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I just heard that, in the case of Hilary Putnam's "Twin Earth" experiment, Tyler

I just heard that, in the case of Hilary Putnam's "Twin Earth" experiment, Tyler Burge argued that Oscar and Twin Oscar had different concepts in mind when talking about "water". This seems bizarre, doubly so if neither Oscar nor Twin Oscar are familiar with the chemical composition of the stuff they call "water". If they don't know the chemical composition of the stuff, and the chemical composition is the only different between the two substances (all mesoscopic properties are identical), how can their mental concepts of the stuff possibly be different?

Suppose we individuate concepts by "reference," so two mental states/thoughts are identical if they are about the same things, otherwise different. If (arguably) one twin's thoughts 'refer to' H2O and the other's 'refer to' XYZ, then they would count as different thoughts or concepts. What you are merely presuming is that the notion of 'concept' should be narrowly individuated (ie defined only in terms of what's 'in the head', so the two twins shoudl have the same concept). But that is the very thing that is explicitly being debated in the classic papers by Putnam, Burge, and all the rest ....!

best, ap

Suppose a computer is trying to execute some code or another, but hasn't done so

Suppose a computer is trying to execute some code or another, but hasn't done so yet (for example, it is waiting for a given signal, or for a certain period of time to elapse). Does the computer intend to execute that code? Can we speak of intention in a case like this?

You may not realize it, but you have presupposed the answer to your question in the way you asked it. You speak of the computer "trying" to execute a code. Trying involves intending to do something. So if you are not speaking metaphorically, you are presupposing that computers can have intentions, and that the computer in your case already has one. If the computer can really be said to be trying, then the additional detail in your example (viz., that there's a temporal gap between the computer's beginning to try, and the execution of the intended act) doesn't matter.

Now maybe you meant to be using the term "trying" loosely, or metaphorically, and then your question was whether the term "intention" could be strictly and literally applied to a computer. That's a good question. The answer, however, is not going to depend on whether there's a a temporal gap between the trying and the successful execution. You can see that if you consider some non-controversial cases of something's intending to do something. So suppose that I intend to type the letter "x". There's probably very little time between the formation of my intention and the initiation of the motor routine. (Note -- some neuroscientists and some philosophers think that there's empirical evidence that the initiation of at least some motor actions precedes the formation of the intention. It certainly seems to be that our awareness of the formation of an intention can come after the action has been initiated. But the matter is controversial.) In other cases, as for example when I form the intention to write a philosophy paper, there can be an extremely long gap between my forming the intention and my executing it. So timing is not the important factor.

What is important? First is what it is for something to have an intention; the next thing is what it takes for something to meet those requirements.

I think that an intention is the product of a desire for something and a belief about the means necessary to obtain it. So to have an intention, one must at least be the kind of thing that has beliefs and desires. That's a pretty neutral claim. Most contemporary philosophers will agree with it. Some philosophers will add that a thing also needs to be capable of action in order to have an intention. That's a little more controversial, depending on what's meant by "action". If mental actions count (like doing sums in one's head, or recalling the words to a song), then it's also pretty uncontroversial. But let's focus on the first necessary condition: beliefs and desires.

So: what does it take for something to have beliefs and desires? Here, you'll get different answers from different philosophers. But here's mine: I am a computationalist about the mind. I think that beliefs and desires are certain kinds of functional states, involving relations to representations. So I see no reason why a computer could not, in principle, have beliefs and desires. But there's another requirement for something to have a mind, and that's that the representations have to have genuine meaning (confusingly, philosophers use the term "intentionality" to mean "genuine meaning" as well as to mean "being in a state related to intentions"). Currently existing computers operate with merely formal representations -- any meaning the representations have is meaning that we, the designers and users, choose to impute to it.

