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To me this comes across as a perfectly reasonable position on what philosophy should be tied to some unconvincing rhetoric that tries to paint other positions as unreasonable. It also seems to overstate what agreement about some facts would buy us. But these are vague criticisms. I would be more interested to hear, in light of your proposed framework, your answers to these questions:

1) Is consciousness an illusion?
2) If it is an illusion doesn't that suggest the need for a radical overhaul of ethics (seeing as suffering is also presumably an illusion, and the problems we now associate with it would have to be reconsidered as something like damage to a complex system) that would quite likely include "extensional" changes to our understanding?
3) If it is not an illusion, how would someone committed to your 1-7 and who therefore sets aside how things "seem" avoid the conclusion that it is?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Skef: Thanks for your comment and questions! I'm a little unclear on your criticisms. What rhetoric painting other positions as unreasonable are you concerned about? And where do you think I am overstating what agreement about some facts would buy us? For my part, the point I'm trying to make in the post is that we cannot settle these issues in advance, but should instead adopt a particular metaphilosophical perspective (and methodology) for arriving at well-supported answers to them--a method for (A) determining which positions are unsupported by firm evidence, and (B) determining what agreement on facts can buy us.

On your questions about consciousness, I have a few thoughts.

On (1): My first thought is that consciousness *may* be one of those issues that must forever remain speculative. The principles of argument and theory-selection I defend merely hold that where there *are* virtually universally recognized facts, argument and theory-construction should be tied to them. When it comes to consciousness, if some of us believe that physicalism cannot be the whole story, it may be legitimate for us to continue to engage in speculative argument as to why we think it isn't. But, the point is, in that case we should recognize that the domain of inquiry is far more speculative than other areas of philosophy that can be firmly grounded in empirical science (such as, in my view, practical and moral philosophy, philosophy of language, etc.).

Another thought on (1): It *may* be that there are virtually universal observational data viz. consciousness. First, just about everyone (besides Dennett, perhaps) agrees that there are qualitative features of the world (yellow, red, etc.). If it turns out, as Russell and others (myself included) have pointed out, that (A) science is inherently structural, dealing merely with relations between things, and (B) there must be categorical properties (viz. Kantian noumena) to stand in those structural relations, there may well be virtually universal observational grounds for thinking that consciousness, by its very nature, is beyond the scope of science. This general pattern of argument seems to explain why the mind-body problem has appealed to so many people for millennia. Second, it may well turn out that the best comprehensive theory of reality--one based on principles 1-7--implies the existence of things in a higher reference frame inaccessible to us except through first-personal experience. For instance, I have argued in several places (http://philpapers.org/rec/ARVANT-2, http://philpapers.org/rec/ARVTPS ) that a variety of observations (viz. quantum mechanics, relativity, the mind-body problem) may be best explained by the theory that we are living in a peer-to-peer networked computer simulation. I have argued that this hypothesis makes some unique predictions which, if verified, would suggest that "consciousness" is indeed something in a higher-reference frame that must, in one way or other, must remain beyond our capacity for explanation (since we only experience it in our reference frame). Anyway, this is only one possibility--but it is, I think, a promising way to push debate on the mind-body problem forward using hard, verifiable data rather than intuitions or a priori argument.

On (2): That's an open question. In my book, I argue that the rapidly emerging science of planning and moral cognition indicates that prudence and morality are both a matter of mental time-travel and modal imagination--and that morality and prudence both emerge from motivational interests we have in our *own* possible future selves (and various things they might care about, both egoistically and altruistically--much of which may be psychologically out of our control, as we may be *programmed* to have sympathy with other beings that we cannot simply overcome). Of course, the theory I develop may be incorrect, but the point is this: it may turn out that the best theory of morality based on the science of moral cognition does not require consciousness to be "real." It's an open question!


It's not that I think your position overstates the value of agreeing on certain facts *in a particular way*. You say that this methodology would be "a method for (A) determining which positions are unsupported by firm evidence, and (B) determining what agreement on facts can buy us" as if we aren't already in a position to make judgments on those questions. But think of philosophy of physics. That's a field with about as much agreement on the relevant empirical data as one could imagine achieving, but that anyway seems to face many of the same philosophical problems/challenges that other sub-fields do. Unless the idea is to simply reduce philosophy to psychology, I don't see why agreeing on certain facts -- and doing I'm not sure what with factual questions that can't be easily probed via experiment -- would substantially change the landscape.

As far as the rhetoric is concerned what you are putting forward in this and some previous posts is a sort of meta-philosophical position but one that's painted as more of a "look, this is just how things work, look at psychology" position. Similar "just put on your big boy pants and do science!" rhetoric accompanied logical positivism and algorithmic approach to philosophy of cognition starting in the 60s. Those movements had a lot of value (and the latter continues to today) but also their own excesses. The mere fact that some investigative approach worked well (or at least better) in some particular science is not particularly strong evidence.

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