Does Inner Sense Make Sense?

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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 07:32Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact .Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies (CCBS) is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Behaviorism. This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions, 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 149 This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 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. 150 This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions REVIEW OF ARMSTRONG AND MALCOLM 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 respect of its informative character this exclamation would come to the same thing as 4I am beginning to smell the odor cabbage!' The phrase, 'I perceive that' was a rhetorical flourish, natural enough in the circumstances. It did not mean that in addition to the smelling, there was a perception of the smelling. In the normal case you cannot be said to 'perceive' that you smell the cabbage: you just smell it. (pp. 29-30) Let us concede that people don't ordinarily employ CC-locutions. Does this show that such locutions don't ordinarily make sense? Armstrong might well argue that it shows only that CC-locutions are not appropriate in most conversational contexts. Normally our interests focus on external conditions, e.g., 'What's for dinner?', not on our perceptions of these conditions, T am having an olfactory experience.' CC-locutions tend to turn our attention away from what we perceive and toward the fact that we receive it. Hence, in most contexts, they don't advance the ongoing discussion. (Armstrong suggests this sort of reply, pp. 128-129) Indeed, Malcolm's own account of those special situations in which CC-locutions do make sense lends credence to the above reply. In such cases, he says, the CC-locution and its corresponding C-locution do not differ with respect to their "informative character," but only in their "rhetorical" character. If the choice to use a CC-locution in the unusual case is a matter of rhetoric, why isn't the choice not to use a CC-locution in the normal case equally rhetorical? The contention that CC-locutions do not differ in "informative character" from their corresponding C-locutions, in itself, poses no problem for Armstrong. In his view, my saying, T smell the cabbage,' shows that I am aware of my olfactory perception. Saying, 'I perceive that I smell the cabbage,' simply gives explicit expression to my awareness. Malcolm considers the sort of reply just envisioned. He dismisses it as a specious argument. What is 'inappropriate to say' is being confused with what cannot be said... It may on occasion be inappropriate (because rude, injudicious, unfair, misleading, etc.) to say something which can be said and is true (or false). But what cannot be said is neither true or false, (pp. 35-38) The difficulty with Malcolm's counter argument is that he offers no principled, polemically useful way to distinguish what cannot be said from what it is inappropriate to say. The notions of what cannot be said, what it is senseless to say, and what is neither true nor false form a very tight circle in his account. Clearly Armstrong will not concede that CC locutions don't make sense or are neither true nor false. The uncontroversial fact of ordinary usage is that we don't normally say such things. The question is, 'Why not?' Armstrong answers, 'Because they are conversationally inappropriate.' Malcolm insists, 'Because they cannot be said,': but, he gives us no guidance about how we are supposed to tell which answer is correct. Remarkably, he denies that there are any general rules or principles for determining whether a given expression can be said in a given situation. "Knowing a language," he insists, "is knowing what can be said and what cannot be said, from case to case. It is knowledge of 151 This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions particular cases, not of general rules. " (p. 36, Author's emphasis) Absent some such principles, however, Malcolm's case against Armstrong seems to rest on nothing firmer that Malcolm's case by case intuitions about what can be said. However, Armstrong's inner sense model of introspection faces other sorts of problems. One such problem arises from his account of the nature of mental states. He holds that mental states are complex causal properties of persons. A given sort of mental state is a property which causally mediates, in a particular sort of way, between environmental input and the person's behavioral output. Against Ryle, he insists that such properties are nor mere dispositions. They are embodied in "categorical inner states" of the person?brain states, in the case of human persons?which provide the ultimate explanation of why persons have these causal properties. Mental states are token-token identical with brain states, but the familiar mental state terms?"belief, intention, sensation," etc.?are defined by reference to various sorts of causal roles. (See pp. 137-143 for Armstrong's basic account, to which certain complications are added, pp. 153-157.) What, then, does inner sense reveal to us? What do we perceive our mental states as! Armstrong gives a somewhat surprising answer to these questions. . . .There is something to the idea that even our own introspectively observed states, events, and processes are theoretical entities. They are semi-observational, semi-theoretical entities. They are observed as is simply as things which play a causal role. (pp. 145-146) When I enter most intimately into what I call 'myself,' I perceive myself, according to Armstrong, only as the possessor of various abstract, highly complex causal properties. "In introspection," he asserts: the introspector comes to be in informational states concerning his own mental states. These ... are inner states which are occupiers of complex causal roles. The information acquired about them in introspection is limited to them qua occupiers of these complex causal roles, (p. 146) As an admittedly oversimplified model of introspective awareness of mental states, Armstrong imagines a person who by passing his hand over a piece of glass can, "immediately and not inferentially," acquire the information that the glass is brittle. Similarly, he suggests, inner sense gives us immediately the information that we have the sorts of complex causal properties which we call "beliefs," "intentions," and so forth. Such information may be mistaken, but it represents the direct delivery of introspection. Inner sense then turns out to be a remarkable faculty after all, if not for its scope and reliability, then for its penetration into the causal powers of organisms. Physics would be much simpler if we had some comparable external sense. Armstrong's conclusions about what we observe our mental states as follow from his Functionalist analysis of mental states and from his conviction that introspection involves non-inferential acquisition of information about mental states qua mental states. He defends the former at length, but says little to justify the latter. It is not obvious that we acquire beliefs about our own mental states qua mental states non-inferentially. The primary reason for thinking that we do, i.e., that we are not aware of any inferential processes involved in the introspection of such beliefs, is thoroughly undermined by Armstrong's own account of the limits on our introspective access to mental phenomena. More importantly, Armstrong's position on the content of inner perception seems wildly premature. A theory of introspection ought to explain the details of our epistemic 152 This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions REVIEW OF ARMSTRONG AND MALCOLM access to our own mental states. Why can we introspect some mental states but not others? We have, for example, an enormous number of causal properties of the sort described by Armstrong. Our various sensory systems process input and modulate behavioral responses in an astonishing variety of ways which empirical research is only beginning to uncover. Why doesnt inner sense reveal these causal properties to us? Why do we make the sorts of introspective mistakes we make: confusing perception and hallucination, for instance? The answer to the question of what inner sense directly reveals to us will depend on what we know (and don't know) about our own consciousness. I have explored only one corner of the field which Armstrong and Malcolm contest. I hope I have conveyed something of the spirit of the battle and the strategies of the antagonists. Their conflict here is itself a part of philosphy's long struggle to come to grips with consciousness. Though it is not clear that it brings that struggle any nearer its conclusion, Consciousness and Causality provides a good starting point for anyone who wants to understand what the fight is all about. 153 This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:32:17 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Contentsp. 149p. 150p. 151p. 152p. 153p. 154Issue Table of ContentsBehaviorism, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Fall, 1987), pp. 89-181Front MatterReference to Myself [pp. 89-106]When Speaking of Probability in Behavior Analysis [pp. 107-130]The Computational Model of the Mind and Philosophical Functionalism [pp. 131-140]The Structure of Conduct [pp. 141-148]Reviews and RepliesDoes Inner Sense Make Sense? [pp. 149-154]Reply to Stephen's Review [pp. 155-156]Reply to Stephen's Review [pp. 157-160]Exercises in Naturalistic Epistemology [pp. 161-164]The Hempel and Goodman Paradoxes: A Reply to Adler [pp. 165-166]Facing the Continuity Assumption [pp. 167-170]Behaviorism in a Hundred Years of Scientific Psychology [pp. 171-174]Toward an Anatomy of Human Nature [pp. 175-178]Philosophy as One among Many Varieties of Reflection [pp. 179-181]Back Matter