I've been waking up with a persistent thought again, prompted this
time by the way many mainstream philosophers of mind seem to
unconsciously adopt a particularly insidious form of direct realism,
whilst being quite blind to it.  It centres on the idea of extreme
physical reductionism, which I take to be the hypothesis that all
composite phenomena can be completely recast, in principle, in the
form of a causally complete and closed "ground level" account of non-
composite micro-physical events.  I'm not concerned at this point
whether such a restrictive view is "true", or whether it is at odds
with digital mechanism etc., but only that I take it to be a core
assumption from which numerous people, including many philosophers,
derive theories of the mental.  I want to argue that the consequences
of such a view are perhaps more radically restrictive than commonly

If we could remove ourselves from the universe and take a strict
reductionist-god's eye view (which means having to drop all our usual
mental categories - a very hard thing to achieve imaginatively) then,
strictly adhering to the above hypothesis, all that would remain would
be some ground-level physical machine grinding along, without the need
for additional composite or macroscopic posits.  Take your pick from
current theory what is supposed to represent this "machine", but that
needn't necessarily be at issue for the purpose of the argument.  The
point is that removing everything composite from the picture
supposedly results in zero difference at the base level - same events,
same "causality".

I should stress, again, I'm not personally committed to this view - it
seems indeed highly problematic - but it is what the recipe says.
Now, just to emphasise the point, when I say it's a hard thing to do
this imaginatively, I mean that it isn't permissible to "look back"
from this reductionist-god's eye view and continue to conjure familiar
composite entities from the conjectural base components, because
reductionism is a commitment to the proposition that these don't
exist. Whatever composite categories we might be tempted to have
recourse to - you know: molecules, cells, bodies, planets, ideas,
explanations, theories, the whole ball of wax - none of these are
available from this perspective.  Don't need them.  More rigorously,
they *must not be invoked* because they *do not exist*.  They don't
need to exist, because the machine doesn't need them to carry all the
load and do all the work.

Now, many people might be prompted to object at this point "that's not
reducing, that's eliminating" as though these terms could be kept
distinct.  But I'm arguing that reductionism, consistently applied, is
inescapably eliminative.  The hypothesis was that base-level events
are self-sufficient and consequently must be granted metaphysical (and
hence "physical") reality.  Nothing else is required to explain why
the machine exists and works, so nothing else need - or indeed can non-
question-beggingly - be postulated.  If we really feel we must insist
that there is something metaphysically indispensable above and beyond
this (and it would seem that we have good reason to) we must look for
an additional metaphysical somewhere to locate these somethings.

Essentially we now have two options.  We can follow Kant in locating
them in a metaphysically real synthetic first-person category that
transcends the ground-level (which stands here, approximately, for the
"thing-in-itself").  The alternative - and this is the option that
many philosophers seem to adopt by some "directly real" sleight-of-
intuition - is that we somehow locate them "out there" right on top of
the micro-physical account.  It's easy to do: just look damn you,
there they are, can't you see them?  And in any case, one wants to
protest, how can one predict, explain or comprehend anything above the
ground floor *without* such categories?  Yes, that is indeed the very
question.  But the reductionist-god's eye view (if we've done it
right) should convince us - weirdly, but unavoidably - that they just
aren't automatically "out there", metaphysically, at our disposal.  If
this eludes us, it can only be because we've fallen into the error of
retaining these indispensable organising categories intact, naturally
but illicitly, whilst attempting this imaginative feat.  Unfortunately
this is to beg the very questions we seek to answer.

I suppose the nub of this for me is that - whether we consider
ourselves monist or dualist, or amongst the ontological uncommitted -
we have need of both analytic and integrative principles to account
for the states of affairs that confront us.  There is, as it were, a
spectrum that extends from maximal fragmentation to maximal
integration, and neither extreme by itself suffices.  The only mystery
is why anyone would ever think it would.  Or am I just missing
something obvious as usual?


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"Everything List" group.
To post to this group, send email to everything-l...@googlegroups.com.
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to 
For more options, visit this group at 

Reply via email to