The Intersubjective Nature of Knowledge

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 02, 2019

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Submitted: May 02, 2019

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2. Introduction 

The reading of someone else’s text represents a typical example of intersubjectivity. This paper itself can be said to embody a product of a subjectivity read by another subjectivity thus creating a network of intersubjective knowledge. This paper discusses how an evolutionary perspective of epistemological reductionism helps enlightening the relationship between objective and subjective reality. Firstly, the text will introduce the theory of reductionism and the discussion it opens in regards to subjective mental experiences. It will proceed by analyzing the differences between the objective and subjective modes of human experience in reference to Nagel text “What is like to be a bat?”. Then, the paper will introduce the instrumentalist theory of Intentional Systemsby Daniel Dennett suggesting the strict interrelation between the inner subjectivity and the outer objectivity of human nature in its existence within a social and physical world. In the end, discussing the intersubjective aspect of human knowledge, the paper will argue that a reductionist perspective will not preclude subjective nature from the production of knowledge.

2. Introduction to reductionism and the mind problem

Reductionism refers to the philosophical idea that all phenomena and their properties can be explained by means of the underlying principles of their constituents (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Back to the 1929, the Vienna Circle had already developed a first reductionist approach with logical positivism. Their program aimed to reduce scientific theories to an essential logical and mathematical vocabulary. Their intention aimed to create a unified definition of Science maintaining the most fundamental models of explanation expressed in formal logic (Staley 40). This line of thinking represented the first input of epistemological reductionism, which states that (macro) theories can be explain by reducing them to more (micro)fundamental parts (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). More recently came out a 

 

popular adversary view, that constitutes a more radical theory of ontological reductionism, according to which (macro) complex entities are a combination of (micro) simpler parts and in this way reality is composed of a minimum number of entities and fundamental properties. This type of reasoning, necessarily implies a constitutive perspective of physicalist reduction of reality. This extreme kind of reductionism sounds quite controversial inasmuch as it seems to claim that everything existing in reality has eventually a self-defining physical property and not more than that. Here, this paper will favor the perspective of epistemological reductionism believing that science is able to perform an epistemic translations between different systems and therefore levels of complexity. For the seek of clarity, take the mental disorder of schizophrenia; this psychosis can be explained by psychological mechanism by means of cognitive and behavioral manifestations, then it can further be explained by the affected brain’s internal biology, and further, by its chemical reactions… andso on. It proves working quite well in tracing back a serial casual chain of manifestations. Yet, taking the example of schizophrenia, things become controversial when reductionism claims it is able to explain the human mind merely in terms of physical properties. Mental states, in their abstract and subjective manifestations appear hard to be explained and defined thoroughly by mere neurochemical properties. An evolutionary account of reductionism helps clarifying an interpretation of subjective mental states as functional adaptations.

3. Objectivity and Subjectivity 

In order to understand how mental states can be plausibly reduced in terms of underlying biological mechanisms is firstly important to analyze the relation between objective and subjective perspective in the context of human realm of experience. Within the broad context of possible experiences, it is necessary to make clear that this analysis focuses merely on conscious mental phenomena which implies mainly two things. They can be somehow considered manifested, observable and thus universal orsomewhat exclusively singular. The former connotation refers to what Nagel calls typeof experience, in the domain human consciousness. Therefore, human conscious experience can be considered to share the same typeof consciousness-machinery among humans and not among other species of animals. This typerefers therefore to a shared domain of what can be said to be objectively equal. It can be argued that this shared typeof experience might reflect the possibility of undertaking others’ points of view. The point of view in this sense does not refer to any purely subjective character of knowledge; it is rather a flexible ability given by an input capacity of shared typeof consciousness. Instead, the latter connotation of conscious experience refers to the pure subjective sphere of perception. As indeed, Nagel states “an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that is like to be that organism-something it is like the organism”(Nagel). Nagel, therefore, argues that human conscious experience has necessarily a “what is like” perspective, namely a subjective aspect. As such, conscious experience has to depend on a subjective standpoint of observation and action. Since personal experience cannot easily transcend a singular subjectivity, considering again a reductionist account of reality, now it appears even more evidently clear that the problem of reducing a consciousness in its complete form, both subjective and objective aspects of its being sounds to be a quite pretentious accomplishment. With neuroimaging, for example, it is now possible to look at the neurophysiology of the human brain which enables to understand a great range of psychological and biological mechanism based on brain’s neural activity. Yet, as far as these incredible scientific processes go, they do not allow to infiltrate in one’s own inner experience. Pursuing a merely objective understanding of these phenomena from a certain point of view seems to a be contradictory initiative in the first place. “If the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one point of view, then any shift to greater objectivity-that is less attachment to a specific viewpoint-does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us further away from it”(Nagel). Human consciousness as a shared typeof consciousness among humans and its subjective counterpart introduce to a complicated analysis of existence that needs to be untangled by examining the relationship between an inner and outer world.

