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, then how is it that our direct awareness isn’t of neural or subatomic entities? How is that we are (or at least I am) unaware of the minutia that I am told comprises my being? These are questions that Derek Parfit does address in the latter portion of “Reductionism and Personal Identity” (especially from Premise 9 on to the end) however, I am unsure as to whether or not he succeeds. Rather than tearing down his argument, I am going to meditate on some of the implications that may be drawn, to see where this leaves my stance on Reductionism. The fundamental question of Parfit’s essay, even more so than that of identity, is one of continuity. The same problem that Gilbert Ryle posed against Cartesian Dualism in his essay “Descartes’ Myth” can be equally applied to many Reductionist theories of mind. That problem is one of improper categorization. In many of their respective incarnations, both theories have repeatedly made this mistake, either disregarding or not comprehending at all, that things can add up cohesively to a larger categorical thing. Parfit is well aware of this common mistake, and he addresses it several times throughout his argument. In particular, he talks about a nation being constituted of “groups of people, living together in certain ways.” He employs this metaphor as a straw man argument, knocking it down when he writes, “In order to know the facts about the history of a nation, it is enough to know what large numbers of people did and said. Facts about nations cannot be barely true: they must consist in facts about people.” The implications of this statement roughly mirrors what Aristotle wrote in Book IV of The Metaphysics, outlining the first principle of non-contradiction: ...I say, it may be affirmed that neither the same things appear the same to all men, nor to
Kemple 2 the same person do the same things invariably appear the same, but frequently things contrary at the same time; for the touch, in the alteration of the fingers, says that there are two objects, but the organ of sight one; but neither to the same sense, at least, do the same things seem the same, and according to the same, and in like manner, also, in the same moment of time: wherefore this would be true. (1011a) While this connection may not be explicit, I would like to show that is an implicit one. If we look at what Parfit is saying, it seems to me that he is arguing along the lines of Frege in “On Sinn and Bedeutun,” that disparate signs may correlate to a singular thing, without violating the principle of non-contradiction. It is just as comprehensible to say, “The morning star is identical to the evening star” as it is to equivocate particular facts about a group of people and the way they live with the nation that they comprise. Confusion arises only when someone does not grasp that the morning star and the evening star both in fact refer to the planet Venus, or that a series of particular historical and anthropological facts about a particular group of people will in fact refer to their respective nation. This person would be inclined to make the sort of categorical errors made by Descartes. In short, Aristotle, Frege, and Parfit all affirm a theory of language in lieu of metaphysical distinctions to empirically describe how we achieve continuity in our dealings with the external world. It seems that Parfit is arguing that our ability to formulate language acts as a mechanism toward achieving a continuative grasp of our own identities and, by extension, the external world. His answer to my initial question (“if Reductionism is true, then how is it that our direct awareness isn’t of neural or subatomic entities?”) may be that Reduction is the case, and that we can successfully grasp continuity that the Reductionist model lacks via linguistic categorization. We must maintain a continuous knowledge of our selves by our ability to use language
Kemple 3 effectively. Thus far, I agree with him. But at the end of his essay, he arrives at a second conclusion: because it is natural to find the problem cases he presents puzzling, then this must be a case for a quasi-Dualist belief held simultaneously to the Reductionist model. I think that this is both the case and not the case that he may have failed to draw out the implications of his own argument. In addition to the argument for continuity via category mentioned above, the key to resolving this issue lies earlier in his line of reasoning, in his discussion of Eliminative Reductionism. He writes, “When the existence of an X just consists in the existence of a Y, or Y’s, though the X is distinct from the Y or Y’s, it is not an independent or separately existing entity.” Then he states (premise 5), “Though persons are distinct from their bodies, and from any series of mental events, they are not independent or separately existing entities.” The key to resolving the conflict he ends with lies in the difference between the terms distinct and independent. His example of a bronze statue is case in point. Though the shape of the statue is distinct from the material that composes it, it is not independent of it. To draw a line that perhaps Parfit should have, we can talk about both the shape and the material of the statue separately, but will find that it is difficult to talk about them as existing independent from one another. Even though we can successfully think of them this way, imagining the same statue existing in a different material, we are still making some substitution of substance or shape to make the picture comprehensible. A reinterpretation of the teleportation problem he poses might be to ask if a plaster cast is the same as the original statue. The cast is, in the absence of the original, a facsimile of the original work whose existence is both totally separate and independent; it may even be destroyed. When a mold is cast, the statue’s ability to be replicated in a different material must indicate that the shape does exist independently of the physical material, since it can be
