The Indispensable Self

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Many philosophers and at least some psychologists think of themselves implicitly as physicalists: they believe that everything there is is physical (and that minds are somehow manifestations of brains). To avoid contradicting themselves, these
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  THE INDISPENSABLE SELF (WITH REN´EE BLEAU) FREDERIQUE JANSSEN-LAURET 1.  Naturalism, Scientific Method, and Ontology What are we made of? Is absolutely everything there is a physical object? Can allfacts about human psychology be explained in physical terms? Philosophers, psycholo-gists and others are typically very convinced that the answers are obvious: either ‘Mat-ter’, ‘Yes’, and ‘Yes’, in the case of   physicalists , or ‘Mind’, ‘No’, and ‘No’, in the caseof   anti-physicalists . But what are their arguments? Are their theoretical terms well-defined? A Priori vs. A Posteriori Arguments  A posteriori   arguments (or truths) are basedon experience or empirical findings,  a priori   arguments (or truths) are not. Argumentsagainst as well as for physicalism are frequently  a priori  . We want to deploy an  a pos-teriori   argument against physicalism, arguing that the use of first-personal methods incontemporary psychology cannot easily be subsumed under the heading of physics.1.1.  Naturalism.  The definition of naturalism admits of some ambiguity. Epistemic naturalism : following the scientific method where it leads.  First Philos-ophy : philosophy from first principles, not based on empirical findings. Is epistemicnaturalism just the rejection of first philosophy? Physical-object naturalism : There is nothing that isn’t  in some sense   a physical object.The ‘in some sense’ is uncomfortably vague. Worse, it appears to be exactly the kind of firstphilosophy epistemic naturalism objects to to say that there cannot be any objects exceptphysical ones. Physics says there are  at least   all the physical objects, not at most.1.2.  Arguments Against Physical-Object Naturalism.  The idea that physics is suchan exemplary science that it will eventually explain everything if given enough time hasbeen undermined by scientific results in the past. Considering questions of naturalism andmethodology has brought new life, and improved rigour, to the comparable debate betweennominalists and platonists in the philosophy of mathematics [Qui81, Put79, Fie80, Mad80].We hope our work will have a similar impact on the ontology of psychology. Date  : 16 June 2014, University of Glasgow, School of Education, Theory and Method Seminar. 1  2 FREDERIQUE JANSSEN-LAURET 1.2.1.  The Indispensability Arguments: Mathematical Objects in Physics.  Quine and Put-nam influentially argued [Qui81, Put79] that physics cannot be formulated without men-tioning mathematical entities such as numbers and sets. Our challenge, like the indispens-ability argument, scrutinises scientific method to see whether our philosophical conceptionof naturalism has kept up with recent developments.1.2.2.  The Demarcation Problem: Mathematics, Psychology and Scientific Methodology. Our argument is that first-personal logical form, though not indispensable to physics, isnevertheless an indispensable part of some scientific theories. Another analogy with math-ematics: Maddy [Mad97, Mad07] argues that there is no principled standard of scientificmethodology which includes all of physics but excludes mathematics, or those parts of mathematics which are not indispensable to physics. The physicalist begs the question onthe demarcation problem: why should everything worthy of the name of   science   use onlythe methods of   physics  ?2.  Posits and Ontological Commitment 2.1.  Ontological Commitment.  The most rigorous philosophical method for findingout what the posits of a scientific theory (its  ontological commitments  ) are [Qui48, Qui69].The criterion of ontological commitment allows us to settle whether a theory relies on theexistence of an entity, and under which circumstances it has good evidence for assumingthe existence of an entity. In general, a theory assumes the existence of some entity if it invokes the entity in its explanations, either by mentioning it explicitly or by tacitlyassuming it, relying on its presence in order for its explanations and predictions to comeout true. For this criterion to make sense, it must be applied to whole theories, stated infull with everything that follows from them. We translate the theory into a formal languagewith a determinate consequence relation, and excerpt all existence claims.2.2.  How to Avoid an Ontological Commitment.  Suppose we don’t want an onto-logical commitment to some kind of entity. For any purported category  F  , we can showthat we can dispense with  F  s for explanatory purposes in one of the following ways: •  Elimination.  