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Ideas of Robert Kirk, by Text

[British, fl. 1990, Professor at Nottingham University.]

2003 Mind and Body
2.5 p.37 Dualism implies some brain events with no physical cause, and others with no physical effect
     Full Idea: If the mind causes brain events, then they are not caused by other brain events, and such causal gaps should be detectable by scientists; there should also be a gap of brain-events which cause no other brain events, because they are causing mind events.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 2.5)
     A reaction: This is the double causation problem which Spinoza had spotted (Idea 4862). Expressed this way, it seems a screamingly large problem for dualism. We should be able to discover some VERY strange physical activity in the brain.
3.8 p.60 All meaningful psychological statements can be translated into physics
     Full Idea: All psychological statements which are meaningful, that is to say, which are in principle verifiable, are translatable into propositions which do not involve psychological concepts, but only the concepts of physics.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 3.8)
     A reaction: This shows how eliminativist behaviourism arises out of logical positivism (by only allowing what is verifiable). The simplest objection: we can't verify the mental states of others, because they are private, but they are still the best explanation.
3.8 p.60 If mental states are multiply realisable, they could not be translated into physical terms
     Full Idea: If psychological states are multiply realisable it is hard to see how they could possibly be translated into physical terms.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 3.8)
     A reaction: Reductive funtionalism would do it. A writing iimplement is physical and multiply realisable. Personally I prefer the strategy of saying mental states are NOT multiply realisable. If frog brains differ from ours, they probably don't feel pain like us.
3.8 p.61 A weaker kind of reductionism than direct translation is the use of 'bridge laws'
     Full Idea: If multiple realisability means that psychological terms cannot be translated into physics, one weaker kind of reductionism resorts to 'bridge laws' which link the theory to be reduced to the reducing theory.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 3.8)
     A reaction: It seems to me that reduction is all-or-nothing, so there can't be a 'weaker' kind. If they are totally separate but linked by naturally necessary laws (e.g. low temperature and ice), they are supervenient, but not reducible to one another.
4.5 p.84 The inverted spectrum idea is often regarded as an objection to behaviourism
     Full Idea: The inverted spectrum idea is often regarded as an objection to behaviourism.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 4.5)
     A reaction: Thus, my behaviour at traffic lights should be identical, even if I have a lifelong inversion of red and green. A good objection. Note that physicalists can believe in inverted qualia as well a dualists, as long as the brain states are also inverted.
5.1 p.100 Behaviourism seems a good theory for intentional states, but bad for phenomenal ones
     Full Idea: For many kinds of mental states, notably intentional ones such as beliefs and desires, behaviourism is appealing, ..but for sensations and experiences such as pain, it seems grossly implausible.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 5.1)
     A reaction: The theory does indeed make a bit more sense for intentional states, but it still strikes me as nonsense that there is no more to my belief that 'Whales live in the Atlantic' than a disposition to say something. WHY do I say this something?
5.2 p.103 In 'holistic' behaviourism we say a mental state is a complex of many dispositions
     Full Idea: There is a non-reductive version of behaviourism ( which we can call 'global' or 'holistic') which says there is no more to having mental states than having a complex of certain kinds of behavioural dispositions.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 5.2)
     A reaction: This is designed to meet a standard objection to behaviourism - that there is no straight correlation between what I think and how I behave. The present theory is obviously untestable, because a full 'complex' of human dispositions is never repeated.
5.4 p.104 If a bird captures a worm, we could say its behaviour is 'about' the worm
     Full Idea: When a bird pulls a worm from the ground, then swallows it piece by piece, there is a sense in which its behaviour can be said to be about the worm.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 5.4)
     A reaction: This is preparing the ground for a possible behaviourist account of intentionality. Reply: you could say rain is about puddles, or you could say we have adopted Dennett's 'intentional stance' to birds, but it tells us nothing about their psychology.
5.5 p.106 Behaviourism offers a good alternative to simplistic unitary accounts of mental relationships
     Full Idea: There is a temptation to think that 'aboutness', and the 'contents' of thoughts, and the relation of 'reference', are single and unitary relationships, but behaviourism offers an alternative approach.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 5.5)
     A reaction: Personally I wouldn't touch behaviourism with a barge-pole (as it ducks the question of WHY certain behaviour occurs), but a warning against simplistic accounts of intentional states is good. I am sure there cannot be a single neat theory of refererence.
5.5 p.107 Behaviourists doubt whether reference is a single type of relation
     Full Idea: To most behaviourists it seems misguided to expect there to be a single relation that connects referring expressions with their referents.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 5.5)
     A reaction: You don't need to be a behaviourist to feel this doubt. Think about names of real people, names of fictional people, reference to misunderstood items, or imagined items, or reference in dreams, or to mathematical objects, or negations etc.
7.10 p.158 Behaviourism says intentionality is an external relation; language of thought says it's internal
     Full Idea: The conflict over whether intentionality is a matter of behavioural relations with the rest of the world, or of the internal states of the subject, is at its most dramatic in the contrast between behaviourism and the language of thought hypothesis.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 7.10)
     A reaction: I just don't believe any behaviourist external account of intentionality, which ducks the question of how it all works. Personally I am more drawn to maps and models than to a language of thought. I plan my actions in an imagined space-time world.
7.3 p.142 It seems unlikely that most concepts are innate, if a theory must be understood to grasp them
     Full Idea: It is widely accepted that for many concepts, if not all, grasping the concept requires grasping some theory, ...which makes difficulties for the view that concepts are not learned: for 'radical concept nativism', as Fodor calls it.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 7.3)
     A reaction: Not a problem for traditional rationalist theories, where the whole theory can be innate along with the concept, but a big objection to modern more cautious non-holistic views (such as Fodor's). Does a bird have a concept AND theory of a nest?
7.6 p.149 Instead of representation by sentences, it can be by a distribution of connectionist strengths
     Full Idea: In a connectionist system, information is represented not by sentences but by the total distribution of connection strengths.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 7.6)
     A reaction: Neither sentences (of a language of thought) NOR connection strengths strike me as very plausible ways for a brain to represent things. It must be something to do with connections, but it must also be to do with neurons, or we get bizarre counterexamples.
7.9 p.155 For behaviourists language is just a special kind of behaviour
     Full Idea: Behaviourists regard the use of language as just a special kind of behaviour.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 7.9)
     A reaction: This is not an intuitively obvious view of language. We behave, and then we talk about behaviour. Performative utterances (like promising) have an obvious behavioural aspect, as do violent threats, but not highly theoretical language (such as maths).
8.4 p.167 Maybe we should see intentionality and consciousness as a single problem, not two
     Full Idea: Many philosophers today have adopted the view that we can achieve an enormous simplification by reducing the two components of the mind-body problem - intentionality and consciousness - into one; ...consciousness is no more than representations.
     From: Robert Kirk (Mind and Body [2003], 8.4)
     A reaction: One would then see subjective experience and informational content as two consequences of a single mental activity. This strikes me as the correct route to go. We do, after all, learn BY experiencing. Hence concepts are tied in with qualia.