Analytic Philosophy, Rational Anthropology, and The Epigenetic Model of the Mind.

By Robert Hanna

“Kant’s Epigenetic Model of the Rational Human Mind” (Hanna, 2014: p. 12)

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Analytic Philosophy, Rational Anthropology, and The Epigenetic Model of the Mind

In recent work, I’ve thoroughly criticized Analytic philosophy, and especially what I call post-classical Analytic philosophy — that is, the (mostly) Anglo-American tradition of Analytic philosophy from 1950 to the present — but also the (mostly) Anglo-European tradition of Analytic philosophy from the 1880s until 1950, classical Analytic philosophy (Hanna, 2021a, 2022a: sections II-IV).

And, since 2001 I’ve also presented and defended a view that I call rational anthropology, not only as a serious alternative to classical and post-classical Analytic philosophy alike, but also as the overall best candidate for being the philosophy of the future: the historico-philosophical successor to the 140-year old Analytic tradition, when post-classical Analytic philosophy — together with its all-purpose Other, so-called “Continental philosophy” — finally goes down into the ash-heap of history (Hanna and Paans, 2020, 2021, 2022; Hanna, 2001: pp. 281–285, 2015, 2017, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d, 2021a, 2022b, 2022f).

But precisely how and why is rational anthropology so very different from and so rationally superior to Analytic philosophy?

In order to answer that question in a compact way, in this essay I want briefly (i) to compare and contrast Analytic philosophy — especially post-classical Analytic philosophy — and rational anthropology, by listing their basic doctrines and highlighting their principal differences, and, equally briefly, also (ii) to present and strongly recommend rational anthropology’s basic model of the rational human mind, the epigenetic model.

Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, generally speaking — so, I’m explicitly allowing for some exceptions here-&-there, as minor anomalies within the overall sweep of the Analytic tradition — is basically committed to the following doctrines.

First, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to the rejection of idealism, especially including Kant’s transcendental idealism and Hegel’s absolute idealism, and correspondingly, to anti-Kantianism and to anti-Hegelianism (see, e.g., Hanna, 2001: section 2.3).

The Analytic tradition inherited this basic commitment from its early 20th century revolutionary rejections of German neo-Kantianism and British neo-Hegelianism.

Then these rejections, originally issued as burning, stirring philosophical calls-to-arms for the new modernist generation of anti-Victorian, platonistically-minded, logically-minded, mathematically-minded, or natural-scientifically-minded young Turks, like early G.E. Moore, early Bertrand Russell, early Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Frank Ramsey (see, e.g., Hanna, 2021a: chs. I-VIII), hardened into core dogmas, and as such, etched in philosophical stone, have survived for more than a century now, transmitted through the blanket rejection of so-called “Continental philosophy,” from the 1980s onwards, which includes Kantian philosophy, Hegelian philosophy, classical Marxian/Marxist philosophy, German neo-Kantianism, British neo-Hegelianism, Bergsonian and Whiteheadian process philosophy, Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology, Camus-style and Sartrean existentialism, French post-structuralism, neo-Marxist Frankfurt School critical theory, post-modernism especially including Rorty’s controversial version of Deweyan pragmatism — and also, in effect, every other non-Analytic kind of philosophy under the sun (see, e.g., Hanna, 2021a: ch. XVII, 2022a: section II).

Second, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to modal monism: namely, the thesis that there’s one and only one kind of necessary truth (see, e.g., Hanna, 2001: ch. 3, 2015: ch. 4).

In classical Analytic philosophy, the one and only kind of necessary truth was held to be analytically necessary truth, but this part of the doctrine was undermined by W.V.O. Quine’s devastatingly influential critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction in his 1951 essay, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” and in some thematically closely-related earlier and later essays (Quine, 1961, 1976b, 1976c); nevertheless, the modal monist commitment persists, usually under the rubric of “conceptual or logical necessity” (see, e.g., Chalmers, 1996: section 2.4).

Third, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to the mechanistic worldview, including the Standard Models of cosmology (i.e., Einsteinian general relativity) and particle physics (Bohrian atomic theory and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics), the block universe and time-symmetry, the Conservation Laws and the 1st and 2nd Laws of thermodynamics, hence the ubiquitous and unceasing increase of entropy from the Big Bang unto the heat-death of the universe in an equilibrium state, and the in-principle Turing-computability of all basic material or physical quantities (see, e.g., Kim, 2005: ch. 6; Hanna, 2018b: ch. 2, 2022b: esp. chs. 1–2 and 4).

Fourth, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to scientism, that is, the valorization of the epistemic methods and results of the formal sciences, especially including logic, mathematics, and computational science, and of the natural sciences, especially including evolutionary biology and physics (see, e.g., Sellars, 1963; Haack, 2017).

Fifth, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to materialism or physicalism, either reductive or non-reductive, about human consciousness, intentionality, and rationality, which says that the conscious, intentional, and rational human mind is logically or nomologically supervenient on fundamentally physical facts or properties (see, e.g., Chalmers, 1996: chs. 1–4; Kim, 2005, 2011: chs. 3–6).

