Thinking For A Living: A Philosopher’s Notebook 2 — When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster.

By Robert Hanna

“Diogenes Sheltering in His Barrel,” by John William Waterhouse

30. When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster. Someone, somewhere, once wrote that a super-short but accurate synopsis of Embodied Minds in Action,[1] aka EMA is

I rather like that.

Indeed, there’s definitely something to this micro-synopsis, methodologically speaking, in that EMA fully fuses thoroughly non-reductive existential-phenomenological methods with formally rigorous methods of contemporary Analytic modal metaphysics.

31. Nevertheless someone else, somewhere else, wrote that he literally didn’t understand a word of EMA, because it was too Kantian.

My micro-synopsis of that so-called review is

— He’d probably read only the back flyleaf, where it says I’d already published some books on Kant, and then decided he could “refute” EMA by guilt-by-association.

32. But over and above sheer anti-Kantian dogmatism and prejudice, and in order to be extra-charitable, one could, I suppose, from a mainstream Analytic point of view, be officially “surprised” that Maiese and I creatively re-work and re-deploy the notorious notion of synthetic a priori necessity in order to characterize the relation between basic mental properties and basic physical properties of living organisms like us.

Our specific claim is that the mental-physical relation is a synthetic a priori two-way necessary complementarity, that is, a mental–>physical and physical–>mental necessary equivalence based on the manifest essence of minded animals like us.

In short, we’re essentially embodied minds.

33. Hence Maiese and I called this The Essential Embodiment Theory.

It’s a specially restricted version of “dual-aspectism.

For other dual aspect theories, think about Spinoza’s theological monism (in The Ethics), Russell’s neutral monism (in The Analysis of Mind and The Analysis of Matter), or Whitehead’s universal panpsychist organicism (in Process and Reality).

Unlike Whitehead’s universal panpsychist organicism, however, The Essential Embodiment Theory isn’t pan-experientialism, which says that everything in the world is somehow minded.

That means that even Dale’s Pale Ale and the cans that contain it are somehow minded, which is, as much as I like Dale’s Pale and those nice red, white, and blue cans, well, clearly an excessively strong metaphysical thesis.

Nevertheless The Essential Embodiment Theory does, in a specially restricted way, share some of the metaphysical benefits of pan-experientialism — namely, that in all and only suitably complex kinds of organismic living creatures and their life-processes, causally efficacious mental and physical properties are related by synthetic a priori two-way necessary complementarity.

Or in other words: all and only everything in the world that is the right kind of organismic living critter and its life-process, is minded.

So it’s a specially restricted version of psycho-organicism.

34. Here’s a relevant sidebar note on the provenance of EMA.

I wrote my MA thesis on Whitehead’s metaphysics, and was a Whiteheadian true believer for several years. I even bought myself a first edition copy of Process and Reality for more money than I had that month for groceries.

So EMA could also have been micro-synopsized as

— Which sounds like a flick directed by Roger Corman.

35. More specifically, however, The Essential Embodiment Theory says

(i) that minds like ours are necessarily and completely embodied,

(ii) that minds like ours are complex global dynamic structures of our living organismic bodies, aka forms of life,

(iii) that minds like ours are therefore inherently alive,

(iv) that minds like ours are therefore inherently causally efficacious, just like all forms of organismic life, and

(v) that minds like ours emerge over time and in space in all and only certain kinds of living organisms, aka minded animals.

36. Almost ten years after EMA’s publication, I know it’s probably futile and even quixotic — but let me try yet again to say, as clearly and distinctly as I can, why The Essential Embodiment Theory provides a truly revolutionary approach to the mind-body problem, including the problem of mental causation.

37. I’ll start with a very quick review.

Minds like ours are inherently capable of

(i) consciousness, that is, subjective experience, and

(ii) intentionality, that is, directedness to all kinds of things as their cognitive, desiderative, emotional, etc., targets.

And the two fundamental problems in the philosophy of mind are these:

The mind-body problem: what accounts for the existence and specific character of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?

