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William James and Mind-Body Neutrality I

One traditional approach to the mind-body problem in philosophy is this: look for some neutral stuff. The interaction of an immaterial consciousness with a material body/brain would seem less mysterious were there some neutral stuff out of which both consciousness and physicality were themselves created.

The term "neutral" here means simply that the theorist at issue isn't trying to dissolve one half of the dichotomy into the other.

There are three broad types of neutralism, one of which is simply called "neutral monism." The other two that one can put into this category have different names and slightly different approaches: panpsychism, and double-aspect theory.

I will say a brief word now about how each of them relates to the philosopher who inspired the existence of this blog: William James. Tomorrow, I'll try to say something about how they are different.

Neutral Monism

William James is a and perhaps even the key figure in the development of neutral m…
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The Velocity of Time

Raymond Tallis, the fellow portrayed here, has an article in the current issue of The New Atlantis about time.

I won't discuss his views on this topic, but I will offer something of a tease. He begins with a passage on his own sense of mortality that I found moving.

"On each January 1 the number designating the year just past looks less used up than its predecessor. By the time 1960 had arrived, my 1959 was worn out and its replacement overdue. When 2011 was announced, I was still not used to 2010 and even 2009 and 2008 looked scarcely touched. It is hardly surprising that I sometimes feel — as I imagine you, reader, do when yet another day, another week, another summer, another year has melted away — as if I were being swept, log-like, towards a cataract dropping into oblivion."

Indeed.

Personal Identity

The following observation arose in the course of a critique of philosopher Derek Parfit.  

"Even if the lower-level facts [that make up identity] do not in themselves matter, the higher-level fact may matter. If it does, the lower-level facts will have derived significance. They will matter, not in themselves, but because they constitute the higher level fact."

The quote is from Mark Johnstone, as part of a critique he wrote of Parfit's work on personal identity for a collection called DEREK PARFIT AND HIS CRITICS. 

Parfit didn't believe in personal identity. That is, he didn't believe there is any important sense aside from social convention why an "I" of 15 years old is the same person as an "I" of 45, thirty years later, however firmly the latter has memories that might be traced ultimately to the sensory organs of the former.

Parfit can perhaps best be understood as bringing into the Anglo-American analytical philosophical tradition a touch of…

The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice

The headline of this blog entry is the title of a newly published book by Colleen Murphy, out from Cambridge University Press.

Murphy is a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here is a link to the amazon page for her book.

If I understand it, the question that concerns Murphy is the old one -- how should revolutionaries, who have taken power on a promise to pursue broader social transformation, understand their job? What do they do next?

The constitution established in South Africa in 1993, with the success of negotiations to end apartheid, was specifically called the "Interim Constitution." Two years later the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, passed by the parliament pursuant to that interim constitution, created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was both truth finding and amnesty granting.

That TRC is at the heart of what Murphy has in mind by "transitional justice." But she doesn't want revolution…

Substance versus Reactions

I have now and then wondered, as my mind wandered, whether there can properly be said to be such a creature as the "philosophy of chemistry."

Biology has philosophical controversies specific to itself: the explication of the concept of natural selection for example, or the age-old reductionism-versus-holism thing.

Physics, likewise, has its own philosophical controversies. Indeed, much that goes by the name "philosophy of science" seems actually to be a philosophy of physics.The nature of space and time. Statistical mechanics, etc.

But chemistry? Wouldn't any effort to assign specific philosophical controversies to chemistry inevitably veer in one or the other of those directions? So I mused.

But it appears there really is a "philosophy of chemistry." Philosophers working this field debate whether chemistry is the study of substances or reactions -- stuff or events. In the words of Joachim Schummer, "Substance philosophers define a chemical reac…

Other Minds and Autism

The dominant model in research on autism is that of a hard-wired "theory of mind" that operates in neurotypical folks but that doesn't operate (maybe the wires get crossed in some more-or-less literal sense) in those developing children who end up "on the spectrum." Whereas the neurotypicals come to understand without reflexion that there is another person behind the various human faces they encounter, this never comes easily to those with the crossed wires. On this theory, (call it the meta-theory of mind) many if not all of the characteristic symptoms of the disorder derive from that point.

It is a neat (meta-) theory, but it is worth mentioning now and then that it isn't established fact. 
Indeed, the more neurologists get to work trying to home in on this wired-in theory of mind, the more evasive it seems. And (assuming the paradigm) there are theory-of-mind deficits that one would not call autistic. 
OTOH, I'm sure there is something to it.
Furthe…