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Pereboom's Tentative Defense of Russellian Monism

I'm pleased to see another prominent philosopher come out to defend Liberal Naturalism, viz., Derk Pereboom. In his latest book, Consciousness and the Prospects of Physicalism, Pereboom offers a tentative defense of Russellian monism. A review of the book can be found here.


John Danaher said…
Looks pretty interesting. I generally like Pereboom's work, even if I don't necessarily agree with it.

Question: Is the term "liberal naturalism" entirely of your own creation? Or is it used more widely? From the post you linked to, it seem like its your own term but maybe I have the wrong impression.
exapologist said…
Hi John,

I thought it was my own creation, but then I found that the expression has been used by philosophers Mario de Caro, David MacArthur, and Gregg Rosenberg.
Is "liberal naturalism" basically dualism? This position tends to emerge from those thinking about consciousness who end up panpsychists: like Chalmers, Rosenberg...

Always thought the whole epiphenomenalism thing, coupled with the conscious billiard-ball thing, was enough to serve as a reductio of such positions.

Not sure if this applies to Perebroom's work, or this monism. I have never felt I understood monism well enough to say anything about it.
Based on the review, that book sounds very cool.
exapologist said…

As I'm using the term liberal naturalism is a monist view. Here's one way to characterize it:

(LN) All concrete objects are composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenal or proto-phenomenal (or at least representational or proto-representational) attributes as a part of its essence (alternatively, the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but the physical and mental are composed of it).

It seems to me that Chalmers' version of liberal naturalism avoids the criticisms you mention here. His version is meant to avoid crazy implications like this.He has a nice discussion of panprotopsychism in The Conscious Mind.

So, for example, regarding the conscious billiard ball criticism: His view is not that everything is conscious (I agree that that's a crazy view), but rather that consciousness logically supervenes on suitably complex configurations of this monistic substance.

Re: the epiphenomenalist criticism: On Chalmers' view, natural objects have both physical and proto-phenomenal attributes as basic, fundamental constituents of their essence. Furthermore, the proto-phenomenal attributes are inherently representational, and they accurately represent the physical attributes. Think of the fundamental stuff of the universe as Shannon information (note to Dembski fans: not necessarily complex, specified Shannon information). Now information can be expressed in physical form or phenomenal (or proto-phenomenal) form; indeed, perhaps each form is just a different side of the same coin. If so, then it's not so mysterious why certain brain states are correlated with certain phenomenal states in a law-like way. For if the latter is just a sort of "mirror" or representation of the former, then it couldn't have been otherwise than that they are correlated.

This latter point is briefly discussed in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on epiphenomenalism:

"Bertrand Russell (1927, p. 382) held the view that physical theory can reveal only causal structure, or “formal properties” of matter, and that “by examining our percepts we obtain knowledge which is not purely formal as to the matter of our brains.” This idea is taken up sympathetically (with substantial reworking in a quantum mechanical context) by Lockwood (1993). Chalmers (1996) offers a useful discussion of the view, and expresses some sympathy for it....If phenomenal properties are intrinsic properties of fundamental physical objects, and the latter stand in lawlike relations, then lawlike relations will hold between phenomenal properties and some physical occurrences. This conclusion appears to give a causal role to phenomenal properties and thus to suggest a way out of epiphenomenalism."

The problem is you can subtract out the phenomenal properties leaving the causal architecture the exact same. If zombies are possible, then experience is epiphenomenalism. Acc'd to CHalmers, zombies are possible.

He doesn't escape panpsychism, because information is everywhere.

So you are calling property dualism monism. That's why I don't comment on monism, because I am never sure what people mean by it.

I think neuronal processes are sufficient for consciousness. Does that make me a monist? I don't worry about it. I just give my theoretical commitment in more concrete terms.
(forgive the typos please it was late/early :))
exapologist said…
He doesn't escape panpsychism, because information is everywhere.

True, on his theory, information is everywhere. However, while mere informational or representational states are necessary for consciousness on his theory, they're not sufficient. Rather, panprotopsychist substance must also be suitably complex and configured/arranged for consciousness to arise. This is why he distinguishes panpsychism from his preferred pan*proto*psychism.
exapologist said…

No worries :)

It's true that the zombie argument is supposed to be a problem for straight physicalism, but his panprotopsychism is supposed to avoid that. Thus, if protophenomenal or protorepresentational properties are among the fundamental supervenience base, and (because of this) consciousness necessarily arises for any suitably complex and arranged parcel of the substance, then consciousness logically (and not just naturally or nomologically) supervenes on the substance. And if that's right, then while zombies are conceivable on straight physicalism, they're not on panprotopsychism.

