|Minds, Bats and Dualism: Robert McLaughlin|
7th November, 2013: Minds, Bats and Nagel's Dualism
Robert McLaughlin introduced us Thomas Nagel and his thesis “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” .But is he right?
Philosophy of Mind: Two Problems
Two traditional problems in the philosophy of mind are the Mind-Body Problem and the Other Minds Problem. The first is a problem of metaphysics — it concerns the nature of mentality, especially consciousness; and the relations between this and material things, especially bodies. The second is a problem of epistemology — it has to do with what can be known, and how it can come to be known, about mentality, especially consciousness — in and by oneself, and in and by others. In this talk, inspired by Thomas Nagel’s famous (or infamous) paper, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” [Philosophical Review, 83(4):435-450, 1974], I want to offer some reflections on these problems, and to suggest ways in which Nagel has conflated them. I’ll draw primarily on Nagel’s essay, and I acknowledge insights from the materialist philosopher Paul Churchland. Other sources include Frank Jackson, Daniel Dennett and P.M.S. Hacker.
Dualist vs. Anti-Dualist Accounts
The 17th Century philosopher Descartes, often called the ‘father of modern philosophy’, presented a dualist picture of ‘the mind’ in relation to ‘the body’. On this view, bodily or material substance was spatially extended, and the material world was an enormous machine. In stark contrast to this, the metaphysically distinct realm of minds or mental substance was immaterial, and free from the constraints of determinism. Minds for Descartes were essentially thinking things, where ‘thinking’ can be understood broadly to embrace a wide range of conscious mental activities, although oriented toward knowing or cognition. Other features of the Cartesian view of minds were: they are knowable only by introspection; they are unique to humans (non-human animals are just machines); they are causally efficacious — mental events, such as ‘acts of will’, can cause physical events; and conversely — Descartes urged a causal interactionism between the mental and the material.
Critics of Descartes focused on his claim that minds and bodies could causally interact, given that they are metaphysically distinct from one another — not merely physically different. He himself was well aware of this difficulty, but he never managed to make sense of the notion of a causal relation between the material and the immaterial — despite his otherwise interesting speculations about the role of the pineal gland as the locus of the imagined interaction.
There have been various non-dualist accounts of minds and bodies, and the relations between them; in particular materialism, in one form or another, has considerable currency nowadays. The general theme of materialism is that there is only one metaphysical category of existence, namely that of material entities — the furniture of the natural world, as described in the terms of physical science. There is no additional sphere of the supernatural, spiritual or mental. In their various ways, philosophers such as Jack Smart, David Armstrong, Paul Churchland have proposed to reduce or eliminate the dualist accounts, including the dualisms embodied in everyday ‘folk psychology’, in favor of a physicalist conceptual scheme. This program exemplifies a reductionist approach to mentality, including consciousness.
One opponent of reductionism is the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who challenges any attempt to give an account of consciousness in terms of purely physical events and processes. Nagel argues that there is something about the subjective character of conscious experience which cannot be reduced to an objective description in the terms of physical science — such as neurological, anatomical and other physical accounts of the brain.
According to Nagel, the character of consciousness is directly linked to subjective experience or indeed to subjectivity. Reductionist programs thus attempt to reduce the subjective to the objective, and this attempt is doomed to fail by its very nature.
In developing his notion of subjectivity, Nagel introduces the odd-sounding phrase, ‘what it is like to be’ something: “… the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism.” [p. 519] Again: “… fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something it is like to be that organism — something it is like for the organism.” [ibid.] In a footnote [#6, p. 526] he re-phrases this: “… ‘what it is like’ is misleading. It does not mean ‘what (in our experience) it resembles,’ but rather ‘how it is for the subject himself.’ ”
He goes on: “We may call this the subjective character of experience. It is not captured by any of the … recently devised reductive analyses of the mental, for all of them are logically compatible with its absence.” [ibid.] This notion of ‘the subjective character of experience’ has been referred to in the literature by various other terms, notably qualia (plural of quale).
Later in his paper [p. 522] Nagel remarks: “…if the facts of experience [my emphasis] — facts about what it is like for the experiencing organism — are accessible only from one point of view [namely, the subject’s], then it is a mystery how the true character of experiences could be revealed in the physical operation of that organism.”
