Skip to main content

William James and Mind-Body Neutrality II

Image result for coffee temperature paradox

In yesterday's post I laid out three "neutralist" theories and said something about the relationship of William James' thought to each. I'd like to tie that line of inquiry up a bit today.

Again, the theories are: neutral monism; dual aspect theory; panpsychism.

What they maintain in each case is that there is some stuff that is neither mental nor physical, and that the mental and physical realms are constructions out of this stuff, so that we can allow for mind-body interaction without freaking out over HOW?

For a neutral monist, the stuff is an underlying collection of data or unclassified facts such as an image of a piece of paper.

For a dual aspect theory, the stuff is God, the Universe, Everything Considered as a Totality.

For a panpsychist, the stuff is, well, mindful matter. Which includes all matter (and, likely enough, all mind.)

I shared yesterday, too, my own impression that the first listed of those three arises out of a principle of parsimony, the Ockhamist impulse to build the world out of the fewest components. The third of those arises rather out of metaphysical exuberance, gleefully dispensing with parsimony. The middle term, Monism, may be considered middle in precisely this regard.

This brings us to the paradox we might face if we study James' texts with this typology in mind. We seem to see a close resemblance between views A, B, and C, which escaped him. Moreover, he discussed both A and C, both favorably though without decisive adoption as his own view, Yet his discussions of A seem to take place in a different compartment of his mind (or body!) from his discussions of C. They don't come in contact,

Moreover, he had a visceral opposition to B. It was "the Absolute" -- the "upper dogmatism,"

So: what is going on here?

Perhaps we should regard the plausibility of neutralist theories of mind and body as akin to the temperature of coffee. One can like hot coffee (in certain contexts), like iced coffee as well (in other contexts) yet reject and disdain lukewarm coffee.

James' philosophy was in large part an effort to prove that human deliberations matter. "To think is the only moral act." Our deliberations are not forced or predetermined, and the actions into which they issue can change our lives and the lives of others around us in which for which there is no limit. We can get to that self-conception either by heating up the coffee or by cooling it down, James suspected, and he was willing to entertain either approach.

The lukewarm coffee? Despite its family resemblance to the good stuff(s), it wouldn't get the job done, and the only way to pretend that it did, was to go over to the other side.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…