Posts Tagged ‘mind’


Given that it is Spinoza season here at the Mod Squad, Lewis suggested that I might also announce the publication of my book, The Spiritual Automaton: Spinoza’s Science of the Mind, out now with Oxford. For those who might be interested, below is an abstract and table of contents.

Eugene Marshall presents an original, systematic account of Spinoza’s philosophy of mind, in which the mind is presented as an affective mechanism, one that, when rational, behaves as a spiritual automaton. The central feature of the account is a novel concept of consciousness, one that identifies consciousness with affectivity, a property of an idea paradigmatically but not exhaustively instantiated by those modes of thought Spinoza calls affects. Inadequate and adequate ideas come to consciousness, and thus impact our well-being and establish or disturb our happiness, only insofar as they become affects and, thus, conscious. And ideas become affects by entering into appropriate causal relations with the other ideas that constitute a mind. Furthermore, the topic of consciousness in Spinoza provides an eminently well-placed point of entry into his system, because it flows directly out of his central metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological commitments—and it does so in a way that allows us to see Spinoza’s philosophy as a systematic whole. Further, doing so provides a thoroughly consistent yet novel way of thinking about central themes in his thought. Marshall’s reading provides a novel understanding of adequacy, innateness, power, activity and passivity, the affects, the conatus, bondage, freedom, the illusion of free will, akrasia, blessedness, salvation, and the eternity of the soul. In short, by explaining the affective mechanisms of consciousness in Spinoza, The Spiritual Automaton illuminates Spinoza’s systematic philosophical and ethical project as a whole, as well as in its details, in a striking new way.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction (more…)


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Locke famously defines judgment, knowledge, etc., in terms of the joining or separating of ideas. It is quite probable that Locke’s source for this is the Port-Royal Logic. There are two well-known problems with this view. First, according to this view in order to think that Peter is not living I must mentally separate the idea of Peter from the idea of living, but if I do that then its not clear how this judgment, that Peter is not living, can be a unit which can be, for instance, embedded in complex sentences. Locke makes matters worse by talking about the joining and separating of verbal signs. Taken literally, this ought to have the consequence that ‘Peter ………………………………….. living’ means ‘Peter is not living,’ since the signs are so far apart. Obviously he can’t mean anything so ridiculous as that, but he doesn’t really tell us what he does mean.

The second problem is that it seems, on this view, that the proposition is the same as the act of judging (affirming or denying) and so one cannot entertain a proposition without either affirming or denying it. This is especially a problem given the theory of language in Locke and the Port-Royalists: a sentence is conceived as a sort of recipe for constructing a certain complex mental state. In successful communication, the speaker translates her mental state into words according to the linguistic conventions, and the hearer then ‘decodes’ the words and reconstructs the mental state. But it seems to follow that you can’t understand someone without believing him, and that’s surely wrong.

I want to suggest, briefly, that the Port-Royalists can answer these objections. The first problem is actually quite simple, and here Locke may simply be less than explicit because most of his audience had read the Logic. In their treatment of judgment, the Port-Royalists sound most like Locke when they write, “After conceiving things by our ideas, we compare these ideas and, finding that some belong together and others do not, we unite or separate them. This is called affirming or denying, and in general judging” (Buroker, p. 82). However, when they first introduce judging as one of “four principal operations of the mind,” they define it as “the action in which the mind, bringing together different ideas, affirms of one that it is the other, or denies of one that it is the other. This occurs when, for example, having the idea of the earth and the idea of round, I affirm or deny that the earth is round’ (Buroker, p. 23). Here it is said that in both affirmation and denial the subject idea and the predicate idea are ‘brought together.’ Also, affirmation and denial are clearly not being explained or analyzed in terms of uniting or separating. In fact, the Port-Royalists take these ‘principal operations’ as primitive and known by introspection. What we should really understand them as claiming is that affirming involves thinking of the ideas as united (or: as going together), and denying involves thinking of the ideas as separated (or: as not going together). Thus the mental act, thinking of the idea of Peter and the idea of living as not going together does form a unit that can be embedded in larger complexes, although the idea of Peter and the idea of living are in some sense ‘separated in thought’ by the act. They are separated in thought only in the sense of being thought of as separated.

