Monday, February 12, 2007

Eliminative Materialism

The work of Paul and Patricia Churchland is described in an interesting article in the Feb. 12 issue of The New Yorker (the article by Larissa MacFarquhar isn't available online) in which the neurophilosopher couple describe an approach to the philosophy of mind which asserts that there is good reason to discard most of the psychological concepts which have made it into our contemporary vocabulary.

"Gradually, Pat and Paul arrived at various shared notions about what philosophy was and ought to be. They agreed that it should not keep itself pure: a philosphy that confined itself to logical truths, seeing itself as a kind of mathematics of language, had sealed itself inside a futile, circular system of self-reference. Why shouldn't philosophy concern itself with facts? Why shouldn't it get involved with the uncertain conjectures of science? Who cared whether the abstract concepts of action or freedom made sense or not? Surely it was more interesting to think about what caused us to act, and what made us less or more free to do so? Yes, those sounded more like scientific questions than like philosophical ones, but that was only because, over the years, philosophy had ceded so much of the interesting territory to science. Why shouldn't philosophy be in the business of getting at the truth of things?"