What did Leibniz have to contribute to the philosophy of mind? To judge from textbooks in the philosophy of mind, and even Leibniz commentaries, the answer is: not much. That may be because Leibniz’s philosophy of mind looks roughly like a Cartesian philosophy of mind. Like Descartes and his followers, Leibniz claims that the mind is immaterial and immortal; that it is a thinking thing ; that it is a different kind of thing from body and obeys its own laws; (...) and that it comes stocked with innate truth-tracking intellectual ideas and an epistemically troubling habit of forming confused sensory ideas on the occasion of external corporeal events. Nothing is new. Of course, Leibniz adds unconscious perceptions to the mind in the form of his famous petites perceptions, and he offers a unique solution to the problem of mind-body interaction in the form of his infamous pre-established harmony. In the overall scheme of things, however, these look like minor alterations in a philosophy of mind that the Cartesians had been advocating for some fifty years. Or so it appears. (shrink)
Descartes revolutionized our conception of the mind by identifying consciousness as the mark of the mental: all and only thoughts are conscious. Today the idea that all thoughts are conscious seems obviously wrong. Worse, however, Descartes himself seems to posit a whole host of unconscious thoughts. Something is not as it seems. Either Descartes is remarkably inconsistent, or his claim that all thought is conscious is more nuanced than it appears. In this paper I argue that while Descartes was indeed (...) unwavering in his commitment to the conscious mark, he had the resources to distinguish different types and degrees of consciousness that make for a richer cognitive psychology than he is typically credited with. (shrink)
Descartes is often thought to bifurcate sensory experience into two distinct cognitive components: the sensing of secondary qualities and the more or less intellectual perceiving of primary qualities. A closer examination of his analysis of sensory perception in the Sixth Replies and his treatment of sensory processing in the Dioptrics and Treatise on Man teIls a different story. I argue that Descartes offers a unified cognitive account of sensory experience according to which the senses and intellect operate together to produce (...) a fundamentally imagistic representation of the world in both its primary and secondary quality aspects. At stake here is not only our understanding of the cognitive structure of sensory experience but the relation of sense and intellect more generally in the Cartesian mind. The deep bifurcation in the Cartesian mind is not between the sensory perception of primary and secondary qualities but between sensory perception and purely intellectual perception. (shrink)
The particular design of any technology may have profound social implications. Computing technologies are deeply intermeshed with the activities of daily life, playing an ever more central role in how we work, learn, communicate, socialize, and participate in government. Despite the many ways they have improved life, they cannot be regarded as unambiguously beneficial or even value-neutral. Recent experience shows they can lead to unintended but harmful consequences. Some technologies are thought to threaten democracy through the spread of propaganda on (...) online social networks, or to threaten privacy through the aggregation of datasets that include increasingly personal information, or to threaten justice when machine learning is used in such high-stakes, decision-making contexts as loan application reviews, employment procedures, or parole hearings. It is insufficient to ethically assess technology after it has produced negative social impacts, as has happened, for example, with facial recognition software that discriminates against people of color and with self-driving cars that are unable to cope with pedestrians who jay-walk. Developers of new technologies should aim to identify potential harmful consequences early in the design process and take steps to eliminate or mitigate them. This task is not easy. Designers will often have to negotiate among competing values—for instance, between efficiency and accessibility for a diverse user population, or between maximizing benefits and avoiding harm. There is no simple recipe for identifying and solving ethical problems. -/- Computer science education can help meet these challenges by making ethical reasoning about computing technologies a central element in the curriculum. Students can learn to think not only about what technology they could create, but also whether they should create that technology. Learning to reason this way requires courses unlike those currently standard in computer science curricula. A range of university courses on topics in areas of computing, ethics, society and public policy are emerging to meet this need. Some cover computer science broadly, while others focus on specific problems like privacy and security; typically, these classes exist as stand-alone courses in the computer science curriculum. Others have integrated ethics into the teaching of introductory courses on programming, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction. (shrink)
Descartes’ mind-body dualism and his quest for objective knowledge can appear de-humanizing. My aim in this paper is to re-humanize Descartes. When we take a closer look at what Descartes actually says about human beings, it casts his entire thought in a much different light.
This volume of fourteen essays commemorating the 350th anniversary of the publication of Descartes’s Meditations represents several current trends in Descartes scholarship. Among the essays there are close textual analyses, discussions of the scholastic Aristotelian influence on Descartes, and an emphasis on metaphysical topics rather than the epistemological ones that dominated the Anglo-American literature twenty years ago. The volume bears the mark of being a collection of conference papers in its breadth of topics and methodological styles, but it serves well (...) as a measure of the times for the history of philosophy, as I will explain below. (shrink)
It is no surprise that the phenomenal qualities of our sensory experience pose recalcitrant philosophical problems for a physical materialist metaphysics. The colors of flowers as we experience them by sight, the taste of a ripe peach, and the smell of fresh-cut grass are undeniably part of the experienced world; yet in their phenomenal mode, they do not seem well-placed in the physicist's world of particles and energy fields. It seems, prima facie, that the metaphysical programs found in earlier science (...) and philosophy were better suited to accommodate these qualities: in the hylomorphic world of the Aristotelians, colors were "real qualities" existing as such in flowers; in the dualistic world of Descartes, colors were displaced from things like flowers to the immaterial mind of the perceiver. The dissertation argues that this intuition about our philosophical heritage is both philosophically confused and historically inaccurate. It betrays a misconception about phenomenal qualities and the problems they pose which results from a failure to distinguish phenomenal qualities from a special subset of sensible qualities that we have come to call "secondary" qualities. Disentangled from the primary-secondary quality distinction, phenomenal qualities include all sensible qualities insofar as they form the experiential contents of our sensory perceptions. So considered, phenomenal qualities invite difficult questions about the representational nature and ontological status of our sensory experience even within the Aristotelian and Cartesian metaphysics. By examining Descartes' and the Aristotelians' theories of sense perception with a focus on these questions we achieve a better understanding of "the problem" of phenomenal qualities, better interpretations of these historical theories of sense perception, and suggestions for reshaping the problem space within which we think philosophically about phenomenal qualities today. (shrink)