Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Swampman is a (imaginary) physical duplicate of Donald Davidson created by a freak accident by a lighning bolt hitting a swamp. Questions: do swampman's parts (e.g., the parts shaped like a heart, liver, brain, etc.) have functions? Does swampman have intentional states? Does he have qualia? These questions have been heavily discussed in the literature. (The original examples along these lines were discussed by Boorse, Stich, and others in the 1970s.)

Today Bill Lycan said that references to swampman should be eliminated from the literature and he should never be mentioned again. His reason is that intuitions diverge. Some people think the answers to the questions about swampman are obviously yesses, other people think the answers are obviously no's (at least at first; after functioning for a while, swampman will acquire functions, etc. (this is Ruth Millikan's view)). Given this divergence, asks Lycan, what's the point of insisting one way or the other?

It reminds me of something that I think Jerry Fodor wrote somewhere: "Intuition mongering strikes me as vulgar".


Anonymous Patrick Taylor said...


I think swampman's ad hoc organs must function. Here is why. Large parts of my body are made of (more or less) properly integrated plant-matter. In fact I am constantly replacing some cells of one or another part of me with proteins from the apple I ate in the morning or the salad I had for lunch. If it works for me, it has to work for swampman and vice versa.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Eric Thomson said...

Lycan's is the standard response, with flair. Before we burn those books, we could think.

Just because there are intuitions at work, what follows? Intuitions can be elaborated, discussed, provide content to discussions.

More importantly, swampman helps to bring out consequences of various positions in the qualia debates. For instance, it is not just an intuition that most forms of teleofunctionalism imply that swampman would not be conscious. It is a straightforward consequence of their position! If they are not willing to face the conceptual consequences of their views, then what are they doing in philosophy?

Further, if swampman ain't conscious then qualia are epiphenomenal. Epiphenemoenalism is a strange position, and they should be even more concerned.

He could take the position that swampman is so outlandish an idea that it shoudn't be taken seriously. Swampman is obviously just a tool to explore different possibilities (conceptual, nomic, logical). To refuse to even discuss it in a substantive way comes off as antiphilosophical (in a bad way) and evasive.

Note I am an externalist wrt certain propositional contents, but this means I have had to accept that those contents are ephiphenomenal in the present world. Dretske has worried the most about this (Explaining Behavior is pretty much an extended treatment of this topic: he ends up saying something to the effect that content-based explanations are ultimate-historical, not proximate-causal).

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Eddy Nahmias said...

Gualtiero, given the recent work in "experimental philosophy" on conflicting intuitions, it's interesting to hear Lycan say we should give up any thought experiment where intuitions conflict (presumably, he'd add, in an irresovable way, though it's not clear what that would mean). Do you know if Lycan was presenting work that's available anywhere? And do you know where the Fodor quotation comes from?

12:38 PM  
Blogger gualtiero piccinini said...


Many philosophers have been unhappy with easy appeals to intuitions for a long time. Lycan's comment was expressed in conversation and he didn't refer to any writing. Fodor says things against intuition mongering in various places, but I don't remember where. Are you familiar with Jaakko Hintikka 1999 piece "The Emperor's New Intuitions", in J. Phil?

1:29 PM  
Blogger Eric Thomson said...

Page 169 of A Theory of Content and Other Essays. Cambridge: MIT Press.

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Timpe said...

Another Fodor quotation on intutions: “Squabbling about intuitions strikes me as vulgar" (Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind, 10).

12:47 PM  

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