4. Intentional Systems

Finally, undertaking an evolutionary standpoint will enable to see how human mental states are epistemologically reducible to functional mechanism of intentionality. This will be explained on the basis of Intentional System theory which proposes an analysis of the internal mechanisms that govern mental states such as desires, intentions, beliefs (Dennett). This theory helps explaining the subjective character of experience in terms of underlying logical presuppositions as basic function of human rational agency. According to Intentional Systemshuman internal mechanisms can be observed, understood and predicted on two main levels. On the first level, the physical stance corresponds to a perspective of physical science, simply asserting that behaviors in nature can be predicted and explained in reference to physical laws and to physical states of objects in relation to their relative and known environmental conditions or surroundings (Dennett). Secondly, the design stance stems from the assumption that natural mechanisms must have a set design and as such entails a system with a purpose and functionality that is determined by its internal architecture (Dennett). This second type of stance is the one of relevant importance here. The necessary functional definition of this design stance implies the assumption of the existence of an individual agent that takes in consideration its beliefs and intentions and as a result undertake choices of action. Dennett in the explanations of human internal mechanisms as possessing of an underlying purposeful designed stance makes a further assumption of intentionality, or a system of rationality. In his logical deconstruction, Dennett stands still fairly objective in describing human mental states. Yet, its precisely its objective standpoint to propose a compelling account of human subjectivity. Indeed, evolutionary biology suggests that human mental states are strictly related to the environment they operate in. Human nature therefore seems to eventually being explained by a necessary interaction of internal biology and external environment. According to the theory of natural selection the natural environment constantly exerts a selection pressure on living individuals which results to be responsible for designing adaptations (beneficial adjustments) to certain evolutionary problem, namely different problematic conditions. In this perspective, humans’ mental states are nothing but psychological mechanism of adaptations, in their nature subjective. The subjective nature in this way is explained by the physical constraint of bodily existence and its unique possible patterns of experience in the physical world. 

5. Intersubjectivity 

Since every experience is, in this way, inevitably subjective for its bodily nature of being, the epistemological objectivity of reality is born from an engagement of shared interpretations between consciousnesses. The process of intersubjectivity therefore “is the root of objectivity, not because what people agree on is necessarily true, but because intersubjectivity depends on interaction with the world” (Davidson).This intersubjective kind of experience has achieved its maximum success with the development of communication systems. “The capacity of language is without doubt the crowning achievement that feeds on itself to produce ever more versatile and subtle rational system, but still it can be looked at as an adaptation which is subject to the same conditions of environmental utility” (Dennett). Language, as a productive system of signs, promotes an interchange of personal thoughts which represent the unique possibility to transcend subjective individuality. Language permits to develop a network of shared standards. For instance, within a context of scientific investigation, with its aim of reaching an objective ideal of science, language enables to create a set of standards which function as a common reference.

6. Conclusion 

A reductionist approach on humans ‘subjective mental states helps recognizing the evolutive nature of its adaptive mechanisms and, in this way, claims its underlying objectivity. This functional input of objectivity manifests in nature necessarily through a subjective development. Every subject has indeed a different experience of reality determined strictly by its special and cultural and historical context of influence.

Work Cited:

Davidson, Donald. “Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective.” 2001,doi:10.1093/0198237537.001.0001.

Dennett, D. C. “Intentional System.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 68, no. 4, 25 Feb. 1971, pp. 87–106.

Kent W. Staley, (2014).An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Cambridge University Press.

Nagel T., “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, The Philosophical Review, vol. 83, No. 4 (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450.

 


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