PMN Chapter Two – Persons Without Minds

Rorty begins Chapter II with an imaginative account of the Antipodeans, a distant race that is like us in almost every way except that they are more advanced in neurology and they have no notion of the mind. Rorty wonders what would happen if we encountered such a race, and what we would have to say about them if we tried to apply the notions of contemporary philosophy of mind. Clearly, the Antipodeans are a vision of what discourse could be like on Earth once our neurobiology become sufficiently advanced.

The main way that the Antipodeans resist Terran philosophy is that they don’t understand the notion of an incorrigibly knowable entity. While they believe that persons can make incorrigible reports of how things seem to be, they don’t think that this report causally requires some sort of entity or special property. Contemporary dualists, on the other hand, take the opposite stance. (Rorty sides with the Antipodeans.)

Does it count as begging the question for Rorty to simply describe a race of people that have no conception of the mind? How do we know such a race is even possible? It certainly puts his opponents on the defensive, for they have to offer some compelling reason that such a race couldn’t exist. And I think Rorty laid enough ground in the first chapter to call into question the kinds of anti-Antipodean arguments that we might reach for first. And from what I can tell these thought experiments are pretty common in analytic philosophy.

While the first half of the chapter consists of this careful account of how an encounter with the Antipodeans would stymie dualists, the second half shows how Rorty’s position is different from other common anti-dualist positions. He discusses behaviorism, skepticism about other minds, and versions of materialism.

I don’t have a great deal to say about this chapter. While I got some pleasure from winding through the arguments, I can’t say I have much of a stake in them. Had I read more philosophy, I’m sure I would have been better prepared. Over the next few years, I’ll have to get through some of the thinkers Rorty talks about to see whether he really does justice to their positions here. As things are, I am willing to go along with Rorty’s materialism, if only provisionally. I can accept that very little hinges on the ontological status or existence of “raw feels,” etc.

At the tail end of the chapter, Rorty provides a quick summary of the main points he wants the reader to get from the book so far. I don’t have a good reason to take issue with the second and third of these, though, at the risk of being repetitive, I will say again that I really like Plato and haven’t yet been convinced on the problem of universals:

“Unless we are willing to revive Platonic and Aristotelian notions about grasping universals, we shall not think that knowledge of general truths is made possible by some special, metaphysically distinctive, ingredient in human beings.

”Unless we wish to revive the seventeenth century’s somewhat awkward and inconsistent use of the Aristotelian notion of ‘substance’ we shall not make sense of the notion of two ontological realms—the mental and the physical.

“Unless we wish to affirm what I have called Principle (P)—roughly, the claim that a distinctive metaphysical property of ‘presence to consciousness’ grounds some of our noninferential reports of our states—we shall not be able to use the notion of ‘entities whose appearance exhausts their reality’ to bolster the mental-physical distinction.” (125-126)

I want to come back and do some short posts on specific passages in this section — specifically, the bit about inspired theists and uninspired atheists, and the bit about how infants feel pain — but I think this will do for now, as I have to go get ready to drive down to Florida for some guy’s wedding.


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