Remove all mention of   F  s entirely from our explanations; this goesto show that we don’t need to rely upon  F  s to explain anything •  Reduction.  Show that talk of   F  s is just an optional  fa¸con de parler  . For instance, insaying that there is a net migration from Poland to the UK, we don’t mean to speakof a peculiar entity called a migration—this is really a shorthand for saying thatmore people move from Poland to the UK than from the UK to Poland, mentioningonly unexceptionable entities like persons and geographical locations.  THE INDISPENSABLE SELF (WITH REN´EE BLEAU) 3 2.3.  What is Physicalism?  Physicalism, if defined rigorously in accordance with theQuinean line in philosophy of science, is the view that everything there is is the kind of thingthat is talked about by the science of physics. The strictures of ontological commitmentdemand that a physicalist theory must have absolutely no posits that are not posited byphysics: all of its vocabulary and posits must be either used by the science of physics, orreducible by paraphrase such that it can be expressed in the language of physics.Where vocabulary occurs that is not used in the science of physics (like ‘organism’, or‘schizophrenia’, or ‘extroversion’) we must have access to some strategy to translate awaythese words in completely physical terms, much as we would translate away ‘there is amigration’ or ‘there is a statistical trend’.2.4.  Against the ‘Future Science Objection’.  If psychologists want to be physicalists[Hoo12, Bla13, for example], it follows that they must be prepared to provide a full state-ment of their theories exclusively in terms that refer only to such objects as are posited inphysics, or at least indicate how to translate their theories into that form. They cannotrest content saying that future science will provide such a statement: we are ontologicallycommitted to those entities we cannot  presently   avoid relying on in our explanations.2.5.  Are the Posits of Psychology Physical?  There are three ways in which physicalistpsychologists might attempt this. •  Elimination.  Instead of accepting theoretical statements of psychology as true but amere shorthand for physical statements, physicalists could denounce psychologicalclaims that are not obviously physical claims about e.g. brain states, as simplyfalse, to be replaced by a better, neuroscience-based theory [Chu81]. This impliesthe rejection of a great many theoretical statements of psychology, since at thevery least notions like belief, inference, acceptance etcetera are notoriously hardto state in terms of brain states, even though psychologists rely on them to makepredictions about people’s behaviour. •  Reduction.  Psychologists could attempt to provide translations of psychologicalstatements into long and cumbersome physical state descriptions, explaining thatno useful information is lost in translation here, and the psychological statement is just a simple shorthand for the full physical explanation. At present it is difficult tosee how this can be done, and and we will see some reason to suppose it is unlikelyeven in principle in section 4. •  Behaviourism.  A final option, which approaches physicalism except for its relianceon the dubiously physicalistic posit of behavioural dispositions, is old-fashionedbehaviourism, beloved of Quine himself [Qui60, ch. 2]. But there are good theo-retical reasons (e.g. its refusal to accept first-personal theoretical statements) whybehaviourism has fallen out of favour with contemporary psychology.  4 FREDERIQUE JANSSEN-LAURET 3.  First-Personal Ontological Commitment and Contemporary Psychology 3.1.  First-Personal Posits?  Traditional behaviourists believe that the language of sci-ence, including psychology, must be wholly impersonal. They regard first-personal andintrospective methods, and data acquired by means of them, as unscientific because theyare not third-personally verifiable. But psychologists and psychiatrists have now mostlyrenounced behaviourism, finding its strictly third-personal methods rather limiting, andare open to non-behaviourist methodology [Mil03]. This means that there might be positsintroduced by means of first-personal statements and introspective methods.3.2.  Introspection andFirst-Personal Methodology.  Introspection yields first-personalbeliefs about the subject’s own current mental states, usually by immediate privileged ac-cess. The science of psychology has a need for self-reports which are introspective inthat sense, and for grammatical differentiation between self and other. For example, first-personal judgements are reliably remembered even by patients with severe Alzheimer’s[SBK03], brain scans reveal distinct medial prefrontal cortex activations for first-personalvs. third-personal character trait ascriptions [HKMK07], and attitude surveys use first-personal self-reports as their primary kind of evidence [SHS + 99].3.3.  