Nagel, then, is proposing a kind of dualist view of consciousness which sets it irreducibly apart from the physical world, as described by physical science — including neurology, physiology and other physical accounts of the brain. He is saying that there are two kinds of facts, namely: ‘subjective’ facts, or ‘facts of experience’ or ‘facts about what it is like [for a subject] to be [or to experience] something’; and ‘objective facts’. Subjective facts are accessible only to the subject of the experience [shades of Descartes!] — only he or she can know such facts, can know ‘what it is like to be [or to be experiencing]’ whatever he or she is [or is experiencing]. Objective facts are accessible to a great variety of subjects — they are the familiar facts with which science deals, including facts about tables, chairs, atoms, molecules, bodies, brains — the facts which make up the knowledge-bases of such sciences as physics, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and the like.
Nagel’s title-question, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, embodies the phrase ‘what is it like to be’; and he remarks that he has chosen a bat in particular because its sensory equipment is very different from that of humans. Much of its sensory information comes to it through a form of sonar or echolocation — it emits high-pitched shrieks, and these sounds bounce off objects in its vicinity, including small insects, and return to the bat’s ears, informing it of the presence of these objects. Thus, it might be said, it is very difficult — maybe impossible — for a human, lacking anything like this sense, to know ‘what it is like to be a bat’. This ‘subjective fact’ about the bat’s sensory experience, says Nagel, cannot be reduced to any collection of objective facts, about, for example, the bat’s physiology, neurology, etc. We could give a full description of the physical mechanisms and processes involved in the bat’s sonar sense, but this description would still ‘leave something out’ — namely, ‘what it is like to be a bat’. Since any possible physical description would fail to include the latter ‘fact’, such ‘facts’ — ‘facts of experience’ or ‘subjective facts’ — cannot be reducible to the physical. In a word, the ‘subjective’ cannot be reduced to the ‘objective’.
I hope this is a fair rendering of Nagel’s argument strategy. Let me now offer some comments on it.
My Comments on Nagel
The question: ‘What is it like to be … ?”
We often ask such questions as: “What is it like to be a dentist, or an admiral, etc.?”. Frequently we try to imagine ourselves in various roles and circumstances. But Nagel’s question, while superficially similar to this, is in fact profoundly different. There is nothing it is, or could be, like for me to be a bat; the best I can imagine is some kind of hybrid, my mind in a bat’s body, say — but such a hybrid is clearly not a bat! In any case, Nagel makes it clear that he is asking something quite different, namely what it is like for a bat to be a bat.
[Incidentally, this construal by Nagel of the original question reveals that the marked difference between bat and human sensory equipment and function is in fact not relevant to the argument. He is actually asking a general question: what is it like for any particular conscious thing to be that conscious thing? So his focus on bat consciousness simply serves to distract us from what he is trying to do!]
At the outset, we may wonder whether Nagel’s question — now re-stated as ‘What is it like for a bat to be a bat?’ — is merely a pseudo-question. One way of distinguishing a genuine question from a pseudo-question is to ask: ‘What could possibly count as an answer to this question?’ Or: ‘What kind of answer could there possibly be to this question?’ If you can’t imagine what could constitute a candidate-answer to the question, this may well suggest that it is a pseudo-question — an empty string of words in the grammatical form of a question. (Rather than that, perhaps, your imaginative powers are too limited!)
Questions rest on assumptions; if the assumption is false, the question is unanswerable. Recall the old chestnut: “Have you stopped beating your spouse?” The assumption here is that, at some past time at least, you did beat your spouse. If that assumption is false, then neither a ‘Yes’ nor a ‘No’ answer to the question will be literally true.
Now Nagel’s question — ‘What is it like for a bat to be a bat?’ — assumes that there is something it is like for a bat to be a bat, or more generally, as noted above, there is something it is like for any conscious thing to be that conscious thing. In his essay, as far as I can see, Nagel makes no attempt to defend that assumption — he portrays it as self-evident.
Further, this is a very odd way of stating the matter: ‘there is something it is like to be …’ This phrase has the semblance of an existential claim — it purports to affirm the existence of some particular state of affairs. Then it equates that state of affairs with the having of some conscious experience. Yet the state of affairs in question is a very strange one: it is inaccessible to any other conscious entities. We are accustomed to thinking of states of affairs as objective — by which is meant, at least, that they are in principle accessible to all sentient things. Yet the state of affairs envisaged by Nagel’s phrase ‘there is something it is like to be…’ turns out not to be objective in this key sense; rather, he tells us, it is a ‘subjective’ state of affairs. So I ask initially: could there be any such? Given the ordinary meaning of ‘state of affairs’, is a ‘subjective state of affairs’ logically possible?