If his theory can't answer his own zombie argument, then of course it's unmotivated, right? Why go panprotopsychist if it can't solve any of the problems he raises for straight physicalism?

exapologist said…
Here is Chalmers' reply to the charge of epiphenomenalism in "Materialism and the Metaphysics of Modality (PPR, 1999):

"Hill & McLaughlin say that I endorse epiphenomenalism, and that my anti-materialist argument implies epiphenomenalism. This is not strictly true. In fact perhaps my favorite position on the mind-body not epiphenomenalism but the "panprotopsychist" (or "Russellian") position on which basic physical dispositions are grounded in basic phenomenal or protophenomenal properties. Far from making experience causally irrelevant, this view holds that experience will be part of the categorical grounds of causation."
Whether you call it proto-panpsychism or panpsychism, I'd still call it panpsychism. Plus the problem of how these protoexperiences are supposed to coalesce into our personal experience. How is that supposed to work?

If zombies are truly possible, then it is really hard to see how he truly escapes the epiphenomenalism charge, regardless of his attempts to deflect the epiphenomenalism charge (he was well aware of this in his book, I know).

I find all this unecessary. Why claim that experiences are part of the fundamental fabric of the cosmos, contrary to all of our best evidence? We can easily sidestep epiphenomenalism and the conscious hubcab problem if we go with the best evidence. That is, consciousness emerged with the evolution of certain complex brain structures.
exapologist said…

Whether you call it proto-panpsychism or panpsychism, I'd still call it panpsychism.

You might, but that could be misleading, no? For the latter view entails that (for example) rocks and car bumpers are conscious; the former does not. So to call the two views by the same name might lead one to think, falsely, that the former view inherits all the implausibilities of the latter view. (Cf. our friend Reppert's common employment of this maneuver. Charity leads me to say that he does it unintentionally, however).

Plus the problem of how these protoexperiences are supposed to coalesce into our personal experience. How is that supposed to work?

I'm not sure. Chalmers says some helpful things on this issue in (e.g.) The Conscious Mind, but of course it requires development. In any case, ignorance of the processes doesn't entail that panrprotopsychism isn't the best explanation of all the relevant data.

If zombies are truly possible, then it is really hard to see how he truly escapes the epiphenomenalism charge, regardless of his attempts to deflect the epiphenomenalism charge (he was well aware of this in his book, I know).

Yes, but the thing is that while zombies may or may not be metaphysically possible on straight physicalism, they're not metaphysically possible on panprotophychism. They're supposed to be possible on straight physicalism because the physical properties all reduce to functional and/or dispositional properties on that view, and the central point illustrated by Chalmers' zombie thought experiment is that the functional and/or dispositional properties don't entail the phenomenal properties. But if phenomenal (or protophenomenal) properties are among the ground-floor properties of substance, and full-blown conscious experience logically supervenes on suitably complex and arranged parcels of such substance, then you can't have the functional properties without the phenomenal (or protophenomenal) properties.

Why claim that experiences are part of the fundamental fabric of the cosmos, contrary to all of our best evidence?

The thing is that Chalmers doesn't quite hold that view; in any case, I don't. I think protophenomenal states are *proto*phenomenal: they're *constituents* of ordinary human phenomenal states. Alternatively, they could be some sort of non-phenomenal informational states.

...that is, consciousness emerged with the evolution of certain complex brain structures.

Yes, but that's Chalmers' view, too! ;-) To think otherwise is to conflate panpsychism with pan*proto*psychism. And that's why I suggested above that it's best not to categorize Chalmers' view as straight panpsychism.

Seems you are splitting hairs here with 'proto' pan psychism versus panpsychism. At any rate, experiences (whether proto- or not) are spread all over the place promiscuously, and I find no good reasons to buy such an extravagance. Sure, it is a logical possibility, but that isn't enough to get me to take it seriously.

Good point about epiphenomenalism, though Chalmers' view is susceptible to it even if he resists it. You can use his armchair conceptual arguments against him, strip the stuff of the phenomenal features, leaving the causal architecture the same. It is never clear what real work these protophenomenal properties are supposed to do. There seem to be no huge causal gaps in our knowledge of the building blocks of complex nervous systems. Given all we know about ion channels, biophysics, etc, what is there left to do by this additional ingredient of experience (or proto-experience, if you must)?

Sorry, I just don't get why you would go down this road. I suppose you must have a very strong intuition that consciousness cannot be explained in neuronal terms, that an extra ingredient is needed.

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