Friday, 20 August 2010

cjbanning: (Default)
David B. Hart has a nice piece in the First Things blog today which articulates something I've been trying to express at least as well as I've been able to:
Most attempts to describe the mind entirely as an emergent quality of the brain, or as another name for the brain’s machinery, not only fail convincingly to bridge the qualitative distance between sensory impression and coherent thought, but invariably bracket out of consideration a great deal of what any scrupulous phenomenology of consciousness reveals. Certainly they do not seem to explain the “transcendental” conditions by which consciousness is organized: that primordial act within and prior to all our other acts of mind and will; that constant mediation between thought and world that we both perform and suffer in advance of all experience or volition.

Consciousness has not been explained until one can provide a comprehensive picture of how the mind not only “fits” the world, but also “intends” and “constitutes” it as an intelligible phenomenon. And that is not the straightforward mechanical problem it is often mistaken for.

But these are matters that have been tormenting philosophers and cognitive scientists for decades, and they will not be resolved by any arguments or any science currently at our command. And, anyway, even if humanity should some day penetrate the ordinary mysteries of consciousness, the more extraordinary mysteries will probably remain, and continue to urge human beings to think in terms not only of the mind, but of the soul.
I think this is basically right. The conclusion we should come to isn't, of course, the Cartesian-Thomist superstition that there is some substantial thing which exists outside the emergent properties of the brain. I'm not advocating some fall into metaphysicalism. But I think that Hart is right that pure materialism doesn't quite explain what it's setting out to, either.

What is necessary is an enactment of a synthesis between empiricist truths and phenomenological ones.

Frederick Coppleston writes in his multivolume history of philosophy about how Immanuel Kant took it to be "a necessary condition for the possibility of experience that I think should be capable of accomodating all one's representations." Yet we must take into account the exact nature of the type of necessity that is operative. It is not, of course, a physical necessity. Instead it seems to be a truth about logic--about language, about the way in which we think. Coppleson goes on to say that it "is purely as a logical subject that the transcendental ego is then a necessary condition of experience. This is the case because "experience is unintelligible unless objects, to be objects, must be related to the unity of apperception."

However, "we cannot argue to the existence of the transcendental ego [. . .]. Scientific knowledge is bounded by the the world of phenonmena, but the transcendental ego does not belong to the world; it is a limiting concept."

Coppleston himself notes the affinity between this account of the rational subject and that given in Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein expands on the Kantian notion of self as a limiting concept in the Tractatus, but grounds it in a framework which is mystical rather than emergent.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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