Another way of expressing my disquiet is: Does Nagel beg the question by his very formulation of it? Does his phrase ‘there is something [my emphasis] it is like to be …’ imply or assume the existence of a ‘subjective state of affairs’, which is, by definition, non-objective, and so not reducible to any objective state of affairs? It is the very possibility of the existence of a ‘subjective state of affairs’ which is at issue here.
Indeed, Nagel himself makes a telling admission, when he remarks: “Facts about what it is like to be an X are very peculiar, so peculiar that some may be inclined to doubt their reality, or the significance of claims about them.” [p. 520]
Nagel takes it as given that bats (and many other living things) do have conscious experiences, and further he claims that “we believe that these experiences also have in each case a specific subjective character, which it is beyond our ability to conceive.” [p. 521] But do we believe this, as he avers? And if we do, are we justified in believing it? Is this a version of the Other Minds Problem? How could we know that bats have mentality or consciousness, at least to some degree? A common answer relies on analogies between behavioral and neurological — that is, physical — features of bats and of oneself (whom we know to be conscious). If (as Nagel contends) the only way that consciousness can be known is by the subject him/herself, then this answer to the Other Minds Problem in not available, and Nagel’s assumption that many organisms [including other humans!] do have conscious experiences is groundless!
This insight can be put in terms of viewpoints or perspectives (to which I’ll return shortly). Nagel insists that consciousness can be known only from a first-person or internal viewpoint — the viewpoint of the subject alone. So third-person or external viewpoints, providing information on observed behavior, for example, can provide NO knowledge of consciousness, in oneself or in anyone else. The analogical inference, based on observed behaviors, to the existence of other minds is not available, on Nagel’s account. Hence one can never know any other minds at all. For all one can know, other living things (humans, bats etc.) are zombies — and there is nothing it is like to be a zombie!
At several points, Nagel repeats the key phrase ‘subjective character of experience’. What’s the significance of ‘subjective’ here? It seems clear that all experiences must be ‘owned’ or ‘had’ by some experiencer — some ‘subject’, if you will. Does this term attest to something singular, personal, particular about experiences? In fact, ‘subjective’ here seems superfluous; I don’t know what could be meant by ‘objective experiences’.
Ironically, Nagel seems to concede this when he says: “It is difficult to understand what could be meant by the objective character of an experience…” [p. 523]. True. But in turn this implies that it is correspondingly odd to speak of the subjective character of an experience! Why not simply speak of experiences? By insinuating the term ‘subjective’ at various points of his narrative, Nagel in fact begs his own question [again!].
So far I’ve gone along with Nagel’s use of the noun ‘experience’. Now I want to suggest that the use of this noun is misleading, as suggesting some kind of entity, a special kind of thing which one somehow owns [one has ‘experiences’]. As some philosophers [e.g. Paul Churchland] have pointed out, our everyday language, the language of ‘folk psychology’, embodies many questionable philosophical commitments — in particular, it is dualistic through and through.
I want to try a different formulation, using a verb instead of a noun: ‘What is it for me to experience a red ball, or a hot iron, or …?’ Notice that this formulation makes no mention of ‘like’. Then one might suggest an answer of this kind: ‘For me to experience a red ball etc.… is for me to be in such-and-such a state.’
[Typically but not invariably, my being in that state will be causally linked to the presence of a red ball etc. in my visual field.]
We may then ask: ‘How might my being in such-and-such a state come to be known?’ But that question is incomplete as it stands. We need to specify, ‘known by whom? By me? Or by someone else?’ Here some philosophers would draw a careful distinction between ‘knowledge by acquaintance’ (directly, immediately) and ‘knowledge by description’ (indirectly, inferentially, etc.). It might be the case that my being in such-and-such a state can come to be known by me as a result of ‘direct’ acquaintance or introspection, whereas the same fact — my being in such and such a state — can come to be known by someone else as a result of an ‘indirect’ process, i.e. by description or inference.
