Minds, Brains, Souls/Anscombe on Wittgenstein and the Mental
January 29, 2014
Stuart W. Mirsky in Analytic Philosophy, Cartesianism, Daniel Dennett, Descartes, Ethics, Ethics, G. E. M. Anscombe, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stuart Mirsky, Wittgenstein, mental, minds
I've recently picked up Human Life, Action And Ethics by G. E. M. Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein and later editor of some of his work. I was not familiar with her as a philosopher in her own right, though I knew she had that standing. The book, a compilation of a great many of her most important essays, dealing mainly with matters of ethics and morals, was edited by Mary Geach, her daughter and also a philosopher in her own right, and Luke Gormally with whom I am not familiar. The very first essay (which is as far as I have so far got), is entitled Analytical Philosophy and the Spirituality of Man. Although I have not yet gotten far in it the following passage, near the very beginning, struck me as relevant to the battles so often played out in this discussion group (can we call it that?) and on earlier lists where many of us also participated. She writes:
Nowadays the belief in an immaterial mind is exclusively associated with Cartesian dualism. and there seem to philosophers to be three options: to hold to Cartesian dualism of some sort, as some analytic philosophers do; or to believe in the identity of all mental states and happenings with brain states and brain events; or to adopt behaviourism: that is, the doctrine that all mental states or events are to be explained reductively as human behaviour.
It seems to me that this very much reflects or anticipates the choices that seem to be the subject of the endless argument here about afterimages and their implications for a metaphysical account of how things are. She goes on:
For the moment I want to call attention to this one point: that the idea of the immaterial nature of the soul is now dissociated from its original sources [the ancients and medievals], and associated exclusively with a conception of what is expressed by a first person present indicative psychological verb in serious assertoric use. One may have good reason to reject immaterial substance so conceived, and then take it for granted that with that rejection the whole question of the immateriality of the soul is settled. If so, one may believe that any metaphysics of the spirituality of man's nature has also been discredited.
Since I am just getting my feet wet with Anscombe, and have only begun the book and this first essay, I can't say much more about it than I have. Still, it strikes me that she offers an interesting perspective, particularly insofar as she apparently moves from this issue of the nature of the human being as a sentient creature to claims about the moral dimension of our lives. In particular, it seems she took a rather old fashioned view of morality and argued for a somewhat extreme stance on a great many modern moral questions (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, war) which is often grounded in Catholic doctrine though it does not always track that doctrine as interpreted in modern Catholic venues. Anscombe continues a little further down:
In describing the options that seem to the present day analytic philosopher to be open for consideration, I have left out Wittgenstein. Most people who do not try to follow him closely classify him as a behaviourist; thus he does not seem to them to offer a different possibility. It is true that his so-called 'behaviourism' is allowed to be of a rather special kind, and called 'logical behaviourism', because it appears to be connected with questions about how words like 'pain' get and manifest their meaning; but still it is supposed to be a form of behaviourism, and therefore of denial of the 'inner'.
Wittgenstein and those who attempt to follow him closely deny that he is a behaviourist. To others the matter perhaps seems obscured by a sort of evasiveness: a failure to come out in the open and plump for any one of what seem to be all the alternatives. Does Wittgenstein, do Wittgensteinians, believe that mental events are material events? No. Do they believe they are events taking place in an immaterial substance? Certainly not. Then, if not behaviourism, what do they believe?
I will quote the passage in which Wittgenstein seems most evidently to attack the concept of spirit . . . [Philosophical Investigations Part I, no. 35]. He has introduced the idea of pointing to the shape of an object as opposed to pointing to its colour. For when we grasp an ostensive definition -- an explanation of a word by pointing to its object -- we have to know what is being pointed to . . . I quote:
"To repeat: in certain cases, especially when one points 'to the shape' or 'to the number', there are characteristic experiences and ways of pointing -- characteristic because they recur often (not always) when shape or number are 'meant'. But do you also know of an experience characteristic of pointing to a piece as a piece of a game? All the same, one can say: 'I mean that this piece is called the 'king', not this particular bit of wood I am pointing at."
After a bit of explication, Anscombe quotes a bit more:
And then Wittgenstein says:
"And we do here what we do in a host of similar cases: because we can't give any one bodily action which we call pointing to the shape (as opposed, for example, to the colour), we say that a spiritual activity corresponds to these words.
"Where our language suggests a body and there is none; there, we would like to say, is a spirit.

It applies, Anscombe writes, to cases where we're moved to speak of "hearing a tune running in one's head" . . . "as if," she writes, "the imagination were another medium. . . Since Descartes we have been inclined to speak of spirit or mind, or soul here. But this spirit or mind is as it were a sort of stuff, as it were immaterial matter, a refined ethereal medium in which things go on."

Here it seems Anscombe's point is to suggest that Wittgenstein, in rejecting the Cartesian picture, also rejected its alternatives and moved back to a more holistic view of reality in which the so-called mental and the physical are inextricably interlocked, are thoroughly and irrevocably intertwined. In this way Wittgenstein's rejection of the Cartesian picture is not seen as a simple de facto or de jure embrace of either a purely neurological or behavioural account, each of which subsist on their opposition to Cartesianism, but a call to renew the very old human acquaintance with an integrated picture of reality. But if one remains wedded to the kind of mind body dichotomy that supports Cartesianism, then any rejection of it must seem to cast the rejector into one of these other camps with all their attendant logical problems.

Thus someone like Joe, on this list, cannot see how Dennett's rejection of the afterimage model as evidence for a separately subsisting mental realm, can amount to anything but the embrace of a pure, unadulterated physicalism which seems to logically require the rejection of mental phenomena as mental phenomena (the rejection of experience) or else be in logical contradiction with itself.

Anscombe in this essay directs our attention to a different way of understanding Wittgenstein's thinking on the matter of the mental and thereby opens up a very different path for us in resolving what otherwise must seem to some here to be an irresolvable dispute.

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