TA 100 (Smith)


Commentary 8


by Herbert FJ Müller
29 January 2008, posted 9 February 2008


In discussing ‘common sense’ one has to be aware that this term has differing definitions and implications.  Common sense is often taken to be the opposite of traditional ‘metaphysics’.  However, on closer inspection, naïve metaphysics is clearly an aspect of everyday common sense, because it stands for mind-independent reality (MIR, ontology), and MIR-belief is a part of everyday thinking. 


Many scientists and philosophers freely accept ‘ontology’ as an aspect of their view, yet for both groups the battles against metaphysics has been quite outspoken in the last 200 years, because it cannot be tested.  But ontology is a branch of metaphysics.  Some ‘analytical’ philosophers have spent much effort on defending metaphysics, because epistemological analysis pre-supposes the belief that there is something pre-structured (MIR, onta) to be analyzed (see TA93 R20).  For others it results in a sort of split-mind discussion, if a switch to working- (or as-if-) ontology is not made (see TA57).


An example is the view of John Searle, who promotes ‘no-nonsense common sense’ in his attempts to deal with topics such as the mind-brain relation (see also TA78, in particular [37]ff, on his previous book ‘Mind, a brief introduction’.  Oxford Univ Press, 2004).  In a new book he dismisses both materialism and dualism; Papineau comments ‘Searle is quite right to point out that both materialism and dualism fly in the face of familiar assumptions.  The question is whether there is any good alternative. Searle says that he has one, but it is difficult to see what it is.  A phrase he often repeats is that consciousness is “caused by and realized in” the brain.  But this looks contradictory. ...’


Searle’s statement, I would say, is of no help in dealing with the conceptual mind-brain problem.  He adds that ‘consciousness is first-person subjectivity’, and that it is not ‘ontologically reducible’.  But then he tries explanations like ‘quantum mechanical indeterminism to make space for free will’ (Papineau).  My guess is that Searle sees QM as mind-independent reality, and that he wants to reduce mind to QM, despite his statement that it cannot be reduced.  As I have written elsewhere (TA45), one can only start from ongoing subjective experience.  And one remains in its bubble, one cannot ‘transcend’ it, which would be needed in order to arrive at MIR.

I would appreciate comments from others on this point.



Papineau D, How we fit in.  The “challenging and accessible” John Searle’s loyalty to common sense is both a virtue and a drawback of his views on mind and power.  Review of :
Searle J (2006).  Freedom and Neurobiology : Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power (Columbia Themes in Philosophy).  Columbia U Press.
In :  Times Literary Supplement, 18 January 2008, pp.3-5.


Herbert FJ Müller
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>