Example: Smith is angry. If Smith reflects on how he feels, he may well realize that he is angry — he may become aware of heightened excitation, frustration, and so forth. His friend Jones, observing him from a safe distance, notices that Smith’s face is flushed, his voice has become loud, he is gesticulating wildly, he is employing more expletives than usual, and so on; Jones judges that Smith is angry. Furthermore, a neurophysiologist Brown, equipped with a battery of appropriate instruments, might well identify Smith’s brain state as being what is usually found in someone who, according to other (e.g. behavioral, introspective) criteria, is angry. Here we have three perspectives or viewpoints on Smith’s state [three “ways of coming to know” it] — Smith’s internal or ‘first-person’ perspective, Jones’ external or ‘third-person’ perspective, and the neurophysiologist’s perspective, which is also ‘third-person’. There is no suggestion here that three different states are being observed. There is only one state, observed from three different perspectives.
In the above example, we may call the internal perspective ‘subjective’. Now in one sense, it might be argued that any perspective is ‘subjective’, in that it is the perspective or viewpoint of a subject, an observer. However, in the present context we can distinguish between the perspective of the ‘owner’ or subject of a particular experiential state, and the perspective of an ‘outside observer’ of that state. Then we may call this latter, external perspective ‘objective’ in relation to the subject (‘owner’) of the state. Given this usage, we can say that in our example above Smith has a ‘subjective’ perspective on his anger, while the observer Jones, and the neurophysiologist Brown, have ‘objective’ (and different) perspectives on Smith’s anger. It’s important to emphasize that these adjectives, ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’, no longer refer to different kinds of things or states, let alone different facts, but merely to different perspectives or viewpoints. Notice also that we have moved from a metaphysical to an epistemological account of the matter.
As I would put it, a particular state of a person or subject (a human, or a bat) is not to be called a ‘subjective state’; if you wish, call it ‘the subject’s state’. Similarly, the subject’s being in that state is not a ‘subjective fact’. It is simply a fact, like any other fact — in this case, a fact about the subject.
A state of a subject may be observed by that subject from a first-person perspective [or what Churchland calls an ‘auto-connected’ way of coming to know] — a ‘subjective’ perspective, if you like, although it would be less misleading simply to call it ‘the subject’s perspective’. The same state of the subject may be observed by someone else from a third-person perspective [or ‘hetero-connected’ way of coming to know] — an ‘objective’ or ‘outside observer’s’ perspective . In short, the adjectives ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’, properly understood, do not apply to facts, states or other items of knowledge. If we wish to use such terms, we may apply them to viewpoints or perspectives — although in this context we might prefer to avoid these terms, and simply to speak of ‘first-person’ and ‘third-person’ perspectives.
Nagel discusses perspectives and viewpoints at some length; and he slips from the legitimate idea of subjective and objective perspectives to the illicit notion of subjective and objective facts. Ironically, the interesting features of his perspectivist epistemology can be deployed to criticize his ‘subjectivist’ account of consciousness — as we’ve just seen!
Slippage between epistemology and metaphysics
Nagel’s essay raises, and confuses, two distinct issues: one epistemological [a version of the Other Minds Problem]; the other metaphysical [a version of the Mind-Body Problem]. A big part of the difficulty in dealing with Nagel is untangling his discussion of these two issues. His title-question, “What is it like to be a bat?”, introduces a form of the Other Minds Problem — that is, an epistemological question — about whether and how and by whom a conscious state can come to be known. But his aim, revealed by his use of such phrases as ‘subjective experiences’ and ‘subjective facts’, is to defend a metaphysical thesis, namely anti-physicalism. I’ve tried to show how Nagel slides illicitly from faulty epistemology to bad metaphysics.
If the foregoing analysis is correct, Nagel’s attempt to refute all reductive materialist programs, by couching the Mind-Body Problem in terms of the subjective/objective dualism, fails.
Let me close by quoting the concluding lines of a paper by P.M.S. Hacking entitled “Is There Anything It is Like to Be a Bat?”, in which he too analyses what Nagel has called ‘the qualitative character of experience’, or what others have labeled ‘qualia’. In Hacking’s words,
“None of this is mysterious, surprising or baffling. Nor is it the key to unlocking the mysteries of consciousness. For there are no mysteries — only empirical ignorance and conceptual mystification. Disentangling one of the roots of the conceptual confusions that conjure qualia into being is a first step towards the demystification of consciousness.”
Churchland, P. (1996) The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul , MIT Press, pp. 195ff.
