Phil 296D: Phil Mind Seminar W 21
The nature of consciousness (subjectivity, qualitative experience, what- it-is-likeness, etc) and the nature of agency (or control, will, volition, choice, decision, etc.) are the two most central issues in contemporary philosophy of mind. Though Pragmatism has come to be associated with anti-realist views of truth and reference, and coherence theories of meaning and justification, it in fact originated in the philosophy of mind and an approach to that subject grounded in developmental and evolutionary biology. Broadly speaking, pragmatists began to adopt a developmental approach to the will or our ability to control our behaviors and used this conception to define core components of consciousness and cognition: i.e. belief, doubt and those states of mind operative in the articulation and evaluation of philosophy itself. Indeed, James introduced the term “pragmatism” to name a philosophy that results from applying an account of belief grounded in evolutionary biology to debates over the nature of philosophy and its methods. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that pragmatism is experiencing a resurgence in the philosophy of mind as cognitive scientists have tried to integrate their work with what is known about the evolution of our nervous systems and have simultaneously come to recognize how much computation is devoted to action and how extensively action shapes perceptual experience. (See, e.g., Wolpert’s TED Talk.) Our plan is to begin with this history and the intuitions that lead some philosophers to regard an organism’s consciousness as something that cannot be fully explained if we limit ourselves to the tools utilized by neurobiologists and other cognitive scientists: some philosophers, concluding from this that consciousness and/or agency are non-physical (dualism) and others concluding that consciousness is a fundamental force that pervades nature (panpsychism). We then turn to contemporary responses to these intuitions that have emerged from the close study of diversity in neural architectures, the likely evolution of these architectures and what this implies for consciousness. With this material on the table, we will turn to assessing the the consequences of pragmatism, so understood, for philosophy and our theories of the epistemic norms that define science and other reliable methods of belief fixation and revision.