Neutral Theories of Mind

I really like so-called neutral theories of mind-body relations. The “neutral” here means that the theories do not try to extract mind from matter by tortuous logical means, nor do they try to dissolve matter into mind, as idealism does. Most philosophers think that Wittgenstein and Ryle were behaviorists, but I put them into the neutral column. I think that they want to do something called “dissolving the problem”. It’s an approach to which I am very sympathetic, and I incorporate a version of it (Moritz Schlick’s), into my own solution in the last Chapter of The Mind-Body Problem.

I am also sympathetic to Ryle’s “dissolutionist” work, which seems to me only slightly behaviorist, even in its earliest manifestations. The Concept of Mind has a really remarkable array of different techniques and kinds of arguments. For example, knowing and intelligence are dealt with partly by the existence of knowing how; freedom and the will are given a very different treatment, in which everything hinges on the fact that an action is a candidate for the label “voluntary” only if it is reprehensible or ought not to have been done. We cannot ask whether the boy voluntarily got the right answer to his long division problem, but we can ask whether he voluntarily got the answer wrong. Here Ryle is down on volitions as events that cause actions. The treatment of emotions is very complicated, involving distinctions among emotions, inclinations, motives, moods, agitations and feelings. By the time one is done one doesn’t feel at all like adopting a philosophy of mind. Perception is a success-word, not the name of a process, so it doesn’t make sense to explain it as one does a causal process. And so on. The angel is in the details, particularly in the details of how and when particular concepts go off the rails.  In later life, after 1949, Ryle spent most of his time trying to find a way through the Scylla of behaviorism and the Charybdis of what he called “duplicationism” or dualism, especially in connection with thinking (“the Mind qua Pensive”), which is characterized in various ways, including self-teaching, and path-making rather than path-following. People would say at conferences, ‘Here comes Ryle with his paper again,’ always a paper on the subject of thinking. But very often it was a different one. After 1949 he wrote a couple of dozen of them, trying to get the thing right. According to P.F. Strawson, these last papers on thinking were the subtlest and best things Ryle ever produced. I agree.

Ryle’s dissolutionism is very much bound up with his notion of a category-mistake, the kind of mistake in which two things of logically different kinds are treated as though they belonged to the same kind. So a left-hand glove, a right-hand glove, and a pair of gloves, do not all belong to one category, gloves. A pair of gloves is not a glove, nor is a glove an abstract object like a pair. This is why we cannot say, ‘I have a left-hand glove, a right-hand glove and a pair of gloves.’ The easy way to see this is that if the sentence were true I would have to count three things. But I only have two things. It is the the category-mistake rather than the realization that the two gloves are nothing but a pair of gloves that drives Ryle’s view, as he came to see during and after The Concept of Mind, especially in connection with “The Intellect” or thinking.

We can even have an analogue of the inconsistent tetrad that makes the mind-body problem, in the following way.

(1)  The pair of gloves is non-physical (because it is an abstract set).

(2)  The left-hand glove and the right-hand glove are physical.

(3)  The left-hand glove and the right-hand glove and the pair of gloves interact. (If I make a “lesion” in the pair of gloves, then there is an effect in one or both of the gloves.)

(4) Physical and non-physical things cannot interact.

I also put pan-psychism, the double aspect theory and of course neutral monism into the “neutral column”. Tomorrow I will discuss neutral monism, which is my own view. So-called Russellian monism, which Bertrand Russell advocates after 1927 or so, seems to me just a fairly run-of-the-mill kind of identity theory, so I won’t discuss it at all, even though there has been a resurgence of interest in it recently, in spite of the fact that from 1919 to 1927 Russell was a genuine neutral monist.

Well, what about pan-psychism? I have known some very nice panpsychists, T.L.S. Sprigge and David Chalmers, for example. But the charm of an eccentric and antiquated view is not the same as its truth. Why would anyone seriously believe that everything has a little bit of mind in it? I mean this as a very serious question. Why should we suppose that every bit of the universe has mind or consciousness in it? That’s the positive claim. The negative claim, where you take back the positive claim, for good reason, is that in things like piles of gravel the mind and consciousness are so diluted that they aren’t mind or consciousness. They are “proto-” mind or consciousness, something like mind or consciousness, but not really very much like them. And even if pan-psychism is true, how would we know? I think the pile of gravel would have to start displaying mind-like characteristics, at least to itself. It would have to have some qualia. It would have to start thinking and doing arithmetic or something. Somewhere Wittgenstein asks, ‘Can this stone think? If we say no, is it because the stone is too smooth?’ (Or something like that – I have misplaced my copy of the Philosophical Investigations today, or perhaps lost it, with all my notes . . . Sorry.) It seems like a good answer. Something completely smooth couldn’t think . . . but why?

Tomorrow I will present my own neutral monism and also take up the ticklish question of how the double aspect theory and neutral monism differ.