How Do We Judge Philosophical Changes?

Eric Schwitzgebel has written recently that he doesn’t think anybody knows if panpsychism is true or false, and philosophers who claim to know, are, consciously or not, faking it. We need more evidence he argued, and we don’t have it yet — that’s why there is disagreement.

I tried to articulate why I think this is the wrong way to pose this issue.

Panpsychism as I understand it, maintains that a salt molecule is conscious. My conviction is that there couldn’t be any conceivable evidence that a salt molecule is or is not conscious, so we cannot be waiting for evidence. It seemed to me therefore that the sort of big philosophical change that comes from embracing panpsychism or rejecting it has to be part of a larger group of social, cultural, aesthetic, and psychological changes which cohere with the belief “a salt molecule is conscious” (or a salt molecule is not conscious).

Eric asked — well are those changes justified? In effect, are we just talking about mob psychology here? If we are, it seems like bleak news for philosophy. It seems, sadly that we must all be kidding ourselves, or faking it, as we come up for justifications for major shifts that unjustifiable.

I don’t want to embrace that. So I think I owe a justification for philosophical change.

Here goes:

A philosophical change is justified if it helps us make the world happier by fulfilling people’s desires..

That’s why I will never embrace the view that a salt molecule is conscious, if that entails meaning that a salt molecule has desires. Because how could we satisfy the desires of a salt molecule and weigh them against the competing desires of the sodium and chlorine ions contained within it?

So since no philosophy will make the world happier by maintaining salt molecules are conscious, they aren’t conscious, therefore panpsychism isn’t right.


2 thoughts on “How Do We Judge Philosophical Changes?

  1. arnold says:

    These two comments were tried at splintered mind…
    …Has consciousness become, really only, a psychological endeavor today…
    No longer a philosophical pursuit into thought that becomes meta physical practices for sustaining the presence of love of wisdom, in oneself here now..

    …Do we have to remember consciousness in order to remember consciousness…
    What is remembering consciousness has to be remembered…
    …does consciousness have to remembered when we explain it? Is it, the more consciousness is remembered the more consciousness presents itself…

    great stuff

  2. Based on your description of panpsychism, I’m not sure how much content it has. What exactly would it mean to believe that “a salt molecule is conscious”? It does exhibit specific behaviors in response to specific situations, just like anything with a finite nature. If that’s all panpsychism asserts, then it’s trivial, at least in content. If it asserts more than that, then it has IMHO insurmountable problems both in defining what it means and (as you observed) producing evidence that what it asserts is true.

    I’m inclined to see panpsychism less as a philosophy than as an attitude of reverence for existence, like that held by people who believe a loving God creates and sustains the universe.

    Re the ethics of belief, since belief essentially involves behavior, I think it can be justified both logically (looking backward at evidence) and forward (looking at results). Most beliefs of any consequence are justified or unjustified in both ways, so we try to decide if they are justified “all things considered.”

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