In the case of this first problem, I think this is probably what Locke intended as well. However, it’s not clear to me that Locke is even aware of the second problem or has any inkling of an answer. The answer is found mostly in the Port-Royal Grammar, which Locke may never have read, rather than the Logic which he seems to have studied carefully. The long and short of it is that affirmation and denial are not the only mental operations for putting ideas together. In particular, according to the Grammar, there are different mental operations which can be signified by different moods of the verb, or by specialized particles, depending on the language. So, for instance, the Grammar mentions the Latin particle ‘utinam’, the French idiom ‘plut a Dieu’ and the Greek optative mood as signifying wishing, and imperatives and so forth as signifying various stronger dispositions of the will toward the connection of the ideas (Rieux and Rollins, pp. 137-138). The subjunctive is treated as signifying ‘modified affirmations,’ such as those that occur in conditionals (Rieux and Rollins, p. 136). Now the Port-Royalists treat the antecedent of a conditional as a sort of supposition from which we reason (Buroker, pp. 99-101), and the fact that the antecedent is merely supposed is what is (sometimes, in some languages) being explicitly flagged by the subjunctive mood of the verb. Sometimes the subjunctive can play the same role standing alone, as in the Greek deliberative subjunctive (the Port-Royalists don’t mention this example).

In other words, the long and short of it is, I think, that for the Port-Royalists thinking of two ideas as perhaps going together, is a different mental operation upon them than either affirmation or denial, and this is what goes on when we merely entertain a proposition. Indeed, just such a thing also happens, according to the Port-Royalists, in certain subordinate clauses. For instance, they say that in the sentence ‘people who are pious are charitable,’ “the mind judges that the idea ‘pious’ is not incompatible with the idea ‘people,’ and so we can consider them as joined together and then examine what belongs to them as unified” (Buroker, p. 90). In other words, we first have a modified affirmation, something like, ‘perhaps some people are pious,’ and then we affirm (simply) of those (hypothetical) people that they are (would be) charitable.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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In several place, most notably Alciphron 7, Berkeley seems to think that the meanings of many, if not all, terms are given by the rules for correctly applying them. He doesn’t seem to mean the conditions under which they are true. Rather, he seems to mean the rules actual speakers apply in deciding to use the word. We’re not talking about mere disquotation; we have to give conditions that speakers can actually use when deciding whether to utter sentences. So, to use one of Berkeley’s favorite examples, the meaning of the symbol ‘i‘ in algebra is given by the formula i^2=-1. Similarly, it seems to me, the meaning of ‘force’ in Newtonian physics is given by the inference rules which allow us to derive theorems about force.

Now consider the predicate ‘true’. Surely the rule for applying this predicate is just the disquotation schema:

p‘ is true iff p

(Pretend there are corner quotes around each side of the iff.) The view that the disquotation schema is just all there is to be said about truth is called the deflationary theory of truth, and was endorsed by a number of 20th century thinkers. Would Berkeley endorse that view? I think he’s under at least a little bit of pressure to do so, in virtue of his general views about language, especially since ‘true’ clearly doesn’t stand for an idea. However, here’s a reason for thinking he shouldn’t be a deflationist. In his notebooks, Berkeley flirted with a proto-Humean bundle theory of the self. In later entries he decisively rejects this view, and in the Principles he is at pains to secure the claim that there is, in addition to our perceptions, a thing which perceives. Part of the case he has to make is that the word ‘spirit’ is meaningful despite not standing for any idea, and he does so, I think, by examining the ‘notion’ of perception. This is a notion of a two place relation, so we get the perceiver almost for free: nothing can be a perception unless something perceives it. Now, it’s clear that we can use the word ‘perceive’ (or some other similar sign) in this way if we want, and this will allow us to associate fairly well-defined assertability conditions with sentences containing ‘spirit’ or ‘self’. However, it seems that we could just as easily adopt a different notion of perception which did not require perceptions to have perceivers, and we could have well-defined assertability conditions for this as well. If the deflationary theory of truth is correct, then it is not clear what it could mean to say that one of these notions was the right one and the other was wrong. In other words, this would make Berkeley’s rejection of the bundle theory of the self simply a decision to adopt one ‘language-game’ rather than another. Personally, I don’t think the good Bishop would be at all pleased with this result.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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