Petrus Hispanus Lectures 2003 – Ned Block

May 23, 2003 12:00am

22-23 May

Ned Block
Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, New York University

Ned Block (Ph.D., Harvard) went to New York University in 1996 from MIT where he was Chair of the Philosophy Program. He works in philosophy of mind, metaphysics and foundations of cognitive science and is currently writing a book on consciousness. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Language and Information, a Sloan Foundation Fellow, a faculty member at two NEH Institutes and two NEH Seminars and the recipient of grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Science Foundation. He is a past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, a past Chair of the MIT Press Cognitive Science Board of Syndics, and is currently President-elect of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. The Philosophers’ Annual selected his papers in 1983, 1990 and 1996. He is co-editor of The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates (MIT Press, 1997). Two volumes of his collected papers are forthcoming from MIT Press.

Lecture 1: The Mind-Body Problem from a Neuroscientific Point of View

Since the 1960s, the mind-body problem has been a battle between three points of view, dualism (Descartes), physicalism (Hobbes, Smart) and functionalism (Aristotle, Putnam, Fodor, Lewis).  This paper will put dualism aside, focusing on the opposition between functionalism and physicalism and how empirical investigations might in principle be relevant.  If a sensory brain state plays an unusual functional role, does the phenomenology go with the role or the brain state?  If the phenomenology goes with the functional role, that supports functionalism, which is the view that phenomenology is the role.  If it goes with the brain state, that supports physicalism, which is the view that phenomenology realizes the role.  This paper will explain the difference between functionalism and physicalism and consider the question of the empirical component to the debate.


Lecture 2: Other Minds and Vagueness
The Hard Problem of consciousness is that we have no conception of why the physical basis of a conscious experience is the physical basis of that experience rather than another or none.  But there is another problem of consciousness that is in some ways more disturbing: that problem has to do with a clash between the naturalistic and phenomenal realist points of view with regard to the problem of other minds.  The only way for us to formulate a science of consciousness is to base it on the one creature we know for sure to be conscious, namely us (construed to cover creatures that are closely physically related to us).  But how can a science of consciousness based on us generalize to creatures that dont share our physical nature, for example octopi or silicon robots?  Any form of physicalism that could embrace such other creatures would have to be based on them in part in the first place, but that cannot be done unless we already know whether or not they are conscious.  But if we have no way of comprehending whether other creatures can be conscious, we have no way of comprehending whether phenomenal resemblances between us and other creatures, if there are any, have a physical nature, so we have no way of comprehending whether physicalism is true of us.  In thinking about the application of our mental concepts to octopi and silicon robots, one proposal that often arises is that our mental concepts are vague: they apply determinately to us, but their application to aliens is indeterminate.  This paper will consider the problem and this proposed solution to it.


Organizing institutions:
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa
Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências a Educação da Universidade de Lisboa
Centro de Psicometria e Psicologia da Educação da UL