Thursday, September 8, 2022

Motivating panpsychism

There is something attractive about an ontology where all the properties are powers, but it seems objectionable.

First, a power is partly defined by the properties it can produce. But if these in turn are powers, then we have a vicious regress or circularity.

At the same time, mental properties do not seem to be purely powers: they seem to have a categorical qualitative character that is not captured by the power to produce something else.

What is attractive about a pure powers ontology is the conceptual simplicity, and the fact that categorical properties seem really mysterious.

There is, however, a modification we can make to a pure powers ontology that gets us out of the problem. There are two kinds of properties: powers and qualia. The mysteriousness objection does not apply to qualia, because we experience them. On this ontology, powers bottom out in the ability to produce qualia.

For this to avoid implausible anthropocentrism, we need panpsychism—only then will there be enough qualia outside of living things for the powers of fundamental physics to bottom out in. So we have an interesting motivation for panpsychism: it yields an attractive ontology for reasons that have nothing to do with the usual concerns in the philosophy of mind.

It’s worth noting that this ontology is similar to Leibniz’s. Leibniz had two kinds of properties: appetitions and perceptions. The appetitions are (deterministic) powers. Perceptions are similar to qualia, but not quite the same, because (a) perceptions need not be conscious, and (b) perceptions are always representational. Unfortunately, the representational aspect leads to a regress or circularity problem, much as the power powers ontology did, since representationality will define a perception in terms of other appetitions and perceptions.

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