Monday, October 14, 2013

Naturalizing Normativity: A Reply to Scott Bakker

In Leaving it Implicit, Scott Bakker throws down the gauntlet: normativity, our idealistic judgments about good and bad aren’t what we assume they are in our everyday social dealings, because those judgments could apply only to mechanisms, there being no such things as goodness or badness in the natural world. If you think otherwise, Scott says, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do, given science-centered ontology. Moreover, naturalism doesn’t imply normativity just because naturalists use terms that can be interpreted normatively, because those terms can also be interpreted in mechanistic ways. Thus, the time of reckoning is nigh and the apocalypse will come not at the hands of some angry parent in the sky but through our advances in objectively understanding the world.

Framing the Issue

I’m going to try to break down Scott’s argument and my response to it with a minimum of jargon and I aim to chart new territory instead of rehashing our previous discussion. So what I noticed when I read “Leaving it Implicit” is that Scott’s conclusions follow in part from his way of framing the issue. He makes certain background assumptions and if you accept them, you’ll be more favourably inclined to heeding his prediction that all folk psychological categories will be eliminated as premodern bits of magical thinking. Three of these assumptions are as follows. 

First, he assumes that Western philosophy is a protoscience, that philosophers are after theories that explain the facts, that they employ a second-order, meta-language which is meant to support our first-order, natural one. For example, Scott says, “From the mechanical perspective, in other words, the normative philosopher has only the murkiest idea of what’s going on. They theorize ‘takings as’ and ‘rules’ and ‘commitments’ and ‘entitlements’ and ‘uses’—they develop their theoretical vocabulary—absent any mechanical information…” (my emphases). Notice how normative philosophy is here assumed to be in the business of providing theories, but because philosophical theories are worse than scientific ones, the former are at best murky ideas. Scientists use their methods to test their theories of the external world, whereas normative philosophers rely on intuition, which makes for less reliable theories. Likewise, Scott speaks of philosophies of meaning and normativity as “controversial sketches,” compared to what we know of the brain, the latter being the “most complicated mechanism known.” Finally, Scott says, “My first order use of ‘use’ no more commits me to any second-order interpretation of the ‘meaning of use’ as something essentially normative than uttering the Lord’s name in vain commits me to Christianity.” This distinction between first- and second-order interpretations, which Scott makes in a number of writings, is consistent with the science-centered construal of philosophy as a protoscience. The assumption is that philosophers are trying to reductively explain the phenomena that reveal themselves in ordinary language, such as our talk of what symbols mean or of which actions are morally better than others.

Second, he thinks of mental processes as heuristics and he interprets heuristics not just as naturally selected procedures, but as solutions to what he calls “narrow problem ecologies” (my emphasis). This means that a mental process is a naturally selected and thus flawed shortcut to aid us in our endeavour to survive, because Mother Nature is a blind designer and she had limited resources at her disposal. One flaw of our thought processes is that they’re blind to their mechanical nature: we evolved to be preoccupied with external threats, not with internal truths, which is why our main senses point outward, leaving us with little information indicating the mind’s nature. Scott further assumes that because heuristics are made more efficient in so far as they leave out information, that deficiency limits their optimal areas of application. Scott says, for example, that “They [normative philosophers] have no inkling that they’re relying on any heuristics at all, let alone a variety of them, let alone any clear sense of the narrow problem-ecologies they are adapted to solve…We know that heuristics possess problem ecologies, that they are only effective in parochial contexts” (my emphases). By “parochial,” Scott means that those heuristics have a very narrow scope of effectiveness. Again, he says, “On the mechanical perspective, normative cognition involves the application of specialized heuristics in specialized problem-ecologies—ways we’ve evolved (and learned) to muddle through our own mad complexities” (my emphasis). Notice the connection here between the fact that nature equips us only with ways of muddling through the problem of figuring out our inner nature, and the specialized or narrow range of problems our heuristics are adapted to solve.

Third, Scott employs a mechanistic vocabulary. He speaks of mechanisms, heuristics, and gadgets in the mind. On the surface, then, he assumes the mind is a kind of machine. All of these terms have unfortunate connotations, from a naturalistic perspective, and although Scott may not be committed to those extended meanings, they might inadvertently do some of the work in his rhetorical case against folk psychology. On the naturalistic view, there is no intelligent designer of organisms, so biological systems can’t literally be machines in the ordinary sense. The mechanistic vocabulary must be metaphorical, so we should distinguish between the literal, naturalistic meanings and the extended, commonsense ones that Scott’s explanations have to abandon. For example, Scott says, “Evolution has given me all these great, normative gadgets—I would be an idiot not to use them! But please, if you want to convince me that these gadgets aren’t gadgets at all, that they are something radically different from anything in nature, then you’re going to have to tell me how and why.” Now, a gadget is a mechanical contrivance and a contrivance is something that’s planned with great ingenuity. Nature plans nothing, so Scott must be using “gadget” as a metaphor.

Do you see how these three ways of framing the debate between the mechanist and the transcendentalist or normative philosopher all by themselves cast doubt on normative discourse? If normativity is defended by philosophers, not by scientists (in their professional capacities), and philosophy is only a protoscience, we ought to favour the scientific view of the normative, which means we should stop talking about it since scientists don’t do so. If we philosophically learn about ourselves through intuition and other heuristic processes, and those processes aren’t designed to work well in that context, since our minds are adapted to coping with the external world, we have no reason to trust what we think we discover with those innate modes of access. Finally, if we accept the mechanistic discourse, we lose the ability to conceive of what normativity might be, since good and bad are clearly nowhere intrinsically to be found in something as material and objective as a machine.

Philosophy as the Search for a Wise Way of Life

I have problems with all three of those background assumptions and I’ll take them up in order. To be sure, much ancient and modern Western philosophy is indeed concerned with acquiring empirical or transcendent knowledge, and to this extent premodern philosophy might be looked at as an inchoate attempt to do what scientists now excel at doing, while modern philosophy is clearly influenced by scientific methods. But what Scott’s concept of philosophy leaves out is the old interest in wisdom as opposed to knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to live well. Wisdom may require some knowledge, but wisdom itself is more like the skill of living well than like any set of statements. In fact, while the ancient Greek philosophers did seem to love knowledge regardless of its uses, which is why they followed their often counterintuitive hypotheses to the furthest logical reaches, they also saw the search for knowledge as being in harmony with the searches for beauty and goodness. And so what we might think of as empirical science wasn’t taken to overshadow aesthetics or ethics. In the modern period, though, that overshadowing did take place, especially in academic philosophy and even more specifically in analytic, science-centered circles. To the extent that philosophers cleave to what scientists say, and scientists don’t directly address normative questions, philosophers too ignore the latter or else reduce them to questions that might be answered by protoscientific methods, such as by the use of thought experiments.

