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  • Does Inner Sense Make Sense?Consciousness and Causality by D. M. Armstrong; Norman MalcolmReview by: Lynn StephensBehaviorism, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Fall, 1987), pp. 149-154Published by: Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies (CCBS)Stable URL: .Accessed: 28/06/2014 07:32

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  • Behaviorism, Fall 1987, Vol. 15, Number 2

    DOES INNER SENSE MAKE SENSE?: A Review of Consciousness and Causality, by D. M. Armstrong and

    Norman Malcolm. Basil Blackwell: New York. 1984.

    Lynn Stephens University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Consciousness and Causality pits D. M. Armstrong against Norman Malcolm in the second of Blackwell's Great Debates in Philosophy series. The debate centers on questions about consciousness: What is it? How is it related to its objects? Can consciousness itself be an object of consciousness? However the discussion ranges widely, taking up theories such as Functionalism and Materialism, and touching on the work of philosophers from Descartes to Dennett. The

    argument between Armstrong and Malcolm contains several points of interest in its own right. It

    also constitutes a fascinating recapitulation of the recent history of philosophical psychology. Malcolm opens the debate with a thoroughgoing critique of traditional philosophical

    psychology. According to the traditional picture, psychological terms such as "belief," "intention," "perception," etc., denote inner states causally related to our publicly observable activities. Such states cannot be publicly observed, but each of us has access to his own inner states via a sort of internal observation (introspection, self-consciousness, or whatever).

    Malcolm dismisses this picture as illusion engendered by three hundred years of bad philosophy. He seeks to expose the nature and extent of its confusions by giving philosophers a refresher course in the everyday uses of psychological language. Careful attention to ordinary usage reveals, he argues, that observation (internal or otherwise) plays hardly any role in self-ascription of psychological predicates, that such predicates do not designate inner states, that the

    connections between mental states and their external occasions or behavioral manifestations are

    logical rather than causal. That so much theorizing flies in the face of these obvious truths he

    regards as testimony to the bewitching power of philosophical speculation.

    When philosophers step from ordinary life into their studies, they become bewitched. They no longer understand

    what they have always known. They no longer see what has always been in plain view. We may say with

    Wittgenstein: 'God grant the philosopher insight into what lies in front of everyone's eyes.' (p. 101)

    Malcolm's basic approach descends from the work of Austin, Ryle, and especially,

    Wittgenstein. During the 1950's and the early 1960's this approach exerted a powerful influence on philosophy of mind and Malcolm was one of its leading proponents. Since then

    its attraction has waned considerably. Inspired by the development of psycholinguistics,

    cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence, the traditional picture of the mind has taken

    a new lease on life. Various philosphers have made important contributions to this revival

    including Jerry Fodor, Hilary Putnam, David Lewis, William Lycan, Sydney Shoemaker,

    and?very notably?D. M. Armstrong.

    Against Malcolm, Armstrong maintains that the picture of mental states as inner causes

    suggests itself almost irresistably to uncorrupted reflection. The formidable problems

    historically associated with this view arise, not from the basic picture itself, but from two


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    subsidiary theses: (1) that mental states are non-physical causes, and (2) that we have

    exhaustive and infallible access to our own mental states. Armstrong argues that the

    traditional theory commits us to neither thesis. He outlines a naturalistic interpretation of

    that theory, incorporating a (roughly) Functionalist account of mental states and a model of

    introspection as an inner sense subject to the typical limitations of the external senses. So

    understood, the traditional picture must still prove its empirical adequacy, but it can face

    down its philosophical critics.

    Malcolm, of course, remains unimpressed. Naturalizing the traditional picture does

    nothing to remove what he regards as its essential defects. Indeed, it compounds them,

    attempting to brace up the traditonal absurdities with modern absurdities such as

    Functionalism and Materialism. Needless to say, Armstrong disagrees. Rather than follow the debate blow-by-blow, I shall concentrate on the discussion of

    introspection. This topic elicits some of each authors' most radical and interesting observations. It also brings out the characteristic features of their respective approaches to

    philosophical psychology. The traditional view of introspection is that, "For the case of a person's own mind,

    though not for any other mind, a perception-like process goes on which yields the person information about the current state of his own mind." (p. 108) Borrowing from Kant,

    Armstrong calls this process "inner sense." He sees nothing especially mysterious in the idea of inner sense, i.e., in the hypothesis that people have a capacity for "monitoring" their own

    inner states. The mystery attached to this notion arises from exaggerated claims concerning the scope and reliability of inner sense. If one holds, as Locke held, that all one's mental states are revealed to one by inner sense and that one can never be in error regarding one's current mental state, the inner sense takes on a very remarkable aspect. However, Armstrong argues, we have no good reason to believe that introspection gives us such access to our mental states. Rather, it is one sense among the several with which we are endowed, and is liable to the failure and illusions which affect them all. (pp. 121-137) He admits that the

    mechanism of inner sense is less well understood than those of the outer senses. Nevertheless, he argues that the operation of such a natural perceptual process provides the best possible explanation of our epistemic access to our own mental states.

    Malcolm attempts to make short work of such theories. He argues as follows: 1. If Armstrong's theory were correct, then, whenever it makes sense to say that a person

    is in a given mental state, it should make sense to say of him that he perceives (or fails to

    perceive) the mental state in question. 2. Normally, when it makes sense to say that a person is in a given mental state, it does

    not make sense to say of him that he perceives (or fails to perceive) that mental state. Conclusion: Armstrong's theory is not correct. (This sort of argument is suggested by

    Malcolm's remarks on p. 35) The first premise seems harmless enough, but what justifies the second? According to

    Malcolm its truth becomes manifest when we consider the sorts of situations in which people ordinarily say, e.g., 'I smell the cabbage' or 'He is angry.' (Call these ascriptions of

    psychological predicates, "C-locutions.") Reflecting on what can be said in such cases, we will recognize that, e.g., 'I am aware that I smell the cabbage,' or 'He has an inner perception of his anger' (call these CC-locutions) cannot be said. Were someone to talk of perceiving or otherwise discerning his mental states in such circumstances, "we should not understand him" and would regard his utterance as "hilarious nonsense." (p. 29)

    Malcolm hastens to add that he is not asserting that CC-locutions never make sense.


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    They make sense in certain unusual situations. But, inner sense theories get no support from such cases. Even when a CC-locution can be said it says nothing more than the

    corresponding C-locution.

    Suppose a friend had suffered a concussion, the only lasting consequence of which was that he had lost his sense of smell. This incapacity lasted for several years. One day he exclaims with excitement: lI perceive that I am beginning to smell the odor of cabbage!' This unusual mode of expression would be justified by the dramatic nature of the situation. In r