All posts by Allan R. Raykhelson

Smart and Occam’s Razor

Smart’s argument can be summed up as the idea that there are no philosophical arguments for mind-body dualism. In other words, Smart believes that the brain (with its mind-consciousness function), and the body, are not separate entities, and therefore, brain processes cannot be spoken about separately from physical sensations. I believe that although there is a possibility that Smart is correct, modern science has basically disproved his theories.

For one, Smart says that he wishes to resist dualism due to Occam’s razor- the theory that when testing a bunch of hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. However, at this time of modern science, Smart’s claims rely on many more assumptions than the claim that brain processes do, in fact, result in physical sensations. There has been much research done that suggests that certain parts of the brain result in certain sensations. Pet scans reveal that when one experiences pain, there is a universal part of the brain that is activated. Therefore the scans prove that a stimulus activates a brain function that in turn does produce a physical sensation. Notice, the sensations and brain processes are being discussed separately and causally in the case of PET scans. Smart’s second objection is that sensation, being a brain processe, is only a fact depending on whether scientific knowledge is true and, therefore, when we report our sensations, we are not reporting brain processes. If PET scans have shown that sensations are linked to brain processes every time they have been tested, then saying that our scientific knowledge could be wrong makes an assumption of its own kind; it makes the assumption that our proof of brain processes and sensation cannot be considered knowledge, and therefore makes an assumption on what knowledge is. Let’s say for a second that there is a chance that modern science is wrong. Then when someone reports a sensation, they aren’t not reporting brain processes, they are just not definitely reporting brain processes. The assumption that he can say that our modern scientific knowledge can be wrong makes a greater assumption than the repeatedly tested claim that brain processes and sensation are linked.

Objection number 5 that brain processes may be fast or slow, but seeing yellow cannot be relies on an assumption as well. Using Smart’s own theory that our scientific knowledge may be false, how can Smart make any claims about brain processes? If our knowledge can be false, then it is possible that brain processes can only be fast, which completely dismantles the objection. The same claim can be made for part of objection number 6:  sensations are individualistic, while brain processes are universal. To make the claim that he rejects dualism due to Occam’s razor, and then make the claim that everyone has the same brain processes but different sensations, is utter hypocrisy. Once again, he uses the assumptions that our scientific knowledge is correct while saying that it might not be. Also how does he know that sensations are privatized? He doesn’t – it’s an assumption.

Smart’s theories may have had more merits when there was less scientific knowledge. But given modern science, his claims become virtually impossible. Saying also, that he refuses dualism due to the fact it requires assumptions, and then makes many assumptions himself, make his theories hypocritical and invalid.

Do Nozick’s condition track the truth value of P?

Nozick believes that in order to have knowledge, the belief needs to track the truth. In other words, for one to have knowledge, one must believe P, P must be true, and one’s belief’s must track the truth value of P.

For this reason, the casual account of knowledge must be false. The casual account of knowledge states that the fact that P is true causes S to believe P. However, think about a mentally ill patient who suffers from paranoia. Suppose this patient, without any proof or facts, believes that his mother is plotting to kill him; his belief is simply based on his impaired brain chemistry. Now, suppose that by coincidence, his mother very recently actually did begin formulating a plan to kill the mental patient. The mental patient’s belief would be true, however, the mother’s plan to kill him is not the reason for his belief. Therefore, P being true is not the cause for the mental patient’s belief.

So if the conditions: P is true, S believes that P, and the fact that P is true does not always cause S to believe P, is not sufficient to constitute knowledge, what is? Nozick believes that the solution can be found by adding to subjunctive statements. If P were not true, S would not believe P, and if P were true, S would believe P. If Nozick is right, the conditions for knowledge would look like this: P is true, S believes that P is true, if P was not true S would not believe P, and if P were true S would believe P. If these rules are applied to the mental patient example, it is clear that the mental patient does not know that his mother is actually plotting to kill him. If the mental patient’s mother was not trying to kill him, the patient would still believe that his mother was trying to kill him. It is evident that Nozick’s third condition for knowledge makes belief sensitive to the truth value of P’s falsity.

In the previous situation, if P was true, S would believe P. But that is purely by coincidence. Consider this situation:  There is a family with a mother, father, daughter, and son. The son is a compulsive liar and tells his parents that he is going to play tennis after school. The parents believe him, but the sister believes that the brother will not play tennis after school, but will do something else entirely. In this situation, P is true, S believes that P, and if P were false S would believe P, but if P were true she would not believe P.  In this case, the sister is correct – her brother is going to do something other than play tennis.  The sister’s  belief is not based on any supposition about the boy’s continual lying, however, but exists only because she did not hear the lie from her brother. If she had, then she, like her parents, would have believed that the brother was going to play tennis. Therefore, the sister cannot have knowledge. In order to fix the problem, Nozick created the 4th condition, if P were true, S would believe P. With this condition, belief is sensitive to both the falsity and truth of P.

Nozick’s conditions make it so that beliefs track the truth value of P. Therefore, if knowledge can be defined by the conditions of P being true, of S believing that P is true, and of S’ sbeliefs tracking the truth value of P, then Nozick has successfully defined knowledge.


Disclaimer: It is not my claim that Nozick’s definition for knowledge is true; it is that if it is, then his conditions would constitute knowledge.