A critique of Paul Churchland's materialism, Part 2

A critique of Paul Churchland's materialism, Part 2

This is the second of four posts I’m planning to do on Paul Churchland’s arguments for materialism in Matter and Consciousness. I don’t think that Churchland’s arguments succeed and I hope to show that in these posts.

Although Churchland thinks that reality as a whole is material, in Matter and Consciousness he wants specifically to argue for a materialist concept of the mind or what we might call a “mental materialism.” Of course, Churchland wishes to distinguish his particular version of mental materialism from other mental materialisms. He dubs his version “eliminative materialism.” But as I said in the first post (back in November), this distinction is irrelevant to his case for mental materialism in general. As an eliminative mental materialist, Churchland disagrees with other mental materialists about the usefulness of folk psychology.  However, he agrees with them that the human mind is entirely material; it’s just the brain. And his arguments for this are what I’m interested in in these posts.

So, let’s look at the second argument. Like I said in the first post, Churchland’s arguments for materialism are arguments against mental dualism, the view that our mind is either wholly immaterial or partly immaterial. Churchland’s arguments, then, can be seen as aimed at proving that one of the alternatives of an exclusive disjunction is false, namely, the disjunction that says that some form of mental dualism is true.

Churchland’s second argument – which he calls an argument from the relative explanatory impotence of dualism – goes like this:

1. Neuroscience can tell us a lot about the brain and how it relates to our cognitive activities.

2. The dualist can tell us nothing about our cognitive activities because no detailed theory of the immaterial mind has ever been formulated.

3. If between two theories – let’s say Theories A and B – A can tell us what we want to know about something and B can’t, we should go with A and reject B.

4. We should go with neuroscience’s account of cognitive activity and reject dualist accounts.

The third premise is not expressly stated by Churchland but is clearly implied. It is also a true premise. And the first premise is also true. What can be said about the second premise? Not much other than that Churchland either doesn’t know the history of philosophy or that for some reason he chooses to ignore all the counterexamples it provides to his claim. Churchland makes it very easy for anyone to refute this second argument. You don’t need to prove that any dualists have a true theory of the mind only that they have a detailed one. So, take your pick: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Avicenna, Aquinas, Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz…

Defenders of Churchland might say that not all of these people that I have listed have a systematic account of an immaterial mind. My first response to that would be that systematicity is not what Churchland calls for. He asks for details, and all of the people I name give details. My second response would be to ask what is meant by “systematic” since each do, in some respect, offer a systematic account of an immaterial mind.

Now, if Churchland’s defenders want to push the question about the truth of these immaterialist accounts of mind, fine. But that isn’t the question raised by Churchland. Yet, it’s the salient question and in a debate between Churchland’s defenders and his immaterialist opponents it would have to be pursued in a non-question begging way.

So much for Churchland’s second argument.