Presentation at Reading, Jan. 2013

Presentation at Reading, Jan. 2013

2010年10月24日 星期日


David Chalmers, a highly systematic philosopher, recently compiled his works concerning consciousness into a huge book. By huge here I mean around 600 pages. It can be roughly divided into the problems, the science, the metaphysics, the concepts, the contents, and the unity of consciousness. It is hard to imagine that in this era a single philosopher can manage to cover all these grounds, especially given that he also has big theories in semantics and metaphysics.

I am lucky enough to have a chance to write a review for this "monsterpiece" (Bill Lycan uses this term to describe Making It Explicit), though the journal is far from first-rate. But it is good enough for me at this stage. My tentative plan is to situate the book into larger contexts: the first will be the relations between mind, language, and metaphysics, and the second will be the debate between empiricists and rationalists.

Chalmers has developed a sophisticated version of two-dimensional semantics since more than a decade ago, and he systematically applies it to his views on consciousness and metaphysics. This is extraordinary. He sometimes postulates a third kind of content, for example the Edenic content in perception. This is related to his commitment of "semantic pluralism."

I think it is even more interesting if we place Chalmers into the empiricist-rationalist debate. This debate has lasted for several centuries, so it is impossible to do justice to all aspects of it when talking about it, but roughly, we can say that typical rationalists defend innateness in mind, analyticity in language, necessity in metaphysics, and apriority in epistemology. Empiricists tend to deny one or more of them. Representatives for this debate in the twentieth century are Quine (empiricist) and Kripke (rationalist). In the long run, it seems that it is Kripke who wins the game: in particular, his revival of modality animates tons of projects in later analytic philosophy. Contemporary rationalists, including Brandom, Peacocke, and many others, have successfully and fruitfully developed their projects based on modality. Now I propose that Chalmers is one among them. He is often classified as a philosopher of mind specializing in consciousness, but I think this conception of his projects is far too narrow. I think a correct conception of his projects is to view him as a rationalist, who theorizes about modality and related notions, with an emphasis on issues concerning consciousness.

Do I believe in rationalism broadly construed? I don't know. This question is too big for someone like me to answer. All I can say is that to understand more about the empiricist-rationalist debate will be my main life project. In the past few years, I was educated in the empiricist tradition: I started with Quine, and spent some time on Davidson, and ended up writing a long thesis on McDowell. For now, I am still a minimal empiricist. However, in the course of this education, I have been thinking about whether we can really do without necessity and apriority, or even analyticity. Now I am in the East Coast, and here is definitely rationalistic, at least by my own judgment (and contemporary empiricism is pretty weak anyway; Davidson attempts to kill empiricism in his dismantling of scheme-content dualism, and though McDowell insists on empiricism, he is too often to be dismissed by the main stream analytic philosophy). I treasure this environment, since it forces me to take rationalists more seriously: in the past, I did not dismiss them (I am not that arrogant), but I simply did not have a chance to study them more. Now I am able to do that. The first step is to study Chalmers more, and I do so by forcing myself with a deadline: a deadline for the review.