Dennett, D. (1993) Consciousness Explained London: Penguin Books
Hacker, P.M.S. “Is There Anything it is Like to Be a Bat?” [to be sourced]
Jackson, F. (1982) “Epiphenomenal Qualia” Philosophical Quarterly,
Nagel, T. (1974) “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review,
83:435-450. Reprinted in N. Block, O. Flanagan & G. Güzeldere, The Nature of Consciousness Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997. Page numbers refer to the latter.
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[His perspectivism, including the contrast between first-person (‘subjective’) and third-person (‘objective’) perspectives, is an epistemological theory.]
Re the OM Problem, Dennett [p. 444] raises the interesting possibility that bats might be zombies!
See also Dennett’s discussion of qualia, ibid. Chap. 12.
Consider a particular bat, called George. Nagel’s question, tightened up, would be: “What is it like, right here and now, for George to be George?” Nagel wants to say, I take it, that there is indeed an answer to this question — but that only George can ever know it. This is what makes the answer, and the fact expressed by the answer, not only unique but ‘subjective’ — a ‘subjective’ fact. [It is irrelevant that George the bat lacks the power of speech, etc. Exactly the same point applies in the case of a human subject.] In contrast, a question like, ‘What is George doing now?’ might well be answered by: ‘George is now echolocating nearby moths.’ Such a statement can be known to any observer in appropriate circumstances; we would call it an ‘objective’ fact. This seems to be how Nagel gets his ‘subjective/objective’ dualism going
Now a materialist might well insist on re-casting Nagel’s question from the outset, by asking something like: ‘What state is George in, right here and now?’ The materialist answer would be: ‘George is [in the state of] echolocating nearby moths right here and now.’ The materialist would go on to remark that George’s knowledge of, or cognitive access to, his state would be a result of ‘autoconnected causal pathways’ between requisite parts of George’s brain and sensory equipment, and in this straightforward sense would be unique, internal to George, or — if you like — ‘subjective’; that is, knowledge from the subject’s unique first-person viewpoint or perspective. An external observer would have a ‘heteroconnected causal pathway’ (involving light rays, high-frequency sounds, etc.) — that is, an ‘objective’ or third-person perspective on the same fact, namely George’s state here and now. Of course, that state might be described in a variety of ways: in terms of neurophysiology, or in terms of the George’s behaviours, or — had George the appropriate vocabulary and conceptual scheme — in phenomenal language. The key point is that it is one and the same state, which can be known in various ways or from various perspectives by George and by others, and can be depicted in various terms, again by George and by others.
The Mind/Body Problem: a metaphysical puzzle.
As traditionally understood, the Mind/Body Problem concerns the ways of existence of minds, or (more generally) mental entities, and of bodies, or (more generally) material entities, and the relations between the two. This is a metaphysical question. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions of existence, categories of being, and relations — notably causation — among these.
Nagel’s essay is complex and subtle, not to say slippery, but its intent is clear enough: his aim is to advance an argument against the possibility of reducing consciousness to the purely physical level; he wants to show that there is something about conscious experience which is irreducibly non-physical, inexplicable in terms of physical science.
[Incidentally, there also is no suggestion that any of these ‘ways of coming to know’ Smith’s state is incorrigible.]
[Here we must take care with our expressions: a state of a subject is not to be called a ‘subjective state’. It is precisely this kind of slippage that makes Nagel’s argument seem initially plausible.]
This, incidentally, is to accept Nagel’s perspectivism as a useful proposal in the theory of knowledge; but to reject his deployment of it here in the theory of mind.
See his Consciousness Explained, p. 441…
Furthermore, Descartes did not distinguish the mind from the soul, as theologically understood: the mind/soul was viewed as the core of individual identity — the self — and was viewed as immortal, unitary, changeless.
If only the subject can know his/her conscious states, then there is only one case — namely my own — where a direct comparison of inner state and outer behavior is available; so (as many philosophers have remarked) a simple argument from analogy to the existence of ‘other minds’ is very weak. But this is even more problematic in the case of non-human animals, like bats, where the behavioral similarities are few and strained. We are left with a weak analogical argument for consciousness in other humans [ignoring a Wittgensteinian (e.g. Norman Malcolm) objection even to this sort of analogy strategy], and virtually no argument at all for consciousness in non-humans.
All this follows from Nagel’s insistence that consciousness is knowable only by the subject.
Against this, if we allow multiple perspectives on the same state, then we can come to know consciousness in a variety of ways — none of them definitional or infallible, of course (although some perhaps criterial or normative). In this case, there is no need for the analogical argument to account for our knowledge of other minds.
