Brain, Behaviour and Extensionalism

JXStern JXSternChangeX2R at
Fri Apr 9 18:37:51 EST 2004

On Fri, 9 Apr 2004 23:42:23 +0100, David Longley
<David at> wrote:
>>Your order is partially off, as most of Quine's writing is pre-1960,
>>and most of cognitivism is post-1960.  For that matter, per PMS
>>Hacker, Quine himself was already an apostate verificationist or
>>analyticist, letting in an element of ontological commitment, compared
>>to Wittgenstein and/or the Vienna Circle.
>You'll have to write that again if you want me to comment on it. First 
>of all, what I cited was written in 1975. Secondly, whilst "Word and 
>Object" was written in 1960 (and built on his argument with Carnap from 
>the late '30s on), "The Roots of Reference" was written in the early 
>70s, as was most of the rest that I've cited or referenced in the past. 
>But then do you really care?

Yes, I care quite a bit about the historical order of these things.

"Roots of Reference" was the Paul Carus lectures presented in 1971 and
not saying anything much new, it mentions Chomsky only briefly and I
can't say I'm the least convinced by Quine's approach, you're probably
thinking of "From A Logical Point of View", and the "Two Dogmas of
Empiricism" it contains, which is no newer than 1953.  For that
matter, most mentions of cognitivism have it beginning in the 1970s,
which I find rather late, since it was being taught in my classes by
then and I'd thought it not entirely new even then.  See also that
Suppe book I mentioned in another thread, which seems to date the
changes in philosophy of science away from positivisms in that same
period, somewhere 1960-1970+. It doesn't happen overnight, ya know.

In case anybody cares.

>Cognitive Science is an aberration. At best it's a very poor theoretical 
>behaviourism. Have a close look at Quine's argument with Chomsky which 
>started in "Words and Objections" in the late 1960s.

I have not read this, but if that's the content, I should.

However, first, there's nothing to say.  Chomsky did not outline a
useful computationalism, in fact, per Fodor, he doesn't even like
computationalism, he's more a rationalist and not an instrumentalist.
Second, even before reading it, I'm quite sure I will feel badly for
Quine, unsuccessfully defending a positivist account long after the
battle was over - sadly, because I always feel Quine should have known
better.  Certainly he (and for that matter Wittgenstein) had every
opportunity to better understand what Turing had said in 1936, and
again in 1950 (and Turing50 is as nice a piece of behaviorism as
anyone could like, and one has to fault it slightly for that, but it
does make it historically interesting).  Third, although a judgement
of cognitive science does not come out that well today, I hold it too
early to render judgement.  It really is the only game in town, and it
will eventually come through, I say.  Let's check back on it in twenty
years, I agree it's paradigms are still shaky, and things just don't
change much faster than that.

>I have re-read what you said. Prima facie it doesn't make sense and 
>taken literally it's just false. Quine is renowned for his critique of 
>two dogmas of empiricism, but in doing so he just produced an 
>enlightened empiricism! He's a more austere positivist than any of his 

That gets down to parsing flavors of empiricism, which I'm not
prepared to try here.  I refer you to Hacker, who I think gets it
pretty much right - Hacker says he would like to expand on the flow of
the historical arguments over the few pages he spends on it op cit,
and I wish he would, but that sort of scholarship is way out of style.

>>BTW, I'd say that 80% of Quine is in accord with computationalism.
>A pretty meaningless things for you to say, but perhaps you should read 
>what Putnam had to say in "Representation and Reality".

Where Putnam lost faith with his own work which tried to make a theory
out of functionalism, which should probably have been seen as more
descriptive than foundational.  I'm afraid I don't give him license to
discard a particularist computationalism that even Searle is now
describing - perhaps only Searle, or Searle doing the best job of it,
even as he disparages it, paradoxically enough - that Putnam never

I concede I am not offering a specific theory here of what my
computationalism consists of and just what parts of Quine I would cite
(revisionistically) in support.  I'm just letting you know that
someone out there has such a theory in the works, or hopes for such a
theory and has a few hints as to how one might go about it.

>>>>I have a theory that my computer contains a program, and Quine's
>>>>behavioristic talk about it just turns out to be flat wrong.
>>>If you just want mental stimulation then perhaps you're better off
>>[blather snipped]
>>I suppose you still don't care to try to address this theory I have
>>about my computer, but it trumps anything you care to say until you
>>adjust your claims appropriately.
>You haven't provided a theory.

Well, here I have provided a theory, and empirical evidence to boot.

Either you want to treat the computer as a black box and deny that its
contents are interesting, which isn't a very good attitude if you're
developing software, or you note quite accurately that all the details
of software are after all observable in theory and practice, given a
few appropriate tools, and claim that it's completely compatible with
whatever -ism you're selling.  I can agree with some varieties of the
latter.  Does this still lack theory?  Perhaps, perhaps, but any kind
of theory that grants observability to computation and denies it to
cognition, is simply asserting its conclusion.

>I agree with the last sentence, but that's about all.


>>PMS Hacker, "Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Analytic
>>Philosophy", Blackwell 1996.  Good stuff.
>Perhaps. But I don't think you'll find much in Hacker (or his 
>co-authored books) which should give you cause to question what I have 
>been saying.

I've glanced at his four-volume work on Wittgenstein but have never
had the time to try to read it all.  This op cit is perhaps a good
condensation.  I do recommend you read it, at least the chapter
concerning Quine, about forty pages.  As for how it fits with your
stuff, see above.


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