So this is the reason why Scott construes philosophy as he does, but the fact is that philosophy needn’t be thought of as excluding normativity at the outset. The fact is that we shouldn’t beg the question one way or the other. After all, the traditional search for wisdom presupposes the reality of the normative, so if we define philosophy in those terms, we beg the question against Scott’s mechanistic conclusions. The best course, then, is to be open-minded about the nature of philosophy. If our independent arguments establish that there’s no such thing as normativity, then to the extent that philosophers are interested in wisdom (in what we ought to do in all situations), philosophy is in danger of being a sham. But those arguments had indeed better be independent of any framing of philosophy as being concerned merely with theoretical matters, meaning with highly general questions of fact. Any argument for or against normative philosophy which assumes either framing begs the question and carries no weight.

The same goes for an argument against normativity which assumes that the first- and second-order language distinction exhausts philosophy’s role, since if philosophy includes the search for wisdom (for a way of living) and not just for knowledge (for a set of statements of fact), philosophy transcends that distinction. Philosophy might be more like a kind of training to turn people into mental athletes, as it were, and to the extent that philosophers speak when they train, that speaking might play some causal role in shaping the philosopher’s skills, so that the content of the statements is relatively unimportant. In a similar way (but with a much different lesson), it doesn’t matter so much what Muslim children in parts of the Middle East are saying when they’re forced to repeat the Koran out loud, over and over again. What matters is that they come to love the Koran, that they’re turned into Muslims. Here, language is part of a practice of personal transformation which a mechanist should be able to appreciate. To take another example, philosophical texts might amount not to theories in the protoscientific sense, but to myths, fictions, or artworks which likewise are meant to affect us and change our way of life. To this extent, philosophy would be closer to religion than to science. And just as treating religious questions as empirical ones about scientifically discoverable facts provides us with only a cheap and irrelevant refutation of theistic religion, since religion is likewise about practice and not just knowledge, so too we might doubt such a science-centered approach to philosophy.

To see the relevance of this, consider Scott’s set-up of a certain rhetorical question: “Normative cognition, in other words, is a biomechanical way of getting around the absence of biomechanical information. What else would it be?” Here’s what else: a step in the process of turning one sort of creature into another sort. Specifically, normativity might be needed to turn animals into people. The fact that this remains a mechanistic possibility leads me to puzzle over why Scott says, “Not only are we blind to the astronomical complexities of what we are and what we do…” (my emphasis). Normally, Scott says only that we’re blind to what we are on the inside, but here he adds that we’re blind to what we do. That’s clearly not so, since our actions are observable along with the rest of the external world. And the relevance of this, of course, is that if philosophers are after a certain way of living, what we are on the inside might not be as relevant as the differences between our apparent actions. Thus, when Scott asks the rhetorical question, “But aside from intuition (or whatever it is that disposes us to affirm certain ‘inferences’ more than others), just what does inform normative theoretical vocabularies?” the answer might be that those vocabularies rest on experience of human behaviour. We can learn about our behaviour in the same ways we learn about that of the animals we hunt or about the weather or other environmental factors with which we have to cope. We learn that some actions lead to failure while others lead to success and some are heroic while others are destructive and counterproductive. And no blind intuition need be instrumental in that experience.

That experiential basis of normative discourse can be entirely causal—and indeed protoscientific! We can ignore the content of words like “good” or “evil,” and just appreciate the impact these concepts have on our behaviour. We can even understand how these conceptions might have evolved: by helping to civilize our prehistoric, animalistic ancestors, notions of meaning, beauty, and goodness helped open up the niche in which we’ve dominated for some millennia. We may survive partly because of the utility of our fictions, including our self-deceptions, and a mechanist need have no quarrel whatsoever with that possibility. This is because that possibility is entirely consistent with the mechanistic view that semantic and normative properties are unreal. I haven’t appealed to the factual basis of any normative statement; instead, I’ve posited some process of enculturation in which normative conceptions are links in a causal chain that needn’t subtract from our evolutionary fitness. No magic, no premodern superstition, no romantic, Luddite or otherwise antiscientific prejudice, but a charitable mechanistic interpretation of the role of normative philosophy. In everyday interactions, we presuppose normativity and part of the philosopher’s job, mechanistically or instrumentally speaking, isn’t to get at the facts, but to explore what we’re doing in everyday experience, to chart the territory, to speculate on how the territory might be expanded or altered, and so on. And the philosophical creativity reinforces or reorients the everyday experience.

Yet another science-centered way of looking at philosophy is to emphasize the lack of consensus among professional philosophers. In many of his writings, Scott bemoans the fact that philosophers can’t agree on how to naturalize meaning and normativity. In the above-cited article, he does the same with regard to mathematics: “In fact, it seems pretty clear that we have no consensus-compelling idea of what mathematics is.” But any such lack of consensus should be of little concern. First, consensus is ideal in science, but who says philosophy or mathematics should be scientific? Who says philosophers or mathematicians are concerned just with objectivity and the facts? Evidently, these are more creative, free-wheeling disciplines. (Indeed, physicists are often surprised by how useful mathematics has turned out to be in explanations of phenomena.) So one of many reasons why philosophers may disagree on the nature of goodness, for example, is that the point of philosophy may not be to get us to agree on the facts; more neutrally, the point may be to relish our freedom to create ideas, to test them, in effect, for exaptive value in terms of their potential to transform us. Also, there’s currently a lack of consensus in physics as to the ultimate nature of matter at the quantum level, but surely Scott doesn’t think this undermines science. This would be because his naturalism is presumably of the methodological rather than the ontological variety, which is to say he’s pragmatic about the benefits of science. Likewise, we might be pragmatic about the benefits (and the weaknesses and drawbacks) of philosophy and math.

