Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Indivisible Intellect

I recently posted a review of The Achilles of Rationalist Arguments by Ben Mijuskovic (here). This book deals with the history -- primarily in the early Modern era -- of the idea that "The essential nature of the soul consists in its power of thinking; thought, being immaterial, is unextended, i.e., simple (having no parts); and what is simple is (a) indestructible; (b) a unity; and (c) an identity."

I have recently been pointed to this summary of Mijuskovic's writing on the Simplicity Argument, including another book, Contingent Immaterialism: Meaning, Freedom, Time and Mind, which looks pretty darn interesting. It also looks at recent developments in this argument, including a collection of essays entitled The Achilles of Rationalist Psychology. There are many more references at the link. It looks like my reading list just doubled.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

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Al Moritz said...


I have read your review. Mijuskovic says:

"Thus unless consciousness were unified by something intrinsically simple, and therefore necessarily a unity (for what is simple must be a unity), sensation, perception, cognition, awareness, memory, reason, etc., would all be impossible."

The problem for me is animal consciousness. Animals have at least sensation, awareness (though not necessarily self-awareness) and memory (it is clear from our dogs' behaviour). I would have a hard time ascribing to animals a soul, however. To me reason points to a soul, and free will.

Can any relevant distinctions be made here? I think reason is a much bigger problem for materialism than consciousness.

The Perplexed Seeker said...


Whilst I agree with your point about reason vs consciousness per se, I was wondering what criteria you might use to define whether or not animals are capable of reason? The use of language is one obvious possibility (which would exclude everything except humans). But even that raises the question of how many of the various extinct hominids possessed the abilities of language and reason...

Of course, if I bite the bullet and accept that some (all?) of animals possess a soul of some type (which I guess is probable anyway if you go with Aquinas that the soul is the form of the body), I'm still faced with the problem of where you draw the line. Do insects have souls? Bacteria? (Although I doubt Hindus or Buddhists would be troubled by this implication, it doesn't help Christians much).

I reckon you may be right that intellect is the key issue here, but it's still a tricky one.

Jim S. said...

I'm not sure I would call learned responses in animals memory. Pavlov's dog wasn't necessarily remembering the previous times he was fed when the bell made him salivate. C. S. Lewis has an excellent chapter on Animal Pain in The Problem of Pain, where he suggests that animals may lack the unity of consciousness that allows them to tie previous, current, and possible future pains together. Although it's very speculative of course.

Al Moritz said...

No Jim, our dogs remember old places where they once went, obvious from their reactions and their knowledge of paths how to get there. It is true memory, there is no arguing around it. You may have a point on animal pain though.

Michael Fugate said...

C S Lewis has been dead for almost 50yrs - I think our understanding of animal perception has advanced just a bit since then.

Jim S. said...

Al: I tend to agree with you that animals are conscious in the same way we are. I'm a dog person and I find it very difficult not to ascribe memory and other aspects of consciousness to animals. I also note that the Old Testament frequently calls animals nephesh, which means soul.

However I also tend to be suspicious of this since I think it may be the product of anthropomorphism. It seems to rely on a sort of ontological behaviorism that can't be supported. Moreover, it leads to serious problems: Anthony O'Hear writes in Beyond Evolution:

"It is certainly true that what an animal finds salient in its present experience will be to some degree idiosyncratic, depending on just what its past experience has been. But this will simply be a matter of causation. That Munchie refuses to go into his trailer may well be due to unpleasant experiences he has had in the past. If the new trailer is perfectly safe and very different from the old one in which he was bashed about, or even if his trailer-phobia was brought about by bad experiences in a narrow loose-box, rather than a trailer, there is no sense that his present stroppiness is a mistake. It just exists, and it has the causal antecedents it does; it may be more or less idiosyncratic. In a sense, then, in primary consciousness the justification of present salience -- of the way the beam of consciousness shines in a specific case -- does not arise. It shines the way it does, and that can be more or less useful, but its being or not being useful is not a matter of its being right or wrong. There is no norm against which the beam's current shining is being compared."

Michael: when we discuss consciousness we're discussing the first-person perspective, and this is something that can never be fully reduced to the third-person perspective. In other words, scientific discoveries, being descriptions, cannot exhaust consciousness. So saying that we've learned something about how animals are wired since C. S. Lewis's time doesn't really address what is at issue.