Now as I said, philosophers are going to disagree about all the elements of my view. But the main thing is that most philosophers do think that being able to form intentions requires having a mind, and they think, further, that it is a real fact about the world that some things have minds and some things don't. An interesting exception is Daniel Dennett. He denies that there is any specific property or form of organization that is necessary for something to have an intention; he thinks that as long as a thing's activity can be usefully described in intentional terms -- terms like "believe," "desire" and "intend," then that thing can be truly said to have intentions. As he puts it, for a being or a system to have mental states is for it to be fruitful for an observer to take the "intentional stance" toward that being or system. What's crucial about the pattern of activity, what makes it interpretable as intentional, is that the activity looks rational. So, for example, if you are playing chess or hearts (more my speed) with a computer, you might find yourself wondering what move the computer "is thinking about making". And the way you might think about this is by pretending that the computer knows certain things -- the rules of the game, the moves that have already been made, the moves that are open to it -- and wanting certain things -- to win the game -- and then figuring out what any rational being would decide to do in those circumstances. What Dennett would say is that if you are able to sustain play this way -- if what the computer does continues to look rational in light of what you are pretending to be its beliefs and desires, then you are not pretending. All it is for the computer to be really intending things, Dennett would say, is for its behavior to display a pattern that makes it fruitful to attribute beliefs and desires and intentions to it.

So Dennett might well say that the computer in your example is intending to execute the code, regardless of it satisfies all those other conditions I gave. But he'd want to know more about the computer's behavior, to see whether the pattern supports our taking the intentional stance. But again -- the time between intention formation and execution is not pertinent.

Dennett, by the way, thinks that nature itself is an intentional agent, because we can think of natural selection as a rational process. And some philosophers, like Deborah Tollefson, who agree with Dennett about intentionality in general, think that groups of agents, things like the Supreme Court, can literally have intentions. I think that, whether or not one wants to use the term "intention" the way Dennett recommends, there's still going to be a difference between the kinds of beings that satisfy the conditions I sketched and those that don't, and that the difference is important for lots of reasons.

But still -- nothing depends on time!

At what point does an action change from something you do sometimes to a habit?

At what point does an action change from something you do sometimes to a habit? At what point does a habit become an addiction? Do those same points exist in reverse and are they in the same spot? Is this more of a medical question or maybe physiological? Is it a mental change you make (whether you know it or not) or a physical change? Why is it so hard to break but so easy to make worse?

Great set of questions. Certainly, these are matters that involve psychology and have an application in medicine, though philosophers from Ancient GreeK though onward have found it important to reflect on responsibility, habits, and determining when actions are truly voluntary. I suspect voluntariness is the key. The more we become habituated to a pattern of behavior, it seems that the more will power is required to break the pattern. I believe that Aristotle was right when he described the path to virtue in terms of habituation or the developing good habits or dispositions (to act justly, temperately, etc). In a sense, the virtuous person is someone who has developed a character so that they naturally and without struggle seek to do what is good. And the opposite would be true of a person in terms of vice; their character is such that they naturally and without struggle do what is cruel, destructive, and the like. Speaking more directly to your question(s) it seems that voluntary action is a scaler term (a matter of degree) and so would matters of habit or addiction. So, to take alcohol consumption, there seems to be a fairly common sense distinction between an occasional or "social" drinker, a habitual drinker, a heavy drinker, and an alcoholic, and these seem to map matters of voluntariness. Treatment centers and insurance companies are likely to treat the alcoholic as someone with very little, if any, voluntary control over their drinking, whereas someone who drinks habitually or regularly (say, one glass of wine a day) has more control, and the only occasional moderate drinker has even more control. For an excellent book on this later topic see Heavy Drinking by (and I am probably slightly misspelling his name) Finegrette.

How persuasive or otherwise do you find the dualist position on the mind-body

How persuasive or otherwise do you find the dualist position on the mind-body relationship and, in your opinion, do you think it's possible for us to have an immortal 'soul'/mind?

Just a brief answer -- but to me (anyway) the idea of there being a property-dualism, closely related to a concept-dualism, is more plausible (and even more intelligible) than the idea of there being a substance-dualism, as implied by the phrasing of your question. Certain kinds of properties (such as being a sensation, or a thought, or some aspect of consciousness) may well be non-identifiable or non-reducible to standard physical properties (such as being a brain state/event/property) -- but to go from there to the conclusion that "there exist non-physical souls or minds" seems like a very large, hard to defend, and unnecessary leap .... (and then from there to "immortal" -- well that brings in a whole extra set of religion-related issues that probably are best left out of discussions of dualism itself, IMHO) ....