Heuristics and the Freedom to Create Ourselves

As for Scott’s talk of heuristics, I doubt his use of that term is standard in cognitive science. We can define our terms as we like, as long as we’re upfront about it, but I don’t see why the fact that a heuristic is an evolved quasi-algorithmic process that skips over various steps so as not to use up precious mental energy, entails that a heuristic works best under only limited circumstances. On the contrary, the notion of “specialized heuristics” strikes me as oxymoronic (unless “heuristic” is taken more broadly to mean any procedure that helps in learning, which would include the algorithm). It’s the algorithm that’s limited because it can be over-specialized, not the heuristic. A heuristic isn’t like a giraffe’s neck, for example. The giraffe has all its stock in one company, as it were, and its long neck makes certain tasks very awkward for that animal. Likewise, the more steps you pile into an algorithm to prevent any possibility of error due to the system’s improvisation, the more narrowly you define the conditions under which the program can succeed. For example, take the recipe of baking a cake. If this recipe is an algorithm, the recipe must list all of the steps to be followed, leaving nothing to chance. This means you must have on hand all of the ingredients to complete the steps. If you lack an ingredient, the recipe won’t work! The algorithm will grind to a halt and you’ll be spinning your wheels, unable to complete the process. But suppose the recipe is a heuristic so that instead of specifying exactly what you have to do, such that even a robot could follow the procedure, the recipe says something like, “Add ingredients X, Y, or Z in whatever measurements you like; it’s up to you, since this part is just a matter of taste.” In this case, the recipe has more domains of application, since now the recipe will work if you have Y but X or Z, or Z but not X or Y, and so on.

So as I understand the distinction between algorithms and heuristics, it’s the algorithm that’s in danger of being overspecialized, while the heuristic is more flexible and has a greater range of potential applications. The heuristic ignores certain information as inessential, which means the heuristic is open to being tried in different contexts. You try the simplified procedure and see if it works with this or that ingredient, but unlike with an algorithm, there’s no guarantee of success. What you get instead of that guarantee is precisely greater freedom of application. In fact, “heuristic” is often synonymous with “rule of thumb” or with “trial and error process,” meaning a process that’s trotted out as a last resort in many different situations because of its flexibility. So this whole business of saying we shouldn’t trust our intuitions, because they’re heuristics and therefore they weren’t adapted to informing us about our inner nature has little merit, as far as I can see. It’s true that with any heuristic, if you apply it here rather than there, there’s no guarantee of success. Still, unlike with an algorithm, you have at least a chance of success with the heuristic even under strange or unforeseen circumstances, whereas an overspecialized algorithm (thought process) would land you flat on your face when you’re out of your element. This is why computers, for example, look amazing when doing math, but foolish when trying to understand emotions or the history that makes for cultural meaning. Algorithms aren’t flexible enough to deal with such subjective matters. For those, you might need intuitions and rules of thumb.

The fact that we didn’t evolve a reliable way of processing inner information doesn’t preclude the possibility of hitting upon some truths with intuitions. True, there’s little reason to think we’ll learn about neural mechanisms just through introspection, but this assumes we’re identical with those mechanisms. As I suggested above, the point of normative discourse may be not to inform us about any such mechanistic fact, but to transform us from an animal, which is indeed identical with its bodily mechanisms, into a civilized person who extends his or her body in the form of social and technological systems. And those latter systems are observable by our reliable outer senses, so they can’t be so easily gainsaid.

What’s the relevance of technological extensions of the mind, for example? Well, as I write elsewhere, the modern philosophical discussion of meaning and value takes for granted only the relatively recent use of symbols, which assumes symbols are supposed to add up to statements that correspond with facts. Our ancient ancestors apparently had a rather alien mindset, the so-called mythopoeic mode of cognition, as expressed by their bizarre myths and religious practices. What were symbols to the ancient Egyptians or Babylonians, let alone to their ancestors, who believed in magic and who had no thoroughgoing distinction between subject and object? On the science-centered reading, the ancients were simply deluding themselves with panpsychist fantasies of an enchanted world. On a more charitable interpretation, the ancients were using normative conceptions in an early phase of converting themselves from animals into people. It doesn’t matter so much what they were saying; what matters is the effect of that step in the processes of personalizing ourselves and of creating civilization. For example, the empirical falsehood of ancient myths is irrelevant if those myths aren’t theories. What they are instead are phenomenological journals, poetic records of what it felt like subjectively to be a newly evolved person living in a particular time and practicing the linguistic powers to express not just reason, but imagination, emotion, and willpower. If we look at everything through science-tinted lenses, we miss that forest for the trees. Of course mythical and normative discourses are likely not factual. There’s no such thing as goodness. What there is instead is a creative, natural process of evolution, which transformed certain hairy primates into people who tell stories and who obsessively turn our more threatening, natural environments into technological, functional ones that fulfill our myths about our elevated status, by serving us as if we were gods. Ironically, I speculate, the consolation of technology is that far from furthering scientific disenchantment of nature, our machines re-enchant the world by making something like the mythopoeic mindset viable once more.

This is where exaptation comes together with heuristics. Both are matters of flexibility, deriving from the fact that there’s no mind dictating what has to evolve. A mechanist has reason to be open-minded at this point. I’m not talking about the evolution of anything supernatural or magical. What I’m saying is that if a species has its survival taken care of by certain reliable means, such as by its knowledge of natural mechanisms and thus its mastery of weapons and other tools, that species is free to play, to develop heuristics, tinker with its onboard faculties, and see what becomes of that experimentation. That’s apparently what our ancestors did. They used language to gain control of their thoughts, which gave them ways of organizing and regimenting their mental states. That was how certain animals learned to personify themselves. Lots of animals have weapons; where we differed was the magnitude of our curiosity, creativity, and self-control, which exploded once our skills at surviving together (by using fire and farming and building shelters, and so on) gave us the luxury of free time. We told stories (myths and philosophical speculations), which broadened the mind and tamed our behaviour. The truth status of those stories is irrelevant from the mechanistic perspective, but that doesn’t mean the mechanist can afford to dismiss them, because those stories and delusions may be instrumental in an evolutionary process with which we must contend. Refuting our myths from a science-centered perspective will have zero effect if they operate on a nonrational level. The Age of Reason hasn’t come close to ending superstitions, because it’s not enough to understand our cognitive biases; we need a practice, a nascent posthuman lifestyle to develop the form of life that matches our postmodern ideals.

Metaphors and the Mechanist’s Neutrality

Finally, “mechanism,” “gadget,” and even “heuristic” all derive from commonsense experience of our artifacts which presuppose normativity. “Mechanism” became a popular description of a natural system during the Enlightenment, when scientists struck a deistic compromise with the theistic masses. Early modern scientists affirmed that there is a God, but maintained that his creation runs more or less by itself—like the machines we create. This was a metaphor, and if we leave behind deism for atheism, the metaphor loses its rationale. Maybe, the word still has some use when applied to natural systems like the brain. Words are free to change their meaning if we find the new meaning useful. But this apparently vestigial use of “mechanism” is suspicious. Naturalists should avoid confusions by coining words that express the radical, one-sided philosophical implications of naturalism: no meaning, purpose, goodness, God, and so on.

