My Theory of Dialectical Naturalism

I began my philosophy of dialectical naturalism by being very inspired by the philosophy of mind that John McDowell developed in his John Locke Lectures in the 90s, and published in book form in Mind and World.

McDowell is first a Wittgensteinian quietist, and a Hegelian second. I am a Hegelian, and in no way a Wittgensteinian. So the message that I lifted from Mind and World is one that is at odds with McDowell's philosophy.

McDowell only figures concepts that humans understand and possess to inhabit the Fregean level of 'sense'. I take it to mean that concepts are situated in the level of 'reference'. So when McDowell takes it to mean that concepts are, fundamentally, ephemeral human constructions that do not actually inhabit the objective world, I disagree. I am a strong conceptual realist. I hold that concepts are objects that exist in the world whether or not humans existed, and whether or not humans are aware about them.

I also differ from McDowell in my characterisation of what a concept is. McDowell accepts some of Kant's story, only some of Hegel's story, and parts of Aristotle when dealing with concepts. On the whole, McDowell is a Kantian about concepts—he pictures them to be mentalistic relationships that help humans make judgements. I do not agree with this either. I take a concept to be an Aristotelian Hegelian concept. That is, it is the objective or actual expression of some essence. It is something's formal-final cause. In this way, I do not admit of concepts as mentalistic objects. This has an important effect on the theory of truth that this philosophy espouses. Truth and reality are not foundationalist. Truths and facts are not atomic, static blocks that are either 'all' or 'nothing' about their validity and soundness.

In this way, foundationalism treats 'truth' and 'reality' as interchangeable labels. I make a distinction between truth and realness. I admit that everything is real, or, as McDowell says, a fact is something that is the case, and that the world is a totality of facts, but, I say some things are more true that others.

What makes something more true than something else? The more perfectly is expresses its essence. Something with totally expresses its essence is perfectly true. So, for me, as it does not for McDowell, a concept is also teleological: hence it is a formal-final cause of an object.

But, apart from these differences, I am very inspired by the story that McDowell tells in Mind and World: The mind is divided into two sorts of processes when judgements about the world. These sorts of relationships explain how we are perfectly in touch with the world. This is a direct realist theory of mind. Elsewhere, people have labelled this theory of mind as a “conduit theory of experience”. To my mind, this moniker is accurate. This is not a representationalist theory of experience—it is an 'identity' theory of experience.

An 'identity' theory of experience does not picture the mind as mirroring or copying the content about the world when it is experiencing. This is normally how theories of mind are expounded. Instead, the content of the world directly figures directly in the mind.

The first process that the mind possesses in order to be perfectly in touch with the world is the faculty of sensibility, and the second the faculty of spontaneity.

Sensibility takes the content of the world that it experiences and delivers it up to spontaneity. Sensibility is completely uncritical and passive with respect to the content of the world. It is the faculty of spontaneity which forms (what Kant would call) judgements about the world.

So, I admit of the Kantian philosophy of mind: I view the mind as being divided into Receptivity and Spontaneity.

However, unlike McDowell, I do not leave any ambiguities about whether or not this explanation is dualistic. I take it that what the Sellarsian philosophers call the 'space of reasons' to extend all the way down to the level of sensibility.

This, for me, means that the world is enchanted with meaning and value in the sense that McDowell derides in Mind and World: there is meaning in the fall of a sparrow as there is in a book.

Let me pause for a moment, and explain why I take this to be true, before discussing its highly attractive political implications.

McDowell seems to be happy saying that the 'space of concepts' extends into sensibility, but not the space of reasons. Only the faculty of spontaneity inhabits the space of reasons.

I think this explanation, which has to be gleaned from a close textual interpretation and logical reconstruction of McDowell's ideas in Mind and World, means McDowell's philosophy is ultimately dualist, and if we are to keep what we like about McDowell's theory of mind—which is that the world is imbued with meaning.

McDowell is seated somewhere between a Humean and a Kantian on the question of what it exactly means to have a disenchanted experience of the world at the level of sense-data, and an enchanted and rational one at the level of conceptual articulation.

A Humean fully accepts what McDowell calls the 'Myth of the Given'. This is that human experience of the world is deterministic and completely disenchanted. Humeans structure the logical categories of the Sellarsians in this way:

First, the space of nature, which is identical with the realm of scientific intelligibility. Then, the space of reasons is a subcategory of scientific intelligibility. So, Humeans are naturalists.

Kantians are anti-naturalists. They accept that the space of nature is indeed vacated of any meaning, but that there is more that is real than just the space of nature. Kantians are dualists about truth. We might image that they speak of the 'space of the real', of which the space of reasons and the realm of scientific intelligibility are cohabitants.

I do not like either of these stories, and I do not like McDowell's either. McDowell pictures the 'space of concepts' as a superset of the space of reasons. So, if we understand McDowell correctly, there are meaningful concepts, and concepts which are devoid of meaning. In this way, the space of nature is the home to both the realm of natural scientific intelligibility, and the space of reasons as well.

I take this to still be a dualism. The picture that I prefer is that the space of reasons is identical with the space of nature.

The political implications of (what I call) this philosophy of dialectical naturalism is that humans can perceive moral facts in the same way as they can experience epistemic facts. If it is true that there are moral facts with the same alethic properties as epistemic facts, then it follows that there must be a good or a right way for humans to live.

Ultimately, I am, with this above metaphysics, interested in constructing a philosophy of objective morality. This account of morality is a virtue ethical account. The broad aim of my project is to produce a list of virtues about how the social ecology of humans should be structured. The list of virtues I will produce apply to humans both individually and collectively. The social system that my philosophy outlines is a communist one. I aim to demonstrate that the organisation of human life around the ‘needs principle’ is the morally objectively correct way to live.

I argue that organising the totality of human life around ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’ provides the best way for humans to flourish.