Thursday, 18 May 2017

The magical principle of individuation

       Following my 'Ask a Philosopher' post on the location of the soul...
      When I talked about this to John W. he reminded me of my quote in Naive Metaphysics, 'What, you wretch, so you want to avoid talking nonsense? Talk some nonsense, it makes no difference!' (Wittgenstein, giving a rough quote of St Augustine).
      I can imagine a possible world where any given fact might have been different, even in a small way. The pen pot on my desk might have been one tenth of an inch to the left. If you're a determinist, then in order for that to have been the case the Big Bang would have had to bang ever-so slightly differently. Sounds incredible, but that's the logic of determinism. A different effect, even every-so slightly different, requires a different cause.
      I can also imagine (and here comes the 'nonsense') a world that is physically identical to the world in every respect, the only difference being that the person known as 'GK' is not I. Or, I seem to be able to.
      (Note that this is a different scenario from the one where the person known as 'GK' is a zombie, who behaves in every way like GK in the actual world, except that 'all is darkness inside'. As I argued in the Pathways Philosophy of Mind program, by hypothesis, GK-zombie speaks and behaves in the very same way as I do, writes the very words I am writing now, about the alleged possibility of a 'GK-zombie' in another possible world, or, as we know, a 'GK-zombie-zombie'. Which is close to being, if it isn't actually, a reductio ad absurdum of the zombie, or 'epiphenomenal dualist', hypothesis.)
      GK in the other possible world is conscious in the same way as I am conscious. The only difference between us is that he is not I. Or, to vary the thought experiment, in Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, the next GK along and all the other GKs past and future, are not I. Only I can be I. If I am writing these words now, then whoever writes these words in the past or in the future – or in another possible world physically identical to the actual world – is someone other than I.
      I am I. But how do I know this?
      It occurs to me that it is logically possible that I came into existence five minutes ago. The GK who started writing the first sentence of this post was not I, I only seem to remember writing it. What's the difference between there being I and there not being I five minutes ago? None. The hypothesis of either I, nor not-I, is 'non-functional, a spinning wheel, otiose'. (Which is what I said in my Ask a Philosopher answer in relation to Berkeley's view of Descartes' theory of 'material substance'.)
      This is all 'old hat'. In Naive Metaphysics, I had already come to the conclusion that one can only meaningfully speak of the 'I-now'.
      As I would now express it, according to the 'otiose' hypothesis of I, the soul is a 'magical principle of individuation', unconstrained by any empirical or otherwise detectable conditions. God gave me my I, my individual soul. I 'trust' that God wouldn't deceive me into thinking that I existed five minutes ago when I didn't.
      That's something that both Descartes and Berkeley implicitly believe. – The only problem being, as I argued in my book, even God looking down on the world from His objective standpoint cannot tell apart a possible world where GK is I, and a possible world where GK is not I.
      (Kant's response to Descartes is in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, Critique of Pure Reason, Part II Transcendental Dialectic. Descartes mistakes the a priori transcendental unity of apperception for the 'perception of unity'. Not a 'substance' as Descartes believed but a metaphysical principle.)
      The question is, how it can help to call the 'I' a 'mental substance', or 'spirit', or 'soul'? What possible principle of individuation for souls could there be other than the sum total of the soul's mental properties? But if that is the case, then there can't be 'a world that is physically identical to the world in every respect, the only difference being that the person known as 'GK' is not I'.
      The two worlds are indiscernible, and therefore identical, Leibniz would say.
      Hence, the 'magic'.
      – Then the only remaining option is to give up all talk of entities or substances. This isn't about thing-hood but rather a task. At any given moment, I am the one asking the question. The question isn't, as Kant believed, 'how to construct an external world.' And yet there seems to be something right about the idea of a 'principle'.
      What principle? As long ago as 1985, I talked about the principle that 'I am the one asking the question' ('The 'I'-Illusion'). As I would now put it, all knowledge is communicable, but metaphysical knowledge has this peculiarity that it is irreducibly subjective in character. Metaphysical knowledge isn't knowledge of 'facts'. The task of metaphysics is to align oneself with reality. There is nothing to 'know'. There is only 'adjusting my mental attitude'.

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