Notice that “natural process” is likewise metaphorical (and technically oxymoronic), since “process” is again a teleological notion, having to do originally with a series of actions directed towards some end, as in the process of building a fire. The notion that the brain or a cognitive capacity is a “gadget” is obviously metaphorical, as I’ve said. The point of this metaphor, I take it, is that, to the extent that mental processes are like gadgets, we shouldn’t assume they’re equally useful in all contexts, to say the least. You can’t tell time with just a chair, for example. And indeed, worldviews, or thoughts we deliberately put together, might be compared to gadgets, but the metaphor is stretched when we speak of evolved gadgets, as Scott does. He says, “Evolution has given me all these great, normative gadgets.” Here, you don’t have to go far to see what’s implicit in this metaphor, namely the connotation that the gadget’s function derives from the designer’s normative thought about which effects are good, as it does in the case of a human-made gadget. But in evolution there’s no such designer, so the metaphor is misleading. Again, in the cognitive scientific context, “heuristic” derives from computing. Computers implement algorithms or heuristics, because we interpret their internal changes as steps that follow the rules we program into them. Applying that anthropocentric discourse to products of natural selection leaves us with connotations to which the “mechanist” or naturalist isn’t entitled. Nature doesn’t program anything into us, our neurons don’t follow rules (unless we’re consciously programming ourselves), and there’s no intended end of our behaviour as far as natural selection is concerned. And let’s not even get into “progressive naturalism.”

What’s the upshot of this point about metaphors? Well, once we strip away the anthropocentric meanings of the naturalist’s terms, we’re left with a more neutral viewpoint, I think, which should be open to the utility of normative and semantic concepts. Where Scott and I should agree is that there may be a big transformation afoot. Normative concepts were instrumental in adapting our animalistic ancestors to the niche in which they’d have to function as people, as creatures that transcended what they used to be. Myths, delusions, and technology play roles in that transformation. Perhaps we’re losing faith in that way of life, because of technoscientific progress, and so we’re searching for a new way. Perhaps we’ll have to give up the old ways of thinking, to turn us into creatures that can survive in some new domain, such as cyberspace or outer space. My point is that we should be charitable and thoroughly “mechanistic” in our interpretation of philosophical and religious speculations. Let’s not dismiss them on empirical grounds, by presupposing an ultrarationalistic worldview that’s preoccupied with knowledge and with actual facts, because we might then miss transformations that lead to future facts. Normativity may have a causal role to play in such transformations, as may philosophy as the search for a certain way of life.

In fact, Scott’s metaphor of normativity as an array of “gadgets” or functional heuristics is consistent with what I’ve said here about the evolutionary role of fictions and delusions. We both suspect that the manifest image, the ordinary conception of the self, corresponds to no reality, that that self doesn’t factually exist. But we seem to differ on the implications of this naturalism and on what to make of philosophy. Scott thinks philosophy is in big trouble to the extent that it takes the folk picture of the self more seriously than it takes the scientific one. But this science-centered framing of the problem is insufficiently mechanistic, since it credits scientific theories more than philosophical “sketches,” whereas mechanistically, which is to say instrumentally speaking, all symbols are equally meaningless, there being no such thing as meaning. If Scott’s point is that science is more efficacious or useful in evolutionary terms, compared to philosophy or the folk conception of the self, his point is far from obvious. You see, if we accept the radical implications of naturalism, we must be more open-minded than before, not less so. A true pragmatist will accept whatever works. With no ideology to take seriously anymore, with no commitment to ideas as brainchildren, the inchoate posthuman has less reason to judge or to exclude. We must be neutral in considering technoscience, naturalism, theistic religion, and normative philosophy all as processes, mechanisms, global developments, and the like. A radical naturalist has no basis for saying that religion is bad or false, for example, if this naturalist thinks only in terms of context-dependent transformations of systems. Now, I don’t think this necessarily lands us in postmodern relativism, because I think aesthetic standards remain. My question is whether the “mechanist” has some other standards to license the devaluation of philosophy compared to science. If philosophy isn’t after the facts, we should watch what it does and see how it fits into the bigger picture.

Authentic philosophy, as distinct from science or religion, trains us to be a type of person. As I say in a reply to another of Scott's articles, this is complicated by esoteric and exoteric, or elite and mass social functions. Here’s how the evolutionary transformation might work, in a nutshell. The masses personify themselves by trusting in myths that function as self-reinforcing delusions. That keeps civilization running; in particular, it maintains our luxury and our freedom to create ways of life. The philosophical elite stand apart from this process, not as godlike controllers, but as marginalized observers who see the tragedy at work. Philosophers are trained to be skeptics, to ask endless questions and to take nothing on faith. They know there are no gods or moral properties, as matters of fact, but they also suspect that these notions are part of some larger turn of events. They’re awestruck by nature’s audacity, as it were: our self-deceptions may be instrumental, in which case, to borrow the inadequate and potentially misleading metaphor, we’re cogs in a machine. Philosophers are specially equipped to know this, and wisdom is something like the ability to live well in spite of those alienating doubts. What can it be to live well if there’s no such thing as goodness and normativity isn’t factual? Whatever it is, it must be equal to a natural turn of events. Maybe the wise person sees how events are largely going and realizes there’s some role for skeptical outsiders, so that even they can be part of the greater whole.


  1. I'm actually not sure this engages my primary argument, Ben, which is simply that there is no apriori way to argue the sciences of the brain are not going to revolutionize our understanding of normativity. As such, we might as well assume the pessimistic induction will hold: traditional discourses generally don't fare all that well once science colonizes their domain, therefore we might as well kiss the traditional discourses of the human goodbye. I’m not arguing that this should happen, only that it likely will, and that we should begin tooling up our concepts in preparation.

    Avoiding this argument is what allows you to frame the issue as a mere horse race between competing sets of ‘framing assumptions,’ while ignoring the fact that the causal explanatory model of the sciences has spent the past few centuries eating other prescientific framing assumptions—such as your wisdom model—for lunch.

    So, for instance, you spend quite some time trying to carve out an autonomous space for philosophy as wisdom as opposed to philosophy as cognition. You make numerous claims regarding What Philosophy Is—you build an entire theory, in effect—attempting to convince the reader that my characterization entirely overlooks this discursive space. So you write, "To see the relevance of this, consider Scott’s set-up of a certain rhetorical question: “Normative cognition, in other words, is a biomechanical way of getting around the absence of biomechanical information. What else would it be?” Here’s what else: a step in the process of turning one sort of creature into another sort. Specifically, normativity might be needed to turn animals into people.”