In short, Nagel’s subjectivist account of consciousness only exacerbates the Other Minds problem; the opposing perspectivist approach solves it.
Faulty epistemology: A conscious state can be known in only one way, by only one knower — the subject.
Bad Metaphysics: A conscious state is a ‘subjective state’ which cannot be reduced to physical state(s).
To speak of ‘subjective experiences’, ‘subjective facts’ and ‘subjective states’ is (bad) metaphysics. To speak of ‘subjective’ (first person) and ‘objective’ (third person) perspectives or viewpoints is (interesting) epistemology. To conflate metaphysics and epistemology is to be mistaken.
Nagel does acknowledge that his title-question is not, “What is it, or would it be, like for me to be a bat?” — although he doesn’t admit that this would be an impossibility. Perhaps by some feat of imagination I could get some idea of what it would be like for me to have very poor vision and to perceive my surroundings by a form of sonar, etc. But at best that would be imagining myself as a hybrid, not a bat — as noted.
Nagel trades on the noun ‘experience’ throughout his discussion, and often attaches the (superfluous) adjective ‘subjective’ illicitly to it, as we have seen. Against these practices, I want to suggest that there are no such entities as ‘experiences’, and so in consequence that no adjectives, certainly not ‘subjective’, should be attached to the noun ‘experience’ or its plural. What we have, instead, are experiencers — humans, bats, &c — and these experiencers are in various states [sensory, emotional, etc.], which are in turn the effects of various causes, including causal chains both internal and external to them. In short, to ‘have a particular experience’ is to ‘be in a particular state’. These states can be observed from various viewpoints or perspectives under various conditions by various observers, and can be described in various terms. In some cases the state of the individual is observed by that individual as a consequence of ‘internal’ or auto-connected [Churchland] causal chains; in other cases the state of the individual is perceived by some other observer as a consequence of [mainly] ‘external’ or hetero-connected causal chains. In the former cases, we might say that the individual observes his/her state from a ‘subjective’ viewpoint; in the latter case, the other observer perceives that individual’s state from an ‘objective’ viewpoint. In both cases, it is the same state that is known. In no case is the state itself ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’ — it is just a state of an individual. Nor is there any ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’ fact to be known: there is a plain fact, of course — the fact that the individual is in that state.
A physicalist philosopher such as Paul Churchland would then go on to contend that a physical perspective could provide an account of a conscious state in, say, neurological terms — an ‘objective’ account; whereas the person who is ‘in’ that state might give an account in, say, phenomenological terms — a ‘subjective’ account. But both accounts would be of the same state.
If a reader is troubled by this usage of the ‘subjective/objective’ distinction, I’m happy to couch it in different terms. We could use the adjectives ‘intra-subjective’ and ‘inter-subjective’ to do the work of my ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ here. Then Smith has an ‘intra-subjective’ perspective on his own anger, what Churchland would call a ‘first-person’ perspective. In contrast, the perspective of the observer Jones upon Smith’s anger is ‘third-person’ or ‘inter-subjective’, which implies, inter alia, that any other sufficiently similar observer (human, normal vision and hearing, etc.) in comparable circumstances would be able to share, to a significant extent, Jones’ perspective or viewpoint on Smith’s anger.
[Thus there is nothing it is like for a stone to be a stone, since stones are not conscious.]
But of course a thorough-going resolution of the Mind-Body Problem may remain elusive.
Nagel’s essay raises, and confuses, two distinct issues: one metaphysical [a version of the Mind-Body Problem]; the other epistemological [a version of the Other Minds Problem]. A big part of the difficulty in dealing with Nagel is untangling his discussion of these two issues. In his title-question, “What is it like to be a bat?”, the phrase ‘to be’ suggests that he is raising a metaphysical question, a question about being. And his aim, by deploying his ‘what is it like to be?’ question, and by speaking of ‘subjective experiences’ and ‘subjective facts’, is to defend a metaphysical thesis, namely anti-physicalism. But his discussion reveals that the ‘what is it like to be?’ question is essentially a version of the Other Minds Problem, that is, an epistemological question, about whether and how and by whom a conscious state can come to be known. I’ve tried to show how Nagel slides illicitly from faulty epistemology to bad metaphysics.
I’ve tried to show how Nagel slides illicitly from faulty epistemology to bad metaphysics.