Sixth, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to ethical or moral naturalism, which says that all normativity, and especially all ethical or moral normativity (the “ought”) is logically or nomologically supervenient on purely natural facts or properties (the “is”), which, in turn, are logically or nomologically supervenient on fundamentally physical facts or properties (Lutz and Lenman, 2021; see also Hanna, 2018c: section 1.5, 2022d).

Seventh, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to conceptualism about representational content, which says that all representational content is exclusively and strictly determined by our conceptual, discursive capacities (see, e.g., Dummett, 1993; McDowell, 1994, 2009).

Eighth and finally, Analytic philosophy, especially including post-classical Analytic philosophy, is basically committed to the computational-functionalist model of rational human thinking, which says that all rational human thoughts and thinking are strictly determined by Turing-computable algorithms that, in turn, are realized in the human brain by formal systems of causal input-output mappings to and from the human brain, which, again in turn, can also be realized by real-world digital computers, thereby producing artificial intelligence (see, e.g., Block, 1980: part 3; Kim, 2011: ch. 6).

Now, by a point-by-point set of diametric contrasts with Analytic philosophy, rational anthropology is basically committed to the following doctrines.

First, rational anthropology is basically committed to weak transcendental idealism, which says says that (i) necessarily, the basic metaphysical and ontological structures of the manifestly real world conform to the basic innate structures of our rational human cognitive and practical capacities, especially including our sensible capacities for first-order consciousness, affect or emotion (including desire, feeling, and passion), sense-perception, memory, and imagination, and also our discursive capacities for conceptualization, thinking, self-consciousness, and rationality, (ii) necessarily, if the manifestly real world exists, then if sensible, discursive, conscious, and self-conscious rational human cognizers were to exist, they would be able to cognize that world veridically to some salient extent, which in turn is fully consistent with sensible, discursive, conscious, and self-conscious rational human cognizers not actually existing at any given time, and (iii) the existence of the manifestly real world necessitates the real possibility of sensible, discursive, conscious, and self-conscious rational human cognizers, but not their actual existence at any given time (Hanna, 2015: section 7.3, 2022b: section 4.4).

Second, rational anthropology is basically committed to apriorist modal dualism, which says that there are two irreducibly different kinds of necessary truth: analytic and synthetic a priori (Hanna, 2001: chs. 3–5, 2015: ch. 4).

Third, rational anthropology is basically committed to the neo-organicist worldview, which says (i) that everything in nature is fundamentally processual, purposive, and self-organizing, and essentially centered on (ia) the organism and (ib) the metaphysical continuity between mind and organismic life, especially as represented in the non-Standard models of cosmology and particle physics provided by (ic) Prigogine-style non-equilibrium thermodynamics (id) Bohmian quantum mechanics, and by the cosmological-topological model of (ie) what I call the rubber-sheet cosmos, and (ii) that all mechanical facts, properties, and systems are essentially abstractions from, and logically or nomologically strongly supervene on, fundamentally organic facts, properties, and systems (Bohm, 1952; Bohm and Hiley, 1975; Prigogine, 1997; Goldstein, 2017; Torday, Miller Jr, and Hanna, 2020; and Hanna, 2022b: esp. chs. 2 and 4).

Fourth, rational anthropology is basically committed not only to the rejection of scientism, but also to the affirmation of all the formal and natural sciences precisely insofar as theyfully bear witness to their own inherent limits, by means of what I call creative piety, and thereby fully conform to the neo-organicist worldview (Hanna and Paans, 2022; Hanna, 2022b).

Fifth, rational anthropology is basically committed to the rejection of materialism or physicalism, whether reductive or non-reductive, as well as to the equal and opposite rejection of dualism, whether ontological dualism or property dualism, by virtue of its affirmation of the essential embodiment theory, which asserts not only (i) the irreducibility of human consciousness, cognition or intentionality, self-consciousness, and rationality, but also (ii) their necessary and complete embodiment in appropriately complex living human organisms, precisely insofar as (iii) they’re nothing more and nothing less than the causally efficacious global dynamic immanent forms or structures of those very organisms (Hanna and Maiese, 2009; Hanna, 2011).

Sixth, rational anthropology is basically committed to ethical or moral anti-naturalism, but without platonism (Hanna, 2018c: esp. chs. 1–2, 2022c, 2022d).

Seventh, rational anthropology is basically committed to essentialist content non-conceptualism about representational content, together with the theory of thought-shapers, which conjunctively say (i) that not all representational content is strictly determined by our conceptual capacities, (ii) that some representational content is strictly determined by our non-conceptual capacities, (iii) that this content is essentially distinct from conceptual content, (iv) that this essentially non-conceptual content can also inherently combine with conceptual content in order to form the propositional content of thoughts, and (v) that in so doing, essentially non-conceptual content shapes those thoughts by partially causally determining, forming, and normatively guiding those thoughts and human thinking more generally (Hanna, 2015: ch. 2, 2021b; Hanna and Paans, 2021).

