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McGinn, Colin. Consciousness and its Objects.

MCGINN, Colin. Consciousness and its Objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 256 pp. Cloth, $35.00--Intended as a sequel to The Problem of Consciousness, McGinn's new book is largely devoted to developing his mysterian position. The first seven chapters deal with the problematic nature of consciousness and the form any solution to it would have to take, while the remaining three include forays into metaphilosophy, the authority of first-person reports, and intentionality.

In "What Constitutes the Mind-Body Problem?", McGinn deploys Russell's distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description to sharpen his analysis of the "cognitive closure" that prevents us from solving the mind-body problem. Any solution would have to close the "explanatory gap" between the mental and the physical via conceptual entailments. Unfortunately, our concepts of mental states are given to us by acquaintance, whereas our concepts of brain states are given by description, "and so the latter can never adequately capture the former" (p. 22). The next essay develops the same point against the background of Smart and Kripke. If the reductive physicalist is offering to produce nontrivial identity statements, he runs into a difficulty presented by the (now familiar) point that the coreferring terms of such statements must have different senses, that is, must connote distinct properties. In the case of the reduction of heat, for example, there is no problem, since we have a single event with distinct properties: causing in us the sensation of heat and molecular motion. But the case of mental reduction is disanalogous, since the identity is supposed to hold between properties; thus the informativeness cannot consist in the distinctness of the properties flanking the identity sign. An adequate solution to the problem, then, cannot take the form of an empirical identity statement, a point that tells equally against the type-identity theory and substance dualism. What is required is not merely further empirical discoveries but a fundamentally new repertoire of concepts that would afford us the necessary a priori links between the mental and the physical.

In "Solving the Philosophical Mind-Body Problem," McGinn is at pains to point out the positive side of his mysterian position: while the epistemic problem of understanding the physical basis of consciousness might be permanently intractable, this does not mean that there is anything mysterious in the nature of things themselves. This is an aspect of McGinn's metaphilosophical position, developed in "The Problem of Philosophy" and there dubbed "transcendental naturalism": the ultimate nature of some aspects of reality permanently transcends our cognitive abilities, but there is nothing super- or nonnatural about this ultimate reality. Philosophical perplexity results from our running up against these cognitively closed regions of philosophical space. Such perplexities take on what McGinn calls the "DIME" structure by presenting philosophers with four equally unappealing options: Deflationary reductionism, Irreducibility, Magical solutions, or Elimination.

The next two essays take a novel approach to the mind-body problem by turning on its head the familiar point that materialism distorts the nature of the mental. In "What is it not Like to be a Brain?", McGinn argues that the symmetry of identity calls into question the objectivity of the physical: if materialism threatens to make mental states implausibly objective by identifying them with brain states, it equally threatens to make brain states implausibly subjective. And in "Consciousness and Space," McGinn argues that the origin of consciousness in physical, spatially extended things is at odds with the nonspatial character of conscious states. Thus the conceptual revolution necessary to dissolve the mind-body problem extends beyond our concepts of brain states to the basic concepts of physics itself.

"Inverted First-Person Authority" argues that it is a purely contingent fact that our access to our mental states is introspective while physical objects are known through perception. This entails that the asymmetry in our modes of awareness, and the resulting dubitability of beliefs about the external world and incorrigibility of beliefs about our own mental states, cannot be exploited in defense of Cartesian dualism. (The importance of this result is not clear, since Descartes himself said often enough that he did not wish to exploit this asymmetry in an argument for dualism.)

More intriguing is McGinn's claim in "The Objects of Intentionality" that, even in veridical cases, we perceive both existing and nonexisting objects. Suppose that objects in themselves, though we perceive them as solid, are in fact "gappy" at the microphysical level. Then, in ordinary perception, there would be two intentional objects: the de ditto solid object, and the de re "gappy" object, even though only one of these exists. Even when there is not such systematic error, McGinn thinks that we "can be said to be perpetually hallucinating, since there is always a nonexistent object of sight in the offing" (p. 240).--Walter Ott, East Tennessee State University.
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Author:Ott, Walter
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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