As you probably know, the locus classicus of substance dualism is Descartes -- though my own feeling is that the substance part of it is a little overblown by his subsequent interpreters, and that he may be more cautiously read as a property dualist ... But in the 21st century you might want to begin by exploring the work of David Chalmers on this subject (if you haven't already) ...

hope that's a useful start ...


Who are some modern philosophers that argue for either dualism or the idea that

Who are some modern philosophers that argue for either dualism or the idea that mind is a nonphysical substance?

Here's another contemporary philosopher you might want to look into: Galen Strawson--

"I take physicalism to be the view that every real, concrete phenomenon in the universe is physical. …[O]ne thing is absolutely clear. You're…not a real physicalist, if you deny the existence of the phenomenon whose existence is more certain than the existence of anything else: experience, 'consciousness', conscious experience, 'phenomenology', experiential 'what-it's-likeness', feeling, sensation, explicit conscious thought as we have it and know it at almost every waking moment. … [E]xperiential phenomena 'just are' physical, so that there is a lot more to neurons than physics and neurophysiology record…." (Strawson, Galen (2006), Realistic Monism, in A. Freeman (ed.), Consciousness and Its Place in Nature (Exeter: Imprint Academic))

why do we associate different colors with different things? for example, blue is

why do we associate different colors with different things? for example, blue is consistently associated with either feeling 'down' or 'relaxed'. black, while considered fashionable is generally considered a morose color. so, why do we feel a need to attribute certain colors to certain states of mind? if color is just a question of wavelengths, (etc) then why does society do this? - Farris, age 26

This is largely an empirical and psychological rather than a philosophical or conceptual question. I suspect that there are both natural and social reasons for the association. I can think of how some cultures use white for mourning while others black, how some associate red with luck and good fortune while others associate it with vice and anger. On the other hand, there seems a biological link between seasonal affect/exposure to bright/intense/full spectrum/natural light and therefore between dark/gray/blue environments and depression. I suppose one philosophically interesting bit would be whether it's possible to have an experience of color that's not conditioned by emotional and conceptual matters. The conditions for the possibility of color experience and the possibility of color experience independent of other experiences would be interesting to investigate not only empirically but also conceptually. We might argue that the very concepts of color (red, blue, yellow, etc.) are more and must be more than designators of hue.

How should we distinguish between personal memories of our past (what

How should we distinguish between personal memories of our past (what psychologists call episodic memory) and the imagination? Aren't the mental states at the heart of both phenomena fundamentally the same?

One might say, in fact, that memory is part of our imaginative capacity, or at least dependent upon our imaginative capacity to the extent it is composed of imaginative mental phenomena. One way to distinguish memories from other imaginative events, then, as Oliver Leeman suggests, is by their epistemic status. Genuine memories are true, while imaginative events generally may or may not be. But I'd add that it's possible to have imaginative events that are true but are not memories. They would be true accidentally, or by luck. For example, I might imagine that right now a Turkish fighter jet has engaged a target along the Syrian frontier--and by chance it might be so. I'd say, then, that another feature of memories that distinguishes them from imaginations is their causal history. Memories are cause by past experiences, by our past interactions with the world, ourselves, and others. Imaginations may be dreamt up at any time. But these are rather objective ways of distinguishing memories from imaginations (i.e. that memories are true and caused by our past experiences in ways that are evident in the memories). And I suspect you're looking for a subject way of distinguishing memories from imaginations. I can think of two criteria for making that distinction offhand. One is that memories fit into a coherent narrative of our lives. If I think of myself having a conversation with Socrates in ancient Athens, one sign that I'm imagining things is that I didn't live in ancient Athens and couldn't have lived in ancient Athens, and I haven't time travelled there. On the other hand, if I remember having a conversation with my mother as child in a context that fits in with other memories and beliefs I have about my past, then there's a pretty good chance that I'm experiencing a memory. But, of course, I can imagine having a conversation with my mother that never happened, too. Here, I don't there's a clear way to make a subjective discernment between memory and imagination. The strength, force, and what Hume called vivacity of the memory might help signal that it's a genuine memory. But besides fit with other memories, narratives, and beliefs together with force and vivacity, to be sure it's a genuine memory we're going to have to look beyond ourselves and seek corroboration from others, from artifacts (like diaries and photos).

