From PhilPapers forum Philosophy of Mind:

2009-05-23
The 'Explanatory Gap'
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Stevan,

SH:  “I'll settle for your solution to the simple problem of how and why feeling (rather than just functing) is a way of knowing -- as soon as you explain it...”

Your repeated "how/why" questions presuppose the very distinction which is in question here, namely that between feeling and functing.  Until this distinction is clarified, we will remain at an impasse.

I am not persuaded by your sentio or your claim that "feeling something" is an uncomplemented category.  As far as I can tell, your feeling/functing distinction is incoherent (as I will explain in the rest of this post).  It undermines any possible discussion of feelings.  For if feelings have no causal efficacy, they do not make a difference to anything, including the conclusions we draw in our discourse on feelings.  So why do we have words for them? 

Your view makes all talk of feelings superfluous, including the claim that there is a feeling/functing distinction.  This is why I said that, in your view,  the existence of feelings could not be a motivating factor for your position here.  The existence of feelings could not support the conclusions you wish to draw.  Why postulate them?


No Uncomplemented Categories

SH:  “I do not see that anything I have said has anything to do with grammar!”

When I mentioned "grammar" in my previous post, I was using it in the Wittgensteinian sense, which is not purely syntactical.)  The notion of "what it is like to be a bachelor" does not pick out any particular feel or category.  To answer the quesiton, a bachelor (who has never been married) might evaluate those aspects of his life which seem to be dependent on his not being married.  He might thus say, “being a bachelor is okay.  I only have to worry about myself.  I can do what I want.  Etc.”  None of that suggests any uncomplemented categories.  And it does not suggest that his conception of being a bachelor somehow preceeded his answer to your question.

There is no reason to think that being a bachelor has a uniquely identifiable feel which is only positively sampled by all bachelors.  On the contrary, there is good reason why we shouldn’t think there is anything in particular it is like to be a bachelor.  Generally speaking, there is nothing it is like to not have a third arm, and nothing it is like to not have four arms, and nothing it is like to not have a slightly worn edition of A Tale of Two Cities.  If we admitted all of these “what it is likes” into our experiential set, then each person would have to “sample” (to use your word) an infinite number of feels before they could know what it is like to feel anything at all.

With the category of "feeling something," we are similarly dealing with a family resemblance concept.  There is no "invariant feeling" running through all feelings.

To complement the category of feeling something, we don’t need to know what it feels like to feel nothing at all.  Rather, we must simply have the category of not feeling anything.  And we have that category. 

As far as I know, rocks do not feel anything.  I can regard entities as not having any feelings.  I can distinguish between something which feels and something which does not feel.

This can be explained in the same way that the generic category of “feeling something” is explained.  We have positive and negative categories for feelings.  Some feelings are categorizable as “not feeling boredom” and others as “not tasting mustard.”  I can thus form the categories of “not feeling this” and “not feeling that,” and I can further abstract and form the category, “not feeling anything”.  This is exactly what we do when we abstract from “feeling this” and “feeling that” to “feeling something.”  So why talk about uncomplemented categories here?

Despite your assertion to the contrary, we do not know “what it feels like to feel anything at all, be it headache or toothache.”  “Anything at all” does not pick out any particular experience.  There is nothing it is like to feel anything at all.

The abstract category of “feeling something” does not feel like something in general; rather, it feels like a particular concept.  Similarly, the category of “feeling nothing at all” does not feel like nothing at all.  We do not feel what it feels like to feel something in general, just as we do not feel what it feels like to feel nothing at all.  We feel what it feels like to think about feeling something, of course, but we also feel what it feels like to think about feeling nothing.  There is no lack of complement here.

The Sentio vs. The Cogito 

SH: “Descartes put it in an awkward way. It sounds as if the Cogito ergo sum proves more: as if it proved that  an ‘I’ exists.”

