Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review of The Rediscovery of the Mind by John Searle

John Searle--presently at Berkeley--wrote The Rediscovery of the Mind back in 1992. The book attempts to explain how the philosophy of mind has gone wrong in the last century or so and how Searle thinks it can be corrected. In this review, I'll argue that Searle's criticisms of popular forms of materialism are persuasive, that his criticisms of dualism are thinly developed, and that his own proposal--biological naturalism--is conceptually flawed.

I will begin with contemporary materialism. Searle levels a pretty serious offensive against materialist theories of mind in the first half of the book or so. Versions of materialism have been dominating the philosophy of mind (and much of academic philosophy generally) for the bulk of the 20th century and into the 21st, so Searle's going against the grain here was no way to guarantee popularity with his contemporaries. Searle is confident in his position though, and says with characteristic candor, "How is it that so many philosophers and cognitive scientists can say so many things that, to me at least, seem obviously false?" (p.3).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Analysis of William Lane Craig versus Sean Carroll February 2014 Debate

Philosopher William Lane Craig and Physicist Sean Carroll debated the subject of God and Cosmology on February 21 in New Orleans.  Out of all the debates of Dr. Craig's that I have seen (which are many), this one was definitely one of the best.  Both debaters carried themselves professionally, made a reasonable effort to respond to each other's arguments, and managed to keep the debate both informative and entertaining.

I will confess at the outset that I generally find Dr. Craig's arguments to be sharp and persuasive, though I do not sympathize with his Christianity.  Although I do end up mostly defending Dr. Craig's position and criticizing Dr. Carroll's position in this analysis, I attempted to do so fairly and with attention to arguments.  I believe this is in alignment with the spirit of debate and also makes for an enjoyable exercise of philosophy.

Given the debate structure and my interests in the topics discussed, I've divided this analysis into three main parts: Dr. Carroll's positive case, Dr. Craig's Positive Case, and Dr. Carroll's Negative Case.  The positive cases comprise each debater's arguments in favor of their preferred world views: naturalism and theism, respectively.  Those who are familiar with Dr. Craig's debates may wish to skip my discussion of his positive case because they are likely familiar with it.  Dr. Carroll's Negative Case comprises his arguments against Craig's theistic arguments.  I finish the article with a few concluding remarks.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review of Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (Amazon Review)

In a 2012 debate entitled The Great Debate: Has Science Refuted Religion, physicist Sean Carroll made a rather bold claim in his opening remarks (at about the 12:30 mark):
"The argument is finished.  The debate is over.  We've come to a conclusion.  Naturalism has won. If you go to any university physics department, listen to the talks they give or the papers they write--go to any biology department, go to any neuroscience department, any philosophy department, people whose professional job it is to explain the world, to come up with explanatory frameworks that match what we see--no one mentions God.  There's never an appeal to a supernatural realm by people whose job it is to explain what happens in the world.  Everyone knows that the naturalist explanations are the ones that work."
Naturalism: A Critical Analysis edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland is essentially a direct challenge to Carroll's claim.  The book is a collection of essays by academic philosophers in university departments that do not "know that naturalist explanations are the ones that work."  They instead level a host of ontological, epistemological, ethical, and theological arguments against the veracity of naturalist explanations.  In this review I will attempt to explain what some of those arguments are.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review of Naturalism: A Critical Analysis edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (Part 5)

This is part 5 of my series of essays on Naturalism: A Critical Analysis. This essay will focus on Stuart Goetz's chapter, which discusses the implications of libertarian free will on naturalism.  You can follow the following links for the other essays in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Chapter 7: Naturalism and Libertarian Agency
by Stuart Goetz 

Goetz's primary argument against naturalism is that libertarian free will falsifies naturalism.  If free will exists, then naturalism is false.  Formally, we can put the argument like this:
(1) If libertarian free will exists, then naturalism is false
(2) Libertarian free will exists
Therefore (3) Naturalism is false
I will clarify a few terms then discuss the argument.

Libertarian Free Will
Libertarian free will is the idea that choices are not predetermined or fully coerced by law-like forces.  Libertarian free will (or libertarianism for short) entails that those who have free will are agents--they are self-directing entities who make choices for reasons.  In Goetz's words, "According to libertarianism, a choice is an undetermined mental action which is explained teleologically in terms of a purpose or goal of its agent" (157).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Review of Naturalism: a Critical Analysis edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (Part 4)

This is part 4 in my series of essays on Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland.

Chapter 6: Naturalism and the Mind
by Charles Taliaferro

Charles Taliaferro is tasked with stirring up trouble for naturalism with respect to mental states and events.  Insofar as one takes the existence of first-person mental states as evidence for an immaterial spirit or soul, naturalism is threatened because it depends on the rejection of all things "supernatural."  Surely, such entities as immaterial spirits or souls tread uncomfortably close to the supernatural; so, if Taliaferro's project is successful, it presents yet another deadly attack on the naturalist's stronghold.

For those familiar with the history of the philosophy of mind, Taliaferro's essay will not add anything terribly new to the field; however, in a book poking as many holes in naturalism as possible, the argument from the mind has an important place.  Taliaferro does a fine job summarizing the various naturalist strategies for avoiding the threats associated with "substantiating" the mind (i.e. awarding the mind the status of a "substance"--something that exists independently of the physical).  Taliaferro basically outlines three broad naturalist strategies for dealing with the mental, offers objections to each of them, then proposes that the mental fits much better within a theistic framework than within a naturalist framework.  I will discuss the three naturalist strategies and Talifierro's responses to them.