    Which simply raises the question, What is this ‘transformation’ or ‘process’?

    And all your hard won ‘discursive autonomy’ finds itself back in science’s claws. There simply is no compelling means of defining your way out of this problem.

    Since this is the most important issue I see, I’ll leave it at this.

    1. I don't think I avoid your main argument, although it's true I don't discuss it here. As I said, we've already been through that argument and I wanted to bring up new issues as opposed to rehashing it. Anyway, I didn't read that main argument of your whole blog as being central to "Leaving it Implicit" in particular.

      I agree the causal role of normative stories is part of a natural process that science can explain. But I don't think the philosophical questions of wisdom, of how we should live and of which ideals we should have faith in are close to being handled by science. Sam Harris's science of morality hasn't impressed me, for example, nor has he convinced many people. (The same goes for Richard Carrier's superior and earlier treatment of the issue.) Harris shows that science can help us be happy, once we decide to make a certain kind of happiness our goal, but as most reviewers of Harris's book have realized, this leaves open the questions of whether happiness should be our goal and of what happiness entails. Those are philosophical, not scientific questions, and they're also normative. Answering them is more like creating a work of art or taking a leap of faith in a fictional story and choosing to live by it.

      What Harris says is just that presupposing the goal of happiness in the science of morality is like presupposing the goal of health in medical science. Science can explain why we presuppose either goal, but not why we should do so. This is because science deals with reality, with facts, not with fictions like the matter of how we ought to live. So science doesn't eat those normative matters for lunch; it ignores them as unworthy of Serious attention, just like adults who have Business to attend to ignore childish games of Let's Pretend. Too bad all adults are nevertheless childlike in their faith in some way of life.

      Also, the question of what's included in philosophy isn't semantic, so I'm not defining my way out of your argument. I'm pointing out that neither of us should beg the question by assuming philosophy is just this or just that. There's evidence that Western philosophy has been protoscientific and there's also evidence that philosophy has been concerned with practice rather than cognition. To exclude one or the other is to beg the question in this context. Whether that circularity affects your main argument is another matter.

      That is, you can say that in so far as philosophy is concerned with protoscientific theorizing of the facts, philosophical theories of the self are inferior to scientific ones. But this leaves open the question of whether philosophers will continue to talk about the folk's view of the self (of meaning, purpose, normativity, etc), not just for the reasons you give in BBT, but because philosophy is also after a certain way of life in which that folk conception plays a useful, mechanistic role (as opposed to merely a delusional one).

    2. I actually think this stuff is the stuff we've been through before, and the stuff that you ignore is the stuff that we haven't! Such is life...

      "So science doesn't eat those normative matters for lunch; it ignores them as unworthy of Serious attention, just like adults who have Business to attend to ignore childish games of Let's Pretend"

      When it comes to the 'human condition' this has been the case, historically, but then historically, science hasn't had any means of gaining traction on the value side of the fact/value distinction. The end of these days is nigh, and I think it'll happen far more quickly than anyone thinks. I think it's clearly happening already. Let's call this process 'creeping depersonalization,' or CD, the tendency to view individuals more and more as mechanisms, and less and less as agents. Are you claiming this isn't happening?

      I've never argued that normative philosophers would pack their bags and go home, only that they're going to suffer the same credibility crisis as meaning-mongers have in every other domain. Are you suggesting they won't (or, aren't already)? It seems to me that the role of 'wisdom' in our culture has been thoroughly supplanted by pop psychological discourses, many of which clearly bear the hallmark of CD.

      The notion of any 'philosophical elite' I find too flattering to be trustworthy. And coming out of the Continental tradition, 'authentic' just sounds like a sop to me anymore. 'Faux-personification' isn't any less faux for being self-consciously labelled as such. I think disarray, disagreement, and general confusion is the likely outcome of CD. There will be as many so-called 'wisdoms' as there are philosophers, don't you think? The animal will be the only thing capable of commanding consensus.

    3. When I say that we’ve discussed your main argument, I didn’t mean to suggest that we’re finished with it. But in “Mechanists and Transcendentalists,” for example, I discussed your pessimistic induction. I’d agree, though, that I don’t talk much about the empirical details of BBT, because I mean to concede that some such mechanisms are operational. We disagree on the philosophical implications of that sort of model of what’s going on in the brain when we claim to know ourselves.

      As for creeping depersonalization, I don’t think it’s so recent. For thousands of years, some people have regarded others as subhuman or as means rather than ends. Think of slavery, men’s ownership of women, and dominance hierarchies in which alphas rule over betas and omegas. This isn’t even confined to our species, since most species have similar hierarchies in which those with lower status are treated as a subclass of creature.

      It’s possible that science is being used merely to rationalize this pre-existing tendency towards inequality. This hypothesis is testable. On your view, we should predict that the social elites will come to see themselves as being as impersonal as those they effectively rule. At least, that’s what the science would dictate. And that truly would be apocalyptic. On my view, though, social inequality will remain and the cognitive science regarding our mechanistic nature will serve as a new mythos, leaving the escape hatch that some neural mechanisms are better than others, so that certain elites will still have reason to think more highly of themselves. That would be merely a technoscientific form of dominance hierarchy.

      I agree entirely with your fourth paragraph. Undoubtedly, scientists have much more prestige than philosophers. In fact, philosophy is ignored or looked down on by most Westerners. And various sciences have indeed claimed to take up the traditional philosophical questions. Whether the psychologists and so forth are really reducing the philosophical problems to scientific ones or they’re doing philosophy badly is another matter. In any case, there are lots of reasons why hardly anyone talks about wisdom anymore, only one of which is that people are more interested now in science. I think what’s happened is more like a shift in focus than a realization of something’s unreality; this shift has gone hand in hand with the dumbing-down of the masses to make them content with consumerism and with the capitalistic depredations.

    4. To the extent that I talk about a philosophical “elite,” I do so with irony. The elites in this case are the omegas, the social outsiders who aren’t wrapped up in fads and popular delusions. But is our self-personification entirely false? No, the fact that it has a mechanical basis proves it’s not nothing. All that’s false is a naïve way of speaking of the self that’s produced by our mental tinkering. Folk psychology is false, for the most part, but that which folk psychology refers to exists; it’s just that that thing is better conceived of in different terms.

