Monday, August 31, 2009

Lycan on Materialism and Dualism

William Lycan is a materialist philosopher, i.e. he rejects the dualist view that there are two fundamental essences to reality - matter and mind. He believes that matter is all there is and that mind is just a word we use to describe the functioning of the brain.

Nevertheless, in an upcoming paper he acknowledges that, though it pains him to say it, materialism is little more than a prejudice. The arguments for materialism, he notes, are no better than the arguments for dualism:

I mean to have shown here that although Cartesian dualism faces some serious objections, that does not distinguish it from other philosophical theories, and the objections are not an order of magnitude worse than those confronting materialism in particular. There remain the implausibilities required by the Cartesian view; but bare claim of implausibility is not argument. Nor have we seen any good argument for materialism. The dialectical upshot is that, on points, and going just by actual arguments as opposed to appeals to decency and what good guys believe, materialism is not significantly better supported than dualism.

Yet, I am inclined to believe, the charge of implausibility is not irrational or arational either, and I would not want this paper to turn anyone dualist. Have a nice day.

In the paper Lycan observes that the strongest argument against dualism is the incomprehensibility of two fundamentally disparate substances, mind and matter, interacting in the brain to produce mental phenomena. It's hard to imagine how an immaterial substance like mind could act causally on matter. Lycan doesn't think that this is much of an objection because we scarcely understand causality in the first place.

Another problem that the materialist has if he's going to cite "interactionism" as an objection to dualism is that materialists have long believed themselves that disparate entities could interact even though their interaction was incomprehensible. How, for example, does space generate quantum particles? Indeed, how does matter bend space? Whatever one's conception of space it's very difficult to conceive how such things happen. If a materialist, nevertheless, believes they do, as everyone since Einstein does, then it seems a case of special pleading to exclude mind/brain interaction on the grounds that we have no theory to explain how it could occur.

HT: Uncommon Descent


Teen Employment at Record Low

In a development which was thoroughly predictable by anyone who has thought about it fewer youth were employed in July than in any July since 1948:

The Labor Department said 4.4 million youths were unemployed in July 2009, or about 1 million more than in July 2008, putting the youth jobless rate at 18.5 percent, about double the overall national percentage. Fewer young people were even trying to be part of the labor force this year than in recent years, perhaps choosing summer school, odd jobs around the house or idleness instead.

Two factors are surely responsible for this: The first is the tight economy and the second is the recent increase in the minimum wage. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air focuses on the latter:

Since 2007, Democrats have led the charge to increase the minimum wage in the US, claiming that the poor hadn't gotten a fair shake from employers. Nancy Pelosi and the late Ted Kennedy pushed hardest for mandating increases in wages despite warnings that the net effect would be to lower employment for teens and entry-level workers while creating inflationary pressures on prices, negating the gains through loss of buying power. For the second year in a row, those predictions have come true.

It is a simple matter of common sense that if employers are required to pay their workers more money they'll try to get by with fewer workers, especially in a recession. Those lucky enough to find a job will perhaps benefit from the higher wage but millions of others will get left out. Moreover, the higher wage rate usually results in higher prices which reduces everyone's real income.

Raising the minimum wage is a lousy idea, as it increases both unemployment and inflation, but Democrats push it because it makes them popular with people who don't really think about, or care about, the hidden consequences of such measures.


Whitaker Chambers, We Need You

The Obama State Department is moving toward cutting off all aid to the country of Honduras because, they say, the Honduran military has executed a coup and deposed the elected president. This is nonsense. The Supreme Court of Honduras ruled that Manuel Zelaya should be removed from office, the legislature concurred and the military was employed to carry out the will of these two civilian branches of the Honduran government.

Zelaya had violated the constitution by calling for a referendum on whether he should be allowed to remain president when his term expired. The law calls for the immediate removal from office of a president who did what Zelaya had done and the Supreme Court ruled that the law should be carried out.

Zelaya was an anti-American leftist disciple of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and as such the American reaction to his ouster is very unsettling. Rather than looking for reasons to punish the Honduran government and the poverty-stricken Honduran people by cutting off aid, one would think that the State Department would be bending over backwards to find reasons to affirm what Honduras did.

Exit questions: Would the Obama administration cut off aid to a Latin American country which deposed a right-wing president who was seeking to secure himself in office indefinitely and aggrandize his power? Would the State Department be demanding that the right-winger be returned to office? Take as much time as you like to formulate your answers.