Huw Price 


Apparently I had run across Huw's paper, Naturalism Without Representationalism (c.2002), back in July, but made no direct reference to its content.  (The HUP still does not acknowledge the existence of the book in question.) 

His paper comes closer to direct refutation of naturalism than anything of which I am presently aware.  Interestingly it is couched in naturalistic terms, but I would claim that his 'subject naturalism' verges on oxymoronicity, and is tantamount to a reductio ad absurdum for naturalism. 

What Huw claims to prove is that the only way to save naturalism from its own internal contradictions is to turn it into a language game, a la Wittgenstein.  These contradictions turn on the problem of representationalism, under which term this paper was listed fourth. 

The naturalist is confronted with a problem of self-reflexiveness.  If the issue of reference or representation is an empirical one, as it must be to conform to naturalism, then the existence of any represented entities remains open, including the concept of semantic reference itself.  Thus there is no unequivocal foundation from which to launch the enterprise of philosophical naturalism.  There is no uncontested bootstrap.  Naturalists are left with no warrant to leap from language to the world.  The only partial recourse is 'subject naturalism', which tries to put the best possible face on the prospect of an endless language game.  This can hardly be a desirable outcome for our erstwhile naturalists. 

It does appear that naturalism is very much in question, and from the inside.  This very recent, unpublished paper is tantamount to a logical self-refutation.  What will be the response? 

What we seem to be witnessing is that the disputations among materialists are gradually forcing all of them further into the very few remaining logical dead ends, from which they seem unable to extricate themselves.  In the logical equivalent of quicksand, the more they struggle, the deeper they sink.  

The pluralism of postmodernism is the recognition that there are no unquestionable foundations for any systematic or constructive philosophy.  Since they all live in glass houses, the philosophers are reluctant to throw stones, and so we witness the nearly interminable end game of materialism.  


I am presented with yet another opportunity to advertise my ignorance, this time of Berkley's argument against representationalism: (appeared in a Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, 1710)

This simple argument may well explain the prevalence of non-representationalism as is found principally in functionalism, which is an outright denial of all mental properties.  Functionalism is a hybrid of behaviorism and pragmatism.  It has no metaphysical pretensions concerning the nature or existence of an external world.  But then how 'bout those putative functions?  Is not the functionalist committed to representing allegedly objective functions?  How can we coherently discuss that which we cannot perceive?  How can we communicate that which cannot be represented?  

Perhaps this is why functionalism is not considered to be a fundamental piece of philosophy.  It is considered a language game, pure and simple.  I am not aware that Dennett has any higher aspirations for his enterprise than as a temporarily remunerative pastime.  Should we suppose that he has an impractical bone in his body? 

Berkley, on the other hand, evidently had higher aspirations, but then he was just another of those impractical idealists. 

(Let me just note here that the running battle between the computationalists and the connectionists among the proponents of AI hinges precisely on the existence or not of mental representations or symbol processing.  It may behoove us to take look: Representation)


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