Saturday, 28 March 2015
Failures of materialism: the long history of the Hard Problem
From The Times Literary Supplement
by Galen Strawson
“Many historians of philosophy, with all their intended praise, . . . attribute mere nonsense . . . to past philosophers”, as Kant pointed out in 1790. The history of ideas is a zoo – of myths about what happened and what people said. I used to think the mythologizing was a relatively slow process, because the passage of time was needed to blur the past. Twenty years ago, however, an instant myth was born: a myth about a dramatic resurgence of interest in the topic of consciousness in philosophy, in the mid-1990s, after long neglect.
It’s too late to uproot it now. It’s spread like Japanese kudzu or Russian ivy. Too many people have a stake in it, including those who believe that they lived through the resurgence (especially the graduate students of the time) and have a place, however modest, among its champions. It soared on a soaring internet whose massively accumulative character then fixed it in place. So it’s worth putting it on the record that it’s a myth.
In the case of psychology the story of resurgence has some truth. There are doubts about its timing. The distinguished psychologist of memory Endel Tulving places it in the 1980s. “Consciousness has recently again been declared to be the central problem of psychology”, he wrote in 1985, citing a number of other authors. The great dam of behaviouristic psychology was cracking and spouting. It was bursting. Even so, there was a further wave of liberation in psychology in the 1990s. Discussion of consciousness regained full respectability after seventy years of marginalization, although there were of course (and still are) a few holdouts.
In the case of philosophy, however, the story of resurgence is simply a myth. There was a small but fashionable group of philosophers of mind who in the 1970s and 80s focused particularly on questions about belief and “intentionality”, and had relatively little to say about consciousness. Their intensely parochial outlook may be one of the origins of the myth. But the problem of consciousness, the “hard problem”, remained central throughout those years. It never shifted from the heart of the discipline taken as a whole..." Read it all