Framing “On Alien Philosophy”*
Peter Hankins of Conscious Entities fame has a piece considering “On Alien Philosophy.” The debate is just getting started, but I thought it worthwhile explaining why I think this particular paper of mine amounts to more than yet just another interpretation to heap onto the intractable problem of ourselves.
Consider the four following claims:
1) We have biologically constrained (in terms of information access and processing resources) metacognitive capacities ancestrally tuned to the solution of various practical problem ecologies, and capable of exaptation to various other problems.
2) ‘Philosophical reflection’ constitutes such an exaptation.
3) All heuristic exaptations inherit, to some extent, the problem-solving limitations of the heuristic exapted.
4) ‘Philosophical reflection’ inherits the problem-solving limitations of deliberative metacognition.
Now I don’t think there’s much anything controversial about any of these claims (though, to be certain, there’s a great many devils lurking in the details adduced). So note what happens when we add the following:
5) We should expect human philosophical practice will express, in a variety of ways, the problem-solving limitations of deliberative metacognition.
Which seems equally safe. But note how the terrain of the philosophical debate regarding the nature of the soul has changed. Any claim purporting the exceptional nature of this or that intentional phenomena now needs to run the gauntlet of (5). Why assume we cognize something ontologically exceptional when we know we are bound to be duped somehow? All things being equal, mediocre explanations will always trump exceptional ones, after all.
The challenge of (5) has been around for quite some time, but if you read (precritical) eliminativists like Churchland, Stich, or Rosenberg, this is where the battle grinds to a standstill. Why? Because they have no general account of how the inevitable problem-solving limitations of deliberative metacognition would be expressed in human philosophical practice, let alone how they would generate the appearance of intentional phenomena. Since all they have are promissory notes and suggestive gestures, ontologically exceptional accounts remain the only game in town. So, despite the power of (5), the only way to speak of intentional phenomena remains the traditional, philosophical one. Science is blind without theory, so absent any eliminativist account of intentional phenomena, it has no clear way to proceed with their investigation. So it hews to exceptional posits, trusting in their local efficacy, and assuming they will be demystified by discoveries to come.
Thus the challenge posed by Alien Philosophy. By giving real, abductive teeth to (5), my account overturns the argumentative terrain between eliminativism and intentionalism by transforming the explanatory stakes. It shows us how stupidity, understood ecologically, provides everything we need to understand our otherwise baffling intuitions regarding intentional phenomena. “On Alien Philosophy” challenges the Intentionalist to explain more with less (the very thing, of course, he or she cannot do).
Now I think I’ve solved the problem, that I have a way to genuinely naturalize meaning and cognition. The science will sort my pretensions in due course, but in the meantime, the heuristic neglect account of intentionality, given its combination of mediocrity and explanatory power, has to be regarded as a serious contender.
*Originally posted 02/17/2017