But that was the whole point.  Why claim that this is putting “it” awkwardly?  What is “it” here?  Descartes' explicit claim was that the cogito established to himself that he existed, and that he was “a substance whose essence, or nature, was nothing but thought” (Discourse On Method, Part 4.)  His conclusion was explicitly dualistic: His soul was res cogitans; his body was res extensa.  And from there, he went on to prove the goodness of God and, only then, the trustworthiness of mathematics.  According to Descartes, there was no certainty before the cogito, not even the certainty we associate with logical and mathematical judgments.

You claim that, because the cogito is merely a tautology, it needs to be reformulated so that we can better understand its significance:  that it indicates something unique about feelings; specifically, that we have some peculiar access to the feeling of feelings.  Yet, tou misrepresent the cogito as “I am thinking, therefore I am thinking.”  That is obviously a tautology, but it is not the cogito.  The cogito is not a tautology, but an inference following modus ponens.  (If I am thinking, then I exist.  I am thinking, therefore I exist.)  You misrepresent it as "I am thinking, therefore I am thinking."  And you claim your sentio improves on this, because it reveals something about the nature of feelings.  I do not see how this is so.  For one thing, your "I feel, therefore feeling is felt" is not a valid inference, because there is no feeling of feeling.  So, rather than improve upon the cogito, it seems to only confuse matters.

Wittgenstein:  “It may easily look as if every doubt merely revealed an existing gap in the foundations; so that secure understanding is only possible if we first doubt everything that can be doubted, and then removed all these doubts.”  (Philosophical Investigations, section 87)

The cogito is a valid inference.  I do not question that.  I only question its philosophical importance.  More specifically, I reject the claim that it indicates or establishes a special kind of knowledge which you call “Cartesian certainty.”  And I reject Descartes’ views that it establishes mind/body dualism and provides a foundation for all our knowledge.

Wittgenstein’s point is that there is no gapless foundation to be revealed, because the foundations are not there ahead of time, waiting to be discovered.  We may doubt as far as want, but this will only lead us to exhaustion. Foundations are to be built, not uncovered.  We could thus say that Descartes was working in the wrong direction.

The cogito only serves as a reminder that the sentence "I do not exist" is not a valid proposition in our language.  It is a reminder of the rules of our grammar, and not a foundation for knowledge. 

Descartes point was that his mind was distinct from his body, because he could doubt the latter but not the former.  But how could one doubt that one had a body?  Just try—in a real case, with discernible consequences—try to doubt that you have a body.  What could such “doubt” consist in, if not just the words, repeated either to yourself or out loud:  “I don’t have a body . . . I am just a mind?” 

Those are empty words, no different than, “I don’t have a mind . . . I am just a body.”  Repeating them does not constitute doubt, because these words have no discernable consequences.  They are insignificant.  It would make as much sense to say, “all logic is invalid . . . there are no valid inferences,” or perhaps, “there are no thoughts, only words; no feelings, only functions.”  Such mantras are not to be taken seriously.

A Word About Some Theistic Arguments

SH:  “Theistic??? I have inferred (by abstracting the common invariant across many postings) that NA has some sort of thing about "analytic philosophers." Do you perhaps have some sort of bugaboo too -- with "theists"?”

I think you misunderstood my point.  I was not accusing you of being theistic, nor was I making a point about theists or theistic arguments in general.  I only pointed out that your argument resembles some unconvincing theistic arguments. 

This is a point worthy of some reflection.  While the theistic arguments I’m talking about are varied, they all proceed roughly as follows:  God’s existence is self-evident by the very fact of knowledge.  Therefore, a person who claims that God does not exist is begging the question against theism and is denying their own knowledge.  (You can produce variations on this argument by substituting “truth,” “value,” “morality,” or “meaning” for “knowledge.”)

This argument is meant to show that theism is not only valid, but a necessary presupposition of any system of values or knowledge.  Do you find the argument compelling?

I don’t, because it presupposes that the term “God” has a well-defined meaning, and that the theistic presupposition is coherent. 

Your argument for a functing/feeling dichotomy is similar.  You claim that the unique status of feelings (be it epistemic or ontological or both) is self-evident, and that it is self-evident by the very fact of feeling.  You defend this notion by accusing those who reject it of begging the question and denying their knowledge of feelings. 

How is your argument different from those theistic arguments?


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