Do you need an earlier perception to have a memory of something?

Do you need an earlier perception to have a memory of something?

Perhaps one might well claim that one has to have some prior experience ("experience" being broader than "perception") in order to have memory. One might remember prior thoughts, abstract propositions or a sensation rather than a full perception. Memory seems (by definition) to be about the past (I cannot remember the future, though I can remember that I believe or know that something will occur in the future) and so if there is no experience in the past to recall, it is hard to see how one might have any memory at all. In this sense, memory appears to be a dependent cognitive power --it depends on the exercise of other cognitive powers. I suppose someone might claim that they remember remembering, but this begs us to ask the question: remember remembering what?

While that is my proposal (one needs prior experience in order for memory to function), the issues can be stretched a bit... Imagine God or some super-scientist made a creature (Skippy) on Monday at noon full of ostensible memories of a past that Skippy had no part it. So, imagine Skippy recalls getting her Ph.D. at Brown, the rocky divorce and the happy re-marriage that followed, and yet Skippy did not do any of these things. While this might seem to be a case of memory without earlier experiences, I suspect we would classify these as only apparent or ostensible (or even false) memories and not cases of authentic memory.

In terms of dreams, do humans have any insight as to what causes them? For

In terms of dreams, do humans have any insight as to what causes them? For example, if someone were to have a reoccurring dream, is there any humanly possible way of knowing why this is? Are they simply a reflection of daily life, an indicator as to what our future holds, or is it our brains way of forgetting that certain things ever happened?

Your question is an interesting one, but on one reading not one a philosopher has any particular claim to being able to answer. Whatever we know about the causes and function of dreams, we presumably know on the basis of empirical investigation—in psychology and/or neuroscience, most likely.

That said, there are a few comments that don't seem out of place for a philosopher to make. It does seem possible that we might learn why people have recurring dreams. Careful collection of lots of cases might reveal some patterns, and those patterns might suggest hypotheses that we could actually test. (We might, for example, be able to predict when people are likely to have recurring dreams, or even learn how to induce them.) It's not utterly impossible that they predict the future, but if that calls for the future influencing the present, it flys in the face of a good deal of what we normally take ourselves to know about the world. And as for being a way for the brain to forget, we'd need a much more specific hypothesis before we could investigate that.

Answers to many questions about dreams will most likely come from science, but there may be something left over. We often find ourselves wondering about the meanings of dreams. Compare: science might eventually tell us a lot about how humans came to be story-tellers and what adaptive function, if any, storytelling serves. But answers to those questions aren't what we have in mind when we ask about the meaning of a story like The Turn of the Screw. Dreams have a lot in common with stories and so there are interesting questions not just about the meanings of individual dreams but about what it means to say that dreams have various sorts of meanings. This is where philosophers might well have something to contribute, though I confess that I don't have anything enlightening to add.

So Oedipus comes along, gets into a fight with a stranger (his father, unknown

So Oedipus comes along, gets into a fight with a stranger (his father, unknown to him), and kills his father. Depending on the telling, either the killing was intentional, or it was in self-defense; let's assume the former. If Oedipus intended to kill Laius, and Laius is Oedipus' father, but Oedipus didn't know that Laius was his father, did Oedipus intend to kill his father?

Your question raises what is known as the "de dicto/de re" distinction. Rather than give a formal explanation of that (for which, have a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), I'll try to put an answer without using the distinction explicitly.

One way we can think about intentions is to think that an intention is at least partly contituted by the specific content in which the intention would be expressed. Hence, when Oedipus killed the man where three roads met, his intention was not to "kill his father" (or, for that matter, to "kill Laius"), but to "kill the SOB who has the gall to push me--the crown prince of Corinth--aside"). In other words, if you asked Oedipus, "What is your intention?" he would surely not sincerely reply in terms off anything having to do with his father. On the other hand, it is also true that there is another sense in which he intended to kill his father, since he intended to kill that man, and that man = his father. But I think if we were reporting his intentions, it would be somewhat misleading to describe his actions as "intended to kill his father," and so the first sense is the one that would be more appropriate (for example, if we were testifying at a trial).