Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Podcast
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
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09/05/22: Mazviita Chirimuuta on Disjunctivism and Cartesian Idealisation - episode of Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society podcast

09/05/22: Mazviita Chirimuuta on Disjunctivism and Cartesian Idealisation

46 minutes Posted May 16, 2022 at 8:45 am.
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In this paper I give answers to two apparently unrelated questions and aim to convince you that these different concerns are, in fact, intertwined. The first question is, why is dualism so tenacious? The second is, what is really at issue in the debate between Burge and McDowell? Regarding the first question, various contemporary philosophers have cast Descartes as the originator of a pernicious idea about the radical difference between mind and body, an idea with weed-like tenacity, that many have attempted to dig out once and for all, but which always seems to grow back from fragments left in the soil. The problem with this diagnosis of dualistic thinking as the result of an individual philosopher’s influence is that it fails to consider that there may be broader and still active causes of its appeal. What is left unconsidered is the possibility that dualism is symptomatic of the wider tendencies of the scientific culture that Descartes, amongst others, represents, and that it persists not because of the long shadow of one philosopher, but because the essentials of this intellectual culture remain. In Sections 2 and 3 I will argue that this is indeed the case, and that the mode of thought at issue is to do with the dominance of scientific idealisations in our thinking about nature, including human beings and their minds.

In answer to the second question, Fish (2021) has examined the debate between Burge and McDowell over the alleged incompatibility of disjunctivism with the discoveries of perceptual science, and has compared it to a clash of Kuhnian paradigms. Miguens (2020) takes conflicting ideas about representations to be the main point of disagreement. I will argue instead that the point at issue is Burge’s acceptance, and McDowell’s rejection of the ‘Cartesian idealisation’ of mind as a self-contained system. Fish’s treatment of the controversy as a matter of competing research programmes, analogous to scientific ones, neglects the crucial particularity of the case, which is that McDowell’s philosophy of perception declines to define its explanatory objects in the way most conducive to scientific research. For this reason, there is more of a tension with science than McDowell admits; but as I will ultimately argue, this does not invalidate disjunctivism.

Mazviita Chirimuuta is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Her current research interests include philosophy of perception, philosophy of neuroscience, and history of the mind/brain sciences. She received her PhD in Vision Science from the University of Cambridge in 2004. Following that she held post-docs in perceptual psychology, and in philosophy at Monash University and at Washington University in St. Louis. Between 2011-2020 she was Assistant then Associate Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Her book Outside Colour: Perceptual Science and the Puzzle of Colour in Philosophy was published by MIT Press in 2015, and she is currently working on a monograph under contract with MIT Press, The Brain Abstracted: Simplification in the History and Philosophy of Neuroscience. The new book examines the various strategies that neuroscientists have used to produce simple models of formidably complex neural systems. Given that simplified representations, such as computational models, require departure from literal truth about the brain, the book will consider how to best interpret such abstractions when doing naturalistic philosophy of mind.

This podcast is an audio recording of Dr Chirimuuta's talk - "Disjunctivism and Cartesian Idealisation" - at the Aristotelian Society on 9th May 2022. This recording was produced by the Backdoor Broadcasting Company.