The missing subject: a critique of Philip Goff’s panpsychism

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The missing subject: A Critique of Philip Goff’s Panpsychism

Joshua Farris

Quote:Rev. Joshua Farris makes the case that, once we accept that experiential qualities are irreducible to physicality, we become logically committed to subjectivity itself as the fundamental substance at the foundation of reality, distinct from physicality, and in terms of which we can account for physicality. Notice that Rev. Farris uses the term ‘naturalism’ in a manner distinct from our own usage. For us, ‘naturalism’ means simply that nature behaves spontaneously, according to its own intrinsic regularities, as opposed to deliberate planning or external intervention. In this sense, naturalism and idealism are entirely compatible. In Rev. Farris’ usage, however, ‘naturalism’ refers to the physical, or material, phase of reality as determining its intrinsic structure. Neither definition is incorrect; they are simply different. But it is important to understand what is meant in each case.

Quote:Just what is naturalist panpsychism? In short, it is naturalism with qualities; naturalism with what Nagel calls ‘subjective appearances.’[5] Nagel reflects on this move when he considers the insufficiency of physicalism, whereby physics is the only—or best—way of knowing the world. He states:
Quote:The existence of consciousness seems to imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything.
But in order to get qualities, there is the question of whether qualities can exist like physical particles, as part of the bedrock of a naturalist world. In other words, qualities of this sort would exist as a foundational feature or property of the natural world, without any additional reality undergirding them.[6] This seems problematic: qualities need what philosophers call a ‘substance’ (i.e., a substrate with standalone existence), such as a mind or subject of experience. Indeed, it seems incoherent to speak of qualitative experiences without a subject that experiences those qualities as modes of its mind.

Quote:A substance has been traditionally defined as a thing that is countable or able to exist independently of other things. In the language of philosopher Ralph Weir, “they exist by themselves.” Since qualities don’t exist by themselves, they need a substance of which they can be the qualities. This is where defenders of substance dualism have an advantage over the naturalist panpsychism of Goff. Substance dualism is the view that there are two distinct sides of being, as put in the language of the dualist Uwe Meixner. And these two sides are properties—with property-bearers—including the phenomenal and the physical. According to the advocate of substance dualism, there is a distinct type of particular necessary to make sense, and instantiate the fact, of phenomenal qualities. While Goff, in his post-Galilean way, is keen to preserve qualities, it is not clear how he can do so. Qualities themselves aren’t enough. They must exist in something that owns them, bears them, and conceivably knows them.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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  • Typoz, Brian
I should note Goff at least suggests a kind of Limited God theism:

Is the Universe a conscious mind?

Quote:How are we to think about the laws of physics on this view? I suggest that we think of them as constraints on the agency of the Universe. Unlike the God of theism, this is an agent of limited power, which explains the manifest imperfections of the Universe. The Universe acts to maximise value, but is able to do so only within the constraints of the laws of physics. The beneficence of the Universe does not much reveal itself these days; the agentive cosmopsychist might explain this by holding that the Universe is now more constrained than it was in the unique circumstances of the first split second after the Big Bang, when currently known laws of physics did not apply.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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