Criticizing a critic of Pinker


I have encountered the notion of dualism again in an odd way. Someone was trying to maintain that Steven Pinker is a Platonist Dualist. Well really, how bizarre. See link to ‘Do we need a biological theory of human nature?’ by David Large here .

On the surface the article seems to be another philosopher complaining that a scientist on encroaching on his patch.

“ (Pinker) walks straight into a whole set of long-discussed philosophical arguments which he appears woefully equipped to deal with. True, he’s not a philosopher, and The Blank Slate is not a philosophy book, but ignorance is no excuse for engaging in areas where these arguments apply and for coming up with positions that miss the point.”

It seems to me that it is usually Large that is missing the point.

Large puts that he thinks is Pinker’s position in this little paragraph.

“If you say, as Pinker does, the mind is what the brain does, you are advancing cartesian dualism. If you say, as Pinker does, the proper theory of human nature is a biological theory of human nature, you are advancing biological monism,… So Pinker appears to be both a cartesian dualist and a biological monist. This is a philosophically tricky place to be.” Or in this one, “Here we see Pinker at his most incisive and at his most philosophically naive. Having analysed the problem, summarised the research and given a critique of the outcome he refers to human dispositions and behaviours, in terms of ‘wiring’ in the brain and brain development. This is mind/brain dualism of the standard cartesian kind. It is commonly found among psychologists and other scientists commenting on the mind. This sits alongside his platonic commitment to a biological theory of human nature

How does the idea that mind is what the brain does, become dualism? How is any scientific theory Platonic as opposed to empirical? Why is an Alice in Wonderland world being created here?

If we state some clearer examples:

  • circulation is what the heart does

  • digestion is what the gut does

  • movement is what muscle does

  • mind is what brain does

What is dualist about any of these statements?

Let us put one of these functions in this statement:

“On this view, human nature and dispositions do not reduce below the level of the person. The most we can say for the biological approach is that while human nature is connected to human biology and to Pinker’s new sciences, human nature is not constituted by human biology, and human nature is not explained by a biological approach alone.”

What we would get is:

“On this view, circulation and blood flow do not reduce below the level of the person. The most we can say for the biological approach is that while circulation is connected to human biology and to Pinker’s new sciences, circulation is not constituted by human biology, and circulation is not explained by a biological approach alone.”

Where would you look for an explanation of a bodily function then in the biology of the body? And in the case of the mind the explanation will be found in the anatomy, physiology, chemistry, development and genetics of the brain in particular and the body in general. Of course the investigations need to go below the level of the person – that is the whole point of the investigations.

2 thoughts on “Criticizing a critic of Pinker

  1. Hi, Im from Australia. Please check out this unique Understanding of Consciousness—and science and religion

    1. http://www.adidam.org/teaching/aletheon/truth-life.aspx

    2. http://www.dabase.org/s-atruth.htm Reality & The Middle (scroll down)

    3. http://www.dabase.org/broken.htm

    4. http://www.aboutadidam.org/lesser_alternatives/scientific_materialism/index.html on the baneful limits of the now ruling paradigm of scientism

    JanetK: This blog is trying to follow what science is discovering about consciousness and is therefore a blog that values the materialist approach.

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