      There are such things that we misleadingly call consciousness, self-control, and ideals which distinguish our species from others, but they’re not what we commonly think they are. For one thing, they’re brain-based and since most of us know little about the brain, our self-conceptions are bound to be flawed, at best. But what I’m saying is that those self-conceptions aren’t entirely wrong. Even you say they’re low resolution images as opposed to complete distortions of the neural mechanisms. They’re not useful for scientific purposes, but they sure have been useful for the philosophical and religious purposes of picking a way of life. You might say the neural mechanisms have done all the work, not the folk characterizations or anything we might call the conscious, rational, free self.

      But that kind of reductionism puts you on a slippery slope. If you say cognitive science makes nothing of the folk psychological self, what stops us from saying that chemistry and physics make nothing of the mechanisms talked about in cognitive science? Don’t you think there’s not just evolution but complexification?

    5. "the sciences has spent the past few centuries eating other prescientific framing assumptions—such as your wisdom model—for lunch."

      The acrobatics people will perform to avoid looking this truth in the eye are quite amusing.

    6. We really aren't that far apart on this particular issue then. One of the slippery-seeming things I think I do is switch back and forth between registers in a way that comes across as theoretically opportunistic, that seems to arbitrarily favour the mechanistic frame.

      But this really is the crux of the crisis as I see it: the mechanistic frame not only commands consensus, it is rewiring reality in gobsmacking ways. The power of the natural scientific paradigm is pretty much impossible to deny; the questions are those of scope and consequence. For me, transcendental arguments limiting the scope (and so preempting the question of consequence) amount to wishful thinking. This is where I think the superiority of your approach over, say, Brassier's becomes evident. You're willing to bite the mechanical bullet all the way down, acknowledge that there is no 'necessary' normative redoubt such as the one Sellars pitches. The issue between us really is one of consequence - our distinct brands of pessimistic futurology. And this is where the details of BBT become telling, I think.

      In the speculative story I tell, these heuristic ways we have of understanding ourselves and each other REQUIRE IGNORANCE to effectively function. They are literally adapted to the absence of higher-dimensional mechanical information pertaining to what we are. Just think of the wrenches creeping medicalization continues to throw into our judicial system.

      But you're right: if all cognition is heuristic, then I would seem to be on a conceptually cannibalistic slippery slope. But not really. The domain generality of causal explanation really is quite remarkable, and very hard to argue against. I have a story to tell here as well: I actually think BBT provides a parsimonious way to explain why this one family of heuristics seems to be coming to rule the roost at the expense of others. One reason is simply 'scale transitivity,' the way you can speak of cars and what they do without knowing a thing about how they operate. Causal heuristics neglect causal details, all the way down to the quantum fuzz. Intentional heuristics, on the other hand, also neglect causal details, and so remain trapped in a way the former is not. The issue with them seems to be one of truncation rather than resolution.

    7. I forgot to say that I agree there needn’t be only one kind of wisdom for everyone. (The very word “wisdom” sounds pretentious now.) Different people have better or worse ways of living, since they have different challenges and innate strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly, I think the mechanistic worldview faces a similar threat of relativism at this point, and this ties in with the problem you raise about why the scientific paradigm commands such respect. If there’s no such thing as truth, we can’t say simply that that paradigm is true while all others are false. You know this, of course, but it’s also the case that equivalent ways of speaking must be as misleading. So the problem would be to explain why the heuristic of thinking of the self as made up entirely of heuristics is the right way to go, without presupposing anything that’s even equivalent to the intentional relation between symbol and referent. Because if the ways of speaking are practically equivalent, there are only arbitrary, notational differences between them.

      And I think you hit on the way to go, which we’ve talked about before: pragmatism. You say the *power* of the scientific paradigm is impossible to deny. The problem is to say why this matters to nature, as it were, without assuming the value of power. Nietzsche, for example, said everything has a will to power and this sounds like a personification. Anyway, this strikes me as the common ground between our views which needs more fleshing out. What’s the new way of talking about the self that will reconcile the science with the delusions? As you say, we can’t opt just for the science unless we radically change our hardware, since we’re bound to perceive the illusion of the self as we naively think of it. But knowing the science is there to be had, we also know that folk psychology is deficient. It was because of just this sort of impasse that I started to think of natural processes as undead. Undeadness is a sort of middle ground concept, but we need a lot more of this sort of thing.

      The sticking point remains, by the way: if we think in terms of power rather than truth or meaning, we must be open to the possibility that folk psychology also has quite a lot of power. In fact, as I say in this article, it’s far from obvious that science is more efficacious than the illusion of the personal self. Science is only much more powerful in theoretical terms, which is to say it’s better for scientific purposes, but that should go without saying. What about the purpose of picking a way of life?

      I’m not sure I understand your point about truncation, but I like where it’s heading. You’re saying that both causal and intentional heuristics neglect causal details, but somehow the latter still comes out worse than the former. Yet there would seem to be a difference only in degree between them. So I’d have thought you just made an epistemic, pragmatic case for the emergence of the ontologies corresponding to both heuristics. How can you have the reality of heuristics without the “reality” of symbols, consciousness, freedom and so on, if either corresponds only to a limited perspective? How do you escape from something like Kant’s transcendental idealism at this point? What you seem to be adding is that each perspective cuts reality short, so that when we take up a perspective we know in a postmodern sort of way that it’s limited and there’s a better one available. So taking up a perspective now requires a sense of irony.

    8. Generally, whenever constraint has to be cognized noncausally, you have truncation. This is what makes them so difficult to map across causal systems: the solving systems just don't know what to do with the added information. This is why 'rule-form constraints,' for instance, famously don't admit translation into dispositional terms. You can even analyze Kripke skeptical paradox in these terms, and show why the demand that a theory of meaning account for 'normative properties' has to fail.

      My position isn't at all pragmatic, it's mechanistic. It's a kind of 'deep behaviourism' that doesn't run afoul Chomsky's classic critique simply because it can explain away normativity. It strikes you as implying a kind of idealism because you're assessing it the very terms it obviates: the fact that there is always more information in no way splits 'reality' into self and other, phenomenal and noumenal, and so on, simply because, as science is showing, nature is all there is. At this level of resolution, it's mechanism all the way down. I actually think it's the first genuine 'flat' ontology that doesn't run afoul the problem of intentionality. It provides a means of theoretically filling out the old claim that 'we are the universe contemplating itself' simply because it clears out all the problems of intentionality (and phenomenality).

