Nagel1974

Nagel1974 - WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? CONSCIOUSNESS is...

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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? CONSCIOUSNESS is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong. The recent wave of reductionist euphoria has produced several analyses of mental phenomena and mental concepts designed to explain the possibility of some variety of materialism, psychophys- ical identification, or reduction.' But the problems dealt with are those common to this type of reduction and other types, and what makes the mind-body problem unique, and unlike the water-H20 problem or the Turing machine-IBM machine problem or the lightning-electrical discharge problem or the gene-DNA problem or the oak tree-hydrocarbon problem, is ignored. Every reductionist has his favorite analogy from modern science. It is most unlikely that any of these unrelated examples of successful reduction will shed light on the relation of mind to brain. But philosophers share the general human weakness for explanations of what is incomprehensible in terms suited for what is familiar and well understood, though entirely different. This has led to the acceptance of implausible accounts of the mental largely because they would permit familiar kinds of reduction. I shall try to explain why the usual examples do not 1 Examples are J. J. C. Smart, Philosophy and Scientific Realism (London, i963); David K. Lewis, "An Argument for the Identity Theory," Journal of Philosophy, LXIII (i966), reprinted with addenda in David M. Rosenthal, Materialism & the Mind-Body Problem (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., I971); Hilary Putnam, "Psychological Predicates" in Capitan and Merrill, Art, Mind, & Religion (Pittsburgh, i967), reprinted in Rosenthal, op. cit., as "The Nature of Mental States"; D. M. Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of the Mind (London, i968); D. C. Dennett, Content and Consciousness (London, I969). I have ex- pressed earlier doubts in "Armstrong on the Mind," Philosophical Review, LXXIX (1970), 394-403; "Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness," Synthese, 22 (I97I); and a review of Dennett, Journal of Philosophy, LXIX (1972). See also Saul Kripke, "Naming and Necessity" in Davidson and Harman, Semantics of Natural Language (Dordrecht, I972), esp. pp. 334-342; and M. T. Thornton, "Ostensive Terms and Materialism," The Monist, 56 (1972). 435
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help us to understand the relation between mind and body- why, indeed, we have at present no conception of what an expla- nation of the physical nature of a mental phenomenon would be. Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless. The most important and characteristic feature of conscious mental phe- nomena is very poorly understood. Most reductionist theories do not even try to explain it. And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it. Perhaps a new theoretical form can be devised for the purpose, but such a solution, if it exists, lies in the distant intellectual
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Nagel1974 - WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? CONSCIOUSNESS is...

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