Posts tagged ‘behaviorism’

May 31, 2016

The unexplained intellect — does it exist?

by Neil Rickert

This is my reaction to a post that I saw today at The Brains Blog:

(that post title is really in all caps, so I had to retype to make it look reasonable).

At first glance, that title looks good.  The statement that the mind is not a hoard of sentences fits with my repeated criticism of the idea that knowledge is justified true belief.  However, as I read further into that blog post, I realize that I still have a lot of disagreement with the author.

The blog post is written by Christopher Mole and, in part, it is saying something about Mole’s book “The Unexplained Intellect”.  I have not read the book itself.  It comes in at $54.95 for the Kindle edition, which is a bit pricey for me.

On minds

Here’s the second paragraph of that blog post:

We do not currently have a satisfactory account of how minds could be had by material creatures. If such an account is to be given then every mental phenomenon will need to find a place within it. Many will be accounted for by relating them to other things that are mental, but there must come a point at which we break out of the mental domain, and account for some things that are mental by reference to some that are not. It is unclear where this break out point will be. In that sense it is unclear which mental entities are, metaphysically speaking, the most fundamental.

read more »

May 2, 2015

Why I am not a materialist — take 2

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post (almost three years ago), I asserted that I am not a materialist.  I have had people argue with me about that, and suggest that I was being disingenuous.

In the debates between Rupert Sheldrake and Michael Shermer, Shedrake’s opening statement includes a bunch of questions related to materialism, that he poses to Shermer.  So I thought I would give my answers to those questions.  And then you can decide for yourself whether I should be considered a materialist.


Sheldrake’s first question: Is nature mechanical?

I have never thought so.  I take biological organisms to be an important part of what we mean by “nature”, and biology has always seemed very different from mechanics.  Rocks, earthquakes, etc — yes, I consider those to be mechanical.  But not living things.

read more »

June 9, 2014

The nature of knowedge — a personal perspective

by Neil Rickert

In my previous post, I wrote

When I read John’s statement (either version), as quoted above, I see John mentioning the nature of knowledge as an important topic.  I’ve read a lot of epistmology (the subfield of philosophy that deals with knowledge).  In all honesty,  I have not learned anything at all about the nature of knowledge from that reading.

Here, I want to talk informally about what I take to be the nature of knowledge.

To me, knowledge is closely connected with learning.  I see knowledge is the result of learning.  I guess that makes me an empiricist, at least in the broad sense of the term.

At around 10 years of age, while walking home from elementary school, I wondered about knowledge.  In particular, I wondered if knowledge could be just those natural language statements such as we learn in school.  But, as I pondered that, it seemed impossible.  It seemed to me that there was nothing in those sentences that said how our language sentences connect with the world.

read more »

January 4, 2013

Connecting science with perception

by Neil Rickert

I have two ongoing series of posts, one on perception and the other on how science works.  These are very much connected, as I will explain in this post.

My interest in the main topics of this blog led me to study the question of how humans learn.  I understood, all along, that the increase in scientific knowledge is closely related to learning.  Or, as I think Quine puts it, science is learning writ large.  Thus I used the growth of scientific knowledge as a publicly observable instance of learning.

read more »

December 9, 2012

Perception – direct vs. representational

by Neil Rickert

The two most important theories of perception are representationalism on the one hand, and direct perception on the other.  There are probably many versions of each of those, and there are some other theories which I see as less important.  By far, the dominant theory — the one most widely accepted — is representationalism.  However, as mentioned in the previous post in this series on perception, I happen to prefer the idea of direct perception.

In this post, I plan to do to things:

  • I will briefly describe both representationalism and direct perception, and their disagreements;
  • I shall try to address some of the misconceptions about direct perception that seem to crop up.

read more »

September 14, 2012

Mathematical Fictionalism

by Neil Rickert

Massimo Pigliucci has a post on mathematical platonism, so I thought it appropriate to discuss that in conjunction with my own version of mathematical fictionalism.

Pigliucci begins with three principle of platonism, which he takes from the SEP entry:

  1. Existence: There are mathematical objects;
  2. Abstractness: Mathematical objects are abstract;
  3. Independence: Mathematical objects are independent of intelligent agents and their language, thought, and practices.

Here’s the parallel principles for my version of fictionalism:

  1. Mathematical objects are useful fictions.  They have no actual existence, but it is useful to talk about them as if they existed.
  2. Mathematical objects are abstract.  I take this as a consequence of their being fictions.
  3. Mathematical objects are mental constructs, so are not strictly independent of the intelligent agents who talk about them.  However, if some alien intelligence exists — let’s call them Martians, to have a name — were to construct their own mathematics for reasons analogous to why we construct mathematics, then many of their mathematical fictions would have truth conditions analogous to those of our mathematics.

My fictionalist version of independence is weaker than the platonist version, though it seems adequate for mathematics.

read more »

August 30, 2012

Answering V.J. Torley’s questions

by Neil Rickert

Over at the Uncommon Descent blog, poster vjtorley has posed “Ten Questions for Professor Coyne.”  I am not a spokesman for Jerry Coyne, and I disagree with some of what he writes.  But I thought I would try giving my own answers to those questions.  I’m pretty sure that Jerry Coyne would disagree with me on some of the answers.

Question 1 – Is science the only road to knowledge?

I’ll note that there is some ambiguity on what is meant by “knowledge.”  For myself, I would never claim that science is the only way to all knowledge, though it is an excellent way to knowledge about the natural world.  In any case, vjtorley breaks this question into several parts.

read more »

August 10, 2012

I am a behaviorist

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I said something about what I am not.  Now it is time to say something about what I am.

Psychologists tend to divide themselves into cognitivists and behaviorists.  The behaviorists study behavior of people or of experimental animals.  Cognitivists tend to study beliefs, thoughts, and the like.  It sometimes seems as if those two groups are at war.  Cognitivists are often pointing out what they see as flaws in behaviorism, while behaviorists are often pointing out what they see as follies in cognitivism.  It sometimes seems to me that each side is about right in its criticism of the other side.

The terminology from psychology has been carried over into philosophy, so that some philosophers consider themselves behaviorists and others consider themselves cognitivists or mentalists.  For example, Quine is sometimes said to be a behaviorist.  The term “behaviorism” seems to be rather broader as used in philosophy than its counterpart in psychology.

read more »

July 30, 2012


by Neil Rickert

Some of the readers of this blog are of a scientific inclination, and are probably confused, or even troubled, by my mention of “intentional objects” in my last post.  I am not a real philosopher (except in the broad sense that everybody is a philosopher), so I have some understanding of why readers might be troubled by the terminology of intentionality.

In this post, I will attempt to clear up some of the possible confusion.  That’s not all that easy to do, but I shall try.

read more »