      This is why I keep telling you that looking at BBT as a transcendental approach, where the mechanisms I posit simply take the place of Kant's categories, is to thoroughly misconstrue the theory. The intuition of 'experience' as some kind of transcendentally derivative, orthogonal-to-nature reality is something that BBT explains away as a metacognitive illusion - rather elegantly I think!

    9. I know you don't regard BBT as pragmatic. I'm suggesting pragmatism as a middle ground between our two views. And if you're going to say it's mechanisms all the way down, I suggest you speak not of the efficacy or power of a mechanism, but of its force, since "force" at least is a physical term. "Efficacy" is teleological and "power" is also anthropocentric, since it refers to an ability or capacity to act. The original abilities are skills or innate mental faculties. We can think of efficacy in terms of naturally selected function, but then the story is still a personification (of Mother Nature), as Dennett says.

      You can say that everything is natural, but nature is still split into levels, given the nonreducibility of certain scientific explanations of it. Physicists don't speak of selves, but psychologists and social scientists do. For physicists, a self is just another material object. Do you think all objects are the same or do they show variety at higher levels of complexity? At one level, some objects control themselves; these are people, and to explain that self-control we refer to things like values, ideals, and beliefs. Do those things exist in nature? Yes, but they exist as parts of the brain or perhaps as extensions of a person, in some social or technological form.

      Will cognitive scientists offer a better explanation of human behaviour, which will replace folk psychology? Maybe, but although the concept of a mechanism might unify us with other mechanisms in nature, I suspect the explanation would work by showing what happens when lower mechanisms get together to form a higher mechanism which is more than the sum of its parts. So just because it's mechanisms all the way down doesn't mean we should commit the fallacy of composition.

    10. Is NATURE split into levels? Or do we simply parse problems according to what is and isn't effective, then ontologize that parsing to protect our discourses from the possibility of other parsings? The 'level' defence of normativity has always struck me as using a speculative fig-leaf to preempt naturalistic inquiry. A bunch o words that a bunch o philosophers utter until the domain is so thoroughly dominated that everyone stops talking about it. Craver has a great way of shrugging this defence off, saying, So, the mechanisms responsible shouldn't be investigated? So, you're saying that learning the details of the actual mechanisms won't revise our understanding of the function?

      Cognitive science has provided tremendous amounts of information pertaining to human behaviour. Folk psychological heuristics enable us to solve a great number of problems absent that information - which is likely why we adapted them in the first place. So long as normativity and so on couldn't be mechanically understood, it was easy to ontologize our metacognitive guesswork, even in the deflationary guise of 'irreducible levels of description.' But BBT provides a way to mechanically understand these things, to 'translate vocabularies' a master pragmatist such as Brandom would say. Mechanical emergence is not spooky at all: it's part of what makes the paradigm so powerful. In this sense, BBT provides a way of seeing the extraordinary 'spooky emergence' invoked to shelter intentional discourses as actually a pedestrian example of mechanical emergence. With BBT, we could eventually construct an AI 'pragmatist,' which is to say, a machine convinced that it is somehow (mysteriously) more than a machine in a manner functionally isomorphic to ourselves.

  2. I'm confuddled. So BBT calls itself "theory" in its title, a "speculation" in its disclaimer, while it reads like fiction obfuscated with scientific *and* philosophical jargon, employing quite a few normative claims for the discourse supposedly aiming to "explain away" normative thinking. Upon closer inspection, its relevancy seems to be merely essayistic.

    1. Sounds like 'befuddled' to me!

      The worst philosophical habit of all is to assume that something must be twaddle for the failure to instantly grasp it.

    2. RSB's theory (or hypothesis, depending on how technical we want to be) may or may not be correct, but I don't see how it reads as fiction. It reads as a reductive explanation and as a challenge to folk psychology. I agree that RSB sometimes employs questionable normative or otherwise anthropocentric terms even though he's trying to eliminate them. But this is due to a larger problem with natural language, since many ordinary words now serve as metaphors that compare unfamiliar things with our subjective experience. I think to deal with this problem, Scott should work on defining his technical terms, to make for a stronger wall between his artificial language and the natural one.

    3. Befuddled might be... but I said "fiction", not "twaddle". It is in fact rather enjoyable read. However, a fiction enticed by scientifically proven facts is no less of a magical thinking than a fiction inspired by celestial imaginary friends. BBT strangely adopted reasoning modality typical for apologetics - mixing facts with imagination to maximize illusion of legitimacy. I wouldn't object if it was presented in the format expected from a scrutiny-lending scientific theory; facts, thoroughly non-ambiguous language and verifiable empirical models. Otherwise, that "theory" in the title sounds rather ironic.

    4. Ah, I think I know what you're getting at. It's the difference between science and philosophy. I take up this question in "Mechanists and Transcendentalists, Kant we all just get along?" The question is whether BBT is scientific or philosophical. Philosophy sounds more like fiction than does science, because philosophy is speculative. So you're saying BBT is philosophical speculation dressed up as science.

      My view in that article is that part of BBT is a summary of cognitive science models of cognitive processes, while another part is a philosophical argument about the implications for folk psychology. The latter is philosophical, because the cog sci models leave open the question of whether the mechanical basis of our thought processes makes our ordinary interpretation of them wrongheaded or whether higher properties of personhood emerge from the mechanisms' interplay.

  3. I think this all boils down to the simple question: are scientific and the non-scientific understandings alternative, or are they independent, each with their own separate domains of validity?

    I think the answer is clear. Science specifies certain requirements for valid results. When those requirements are not there, science is inapplicable, and we therefore refer to non-scientific solutions.

    The real question then is whether a scientific understanding of human consciousness is possible. I think we all agree that the requirements are lacking. We may have some scientific data to work with, but evidence clearly suggests that the data is incomplete or insufficient for a definitive answer. We can speculate on what the future may hold, but this is all base speculation.

    Going on what we do know then, all views on human consciousness are non-scientific. Therefore, the question is which non-scientific solution is superior. Since we do not have an accurate scientific understanding of human consciousness, we do not have scientific criteria by which to determine which understanding is superior.

    Consequently, all views are subjectively equal (and equally subjective) dependent on the subjective criteria which select to judge them.

    If you cannot accept such a stalemate, perhaps you should decide which criteria you agree a theory requires, and can be judged according to.

    1. BBT actually isn't a theory of consciousness, it's a theory of why consciousness seems to be as baffling as it is. Otherwise, your second-order appraisal strikes me as fair enough - as well as a great way to dismiss something you don't have the inclination to understand!

      I don't blame you though: it's counterintuitive, through and through. The questions leading to it, however, are very straightforward, and the types of processing constraints it hypothesizes are more than simply plausible.

