[hist-analytic] Weak Arguments Against Sense-Data and Volitions

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Tue Jan 11 13:36:49 EST 2011


I have been entirely unimpressed by the arguments against sense data since J. L. Austin. Since Austin, the critics of the theory I've read, with the exception of Sellars, have been essentially clueless as to what the actual theories are. The same can be said of the theory of volition. In each case the theory has been so misconceived by the critics that it is inevitable that both will be resurrected in some form once the current fashion of "dead end" physicalism has run its course, or philosophy simply disappears out of lack of interest. 

There are couple of flaws that are commplace among the anti-sense data/anti-volition theorists. The most common is the assumption that there is a sense of 'inner' that is inseperable from these theories. However, historically, the claim is pretty weak and depends on reinterpreting 'inner' as 'mental' or 'in thought' or some such thing. Once you look closely, however, these "transciptions" just don't have much backing. This is true of Putnam and McDowell and many many others with respect to sense data and it is, even, true of some (e.g. O' Shaugnessey), who are sympathetic to the volitional theory in some respects. The problem has been in interpreting Wittgenstein's private language argument a certain way; in particular as narrowly anti-Cartesian. True there is some of this, but Wittgenstein was not addressing Descartes. He was addressing, mainly Russell, and to a lesser extent James. The current situation is deplorable: philosophers who inveigh against the "inner" for example have taken to putting the word for Descartes views in quotes, "Cartesianism," because essentially they don't really know what Descartes says and they are addressing the anti-mentalist cronies among the physicalists who simply don't care. So what we see is Putnam yapping about a theory no sense datist ever proposed; and others yapping about the inner, making reductio arguments very easy to construct (no tears here!). So, if you don't believe me, then do this: define 'inner' from within the actual historical record. Also, do not use 'private' as a synonym unless you go on to define that. My point is not that the sense datists are wrong. It is that the arguments against them basically amount to ridicule and fudging the historical data. By the way, I'm not a sense datist in the ordinary sense, but the arguments against this position are incredibly weak, not to mention that philosophical theories that attempt to go beyond neurology or "dead end" physicalism. 

Steve Bayne 
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