Kemple 4 successfully transferred to the plaster. In such a way could one hold a Dualist view in regards to plaster casts. But I am not so sure that this argument holds up, and here is why: in order to say that the abstracted shape is the same, in both the marble and the plaster, requires an observer to be present to make the analogy. Without an observer to make the comparison, no comparison will be made. Using the same cognitive tools employed to successfully comprehend categories, seeing the nation and its components as a unified whole, an observer will immediately intuit the similarities between the marble and the plaster statues and declare that they are remarkably similar. In both these cases, an analogy has been made between two entities that are completely independent of one another. The shape exists on different terms, one in terms of marble and the other in plaster. Our ability to grasp these similarities is the same that allows us to grasp continuity in personal identities and in our dealings with the external world: our ability to intuit continuity lies in our implicitly analogous assessment of the external world. What, then, is happening here? We can, for the moment, leave the argument between Reductionism and Non-Reductionism behind, according to this theory, because what we are encountering are not the noumenal entities, but rather are reprehensive of our linguistic reality in which we comprehend the external world. But can we truly say that this model represents is truly a linguistic question? I think we can take it further. What happens when we categorize two things, in the case of forming a linguistic concept, or simply apply organization to them? As in the observer, who can astutely discern the plaster cast as being a replica of the marble statue while simultaneously intuiting their similarities, despite their being in reality completely independent of one another, metaphoric analogies are being made between seemingly disparate things, so that these disparate entities can be understood in terms of one another. Our observer, because of this intuition, can talk about the shape of the statue as if it exists independently of the
Kemple 5 material from which it is formed, even though it may be formally bound to it. This understanding one thing in terms of one another is what seems to happen whenever a category is created. At the rudimentary level of our perception, these sorts of translations are made without conscious effort, allowing the world to be effortlessly understood as a comprehensible continuum, rather than a chaotic jumble of discontinuous microcosmic information. If this is the case, then it is appropriate to speak both on the higher terms of our perceptive plane of experiences (i.e. perceived categorical things rather than components), as well as on the terms of the microcosmic, or what we can rationally ascertain is the components of things. However, one must proceed with caution in speaking (or thinking) in terms of reduction. If this model is correct, and we really do understand everything in terms of our own metaphoric analysis (I am aware this model flirts with Transcendental Idealism), then I am inclined to ask, “How do we understand what we observe to be the grounds for such reductive theories?” Unless a Reductionist is under the impression that the model is a priori, a view I take he or she is not likely to hold, then they must admit that the evidence supporting such claims are ultimately grounded in empirical investigation. While Parfit makes some convincing arguments for Reductionism, which I am inclined to accept, Noumenal Mysterianism and Behavioralism are more plausible, if only due to the tentative caution of their claims. This model, which I tentatively am calling Metaphoric Noumenalism, adopts a Mysterian notion of cognitive closure to things that lie outside of our comprehension, while citing Gilbert Ryle’s criticism of Cartesian Dualism. Reductionism may be the case, as the Metaphoric Noumenalism model (MN) concedes that it may be, however MN relies on a certain epistemic skepticism regarding the external world. As I mentioned before, MN flirts with Transcendental Idealism (if not whole heartedly declaring
Kemple 6 it to be the case), in so far as it holds the external world to be incomprehensible to us, to a certain extent. I say to a certain extent, to indicate MN’s position that total knowledge of any extensible object is impossible. By total knowledge, I mean total unequivocal omnipotence regarding a particular external object. While Jorge Luis Borges implicitly explores in his short fictions what this sort of knowledge might be like (most notably in his famous 1949 work The Aleph), it remains, at least in our current evolutionary stage, beyond our scope of conception. To articulate my point more precisely, MN holds that since we can only view any external object from one (biopic) point of view at a time, and all observable non-abstract (extensible) objects existing in the physical world (having more than one dimension), then it is impossible for us to gain total (omnipotent) insight regarding any external object. And yet, we do seem to have reliable knowledge of external objects, incorporating more than just a singularly point-of-view. Objects seem to conform to our spatio-temporal orientation (MN has asserted that the external world may or may not conform to it), and we have the remarkable ability to retain information about an object as our point of view in regards to that object is shifted in space and time. To illustrate this in more concrete terms, MN asserts that if I am looking at an object, a chair, for instance (forgive my resorting to the ultimate philosophical cliché), then what I will not ever be able to know everything there is to know, perceptual or otherwise, about that chair. Less remarkable, though much more interesting, is the claim that as I continue to gaze at the chair while my point-of-view shifts (never mind the Heraclitean remarks I am tempted to make), I am only viewing a particular point-of-view at any given moment. I must rely on something else to make coherent this shifting information, to align it into a discernable continuum. MN asserts that the chair and I exist on radically different terms, but can understand one another (or at least I understand it) by means of cognitive devices.
Kemple 7 The nature of these cognitive devices are far beyond the scope of this paper, or this theory, and even if it were within its scope, I believe it would be tangential to a secondary, perhaps covert, purpose of MN. This purpose is to unite poetic disciplines with scientific ones. While metaphor itself is typically regarded to be within the domain of poetic endeavors, I believe that it is equally dominant, though often covertly, within scientific modes in inquiry. I hope to flesh out these ideas in future papers, to provide a more coherent description of MN, toward providing a more unified theory of mind.