Eighth, finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this essay, rational anthropology is basically committed to the epigenetic model of rational human thinking.

So, what do I mean by that?

The doctrine of epigenesis (as opposed to the doctrine of preformationism[1]) says (i) that all organic development occurs by uncomputable increases in the complexity of formal or structural organization of organic systems over time, and (ii) that in order to account for this fact, it’s necessary to postulate the existence of an initially undeveloped yet innately specified proto-state of each organic system — for example, an embryo or seed — such that in this proto-state there’s an inherent potentiality or power spontaneously to operate in such a way as to generate irreducibly novel forms and structures, both inside itself (endogenously) and also outside itself (exogenously) in its local environment, in response to various environmental causal inputs, stimuli, and contextual conditions, that’s inherently and self-regulatively aimed at some overall guiding goal or purpose: for example, homeostatic self-maintenance, or survival (see, e.g., Mason, chs. 30–32; Weber, 2018).

Generalized to the rational human mind, the epigenetic model of rational human thinking proposed by rational anthropology says that the basic cognitive and practical activities and products of the environmentally-triggered and context-sensitive spontaneously generative operations of the innately specified proto-state of the essentially embodied rational human mind are irreducibly creative and uncomputable, not merely recursive and computable, and that therefore they cannot be realized by digital computers, although the epigenetic rational human mind is also capable, in a non-basic way, of generating recursive computable activity and products as well, under certain special conditions and restrictions (Hanna and Paans, 2022; Hanna, 2022e).

Otherwise and more simply put, the epigenetic model of the rational human mind says that essentially embodied rational human minds are inherently capable, by means of their cognitive and practical activities, of generating, applying, and following irreducibly new rules, even, and especially, over transfinite, non-recursive domains, not merely of following Turing-computable algorithms that operate recursively over finite or infinite only-denumerable domains: so, rational human animals are a-priori-rule-creating organisms.

Or, most simply put: our minds are not machines, they’re forms of life.

Moreover, there are three strong arguments in favor of the epigenetic model of the rational human mind, from (i) the hierarchy of increasingly rich formal systems, from (ii) the overall best approach to the logocentric predicament, and from (iii) the overall best approach to what I call the axiocentric predicament (Hanna, 2006a, 2006b, 2022c, 2022d, 2022e).

Now, supposing all that to be the case, then why did and does the Analytic tradition consistently ignore, overlook, or even outright reject the epigenetic model of the rational human mind?

This is a hard question, because in fact, epigenetic approaches to rational human thinking are at the very least implicit and arguably clearly present in the highly important and influential formal-scientific doctrines that have been forwarded by Cantorian set theory (Cantor, 1891, 2019; Hallett, 1984), Gödel’s incompleteness theorems (Gödel, 1967), Brouwerian intuitionism in mathematics (Brouwer, 1981, 1999), and in the Von Humboldt-inspired aspects of Chomsky’s psycholinguistics (Von Humboldt, 1988; Chomsky, 1988).

Nevertheless, at the same time, there were, and are, very strong ideological pressures within the Analytic tradition to ignore, overlook, and even outright reject these epigenetic approaches.

More precisely, I think that consistently ignoring, overlooking, and even outright rejecting epigenetic approaches to rational human thinking has existed within the classical Analytic tradition, and still continues to exist within the post-classical Analytic tradition, triply because of (i) the ideological grip of the project of logicism — i.e., the project of the explanatory and ontological reduction of mathematics to logic — even long after the logicist project was dead in the water by the mid-1930s (Hanna, 2021a: ch. X), together with (ii) the ideological dominance of behaviorism in psychology from the 1930s forward until the Cognitivist revolution from the 1970s and 80s into the 21st century (see, e.g., Block, 1980: part 1; Kim, 2011: ch. 3), which was and is itself ideologically dominated by computational-functionalist neuroscience — which, really, is just behaviorism computerized and moved inside the skull — even despite strong epigeneticist strands in Chomsky’s own views — together with (iii) endemic ideological anti-Kantianism, since Kant’s own view of the rational human mind is epigenetic to the core (Mensch, 2013: pp. 80–83, 2021; Hanna, 2014, 2019, 2020).

If that’s correct, then the historical fact that Analytic philosophy always did and still does ignore, overlook, and even outright reject epigenetic approaches to rational human thinking, is simply overdetermined by an ideological triple whammy: alas.

But, to conclude on a more upbeat note, when post-classical Analytic philosophy finally does go down into the ash-heap of history — perhaps, within the next twenty years — then its computational-functionalist model of rational human thinking will naturally go down with it too, and then the epigenetic model of the rational human mind presented and defended by rational anthropology will finally secure its rightful philosophical place in the sun.

— ’Tis a consummation devoutly — and indeed rationally and anthropologically — to be wished.[ii]

NOTES

[i] The doctrine of preformationism says that all organic systems are formally or structurally complete in their original state, and develop only by the computable and naturally mechanical addition of bulk over time.

[ii] I’m grateful to Scott Heftler for thought-provoking conversations on and around the topics of this essay.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.