2

Source: pp 79-80, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (1 ed, 1999) by Simon Blackburn

The most popular current approach to this is to concentrate upon the way in which we can attribute thoughts to the well-functioning person. It should be something about a person's behaviour that enables us to interpret him or her as thinking about yesterday, or concentrating upon the weather predicted for the weekend. Thoughts are expressed in both linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour, and perhaps we can hope for some kind of reduction:
[1.] "X thinks that p"   if and only if
[2.] X's plans or desires or behaviour are somehow in line with the world being such that p.
The trick would be to fill out the "somehow in line". It is fair to say that nobody has successfully done that. But there are suggestions about how to go. We say that an intelligent system, such as a guided missile, thinks that there is a plane a mile away and two hundred feet up if its systems point it in a direction that is appropriate to there being a plane in that place -- given its aim (or function) of bringing down planes.
[3.] Similarly we might say of a person that she thinks the weather will be fine at the weekend if her behaviour is appropriate, given her aims (or functions), to that being the weather at the weekend.

[4.] The difficulty would be to fill out this thought without relying in other ways on other mental states of the subject, and this is what nobody knows how to do.

Though seeing 'somehow in line' in [2], I do not understand [4]. What is difficult?

I exemplify with 3. The adjective 'fine' is unclear; so suppose that we ask that person and then know her definition of fine (eg: 24°C = 75.2°F, 55% relative humidity, clear skies, etc...)
and her aims (or functions) (eg: canoeing in a wildlife area). Then how is 4 true?

  • 1
    All Blackburn is doing here is depicting how reductionalism has to work: Identifying thoughts with physical appearances, including behaviour. And he says noone has done that yet in a totally convinving way. No example is perfect. I think the problem (generally, considering your other questions) is that you are trying to parse these texts with formal logic and definitions only. But that is not how philosophical writing works. There always is a content in some kind of meta-textual level, the context of the propositions. – Philip Klöcking Jan 18 '16 at 9:27
  • @PhilipKlöcking +1. Thank you for your diagnosis on my overall approach to learning. Can you please expand more on I think the problem (generally, considering your other questions) is that you are trying to parse these texts with formal logic and definitions only. But that is not how philosophical writing works. There always is a content in some kind of meta-textual level, the context of the propositions? Or I can post a separate question. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jan 20 '16 at 16:45
  • Perhaps the best way to look at is was depicted by Hegel in the preface of his Phenomenology: You have to look at the philosophy as a whole and in its becoming. Certain positions throughout history may have been problematic and, taken as such, are plain nonsense (naive realism, positivism, ontologic idealism and many more). But looking at the movement of its becoming, it totally makes sense as a piece of the jigsaw. The same is true for argumentations: Even if the standalone proposition is clearly false, in its context it may help you avoid even more desastrous assumptions. That's Blackburn. – Philip Klöcking Jan 20 '16 at 17:34
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This seems to be the basic question these days. What use is philosophy?

Your scenario assumes that behaviors are fully explained by "functions" and "desires." The thing we call "thoughts" can be reduced to these two variables. That is more or less the dream of all "machine learning" programmers or scientists.

But this machine problem of getting from one mental state to another mental state had a problem called (4).

Where do we start? What is the first "mental state"? This matters absolutely, because it is what determines the key variable, the "desire" or "end."

We can do a behavioristic reduction: B eats "because" B is hungry. B is hungry "because" being hungry helps keep B alive. A series of mental states. But why does B want to be alive?

This is what is difficult.

Of course, it never arises until, in your own life, you must wonder or ask: why should I go on? Most people, thankfully, never need to ask. For the minority who do, there is the long history and "unresolvable" discourse of philosophy.

The problem of (4) is yet another infinite regress, in this case of "mental states," which do not add up to the "well-functioning person."

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I apologize for my naive approach: If you want to know what a person thinks, the most simple way is to ask her. In general, this method works fine. As most discussions from this blog show.

The problem from the quote is to derive a person's thoughts [2] from non-mental indicators [4] or shortly "to read someone's mind".

Current neuroscience successfully uses functional neuroimaging to detect which neuronal assemblies in the brain are active in a certain situation. Striking examples are activities of areals like premotor cortex when an action is only imagined but not executed. Hence one can derive which action a person thinks about. Even when the action is not executed at all, i.e. even when no behaviour can be observed externally.

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