      And it only has to be plausible to make my argument stick: If it's true, then there is no such thing as the 'transcendental.' It's truth is an empirical matter. Therefore, the question of the transcendental is an empirical matter - at least in this respect.

    2. The inference that when scientific criteria don't apply, everything's subjectively equal is a non sequitur. You're assuming there are no other universally applicable standards for judgments. But two come to mind: moral and aesthetic ones. Morality isn't entirely relative, since it's based on universal, evolved instincts. And good vs bad taste isn't just a matter of arbitrary opinion or personal style, contrary to postmodern ironists. For example, judgments of ugliness are likewise based on the evolved sense of the disgusting (of the foreign).

    3. "Befuddled might be... but I said "fiction", not "twaddle". It is in fact rather enjoyable read. However, a fiction enticed by scientifically proven facts is no less of a magical thinking than a fiction inspired by celestial imaginary friends. BBT strangely adopted reasoning modality typical for apologetics - mixing facts with imagination to maximize illusion of legitimacy. I wouldn't object if it was presented in the format expected from a scrutiny-lending scientific theory; facts, thoroughly non-ambiguous language and verifiable empirical models. Otherwise, that "theory" in the title sounds rather ironic."

      In other words, you would rather all the work of reconceptualization were hidden, and only the final form were presented? This is the way all shifts in theoretical paradigms work, I fear. You have to put up with us imaginative types. Operationalizing all this is going to take many people quite some time. From your perspective, it seems that no proposed paradigm shift should be fielded until AFTER it's happened!

      But in the meantime, you get to pass judgement on things you don't understand, so I suppose that's a plus.

      What I fail to see how your diagnosis doesn't run afoul your diagnosis, anonymous.

    4. Well, Scott, I admit I don't understand great many things, as you promptly deduced from the total of 2 paragraphs of text I've written, but could you, instead of condemning me for it, be so kind to answer the question that's been bothering me; Is BBT a scientific theory (at least in it's ambitions) or is it a philosophical speculation. How would you, the author, declare it? I'd really appreciate a simple straightforward answer.

      (Sorry for posting under "anonymous". I put the initial up now, since there are several people commenting as "anonymous")

    5. You might want to ask him this on his blog, Three Pound Brain, if you haven't already done so. I think his theorizing falls in the area of science-centered philosophy. He's using cognitive science to explain various phenomena, such as our experience of the person self, but his eliminativist conclusions require philosophical defenses, or arguments that get into meta-issues.

  4. I've been following your debate on and off for a while, and it seems like often both of you assume you're talking about the same thing only to find out you aren't. I think this points to a lack of basic common concepts.

    As Cain says, there are universals, but without a clear scientific framework (which I don't think is possible right now, based on the breadth of the questions you're dealing with), agreement on which universals apply, and when, where and how they apply are indeterminate until they are established, which needs to happen before any common understanding can be reached.

    When I say subjective, I don't mean that a consensus cannot be reached, but I do think that is likely to happen before parameters have been determined on which to judge which solution is better. In other words, it's not that the issue is inherently and absolutely subjective, but rather that in the absence of a consensus on how the universals apply, everyone is going to have their own subjective ideas.

    It's just a suggestion.

    On the issue of transcendentals, I do not credit the notion of inherently transcendental truths either. But I think that there are circumstances which transcend scientific/empirical/objective frameworks in the sense that these frameworks are typically extremely rigorous, intensive and delicate, and therefore extremely time consuming and often costly as well. For this reason, for most of the questions we face in life, approaching them scientifically is simply impractical. I'm thinking of questions such a 'should I take that job?', 'am I going to ask that pretty girl out for a drink?', or 'this guy is going to punch me in the face - what should I do?' Certainly one can factor in scientific knowledge, but you're going to be hard pressed to find data specific enough to situation to provide a clear answer. At some level its always going to be an educated guess.

    It is in this way that non-scientific reasoning could be seen to transcend science, and it is for this reason that I think that non-scientific thought, such as philosophy, will always remain relevant. Philosophy provides us will a more rigorous, or at the very least a supplementary approach to problem solving besides our cultural learning.

    And to face the facts, science could likely never supplant philosophy in this sense. Science is too exacting to be practically applied to day-to-day problems. Philosophy may not be able to compete in terms of precision, but it provides a means to develop these day-to-day problem-solving methods. Furthermore, it's easier to picture life without scientific thought than to imagine trying to live without the non-scientific reasoning we use daily. In this sense, non-scientific thought is simply more significant to us than science.

    1. Thanks for laying out your take on the debate.

      This sounds like a pragmatic defense of philosophy. The notion of usefulness seems to assume some of the folk concepts in question, though, such as those of following a goal, setting priorities, doing what we think is best, and so on. Clearly, since most people are nonscientists, nonscientific reasoning to deal with practical matters is currently a necessity even if complete scientific knowledge were theoretically available today.

      Also, RSB distinguishes between first-order and second-order questions. Unless we change the hardware of our brain, we're stuck settling the first-order issues with philosophy and the like, since our brain would keep producing the illusion of the personal self. It's the second-order, theoretical questions about the fact of the matter, regardless of how useful they are in daily life, which RSB's trying to address. So the question is, what is the fact of the self? Does the manifest image or folk psychology or the commonsense conception of the personal self correspond to some reality or not? Are we really just a set of neural mechanisms, all else being illusion? This is an ontological issue.

      Still, I wonder how far your point about the practical limits of science can be taken. I think most people would agree with you about those limits. But then there's RSB's pessimistic induction: science has already undermined a great many myths and cherished notions, so maybe those of folk psychology will be added to the list.

    2. The problem I have with RSB's pessimistic induction is that it doesn't take realistic limitations into considerations. It is the same as saying that since dinosaurs were continuously evolving into larger and larger forms (comparing between the Triassic to Jurassic to Cretaceous, etc.) if dinosaurs hadn't become extinct they would eventually have become larger than the planet.

      Just like dinosaurs, science must have an upper threshold. If we look at how science works, taking into account its basic necessary features, there are too many situations where those necessary features are inapplicable or ineffective. So the idea that science can someday replace folk theories wholesale seems ridiculous.

    3. I'm interested in this argument, Anon, and I sketched some of those necessary limitations of science in "Humanization and Objectification." The response is often that this is a god-of-the-gaps circling of the wagons or that betting against science is foolish given its many successes. What matters is that we understand the nature of science, and scientistic folks like Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris dodge this by construing science broadly as something like the powers of reason or of learning the facts.