Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why is the C-C Fallacy So Common? 3

In a recent post on Rowlands, 2009, I noted that it is common to find in the EC literature the view that when some thing is coupled "in the right way" to the mind, then the thing becomes a part of one's cognitive system.  This, however, sometimes leads to the C-C fallacy.  But, what encourages perseverance in the fallacy is, in part, how one understands "in the right way".  For the cognitivist, "in the right way", means something like in the right causal economy of a computation.  But, for Clark, for example, "in the right way" means something about "trust and glue".  So, one might conjecture that part of what enables Clark to commit the C-C fallacy is not appreciating the difference between the two ways of cashing out "in the right way".

Again, this is more speculation on the source of the C-C fallacy.


  1. this is the key point. everything else you've said on the "C-C fallacy" is not really to the point, as far as i can tell. your opponents just don't make arguments of the form "coupled [to the system], therefore constitutive [of the system's mental properties]" -- so they don't commit some generalized C-C fallacy. they do make arguments of the form "coupled in the right way [...], therefore constitutive [...]". almost everyone can agree that some arguments of that general form are good ones, as you appear to do above, so again there's no generic fallacy here. the residual substantive issue is what "in the right way" comes to, and whether your opponents' criteria are too loose. that's the place to focus here.

    (in the case of C&C, for example, "in the right way" is largely cashed out via the parity principle, so the residual issues are then whether the principle is correct and whether it applies in the relevant cases).

  2. But, Dave, A&A have cited texts that at least look like the C-C fallacy. Our opponents do make arguments like this.

    How about this:
    I agree with the philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers that there is no principled reason not to think of the wristwatch, the landmarks, the pen and paper, the linguistic community, as belonging to my mind. The causal processes that enable us to talk and think and find our ways around are not confined to what is going on in our skulls. But that is just a way of saying that the machinery of the mind itself is not confined to the skull. (Noe, 2009, p. 82)

    What's going on here?

    Second, Chapter 7 of Bounds also covers some of extant versions of the "in the right way". (van Gelder, Haugeland, Clark [& Chalmers]) I just haven't blogged about those, since they do not make for short posts.

  3. Dave,

    Reflecting on your idea that there is no generic C-C fallacy, I think that that is right in this sense. Roughly, the sense is this. One does not want to say that anytime you begin with a causal premise and end up with a constitutive conclusion that that move is fallacious. (In fact, A&A, 2008, will allow that this kind of move works when you are talking about extended cognitive systems, but that it does not work when talking about extended cognitive processes. Whether or not you agree with this is a separate matter, but the idea is that we allow that this kind of inference sometimes works.)

    But, I think the way to see what we are talking about is, in fact, that what we call the "simple C-C fallacy" in the book is just this move from the causal to the constitutive can sometimes take you from a true premise to a false conclusion. The hallmark of a kind of fallacy.

    So, the A&A view (in agreement with the Chalmers' view apparently) is not that every move from causation to constitution is fallacious, but that some are (right?). So, additional premises are necessary to fill out the qualifier "in the right way". Common ground there. But, then, A&A go on to argue that the ways of filling out "in the right way" that had been offered in the literature (as far as we knew) did not work. So, we did begin the debate on this part, as we should have (more common ground on at least this last clause, right?)

  4. re noe: Obviously I am in a better position to speak for C&C than I am to speak for alva (and i think the many C&C passages you've cited here are obviously compatible with the "right way" reading). but prima facie, the status of noe's passage depends on how "enable" is interpreted. if interpreted as a generic "cause" with no further constraints, there would be the generic C-C fallacy, but if interpreted as causation with stronger constraints (as is reasonably natural), then an "in the right way" reading seems appropriate, and if interpreted as constitution (as i think is intended), there is obviously no C-C argument at all to be found here.

    re the putative fallacy: everything i've seen previously on the alleged fallacy -- not least in previous posts on this blog -- suggests that the generic fallacy (causation therefore constitution) is what's being alleged. once one notes the role of "in the right way" then any generic C-C worries drop out as uninteresting, and the allegation of a general C-C fallacy becomes extremely misleading. around here the whole point becomes whether the putative way is in fact the right way. of course you've addressed this issue, and of course i don't agree with what you say about it, but that's too complex for me to get into just now. for present purposes the relevant observation is just that this issue clearly turns on subtle questions about criteria for constitution, questions for which the putative C-C fallacy is far too blunt an instrument to be at all useful. so i think that this putative fallacy might usefully be retired.

  5. Well, as I often say, it's typically pretty difficult to pin philosophers down and what Noë is up to does depend on what he means by "enable". But, as I understand enabling, it makes things even more lax. So, the causal process of my heart's pumping blood in a natural sense enables me to think. So, it looks like my cognitive processes extend into my heart, on his account. (Which seems to me to put pressure on the task of articulating this "in the right way" idea.)

    But, here is passage that avoids the issue of what "enables" means:
    According to active externalism, the environment can drive and so partially constitute cognitive processes. (Noë, 2004, p. 221).

    Now, it is true that in this passage Noë does not use the word "cause", but instead "drives". But, he doesn't use "enables" either. Nor does he ever, to my knowledge, articulate a qualifier of the "in the right way form". I've read through his two books and not found anything like this.

    And, my reading of Noë is not idiosyncratic. Ned Block discusses this at length in his JP review of Noë's Action in Perception.

    Moreover, Jesse Prinz is on to the point as well:
    stimulus becomes invisible when it is stabilized on the retina, and that suggests that perception requires movement. This argument is far from decisive. We can see a stable stimulus initially. It disappears only after it remains stable for a period of time.
    Presumably this is because this visual system needs a way of distinguishing specs of dust,
    scratches, and blood vessels on the eye from objects in the environment. If vision is to
    deliver information about the outside world, it must ignore stimuli that move with the
    eye. In any case, blindness to stabilized images would show only that motion induced
    transformations can causally influence visual processing, not that such transformations
    are constitutive of visual states. The visual system also shuts down when we blink, and
    that certainly doesn’t prove that visual states are partially constituted by motor states. Compare: the bulb in a motion sensitive light would flash when and only when there is movement, but its luminosity is not constituted by the movements on which it depends. (Prinz, Putting the Brakes on Enactive Perception, p. 7)

    Early on, I thought that the C-C fallacy was a silly argument, but in reading the EC literature, I found it to be made over and over. Moreover, I was surprised to find the level of denial. So, this makes me think that there might be more going on here than I initially expected. There is, as I have proposed, not just many instances of the fallacy, but reasons why some philosophers are drawn to the kind of reasoning.