Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Seeing that material objects can't think

Andrew has a post discussing the claim that some can just 'see' that material objects can't think (here).

I've tried my best to articulate my scepticism. First, I don't think that there's any good reason to think that someone's ability to just 'see' that material things cannot think is akin to someone's ability to just 'see' that numbers cannot have weight. I take it that the latter modal judgment is grounded in the knowledge that numbers are abstract objects and that abstract objects cannot have what is necessary for having weight. However, there are not similar grounds for denying that material objects can think. Such knowledge would either have to be grounded in some sort of conceptual truth about belief or about material objects. But, it seems:

(1) It is no part of our concept of belief that they belong to substances that are themselves immaterial.
(2) While the power to think is not part of the essence of body, there is nothing to the concept of body that excludes the possibility of thought.

If these points are both granted, I think we ought to dismiss any claim to just 'see' that material things cannot think. I also think that we have good reason to accept (1) and no good reason to reject (2).

In defense of (1). We can have a sufficient conception of belief by reflection on belief's functional role and that this conception would in no way be enriched by adding any claim that represents beliefs as things that cannot be had by something that has material parts.

In defense of (2). There is nothing to the concept of material body that _excludes_ the possibility that such bodies have the powers something has if it has a mind. To judge in the absence of specific reasons to think that thought would be excluded that thought could not arise is unjustified in light of the myriad examples of material objects having properties we could not expect them to have in virtue of the basic properties of its parts.

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