Naturalism and the Use of First-Personal Methods.  Quine himself does notallow for scientific statements that use the first person, since he insists on the impersonalstatements characteristic of physics. So he cannot admit that the results we acquire bymethods that use the first and second person are properly scientific. But scientists  do use these statements; their methods have moved on since the behaviourist days of Quine.Behaviourists traditionally held that attributing mental states to the self is in no waydifferent from attributing mental states to anyone else; both are based on nothing butovertly observable behaviour [Ski84]. A wholly impersonal language of regimentation makesbehaviouristic methods compulsory. There is no way to express the difference betweenself-attribution and other-attribution, because no linguistic markers of ‘self’ or ‘other’ arepresent in its syntax. But first-personal and introspective methods in psychology lead tointeresting results and better predictions than strictly third-personal or impersonal ones.This suggests not only that behaviourism is false, but that the referent of the first-personalpronoun is itself a posit in contemporary psychology.3.4.  One Last Mathematical Analogy.  Although we have seen that elimination, re-duction and behaviourism all fail as strategies to preserve a physicalist interpretation of psychology, there is one final strategy which has been attempted by physicalist philoso-phers of mathematics to dispense with mathematical posits: Fieldian  conservativeness ,the idea that any consequence of physics plus mathematics already followed from physicsalone [Fie80]. Physicalist psychologists might try to establish an analogue of conserva-tiveness for third-personal psychology, that any consequence of the new, non-behaviouristfirst-personal psychology already followed from the old, third-personal or impersonal doc-trine. But not only is there no viable proposal of this kind, the fact that psychologists make  THE INDISPENSABLE SELF (WITH REN´EE BLEAU) 5 better third-personal psychological predictions by relying on first-personal data indicatesthat this isn’t feasible even in principle. This impresses upon us the need for admittinga greater variety of logical forms into the canonical language of science. Of course thisdoes not  prove   from the point of view of first philosophy that commitment to first-personalposits is indispensable. But scientific practice does not give us any inkling how to dowithout them.4.  The Self in Social Psychology Would a full statement of the theory of contemporary psychology indeed admit first-personal posits as irreducible posits? And if so, is what and how much does the presence of such posits reveal about their natures—what properties are ascribed to them? Recent re-sults in social psychology indicate that there is no viable strategy for ontological reduction,much less elimination, available.4.1.  The Self.  The referent of the first-person pronoun is widely assumed to be ‘the self’,which is explicitly distinguished from any ‘part of the brain’, ‘the animal body’ [Bau10, p.139] as well as from ‘what happens inside the individual mind’ [Bau10, p. 155]. Althoughall of these are related to the self, it is described as a separate entity with its own peculiarproperties: mental, physical, as well as social and interpersonal [Ban06, BVT07]. Some of its properties are introspective, e.g. self-ascription of attributes; but these can be affectedby awareness of the physical body, for instance by viewing it in a mirror, which is alsodescribed as self-awareness [DW72, CS81].4.2.  Awareness of the Self.  Self-awareness irreducibly involves both awareness of innerstates and awareness of the body, as well as how the body is perceived by others. Eatingdisorders are a striking illustration here, associated with decreased and increased self-awareness in different contexts [HB91, Ble96]. Another vivid example is the explanationof e.g. attitude changes and cognitive dissonance in terms that require both interpersonalmotivations [Bau82] and introspective processes [TM85]—neither one will do in isolation,they must be combined.4.3.  The Self as a Posit.  Since the referent of the first-personal pronoun ‘I’ does not ad-mit of reduction or elimination, it must be acknowledged by contemporary, non-behaviouristpsychology or at least our current best theory of psychology stated in full, as a self-standingentity, the bearer of mental, physical, psycho-physical and social properties. These resultsare incompatible with physicalism, and psychologists should reject physicalism if they wantto avail themselves of the best contemporary methods of social psychology.
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