The problem of mental causation: what accounts for the causal efficacy and causal relevance of minds like ours in a physical world?

38. OK. ‘Nuff said by way of review.

Here are seven reasons why The Essential Embodiment Theory, aka The EET, is truly revolutionary.

39. First, The EET fully avoids reducing the mental to the physical, aka reductive physicalism.

Reductive physicalism, presenting itself via the sheep’s clothing of the mind-body identity theory or the logical supervenience of the mental on the physical, de facto simply eliminates the mental.

But as Galen Strawson never tires of (correctly) pointing out, what could be more epistemically primitive than our subjective experience of ourselves as minds, and correspondingly, what then could be more metaphysically/ontologically primitive than the fact of the mental quâ mental?

40. Second, The EET fully avoids making the mental naturally or nomologically supervenient on the physical, aka non-reductive physicalism.

Reductive physicalism entails epiphenomenalism, hence it robs the mental of all its efficacious causal power.

It’s no solution to say that, from a non-reductive physicalist point of view, the mental can still have causal relevance: the mental has got to have efficacious causal powers, not merely an important informational bearing on causal processes.

41. Third, The EET fully avoids reducing the physical to the mental, aka subjective idealism.

Subjective idealism makes nature’s existence radically dependent on the existence of individual minds.

It’s not only highly implausible, but also downright bordering on bonkers, to hold that physical nature came into existence only after there were any minded animals.

For, since animals are parts of physical nature, it would follow that animals came into existence only after there were minded animals. Huh?

And it’s equally highly implausible, again downright bordering on bonkers, that if all individual minds were to perish, physical nature would go out of existence too.

For in that case, since all animals die, and in most cases after animals die, their corpses continue to exist for a while, it would follow that necessarily, the last minded animal would have no corpse. Huh?

42. Fourth, The EET fully avoids making the mental and the physical either essentially or even logically independent of one another, aka substance dualism or property dualism.

Any form of dualism makes it impossible to explain how the mental and the physical causally interact without appealing to some sort of metaphysical mystery: for example, Descartes’s God, Leibniz’s divine pre-established harmony, an ectoplasmic medium, etc. etc.

43. Fifth, The EET fully avoids over-restricting mentality to the brain, aka the brain-bounded mind.

44. Sixth, The EET fully avoids over-extending the mental beyond the living animal body, aka the extended mind.

45. Seventh, The EET provides adequate metaphysical foundations for a robust metaphysics of free will and personhood, [2] a robust non-consequentialist ethics[3] and a radically enlightened politics.[4]

46. Eighth, and perhaps most importantly, building on the sixth and seventh points, The EET is an approach to the mind-body problem, including the problem of mental causation, that is perfectly scaled to the nature, scope, and limits of our “human, all too human” existence in a thoroughly nonideal natural and social world.

Brain-boundedness falls short of the human condition: it makes us much less than we manifestly are.

(To put it expletively: I’m not nothing but my fucking brain, as causally important as it obviously is.)

The extended mind exceeds the human condition: it makes us more than we manifestly are.

(Again expletively: I’m not also my fucking smart phone or any other piece(s) of extra-bodily technology, as causally and/or culturally important as they obviously are.)

Only the essential embodiment of the mind adequately captures and reflects the human condition: it tells us exactly what we manifestly are.

For I just am my minded animal body and its “human, all too human” life, for better or worse.

47. In short, The Essential Embodiment Theory answers perfectly to Socrates’s classical thesis that the ultimate aim of philosophy is to “know thyself.”

So, When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster, a good time was had by all.

NOTES

[1] R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009).

[2] See, e.g., R. Hanna, The Rational Human Condition 3, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (Academia.edu, 2018).

[3] See, e.g., R. Hanna, The Rational Human Condition 4, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy (Academia.edu, 2018).

[4] See, e.g., R. Hanna, The Rational Human Condition 5, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism (Academia.edu, 2018).

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