Causal Machines

PatriciachurchlandRichard Marshall interviews Patricia Churchland in 3AM Magazine:

3:AM: Your approach to philosophy may strike some as being not really philosophical. This is because you place neuroscience at the heart of your approach. Can you say something about why you think this approach has caused some people to worry that it undermines the claims of philosophical enquiry proper and how you respond?

PC: Philosophical enquiry proper – mmmmmm is that the sort of thing Aristotle and Hume were doing, or the sort of thing that Kripke and Gettier were doing? Let me sound curmudgeonly for a moment: if I want to know how people use words, I will go to sociolinguists, who actually do science to try to find those things out. If I want to know how we learn and remember and represent the world, I will go to psychology and neuroscience. If I want to know where values come from, I will go to evolutionary biology and neuroscience and psychology, just as Aristotle and Hume would have, were they alive.

Theorizing is of course essential to make progress in understanding, but theorizing in the absence of knowing available relevant facts is not very productive. Given how long philosophers have been at conceptual analysis (I mean the 20th century stuff), and how many have been doing it, what can we say are the two most important concept results of all that effort? By ‘important’ here, let’s mean ‘has a significant impact outside philosophy on how people understand something’. Otherwise, as Feyerabend said, we are just talking to ourselves; taking in each other’s laundry. Incidentally, the analytic claim that knowledge is “true justified belief” does not accord with how ordinary people in fact use the word “know”. So whose concept is being analyzed? When philosophers try to understand consciousness, much of what they claim is not conceptual analysis at all, though it may be shopped under that description. Actually, they are really offering a theory about the nature of consciousness. When that theory is isolated from known facts, it is likely not to be productive.