Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Incoherence Objection against Eliminative Materialist Theories vis-a-vis Intentionality

Here’s one way to summarize the objection:

1. Eliminativists state their position using expressions like “truth,” “falsehood,” “theory,” “illusion,” etc.

2. They can do so coherently only if either (a) they accept that intentionality is real, or (b) they provide some alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions.

3. But eliminativists reject the claim that intentionality is real, so option (a) is out.

4. And they have not provided any alternative, thoroughly non-intentional way of construing such expressions, so they have not (successfully) taken option (b).

5. So eliminativists have not shown how their position is coherent.

Now, exactly how does this argument beg the question? Which of the premises presupposes that intentionality (of any sort) is real? In fact the argument not only does not presuppose this, but it leaves open, for the sake of argument, the possibility that the eliminativist may find some consistently non-intentional way to state his position. It merely points out that eliminativists have not actually succeeded in providing one. The only way to rebut this argument, as I have said, is actually to provide such an account.

Of course, I also think that the eliminativist in fact cannot in principle provide such an account. But that judgment is not itself a premise in the argument, and someone could in principle accept the argument (i.e. steps 1 - 5) even if he disagreed with me that the eliminativist cannot in principle make his position coherent. So, again, there is no begging of the question.

I also fail to see how it is relevant that philosophers who affirm intentionality disagree over how to flesh out an account of human nature that affirms intentionality. (And the number of such accounts is nowhere remotely close to “thousands -- or even “hundreds” or indeed even “dozens” -- but let that pass.) What does that have to do with the question of whether eliminativism is coherent? All the eliminativist has to do is provide a way of stating his position without explicitly or implicitly using any intentional notions. Whether failed attempts to do so (like Churchland’s and Rosenberg’s) end up surreptitiously appealing to this specific form of intentional psychology or instead to that specific form is hardly to the point. What is to the point is that they end up surreptitiously appealing to some form or other of intentionality. The trick is to avoid appealing to any of them, and no one has pulled the trick off.


Source: Edward Feser, January 13, 2015 (5:16 p.m.), comment on Edward Feser, "Post-Intentional Depression," Edward Feser blog, January 11, 2015, accessed June 30, 2015,  http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/01/post-intentional-depression.html?showComment=1421198176883#c7873339741497488449.

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