreal.ca/beauregm/Beauregard2007_Progress.pdf John Beloff, The mind-brain problem http://moebius.psy.ed.ac.uk/~dualism/papers/brains.html Stephen E. Braude, Memory without a Trace. European Journal of Parapsychology 21, Special Issue (2006): 182-202. http://userpages.umbc.edu/~braude/pdfs_pubd/braude--Memory%20Without%20a%20Trace.pdf William A.Dembski, Converting Matter into Mind: Alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone in Cognitive Science http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/PsychologyNeuroscience/PSCF12-1990Dembski.html#%C2%A0%C2%A0Issues%20related%20to%20Human%20Nature William A.Dembski, Conflating Matter and Mind http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Philosophy/PSCF6-91Dembski.html#Issues%20related%20to%20Human%20Nature Stuart Hameroff's collection of articles on the Hameroff-Penrose Orch OR Model of Consciousness http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/publications.html Peter Flury-Kleubler, A Dualistic Theory of Consciousness http://www.newdualism.org/papers/P.Flury-Kleubler/Consciousness.pdf Jon Mills, Five Dangers of Materialism http://www.processpsychology.com/new-articles/Materialism2.htm David S. Oderberg, Hylemorphic Dualism http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/ld/Philos/dso/papers/Hylemorphic%20Dualism.pdf David S. Oderberg, Concepts, Dualism, and The Human Intellect http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/ld/Philos/dso/papers/Concepts,%20Dualism%20and%20Human%20Intellect.pdf Titus Rivas, Metasubjective Cognition Beyond the Brain: Subjective Awareness and the Location of Concepts of Consciousness http://www.emergentmind.org/Rivas06.htm James F. Ross, Immaterial Aspects of Thought. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 89, No. 3, (Mar., 1992), pp. 136-150. http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf Richard Swinburne, Interview with Science and Religion News (2006) on Mind-Body Dualism http://users.ox.ac.uk/~orie0087/framesetpdfs.shtml Encyclopedia Articles Gianfranco Basti, Mind-Body Relationship. Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science. http://www.disf.org/en/Voci/14.asp Carl Zimmerman, Dualism in the philosophy of Mind. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition. http://fas-philosophy.rutgers.edu/zimmerman/Dualism.in.Mind.pdf Empirical Evidence Kevin Williams, Scientific Evidence for Survival of Consciousness after Death http://www.near-death.com/evidence.html vjtorley
Is it fair to assert that: The probablity of materialism being true is about the same as a materialist providing scientific evidence that he/she has a mind. Materialism/t can be substituted with metaphysical naturalism/t? "a mind" can be substituted with "intentionality". NT
This article is pretty interesting on many different levels. Lycan himself is a 'safe pair of hands' style of philosopher in a field that is notorious for its deviance and cutesiness -- and I include among these some of the philosophers who have recently sounded ID-friendly. Lycan is not an outlier in the way Fodor or Nagel might be taken to be, given their track records. Also Lycan draws some quite clear distinctions in the article between science and the various metaphysics that might support it -- and calls out fellow materialists for blurring the distinctions. But it's worth observing that Lycan has nothing to lose at this stage in his career by making these points that should have been made a long time ago. Steve Fuller
FYI, noticed a typo in the FAQ: " because just a moment’s reflection is enough to conclude that it is untrue true that science must necessarily be limited to the investigation of material causes only." https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/faq/#notsci IRQ Conflict

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