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Response to Hilary Putnams Brains and Behavior

By Edited Dec 11, 2015 1 0

Hilary Putnam's essay "Brains and Behavior" provides a counter-argument to the logical behaviorist's perspective. His ideas are unique, but far too hypothetical than realistic when considering the reality of the real philosophical issues at hand relating to the nature of duality (if one exists at all). While his argument makes logical sense (theoretically at least), it seemingly serves little purpose in a world where human beings cannot even be certain as to whether or not the Cartesian form of dualism is a true theory. Putnam's theory examines alternative worlds where alternative realities can exist, however there is no scientific foundation for even believing that alternative worlds such as these would exist in the first place, even if we can fathom them in our minds. Still, his argument is intriguing in the least for what it is. He begins his argument by analyzing what is wrong with the logical behaviorist's definition of words like "pain" and "polio", then continues to build up his critique of logical behaviorism to the extent that he outright rejects its tenants.

The concepts behind the words "pain" and "polio" are prominent throughout Putnam's article. His argument is not exclusive to these words, as they are examples, however the foundation of his argument is such that even if one believes as a logical behaviorist does, one still encounters the real problem of language as it relates to explaining behavior-statements (one could call these actions or reactions) and mind-statements (the subjective feelings one experiences in solitude with no need for language). This is seemingly his primary premise as far as his essay is concerned, however the way he elaborates on his view by utilizing examples related to words we use and alternative societies adds a much needed depth to his view.

"Pain" as we envision it daily is a concept we are all familiar with, however Putnam proposes the question: "What does 'pain' mean?" He begins his argument by indicating that there must be a universal2ly understood concept of pain, with no variance from one being to another that consists of a set of criteria that is unable to overlap with any other mental concept. He then examines the logical behaviorist's point of view which says that pain must be a "cluster of phenomena" in a similar way as the concept of a disease (namely polio as far as his example is concerned). He then examines the disease polio, and seemingly states that, on the surface, "polio" is a singular concept that seemingly represents multiple other concepts. The definition of polio requires a constant ability to change the meaning of the word (or concept as it would be better to call it) so as to adapt to the variations of the polio disease, as well as for when an individual discusses whether another has or does not have the disease. Furthermore, he points out as it relates to polio that "first person uses are very different: a man may have a severe case of polio and not know it, even if he knows the word "polio", but one cannot have a severe pain and not know it." This ability to be unaware of a disease leads him to say that pain and polio are, in fact, not the cause of a cluster of phenomena; but rather a response to a particular event or condition. The main problem for Putnam, as I understand it, is that language and the concepts of disease and pain are not quantifiable; and they constantly vary though we are, at least, aware to some extent of how we would define these terms.

To more efficiently define the difference between Putnam's definition of "pain" and "polio", a direct comparison between his perspective and logical behaviorism is in order. To a logical behaviorist, pain is a cluster concept. This concept of pain relies of many criteria, which may or may not exist when one experiences "pain." Alternatively, Putnam suggests that pain is not a cluster of responses, but rather it is a response that occurs when a particular event occurs (such as being kicked in the leg then experiencing pain). Similarly, a logical behaviorist would consider "polio" to also be a cluster concept. In contrast, Putnam would then say that polio is not a cluster concept; but rather an idea that we use to refer to the occurrence of particular bodily events.

As Putnam's essay continues, he begins to zone in exclusively on proving that pain does not require a cluster of responses to be experienced. In fact, he seems to go so far as to imply that pain does not need to be experienced at all to exist under the right conditions. He considers the potentiality of an X-world of super-Spartans that transform into super-super-Spartans who are incapable of experiencing pain (at least, in any physical sense). These X-worlders are not even capable of talking about pain, or acknowledging that they are experiencing pain. Ultimately, he concludes "if pains are 'logical constructs out of behavior', then our X-worlders behave so as not to have pains! – Only, of course, they do have pains, and they know perfectly well that they have pains."

Putnam's idea is summed up when he states that logical behaviorism is a mistake if so long as the fantasy concept of the X-world is self-contradictory. Undoubtedly, his argument's premise relies heavily on the existence of such mythical beings such as the super-super Spartans, advanced evolution of species (implying that pain can only be realized in a way such as the one the super-super-Spartans experience after a period of transformation from one being type [super-Spartans] to another [super-super-Spartans]), and a dualism that allows for pain to be experienced without physical responses.

While Putnam's essay appears to be logical, it is not grounded in reality (at least as a physical entity perceives it). His intention while writing this essay appears to have been biased strictly on disproving logical behaviorism than rationally considering alternatives that actually scientifically exist. Moreover, a reader who adheres strictly to the materialist view of the world (like myself) will undoubtedly find his argument to be lacking as it is not grounded in the reality of the physical world, nor does it make a point that can even be understood with modern science. In many ways, his concept of the "X-world" falls into the same category of mind statements as the word "pain" because they both seemingly require a cluster of phenomena, or minimally particular conditions, to exist at all. The X-world requires a genetically mutated species of super-super Spartans as the condition of even beginning to consider the nature of their response to pain (or non-response).

As a dualist, Putnam's article returns to the basic nature of dualism by asserting that the mind and body are separate on the grounds that pain can be experienced without bodily sensation. As far as I am concerned, there is not necessarily a requirement for a physical body to experience pain, however there is a requirement for a physical thing to be put into a state of pain. In this way, the mind and body are minimally not mutually exclusive. If a mind exists separately from the body, it requires the body to experience sensations. Putnam ultimately seems to be asking whether or not a being wishes to attribute his pain to the bullet that shot him or to nothing (though he was shot and still realizes he is in pain). Ignorance of the bullet does not make it non-existent. Putnam's argument ultimately seems to do nothing more than ignore the source of the pain: the physical bullet entering the physical body.



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